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22 June, 2015

Trying Something New

As part of a high school English project several years ago, I wrote the first chapter of a novel. I wrote a few more pages, but then life happened, and a floppy disk on Apple 2e, was a little less than reliable.. a few years ago, I decided to give it a shot again and started another one.. but didn't get more than a few pages in before my laptop gave up the ghost.. 

Well, I've decided to give it another go. This time, I am several pages in. I don't know what direction I want to take it, but I've got a few ideas. I've decided to post the first chapter here. It may evolve to become the preface rather than chapter 1, but I'm a long way from having to make that decision.

As always, I encourage feedback, let me know what you think.. and if you pick up a book and read this, would you keep reading? I may share more in the future, but for now, this is it.

Chapter 1

He collapsed into the chair in the empty lounge. It was a long day, and he was still getting used to life on Mars. He had all the physical training before he left Earth, but simulators can only go so far. As he gazed out through the glass dome of the compound, he looked to see if he could see Earth, but this time of year, the Earth is on the other side of the sun.

“The final tram to the residential compound will be leaving in 15 minutes. Once again, the final tram for the residential compound will be departing in 15 minutes.” The PA system echoed through the abandoned lounge.

“Il tram finale per il complesso residenziale sarĂ  lasciare in 15 minuti. Ancora una volta, il tram finale per il complesso residenziale sarĂ  in partenza in 15 minuti.” the PA repeated in Italian, then again in Chinese.

The tram to the dorms was a 35 minute ride. He considered just crashing in his office again, but he really needed to get back, so he grabbed his stuff, and headed to the station. It was the last work day of the week at the center, so the tram station was almost as empty as the lounge he had just left.

“Hey Dave, running late again?” asked the conductor.

“Yea, you know how it is..” he responded as he stepped on the tram seconds before the automatic doors slid shut. He turned to find a seat. The last tram of the week was routinely light, and today was no exception. They had considered eliminating it to cut costs, but the workers voiced strong disapproval, and since the tram was solar powered, it really wasn't going to save a lot.

Dave found his seat. He liked sitting by the window on the left side of the tram on the way home. It had a better view of the Martian landscape. The route took them right past where the rover Opportunity first landed. The remains of the landing pod can still be seen as they flew past.

The Roanoke station had been originally set up as a mining colony. It is officially a colony of the United States in conjunction with China, but due to the remoteness, it is effectively self governing.

In the mid 2020s, a subsidiary of a Richard Bronson company had developed a low cost, unmanned cargo craft that could make the trip to Mars in less than a year. It saved on fuel by not needing any life support systems. It is basically an interplanetary dumbwaiter. The Lusitania II would haul ore to Earth, and return a little less than 2 years later stocked with supplies. Once it got up and running, they needed more and more miners, and the population grew to a few hundred. Since there was no reliable way to return to Earth, everyone was living under the understanding that it was a 1 way trip. In the last 15 years, 7 people had tried to stow away on Lusitania II, only to be found frozen solid when it docked in Mexico.

Then they figured how to harvest ice from passing comets to refill the long dry ocean. And that's when things started to change.



14 November, 2014

It's a Changing World

These days, it seems a week doesn't go by without news of something closing or going away or changing at Walt Disney World. Whether it is American Idol, the Backlot Tour, Maelstrom being 'Frozen-ised' the big hat going away not to mention the acts ending around EPCOT. There are a lot of opinions about the changes.

Some changes are progress, others seem to be a step back. Depending on who you may ask, one may be one for one person, and the other for another.

There are a myriad of rumors as to what is going to happen next. More Frozen stuff, a Wreck-it Ralph attraction, or bring a ride from Disneyland over to the World? The one that seems to have the most traction is an expanded Star Wars presence. Especially after Disney bought LucasFilm. What form that is going to take is anyone's guess at this point. Will it be a whole new 5th park? Will it be a Star Wars world similar to the Harry Potter section at Universal? 

My guess is they are planning on taking a large part of the back part of Hollywood Studios and creating a large Star Wars World. I believe there will be a couple rides, a couple places for refreshments, a new show or two, and of course, gift shops.

The rides I can picture being incorporated into the area are a couple of different types. I would like to see a quasi-thrill ride, either a speeder bike ride through Endor, or in an X-Wing fighter in a space battle or a pod race. A dark ride through the movies would be cool.

There are any number of scenes from the 6 existing movies: the tree city of Endor, Lando's Cloud City, Kashyyyk, Hoth, Degobah, Coruscant, and of course the Cantina from Mos Eisley.

Of course, it is all speculation. Some is wishful thinking. I wish that they would have gotten started on a Star Wars World before they started on that huge Avatar land in Animal Kingdom. 

Whatever the case is, one thing is for sure, it is going to be a much different park when we go in just about a year from now.

Not that I'm counting... 

27 June, 2014

It's on the Horizon...



When we went to Walt Disney World for our honeymoon a couple years back, I got hooked on the parks. What does that mean? A couple of things really.. First off, I read a couple of Disney Parks forums daily (sometime multiple times a day..), secondly, I am always in planning mode for our next trip, even if we don’t have one specifically planned (there is always a ‘next trip’ in the works)

I like to look at the resorts to see where we can stay next time. One of the sites I frequent has weekly WDW updates, so I can keep track of what is going on down there (updates, scheduled referbs, etc..). I read the forums to see what other fans have seen and experienced, that way, I can keep up with all the changes in the parks (like the updated MagicBand program and the newly opened 7 Dwarfs Mine Train ride).

Since we are in the Disney Vacation Club (DVC), we will be going on average every year or so. Our last trip (January) was a big one, so it used up 2 years’ worth of points, so our next trip was going to be a ways off. We had an idea of when it was going to be, but nothing firm. Well.. we have nailed it down on when we want to go. We are looking to go down with my parents the week before Thanksgiving, next year. We wanted to go when crowds are down, but we still wanted to see the parks all done up for Christmas.

I like going during the off-peak times when crowds are low, and points (to book rooms) are less. This time frame is the 2nd lowest time to go, points wise. They start with the Christmas decorations right after Halloween.

There are so many things to do, you can’t do it all in one trip, and I have been trying new things each trip--Things that would normally be out of my comfort zone. I’m not one for the ‘thrill rides’ but on recent trips, I tried Expedition Everest and the Tower of Terror. This time, I may try the Rocken’ Rollercoaster or Space Mountain. I mean, can you really say you’ve been to Disney as many times and never been on Space Mountain?

We are now inside the 15 month window, well within the acceptable window for planning a trip for normal people.. It looks like we are looking at a stay at the Boardwalk Villas, steps away from EPCOT, and a quick boat ride to Hollywood Studios.

I’ve been looking for what types of restaurants we will eat at. One thing is for sure, we will do dinner one night at the Liberty Tree Tavern. This has become our favorite place to eat. Since we will be traveling with our new addition, we will be looking mostly at all-you-can-eat places so Evy can just eat off our plates. My mom is a huge seafood lover, so it seems that a meal at Cape May will be in order.

We like to not duplicate places we have eaten before until we have been everywhere, so we will be looking to try places we haven’t been to before, but we may end up duplicating meals. We still have time to figure things out. I am always open to suggestions. Where is your favorite place to eat?    

Feel free to read my reviews from previous trip in earlier postings on this blog.


26 April, 2014

My Country 'Tis of Thee






As I have mentioned in the last few posts, I have been traveling a lot lately. One thing that I have learned looking out the window of a plane at more than 15,000 feet up is that there are a lot of softball fields in the northeast! They are all over the place.. and not just at schools either.. I have seen complexes that have 4 or 6 or more fields close together.. I saw one today that was in a clearing of trees, with nothing really close..

I love looking out the window of an airplane from the air. I love trying to pick out landmarks as I fly over them. I have seen Citi Field, the Statue of Liberty, Arthur Ashe stadium and more in New York.. The Charlotte Motor speedway in North Carolina.. the 3 sports venues in Philadelphia.. The Pentagon, Arlington Cemetery, the Mall in DC.. to name a few.

I have seen countless golf courses, strip mines and quarries, big rivers, small streams, big farms and big cities.

One thing I have to say is anyone who says that this country is overpopulated, has probably never left the island of Manhattan or LA county.. There is a whole lot of nothin’ out there.

This country is beautiful. I would encourage everyone to take a drive, get on a plane, go somewhere and see what this country has to offer. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to do it either…

I don’t care where you fall on the political spectrum, go see Washington DC. Flights to DCA (Reagan National) are reasonable, and there is a Metro stop right there, $6 will buy you a round trip fair to the Mall where you can get lost in the Smithsonians. No matter what your interests are, there is at least 1 that will pique your interest. From the Air and Space Museum (where you can see everything from the Wright Brothers plane to the Spirit of St Louis to a rocket that went into space) to the American History (where you can see everything from one of Google’s original server towers, to the dress that Nancy Reagan wore when her husband was inaugurated to a sunken battle ship from the Civil War to Miss Piggy) or Natural History (where you can see everything from the Hope Diamond to a moon rock to a T-Rex skeleton), not to mention all the art exhibits. 
And you can’t forget about all of the national monuments. There are the ones that have been there for ever (Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson) as well as the new ones like FDR. Go honor our war dead at the Vietnam wall, the Korean War Memorial, the new WWII Memorial, and of course the rows and rows of fallen heroes at Arlington. I can’t help but wonder what the lone Marine guarding the Tomb of the Unknown is thinking as he marches back and forth.




All that, and I haven’t’ mentioned the Capital or the White House.

Did I mention that all of these are free? (well.. you pay for them every April 15th.. but you can go in them free all year)

The only thing that disappoints me about the museums is how much of the stuff for sale in the countless gift shops is made in China. You would think that in our nation’s capital, they would make a point to stock American made products.

There are some great places for photos, it is a great place to people watch. You can usually find a school group or 10 around. If you are there early, watch out for all the joggers!

Have you been to DC lately? What did you like most? Let me know in the comments!

18 April, 2014

How to Fix the Airline Industry



As I write this, I am sitting in my room in the Hampton Inn in Alexandria, VA. Why am I in Alexandria, VA? I’m glad you asked. My flight home from Reagan National airport yesterday was canceled and there were no more flights available back to Rochester, so US Air sprung for the room and put me on a flight leaving later this morning.

As part of my new job, I am doing a lot of traveling, and am on 4-6 planes a week. I also am flying on several different airlines.

I have spent the previous 15 years in one customer service role or another, so it is kind of engrained in me. I can’t help but look for high levels of customer service and notice when I’m not getting it. Most of the time, I don’t think much of it. Other times, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

In the past few months, I have been in 12 different airports on 6 different airlines. When you travel that much, it is unlikely that you won’t experience a problem. Sometimes, the airline personnel were helpful, others, left things to be desired.

For the most part, in my experience, the industry as a whole has taken on a very ‘oh well’ attitude when it comes to customer service. As with everything, there are exceptions. I know that margins are razor thin these days, and people are more careful on how they spend their money. I also understand that I am new to the industry, so I do not know all the regulations they have to deal with and the costs and expenses involved with these regulations, but good customer service is free.

It is like one airline dropped the customer satisfaction and people didn’t revolt, so the rest of the industry followed suit, and now there is no going back. It makes me wonder if someone were to come along and make an airline that had decent flight routes that concentrated on customer satisfaction, rather than on the bottom line. What would that be like? Sure, it would most likely be more expensive to fly, but would enough passengers value the higher costs in exchange for better service?

Then it hit me.. what if Disney started an airline? I’m not saying they would make it like the cruise line or the theme parks, Minny and Daisy wouldn’t be your stewardesses, but just if they took a Disney attitude to the industry. Would the other airlines follow suit? Since everything Disney does is symbiotic in nature, they could make MCO (Orlando) and SNA (John Wayne) or even LAX (Los Angeles) their main hubs. That way, most flights to Disney World or Disneyland would be direct flights on Air Disney.

Sure it would be more expensive than flying on Southwest or JetBlue. Nothing Disney does is cheap, but in my trips to Disney, you don’t feel ripped off (with the only possible exception being the quick service meals). I always felt that I was getting taken care of, and the cast members always give the impression that they are always willing to go above and beyond to make sure you have a ‘magical’ day.

There will always be the people that use cost as their primary determining factor when choosing many things, but there are also the people who are willing to spend a little extra to get that little extra experience.

12 March, 2014

My New Career



After almost 15 years in call centers, I have finally changed careers. I can’t really get into too many details because there is an element of undercover in my job, but it does involve a lot travel. I am about a week and a half into the new job and so far, I love it.

I plan on writing a little about my experiences. Places I go, restaurants I eat at, things I see etc..

Last week, I was in 8 different airports. While in the Buffalo airport, I saw a group of guys who just stepped off a plane from 1972. They were all dressed to the 9s, ready for a night at Studio 54. One guy had a powder blue puffy shirt, one had a patchwork sport coat, one had a hat. They all were different, but all were ready for a night on the town.

I took the chance to see a piece of American history, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. I walked Uptown Charlotte. I sat in the cock pit of a 767, the one that has the fold flat seats in first class the ones that make a little bed, so you can sleep on those long international flights.

I will be writing about future adventures, without going into too much detail about why I am there. I don’t want to blow my cover.
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