Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011: A Year In Review

As has been the case the past few years, 2011 found me traveling a lot, but this year was quite a bit different.  Not only was I on the road for my normal work trip about every other week, but I traveled a lot for personal reasons, too.

To kick off this look back at the year, here are my Top 10 Most Memorable Trips taken in 2011:

10.  AHEAD OF THE STORM: Hurricane Irene struck the East Cost at the end of August, coincidentally, the same week I was gathering for my account there, which covers North Carolina and South Carolina. I decided to start on the coast side early in the week and work my way inland to avoid and severe weather. It was a smart move, until the Friday before when I was trying to get to the airport in Raleigh, N.C. Wilmington, N.C., is less than two hours from Raleigh, so those residents were heading to Raleigh to avoid the destruction. What should have taken me 45 minutes took twice as long. All week I kept track of the path of Irene, hoping it didn't speed up and hit that Friday, but luckily, I made it out safely with no flight delays.

9.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!: I travel a lot with my job, and since starting in 2009, I had been on a work trip my last two birthdays.  Not in 2011, however, as my travel schedule had me home to spend my 27th birthday with Rachel and my family.  The Friday before, however, I got a request to cover a special event at one of my locations in Georgia, and I was basically demanded that I be there for it. After some griping, I made my peace with it, and set up the trip. I got the event covered successfully, and headed for the airport in Jacksonville, Fla. I went through security in plenty of time, found my gate and to my surprise, learned my flight was majorly delayed because of bad weather in the Midwest. I spent the next hour pleading with the gate agent to find me another way to Atlanta so I wouldn't miss my flight, but to no avail. I boarded my connection to Chicago, only to miss my flight home by about 10 minutes. As a backup plan, my office had arranged for a rental car from O'Hare to the airport in Bloomington where my car was located. I made it to the Bloomington airport at 11 p.m., dropped off my car and made it home just before midnight. My mother had made my traditional birthday dinner (cheeseburger and fries), so I ate and opened my presents before crashing for the night.

8.  RACHEL'S BIRTHDAY WEEKEND: I always feel guilty that, when I'm not traveling, I never want to do anything. Rachel will want to go to a movie or go someplace, but I've gotten so used to airports, rental cars and crappy hotels that I truly enjoy lounging around in the comfort of my own home. Knowing how disappointing it must be to her that I reject her ideas, I decided to treat her to a birthday weekend in Chicago, complete with a round-trip train ride and a stay at The Hilton on Michigan Avenue. I had such a great time just relaxing, with no work hassles, no looming deadlines and no one else to consider when we wanted to go eat or do something. We paid a visit to The Field Museum, and she even let me walk across the street to visit Soldier Field. 

7.  GOOD TIMES IN IOWA: My sister Jamie and her husband Chris decided to make the trip to Iowa to see my niece, so we went over for the weekend to see them and my nephew, Liam. We celebrated his birthday that weekend, so we went to a restaurant that was like Chuck E. Cheese, but I will admit, I think I had about as much fun as Liam did playing games. He's such a little man now!

6.  THE GODFATHER: My sister Tracie and her husband asked Rachel and I to be the godparents for their first child, Ellie Grace Kennedy, so we headed to Des Moines for her baptism Oct. 9. We stayed the weekend, which is always great because Ellie is growing so fast that each visit brings new things she can do, making her even more fun to play with than the time before. She was baptized at the Lutheran Chuch of Hope, where Tracie and Neil regularly attend. They had multiple baptisms that day, so it was kind of like a grocery store checkout system of bringing a family up front and running through the ceremony before moving on to the next. It was great that we also got to spend time with my parents, who came over, and Neil's family that came down from northern Iowa. Admittedly, however, I am selfish and wasn't crazy about sharing time with my niece. HAHA!

5.  A 3-HOUR TOUR: OK, so the drive from Lincoln to Des Moines, Iowa is three hours, and we spent an entire weekend there for the birth of my niece, but I liked the title. Anyway, Ellie was born February 18, and us being so close, we planned to go over to see the new addition. She was born earlier that day (a Friday), so I had already seen pictures, but it was so great to be that close to family, and to be able to hold her. It was easy to tell from that day that she was going to be a stinker. In ever picture I got, she was wide-eyed and taking everything in, and she was the same way all through the weekend until we left on Sunday.

4.  BEST MAN BESTED BY BOURBON: My best friend Kyle finally tied the knot in June, and for whatever reason, made me the best man. HAHA! Anyway, Rachel and I endured the long 12-hour drive to Louisville, Ky., so I could stand with him on his big day. Rachel has been to Louisville several times in the past, but it was only my second trip. We had visited a few years ago, right as he and Katie began dating, but it was easy to see how his life had changed in a lot of great ways. Among the positive highlights from the trip were seeing comedian Jo Koy at a sports bar/restaurant, and getting through my best man speech without much issue. There was free booze at the reception, which was great too, until after the party was over and we hopped in the party bus with Kyle and Katie, Katie's parents, Kyle's dad and my parents, among a few others. In my intoxicated state, I felt it necessary to take a few swigs of a bottle of bourbon being passed around, and that was it. I don't remember much else, but let's just say, Rachel wasn't too happy with me. YIKES!

3.  ROCKY MOUNTAIN ADVENTURE: Granted, my work trips are hellish, and often leave me stuck in an airport thanks to flight delays, but when things line up right, I appreciate the chance to use my work travel to get to see my sisters and their families in Colorado. Prior to the Fourth of July holiday, I was on my typical work trip, but knew I wanted to visit over the long weekend, so we tweaked the typical plan and got me a few one-way flights to make sure I landed in Denver that Friday night. My whole family was supposed to meet out there for a little get-together. Well, most everyone's plans fell through but mine, so I was on my own for quality time with my sisters, nieces and nephew. It was so great to see them, so it didn't even matter what we did. I don't get to see Eileen, Elise and Liam very often, so to have a few days with them was amazing. They're growing up way too fast, and becoming smarter than me every day. Such a fun way to spend a long weekend.

2.  THE GREAT OUTDOORS: In April, I decided to make the trip from Nebraska to southern Illinois to spend a few days with my dad and a close family friend and his two sons, both my very close friends. I made the 12-hour drive to spend time camping, fishing and relaxing at Shawnee National Forrest, and there were a lot of great times had in those few days. Being so far away, I never get to see Kyle, so it was great to spend a few days with him. It was even nicer to see my dad and spend some time together without having to juggle seeing 30 other people like our typical trips home. 

1.  MOVING HOME!: As stated in a previous post, Rachel and I moved to Nebraska in 2008, and spent the subsequent years trying to make the best of being eight hours from our family and friends. When we got the news in August that Rachel got a job at the Illinois Farm Bureau, I was SOOO happy. We'd made a lot of friends and I'd grown close to those I work with, but nothing can replace lifelong friends and your family. Getting packed up and moved was brutal, but that was, hands down, the happiest 8-hour drive to Illinois we'd made in three years.

Friday, September 9, 2011

We Will Never Forget...

I'll never forget Sept. 11, 2001, nor will the many others old enough to have witnessed and understand the scope of the worst terrorist attack against the United States in all its history.

As a junior in high school, I didn't fully grasp what this meant at first.  Like many others, I was solely focused on those lives lost through this tragedy.  The images I saw on TV that day are forever burned into my brain, and each year they cycle through so I remember those affected and say a prayer for the children that will never see their mother or father, the husband that will never come home to his wife or the firefighter or police officer that will never again report for duty.

Each year I feel an overwhelming sense of patriotism, and I suppose, in a very callous way, I have al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden to "thank" for that. An event that was meant to tear us apart has united us even more, as evidenced by the countless acts of kindness following the horrific events.  From those volunteers that drove thousands of miles to dig for survivors and for those that helped victims and family members pick up the pieces of their lives, I salute you.

Now 10 years after the tragedy, I am now faced with lingering thoughts of a repeat of Sept. 11 every time I board an airplane — which is pretty damn often, given my travel schedule.

As I walk through airport security, I find myself being highly aware of those around me.  Admittedly, I get uneasy when I see a middle eastern passenger in the security line, and I don't mean to be prejudice, but that's the barrier I've built for myself.

However, I also now see several soldiers strolling through the airports I visit, creating a sense of calm for me, knowing they are fighting against those that planned, coordinated and continue to praise the events of 9/11.

I definitely get a chill when a soldier comes home, and fellow passengers take time to appreciate the soldier's service:

The events of 9/11 are always with me when I fly — which is quite often. I quickly get a sense of what confusion, panic an fear those passengers must have felt, though I will never know exactly what it was like.  

Much like I do walking through an airport, I tend to look around at other passengers to see which ones look too focused and intense for a flight to Raleigh, NC, and which ones look like they could whip some ass if the situation called for it.

I'm 5-9 and 145 lbs, but I always try and pick out someone that I think I could at least tackle if he/she were to rush to the front of the plane. HAHA!

Every time we're asked to put away cell phones, I always send a quick text to Rachel and to my mom that we've boarded, and I often think about the horrific phone calls passengers made to their loved ones that day. You quickly realize the many others affected by the attacks, and the mental anguish, sadness and confusion on both ends of the phone that day as people said their final good-byes.

The memories of that day live on in all of us, and some are even creative enough to pay tribute in special ways.  I was lucky enough to meet and interview a man in Lakeland, Fla., who is a railroader by trade, but comes from a family of firefighters, and was deeply moved by the events of 9/11. 

As an avid motorcyclist, he felt it necessary to pay tribute to those lost through a creative paint scheme. He rides this everywhere he goes, through all kinds of weather, just to make sure everyone he meets never loses sight of what happened that day, and how it changed our world forever.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Eight-hour drives...

Recent college graduates aren't that picky about their first job out of school, so long as it pays enough to get them by for a while until they can build their resumes and find a better, higher-paying job.  However, for a couple looking to start a life together, the initial job search can be a major game-changer.

Rachel and I were engaged the semester before graduating, so we had plenty of time to plan for our future. However, the economy didn't quite agree, and I'm sure our choice to be communications majors didn't help matters much either.  Regardless, we both scoured the state of Illinois for jobs to meet our skill sets, but we had no luck.

Seemingly out of nowhere came an opportunity for Rachel to join the exciting world of public relations.  A family friend worked for the company and suggested she apply for a position.  I thought it sounded like a great idea, but it had a was in Lincoln, Neb.  Of course, she got a good offer, so it was off to Huskerville for us.

It didn't take long for the distance to get to us, however, as birthdays, weddings and other family events started popping up that we had to miss because of the travel time.  Now, we're both very close to our families, so this became a very depressing reality.  In our three years in Nebraska, we did make several trips back home, but they all ended with the same depressing route back to Nebraska.

I am happy to report, however, that we only have one more of those in store the first weekend in August.

Rachel was again the guiding force in getting us home, as she accepted a position with the Illinois Farm Bureau.  Unlike our last move, I'm transitioning with a full-time job still in tact, and will be working from home.  We will be living with my parents when we move home until we find a house, which isn't exactly ideal, but we're excited to start another chapter in our lives, so it will all be worth it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Welcome aboard!

I've been at my current job for nearly two years, and soon after beginning in August 2009, I had the idea to start a blog detailing my experiences on the road. As you might have guessed, I am a bit of a procrastinator, and am just now buckling down to get this going.

Actually, that's not entirely true. Most of my trips are spent working/driving 18 hours a day, so once I reach my hotel in the evenings, I tend to crash pretty hard.

I am a corporate journalist, and my company handles internal communications for various Class 1 and short line railroads across the country. My territory runs from Richmond, Va., to Miami, Fla., and everywhere in between. My role is to gather news for these companies' division-wide employee newsletters. On average, I travel every other week, gathering multiple accounts in the same five-day trip.

I spend quite a bit of my time in airports across the country, and have grown to appreciate the sport of people watching. I rarely come home from a trip without some interesting story about some disgruntled passenger complaining to the TSA, or a random act of patriotism as an entire airport welcomes home a soldier. Furthermore, the employees I interview on my trips have their own unique stories to tell, some of which I will share here.

This blog is meant to give you a glimpse into my world — the trips I take, the places I go, the people I meet and the obstacles I encounter along the way. It will be as much a tool for me to vent my frustrations as it will be a unique and entertaining reading experience for you.

While my job might seem repetitive, boring and stressful (sometimes is can be), no trip is ever the same, so keep your hands and feet inside the carpet and enjoy the ride...