Flotsam and Jetsam
Many, many years ago, I remember reading some kind of online personality survey. One of the questions was about whether you walk with your head down staring at the ground or head up looking at the world around you (and maybe another option or two). I don’t remember much else but I know I have this weird ingrained feeling of not wanting to be someone who walks around, head down, staring at the ground. I don’t know why, but I want to be someone who walks with my head held high looking at the world around me.
However, every time I take notice, sure enough my head is bowed and I’m staring at the ground. Even if I correct myself, 5 seconds later I’m back to my default state. I do wonder if this says something profound about me.
The online super hero MMO game “City of Heroes” is shutting down. Much like many of my friends, I find myself very saddened by this despite the fact that I haven’t played in many years. This game has a very special place in life.
CoH wasn’t the first MMO I played, but it was the most impactful due to many circumstances which all aligned to make this particular game a very magical moment in my life. I had played some Earth and Beyond, Everquest, and WoW but CoH fell right in the sweet spot before my personal MMO bubble kind of burst. It was the most fun I ever had in an MMO. We had an awesome guild full of amazing friends, old and new. I had characters of every class, complete with full origin stories. We had a guildmate who died who most of us never met in person and yet we all felt the loss. When Andy, one of my best friends since 4th grade, got married, we had a LAN party for his bachelor party with many of our guildmates. Several guildmates built a computer out of spare parts so my wife at the time could keep playing when hers quit working.
When we moved to Austin, and were looking for jobs I set my sights on the company that published CoH. When my friend Andy soon came to Austin as well, I told him I’d seen an artist position open there. He was the first of us to get a job there. Then through him I heard that one of his co-workers was casting a play so Jess and I both auditioned and got cast in the first show ever at Richard Garriotts’s Curtain Theatre. Through that we became friends with several people who worked there which eventually led to me getting hired there as a QA tester (though not on CoH). Later, I helped Jess get a job as receptionist.
Eventually everyone moved on to other games, most going to EQ2 or WoW. After CoH, it was never the same for me. Everyone was split across different games and even different servers within the same game. I didn’t play enough to justify a monthly cost and just never felt that same magic again.
I eventually got the axe in one of the big layoff waves and spent the next 5 years as a freelance actor and musician. The company moved most of its operations to Seattle but Andy still works there as senior artist and Jess is now a lead content writer.
When I read the news of CoH “sunsetting,” I felt almost that same feeling as when you hear about the death of someone you once knew. Even though you may not have spoken to them in 20 years, you still feel the loss, like there’s something gone from this world. Just the lack of that presence and energy. Most people probably won’t understand this feeling and think to themselves that this was only a video game. However, for those of us that were there, together in Paragon City, we will undertand each other’s heartfelt eulogies and know that just as a bunch of atoms make a person, a bunch of 0’s and 1’s on a distant server somewhere can create a world of magic that brings people together and forms real, lasting impressions and relationships.
I’ve found that my love for technology and games means that I get better results when something is made to feel like a game. I like checking into places on Foursquare and getting badges and mayorships. I was more likely to do pushups and situps when I downloaded the apps for “100 Pushups” and “200 situps” that auto calculate your sets based on your initial test.
Yesterday I downloaded Fitocracy, which I really like. You basically get points for any exercise you do. For this means that instead of facing the daunting task of trying to find an hour and using it to work out, I just periodically drop and do 10 pushups, or some air aquats, or walk around the building and a little robot awards me points for it.
I found myself thinking that Fitocracy would be even more compelling if I could add things like “resisted bagels” or “walked away from the snack machine.” That’s when some co-workers told me about the app, “Epic Win.”
Basically it’s just a To-Do List app but it allows you to turn anything into a fantasy quest. Choose an avatar and then make quests, assign them points and a stat type. For example, I just made quest for “eat a healthy breakfast” which repeats Sunday through Friday is worth 50 point and affects my “Spirit” stat. If I wanted to, I could make a one-shot quest (or recurring quest) on the fly for “drink water instead of Diet Mountain Dew” and watch my character level up and get loot as I accomplish this quest.
These types of things may not work on your mindset, but for they somehow motivate me and make chores into something potentially fun.
My girlfriend told me she was kidnapping me for two days for a secret trip. So today she navigated as we drove a very scenic drive to Bandera, Medina, Vanderpool and Leakey.
We found some geocaches along the way (an excellent way to have fun, explore and find new places), rescued a butterfly from the Medina river (fished it out, dried and unstuck its wings until it flew away), saw lots of awesome scenery, ate at a cafe in Leakey, and ended up renting an awesome cabin at the Frio Pecan Farm from the lady working at the Leakey Mercantile store. It was a nice night of relaxing, singing and finishing off that awesome chocolate meringue pie from the cafe.
Plus we had much fun at the expense of the name Leakey all day. Like the fact that the school here is the Leakey Eagles. And that there was a Leakey Beverage Barn. And while driving, we passed a sign that said “road prone to flooding next 12 miles” and I said “well of course, the next town is Leakey.”
We also laughed like juveniles at the fact that omg the way there were two political signs that often appeared next to one another for “Butts” and “Payne.” or sometimes “Payne” and “Butts.”
Tomorrow it’s onward to Utopia and possibly Concan, then back through Bandera and home. It’s the first trip we have taken together purely for fun that was just the two of us and not for a band gig or family trip. And as Paula said to me in regards to our travel compatibility, “I haven’t wanted to kill you once!”
I was walking to the store today when I suddenly felt so far away from my dreams, like they were so far out of reach. On the way home I took a moment and just truly felt the sun on my face, the breeze blowing across my skin and remembered that same feeling throughout my life, as a child, a teenager, walking to a friend’s house in my home town. For a moment I found the happiness in that moment, not worrying about the future. It’s something I’m working on but that is very difficult for me. I have a mind that is always racing at light speed and exists in a thousand different places at any given moment. Quieting that beast is not something I’ve been very successful at yet. It’s all part of my ongoing journey, I suppose.
Vending machine 1 has the drink I want. Unfortunately it does not seem to be taking dollar bills. I concoct a wily plan. I go to vending machine 2 which is taking dollar bills but does not have the drink I want. I put in my dollar then press the change return button and I am given 4 quarters. Score!
I go back to #1. I insert a quarter. I hear a sound in the coin return slot. My quarter has been returned with several more. I insert a quarter again. This time it sticks. I insert a second quarter. It is returned to me along with my previous quarter and several more. Further attempts see my quarters just returned to me. I leave without a drink, but with a pocket full of quarters. The vending machine basically paid me to not have a drink and leave it alone.
While walking to get some breakfast this morning, I was just enjoying the gorgeous weather. The perfect temperature, the gentle breeze, the shining sun, the sounds all around me, the smells in the air. Then for some reason that I couldn’t quite get a hold of, it all triggered memories of my childhood, walking around my neighborhood, my home town, my elementary school. I remembered a book that I checked out from my elementary school library. A compilation of Science Fiction stories. I only have the vaguest memories of it now but I’ve always wanted to track it down and read it again. About the only memories that remain are vague recollections of some crystalline, large flea-like creatures on another planet and another story about a robot (that’s certainly no help).
I wondered if the school has records of what was in the library back then. It’s strange but wonderful how some magical combination of sensory input can suddenly transport you for reasons that aren’t quite clear. It’s a beautiful day. We only get a handful of these here in Austin! I’m going to enjoy this precious commodity!
Had a weird possible fainting/blackout thing last night. Got up in the middle of the night to go pee, suddenly felt really bad. I thought that I quickly sat myself down on the floor but judging from the way I totally took out the toilet paper dispenser (broke the plastic roll, bent one side of the holder, and pushed the other side into the wall, and have no memory of this) I’m thinking maybe it was less voluntary than I thought. Next thing I remember is feeling totally disoriented and everything is pitch black. I felt my way around until I found the door and rushed back to bed in a cold sweat. Then I felt fine a few minutes later.
My right pinky toe hurts like I strained it (I think somewhere in the process I bent it back too far), I have scratches on my back and one of the little caps over the screws at the toilet base was knocked off. I think it was partially because I was right in the middle of a deep, deep phase of sleep and maybe I just got up too quick and had a blood pressure drop or something. I don’t really remember much. Can’t remember if I turned the light on (I thought I must have to see where to pee) but if I did, when did I turn it back off? Did I actually open my eyes and couldn’t see because it was dark or did I just not even open my eyes or did I just have a vision blackout as I was coming back around? How did I go down that injured my toe, took out the toilet paper dispenser and knocked the cap off the base of the toilet? It’s like some weird Sherlock Holmes mystery. Or an episode of House. Or Jekyll and Hyde. Or I’m a werewolf. Either way, kinda scary and definitely bizarre.
I awoke at 2:30 A.M., successfully this time, to make the drive to the summit of Haleakala, the world’s tallest dormant volcano, to watch the sunrise. The drive up in the dark was slightly harrowing, as the road wound up the mountain and you knew that just off the side of the road was a plunge to certain death. Since it was still dark you couldn’t really see anything but my mind filled in the blanks. I was kind of afraid it would be more harrowing on the way down in the light.
When I got to the summit at 10,023 feet elevation, it was damn cold. I hadn’t brought a jacket to Maui so the best I could do was jeans, a tee shirt and a long sleeve shirt over my tee. Since it was still a while until sunrise, I rested in my car for a while. Then I went up to the highest observation point where most people were gathered. For a while I stayed inside the glass shelter to stay a bit warmer but as sunrise approached, I went to stand outside.
It was amazing. As it became light I could see that we were above the clouds. It was like a solid floor of clouds around us. I was chattering with cold but determined to experience this and I’m glad I did. One of the most stunning things I’ve ever seen. As the sun first breached the horizon, it first looked like a line was splitting open in the sky with a fiery orange glow like magma. I’m always shocked at how quickly sunrises and sunsets actually happen. It’s only a matter of minutes until it completely transitions from nothing to the full sun (or vice versa) as you can kind of see in this video. I also did a quick 360 degree video.
After enjoying it for a while, I started the journey back down the mountain. I was pleased to find it was less harrowing because in the light, it wasn’t quiet as scary of a drop off. It would still kill you, but visually, at least, it wasn’t as vertiginous. You could sort of see the slope of the mountain as opposed to just a sheer drop. I drove to Kahului, where the airport was, and decided to just spend the day there and stay in the vicinity. I had all day but was tired and just sort of in that “waiting to leave” mind space.
There’s not a lot in Kahului, but there is a Whole Foods! I waited for them to open and had a nice fruit smoothie. I then went and found several geocaches to keep me busy and exploring for the morning. One of them took me to a really nice spot on the beach so after I found it, I rolled down the windows and took a nap in my car to sounds of the ocean (and the kiteboarding instructors and students) and with a nice breeze blowing.
I returned to Whole Foods for some Sushi for lunch. Then it was on to more geocaching. In the afternoon, I found two particularly hard ones deep in some rough woods. I had to do a lot of “bushwhacking” as they call it when you are off the trail and going through rougher wooded areas. Up hills, through overgrowth, over fallen trees, by a homeless person’s tent in the woods, it was quite a rough terrain adventure. They were both tiny “microcaches”, basically tiny camouflage cylinders attached to trees. After the second one, I was thoroughly drenched in sweat, which was unfortunate as I wouldn’t have a chance to shower until I got home (which would turn out to be almost 24 hours later).
I decided to try and find a cafe or some place where I could recharge my nearly dead phone, and use my laptop for a bit but this turned out to be pretty futile, although I didn’t try incredibly hard. There was a Starbucks somewhere but there’s nothing there I want to drink. I ended up back at the same beach spot where I had napped earlier. When my phone died, I opened up my laptop on battery power and charged my from from that for a while. I spent several hours just walking barefoot in the sand, enjoying the view and the sound and watching kiteboarders. While I was indeed anxious to get home (more on that later) there was a surprising sense of sadness as well. Maui had really got to me. It was as wonderful and beautiful as everyone had said it would be. I’d seen and done so much, met so many great people and characters. Turning away from the ocean and walking back to my car was definitely accompanied by a sigh, like I was saying goodbye to a friend after a visit.
I decided to go ahead to the airport even though it was still 4 hours before my flight. I always would rather have too much time than not enough so I have plenty of time for any unforeseen circumstances as well as time to just take it casually, eat, relax, etc. I arrived at my gate and began the waiting game. A friend of mine works for an airline so I was traveling on his “companion” passses which meant my round trip was significant cheaper but I was flying standby, which means I only get on the plane if there’s room. I’d done this many times before so I knew the game and knew that you just had to go into it knowing that it could be quite the adventure. I’ve been stuck in Chicago for an entire day and overnight stay, stuck in Austin for 2 full days and nights and other adventures so I’d learned to be pretty zen about it. My trip to Maui had been flawless. Made both my flights! I was ecstatic when not only did I make my first flight home, but I was in first class for the 6+ hour flight! I ate my free, fancy, first class meal and then slept the entire flight to Denver.
When I got to my gate in Denver, I ate breakfast and headed to my gate where they have electronic boards at the gates telling you how many seats, how many people are checked in, people on standby, etc. My flight back to Austin was not looking good. I believe it showed one open seat and 3 people in front of me on the standby list. Sure enough, I didn’t get on it. The next flight was three hours away. I set up at the “charging station” and set up my laptop in one of the little cubicle-like spaces to pass the time. As my next flight got closer, I went to the gate and once again it looked even worse than the first flight. In fact, they were asking if any paid passengers would willingly give up their seat for a later flight, for which they would be compensated somehow (I can’t remember how). I did not get on. Another three hour wait.
I got some lunch and again set up in my airport cubicle. At this point, I was mostly keeping my zen but was a little frustrated since I had just started dating someone right before I left for Maui. We literally had our first kiss and then I’m gone for 6 days. I was anxious to get back.
As the next flight approached, I looked at the board to assess the situation. Three open seats and I was fifth on the standby list. I was hoping for a miracle. They started giving seats to the standby list. Two guys got their tickets and boarded. They called the next name. No response. Again, they called for this person, and no response. They then moved to the fourth name on the list. Again, no response. The gate agent said, “Well then, onto our next contestant” and sure enough it was me. I shouted “Woohoo!” and threw my arms in the air, happily took my ticket and boarded the plane.
Once again, I slept almost the whole 2 hour flight and arrived home only 6 hours later than I’d anticipated. On the plus side, this meant my girlfriend was not at work and could pick me up at the airport. We spent the next 26 hours utterly relaxing and disconnected from the world. Then I hit the ground running with things to do and am still playing catch up (thus why I’m only now finishing this blog entry).
Of course, I’d have it no other way. I hope to go back some day, but it’s also great to be home.
Pictures from the trip can be found here.