Thursday, October 13, 2005

Carnegie Mellon

Hoo boy. I haven't been this nervous since my auditions for Rice nearly twenty years ago.

I had an informal interview at Carnegie Mellon yesterday, and it turns out that Carnegie Mellon is the Portland of academia -- it has everything I ever wanted, at the highest quality. I think I want this more than anything I've ever lusted for.

We discussed my entry to their Information Systems program. That is not a computer science degree. It doesn't deal with the computers that process information as much as it deals with the information itself, although computers is a big part of the degree program.

I just submitted a summary of my skills and employment history to the advisor. She will be using that as a springboard to introduce me to the departmental advisor, she said. But in the meantime I'll wait and wonder where the fuck I'm going to get $150,000.00, the conservative estimate for a four-year degree there. Perhaps some of my credits will transfer, but I studied music, for crissake.

If I don't qualify for the IS degree (pleaseohpleaseohplease, let me qualify and get some obscure alumnus scholarship set aside for old farts PLEASE!), they have something just as obscure -- a major in technical writing! I've never seen a tech writing major at any other school. They claim they're the first, and I believe it.

I can't believe I'm excited about the prospect of going back to school. It wouldn't be until next year, which means I have decisions to make. I can make more money in PDX than Pittsburgh, I'm sure. I can definitely have more fun in PDX. But I'm weighing my options, trying not to get my hopes up too high -- from the school's literature, we non-traditional transfer students don't exactly have priority for scholarships or admission. I'm not nearly as scared of student loans as I was when going to Rice, and I know my earning potential will be greatly enhanced with this degree, so I'd be able to pay them back.

Still, I'm not in this for the money. I need fulfillment. I want validation. I want challenges. The last few years in Anchorage have been a big patronizing bore for my career -- and I used to derive great pleasure from my work. I love completing projects. It gives me a great rush to put that last record in the archive, to send that last e-mail to the project manager saying, "That's it. It's all done. Next?"

The coursework is in the real world -- the literature says that we would be expected to design and implement a management system for a local non-profit or charity organization. The student to faculty ratio is only 10:1. The campus is marvelous -- it's an oasis in the middle of Shittsburgh, just as Rice was to Houston.

Damn. I really wish I'd've known I was smart when I was in High School.

And yes, Rainy, that part *is* a midlife crisis remark ;)

Wish me luck. In the meantime, I wait.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Back to Pennsylvania

Spent a lovely three days here in the tiny town of Pendleton, SC, just up the road from Clemson University.

I wasn't able to get ahold of my nephew, unfortunately -- he's a busy young man, I hear. But WTF. I got a nice tour of the campus yesterday, had fun in Pendleton, ate well, and am heading back to PA this afternoon.

While here, I arranged for a meeting with Carnegie-Mellon's advisors for an informal interview this coming Wednesday, so that will be my focus in PA when I get back there. I spoke with their staff and explained that with fifteen years in engineering and industry, I'd more than likely be seeking a business degree, but I'd need their advice. The goal is to offer them my experience for their engineering and research departments in exchange, and they were open to the concept.

Regardless of how the interview turns out, I'm headed back to Portland, as nothing will come of it until next academic year. So even if I do get into CMU, I'll work in PDX for the year and then return.

The drive back to PA today/tonight won't be nearly as lazy as the drive down. On the way here, I took a small 2-lane road up through the hollers of West Virginia, looking at the decaying homesteads, civil war monuments and cemetaries, etc., before catching the interstate in Virginia. This time, I'm going to hit the road and cruise.

Oh. And I did hear from the folks in the Southwest, so I'm planning to finally check Arizona off my list on the way back to Portland.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


Thanks to Microsoft, I was out of touch with several people -- hotmail, without telling me, and without me telling *it*, decided to dump all mail from people who use aol, yahoo, or gmail. That included my sister in Ohio.

Gotta remember -- since moving to Alaska, I've rarely used a telephone. Alaska was the leader in wiredidity, and with the time difference, etc., it's just always been the way I've been able to keep in touch. Yesterday she replied to my new e-mail address, so when I get back from SC, I'll be going there.

Ohio holds no fond memories. I spent fifteen years of my youth there; fifteen years that would make Tennessee Williams cringe. However, there were people in Ohio that made sacrifices for me, and it's those people I have to find, just to let them know that those sacrifices were the reason I'm not in prison or dead.

One of those was the aforementioned sister. She bought me my first trumpet, which of course led to the scholarships that got me out of that hell-hole. She also looked out for me and gave me strong support when nobody else was watching.

Then there are two music teachers, one from high school, one from college, that I want to find, just to say "thanks." They were the first adults to treat me with respect, ever. And again, thanks to them, I was able to climb out of the slime that was and is Ohio, and to realize that I was not what other people told me I was.

Going to Ohio is like visiting a cemetary. Something in me forces me to go back there every time I'm in this part of the world, and every time, I become filled with a sense of mourning. I just stare at the small, simple headstone, trying to find something of value in those memories, but the sense of loss overwhelms all else.

But I'm going back again. And I'll go back again. And again, time after time. Even if everyone I knew there moved away, I'd still have to go back. I truly, truly hate that fucking place.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Der Truck... war tot.

Let me premise this by saying I don't believe in this sort of shit, not one bit.

I haven't had dreams in quite a long time, now, but since starting the road trip, I've been dreaming a lot lately. People who know me know why, but that's beside the point.

When I start dreaming, the dreams are long, very detailed, very realistic. Sunday night/Monday morning, I had a very long, bizarre dream about The Truck. I had pulled into a large industrial complex with several buildings, small manufacturers, distributors, warehouses, all in the same few blocks, that sort of thing -- with no people anywhere outside. I wasn't sure why I was there.

Inside the buildings, people were like Oompah-loompahs from Willy Wonka -- working automatically, ignoring my presence completely. From within one of the buildings, I looked out of the window, and there was The Truck, parallel parked on the street, but not where I'd left it. I went running outside to see who'd moved it, and it was gone. I panicked.

I went running back inside a different building in the complex, looked out of a different window, and could see it parked in yet a different spot, went outside again, and again it was gone. This was becoming frustrating, and I couldn't find anyone to help me explain it or help me get back to it. Eventually I was crying because I couldn't get back to The Truck, no matter how I strategized. I awoke almost in tears from the realism of the emotional strain, and told my brother and nephew about the dream before leaving for North Carolina.

I arrived in Winston-Salem last night, stopped to buy a couple of things and called George, the EXPATRIATE EXPATRIATE EXPATRIATE EXPATRIATE EXPATRIATE in Carolina I was going to visit for the next couple of days, only to find out I'd screwed up horribly on his location. I was in NC -- He was in SC. Duh. Right after hanging up, I got back on the highway, and The Truck began to sporadically lose engine power. I didn't see any service signs at the next exit, but figured I'd better get off the highway.

When I pulled off the ramp, I could see a collection of sodium street lights a few blocks away, and thought it might be a small town. The Truck's problem was obviously fuel/air mixture, and I was thinking it was the O2 sensor -- either way, I needed to be findable.

I drove toward the lights -- it was an industrial complex; small manufacturers, warehouses, distributors, all in one large park, with no people anywhere. And here is where The Truck died.

I called the local non-emergency emergency number, and was connected to the Forsythe Country Sheriff's unit, who said they would send a unit out. So I waited. And waited. No unit. I was looking at The Truck, but couldn't drive it. 2 hours later, people began arriving for work at the complex. Even though I was partially blocking one of the driveways, the people ignored me, sitting there on my hood in the middle of their complex.

Another hour passed, and I approached the building when I saw a warehouse door open. I said, "Hi, I'm broken down here, the Sheriff was supposed to be on the way, and I was hoping I could use your restroom....." No eye contact, no acknowledgment from 5 feet away; the man just finished pulling the chain to open the last door, and walked away.

"Cue Twilight Zone theme," I was thinking, as the dream was replaying in my head over and over again.

The parallels were shattered when around the corner came 4 sets of sirens and seizure-inducing blue and white lights, speeding into the large complex. One of them squealed to a halt diagonally in front of me, Starsky & Hutch-style, and yelled, "YOU! Do you have anything to do with the alarm!"

"Alarm? I don't think so. I was just waiting for you guys to come out and help me with this...." and I noticed he was muni PD, not a deputy, and I sent him on his way. They went to the dead-end branch of the block and started investigating a building there, and he came back to help me and call a towing service on his way out of the lot. I wasn't invisible after all.

So. SOUTH Carolina to see the EXPATRIATE EXPATRIATE EXPATRIATE EXPATRIATE EXPATRIATE tomorrow. The Truck has been reborn, is running fine. And the shop even gave me a free hat for coming 6,000 miles to have my them change my fuel pump. I'm shocked at myself lately -- *Nothing*, absolutely *nothing* has pissed me off in an entire month.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Off to the Carolinas

I'll be leaving Pennsylvania for Winston Salem, NC, tomorrow, to see another Alaskan expatriot for a couple of days, then down to South Carolina to spend a day or two with my nephew there.

We had a great time in Pittsburgh (proper) at Station Square, filled with historical buildings and relics from the aforementioned steel industry. I'm not much of a fan of food in general, but the restaurant -- Buca di Beppo -- was fantastic. The meals there are not for individuals -- I ordered the "small" veal parmegiana for $15 -- and out came a plate with three large pieces. The small order of garlic bread was the size of a small pizza, and the ravioli was huge. The spaghetti ordered at the next table came with meatballs the size of softballs, and everything was perfect. It fed the four of us with pounds of food leftover.

I think we'll be going back when I get back here next weekend. At least, I'll be lobbying for it... But in the meantime, off to the Carolinas.