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There’s No Place Like Home: Adventures in Wyoming

Part I

“Yes, Valencia latte and a bagel with cream cheese, please.” I told the woman at the coffee shop inside the Colorado Springs airport. My east coast self saw bagels and even with the presence of breakfast burritos couldn’t override the urge for glorious carbs and fat.

Finding my way to my gate, I sat down to devour the thing. I’d been awake for nearly three hours and had steadily been approaching “hangry” status for the past half hour. And there it was – my wonderful little lonely seat near the gate for all flights bound for either Atlanta or Salt Lake. The routine of popping in ear buds, pouncing my iced latte and housing a bagel kicked in.

However, unlike any other trip I’ve ever taken, this one was for work. This was completely unexplored territory for me, and suddenly, things like checking work e-mail and answering work phone calls which I had so mercilessly mocked before in places like Minneapolis and Hotlanta suddenly became incredibly relevant. It was a startling realization. I stared down at my iPad, which was serving a purpose outside of playing Netflix and Pandora for the first time ever.

48 hours prior, I was sitting at my desk, happily whittling away at what I was given in the clean confines of my cubicle, watching the snow float down outside and collecting on my Honda Civic.

We landed in Salt Lake rather peacefully, only for me to be dumped into the pool of commuter and short regional flights near the end of the airport. I don’t really mind people, I just couldn’t find the order in all of that chaos. I glanced at my watch – good, I have a solid hour to charge all my devices.

I looked around the room full of people as I squeezed in between a couple of people. This was always an awkward moment – when you have to ask partial permission to use half of an outlet that neither of you own but someone has claimed it first. They’re the alpha-electric owner in this district of the airport. Oh, she’s asleep, awesome.

The flight is getting ready to board and while I’m familiar with this whole process, I’m not familiar with what happens after I get out into the tube that routes us to our flight. By this I mean the semi-outdoor hallway that has signs displayed for each of the “gates” to the aircrafts. The process is exactly the same as any flight where you plane-side check your luggage, save for boarding the aircraft without a formal jetway and dropping off your carry-ons outside.

I handed the gate agent my boarding pass. She looked at me before handing the pass back to me and asked in whispered tones, “Why would you ever go to this place? This place is hell. You don’t want to go here. We’ll refund your ticket. We’ll give you a free flight. But whatever you do, don’t go to this place.” Just kidding – she smiled and told me to have a nice flight. I’m pretty sure it was less of a nicety and more of a mandate because they’d received complaints on this flight before.

I was flying for work, but as I boarded the plane, I can’t say I felt very important. I mean, I did feel big but only because the aircraft was a small Brasilia jet. A toddler could feel like a giant in one of those. No big thing – I was a professional. I’d packed all of my necessities into my carryon bag. No fees for checked bags. You’re welcome, work.

I’d flown short flights like this before, where you couldn’t take a carry-on, where it was a cash-only flight, and where they had to take inventory of who was sitting where for weight distribution purposes. What I wasn’t exactly prepared for were the propellers on the outside of the little turboprop and how loud they were as they were spinning. Or how that would continue throughout the duration of the flight. Or how the plane would glide left and right as it flew through the air.

The movies and little kids are wrong. The most terrifying part of a flight isn’t the beginning when you’re taking off and white-knuckling someone else’s hand or the seat arm. No. It’s when you’re descending and landing. It’s when the plane makes sudden drops or slips through large air pockets that cause intense turbulence that I get nervous. Sometimes there was a rhythm, but I’d venture to say that it was outright terrifying. The young girl sitting across the aisle from me, presumably to meet a parent or relative upon landing, was unusually calm. And I envied her.

About to touch ground, I could already see the mine. So much coal, so many parts of the strip mine exposed. It was breathtaking. This was ultimately why we were here. I’m not a diehard environmentalist, but even if you’re lobbying for coal, this is something you have to see firsthand to truly understand.

Sweating quite a bit and warm from the fear that the plane was going to crash, I got off the plane to pick up my checked bag and meet my co-worker, who I was there to relieve. Wind smacking my hair in my face, my suitcase unable to keep both wheels in contact with the ground and me realizing my hiking boots and plaid button up shirt and jeans made me stand out as a Coloradan in Wyoming – this was home for the forseeable future or until my company told me when they’d fly me home.

Meeting my co-worker for the first time in person, we drove to the work site. I already had my gloves, my steel-toe electrical hazard boots and my safety glasses, but had forgotten how uncomfortable all my gear was. It’d been a couple of months since I’d had to don any of it. I asked him about the job site, the people, the off-the-record stuff.  All the answers were things I already knew. No surprises.

We arrived, signed in, and it was time for introductions. No one could have prepared me for the scope of this shop. Photos hadn’t done any of it justice. 100 ton cranes overhead, effortlessly moving parts of machines used to mine coal and oil. It was, perhaps, one of the most fascinating things I had ever seen. So many tools, so many giant industrial things, and it was a little dangerous. I loved it.

The entire shop was dirtier than I could have pictured from way back in my clean state of Colorado. Particles everywhere. A nice, thick film of dirty and metal flakes covering equipment like ash.  I watched as one of the welders took an air-arc grinder to bevel plate and little orange sparks flew towards us. The synthetic Columbia snowboarding jacket  wasn’t going to cut it. I’d have to get a Carhartt to both keep me warm and not get damaged by welding tools and the sharp edges of materials laying around.  Incidentally, Carhartt hoodies and jackets are standard issue clothing in Wyoming – unless you’re a contractor.

The day was long – 12 hours or so, and we were on our feet for the entirety.  It was exhausting and between inhaling particulate and cigarette smoke, my lungs were begging for air.

“Should I be worried about the air I’m breathing in here?” I asked my coworker.

“I mean, you’re going to blow your nose at the end of the day. And you’re going to blow some black snot. It’s a shop. You’ll be fine. It’s normal. Now put your ear plugs in.” I thought back to my concert-attending days as a youth where we’d go places and everyone smoked. The only difference now was that we weren’t inhaling cigarette smoke but metal particulate.

Line drawings, parts lists, equipment and tools I wasn’t familiar with – all hitting me at once. Things I knew nothing about, but things I would have to know like the back of my hand to do this job. I’d like to say that, on top of that, being female in that environment wasn’t going to make it any easier, but I’ll tell all of you right now – it had absolutely no bearing on my job. I wasn’t harassed. I wasn’t insulted. And it made me kind of happy because I had no idea what to expect.

The end of the first day approached. Time to rest, get up at 5 AM and begin official training for the next five days.  Standing outside with one of the guys from the shop, I asked if this was home and if he liked it here. He exhaled some smoke, his breath magnifying the size of the cloud as I shivered in my thin hoodie. “This isn’t home. This is a job.” And he stared off into the gray sky, absent of sunset, unknowingly explaining in that simple sentence why everyone was here. 

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

Small Towns and Stuff

A couple of months ago, I started traveling to very small town for work. I wasn’t at all familiar with this town until a co-worker described it to me. It was a coal-mining town, and that was kind of it. Oil, too. Some of the reading we found at the local WalMart include the following:

 

 

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So I was a little nervous, because I don’t have a passion for firearms or hunting unless I’m hanging out at Bass Pro Shop, which is awesome, by the way.

So I headed out to this town and worked, finding lots of cool things along the way.

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Like haul trucks, which we’d come out here to write about.

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And rodeos, which I’d never been to before.

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And other small towns I’d never even heard of that had super cool signs in the middle of alleys.

ImageAnd large tables with “T” slots where extremely large pieces of metal would be welded together.

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And Montana, inexplicably.

ImageAnd get stuck behind precariously rigged log trucks on the way to Devil’s Tower.

ImageWith an outdoor exhibit for trains and mining equipment.

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And read hilarious signs.

 

 

 

 

 

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And see amazing sunrises. (Sleepily.)

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And get to see things getting welded. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Eventually, though, I had to return back home and take the terrifying flight out on an itty bitty tiny Brasilia jet. Eeeeep!

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But fortunately, a co-worker reminded me about how fun it was to do what we do.

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Which kind of ruined me because now I couldn’t unsee mining haul trucks and had to buy Legos.

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With what we did, it seemed like both shenanigans AND bananagans were lurking at every corner…

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There was plenty to see within driving distance…

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And some things were probably more just worth driving by.

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Other things were worth the entire drive.

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Other things clued me in to the culture of the town I was temporarily inhabiting, like lawn ornaments.

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Other things made it so easy to find the beauty in a town that just two months prior seemed shrouded in utter tundra-like desolation.

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And then there were all these funny looking painted animals, which is apparently a thing.

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Like this one, too.

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And this one.

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No, really, it just doesn’t end. 

ImageDid you think I was kidding? No.

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I found some super classy truck stops.

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And found the beauty in simple things on short lunch breaks.

ImageBeauty was also in stranger, less ubiquitous things that were harder to explain to anyone outside of this town or the coal-mining industry.

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But there is always beauty, whether it’s easy to find or hard to see.

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But sometimes things were more hilarious than they were beautiful.

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After a while, I started to question some of my life decisions. 

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Other days, I felt pretty awesome.

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I mean, seriously. I did some really cool stuff.

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And had I never traveled here, I never would have known this town existed, and all the awesome people in it, even if I was pushed out of my comfort zone. Even if it meant exposing me to drive-by liquor stores and insanely fast driving and ridiculously fast moving weather. 

To be continued…

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

The Long Road to Somewhere

A little over a week ago, I made my journey all the way from the east coast out west to Colorado. We took the long route — Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas. More Kansas. More Kansas to the point that I thought it was its own country. No, seriously.

Now multiply by a million.

 

And rubber stamp some of this along the way.

And then there was this gem.

Oh. My.

Somehow we ended up here. You might think you could just burn through a drive like that in three days, but you’d probably find yourself a little throttled by the U-Haul if it’s towing anything. Which it was.

Having gone from an hour long commute to a five minute one for at least a year, I was spoiled by the lack of driving I had to do. So you can imagine how daunting that was in the first hour or so. After about hour three, I noticed I had completed a few rotations on the various XM radio stations. That has literally never happened. And it was weird.

People are welcoming and friendly. It is strange. But it is welcome (ha) nonetheless. And everything except for maybe police and ambulances just doesn’t follow the same high-speed-chase tempo that Washington, D.C. does. Drivers don’t generally cut you off for only going two miles over the speed limit. That is a completely foreign concept to me.

Rush hour in Colorado.

There are two hundred kinds of dairy-milk alternatives at the store. You can get organic food. EASILY. Almond butter, too. And produce. Oh my, can you get good produce. AND GREEN CHILIES. Fresh. As in, they aren’t packaged in cans with water. and turned into ambiguous green mush. BREAKFAST TACOS. Because — I’m sorry, NoVA and DC. You just can’t seem to get any kind of Mexican food right. Ever.

But — and brace yourselves for this one.  I do actually miss the east coast.

Climbing Old Rag. Yes, there are mountains in Virginia. yes, they are really more along the lines of foothills.

I miss how the museums were free. How there was a subway system that got me to most of where I needed to go around the metro area. I miss Wegmans exponentially. But I will say this: the green and white Colorado plates, green chilies and MOUNTAINS and driving by Garden of the Gods on the way home? I can embrace that change. Maybe a little.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2013 in Local, National, News

 

Confessions of a Former Frequent Flier: Part 1

The alarm goes off about a minute after I wake up, right at 3 AM. The sooner the better, though, because the cab will arrive in half an hour. And they don’t like waiting. Stumbling over like a zombie to the shower, I make a final assessment of what jewelry I’m bringing, where my toothbrush is, where my wallet is.

I am the survivalist of flying. Backup ID in case I lose my only other form of ID? Check. Copy of boarding pass that will be the backup in case I lose the one I will get at the airport? Check. Power cables to charge everything in case it dies along with a hard copy of essential phone numbers for this trip? Check. Go ahead and laugh – I dare you. All it takes is a trip to Albuquerque International Sunport and leaving your wallet and boarding pass behind near a cafe to make you realize how dependent you are on that one little card. You can’t go anywhere without it. You are stuck in flying limbo. And you have no cash.

The cab shows up in front of the apartment, clearly just as confused as everyone else was at the housewarming party, but sees me coming and pulls forward a bit. Getting in, I know that the cabbie is one of two types: a driver or a talker. On a 15 minute ride to Reagan, not an issue. But I’ll take awkward silence over a 30 minute monologue about someone’s divorce.

I’m dropped near my gate, just in time to wait in line behinds hundreds of invisible people. It’s almost zen, the dichotomy. Pretending all these people are impatiently waiting as I grab my ticket in what appears to be an abandoned airport. Punch in my number, print my boarding pass, move along to the TSA checkpoint.

“3:30 AM…You’re here a little early.” the man says.
“A bit…”
“It’s ok, I’ve seen worse.”
“How much worse?”
“A couple just showed up for a 9:00 flight.”
“That’s not that bad.”
“PM.

This part of the routine is always the same: shoes off. Belt off. Computer in its own bin. Move the bag so it’s vertical. Put the boarding pass in there, too. Thank god it’s summer, or I’d have a jacket to take off. Cell phone, too. And the watch. IAD loves to check that thing out because it’s apparently just big enough to warrant extra inspection. And walk through.

Pass through. Wait for the tram. Hop on the tram. Fight for a spot with no one because no one else is on the thing. Unboard at the B gates and hobble up the tiny escalator to the second tiny escalator. And there it is in the distance: my beloved gate 79, with all sorts of food places that the employees who will open them are not even here to do yet.

The gate is always the same. We have a love-hate relationship, Atlanta and me. Too many times spent running to make my connecting flight at ATL, only to find out it either left early or I had missed it entirely due to having to travel across four different concourses. Standby? Good luck – this is Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport. And you’re flying Delta. There are a million others like you, because guess what? Same situation. This is Delta Country. I should have known better than to book a flight with a 25 minute layover in Atlanta. Kicking myself for it.

It is now 4:30 AM. The bookstore and Starbucks has opened up. So it’s time to get on that before I have to make the journey to Atlanta because I’m pretty sure I will barely have a minute to breathe let alone get food on my way through there.

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

West

First off, let me say that as much as I proclaim my loathing for Northern Virginia and the DC Metro Area as a whole that there are many things and people I will miss dearly. Yes, I know how much of a mindwarp that is. I started this blog almost out of spite to document what was going on in a small neighborhood in Washington, DC called Columbia Heights. The blog has since blossomed into a bouquet of several different themes and topics.

My friend Dave Stroup said it best:

You wake up each day as the sum total of everything you have experienced. You try to make the best decisions you can with the information you have at the time. Sometimes you fall flat on your face and make terrible decisions. What matters, of course, is the advice we never wanted to hear. What matters is that we learn. It’s harder when there’s no one telling you what that lesson is.

We’re about three weeks away now. You know, from the move out to the great and wild west. I’m excited and terrified and feeling a bit jarred at the notion of leaving everything on the east coast behind. I take solace in the fact that the change is occurring whether I allow it or not — the point of no return happened long ago. For the past few months and weeks, my life has been the absolute worst Gantt chart you’ve ever seen. Nothing was staggering correctly, but it is what it is, right? It’s been a whole lot of work, come home, work out, look for work, look up at the clock and realize I skipped right past dinner and went straight to 12:00 AM.

This move means leaving family behind. It means leaving friends I’ve known for literally decades behind. Friends who remember when I had bangs. Friends who were around when I got my driver’s license (much to the DMV’s detriment). And friends who I’ve met in the past year who have been such an awesome addition to my life. It means leaving behind the comfortable job that I’d grown into more than I thought. In short, it means leaving behind most of my life as I know it, and beginning a new one.

I don’t know how this new gig will go, or how I’ll like the dry weather, coming from the swamp and all. (I love the swampy humidity, and yes I know that’s totally gross.) But I’m willing to bet that I’ll love every minute of it and soak up the experience like a giant sponge as much as I’ll miss everything and everyone here.

I won’t miss the frizzy hair situation.

I will no longer have the awesome nail salon to go to anymore with the lady that always tells me “no sparkles, they are tacky” and who I always convince to slam glitter and sparkles all over them anyway. I won’t have Kline’s Freeze anymore. I won’t have a crappy Giant across the street to buy near-expired produce from and that is charming in its own right. Politics won’t be the first item on the menu when it comes to conversation. But I will have a new frontier to explore, a new job that’s a step further into my career, and lots of new friends to make.

And so it begins to come to a close: my east coast summer tour. I can honestly say that this has been the best month of my life, and second to last year’s amazing summer, one of the best summers I have ever had. Never a dull or idle moment! Whether it was a trip up to Dogfish Head or a trip down to Blacksburg, where we really thought those trains were coming at us when we’d become quite comfortable in our inflatable beds, I have my friends, old and new, to thank for sending me off in such high spirits.

Yes, I am moving permanently, and yes, I will actually miss this place. But there’s too many great people and things to come back to. I’ve flown all over the country and parts of the world, and though I have two different homes, I can’t deny I’ll actually miss this place. And while it is confusing to me, I can assure you it’s true.

Washingtonians, I’ll miss you and all of your political shenanigans.

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

All Manner of Change

Hey there, world.

There’s quite a bit of change going on around here. But for now, I’ll leave it at the fact that I’ve changed the categories on the site. You may have noticed this. By “changed the categories” I mean that I deleted all of them because I created them when I had zero understanding of how they worked. This isn’t a big issue if you’re using a template that doesn’t utilize them — but the minute you find a template that does use them, you’re hosed because it looks like a whole lot of alphabet (category? har har) soup.

So please bear with me as I redesign the blog and make it easier for you to find posts.

In the meantime…

38655753

 

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2013 in Local, News

 

Night

Far, far away, in the rural land, where the property line straddles Nokesville and Warrenton, my Civic backs up in a friend’s driveway and rumbles down the gravel driveway to the closest main road. It’s really more of a secondary road, but who’s counting?

This is one of the few places where my high beams have a legitimate use. More humid than the steamiest sauna, my windshield is already developing condensation because I have the AC running from the dash. A couple of rabbits hop across the driveway, but it seemed a little late for them to be up. Don’t rabbits have an early bedtime? They seemed much quicker more polite than the geese I’ve been braking for as of recent, who decide to tote their young along with them as they run by a busy 50 mph road.

Turning onto the main road, I leave the high beams on, cautiously turning and slowly accelerating. The road is too narrow to get past 40, and it’s probably for the best because all I can think of is the deer I’m going to hit. It would be horrible to hit a goose, but in the grand scheme of things, a deer could kill me. A goose? Not so much.

Roaring through Nokesville at 35 mph and riding the hills like a roller coaster, I can’t help but wonder for each small drive that isn’t private, what’s down that way and where does the road connect? It’s dark and quiet and it’d be nice to immerse myself in all of this, but if I park my car in the middle of nowhere, it’s probably not the best idea.

At this point, I’m flying through moths hitting my headlights like this is that asteroids screensaver in Windows. It’s bizarre, watching them flutter closer and closer until they meet their fate with the windshield. Though perhaps it isn’t fate. Maybe they’re just gliding over my car’s sleek exterior.

There’s no one driving on these roads. The lack of light pollution, the silence, the desolate feel — is all foreign. Most are asleep, I wonder what it must be like for all the others awake, especially those who are working. And I think about all those quiet spots you could park your car and get the quietness you’ve been looking for all week but decide against this because it would look pretty shady and would be bizarre to explain to an officer, for example.

But no one is awake. The roads are completely clear. Nighttime is like Sudafed for the road,

The closer I get to home, the more light pollution becomes evident. From the hill at my friend’s house, the vague, amorphous glow of the city so far away hung in the sky like a strange alien storm. Getting closer to it as I got into Manassas, it is clear that much of it comes from the street lights. Off in the distance, as I work my way down 28, stands a rotating beacon of light, appearing to yawn a brilliant, double beam of light as it rotates over and over again. At night, each time I take the Prince William Parkway, this glowing beacon spins endlessly. It’s basically a lighthouse, minus the cool upward spiral pattern on the exterior of cylinder.

Deciding to make a random excursion, I turn right past the DMV and head towards the airport for kicks. Roar over the train tracks, drive past all sorts of aviation service companies. Commence wondering why this airport is so important for Manassas when it seems that none of its residents have a use for it. And wish I was important enough to have a private jet.

Driving slowly, closer and closer to Aurora and FlightWorks, I finally see it. The beacon, yawning over the entire city, silently screaming to the entire town that the airport is there. It’s like meeting a celebrity you’ve only seen on a TV show – surreal and unbelievable all at the same time. It’s time to go home, but I’m mesmerized by the steady and even rotation the light makes. Normally, this light is seen from a distance on the parkway on the way back home, but never up close like this. Never in an area where I could verify that it was real.

It was just so strange to see it up close.;

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2013 in Articles, Local, News, Portfolio

 

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