Surviving the Storm

hurricane-season_980x551In my four years of living in Florida, I was very fortunate in that there were no hurricanes formed during my time there, but with the category 4 storm now passing through Florida, I have been reflecting on the time during my first summer there when I experienced my first tropical storm. I believe it was in late August, the year was 2012, and I was living in Fort Pierce, Florida, a small relatively small town just south of Vero Beach on Florida’s east coast. At the time, I was working as a delivery driver for Marco’s Pizza, which provided me with some good stories that I will share another time. In the week leading up to the storm, a hurricane was headed our way, and having never been subjected to something like that before, I was understandably panicked. All week at work people made fun of me as I asked them a barrage of questions about such natural disasters, such as, how one many people die in hurricanes, and how one might go about not dying in hurricanes. As the storm neared the coast, it was downgraded to a Tropical Storm, and I was relieved, if only for a moment.

I had the day off work, but my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, did not, because she worked at a school and it was a week day. I woke up the day of, feeling incredibly nervous, afraid and unsure of what the day would hold. I secretly hoped the county would close the schools so Leticia could stay home, which in retrospect would have meant the storm would have gained strength and would have been much worse for everyone involved. I sat in the living room glued to the TV, watching the local news channel’s non-stop coverage of Tropical Storm SomethingorOther, and as it got closer to Fort Pierce, the fact that it wasn’t actually a hurricane wasn’t doing much in the way of easing my nerves. The sky had been dark all morning, but suddenly the rain started, pounding against the walls and windows, and then finally the news I had been dreading appeared on the TV screen; tornadoes were forming from the storm and people who were on the roads and those in mobile homes needed to seek shelter, which wouldn’t have been too big of a deal had I not been living in a mobile home at the time.

The panic really hit me then, as I had nowhere to go. I had to ride out the storm in the mobile home with paper thin walls, either that or get obliterated my a tornado. Leticia was texting me, telling me that she was okay and everyone in the school was in the hallways preparing to put into action the tornado pose, which consists of crouching down on your knees against the wall with your head down and covered by your hands, a pose that seemingly looks like you are surrendering to the storm, but an effective one nonetheless. I did my own version of the pose, lying facedown on the couch, in a room filled with windows, because all of the rooms had windows, and thought about dying, hoping it wouldn’t be too painful. The storm passed and no damage was caused to me or the mobile home, and I was filled with relief having survived my first tropical storm. I hope that everyone in Florida, riding out the hurricane can come away from their storm feeling the same way I did. My thoughts are with you.

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A Long Hot Walk to the Dealership

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You know how when your old car starts showing signs of nearing the end of its life you start considering the idea of getting a new one? You probably start the search online and find out exactly the kind of car you want, and then you hit the dealerships and used car lots in your area in search of the best deals on that perfect car. That’s not how it happened for me. From the time I bought my 1994 Honda Civic it was pretty clear that I was going to need a new car. The front drivers side was dented with the headlight smashed out, not to mention that there was no air conditioning, which might not have been a problem in Antarctica, but I was living in Florida, the sunshine state where even the state flag is drenched in sweat, but hey, it got great gas mileage. That car was a constant source of pain, breaking down every couple of weeks in the parking lot of a grocery store or the office, never letting me forget what a terrible decision I made it making that purchase, but eventually enough was enough and it was time to get a more reliable car, one that we wouldn’t hesitate to take out on the highway for fear of splintering into a million little pieces as soon as the speedometer hit fifty.

I wanted an SUV so soon we had our choices down to a Nissan Rogue or a Honda CR-V. I really liked the rogue, but it was a little more expensive than the Honda, and my wife’s brother, the car guy, continuously recommended the Honda, saying it was the only kind of car he would ever drive. He drives a Subaru now, but we trusted him at the time and decided that the CR-V would be the car for us. We went around to a few of the dealerships in the area, searching for a low mileage model that it was in our price range, and one Tuesday night, we found our car. We had driven to the dealership in my mother in law’s car because my Honda Civic was acting up that month, and given that we didn’t have a driving car, we were pretty thrilled to find the car that we wanted within our price range, so we talked with the sales people for a while, got screwed over a few times, and finally had a deal for us to purchase the car. It was exciting, what I imagine most people feel like when their kids finally move out of the house, but since we wouldn’t have the money until the following day, I was going to come back the next morning to fill out the paperwork and pick up the new car. If only it had been that easy.

The next morning I woke up full of hope and excited to go pick up the new car. The plan was for me to drive my beat up old civic which would be traded in to help cover the cost of sales tax, and I would be driving the CR-V home. We lived just a couple of miles from the dealership, so despite the problems the civic had been having since the time I bough it, I thought surely it would be able to make the short drive to the car lot where it would then become somebody else’s problem. I was wrong. Before I even pulled out onto the main road, smoke started pouring out of both ends of the car, one last kick in the face to remind me what a piece of crap that Honda civic was. There was no way it was going to make it to the dealership, so I drove it back home and I started walking. Walking down the side of a two way highway isn’t always the most fun experience of a lifetime, but sometimes you have no other choice. By the time I arrived at the car dealership I was drenched in sweat and feeling very tired, but at least I hadn’t been ru over on the way to get the new car. I signed the paperwork and was on my way back home in the CR-V before too long, but that experience is one that will stick with me for a very long time.

Orange Beach to Orlando

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My wife and I left Orange Beach at five in the morning, eager to get our day of travel out of the way so we could relax at our next honeymoon destination for the next week. The first week of our honeymoon on the gulf coast of Alabama was fantastic, but when the day comes for us to leave, neither my new bride or myself like to stick around and waste the day, which is why we found ourselves on the road so early. It was a good plan, but unfortunately we didn’t plan as well the night before and didn’t end up going to bed until well after midnight, so needless to say, we were both pretty tired when we got up, bleary eyed, to hit the road a few hours later. Luckily for my wife, at that time in our relationship I didn’t really trust her to drive since my mom sent me to a defensive driving class when I was fifteen where I was shown pictures and videos of why other drivers cannot be trusted, images that still haunt me to this day, so she could sleep peacefully in the passenger seat while I manned the wheel and tried to figure out where in the world I was going. I finally found the interstate about the time it started to get light outside which meant it took me a lot longer to find than it should have, almost two hours of wasted time mindlessly circling Pensacola as the directions on my iPhone sent me contradicting directions as I got sleepier and sleepier.

By the time I merged onto the interstate I felt rejuvenated, excited to be on the road to Orlando, but a few miles later my eyelids started to droop and no matter what I did to try and wake myself up, munching sunflower seeds, cranking up the music, rolling down the windows, nothing was working and I knew I needed a break or I was one hundred percent going to fall asleep at the wheel. I woke my wife up and told her of the upcoming disaster of me crashing the car and both of us dying if I didn’t get some rest soon, so she convinced me to pull over and she would drive for a little bit while I napped in the passenger seat, a plan I didn’t trust, but not wanting to lose time by stopping at a rest stop for a nap, I eventually agreed and I pulled off at the next exit. We switched seats, and I closed my eyes, ready to get that much needed sleep. I kept my eyes closed as my wife pulled the car out onto the road, but as she increased her speed, merging back onto the interstate, there was no way that I could relax. My eyes flew open, expecting to see us careening directly into the side of an eighteen wheeler that would fall over onto our car and crush me, staining the interstate crimson with my blood for years to come, but to my surprise we were okay, at least for the moment.

I tried to trust my wife as she drove, but my feet wouldn’t cooperate, stomping down on the floorboard to no avail each time I felt she was going too fast or getting too close to another car. I was driving both my wife and myself crazy with my constant flinching and wincing, thinking about every single thing that could go wrong for every car that we passed; it was obvious that I wasn’t going to be able to relax long enough to fall asleep, so a few exits after my wife took over the driving duties, she pulled off of the interstate and into a rest area. As it turns out, it wasn’t that easy to fall asleep in the rest area either, primarily because my mind was racing, thinking about the likelihood of getting murdered while I slept in the car in a strange town. A sign stated that there was armed security at night, which did absolutely nothing for me given it was a few minutes after eight in the morning. I locked the doors and cracked the windows just a crack, because in the big scheme of things, suffocating would be just as impactful on my life as getting murdered. Somehow I fell asleep, but before an hour had passed I had already woken back up. The nap had tricked my mind into thinking that it was well rested, so before it could discover the truth I got back out on the road.

About twenty miles before we arrived in Orlando, the skies opened up and the rain started pouring down onto us so rapidly and hard that the highest setting on the windshield wipers did little in the way of helping me see the road. It’s true that I didn’t trust my wife’s driving and that I had thoughts in the back of my mind about getting murdered at the rest stop, but when I couldn’t see anything around me on that Florida interstate, I really thought there was a good chance that we were going to die. It took us more than an hour to arrive at our destination as we crawled along the interstate, bracing ourselves for impact with cars that we could not see. Miraculously we arrived unharmed and got checked in to our hotel a few hours after our original estimated time of arrival, but at least we had made it and could finally relax. At the time it was not a fun day, but now, looking back four and a half years later I can honestly say that I wouldn’t want to repeat that experience again. It was terrible.

Winning a Marital Disagreement

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For all of the people out there in relationships that are full of disagreements and conflicting opinions, who believe that no matter what, your significant other will never come around to feeling the way you do on certain issues, there is hope. Until today I never would have believed it and have given up on even trying to sway my wife’s opinion, but rejoice my friends because today it actually happened. Over the course of our relationship, my wife and I have had many disagreements over things, some small, like where to go for dinner or how to load the dishwasher, and some big, like whether Lord of the Rings is the greatest movie trilogy of all time, or if we should get dogs or not. Well we’ve never sat down and watched Lord of the Rings together and we now have two chihuahuas so it’s safe to say that I lose a lot more than I win, but today I won, and it feels fantastic.

The biggest fundamental difference of opinion that we have is far bigger than dogs or movies or how to load a dishwasher to make sure that everything gets clean (Seriously why does it matter how you put a spoon in? They’re not that expensive we could just buy more spoons), but rather where the ideal place to live is based on the weather. My wife was born in California and lived there for nine years before moving to Florida where she lived the rest of her life before we moved to Memphis last year, so her opinion was completely biased based on the surroundings she grew up with. She loves hot weather, so between Florida and Southern California that are two of the consistently warm climates in the country, she didn’t think it could get any better. I on the other hand like the cold. I absolutely loved living in Minnesota during the winter of my freshman year of college where snow stayed on the ground for the better part of three months, whereas the four years spent in Florida were some of the most miserable of my life, so we had to come up with a compromise, find a place where we could both get what we wanted, so we moved to Memphis.

We moved here in July, which was perfect for her so she could go from one hellishly hot place to another, but then fall rolled around and the heat relented and I was suddenly a much happier man, my first taste of cool fall air in four years. Last winter was a pretty mild one save for the week where it was consistently in the upper 20’s, but it was nice to have the cold for at least a little while, and to my wife’s surprise, she survived it. Now that it’s miserably hot again she was really enjoying it for a little while, but lately hasn’t been as happy about it, and today she texted me from work telling me that she can’t wait for winter and said she actually appreciates the changing seasons now, so take that Florida and California, Memphis wins (at least in that respect)! That just goes to show you that changes of opinions or preferences can change over the course of a relationship, so don’t give up hope and maybe, just maybe, you will be as happy as I am today.

My Tumultuous Relationship With the Public Library

The relationship between myself and the public library has been a somewhat tumultuous one over the years, with many more negatives than positives, although this has been entirely my fault, and like a bad couple who seem to keep breaking up and getting back together, so it is with me and the library, thinking each new time will be different, but so far that has never been the case. There was the Little Rock Public library, the one I grew up visiting, a relationship that started off great as I spent summers throughout childhood checking out as many books as they would allow and returning back countless times for more, but as I got older things changed. I would check out books that seemed interesting at the time and then more often than not I would get distracted with something else and end up not reading them, which wouldn’t have been a problem at all had I remembered to return the books. By the time I left Arkansas to go to college in Minnesota I had racked up over seventy dollars in fees from the library, but my mom bailed me out, giving me a fresh start when I decided to venture into the world of checking out books again.

I stayed away from the library for a few years until I moved to Florida, but the allure of unlimited books drew me back in and I fell into my old habits once again. I didn’t accrue as many fines for not returning books, the total being less than five dollars, and I really did intend on doing the right and responsible thing of paying for my transgressions, but as it turned out, the Fort Pierce library didn’t accept debit cards, they were cash only, which posed a problem for me as I have never been one in adulthood to carry cash on me. A kind stranger overheard the dilemma as I stood at the counter explaining to the librarian that I would have to return to pay my fines after visiting an ATM, and the stranger intervened saying she would pay the fine for me. I had hit rock bottom. I tried to dissuade the generous woman from freeing me from my debt, but she wouldn’t hear of it, no matter how much I pleaded, and eventually, against my will, paid my fine. It was at that moment that I decided I was done with the public library system, preferring instead to purchase books so that I could read what I wanted on my own time, building a personal library that would allow me to choose whatever book interested me as soon as I was ready to read something new. Then I moved to Memphis and the library bug bit me again.

Within the first month of living here I got a library card, you know, just to have one, but I stuck to my guns and for more than a year I didn’t check out a single book. I had all but forgotten about my library card, that is until today. The bank I work at can be pretty slow in the middle of the week with the higher traffic days being Monday and Friday, so to pass the time I will often read until a customer enters the branch, which is what I was doing today, but unfortunately I finished my current book with more than five hours left in my shift, and the temptation to check out a book became to much to resist, so on my lunch break I walked across the parking lot to the library and began browsing the infinite selection of books. I did check out a book, but at least it was only one, telling myself that I would read it, then immediately return it before checking out another. Hopefully this time around I’ll be more responsible and my relationship with the public library will be better than ever before. Only time will tell.

Moving to Memphis

IMG_2531I woke up fifteen minutes before six, still tired after only getting a few hours of sleep. Part of me wanted to roll over and go back to bed, but a bigger part of me was ready to leave Florida behind, and start my new life as a Tennessean, so I got up and dressed, told my wife and in-laws goodbye and began my long journey. My car was so full of boxes, boxes of clothes, of dishes, of books and more books, all piled wherever they could fit, in the trunk, on top of the backseat that was folded down to accommodate more boxes, in the passenger seat, in the floor, all piled to the ceiling, blocking all views of the outside world except for the window to my left and the portion of windshield directly in front of me. Sure it was dangerous, but it had to be done, lest I leave some of my possessions behind, like I was forced to do with my Barack Obama lava lamp that literally would not fit anywhere in my fully packed car, aside from my lap, but even as much as I liked our president at the time, the thought of having his five pound lava lamp sitting on my lap for fourteen and a half hours was not appealing.

I drove fast down Florida’s turnpike, passing effortlessly through the tolls thanks to my prepaid sunpass, and scanning the radio for something good to listen to, which when found would inevitably become static in a matter of minutes as I continued on my way. I munched sunflower seeds to stay awake, my mouth becoming dry with nothing to drink. I had brought some beverages along but I was reluctant to drink very much, hoping not to make any unnecessary stops to use the bathroom which would prolong my trip. I was making great time, and there were a couple of occasions where I could have been stopped for speeding, but I must have slammed on my brakes before the cops noticed, or they just sympathized with someone trying to get out of Florida as quickly as possible, so they didn’t pull me over.

I drove and drove without encountering any problems, although I did get followed into the bathroom at a gas station in Birmingham by a suspicious looking truck driver who claimed he needed a ride to Memphis. I told him no, and when he followed me out to my car that was sitting at the gas pump, he realized that there was no room for him anyway, so I got back on the road with my organs still within me rather than for sale on the internet. Mississippi is the most boring state I’ve ever driven through, with long stretches of nothing, steep hills, and not much traffic, and I absolutely love it. It’s a nice change of pace after you get through the Birmingham traffic, and as long as you don’t need gas or something to eat, which you won’t be able to find too easily, it’s the ideal place to be driving. Just before sundown I crossed the state line into Tennessee, excited that I was finally coming to Memphis to live rather than just visiting. I went to my dad’s house where my wife would join me the following day before moving into our apartment the day after. Ready to embrace the city of Memphis, my dad and I went to Central Barbecue for dinner, where I had the BBQ nachos with homemade potato chips. My new life was delicious.

Bad Job Interviews

Given the fact that I’ve held so many jobs over the course of my life, I’ve been to way too many job interviews. Most of the time I walked away feeling good, pretty confident in my chances of getting the job, but there have been a few occasions where I knew that I would never hear from the company again, and those, the one’s that are more fun to talk about despite the fact that I didn’t go on to work there, are what I’m sharing with you today. All three of the following stories happened in Florida, and I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not that they happened in the place I hated living most, but perhaps there’s something in the warm air along the coast of the Atlantic that makes strange things happen.

When I first moved to Florida I was desperate to find a job. I got hired as a sign holder for a store closing sale and got sunburned for two straight days before never hearing from that employer again, and the next job interview I had was for the position of busboy at an Italian restaurant, so when I got the news that they were interested in hiring me, I was excited about finally finding a job. I showed up at ten in the morning, an hour before the restaurant opened, and was shown to a table in the corner, where I waited at least half an hour before the owner of the restaurant came out to speak to me. He looked like a character off the sopranos, and by the time the interview concluded, I was convinced that he was in fact a member of the Italian mob. He kept mentioning that he was looking for someone who would be loyal and wanted someone who could keep their mouth shut and just do as they were told. When I asked about the pay, he told me that cash would be slipped to me throughout my shift, depending on how busy they were that day. I played it cool and told him I was definitely the man for the job, and he told me to be back that night for the dinner shift. I never returned.

After my wife and I got married and we returned to Florida from our honeymoon, I was working at Subway, yes the sandwich shop, and desperate to find a job that paid more money and didn’t leave me smelling like baked bread hours after I’d gotten home from work. I got an interview for a customer service position, answering phones in a call center. To this day I have no idea what the company actually did, but nevertheless it was a full time job that paid pretty good, so I really wanted the job. The interview went pretty well until I was asked the final question, and I don’t know whether it was intended to be the last question or if my answer was just so bad that they decided to end the interview then, but more than likely it was probably the latter. I was asked to tell them my biggest weakness, a common job interview question that I absolutely hate. I have plenty of weaknesses, but trying to come up with one that wouldn’t make me sound like a terrible employee proved to be too difficult for me on that day. I sat in front of the interviewer, trying to come up with an answer, unable to do so. Finally, after almost ten minutes of silence had passed I just told him that I didn’t have any weaknesses, and he thanked me for coming in and promised to call me if I were selected for the job. I didn’t get that phone call.

After my real estate career had failed and I realized that I was losing more money than I was making trying to sell houses, I was again desperate to find a job, any job that could provide me with a reliable income, which is how I found myself at a table in Ruby Tuesday, at 2:30 on a Thursday afternoon. The interview was going pretty well until I was thrown a curveball. I was asked if I were a disney character, who would I be, and I answered with the first thing that came to my mind, my favorite character, Captain Hook. “Please explain.” It was a terrible answer and I had no idea how to bounce back from it, so I just told her that I thought of all the disney villains, Captain Hook was the most likable, basically calling myself evil, albeit likable. Either she was not impressed, or was terrified at the possibility of hiring a villainous waiter, and once again, I was excused from the interview and never heard back from them again. It’s okay, I didn’t really want to work at Ruby Tuesday any way. I don’t even like eating there.