A Sign I Have Too Much Time on My Hands

A Sign I Have Too Much Time on My Hands

Do you know the distance from my house to the South Pole? Of course, you don’t. But I do. That’s because I recently erected a giant sign pole complete with weather vane in my front yard that displays the direction and distance to several far-flung places, including the South Pole. How far is it from our house here on Camano Island, Washington to say, Cape Town, South Africa? Glad you asked: 10,199 miles southeast. Distance to Pitcairn Island? 5,022 miles almost due south. Moscow, Russia? I have no idea. But I can see Russia from my back door, so no matter.

For years, I’ve been fascinated by those rustic towering poles with signs pointing to remote locales like Timbuktu (yes, that’s an actual place). Maybe it’s the wanderlust in me or my long-held interest in maps. Or perhaps I’ve read too many National Geographic articles about the lost tribes of Borneo. Whatever the reason, I decided to plant one of these (poles, not Borneans) in our yard as a fun conversation piece. Prior to this project, the only thing quirky about our house was my wife’s husband.

I asked my wife if she’d be okay if I built one of these and gave it a prominent location on our front yard. To my amazement, she did not protest in the slightest. Even when she woke from her nap, and I asked her again, she was still moderately amenable. She had just two conditions: first, I had to promise to not do a sloppy job. Second, I could not try to conscript her assistance with this fool’s errand. Deal, I said, knowing all too well there was no way I would live up to the second condition. Continue reading “A Sign I Have Too Much Time on My Hands” »

My Visit to Whimsical Chumleighland

My Visit to Whimsical Chumleighland

I recently took a trip back in time, and it did not require inventing a time machine or ingesting any hallucinatory drugs. I simply drove ten miles to a quirky, iconoclastic place in the middle of nowhere called Chumleighland in the Woods. It was named in honor of its owner, Reverend Chumleigh – who, I soon discovered, is not an actual reverend nor is that his real name. So why is it called Chumleighland? Heck if I know. Why did God make the Duck-Billed Platypus? There are some questions to which we may never find the answer.

What a fascinating, strange visit it turned out to be. My wife and I had seen small ads in the local newspaper about this odd-sounding place hidden away in the forest near the southern tip of our island. We had no idea what to expect. We followed Google Maps but when it announced, “You have arrived,” we could not locate anything resembling a building, a park, or even traces of previous human contact. 

Suddenly, I spied a tiny sliver of a clearing in the woods, barely wide enough for a refrigerator, with a closed gate. Then out of the thicket emerged an older chap with long grey hair and a scraggly beard. He gave off a Gandalf meets Jerry Garcia kind of vibe. He donned a t-shirt that read “It’s Mueller Time” and featured a cartoon rendering of Robert Mueller in cool-looking sunglasses. “Do you know how we get to Chumleighland?” I asked uncertainly. “Just drive into the grove. Park anywhere and follow the torches. Oh, and watch out for the cats.” That was my introduction to the good Reverend Chumleigh.

We parked by a massive oak tree, as there was no parking lot. Dutifully, we followed the torch-lit path, which meandered beside a miniature train track, like what you’d see at a children’s petting zoo. “Oh, the train should be running again by next week. I just have to clear some felled trees,” explained our ebullient host. Somehow that almost made sense to me. Continue reading “My Visit to Whimsical Chumleighland” »

My Short-Lived Career as a BINGO Announcer

My Short-Lived Career as a BINGO Announcer

Throughout my life, I’ve held a variety of jobs – from Sales Director to Director of Sales and everything in between. Given the chance, I could have been a superstar selling advertising, life insurance or legal research to anyone from astronauts to Aborigines, had my employers not fired me for poor performance and incompetence. So, you can imagine my excitement when I recently heard about an opening that sounded right up my alley: Working the BINGO booth at our local county fair.

When word got to me that a local non-profit needed help with the fair’s BINGO operations, I knew I was the perfect candidate. When the BINGO Boss man called, I was totally prepared. I had updated my resume to reflect relevant skills that made me uniquely qualified for this challenge – most notably that I was adept – even under pressure – at differentiating most letters from numbers.   

I was surprised at how few questions the recruiter posed during the interview. His opening pitch was, “Are you willing to work the BINGO booth at the fair this weekend?” From the get-go, I picked up on serious buying signals. Not to appear immodest, but I am a tenacious negotiator. I asked him what the base salary was. He said there was no salary. I interpreted that to mean it was commission-only. No problem, I thought. That just means the sky’s the limit.

I asked about stock options, how the health insurance plan worked, whether the job came with a matching 401K and when I’d be eligible for my four weeks of vacation. In the end, we reached what I feel was a fair compromise: No salary, vacation, stock options or health coverage. But I wrangled free entrance to the entire fairgrounds – including behind-the-scenes access to the rabbits exhibit and the tractor pull competition.    Continue reading “My Short-Lived Career as a BINGO Announcer” »

You Can Take a Hike

You Can Take a Hike

Lately, whenever someone invites me to go hiking, my response is usually: “You can take a hike.” That’s because, I really don’t care for hiking.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not lazy. Okay, maybe that’s a lie. But I used to take long walking excursions all the time. It’s one of my wife’s favorite leisure activities – so much so that she snuck it into our wedding vows: “I promise to love, honor and cherish you – and take annoyingly long, arduous hikes into mosquito-infested woods in the middle of nowhere – so long as we both shall live.” I probably should have read over our vows a bit more carefully, but young love makes you say yes to the craziest things.

I’ve endured tons of treks over my lifetime. I’ve scaled summits of the Rocky Mountains (well, the summit of the visitors’ information stations, at least). I’ve toured all over Europe for two months, with nothing more than a backpack and my sister (to carry my backpack). I’ve run several 10K races and even completed a marathon – that’s 26 miles – and at the end, all I got was a t-shirt. So, don’t tell me I’ve not put in my share of hard miles on foot.

But hiking is not that much fun for me anymore, in part because I have osteoarthritis in both knees – which, personally, I blame on my wife, for making me join her on so many walkabouts over the past 35 years.

I don’t get the appeal of the activity. Hear me out. You want me to walk for hours, usually in the middle of a forest, so the view is totally obscured by trees and boulders and nature. Then, to make matters worse, after reaching my destination five miles later, there’s never a Starbucks. I’m stuck in no man’s land with no cell phone reception, so I have no idea what the game score is. I’m utterly exhausted and my knees are throbbing. But wait! We’re not done with the fun yet. My ordeal is only half over, because to get back to civilization, I have to cover the exact same route in reverse. I guess if you’re a masochist, I totally get the appeal.

Continue reading “You Can Take a Hike” »

Soap Box Derby – The Thrill of It All

Soap Box Derby – The Thrill of It All

For years, sports fanatics have debated which is the most exciting spectator sport. Some argue nothing beats football for sheer intensity and physicality. Others point to the gladiator-like combat of hockey. And some people prefer badminton, but then, some people are idiots. For me, it’s female mud wrestling. I really don’t think I should have to explain this.

But recently I came upon one more contender for your consideration: Soap Box Derby racing. Before you scoff, hear me out. A few weeks ago, I attended the 11th Annual Stanwood-Camano Island Soap Box Derby – the only such event in the entire state of Washington. When I heard the race was coming to town, I immediately submitted my application as a last-minute entry. Alas, I just missed the competition age limit (by 550 months – oh, so close).

First a bit of background. The Soap Box Derby is a racing program for kids ages 7 through 17, which has been run throughout the United States since 1934. The National Championship Finals are held each July at Derby Downs in Akron, Ohio. Racers compete in ultra-lightweight unpowered vehicles which they have built themselves, traversing a gentle incline over the space of roughly 1,000 feet, relying on their driving skills and gravity to reach the finish line first.

Having neglected to educate myself on the rich history and subtle nuances of this sport, I had no idea what to expect. I apparently arrived too late to catch the live pre-event concert by the Beach Boys. But what I did see was a colorful parade of home-built cars – 72 in all – each one sponsored by a different local business, like Camano Hardware, the Kiwanis Club, and Rothschild Estates’ White Swan Polo Club.

The competitors took great pride in their vehicles, having sawed, sanded, glued and painted them with only a little help from mom or dad. The Rothschild Estates entry, however, drew a few murmurs as the it appears the family’s footman clearly played a hand in its construction. Continue reading “Soap Box Derby – The Thrill of It All” »

Welcome to Portland

Welcome to Portland

[The following is a message from the Portland, Oregon Visitors’ Bureau.]

Welcome to Portland, Oregon, America’s Most Livable Liberal City.

If you’re planning to spend a few days in the Rose City, we at the Portland Visitor’s Bureau would like to offer a few friendly suggestions to help make your stay as pleasant as possible.

First, we might as well get this one right out of the way. In Portland, we’re slightly left of center in our politics. If you’re a lifelong Republican or you accidentally voted for Donald Trump, no need to apologize. But, you might want to rethink your travel plans. We hear Tulsa is a place you might enjoy, with its expansive plains and oil rig fields.

But if you’re someone who thinks Hillary should have been our 45th president, or better still, Bernie, or even better yet, Spider-Man, then you’ll feel right at home here. Our city’s motto is KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD. In case you thought that was Austin, Texas’ motto, you’re right. We don’t mind sharing.

One of our more iconic residents is The Unipiper. He can be seen pedaling around town on his unicycle, donning a Darth Vader helmet while playing the Star Wars theme on his bag pipes, as they shoot flames. In most cities, such a sight might be a bit unnerving. Here in Portland, we just wave and say, “Hi, Brian.”

We’re extremely laid back about most things – that’s because at any given time, roughly half of us are stoned. We don’t mind if you’re a couple hours late to work, so long as you remember to buy a latte for a co-worker when you stop at Stumptown Coffee on your way in. Continue reading “Welcome to Portland” »