Archive by Author

Greetings from the New Kingdom of Derrick

19 Aug

By popular demand, I have returned to my role as lead blogger at Constitutional Pheasant, if only for a somewhat brief entry tonight. I need to post some more travel entries at some point from the Brazil trip where I left off–I have a little notebook with details jotted down for a play-by-play account–but tonight just wanted to give everyone a quick update on my current status.
As I think I mentioned in a previous entry, since January I had been living in a very cozy little apartment in downtown C-ville, with updated appliances and a real sense of style–just minutes from fro-yo and the downtown music scene. The lease ended this past Tuesday, and through a sudden and fortuitous sequence of events, I’m now (almost) moved into a much bigger, cheaper apartment in a quieter neighborhood, with upstairs-neighbors that I know from church. It’s altogether a wonderful situation–except for the part about getting the previous tenant out.
This guy sounds like a real piece of work. The reason the apartment was becoming available in the first place was that the landlady wanted to get rid of this guy for being a heavy smoker, which was in violation of their contract and about which she had repeatedly talked to him. My friends, who live directly above, were very unhappy about the smoke that was rising to them in the evenings, and on a few of my visits the smoke was just plain unbearable for anyone with a desire to breathe.
Anyway, from the bits and pieces I’m gathering from neighbors and the landlady, this guy is an older, single gentlemen described by those in the neighborhood as “a real character” and “very sketchy”; a guy who drank and smoked instead of taking care of the lawn that he was charged with by the landlady, and who, by the looks of things, never cleaned anything inside or out of the residence. Seems like the landlady should have had no problem breaking the news to him and requesting that he leave–but she didn’t want to upset him, so she told him that her sister was coming in from Taiwan soon to stay in the apartment and so she would be greatly pleased if he could please move out as soon as possible. Which he did within that same week–except for the contents of his kitchen and living room, which he’s always telling her he’ll pick up “tomorrow, at the very latest”. This puts me in the uncomfortable situation of having to constantly be prepared play the role of the hired painter/furniture mover (at the landlady’s request), who just happens to spend nights and cook meals here, since I’m nobody’s sister and I don’t look remotely Asian.


Day 1 of My Rio Vacation: A chegada

23 Mar

After about twelve hours in airplanes–between Dulles and Bogotá, Bogotá and São Paolo, and São Paolo and Rio de Janeiro (the cheapest route, naturally)–I finally arrived in Rio de Janeiro a little before 9am on Saturday morning. Stepping out of the airplane, I could already tell that my long-sleeved cotton shirt and jeans were not comfortable apparel for the tropics. It wasn’t really scorching hot–and hasn’t been yet this trip, with temperatures hovering in the mid-70s to mid-80s–but it was definitely not late-winter Virginia.

The landing itself had been fantastic: passing over strange, otherworldly mountaintops as we descended toward the bay, with the gigantic Cristo Redentor statue looking on. The SDU airport is literally in the bay, resting on a strip of land that juts out from downtown Rio just barely above sea level, so it was really cool (and maybe just a little bit scary) to watch the water getting closer and closer to the bottom of our plane–until suddenly the landing strip appeared out of nowhere, just in time for the landing gear to touch ground!

The wonder of all this had my head spinning as I passed through the baggage claim area toward the exit–shifting my backpack to a more comfortable position (I stuck to traveling light, 1 normal-sized backpack for a 10-day international trip; aren’t you impressed?) while trying to determine if there was a free WiFi network available for my iPod to connect to so that I could call my friend Marcos to find out if he was nearby and my parents to let them know I was still alive–when suddenly, quicker than I could blink an eye, I was attacked from behind! I gasped and whirled around to face my attacker as two long dark arms closed in, squeezing the life out of me! It was my good friend Marcos! He had seen me when I first entered the baggage claim area (I stick out like a big, ivory sore thumb here) and decided to sneak up on me. It was so great to see him again; we exchanged a long embrace and then broke into lively chatter as we exited the airport and began the trek to his apartment on the other side of the bay. With my long jeans and heavy backpack it was difficult keeping up with Marcos, but at last we arrived to his cozy little apartment, where I got to meet his Vietnamese-French girlfriend and use her MacBook to call my parents before we headed off for breakfast and an afternoon at the gorgeous Copacabana beach (where I could finally “bathe” in the surf and lay under a large red umbrella in the sand with absolutely nothing to do but relax!!)

Step 1, Find Wings. Step 2, FLY!!

28 Jan

I can’t remember really hating winter until recently, but at the present moment I am sick of it, fed up, through, soooo over it (omg, sooo sorry to go “valley girl” on you guys!). It probably has something to do with the fact that last winter was the snowiest one we’ve had on the east coast (USA) in several years and this winter itself has (probably) broken some records — not to mention the fact that the majority of the winters in my life were spent as a schoolboy, who reveled in the wonder of a snowy forest behind my house and the joy of a day off school (Virginia schools are pretty notorious for shutting down if there’s snow accumulation of more than 1/8″) — but I won’t bore you guys with my ranting and complaining about forces beyond my control BECAUSE:

I have great news for our readers that will warm you right up! (1) I am headed places warm and wonderful in the very near future, and (2) I am about to regain my title as World Traveler Extraordinaire. I’m sure it’s well-known by now that anyone bearing  a World Traveler title must leave his homeland at regular intervals to maintain it, and for an Extraordinaire-level traveler, this obligation must be fulfilled at least once a year (OK, that sounds dumb, but hopefully in an entertaining kind of way?). I almost didn’t make it last year — and my brief, business-related trip to Toronto in the autumn only barely counted as international travel (don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVED the city — but I was only there two days, and there wasn’t much of a cultural contrast or linguistic challenge for me).

So, without further ado (adue, adieu? These “set phrases” are annoying; if I were a more dedicated linguist I would probably do the research and find out where that even comes from…), sans further delay, I shall unveil my plans:

Paso uno: Mini-vacation in West Palm Beach, mid-February. I’m just taking a few days off to chill by the water, hang out with a really good friend who’s working at a baseball stadium down there, and maybe even scuba dive (no steps have yet been taken to ascertain whether this third pursuit is even remotely possible in the month of February — don’t all the cool-looking fish migrate to the Caribbean, or hibernate in an abyss somewhere during winter? — but it definitely sounds cool and tropical to mention (and might make a few of you envious?). Yet while therapeutic and relaxing and extremely awesome, this trip, of course, does nothing to further my reputation as a World Traveler, which is why I just recently decided to take:

Passo dois (lit. paso dos, “step two”. Guess the language, and you’ll have narrowed down the places I might be going to two — or three if you’re informed enough to know the official language of Angola): 10-day vacation to the great city of Rio de Janeiro! I have a good friend there who’s been inviting me to come visit for a couple years now, and I actually had it in the back of my mind that this would be the year — if I could find the right price, of course. Well, I was talking to my amigo Marcos on Tuesday night — remembering our adventures together in Europe, catching up on recent happenings in our lives, comparing how miserable the weather is here and how absolutely gorgeous it is there, etc. — and I started thinking about how much I really want to go visit, and how I’d hate to look back in a few years and wonder why I let silly things like money and time be used as excuses for never taking the adventure — and, prob. more than anything, I was thinking about what an absolute blast Marcos and I used to have together when we were studying in Madrid, whether it was touring Andalucía, booking a last-minute trip to Brussels for a day because the price was right, or playing soccer in a Metro station where I kicked the ball into a lamp, which sent us into a frantic flight to the other side of the city to avoid transportation authorities [Author’s Note: Yes, I realize what an incredibly ridiculous run-on sentence this is, but I hope it’s serving its purpose in conveying my building excitement] — and so I took another look at flights for the end of March, using all the cheesy travel discount websites that are out there, and I found a round-trip flight that would be covered by the tax refund I’ll be receiving later this month [I wish I could insert a <hyperlink> here to a blog entry about filing my taxes this year…], so I made sure Marcos was going to be in town that week and bought it within the hour!

After making the purchase, I must admit that I had a little “Oh no, what have I done??!!!” moment — Was this an impulse buy? Had I really considered fully the risks of traveling to such a crime-ridden city as a white American tourist with little knowledge of the Portuguese language? Who does something like this, and is there a reason that most people don’t? Why hadn’t I researched the requirements for visiting the country before buying the ticket? (I found out later that night that US citizens are required to have a Tourist Visa to even enter Brazil, which I should have expected… But it should be no biggie if I get started on the application process this weekend, because I can get it within a month, and the price will almost be covered by the dinero I’ll be getting back from my state taxes…) — but then I realized that I was being smarter than I realized: I had made sure I had the money for it first, I had paid a little extra for a light travel insurance plan to cover me if I get stranded in an airport on one of my connecting flights or lose my job right before the trip and need to cancel it last-minute, and I have a really great friend waiting for me there who “has my back”, and it sounds like his family won’t let me starve, with the feast they’re already planning in my honor!

Really, I think it’s just the kind of adventure I need, after a year landlocked in central VA and tied down to a full time job. I’m looking forward to good times, learning a lot of Portuguese, enjoying new foods and drinks, hearing some authentic Bossa Nova, Samba and Choro played by Brazilians… I may decide not to come back! (Except for the fact that the only way I can take this trip in the first place is because of this full-time job that’s tying me down… A job which I really do enjoy most days!)

OK, so now we’re reaching the end of the post, and you’re probably asking yourself, why did he say this is “good news” for me the reader? Simply put, you benefit because you will be the ones that will be able to read the awesome posts about my trips — perhaps even while they’re going on, depending on internet availability — without ever having to leave your house! FOR FREE! What’s not to like? 😉

Señor Bachelor Finds His Wings Again

14 Jan

Hola! Once again, a very long time has passed since I last blogged here (but not as long as it’s been since we’ve seen a post from Joe The Scholar, mind you). My apologies.

Tonight I am writing from my new yuppy apartment in downtown C-ville, after having spent my very first full week here. This is the first place I’ve lived completely by myself, and overall, I am LOVING it. The apartment itself is very nice — hardwood-like laminate flooring, 10-foot ceilings, a decent-sized kitchen with all the latest appliances — and it’s located two blocks from historic downtown and the downtown walking mall. Although the weather’s been a little chilly, I have already braved the cold numerous times to go out and explore the area — after all, I keep convincing myself, I’m paying for the convenience of this location with my rent, so why would I spend extra money on gas?

Earlier this evening, in fact, I walked down to Cville Coffee to see a jazz duo that was performing there. The art and music scene was one of the things that drew me to the downtown area, so I was quite excited to start enjoying culture again. It was about a ten-minute walk, and not too terribly cold, but there was literally nobody else on the sidewalks anywhere on the way — an eery reminder of America’s love affair with the personal automobile. The coffee shop was really sheik and cozy; I had a delicious Cajun sandwich with a “Milky Way” flavored coffee drink; and the jazz duo was soothing and refreshing, with their blend of Bossa Nova tunes, blues, and jazzified folk songs. The atmosphere was very relaxing, and I even had a nice little chat with one of the owners of the place at one point, who told me about some cool places to visit in the area.

The only thing that was a little awkward was that I was the only person there under the age of 50. There was a seniors group from Hood, VA (some backwoods town I’d never heard of) and several older couples and groups of Girls-Night grandmas, but not a single head of hair that hadn’t been turned white or gray with time. Nothing against older folks, I could tell they were having a good time, but it was just kind of a shame that no cool bohemian chicks were there to enjoy the tastes and sounds… Maybe I’ll have to start exploring musical hangouts a little closer to the University, but at least now I know a place where I can get delicious coffee drinks within minutes of my new home.

Ok, I guess this has been a pretty lame post, but you can think of it as just a snapshot into the fascinating life of Bachelor Derrick. I think I’m going to close here for the night and go back to doing literally whatever I want — adjusting the temperature to exactly how I want it, playing whatever genre of music I’m in the mood for, at whatever volume I feel like, double- and triple-dipping my tortilla chips in the jar of salsa, taking a random nap before watching whatever movie I feel like watching, etc — in my own domain; I can definitely get used to this!

The Night We Almost Became Fossils

12 Aug

Last weekend was an awesome blip in the lives of your friendly neighborhood Constitutional bloggers. Reunited for the first considerable amount of time in a year and a half, we retreated into the woods with two other pretty amazing guys (we have decided to protect their identities, to keep their reputations from being blemished by association) for a guys-only camping trip. We had an awesome time eating, drinking, hiking, burning things and building tiny competing civilizations on a cardboard polygon (I think it was a decagon, but I may be off by a few sides), all the while catching up on each others’ lives and escaping the stress and pressures of the outside world. Very tranquil. Except for the ride there.

Getting from my office in Gordonsville, VA to the remote forests on the North Carolina-Georgia border turned out to be an epic journey indeed. A couple months ago I had bought a round-trip flight to Atlanta, the closest major hub to Joe’s current residence, in preparation for this trip–the thought being that this would save me a significant amount of transportation time. The one and a quarter hour trip from G-ville to the Richmond International Airport ended up not being too bad traffic-wise, and I got there in plenty of time to check in and chill at the gate. When I first got to the gate, the monitor said my flight was delayed 12 minutes–no big deal, I thought, as I called Joe to give him the heads up–and then a few minutes later, the departure time was changed back to “ON TIME”–even better, I grinned. But only after we had all boarded the plane and taxied away from the gate did the pilot reveal his grim news: because of rain in Atlanta, all air traffic was slowing down and we were not going to take off from Richmond for another 45-60 minutes. So we just sat there. For 50 minutes.

When I finally arrived in Atlanta and found my way to the Baggage Claim area, it was close to 7:00pm. Fortunately, JTS hadn’t decided to leave the airport and do better things with his time, and we proceeded to his faithful Jeep. The first two hours of the drive were really enjoyable; we had so much to catch up on and chat about that I really didn’t mind the added transportation time. And according to the GPS, the total trip to the campgrounds wasn’t supposed to take much more than two hours anyway.

GPS. That’s where we ran into trouble. Those three little letters contain so much meaning–comfort for the lost, home for the homeless, fulfillment for the hungry, amazement for the non-tech savvy. People tend to put very blind faith in this contraption; referring to it as a a great all-knowing deity, to be revered and respected but never addressed directly (“No, just stop talking, She says go LEFT so we need to go LEFT!” “I don’t care what you think, the GPS says…”). Of all people, you would have thought that my co-blogger and I, in our cynicism and self-proclaimed geniousness, would have known better than to blindly take directions from a talking box. We even had printed directions, which we tossed aside after verifying that the first five or six maneuvers were the same as on the GPS’s recommended route. If only we had looked at the END of the route, we could have saved ourselves such a headache…

We started to suspect something wasn’t right when the asphalt ended. Suddenly we found ourselves on a narrow gravel road with more hairpin turns than… something that has a lot of hairpin turns. And right about this time, the sun set completely, leaving us quite literally in the dark. The GPS told us it would take just five or ten more minutes to get through this maze of death (if we had met a car coming the other direction, we likely wouldn’t have seen it until we had a head-on collision around the next bend) and that we would arrive at our destination–which was a road name, mind you, not a physical street address–before 10:00. We had just enough cell phone reception to call Phil and tell him the “good news” of our imminent arrival, before at the next gyration of the road, all cell phone phone signals were lost and we were completely incomunicado. In the dark. And as we negotiated each curve at a crawl, I had a sneaking suspicion that we weren’t going to make our target ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival, not the Basque terrorist group, in case you were wondering).

After about another half hour, we arrived at what the navigator-in-a-box insisted was our “destination”. It was just a spot on the gravel trail like any other, but apparently at this point the trail changed names from “Death-maze Rd” to “National Forest Road”, the road on which the campground was presumably located. And we still had no cell phone reception. As we continued onto “National Forest Road”, our spirits received two more crippling blows almost simultaneously: (1) we realized that our fuel level had gone under a quarter tank and was fast approaching the “E”, and (2) Little Miss All-Knowing completely lost all satellite reception. The source of her navigational wizardry had dried up, perished, vanished, poof, it was no more. She was an ex-parrot. (   😉 to MP fans   ). We now had no way of knowing where we were or how long this road was–it didn’t seem like much of a stretch to assume that it spanned the entire length of the national forest, given its name. And being a “national” forest meant that this was one of the most remote areas left in the state of North Carolina in the 21st  century. If we screamed for help at the top of our lungs, nobody would hear us. And did I mention it had recently rained, so the sky was still overcast and starless? (Not that I’m well-versed in astronomy, nor is The Scholar, but we would have had at least SOMETHING to go off of).

So this is when we started to realize the implications of our predicament. Hardly a negative word was spoken between us, but we knew what each other were thinking. If one little thing went wrong–a flat tire, an empty gas tank, a broken axle, a herd of deer through the windshield–we would be screwed. No way to use any of our fancy electronic gadgets to call for assistance. No friendly rural country cabin-dwellers to fetch us a glass o’ water. No knives or rifles to defend ourselves against a bear or slaughter a deer to combat our growing hunger. No bubbling brook within earshot for fresh water. No one there to tell us we were being overdramatic in our heads.

I could just imagine the end of our story. The Jeep would break down and skid off the mountain road, and one of us would twist an ankle or break a toe trying to get out of the car, then we would start wandering into the night–probably in a straight line, because one of us would look at the probabilities associated with different directional strategies–and end up deeper in the middle of nowhere from where we started, and no one would ever hear from us again. Until an archaeologist in the year 3015 uncovered our remains, scratched his head for a minute, and hypothesized on the origins and purposes of those little enclosed conglomerations of plastic, metal and wires that we were clasping in our fossilized hands…

Or we may have been smarter and waited in the Jeep until morning, when we would have begun to make our way further down the road on foot and flagged down the first tourist-filled minivan we happened to encounter.

But in any case, we ended up getting to the campground about an hour later and had a terrific weekend–perhaps even more terrific because our near-death experience had given us a new appreciation for the little things in life.

“E-mails are Forever!!” – Wise Words from HR

26 Jun

Just wanted to share some wisdom from a recent “business integrity” training session at work. As our readers may or may not know, my awesome company is currently undergoing a merger (no big deal, we were just bought for over $800 million recently but are all guaranteed our current positions and salaries for at least the next year), so on Friday some human resources representatives from the larger company that purchased us, whose name I will not be revealing here to avoid any future complications, came to give us training on how to behave as employees. Basically they just wasted a couple hours of our day telling us common sense stuff, like don’t talk about new developments at the company before they’re released publicly, don’t engage in martha-stuart trading, talk to your supervisor if you have a problem instead of Rolling Stone magazine, etc etc, but the real kicker was the fact that we now have to be careful about what we say in e-mails (say what?!). They spent a good portion of the presentation explaining how any e-mail we send can be connected to us and used for or against us; we should avoid using words and phrases like “stupid”, “idiot”, “top secret”, and “don’t share this with anyone”; and that an e-mail can’t be made to just disappear because it can be easily read and saved by others, printed, archived, and/or forwarded.  The woman even made the statement “Remember: E-mails are FOREVER.” Really?  How is this not common sense in the twenty-first century workplace? But then again, looking at cases like Stuart’s, McCrystal’s, and the Facebook fiasco at Intern Joe’s law school (“Those Internets are Dangerous,;), it seems common sense is just plain hard to come by in today’s world.

Oh, and another highlight of the morning was the revelation that, in keeping with their “Just Do the Right Thing” mantra, I shouldn’t pay or accept bribes for the company unless someone demands one while holding a gun to my head in a foreign country where corruption is acceptable, in which case I should “if at all possible,” Miss H.R. stated matter-of-factly, “ask for a receipt — for accounting purposes.”

Paid for 48 Hours of Chilling at the Beach: This Is Why I Went to College

15 Jun

Wait, did you read that right? Over a full week’s pay for NOT working? Ohhh yes, it’s all true: I have just returned from my very first PAID vacation. I left town–the state, in fact–for six days, abandoning all work-related responsibilities, and returned to receive a full paycheck from the company for which I did nothing during that time. Pretty sweet, no? And the consequences of my absence from the office weren’t nearly as bad as I expected; less than 30 e-mails and one lone “missed call” awaited me at my desk, and I’ve been crossing stuff off my weekly checklist at an alarming rate. Nevertheless, everyone else at the office seems very relieved and appreciative to have me back–perhaps another unintended benefit of my trip.

After 5 months as International Graphic Designer extraordinaire, the benefits of my relatively new degree are continually revealing themselves–especially now that my kid sister has returned from college for the summer and is getting paid minimum wage to be on her feet all day, dealing with annoying customers from all walks of life, having to carefully coordinate potty breaks, enjoying neither the guarantee of free weekends nor payment for holidays or vacation days when she doesn’t work… Reminds me a lot of myself at a certain home improvement store throughout my college years! I’m probably jinxing myself by expressing my delight with my awesome job, private restroom and paid beach trips, but it’s just so refreshing to see some of the fruit of my labor. Now if I could just get the hang of relating effectively to my co-workers and make a few friends, I’d be set. But that’s a topic for another entry. Adjusting to 8-hour days after a week off is exhausting, so I need to get myself to bed ASAP. Next time I’ll try to have a more entertaining and exotic post to share, but hey, a short, self-exaltant entry is better than no post at all!