Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My First Greyhound Experience

I visited DC at Christmas. Drove there with my parents, and stayed a bit longer to see some friends. Since I had to get myself back to Cleveland with no car, I looked at my usual method of mass transit -- the plane -- and checked out Amtrak and bus options too. These days, I have more time than money, and I haven't had a new travel experience in a while, so I thought I'd see what else was available.

The least expensive flights were on Southwest from BWI. Southwest also sells reasonably priced one-way tickets, so I wouldn't have to buy a round-trip fare than only use half of it. That's something I've done before, but feels so wasteful.

Amtrak's prices were reasonable, and trains are comfortable. Riders are also spared in the useless indigity of having their bodies and their property pawed before boarding. But the train arrived in Cleveland at something like 4am. Not ideal.

Greyhound, on the other hand, had reasonable departure and arrival times, although the trip itself is about 10.5 hours, compared to about 6.5 hours if one drives a car. Plus the extra time it takes on each end to get to and from the bus station. Greyhound's big upside, though, is the price. And I took advantage of a special mid-week, three-week advance purchase to get my ticket for $6.50, which is less than some people pay to commute every day. So combined with wanting to try something new, Greyhound became my travel method of choice for the day.

The bus itself isn't so bad. Decent leg room (unlike ariplanes!), a toilet (several rows behind me), outlets and wifi (slow but functioning). The bus isn't full either, which makes a big difference. The windows don't have shades, but they are tinted, which helps shield my touchy eyes from the hurtful sun. The temperature is neither too hot nor too cold.

[After a long Dramamine-induced nap:] The trip continues to go fine. We stopped at my favorite Penna Turnpike rest stop (yes, I have a favorite rest stop), the North Midway Rest Stop. I'm finishing up this post from Pittsburgh, where I had a one-hour-plus layover.

Speaking of Pittsburgh, let me turn to the quality of the bus depots. Pittsburgh's is very nice. Pretty spacious, well-lit, lots of seats, clean bathrooms, a charging station for electronics. Greyhound did a good job of announcing departures at the station, and the daily schedules for all buses were prominently displayed, along with their departure gates.. I could have done without the music and the TVs all playing at the same time, but that's my only complaint, really.

Washington DC's Union Station, on the other hand, totally stinks as a bus depot. Now, from what I gather, up until a few months ago, DC's bus station was a few blocks away from Union Station itself, and I think Union Station turned an old parking garage into the bus depot. But the bus offices aren't located in Union Station. Instead, Greyhound has a little shack inside the parking garage. There were no seats and very little standing room. No bathrooms either -- you'd have to walk far back to the train terminal to find a bathroom. Everyone had to wait outside for the buses, and there were no signs or schedules to let riders know if they were waiting for the right bus.

Well, we just pulled out of Pittsburgh, just a few minutes late. Downtown Pittsburgh looks pretty cool at night, and I am reminded again that I never checked it out the way I intended. Well, it's only about 3 hours from Cleveland and I still have a very flexible schedule. Maybe I'll pay it a visit soon. I also realize, as I reach the end of this post, that I didn't take any photos. A side-by-side comparison of DC's and Pittsburgh's Greyhound stations would make you all want to catch a bus from Pittsburgh, and avoid them in DC. Instead, you'll just have to take my word for it.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

(Last) Year in Review: Annapolis

By now, it's really two years ago. In May 2011, I made a mini-trip to Annapolis MD, which I meant to write about but never did. Thought I'd catch up. Hmm, I find myself a little paranoid that I already wrote about Annapolis, but I can't find a post about it, so probably not.
In the old part of Annapolis.
I stayed at my pal Jane's house, which was super cool, tucked away in some woods and built like a large old cabin, with an all-wood great room. Jane has since relocated, so I won't get to hang out there again, but I'm glad I got one chance at least. Should have remembered to take some photos, but I didn't.

I did remember to take photos when I went exploring the town, though. I spent part of my visit in the old part of town, which is home to the U.S. Naval Academy and lots of old buildings and twisting roads. This wasn't my first visit to Annapolis, or even to the Naval Academy. In fact, when I was about 15, I briefly thought I might like to attend one of the military academies -- specifically, Navy. But a trip to the campus while on a family vacation opened my eyes to the reality of life there (all work, no play, no sleep) and I concluded I was probably better off at a liberal arts college.
The U.S. Naval Academy.
That same trip to Annapolis also opened my eyes to the small St. John's College (a liberal arts college!), which in many ways might have suited me very well. It's an unusual school in which students have no majors, and everyone studies the same books, same subjects, etc. I liked Annapolis, and I liked the idea of attending a "different" kind of school. Sadly (maybe for St. John's, maybe for me, I'll never know...) I read the St. John's syllabus before applying. And saw that Huckleberry Finn was on the required reading list. I had a really bad experience with Huck Finn in high school, and the thought of having to deal with it again was so off-putting that I didn't apply to St. John's. I had a pretty satisfying experience at American U, though, so my college experience turned out alright.

My other explorations through Annapolis were along the edge of the Chesapeake Bay, by bike. I hadn't ridden a bike in years (I owned one but didn't like riding around the DC area -- too much traffic) and it felt really good. I didn't wear a helmet, either, so part of me felt like a rebel and the other part felt like a totally normal person, since I managed to survive my childhood without dying of a head injury while riding a bike.

I liked the parts of Annapolis I road through; they were the newer parts, with larger homes and larger yards. But they weren't near anything except other homes and, for some, the Bay.

Here's a photo of the Bay Bridge, which scares the crap out of me even more than most bridges:
Terrifying. Even the gulls are frightened. See how they're paralyzed with fear?
It doesn't help that the bridge has five lanes across two spans, and that the lanes can flip from east-bound to west-bound depending on traffic, so sometimes the three-lane bridge has traffic going in both directions. Apparently, I'm not the only person who's afraid of the Bay Bridge: The state of Maryland contracts with a private company to drive people (and their cars or bikes) over the bridge for a pretty hefty fee.

Overall, it was a laid-back couple of days in Annapolis. If you're ever in the vicinity, or need a day trip away from D.C., it's worth a visit.
So quaint.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Beginning The Year In Review: Transit of Venus

It's December 22. I survived the Mayan Apocalypse. I also learned how to spell "apocalypse." My belly is full of pizza and my glass is full of wine.

Tomorrow I head to DC to see Nicky & her husband's family for the holidays. The get together is usually fun, and I'm looking forward to seeing a few friends too. It might not be the sort of travel I'm accustomed to, but I've been rather sedentary the past few months, so I'm looking forward to the trip.

When I started writing this blog, I knew I wouldn't write as often or as long in 2012 as I did in 2011. I knew I wouldn't be doing as many interesting things as last year, and even if I were busy in some more traditional way, well... I'm not sure my skills as a writer would allow my to make, say, a day at the office sound exciting over and over again. Not that that's how I spent this past year, but you get my drift. Maybe I should have written "make a day sitting in my apartment sound exciting over and over again."

Even so, a number of times I thought to myself that I should write something. If it weren't for the lone comment on my November 7th post, I would think no one was reading any more. And I suspect my daily readership has dropped quite a bit since its peak 20 months ago. Still, I think I'll write a few posts to at least document for myself some of the things I did in 2012. I have once or twice re-read something I wrote in 2011, and despite how exciting everything was last year, I learned I'd already forgotten a number of things. Those memories might have been permanently missing had I not written them down. I hope I don't forget anything major from 2012 already!

I'll start someplace random... Did anyone else get to watch the transit of Venus across the sun? I hope so, but if not, you can share my experience.

Dad happened to be taking an astronomy class at Cleveland State, and he knew that a bunch of professional and amateur astronomers were planning a big Venus viewing down at Edgewater Park, the big park on Cleveland's west side.
Downtown Cleveland, as seen from Edgewater Park.
Dozens of people with telescopes -- many of whom are just backyard observers -- came with their telescopes and set them up for the viewing. Local businesses provided thousands of eclipse shades through which we could look directly at the sun.
As you can see, without a telescope, the sun was very small, and Venus was just a tiny spec on the sun. So until we could first locate Venus with the help of a telescope, it was impossible to spot it on the sun itself.
Can you see Venus? I can't!
Oh there it is!
Everyone in the crowd took turns looking through the various telescopes and their screens, while local astronomers on the loudspeaker kept the crowd posted about what was going on. Although the sun had spent the day hiding behind clouds, it came out about 2 hours before the transit. The weather was perfect and the timing was just right: The transit started around 6pm.

If you missed the transit and you're sad, try catching the transit of Mercury in 2016 or keep an eye out for some upcoming eclipses, including a total eclipse of the sun that will be seen in North American in 2017.

Monday, July 16, 2012

I know, I know. My lack of posting is lame.

Sorry if you've been checking my blog, anxiously awaiting my next update, only to find ... that my last post was 2 months ago.  :(

Part of that is a combination of laziness and not having a lot to write about. Once I stopped travelling, the blog turned into a journal of deciding where to live and look for a job.  The first part of that is (mostly) done -- or at least, the list has been narrowed a lot -- but the second part has barely begun, so I haven't written much about that. Not sure how much I'll write about my actual job search anyway. It'll get pretty dull reading "found one interesting job opportunity today ... sent a resume ... still no word from Potential Employer #14 ... etc." every time you check in.

Maybe I'll post the big stuff, like if I get actual interviews or something out of the ordinary occurs. Like last night, for example, the nice guy at the bodega around the corner offered me a job working at his shop. That was very nice of him, and out of the blue, but not what I'm really interested in, so it's worth a mention on the blog only because someone offered me a job based on my charming personality alone. /self-deprecating chortle/ Not because it's a real opportunity. Well, if I'm still unemployed two years from now it might be lol, but not right now.

Here's a short update, though: I'm renting a one-bedroom apartment in a cool neighborhood in Cleveland. One of the many neighborhoods my mom grew up in, in fact. The rent is reasonable and I can walk to a lot of places. Being Cleveland, some driving is still required, but that's not a big deal. Some people are mistaking me getting this apartment with me having definitively chosen Cleveland as the city in which I will live. It's not as permanent as that. Yes, I like Cleveland and if Cleveland is where I wind up, that should be totally fine with me. But I'm also on a month-to-month lease specifically so I can leave easily if an opportunity elsewhere comes along.

I got the apartment for a few reasons: One, as much as I like my mom and dad, living with them was getting a little old. Two, I knew I was dawdling about starting the next part of my life. I believed (and still do) that once I was out on my own and entirely responsible for myself once again, that I would get my butt in gear. And three, I wanted a space that was all my own so that when guests visit -- especially guests from out-of-town -- I'd have a nice little place to host them. Getting my own place definitely renewed my interest in ... well, in doing pretty much anything at all. I was really stagnating at mom and dad's. I'd stayed with them months longer than I originally planned/expected, so it's not surprising that I'd gotten a little too comfortable for my own good. But being on my own again makes me feel both more like an adult and more engaged with the world around me.

I still need to think about my long-term plan for this blog. I don't often read other peoples' personal blogs, but I've noticed an almost universal trend. Most personal blogs that are more than a few years old had the bulk of their entries at the start, then entries became more sporadic, and finally they tapered off altogether. My blog was easy to write when I was travelling, or planning for travel, or reviewing my 11 cities. Because I had something very focused to write about. Now, life is mundane again. At least on a daily basis. So I understand why so many people taper off in their blog writing. Unless they are writing about something specific that they do all the time (usually a hobby, and usually written as tutorials for other readers), people just run out of stuff to talk about. Or at least, stuff that would be of interest to anyone outside of their closest circle of friends.

But maybe I'm wrong: Does anyone find it interesting to learn the mundane details of other peoples' lives? Are any of you amused to know that I hid from some Jehovah's Witnesses who came to my door the other day? Anyone interested to learn that I'm taking drawing and painting classes as a new hobby? Or that living in a basement apartment means sharing one's space with about 25 spiders, and entails a constant battle of attrition against the dirt that follows me through the front door? See, reading those questions on a friend's blog would amuse and interest me once or twice. Reading them every week wouldn't. It's a large reason I'm not on Facebook; I'm just not that interested in every detail of everyone's life, and I don't presume that anyone at all is interested in the details of mine. Except mom and dad, of course, and I'm not even sure about dad.

Anyway, check this space every once in a while. I will add sporadic updates. Major travel, once I decide on a job/city. Maybe the most unusual events I experience. But in general, assume my life is satisfactory but exceptionally interesting, and don't expect a whole lot from me, at least for the near future.

Friday, May 11, 2012

More on where I might live

Urgh... some behind-the-scenes info:  Between my last post and this post, Google changed the interface to write and publish posts.  As well as other tools for managing my blog.  I won't know for a few blog posts if I like the changes (that you cannot see but I can), but if this post is all wonky for some reason, it might be the new interface.  OK, on to business...

So what am I going to do with the results of that city analysis?  Well, definitely look for jobs in one of the cities I was already really inclined to like:  Cleveland.  You know, when I did all my rankings, I tried to keep any favoritism out of it, by like, say, going easy on Cleveland's shitty crime rate just because it's my home town.  I made sure to give Cleveland a 1.  And I strove to not be too harsh on other cities, like LA, just because I didn't think it was likely I would end up there.  I'll never know if a completely objective reviewer would still have come up with Cleveland as the top city, but as Cleveland was always a top contender, I won't beat myself up for (possibly!) being too nice to it in my review.  And of course, not every measurement of the cities was objective anyway.

Chicago, while coming in at "only" number 4, will continue to be a city I'll do a job search in.  It's always been my favorite place in the U.S. to visit, and since it finished closer to the top than the bottom of my list, I don't see a need to eliminate it from the running.

Portland winding up as number 2 didn't surprise me, but I would like to visit it one more time before I decided whether to spend time and resources looking for a job there or -- even more entangling -- pick up and move there!  I've been dawdling a bit making plans for a return visit, but maybe this weekend I'll grab the calendar and look up flights.

Washington at number 3 also didn't surprise me, but also didn't really raise my enthusiasm for returning.  When I lived there, I knew there were a whole lot of things I liked about the city.  But I never felt like I fit in.  I think what the city review did for my attitude towards DC was remind me that if life took me back there, I could find a lot of things to enjoy in the city, and ways to make it a comfortable place for me.  So will I search for jobs there?  Probably.  Well, yes, actually, as I've already applied for a couple lol.  But I think it would take a really good job to lure me back, at least for the moment.

The one city I'm not sure how to handle is Raleigh.  I really felt at home when I stopped by in November.  And I liked it a lot back in the day when I lived there.  But it finished 9th out of 11 in my review!  Even Asheville, which in many ways has less to offer because it's so small, finished ahead of Raleigh!  I will think more about this, maybe peruse some job opportunities and let the job market decide for me, or see if my contacts there have anything to say in favor of the city (which I know they will lol!).

Since there was not just one city that really jumped out at me as the place to live (either during my travels or during my post-travel review), I do of course have to choose a place to live in the meantime.  I've secured and will soon move into an apartment in Cleveland, where my lease is very flexible and I have only a little furniture and stuff.  So moving in and out will be easy, should I choose to live somewhere else.  I've always been a little cautious, even fearful, of winding up in Cleveland not because I really like it, but because inertia makes me settle down here and then never leave.  I think my current living situation, which is purposely designed to be medium-term at the longest, will prevent inertia from completely controlling my decision.  And knowing that Cleveland earned its spot on my list of cities I'd live in makes me comfortable knowing that, should I stay here, it's more of a choice than a default.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

And the winner is...

Well that took me longer than I expected.  I've been working on my spreadsheet analysis of the 11 cities on my list.  And, OK, I haven't been working non-stop.  I actually finished it about 2 weeks ago, then I sat on it to see if my feelings about any of the categories or their ratings changed.  This morning, I tweaked a couple things, and finally feel like the spreadsheet is designed the way I want it to be.  (Thanks to my statistician friend for teaching me how to make a spreadsheet and how to make this one better!)

Forgive me if I'm repeating my last post.  It's been a month since I wrote it /sighs at self/ so I probably already said this.  But anyway...

I started the analysis by compiling a list of every category I researched, then ranking each category as "most important" "moderately important" and "less important."  Things like friends went in the first category, food and commute times went in the second, and sports and child/teacher ratios in the third.  Next, without really remembering the relative importance of each category, I made a separate (and very long) list of my research in each of those categories, then within each category, rated each city from "very good" (5) to "very bad" (1).  Finally, I assigned a weight to each category.  For example, while friends and fresh water are both in my "most important" category, I think friends are more important to my happiness and quality of life, so I have friends more weight than water.

Here are my results, from highest score to lowest.  Some commentary will follow:

  1. Cleveland 75.7
  2. Portland 72.4
  3. Washington, DC 72.3
  4. Chicago 68.2
  5. Columbus 67.8
  6. Denver 67.5
  7. Des Moines 67.4
  8. Asheville 65.6
  9. Raleigh 62.1
  10. Philadelphia 58.8
  11. Los Angeles 53.6
The three most unexpected results were how high Cleveland and Columbus scored, and how low Raleigh scored.  

While ranking the cities, I tried very hard to combat any pro-Cleveland bias, fearing that because I'm currently in Cleveland and enjoying life, I might be giving it too much credit.  I'll never know if I let some unfair bias seep into my assessment of Cleveland, but I also knew as I was doing the exercise that it didn't matter, because I like Cleveland and I think I'd be happy settling down here, regardless of its results.

Columbus, while only scoring a 5, which is solidly in the middle, did far better than I expected.  While ranking each city, Columbus never stood out for any particularly great qualities.  But Columbus also never stood out for any bad qualities either -- it's just a gently pleasant city, and one I will at least consider in my job search.

Raleigh surprised me with how low in the rankings it finished.  I have a lot of good feelings for the place, but I'll have to think hard about whether those good feelings (which might be error-riddled nostalgia?!?) outweigh the below-average showing in my assessment.  I think if I seriously consider a return to North Carolina, it should be to Asheville instead, which I also enjoyed and which scored higher.

Portland and Washington mostly lived up to my expectations.  As I ranked the cities and Portland scored 5 after 5 in so many "quality of life" categories, I knew it would wind up near the top.  And Washington has a combination of objective factors I'd really like in a city and a few subjective factors, like plenty of loved ones and an easy job market.  I thought Chicago would end up near the top; I'm only surprised that its actual score wasn't closer to DC and Portland.

LA and Philly's rankings were also predictable based on how they rated as I went through each category. LA especially, had 1 after 1 in so many categories.  Where LA shines, it really shines, but it has too many problems and too many things I wouldn't like about living there.  Philly's low score was a combination of overall shabbiness, and getting the lowest score in my most heavily-weighted category (friends and loved ones).

Denver and Des Moines in the middle of the pack seems about right.  I really liked both cities for very different reasons, but both have some weaknesses when compared to some of the other cities so neither was likely to wind up at the top of the list.  I'm amused that their scores were almost identical (67.5 and 67.4) because they sure didn't score the same in most of the categories!

Since that was a lot to write and to read, I'll save more thoughts for a post in a few days.