Monday, March 23, 2009

This Lenten Season

I normally do not particiapate in events like Lent. I abstain for the same reason I do not make New Year's Resolutions: Why do something special at one special time of the year when you could do it at anytime? Also, when was the last time someone actually kept their New Year's resolution for a whole year?

Well in my new spirit of keeping a positive attitude, I decided to participate in Lent this year. After some general thoughts on what I could give up for 40 days, I settled on sugar and artificial sweeteners.

As an aside, I realize that there is sugar (or some manmade equivalent) in lots of different food products. To keep myself sane, I made it a rule that I woudn't comb through the ingredients list to find every small, trace amount of sugar. I would instead refrain from foods where refined sugar is a primary ingredient (Deserts, candy, soft drinks, ect...).

I do not exactly have a sweet tooth, but I do have an occasional Coke or Diet Coke and always take sugar with my coffee. These were the hardest to give up.

Breakfast has also been a challenge (when I do decide to eat it) because almost all muffins and pastries have sugar.

Drinks have also been a challenge. Drinking tea without sugar just isn't quite the same (not to mention that in the South, you rarely have to ask specifically for sweet tea. If you order tea, 9 times out of 10, it will be brought out sweet). Drinking coffee black with no sugar also took some time to adjust to, but now I think I prefer it that way.

It really hasn't been so hard adjusting to no sugar after a few slip ups the first week. I might just keep this going after Lent..... well maybe I will make a few exceptions.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

On Traveling

"When you travel, you experience, in a very practical way, the act of rebirth. You confront completely new situations, the day passes more slowly, and on most journeys you don't even understand the language the people speak. So you are like a child just out of the womb. You begin to attach much more importance to the things around you because your survival depends on them. You begin to be more accessible to others because they may be able to help you in difficult situations. And you accept any small favor from the gods with great delight, as if it were an episode you would remember for the rest of your life. At the same time, since all things are new, you see only the beauty in them and feel happy to be alive."
-Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage)

Monday, March 9, 2009

Cancellations, Delays, and Mechanical Mishaps (Or Why I Hate O'Hare Airport)

This week is a break from life on the road and is much needed. All of the consultants have been on the road for about 7-8 weeks and I sense we all need the break. It is not a Spring Break by any means ( I still have to be in the office each morning at 8:30 with a tie on), but it is so nice to get to sleep in my own bed and cook my own food and get some down time to relax.

I finished up with my visit and then headed into Memphis. United has moved my flight time around and I thought it would be better to go ahead and get into Memphid for my flight rather than wake up very early and then driving several hours to catch the flight.

My flight was supposed to leave Memphis at 10:40am and then arrive in Chicago at 12:30am. My next flight was scheduled to depart Chicago at 4:10pm and arrive in Dayton at 6:20pm. It was a bit of a layover in Chicago but I was meeting up with another consultant there and were both going to be on the flight to Dayton.

That was my scheduled day. Here is how it actually went:

8:30am: Wake up, shower and get ready and check out of my hotel room.

9:30am: Arrive at Memphis International airport and park my car in the long term lot. I head in to the terminal and check in for my flight. As I am checking in, I notice that my flight is slightly delayed until 11:20. No big deal, I have a long layover in Chicago.

11:30am: The time they set for the flight to leave comes and goes and still there isn't a plane at the gate.

12:00pm: The plane arrives from Chicago and all of the passengers deplane. None of the gate agents are moving to get ready to board our flight and I begin to wonder what is going on. An agent takes a phone call and then gets on the intercom.
"Due to a potential mechanical problem with the plane, the flight will be delayed further while maintenence checks the plane out."

I don't really get too upset about flight delays because there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. I particularly don't care if it is for mechanical reasons. I want the plane to absolutely work (I already can't help but think about the plane crashing each time I take off or land).

They back the plane out and take it somewhere to get checked out.

1:00: The plane is back at the gate and the agent tells all of us that the mechanical issue they had has been resolved. They rebook passengers who missed their connections, get everyone on the plane, and then we take off for Chicago.

2:05pm: The flight attendant goes by for the last time to collect garbage and make sure everyone's seatbelt is buckled and their traytables and seats are in the full upright and locked position. I am reading my book when I notice a really awful smell in the cabin. It smells an awful lot like burning plastic. I look around the cabin to make sure I am not the only one who smells it and I notice all of the passengers around me doing the same thing. I look up the aisle and the flight attendant, who is seated in her jumseat at the front of the plane, grabs the phone and calls (I assume) the cockpit. She then gets on the PA system and makes a short announcement:

"Both I and the pilots notice the smell too. If you see smoke, please let us know."

Wait a second.... are we on fire?

2:35pm: The flight lands and the pilot taxies the plane out to a far corner of the runway where we are met by several bright yellow fire trucks with sirens blazing. The girl sitting in the seat next to me wakes up and the first thing she sees is the fire trucks and has no idea what is going on. I sent a quick text to the other consultant I was meeting in Chicago to tell him that there may or may not be a fire on the plane and that it might be a while before I got to the gate.

3:00pm: Apparently we were not on fire and the plane taxies to the terminal and eaveryone gets off. I head into the terminal to find out that my next flight to Dayton was cancelled. The only next available flight departs at 7:30. I am not looking forward to the prospect of waiting for 4 hours in the O'Hare airport but there really is not a lot I can do.

3:30pm: Meet up with the other consultant, Justin and get him booked onto the 7:30 flight. Then we think about our options. I mention something about just renting a car. The drive to Dayton is between 4 and 5 hours and we would make it there before the flight did. We get online and check out the rental companies. For the low, low price of $217, we could rent a car to drive one way from Chicago to Dayton. That idea is out of the window.

4:00pm: Sit down at a restaurant in the airport and take our time because we have 4 hours to kill. A couple of beers and a cheeseburger later, we get up and head to our gate for the flight.

6:00pm: Find out our flight is delayed until 9:30. I stare at the departures board with loathing.

8:30pm: The plane shows up at the gate and the passengers from the previous flight deplane. By this time, the airport might as well have been a refugee camp. Most flights in and out of Chicago were delayed by at least 2 hours and the terminals has people camped out everywhere.

9:30: Our flight to Dayton finally takes off. To put it into a little perspective, once you are in the air, the flight to Dayton takes 41 minutes. We had just sat and waited in Chicago 6 hours for a 41 minute flight. Ugh.

11:30: (We jumped an hour ahead because of switching from Central to Eastern time). The plane begins to descend and slow down in preparation of landing. Then the plane makes a series of turns. We keep circling and I begin to wonder what is going on. We circle for around 20 more minutes and then finally land.

11:50: Finally am on the ground at Dayton. The pilot gets on the intercom to apologize about the circling and then vaguely mentioned they had a problem with the airplane and were checking to see if they could land. Two broken planes in one day. Unbelievable.

1:00am: Get back to my house in Oxford. What a day.

Then on Sunday, I got an email from United Airlines apologizing for my experience on the flight from Memphis to Chicago and offered me a gift to make up for it. I am curious what the free gift was and expected a drink voucher or something. I put all of my information in and then it shows me three gifts to choose from:
-$100 off any domestic flight
-20% off an international flight
-4,000 frequent flyer miles

I thought about it, did a little research, and then chose the 4,000 bonus miles. Now with those extra miles, I have a free flight with United.

I can hardly wait to get delayed in the Chicago airport again...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


I was sitting around the chapter house last night when one of the members popped his head into my room and asked if I wanted to attend tug practice.

"Tug practice?" I asked.
"Yeah, its a huge deal here at Western and we are practicing tonight." He replied.

Not really knowing what I was getting myself into and mostly out of pure boredom I quickly agreed. I am always in for a new experience. I threw on my coat and grabbed gloves and headed out not really knowing what to expect.

The last time I participated in a tug-of-war was in elementary school during field day and I imagined this would be something similar. On the ride out to the field where the chapter practices I asked all kinds of questions.

Here is what I found out (although the answer to most questions was "You will just have to see."
-Tug-of-war is simply known as Tug around here
-Tug is a HUGE deal. Huge. It is an event for points during Greek week here at the University and every fraternity participates
-Tug is nothing like you (or I) can imagine. I thought of a bunch of big guys standing up and pulling on a rope.
-Tug is intense. The event is not until the end of April but these guys will practice Monday throught Thursday from now until then.

We arrived at the field and the temperature was quicly falling. The field was a rather large patch of grass in between several large factories. The field is completely dark except for some ambient light coming from the factories several hundred yeards away. Everyone else begins to arrive and the practice begins with getting the rope out of the car.

The rope is about 2 inches around, over 100 feet long, and takes several guys to lift it out of the back of an SUV. They drag it out into the field which has strange holes all over the place.

Practice begins with what one of the guys calls "kickin' holes." Kicking holes is important because it makes holes that are used as footholds during the actual tug. To begin the eight men on a tug team lay down in a line with one guy's feet a few inches above the head and shoulders of the guy in front of him. They make marks with their heels and then stand up to kick holes. To kick a hole you swing you leg up like you are kicking and then swing your leg down hard, digging your heel into the ground. During the actual competition, teams have 5 minutes to kick holes. The guys here have a goal to kick their holes in three minutes so they have 2 minutes to rest and make sure the holes are aligned.

Once the holes are dug, each guy lays down and puts his feet down in his holes and grabs the rope. Each guy puts the rope under his arm and then firmly grabs it with both hands. The coach tells me that the key to Tug is all technique. The rope goes under the arm because it give each man another place to hold onto the rope.

The match begin with the coach yelling, "READY! READY! READY! ... TUG!) The rope goes taught in an instant and the knot in the middle moves slightly in each direction. Each team also has a set of different tugs (me, in my former ignorance simply thought you just pulled real hard). They are named after different colors and the team has four of five tugs. The tugs vary by which member pulls and in what order they pull. One color (I forget which) means that the guy in the back (the anchor) pushes hard and pulls rope and then each successive tugger in front of him goes. There is also one where it starts at the front of the line as well as mixing and matching.

The tug team practices by scrimmaging the women of a sorority (I was also surprised that the girls get into it, but the sorority they scrimmage with has won the women's event for the last few years). The tug starts and each respective coach is running up and down his or her respctive lines yelling, SQUEEZE! .... SQUEEZE! ... SQUEEZE!

The matchup is five guys versus ten girls and after ten minutes of pulling, the guys have lost over three feet of rope. This is simply unnacceptable to the coach and he huddles the guys and gives a pep talk. "Its gunna hurt guys... Tug is all about heart. Its about who has the most heart and can get past the pain!" (This is a summary. Most of this speech is unrepeatable in this blog).

They give it another go and lose. The process is repeated. Then the guys lose again and the coach shuffles the lineup.

So here I am, in the freezing cold, in the middle of a field, in the dead of night watching people grunt and moan while squeezing and pulling on a rope all while being yelled at by circling coaches. Quite the experience to say the least.

Right about the time I lose feeling in my feet, the girls finsih their practice and leave and the guys head over to "The Pole." At this point I don't think I can be surprised, but I am. The guys tie a rope to a giantic telephone pole and then practice tugging against that. I stand there wanted to yell at the guys, "You realize that the pole will not budge, right?"

The guys practice thier tugs more and grunt and groan their way all while fighting the immovable object. After 20 minutes of agony, the guys are released to go do push ups and situps in the parking lot. On the way back up, the anchor asks about the last exercise they did.

Him: "Hey coach, that last one was funny because the rope wouldn't go anywhere and kept moving up my back"
Coach: "Yeah buddy. Its a pole. It don't give."

I almost lost it right there.

Practice ended after the pushups and situps and I retreated back into a car to try to get warm. It was freezing but I now have a greater appreciation for Tug.