"It's never too late to start your life over."

You know how it is, you're just minding your business, doing whatever it is you are doing and all the sudden, something catches your attention, be it a car, or a woman, or an airplane at 30,000 feet and BANG, you aren't doing what you were doing before, you are distracted by said shiny thing. Yea, welcome to my life.
"I'm not stupid, I'm easily distracted."

Monday, November 26, 2007

The state of the internet, such that it is…

So, I am spending far too much time and money in McDonalds these days. No no, don’t get me wrong, it isn’t to eat, as I am still on a diet, it is to use the internet. Yea, you may want to re-read that. I am using the T-Mobile hotspot at the McDonalds.

Why, you might ask. Well, so glad you asked.

I went to sign up for internet service the other day. It took forever. I waited in line for nearly an hour to talk to the lone representative only to have him tell me in the first 30 seconds that he couldn’t help me because I owed him money. What!?!?! Apparently, the phone provider that I go through didn’t receive my final payment when I turned off my service before I left for Iraq, over 15 months ago. For some odd reason, even though I clearly remember getting my “final bill” and paying it, they say I owe them 48 euro. Except that it isn’t 48 euro. You see, the bill was turned over to a collection agency and now I owe the collection agency 48 euro and a bunch of fees and probably a bunch of interest. Well that isn’t cool. I now have to search my apartment to find that final bill which I am sure I kept, because, heck I didn’t have much going on the last few days before I deployed.

So what does that have to do with internet you ask? Well, 19 months ago when I moved into this apartment I attempted to get internet hooked up (apparently it is a good thing I failed because that 48 euro would probably be 150 euro) and was told that internet wasn’t available where I live.


Now it isn’t as though I live in some tiny backwater town surrounded by cows. I am a mere 8.4 miles from Schweinfurt, and a quick 2 minutes from a major autobahn. I’m not in the styx here! The problem is that I can’t find out if that situation has been remedied until I pay that outstanding bill or prove to them that I already did. So first, I have to find the bill, then I have to wait 2 weeks while TKS verifies that I actually paid it, then I have to go back to TKS, wait in line again, and then wait 2 weeks for them to tell me that I can’t get internet. Is anyone else here frustrated?

I have to have internet. I just do. Internet is what separates us from monkeys. Yea, I said it, but I don’t have to worry because monkeys aren’t going to come after me because, as I have so definitively pointed out in the previous sentence, monkeys don’t have internet, and this blog is only posted on the internet. I am safe. Monkeys do have art and literature and all that, but not internet. Oh, you need more proof huh, well I read somewhere that I won’t bother remembering where, that there is a monkey somewhere with a typewriter and he has pounded out all of the works of Shakespeare, or will shorty. I have it on good authority. There may also be more than one monkey working on the project, but I am sure it doesn’t matter to my point.

So there you have it, I have provided definitive proof and flawless logic, the internet makes you human. (If you can’t follow, I recommend drinking more and re-reading the blog. Repeat as necessary.)

So here I sit, in McDonalds happily posting to my blog; getting weird looks from the other tables as a laugh maniacally at daydreams of monkeys trying to use the internet. Stupid monkeys.

Oh yea, and occasionally I’m doing my schoolwork too. I think I need some fries now…

Sunday, November 25, 2007

I am officially a bike commuter...

... at least in my mind. I have ridden to work before. I did it a handful of times before I deployed. Today though, I consider myself an official bike commuter. Today I did it without the benefit of all of my clothes waiting for me at the office. Heck I did it without the benefit of an office to go to at all. I also did it without the benefit of nice weather. It snowed today.

I got up at 0645. I laid out all of my stuff last night, checked the tire pressure, installed my head and tail lights, put some food in my bag and budgeted an hour and a 45 minutes to get to work and change.

When I looked out the window I saw something that confused me. White. Lots of white. Now admittedly it was merely a sprinkle but to me it looked like a blizzard. Especially since last night was so clear. I expected cold, I didn't expect snow.

So I made the 20 second decision to go ahead and ride in, despite the weather. I tossed a couple of extra clothing items in my bag and then just got to it. It was fantastic. I had a blast. It wasn't too cold, I had no problem with traction, and I left early enough that I didn't have to push myself (traction again.) The only issue I had was once I got into town the snow went away and I had wet roads instead of snowy trails. I started getting damp. I got to work in about an hour and then had time to eat and change before anyone got there.

So now I am sitting at the library on post contemplating my ride home. This might suck a bit. The damp clothing has not subsided and while my base layers are dry the outer ones aren't, nor are my gloves. Guess I will have to break out the extra gloves and socks. No problem.

I won't say that I am morally superior to everyone who drove in today, but then again I shouldn't have to, it should be obvious.


Oh yea, and despite the weather, I grinned like an idiot the whole way in. I think I chapped my teeth.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Germany, Thanksgiving, and the Levasseur Family Memory

So I know that this entry was written out of order, but I post-dated it so that it fit chronologically even though I wrote this post after a few of the others on this blog. I don’t think it matters though, I’m not sure that anyone actually reads this other than me. I find it amusing, I guess that’s all that’s important.

I returned to Germany on Tuesday, 20 November. We flew in to Ramstein Air Base in Germany and arrived back in Schweinfurt before noon. We waited for a bit and then had a very nice reintegration ceremony in which nearly 500 screaming family members greeted around 250 returning members of the Dagger Brigade. I admit, it was a nice ceremony, comments were kept to a minimum, the ceremony was short and the outright din, as we marched into the gymnasium, was deafening. I am surprised I didn’t see more people choked up. It occurred to me as we were walking in that this was probably the last time I will ever march in formation with a group of soldiers as a soldier myself. It made me a little sad.

The next day we started our reintegration training. Reintegration consists of half-day schedules for seven consecutive days. During this time they do medical screening, finance briefings, relationship counseling, update your records and various other stuff. It is really pretty well planned and most days you don’t spend the entire four hours you are scheduled for actually at work, you get done early most days. The only hitch is that there is only room for 250 people in the morning session, and 250 people in the afternoon session. I was part of 1400 soldiers returning to Schweinfurt in 36 hours. You do the math. That led to some issues but nothing that they didn’t do a fantastic job handling.

At this point I must share a story, and this is where the “Levasseur Family Memory” from the title comes in. I went out to breakfast the first morning back. I stopped into a little deli just down the street on my way to work. I sat down, ordered and had a nice German breakfast of yogurt, toast and coffee. As I got ready to leave I realized that I no longer remembered how to ask for the check. I did however remember that pulling your wallet out and waving it at the waitress will often give them the hint that you are ready to pay. I did just that feeling pretty proud of myself for remembering that little fact.

She waved back.

No, seriously, all she did was wave back. Oh good lord. A little later, good thing I had budgeted extra time to get to work, she came back out and I again tried to get my check. I did everything I could think of, I pushed my plate away, I gathered my things, I had my wallet out, I smiled and furtively checked my watch. She smiled back. Finally, a little old German guy asked me if I was trying to let her know that I wanted to pay.

“Yes! Thank you! Can you help me?”

“Sure.” Then in German, “actuchung, deutches bank, achtchung, autobahn, phlegm, betzahlen.”

It then dawned on me, the word I was looking for was betzahlen, which of course is some verb tense or other of the German verb meaning: to pay and please randomly insult me in a language which I clearly don’t understand.

“Ja! Betzahlen Bitte!” I say happily.

“Ah, so! Actuchung, deutches bank, achtchung, autobahn, phlegm,” she very politely said to me.

The very helpful old German says, “She just told you how much your bill was.”

In defeat I handed her my entire wallet. She gave it back later with a smile, I have no idea how much money she took out.

The next day was Thanksgiving. I had some grand plans to do absolutely nothing. Well, not true. I said from the day we arrived back in Schweinfurt, “I am going for a bike ride on Thanksgiving day. Come hell or high water, you mark my words.” Other than that though I had plans to do nothing. I decided that I would go out and pick up Chinese food and eat it at home while sitting on the couch watching TV shows I had forgotten I owned. It didn’t work out.

Well, the ride did. Neither hell, nor high water tried to interfere. It was a nice day about 35 degrees or so and while the roads were damp they weren’t wet enough to throw water into my face as I rode. I donned my newly acquired cold weather cycling gear that I purchased, much to the mockery of my friends, while in Iraq while it was still 90 degrees and had shipped back to Germany in plenty of time for it to arrive before I did. I had no idea how much clothing I would need so I just loaded up for bear and hoped for the best. I wore heavy weight tights, shoe covers, a skullcap that covered my ears, a merino wool cycling jersey (from Earth Wind and Rider), a light windbreaker and mid-weight gloves. I had heavier gloves and a full balaclava but I decided that both were probably overkill. As it was I think I did pretty well. It was chilly at first but soon afterwards I warmed up and even had the jacket and sweater unzipped a bit during the warmer parts of the ride.

Oh, and boy did I warm up fast! My plan was simple. Take no gadgets, no heart rate monitors, no odometers, no GPS, no timers other than a wrist watch. Then, find the nearest hill (easy since I live on one) and ride up it till I got to the top. While on the top, fighting the expected urge to throw up and pass out simultaneously, I would scan the horizon to find another hill to ride up and I would ride down the one I was on and go up that other one. I would do this until I passed out, I ran out of food, or I was about to freeze to death.

What a grand time I had. I even had a good time during my, uh, incident. About an hour and a half through the ride I was flying through the little town of Shonungen when I unceremoniously and nearly got hit by a bus. You see, this bus had to go around a house that had been incongruously built right in the middle of the road smack dab in the middle of the town (a strangely common occurrence in Germany, especially considering how ordered the rest of their lives are.) This of course caused the front of the bus to swing wide and fully into my lane. I am, at this point doing about 25 MPH (I think, remember I had no speedometer either) and am now facing a rather large bus coming towards me. Fortunately there is low (1 inch or so) curb to my right and plenty of sidewalk that runs next to the buildings on my side of the street. I steer in that direction and that’s when it happens.

I gloriously wipe out.

For some reason my front wheel didn’t roll over the curb as I expected it to. It caught and stayed in the gutter spilling me face first onto the pavement. I went down in a heap, managed to get a hand and a foot down and that is when I realize that now I am in real trouble. For some reason the house on this side of the street has an “L” bend in it causing the wide sidewalk to become a narrow sidewalk with the wide part of the sidewalk ending neatly and abruptly in a very sturdy stone wall which I am now sliding towards.

I have no idea what happened next. All I know is that I went down in a jumble, had time to think, “well this is going to suck,” and then I stopped two very short and very precarious inches from the wall. Neat. It must have looked ugly though because the bus driver stopped and didn’t move on until I hopped quickly back on my bike (I was embarrassed that I crashed, though I don’t know why, it seems to be what I do on a bike) and rode away. This is when I realized that I had completely wrapped my chain around my crank and that the two rotations of my pedals finalized the complete smurfing of my chain.

So, 15 feet later I had to stop and look at my mangled drivetrain. Not cool. I spent about 10 minutes breaking my chain (that is the repair term, and not a bad thing) and putting everything back together. About this time, the same bus and driver actually came back through and asked me if I wanted a ride to the hospital. I guess he figured that if I was still there I must be hurt.

Of course I must admit that I didn’t know what he was asking until later. He said something like, “actuchung, deutches bank, achtchung, autobahn, phlegm, krankenhhaus.” I wasn’t really cranky at all, in fact I was still laughing and grinning like an idiot, so I figured I didn’t need anything having to do with the cranky-house. I was simply so happy to be back on my bike. Later I looked up krankenhaus and realized that it had nothing to do with cranky people, or not directly, it means hospital. Either way I am glad I said no.

The ride ended rather uneventfully a mere two and a half hours later. I nearly passed out on the bike, I was happy.

I didn’t get my Chinese food. I ended up eating dinner at a friend’s house. He wouldn’t accept no for an answer and eventually tricked me into coming over, “Just to say hi to everyone, then you can leave.” I showed up at the appointed time and immediately heard my host say, “Well, Dave’s here, lets eat!” It was very nice of him but I cursed at him under my breath just the same.

So life is good. I have great beer, great friends, and an idiot’s grin plastered on my face every time I walk past what used to be my office and has now become my bike workshop. At some point I will take pictures.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

On the way...

Or I will be shortly.  I leave Iraq in the next 24 hours.  At this point it looks like I will be headed to Kuwait for at least a few days before catching a charter to Germany.  

Transfer of Authority ceremony was today and that officially ends our time in Baghdad.  The only thing left is actually getting out of here.

Looking forward to catching up with all of you as soon as I can.