YVR -> SFO (3)

"Are you the caravan crew?"

Tessa-with-a-red-minivan from Oakland approached us, wanting to join. News travelled fast, and I guess we already had a name. Some people who were originally interested had backed out (one guy driving a pickup truck while towin another pickup), and we were the three left. Within a few minutes, we had advice from locals and were on our way for another adventure.

We somehow lost Tessa after the first gas station, where we got the best route to I-5 north. I was in lead with Noah in tow -- he drove slower because he lost his wallet earlier and was being careful. At Grants Pass, we filled at the Arco (touted the "cheapest gas around" by a Redding local who frequents the area) and had a Tessa sighting before she disappeared again.

Westward ho along the 199! Rain was light, but it was a small road (hardly a highway) through tiny antique towns. I was treated to sights of round red trucks carrying (wet) hay, old rusted water heaters in unkept yards, houses built decades before I was born, and gas stations charging arms-and-legs over the price we got.

Through Smith National Park, the road began a steep and steady descent, winding its serpentine way for another 25 miles before opening up to 101-S and arriving at Crescent City. Noah and I felt comfortable with the rest of the drive home (me to SF, him to LA) and we parted ways here.

redwoods left and rightI continued my drive through hundreds of miles while rains came down, varying from light drizzles to torrential rainstorms. Then came Redwood National Park -- the US-101 is also known as Redwood Highway, aptly named for the plentiful redwood trees lining the highway on either side. It's actually quite a beautiful drive when you're not in a rush to get home and when it's not raining. (Attempts to snap photos while hurtling down the highway were rather feeble.)

My progress was helped by a few speeders whom I tagged behind -- I wasn't bold enough to take the lead while speeding, knowing the constant threat of "Radar Enforced by Aircraft". (Highway patrols were rumoured to enjoy speeding tickets as extra income to their towns.)

all i could see while drivingAt times, the rains plus the sprays from cars ahead rendered my vision useless! The rain came down so hard that I had blind moments where I feared for my safety! Left. Straight. Left again. Right. Brake. I could only depend on lights from the vehicles immediately ahead to be my eyes. And my Nokia indicated that these areas provided "No service" anywhere from AT&T -- any breakdown meant sure misery.

The 101 wound itself through downtown cores of several small cities, an unwelcome "scenic route" thrust upon me with still hundreds of miles to go. Cellular service was spotty as I updated family on my whereabouts.

"Still X miles from San Francisco. Yes, everything is fine. Tell Mom I have enough food. Hello? You're breaking up. Whoa, it's raining really hard now -- I have to concentrate on driving. I'll call later."

At 6:00pm, I had escaped the treacherous mountainous terrain and unfamiliar towns: Sonoma County welcomed me by emptying clouds its on me (a common theme for today). Then I gassed up in Petaluma and was battling rough traffic there. (The gas tank probably could have lasted another 45 miles, but my bladder wouldn't.) I'd never been so happy to see Novato before!

By 8:30pm, I was just happy to be home. My bags poured onto the livingroom floor, and a nice hot shower was the welcome I was looking forward to. The news showed that they had just re-opened the highway at 11pm Monday night. Had I stayed in Ashland, I would only now be braving the night drive through the Siskiyou Pass.

I think I'll avoid driving for a while.

YVR -> SFO (2)

stranded travellers sleep on itSo there I was, stranded in Ashland, Oregon, camping in the South Oregon University wrestling room with my tracksuit, sweater, and ski jacket on, backpack serving as a pillow. Around 3am, I woke up to see the room had filled with sleepers! A Red Cross Disaster Relief team was handing out blankets now -- I got one and returned to my slumber.

7am, I awoke. Greyhound buses had delivered their passengers here through the night, and I surveyed the now-hundreds of people sleeping in the rooms, hallways, everywhere. It was the scene of an ER during a natural disaster, but I liken it more to a refugee camp. Cookies and biscuits, breads and cakes, fruits, drinks were provided to tame the grumbling stomachs of wary travellers. (I filled my bottles with juice and stocked my car. You never know.) Most remained calm (though unhappy), but a few were visibly worried about getting to their destinations on schedule (or asap). Disaster Relief volunteers answered questions and put people to ease, while SWAT team members stood by, and local media made their stories.

A man in a red jacket addressed us. News. The highway was closed from Redding, CA, up to the Oregon border; all 150 miles of it, and probably for another 24 hours. Some 300 cars were still stuck on the highway, and snowmobiles shuttled food, medical, and emergency supplies in while carrying persons out.

It meant possibly another night in this shelter, and I put my blanket in my car to keep it until night while making note to claim one of the cots in the larger room for a more comfortable sleep. I chatted with relief team volunteer Esther to pass some time, but eventually decided to make alternate plans of escape. Not out of panic -- there's no point to panicking in a situation like that. I just had to take what was dealt and deal with it; do what you gotta do.

A variety of options began to emerge. Greyhound would re-route one of its buses originally for Medford to come down and pick some passengers up and head back north. Some people were considering flying out of Medford to wherever they needed to get to. Some wanted to go back to Seattle. One guy didn't know how he would continue his journey to Texas. A Mongolian foreign student was on her cell phone with her host family in San Francisco, trying to figure out what to do, particularly since her parents were flying into SFO at 9am the next day.

plotting an escape routeOn my map, I found Highway 199, which connects Grants Pass, OR, to Crescent City, CA, on the coast -- a detour of roughly 125 miles. Then I'd take the US-101 down from there. I figured it was a 10-hour drive, taking into account the weather and traffic conditions. Noah, a young organic foods entrepreneur from the Los Angeles area (who bears a striking resemblance to Noah Wyle of ER fame), was considering the same plan with his Camry wagon.

Rumours were that the I-5 could be opened by 4pm; another rumour whispered it might be open by noon. But the only real news was the 24 hours. Even if they were true, it would take time before cars could start out on the I-5 again, and it would certainly be slow progress (in chains) for the next 150 miles. I guessed it would take us twelve hours, starting from who-knows-when.

10 hours of driving beats 3-to-24 hours of waiting and then 12 hours of driving. And I would rather be driving than doing nothing and waiting around. Teamed up, we began to approach others to see if anyone wanted to form an impromptu caravan to travel together.

YVR -> SFO (1)

"How was your drive down?"
"Nasty. I'll tell you about it some time."

I left Vancouver at 9:30am, after repeatedly resisting my mom from overpacking me with food. ("Mom, I'm only on the road for 24 hours. I have a lot of food!") A 20-minute wait at the border and I was in Washington state -- I was also in very rainy weather, with brief splashes (minutes at a time) of crazily heavy snow.

The varying rains in Seattle and Portland came and went (with a stop at Flying Pie) and I had one last fill-up in Eugene before my next planned stop in Redding. Grants Pass treated me to terrible rain with pockets of snowfall, though traffic seemed not to be bothered by these and kept at a good clip.

7:45pm. I was some distance from Medford. Flashing yellow letters, blurred by rains on my windshield, shone through: "Chains Required. 20 Miles Ahead." I had hoped to avoid it, but I pulled over with the oceans of other vehicles to latch my tire chains on.

snow piles up, waiting for chain inspectionWind. Strong, freezing winds. And rain, the kind that you swear is just mocking you and your situation. It was a miserable half an hour before my chains were safely on my rear tires and my fingers were regaining feeling in the warmth of my car again.

And then it was the line-up to the chain inspection, while our vehicles were facing the preludes of a west coast storm. Traffic was slow ... all stop (15 minutes) and go (15 seconds). News radio reported a 3-mile backup for inspection. Most of us had the heat on full blast while moving, and shut our cars off to conserve gas when waiting. Strangely, my chains weren't giving much traction and I subtly slipped and slid my way to the inspection officer around 10:30pm.

"The I-5 is closed; you'll have to turn around. There is a shelter being set up at the university gym and you can stay there tonight. Just follow these other cars. And your chains are on the wrong tires."

D'oh (freeway closure). And d'oh (chains).

I picked up a gallon of water (just in case) from the 7-11 and finally found the gym. I half-put my chains on the right tires and headed in to the wrestling room where a handful of people were already sleeping. I made that my bed for the night and fell asleep by midnight.

Clearly, I would not make it into work by Monday morning.

It's snowing in Vancouver! It started off modestly, but now is coming down in beautifully large flakes! (It was snowing yesterday too, for a bit, but I didn't have my camera with me and forgot to blog about it. Yesterday was the first time my ABS kicked in because of snow!) Now my concern is the drive home -- Oregon requires "carrying chains", though hasn't required using them yet.

Free to Move

I always feel paralyzed whenever I'm back in Vancouver. I have no mobile phone, my full contact list is in Outlook at home (limited info sync'd to my PDA), and no car. This year, Vancouver feels more like home because I have my own car (that I'm familiar with) to boot around in. But I have to figure out how to have a temporary mobile phone while in town, because it feels like my lifeline is gone!

Preparations are under way for the trip back home, armed with all my gifts, some rewards from fruitful Boxing Day shopping efforts, and a shiny new Canadian passport. I depart early tomorrow morning and hope to arrive early Monday morning.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Uppercut Apparel

I'm customer number six in their books, but only one of many many loyal fans of their lines of clothing. Without a doubt, Uppercut Apparel Products are going to sweep the world -- it's fashion and form, but so much useful function built into the clothing that you'll wonder how you ever did without it! Imagine having pants without pockets -- you'd never go back to that again -- and Uppercut has taken utility to the next level. I can't wait for their next seasons' and years' lineups!

Sleigh Ride

I just discovered that my Christmas spirit lives in three places.

It lives in the song "Sleigh Ride". Dunno why, but it always puts me in a good mood whenever I hear that song ... so it's my ringtone now. The song is just so upbeat and happy; my favourite version of it is sung by Billy Gilman and Charlotte Church.

It lives in the act of wrapping gifts and writing cards. Once I get into the wrapping and presentation aspects, I get on a roll and I just can't wait until ... (next point)

It lives in the giving of those gifts to their recipients and the feeling that I've presented something they could appreciate.

It's a bummer that I've been rather bah-humbug about Christmas these past years. I haven't done any/many cards and most of my gifts I'm giving this year will be in the form of gift certs and buying dinner. Oh well, tough luck for them. Bah humbug.

In a few hours, I start my long roadtrip home. Haven't slept much in past nights trying to maintain my routine while preparing for this trek, but I think I'm in good shape now. Just need to wrap a few things up at work, and then I'm homefree. (And I even showed up to work in trackpants and runners today, haha.)

Dress Down? Pay Up.

So here's what I found at the mall recently. Dress shirts start at $30, but T-shirts are already $20, and casual sweaters $30. Then you have jeans at $50, while slacks start around $40. What I concluded? Dressing up can actually be cheaper than dressing casual in today's styling. And dressing down doesn't mean dressing crappy (or cheap).

This was a topic asked of me by a long-time friend. "Why would a person be chatting with his buddy on his cellphone while proceeding to wipe his ass after doing #2??" I had to laugh.

At work, there are employees who walk around talking on their (personal) cell phones outside and inside the building. The conversation follows them everywhere: often times, I'll hear them yapping away quietly, while sittin' in their stall of stink. Why, why, why do people do that? Can a conversation be that interesting that you'd want to take it with you to the toilet? And do they honestly think people can't hear the echoic acoustics of their porcelain environment? And then the dead giveaway: the flush!

I just don't get it.

Weather reports have been saying that it would snow hard at Tahoe this evening, and we had concerns that we might get snowed in on our way back. Turns out they were about 9 hours ahead of schedule -- I drove home from M's in pouring rain with parts of the highways flooded. My car's ASR light (primitive traction control) came on 7 times during the 45 minutes, but everything was fine (and in control). Some Californians were barely crawling on the highway; poor people don't know how to handle it.

On another note, I had practice putting tire cables on an SUV this morning at 7am, and taking them off at 5pm. Good fun. Funny, though, that my first such experience was after I moved from Canada to California.

Nice to see that Whistler-Blackcomb gets a 1-2 finish, and takes almost a third of the first 17 from this list of top 50 ski resorts in North America. Well, no such luck for me -- Tahoe tomorrow instead.

If you and your spouse were pregnant and ready to have the child, but also knew that the child would only live to be 10 before some genetic illness would take his/her life, would you still have him/her?

Snowboard Colourway

What colour scheme should I pick for my new snowboarding gear and clothes? I have a red toque, so it would be cool to match that (all red). I bought a red Nautica jacket for $40, but I can still return it for grey or blue. I was really hoping for the standard bold Nautica-type yellow, but it doesn't come in this jacket. D'oh.

I really want a yellow-black or yellow-blue scheme, maybe even yellow-grey like these etnies shoes!

And yet, most of the nice boards are blue schemes! What should I do? Does the board have to match the clothes? I mean, the clothes (jacket and bottom) should match each other. Does that extend to the board?

Cool! My 2002 GTI is still worth $16,235, according to Kelley Blue Book pricing. Hope the value holds (that is, doesn't drop like crazy) for another 11 months or so.

So my boss now officially requires me to be at work at 9am. Never mind that I'm at work until 8pm (sometimes later) when I come in later. Never mind that. 9am, period. Well, fine, then I'm leaving at 5:30pm or 6:00pm. This is corporate war -- they simply don't pay me enough to stay longer.

"Now, I need to officially ask you to get to the office no later than 9 am, a quite reasonable time to start working. For your information, it is both people in and outside StupidCompany Inc. asking for this to be done as they need things from our Department."

I should note that by "our Department", they mean me, because I'm the only guy here in "our Department". So obviously, it's all fielded by yours truly. And then he has the gall to say that if i finish my work early, he has no problem with me leaving early. Knowing full well, of course, that there is no end to the work of two or three roles being done by me. Like saying that magically makes him a good guy.

On another note, I'd like to say hi to everyone as the newest member of the 9-to-5-Job Club. I joined this morning.

HR at StupidCompany, Inc.

I work for a company where most people have a stick up their ass. It's all about work, and none about play -- people come to this building to do their job, and leave. In general, people do not hang out with one another; we're not friends, we're coworkers. That line is very clear, and there are (in most cases) no intentions to cross it.

We have no HR department -- in fact, the formal HR roles are handled by Finance, which in my opinion, are the polar opposites in terms of prime directives. Somehow, as a (the) "marketing guy", the onus falls on me to organize events for the company. Oftentimes, these efforts are met with lackluster enthusiasm. More often than not, those efforts aren't appreciated, and things are taken too seriously. Sometimes I feel like I work for a complaints department, rather than marketing (and project management, and events, and finance admin, and-and-and). Well, sue me for wanting work to be a little fun! Sometimes I just want to have a good time and have some events that make work worth looking forward to!

One response to a general comment was, "Well, that's what we do here: we work." My question to that was, "Is that the kind of work environment I want?"

This is bullsh!t. Absolute bullsh!t. Ho ho mf'ing ho to the holiday spirit in this zombie joint.

Save It To Write Your Name On

So you're washing your rice. You fill the rice pot with water, and scrub the rice around until the water's murky, and pour it out, using your hand has a sieve. There you are, shaking your hand back into the pot, trying to save every last grain while sending the water out.

I'm not trying to encourage waste, but doesn't it seem like a lot of work for little benefit? It takes a lot of time to save those last two or three grains, that won't even amount to a bite's worth of cooked rice! What's more, your hand as a sieve slows outward water flow, making the process take even longer! Is it worth it?

Just read that Sony is coming out with an iPod-like video player! Neato!

Keep In Touch

Last year should have seen a high school reunion with the graduates of my year. But no one had stepped forward to arrange the event; some (like I) were out of town, some were out of touch, and some simply didn't care enough. I freely admit that I also fall into the last category.

I have always seen reunions as a checkpoint where we can all return and compare who's gotten further in life. More often than not, the "further" is based on average/standard paths for people: career. And there's always the fear that one would be the person who progressed the least, was the last. Movies seem to reinforce that fear / expectation -- protagonists never seem to be thrilled to attend their reunion.

But the way I see it, I already keep in touch with most of the people I want to keep in touch with. I don't need an excuse to meet with 270 people (plus guests) that I barely knew back then, let alone now, to compare where we are today. Who's a doctor? Who got what award? Who's driving what, and worth how much? I don't need that. I can be depressed all on my own, without having to explain that life isn't about the career alone.

What I do need is more reunions with the maybe 40 people (plus guests) that I really care for and love, whom I know right now but live too far away from. These are the people whom I feel close to, and truly want to know how they're doing.

We woke up at 4:00am on Friday (day after Thanksgiving), out the door by 5:00am, and back home by 8:30pm. We hit Sugar Bowl at Tahoe, when all the rest of the Bay Area was busy shuffling through malls in the same spirit as Canadians fever on Boxing Day. Sure, we missed some great deals, but they missed a nice day on the slopes! They also missed the first public appearance of my cooltobecanadian toque.

We got 11 runs in, which was pretty good, without any major wipeouts! But I need new equipment -- my board is too soft and slows me down. Flow bindings and DC Shoes boots would be a nice addition, but I really don't want to spend much on it at all -- hopefully I'll get everything at deep discount somehow.

Imagine the fabulous traditional Thanksgiving dinner that we all know and love from TV and movies. Extended families coming together to enjoy a feast fit for kings, bringing spouses and children with them to share in this day of thanks, as has been customary in the family for generations. A beautiful turkey presented at the table, alongside mashed potatoes, green beans, moist and fulfilling stuffing, and a lovely glass of wine. "Oh, could you please pass the mashed potatoes? Thank you. And how is your lovely family doing? Wonderful! How fabulous!"

Mine wasn't quite like that.

20 people crammed around the kitchen going haven't-eaten-all-day-buffet-style. Kids alternating between eating, climbing the antique furniture, and playing with the dog. On the table lay homemade foods (mashed potatoes, macaroni casserole, rice) and some store-bought goodies too (turkey, honey-glazed ham, potato salad, stuffing, creamed spinach, pasta salad, coleslaw, pumpkin pie, fresh lumpia, beverages, gravy, ...). Most of us sat in the dining room with the fine silver and the plates that are only brought out for special occassions; the two parents sat in the kitchen by themselves because there were no more seats left (despite many offers to give some up).

And yet, it ranks amongst the funnest Thanksgiving dinners I've ever had.