I planned to get back to our hotel around 6PM – leaving plenty of time to take Kelly to see Red Rocks Park and stand on-stage at the ampitheater made legendary (at least to us) by Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, among others. Instead, in a dirt-filled rental car, toting a half-functioning rented Ellsworth mountain bike covered with red-clay mud and snow, I pulled into our hotel parking garage a little after 11PM. I still couldn’t feel my fingertips, and the mixture of mud and blood that washed off me in a hot post-ride shower would have been well-suited to an action-movie recovery scene.
The warm cafe where I’m sitting and typing this entry – with jazz, the smell of espresso and the sound of lighthearted conversation floating through the air – feels almost as otherworldly as the landscapes I just endured with two other riders…
They say that coincidence is when God works a miracle and chooses to remain anonymous, and that serendipity is the art of making an unsought finding. And if there’s ever a time that you want these sorts of things to happen, it’s when you’re trying to piece together a special weekend to celebrate your wedding anniversary. As it happened, Kelly and I found ourselves trying to do just that – just a few weeks ago – as we searched for a B&B within driving distance that might have space available over the weekend that plays host to both Independence Day and Canada Day, depending on which side of the border you’re looking…
As it happened, we found a place, and booked a 3-night stay at the Timberhouse Lodge, nestled at the edge of Prince Edward County, Ontario. After a 5-hour drive with a dinnertime pit stop in Alexandria Bay, we settled into our room, too tired to spend much effort looking through the brochures we’d picked up, or planning the next day’s adventures. At breakfast, a charming retired couple joined us at our table – after the usual greetings and pleasantries, they explained that they were visiting the area for a special concert. Apparently, they were on the mailing list of a local winery and had tickets for a concert. And the artist? Just a singer from nearby Kingston – maybe we’ve heard of her? – her name is Sarah Harmer.
As it turns out, we had heard of the delightful Sarah Harmer. She’s been a darling of local indie station WBER, and even came to Rochester for a concert at the Water Street Music Hall, years before Kelly and I were married – a concert that we attended and enjoyed! So, needless to say, we were excited, and kept our fingers crossed that there’d be a few extra tickets available if we showed up at the winery, smiled real big and maybe bought a few bottles of wine to take home.
Thanks to the efforts of Robert, the owner of Chadsey’s Cairns winery, we were able to get the last two tickets – sealed with a rooster hand stamp. After trying some wine in their barn-turned-tasting-room, we took a quick peek at the venue: a nearby barn lined with chairs and hay bales, complete with a stage, endless strings of tiny white lights, and a cool breeze through the open pasture door.
A couple of hours later, we arrived alongside a hundred-fifty-or-so other (far more invited) guests. Kids climbed around the stacks of hay, parents mingled over glasses of wine, and we found a comfortable bale on which to park. Streams of afternoon sunlight cut through the barn’s siding, painting bright stripes over long-dormant farm equipment and highlighting what little dust floated through the air as if it were fireflies brought in just for this occasion. The concert opened with the lead singer from the Canadian band Bahamas playing a solo set, just as Sarah would not long after. A witty and likable amalgamation of Willy Nelson’s guitar, John Mayer’s voice and lyrics landing somewhere in the triangle connecting the Barenaked Ladies, Jason Mraz and The Weepies, Afie Jurvanen played a set of original songs that made us smile, and set the stage of good vibes perfectly for the rest of the afternoon.
After a short break, Sarah stepped nonchalantly from a small room off to one side, finished in the same slatted siding that was now casting long strips of amber late-afternoon light over the stage. With no fanfare and just a short introduction from the winery’s owner, she started into spinning her unique flavor of indie-infused folk that’s simultaneously brilliant and down-to-earth; through the delightfully-clear concert sound system, the pitch and intonation of her voice would have been at home right alongside Sarah Mclachlan or Regina Spektor. She ran through some favorites (Basement Apartment, I am Aglow), a handful of covers, and even a few new songs – one highlight was her performance of an upbeat commissioned song for the Canadian National Parks Service (presumably) titled “Won’t You Come With Me?“ that put a smile on all our faces. Though she only speaks English, she did impress us with one verse in French after describing the difficulty she had in recording the French version. At another spot, when she forgot a chord for a cover song, she just started experimenting with the audience – eventually someone called out “B-flat!” and as she played it, a satisfied smile washed over everyone and the song casually resumed.
As Afie and Sarah played, I stopped at odd intervals and looked around. I watched people in the audience pouring wine and smiling, watched a small spider work across one beam of sunlight building a web that would have shamed Charlotte herself, watched as kids played on the broad, well-worn floorboards at the performers’ feet, prompting occasional smiles from behind the microphone that tinted the lyrics with joy. It reminded me of an article I read while we were on our honeymoon. I thought, This – right here – is the kind of thing you only read about in magazines and food blogs. It was a rare, special, once-in-a-lifetime treat, indeed.
Ten years ago, I sat in a conference room with a group of ambulance officers and paramedics. My clearance papers were on the table – a collection of training data that, taken together, was the basis for my being allowed to run the show in the back of an ambulance, alone. After I received my clearance that day, the brass left me with a parting thought: Remember: You’re never alone out there. A paramedic unit is just a radio call away. Medical control is on the other end of the phone. Your driver can help you. Ask the dispatcher, and you can even have a helicopter in fifteen minutes. But you’re never alone.
A year ago, I started a new chapter in life – pursuing a master’s degree in software engineering. My reason for returning to school: I could do a clean-sheet design for a piece of electronic hardware, but the same wasn’t so for software – and there was software in nearly everything I was creating. So, I left my cooshy job, turned in my comfy car and spent the year that followed studying my ass off.
As of yesterday, that chapter is over. My degree is finished, 64 credits and 12 months later. And I realize, in much the same way as I was never alone in my decade as a medic, that you never really start from nothing. In the software world – as in the engineering world in general – you build on the shoulders of the great people who came before you. Gauss, Tesla, Maxwell, Ohm and Shockley were all with me as I designed circuits, just as Gamma, Bass, Booch, Pressman and their cohorts have my back when it comes to creating software. Among other realizations, this past year has brought me the understanding that there’s no such thing as a clean-sheet design in the first place.
Next week, I’ll start a new job, working on new projects in the company of new friends and partners in innovation. It’s an exciting time, built not just on the foundation of intellect and creativity, but also on love and support: so my family and friends, and especially my Dad and Kelly, deserve the most thanks of all.
Yeah, I know, I fell off the Project52 wagon. Things have been just a wee bit busy, and I’ll leave the bellyaching to that.
Why? Because in this day and age when it seems like the vast majority of people would rather spend time dreaming up reasons why they can’t do this or that, there’s a never-say-die amputee somewhere out on the continental divide that’s turning people from victims to victors at the helm of a take-no-prisoners off-road Econoline.
When I think of “making something of one’s life” and “people that do meaningful things” I think of people like Lance Blair. While I’d be fine with keeping both my legs, I hope I get the chance to do something half as meaningful as he does. Keep up the great work Lance – you’re an inspiration.
(Hat tip: Engadget. A great read.)
Visually-deemphasized, marginally-interesting note: This is DaveRea.com’s 500th post! As if you cared! Woohoo!
As I recall, it was the early ’90s, I was somewhere between age 10 and the threshold of teen-aged, and was developing an appreciation for the value of loose change. Loose change could buy you baseball cards or candy at the corner store. Loose change could be hooked to batteries with alligator clips in glasses of salt water (wait…don’t all tween males at some point attempt to electrodeposit copper onto paperclips?!). Loose change could be used to test out the snack vending machine you just built out of Construx. Most importantly, loose change could be found between couch cushions, wedged into car seats, rolled beneath appliances and dropped under beds.
And so, on the occasion that my Mom ducked outside to work in her gardens or complete some manner of seemingly-boring, adult, home-ownerly task, if the thought occurred to me, I’d roam around the house collecting change. My brother’s room wasn’t very productive – he had just finished potty-training, after all – and our guest bedroom was occupied far too rarely to be much of a coin-magnet. The couch and easy-chair in our family room were convenient targets, but once in a while, when everyplace else left me empty-handed, I’d head for my parents’ room. It wasn’t off-limits or anything; heck, the door stood open unless they got tired of finding cat hair on their bedspread. And, on occasion, I’d find a coin or two hiding behind the ruffles of their bedskirt, or under the recliner in the corner, or peeking out from the gap between the carpet and the bottom drawers of each dresser.
On these occasions, and indeed any occasion that I had to visit my parents’ bedroom, I noticed that they each had a small wooden box on their dressers. The boxes weren’t the same shape, nor were they the same size, or correlated in any way other than that both parents had one. I noticed the boxes during my covert change-collecting missions. I noticed the boxes when I’d sit with my Dad, listening to TalkNet on his clock radio while he flipped through Corvette magazines. I noticed the boxes when, as a refugee of malfunctioning plumbing, I had to use the master bathroom in the mornings before school for a month or so. And I noticed the boxes when I’d sit with my Mom, talking little but experiencing much, during her final battle with breast cancer in 1998.
Every time I noticed the boxes, I came to the same conclusion: They must be for storing Very Important Things.
The end of October has arrived, and as surely as tonight will bring scores of trick-or-treating young’ns to many, tomorrow will bring the start of NaBloPoMo to the blogosphere. For those who didn’t (wait…who wouldn’t?!) watch the DaveRea.com NaBloPoMo escapades last November, or who just don’t wanna click the link, NaBloPoMo is the National Blog Posting Month, where bloggers with the time and inclination post at least once a day for the entire month of November. Think of it as the “online” version of NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month.
As much as I’d like to participate in NaBloPoMo this year, I probably shouldn’t get your non-existent hopes up… Because life is a little different going into this November than it was in ’08. The week before Labor Day, I took a leave of absence from my kickass job at GM, said goodbye my cooshy 250 horsepower Saab and took a few final photographs of our home’s former kitchen. In the days that followed, I purchased my awesome brother Andy’s 2-door Honda, tore apart the kitchen, and started my first day back at school. Graduate school. Pursuing a Master’s in Software Engineering (as if I weren’t geeky enough…)
Since then, life has been somewhere between a blur and this:
Despite being welcomed by 4 courses, 16 credit hours, 5 projects and 2 research papers, I think transitioning from “upstanding adult with a full time job” to “grad student living on coffee and pulling all-nighters” has gone quite well. And despite wanting to curl up in a ball and hide a few times, or asking myself “why the hell did I do this?” on several occasions, I’m still convinced it was a good choice. New chapters in our lives wouldn’t be all that interesting without a spectrum of emotions to go with them, and heading back to school is about as easy as it is an exception to that rule – which would be not at all.
So given that our kitchen still isn’t all back-together (but it’s coming along nicely), and my commute takes a little longer now (though I get 35 MPG and I’m thoroughly attached to the adorable Civic), and (oh-by-the-way) I’ve got homework to do, I hope you won’t mind me taking a pass on this year’s NaBloPoMo. I’ll try to keep up with posts – and I’m sure I’ll have some experiences with the new Droid to share in a little under a week – but to assemble a daily post that’s anything approaching intelligent, in the background of exams, Thanksgiving, homework and projects would be about like to trying to clear the leaves from our yard by blowing through a bendy drinking straw.
And with a pair of maples out front that are a decade older than either my wife or me, we have a lot of leaves…