I have given up on the slide shows, they were a nuisance. I have opted instead for a few photos hear and there with a link to the full collection. There should be little to no narration, just analog still frames of life with no do overs. Full album here.
The title in this case is correct, I have spent some time away. Oddly I have gotten some more readers, which is not something I am going to argue with, welcome, and I hope what you see here makes you want to stay. Reasons I have been gone? I am glad you asked. School of course always takes up a good bit of my time, but the semester has been out for a while now, I am actually finding that I need to begin preparing for a return in September, that is no easy task as I have to figure out child care for Zander.
FACT: attempting to retain suitable infant child care, even before you factor cost, is enough to put anyone into a “dealing with beuarocracy” coma. I am one of those people who hates having to call the bank, fix errors at the post office, deal with insurance, and the registrars office, daycare in the state of Massachusetts is a tangled nightmare of laws, rules, and stuff you are not sure about. The daycare provided by Framingham State University is excellent, however my son was bitten by a problem child, and I may have lost some of the composure I pride myself on when I asked which child and the worker stated very simply the law did not allow her to tell me. I wrote her an apology, she did her job very well, but that is one of those laws that I just do not quite understand.
That was all just a side note. It has been quite a while since we go into the gear and rules. A brief recap, at this point you have some form of a bag you are comfortable carrying for a good bit, and either in it or your pockets is a note book (and a spare) some pencils (maybe pens too) and a knife. The Knife also makes rule #1, always have it. I recommend of course, out of all my others, a good Swiss Army knife made by Victorinox, do not by knock off, your paying for your own security here. In all seriousness, I used the tweezers out of mine to pull the thorns out of my son’s hand the other day, no waiting, just work.
So your new rule is going to sound familiar. In my world we say “know your route of ingress and egress before proceeding.” In army medic terms that means we were taught to not go after the wounded before we knew we had a way out. It sounds rough, but the medic is a resource the entire team needs, and cannot be wasted being shot by the same guy who created your casualty. You may have heard it as “when in doubt know your way out,” from “Zombieland.” Mine goes deeper than that though, it is this “Rule #2 Have a plan inlcuding going in and getting out.” In this case it refers to travel, but also the ability to lodge or travel. This is where you ask yourself what could go catastrophically wrong with this trip, and render me unable to continue on, eat, lodge, or if am hurt. This is the contingency phase, think up the problem, write it out and fix it. In my story the catastrophic thing was relatively small, the possible death of a debit card, but the consequences were possibly immense.
Here are a couple of stories to go with this. The aforementioned travel. The Ganger took a little trip back to Tennessee for a wedding. My Cousin decided some time back to ask his girlfriend to marry him, she says yes, much more recently they had a very lovely wedding. Everything was excellent, the music was superb if I do say so.
The trip is rather long, and as I took the four year old with me, rather stressful. That is not to say it was not a good trip. It was actually an amazingly good trip, but I am a planner. There are too many variables in long distance, long time travel, many dangers. Add in a kid and the risk goes up fast, The Bear intends to come out on top of everything from a car accident to an attack. Call me paranoid, but we all made it through right? I prepare, I follow the rules, I drive one of the safest cars in the world (Outback, 2016) and I ready myself and my tools. We had stopped in Washington D.C. to go to the National Postal Musuem, when we left the gargage my debit card would not register when I tried to pay. Here is where my plan came in, I do not hit the road outside of my main stomping grounds-where friends can help-without about $120 in my pocket. I called my wife and told her I would stop and test the card as the boy and I needed some food. I had used some of the cash to pay the garage, and I sized the situation up calmly. I was calm, as I knew that I could provide a meal for my son and I, and if I shopped around well enough I could get us a room, or if my mileage math was right I could get us back home on about $60 with room for another meal if need be. Whichever way it went, my son and I had the basic needs covered for that night until help could be Western Unioned, or we could go home. That peace of mind came not from money, but from a rule that was followed to the letter. In the end, the garage machine must have been faulty, as my card worked fine and the trip proceeded as normal. I had given this kind of advice to a friend who lives abroad. She did not follow it, and was not registered at the embassy when the Paris attacks occured. The only real consequence was that she had to listen to the ganger gripe at her.
This is just one possibility. Most of my problems can be at least “treated” by a small amount of cash until help can be gained. We also carry a first aid kit, maps, and my edc kit, which now includes a pay as you go phone and minutes card. My phone failed while we were there, but again we established reliable communication, and borrowed a GPS, but if not we had maps. Rule 2 is have a plan, so sit back and say, what’s the least that could happen and then plan for it.
This is just kind of a comeback, we will get back to all of those things we love to do here and more. You will notice a name change as the Ganger decided to not simply copy the title of his ancestor. More posts to follow, after I have made some decisions how far I want to take this in some ways. Follow on for pictures from the trip.
Couple of notes, we went to the PEZ visitor center, yes just yes. The chain on my cousin is a Grimfrost King’s chain like I recieved for father’s day, and speaking of which I got to spend mine at Fenway parl with my family and run the bases with my sons. During my son’s birthday we played a record breaking 65 games of skeeball.
You can take this as a rock out in the United States on a budget kind of post as well. I had kicked the idea around for a while, there is a pencil store so close-Boston and New York are close to me-so I had to see it for myself. I get it, in the small community of stationary junkies, I am a small fish, but I still thought it would be awesome to hit the store up and just spend a day in New York City a place that a lot of my favorite movies and TV shows are set (I either obsess about something or I let it die) and this is what I do, I like to randomly go and do something. I started my planning Amtrak.
Amtrak is my new favorite way to travel, especially to a place that when I drove there I hated it. First off there is no ridiculous security line like the airport. Went in, waited for the train, ate and then boarded. A conductor scanned my ticket and we went on our way. The price is worth noting as well, I got to New York and back for 120$, and I did not have to drive in New York. Add 40$ to the total for parking my car in Boston. The train is something I am going to use as much as humanly possible on my adventures. I had time to work or read whatever I wanted, I am not crazy about flying, no take off no landing, and I can go and buy my own soda rather than waiting for it to be brought. If you travel by train you get to see some amazing views of the country.
Im not even sure where that is, somewhere between Boston and Connecticut, it is probably Rhode Island, but the whole thing just felt right. Watching America go buy with a pencil in my hand was pretty great. Im kind of stoked to figure out where to go next, but I will need to save for the next one. The next thing about train travel is the people you meet. Sure I probably lucked out this time, but right now it is train 1-plane 0. On my last good plane ride I spent four hours listening to a woman who was convinced that denim was making a comeback in fashion, and she was excited about it. Head phones are not the international symbol we think they are. On the train I met a Vietnam veteran who was an actual hobo.
I asked him if I could write about him, he said that would be cool, but part of the story is about how many beers he had during this time so for the sake of his Dignity we will just be calling him JL on the off chance he was not sure to what he agreed to. JL sat and rode for a while and looked well enough, minus the fact that he was running through beers at a good clip (he had them in his bag. See what I mean about security? BYOB!) At some point I got a pepsi and he assumed the can to be beer and wanted to know why I paid the eight dollar train price of beer. I told him it was soda, he then offered me a beer, to which I declined, being 0750 and all. He told me his story. He is a hobo (his term) and he was on his way to Tampa. He stays in Boston as long as possible, and then heads south for the winter where he has connections with a lot of street people (his term also.) His sister had bought him a nice new pair of boots as a Christmas gift, and his Ex had let him spend the night waiting on his train. He said she woke him up promptly to be on his way. He had a backpack with him and he would hop off the train to smoke at any stops longer than a minute. He said if he missed the train he wanted me to have his bag. We talked for a while about why he moved about. He said he came back from Vietnam and eventually moved into a bottle and stayed there. The long and short of it was that he travelled back and forth according to the seasons and ate and drank on his VA check while living in shelters. He has it figured out and seems to work for him. We enjoyed a little pizza before he hunted a liquor store and went on to his connecting train to move on. If your in tampa and you spot JL remind him to call me so I can check up on him. He has my number.
SO that leads us to my first slice of New York City pizza. We had it at a place called Little Italy, that is the name of the eatery.
I was not disappointed. New York Pizza was everything I had dreamed it could be.
Next came The Empire State Building. The fee to go to the 86th floor was 35$. That brings our total (with the pizza) to about 200$. I wanted the open air observatory, so thats where I went rather than the top to be in a box. It was here that I got to kill off a bucket list item. They cram the elevators full for efficiency. The second trip on one of them and as soon as the doors closed I said to the full elevator “I suppose you all are wondering why I gathered you here today.” Needless to say the uncomfortable was palpable. It took me fifteen minutes of tour dodging and security to get to the top. Let us describe a special kind of cold at the top of that building. However the photos and the recreation of a Home Alone 2 moment were worth it. As well as meeting a British woman and her daughter who seemed to believe that my southern accent was from some forgotten colony island rather than the southern United States.
On my way out I acquired my Rough Guide to New York ( a must and it is in the first photo.) Brings our total to 215$. I escaped this building and set off on the three mile trek to CW Pencil Enterprise. Here is part of the beauty of a trip like this. Whip out the pocket guide, grab the map, plan your route and see what attractions are listed along the way. A ton of them are things like buildings that cost you nothing at all to admire and take a photo of. Things like The Flat Iron Building make me wish that I could sketch. However I cannot sketch so I tell you how to visit cities and sites on a budget.
There is a ton of free city to experience along the way. However the point of this entry is of course CW Pencil Enterprise. We have arrived.
This is why I had come. This is the reason for the trip in the first place. Four hours on a train, three miles on foot, and do it all again later to see this wonderful little shop that has gotten so much press. I know that I am a small fish in the world of blogging and especially among stationary junkies, however The Pencil Ladies will make you feel like they opened the store just so you can visit. That is how awesome they are. I got to meet two of them on this day. I walked in, sat down my bag and proudly declared that I had trekked from Boston to see this store and write about it. Caitlyn did not miss a beat and told me to stay as long as I like. The resident blogger showed the shop off, allowed me to show off some of my own pencils and exchanged my dollars for quarters so that I could gleefully continue to feed them to the pencil machine in the store. Eventually Caroline, the pencil lady that started it all, came in and I was introduced while trying not to come off as weird. Again The Pencil Ladies are awesome. They chatted with me for quite a while. Now the super fun part comes in when two ladies who had already checked out and left came back to the store. Apparently there is an Atlanta based stationary blogger/podcaster named Brad whom I mildly resemble (I am sure to them the accent is basically the same) and so they came back and asked if I was Brad. I was not sure what was going on, but we eventually established who they were talking about and that I am not The Pen Addict. However I was very flattered and of course the stories are the point of the whole thing. They added me on Instagram and such (she’s a popular artist herself @penguinscreative April Wu, seriously she’s talented) and they allowed me to get a shot with them just because…they are awesome.
The Pencil ladies showed me some of their cooler vintage items, like a box os 1950s Blackwings and a 1920s case of mongol brand pencils, which we established the packaging was a little racist.
Lastly before taking off I presented them my humble offering. I figured they would have some sort of wall of fame for analogue items people would bring to the store as an offering to The Pencil Ladies. Turns out that is not a thing…not yet! See for yourself that they enjoyed the excellent military compass!
I think it goes without saying that I gave up a good bit of my spending money in this store. This will not be factored into the cost of the trip as you can recreate a trip similar to this without feeding an addiction. I have two friends (you guys know Carl, and will soon know Tyler) who had asked for an awesome grab bag of graphite from my travels. I was happy to suck them into this world with me. I cannot lavish enough praise on this store or the wonderful ladies who run it, it will become a New York must for me. They treat you like a friend the moment you hit the door. Now the rest of this is going to go fast as it is getting long.
I made the trek back to the ESB. I want to point out that every single citizen of New York that I encountered along the way was awesome. Everyone was helpful, kind, did I say it was the perfect day? Anyhow seeing as how this became a part pilgrimage for another one of my obsessions (Home Alone 2) I wanted to see The Plaza Hotel and Central Park. I was getting low on time and would have to book it if I wanted photos. Fifth Avenue here I go. Free attractions along the way.
Along the way I encountered a building playing what could only be the soundtrack to Home Alone 2 and putting on a light show. I asked an officer of the NYPD why this was happening. He pointed behind me. I had unknowingly come upon Rockefeller Center. As any Home Alone Pilgrim would, I fell to my knees and wept…and face timed my son and mother so they could see…then I took pictures.
In the end I made it to The Plaza Hotel, and had my photo taken on the steps in true Home Alone fashion.
After this I headed into Central Park. I did not go far, I wanted my Grandparents to see it on FaceTime, and so I took them in as far as a bridge, and from the first bridge along the path of Kevin, I took what will be some of my favorite photos. They will be seen after my signature when this finally ends. It was 1850, I was low on time and had a train to catch and 1.5 miles back. I started walking. A quick duck into a store for souvenir NYC snow globes for the family and I made my train with twenty minutes to spare. For less than 300$ I had an utterly awesome day in New York City and am already thinking ahead to what to do next time. One of my big savings is that I walked. New York is a walking city. (The Ganger means Big Walker.) I accomplished a lot of goals (home alone and otherwise) and I made my journey to see the awesome CW Pencil Enterprise and meet the pencil ladies. Needless to say despite it being 0200, Carl came over and we dug into our goodies from the pencil store. I hope you enjoy this and can take a trip on the cheap and live a little for yourself.
I should be doing more homework right now, but I got it all done last week end, which you will see why that is impressive and I should not be worried now. Ive gotten a good bit done tonight and now I want to sit down and do a couple of entries that I think have been a long time coming. First lets hit the journal and then the rest will follow.
We did it. Keith and I joined the Spartan TriFecta tribe by completing the spartan beast at Killington, Vermont. This is the birthplace of the beast and the medal says as much. The first photo on the previous page is of Keith and I right before the race.
Before this I had done spartan races already (two of them anyhow), and then I met Keith at the Natick Church of Christ. I decided that this year I was going to get my trifecta so that I could get most of it done while school was out for the summer and before critter (child 2) gets here. I invited some guys to come with me and Keith took me up on the offer. He also said if he started this he was going to finish it. He just wanted to go ahead and get the trifecta as well. This is the kind of guy you need by your side in these kinds of messes.
Three races later and the trifecta is in the bag. Let us just be frank, for a guy who calls himself Hrolf the Ganger (Hrolf the big walker), the day on that mountain was one of the longest days of my life, and for a soldier that is saying something in my opinion. Estimated 15-16 miles of mountainous hell, designed by Norm Koch (I now understand the patches that say effnorm). I will not bother to hash out all the details about the water, and all the other stuff that made this race into a Stalingrad dumpster fire, if you were there then you know.
What I will say is that I have never wanted to quit something so badly in my life. At some points going up that mountain it got down to hiking for one minute and stopping for 3 or 4 to rub the cramps out of my legs. Another fun thing is when you get to the top of a (loose) cargo net and suddenly your core decides to turn into one big cramp. It was so tight, that may have been the best abs I’ve ever had…you know pain aside and it being a ball of contracted muscle. I may have gotten my first successful spear throw here (yes on the little one. still counts. no burpees.) None of this changes the fact that my marathon runner of a partner could have gone on faster without me. He bested the herculean lift and sled pull this time which really nixes the parts of the race where I am a beneficial team member. No matter how many times I told him to go on, go finish, he wouldn’t do it, even when we were facing cut offs, even when I was on the last big hill dry heaving with thirty minutes left and a mile to go he would not just go. He is the best friend you could want on the mountain.
I was able to chug on. He and I kept to our normal pattern of helping people when we could. There was a guy named Mike having a panic attack. He had gotten really dehydrated and decided there was no way out of the woods and they that continued up hill forever as some kind of bizarre purgatory. Medical wouldn’t get there in time to calm him down, so we got him sipping water and led him off the mountain literally by the hand. When we got to the bottom, thankfully it was a water point, we had to give him the bad news that he was done. We had to tell him he couldn’t go back out, he was dehydrated and the moment he saw another up hill in the woods it would all happen again (there was one not 500 feet after that water point) and there was still 3 miles of race to go.
To the point, Killington was filled with soul crushing. I had accepted six hours before we finished that we were not going to make cut offs. I was quite confident that given all the time we needed we could make the end of the course, but there wasn’t time. However training kicked in, which really means imagine that you just can’t stop and go stupid for a while and keep moving. Having a good buddy doesn’t hurt either. Somehow we kept passing the cutoffs, sometimes within minutes. In the end suddenly the fire jump was in sight and we crossed that finish line with twelve minutes left. twelve minutes. We were out there for twelve hours fourteen minutes. There were 100 more after us. We did it. We left some things that needed to die out there on that mountain. Katie was at the finish line, towel draped over her shoulders cheering us on. She was a real trooper having to hang out and wait all day. The mountain was ours. I think I rediscovered some parts of myself that had lain dormant for a while.
Moving on, while I was recovering I still needed to take some friends for exercise. I took them Geocaching as that was about all I was up for. This also gave me a chance to get a picture of Liam at the grave yard for the journal, he is at the graves of the Rice family, at Robin Hill cemetery.
The third is simply a picture of him helping me with the garbage. Seems dull I know, but this is what we do. We help each other. Garbage is one of his favorite things to help with. He is currently very excited because Halloween decorations are already going up.
Halloween is one of our favorite holidays. With a kid you have to split the movie festival into two portions. The part the kid can watch, and the part that would classify as child abuse if you let them watch. Casper is one of our staple movies. It being twenty years old this year makes this a great moment to reflect about this movie. I remember going to see this movie in theaters with my Grandmother Vicki. I remember that pizza hut had a bunch of rubber glow in the dark puppets of the ghosts (I had casper). Every year around this time I have to fight the urge to pile all this kind of crap up off of eBay. I remember my buddy Danny Armstrong and I at the neighborhood pool discussing the bad words that were featured in Casper. I remember my grandmother calling for showtimes in front of the sink of the cabin she and my grandfather lived at. Not long after it came out I got the VHS and I’ve kept this movie close ever since.
There you have it. This one is not very adventurous, but the life of a late comer college student and family man is not always exciting. Homework, papers, repeat. I may have beaten the mountain but it does not look like I will be able to beat remedial math. Tomorrow is several events which I am sure you will see all about.
Hrolf the Ganger
P.S. the halloween movie count stands as such.
Kid friendly: Hocus Pocus, Casper
With Carl: Halloween,2,4,5,6,H20
On Monday in preparation for the start of Halloween season in our house, which was officially September 15 in our house, Liam and I decided to complete a couple of initiatives. We marked the event and decided to go outside for a while and hit up the playground, and to go geocaching. Geocaching is a good time and it is a great outdoor activity.
This cache did have trinkets in it, so Liam took a small purple car, and in exchange we left a keychain compass. The super fun part which made this an easy double check day, was that the geocache was located in Robin Hill cemetery!
The cemetery is small, but everything about the day was perfect. The air was chilled just right and despite being September there were actually some leaves blowing around. We managed some time at the playground, which we try to do as often as possible…more on that later.
Later on in the evening, my friends Devin, Jon, and Leo came over for a tradition that has almost been completely lost to Las Vegas style debauchery…poker night. This was our first one, we try to have a game night every so often. The boys were good enough to let Liam hang out and play with a small set of his own cards and some chips of a very large denomination that we were not using.
If you’ve never tried to have a game night or a poker night you and your friends should give it a try. Throw your phone in a corner for the night, invite your friends to the table, and have a conversation and some genuine game time. You will enjoy the sound of cards on cards and chips rattling without the risk of losing you home. Side note: yes we decided to play Casino Royale in the back ground.
Beverages for the night? A combination of two of the best things in the world. Tea and Whiskey. Tea and Whiskey. I do not need to say it again. It was a great combo. We weren’t mixing we were sipping both. It made for a good night. If you must know the tea was Black Dragon Pearl, the whiskey was Larceny Bourbon.
Today Carl, Katie and I were able to start the Halloween movie festival for 2015. First movie set is always the same. We begin with Halloween. We finished the second one as well. Halloween is our first major celebration usually so let the games begin. It can’t get much better than living in New England for the season. I mean what better place to take a kid geocaching in an old cemetery, and let him play so you can grab some photos. He was playing with the toy car he got out of the cache on the headstones. I told him not to do that, and he looked at me and said “Daddy…they dead.”
I have written several entries detailing my extreme love of recording and reflection upon the events of my life and the lives of my family. Now we are going to try something new. Let us just dive right in. The entire point of this is to show that life is an adventure, take notes along the way, and get the most out of it.
Last night I read a quote from the Dalai Lama. It was about making sure you remember to live. Ill stick the picture in here that it came from. People have asked me before why I do some of the things I do. I normally answer that I am trying to make my obituary more interesting. I attempt to live to the fullest, often to the point of exhaustion.
Life is, and has been an adventure. I’ve always kept a journal, the problem is that I have been trying to keep too many since Liam came along. One for me, one for him, etc. Yea…that is not working. I end up spending either no time recording, or I spend so much time trying to catch up that we lose time on actually doing things.
Now this family will have a single cohesive narrative. Thanks to the fact that we will be putting it online you can follow along if you like. I have a pretty good idea of how we are going to do it as well. Now the fun part, doing it. You are going to need some gear. My Grandmother has always been a picture taker (a fact that despite griping we all appreciate later) and she apparently has been notorious for home video as well. I will tell you all about the adventure of preserving her Super 8s one day. I am a picture taker as well. So much so with the nice digital cameras we have that I end up not doing anything with them either.
In one of my previous posts, I wrote about getting hungry again. You can go read that if you want to know what it means. This is where we are going. I cannot allow the fact that Liam’s journal did not go well to make me stop. It just means you condense, reset, and try again.
That photo at the top? (if you are reading this you’ll need to look at the pictures posted along with this, it is typed out from the journal where the pictures actually are.) That is Liam and Katie making dinner. This will be common practice. I bought a Fuji Instax for this project. I know it seems retro and expensive, but it is one chance, no frills, no filters or corrections, pull it out and stick it in the book photography. Something I feel I could stand to have when I have a computer with 60,000 photos in it doing nothing.
This family is going to record what we do. Note the two photos on page two. We do things. We read books and tell stories together. Stories that actually involve falling down when Jack chops down the beanstalk.
It is time to go outside. See the world. Share with the world. Along the way we might clean some junk out of our house, and un bury ourselves. The world has turned into a strange place and we are going to see the beautiful places before the dark corners of the map are all colored in.
Brandon Bledsoe “Hrolf the Ganger”