Chicago Day 2 so far

Well day 2 is working its way through with a few more hours left I’m not sure what I’ll do tonight. I went to improvOlympic last night and caught a fun show but they aren’t showing anything which really appeals to me tonight so I think I may hang out around the hostel tonight or within a few blocks of it.

Tomorrow I plan to hit the Museum of Science and Industry as well as probably go over to iO for shows that night. The museum is a fair trek for me so I’ll probably be busing it or taking one of the trains, I haven’t figured it out yet.

Sidewalk stencil

I’m not quite sure who he is, but he’s good enough to be stenciled on the sidewalk which means he’s good enough to get photographed. I think he looks a little like Fat Albert. Whoever he is, I wish him luck on his campaign.

Chicago Day 1 (in video!)

So yesterday I decided that I would keep a journal of my trip, so I set the digital camera up on my bunk bed and took this video. I also took a second one later that night but I don’t know if I’ll upload it or work it into tonight’s video (which you will all see tomorrow.) Also, here is a snapshot I took of Wrigley Field last night, the pic just came out looking awesome.

Tags: , ,

Chicago

For those of you who haven’t been barraged by my excited text messages, this is your official notice that I’m in Chicago for the next week. It’s exciting.

The below pic makes me look like I’m worried but the truth is that I’m just pensive and thoughtful. I’m damn far from home and I’m setting off on my own urban adventure.

On the train

$0.92

So the house is finally empty, my sister and her family took to the road this morning. As such I got back to my desk and got to my small stack of mail. In which I found a letter from Wachovia notifying me that I currently owed them $35.92. Well to be perfectly honest I thought I had closed this account but what happened was that it was still open and my iTunes account was drawing off of it. My last transaction took me over the zero mark from +$0.07 to -$0.92. The bank, as I’ve railed against previously, slapped me with a $35 fine for the evils I dared commit by spending $0.92 that I did not have.

At this point, I just want to close the account so I dial the easy to remember 1-800-WACHOVIA, enter my customer ID and pin number, then press 0. I’m not angry, I’m not irate. I realize this is part of the Wachovia bank system and I’ve fought them long and hard on this. When Shirley with what sounds like a Texan accent answers I was quite polite as I explained my intent: to pay the outstanding balance and close the account.

Shirley: “Oh, I see the problem here sir. You made a purchase for ninety-nine cents through paypal and it overdrew you by ninety-two cents.”

Me: “Yes, I fully understand what has occurred. I’m just trying to pay my outstanding balance and close the account.”

Shirley: “Well we’re sorry to hear that sir. Unfortunately you have to get the balance back to the positive before you can close your account.”

Me: “No problem, I’ve got a check card here from the local credit union, I’m more than happy to pay with it.”

Shirley: “I’m sorry you’re going to end your business with us. I’ve gone ahead and taken care of the $35 as a courtesy but unfortunately you will have to go into a branch to pay the remaining… ninety-two cents.”

Me: “Well that’s very kind of you, but you mean you don’t have any way to accept payment of ninety-two cents?”

At this point I’m just enjoying repeating the ludicrously low outstanding balance, I can tell she’s uncomfortable with it and while I realize none of this is her fault, the sheer stupidity of it was making me smile.

Shirley: “Yes sir, I’m so sorry.”

Me: “Oh it’s alright, it’s just another example of why I’m switching to this credit union.”

Shirley: “Well, is there anything else I can do for you today?”

Me: “Nope.”

Shirley: “You have a good day sir.”

Me: “You too.”

The sheer craziness of this makes me wish to write Michael Moore a letter, begging him to turn his sights for his next project on the piracy that is modern banking. It just blows my mind. Ninety-two cents.

From this all, an idea has hatched. I’m going to go into the bank with only three quarters, a dime, a nickel and a penny. Yes, $0.91 and I’m going to deposit it, leaving my account overdrawn by $0.01. Then I’m going to draw perverse satisfaction by waiting for the letter which they will send me demanding the full outstanding payment. That letter will cost them more than the outstanding balance.

No, it will not accomplish anything, but what is there but for me to be bitter and pithy.

The Best Day of my Life

This day is surely to be eclipsed as my life continues, but as of now – I think today may have been the best day ever. Seriously. If however you wish to not hear about my awesome day, you may scroll down and read my review of Michael Bay’s Transformers movie.

My Awesome Day
I had a really shitty Friday at work. I mean truly horribly ugly such that I left work ready to quit the next day. I had hit my limit. I was done and frustrated and just ready to move on. As such, K and I decided that today needed to be an escape from everything. So we decided we would put some Universal comp (free) passes to use and go get high on adrenaline. I crashed at her place. We got up and as we completed a quick errand this morning, we discovered that my engine was emitting an acrid smelling smoke. Uncool.

We drove it to my family’s mechanic and I called dad expecting he would have to pick us up. The problem with the car turned out that it needs a new AC Compressor. The current one kept locking on the clutch which produced the aforementioned smoke. So we cut the belt and I had my car back sans the smoke. Excellent.

K and I then run back to my house to do a few more chores to get the house ready for family. As we’re finishing up the chores I get a call from an unknown number on my cell phone. As it turns out, back on Saturday I had gone ahead and listed my resumé on Monster.com. This was an early morning call from a company offering me a position as a junior web developer with them. The pay isn’t as high as I would like, but it is extremely encouraging that I heard from them early on a Monday morning.

After I finish the call we finish the chores and then, we’re off to the parks. The plan is simple, hit them hard, hit them fast. I’m a power gamer when it comes to the theme parks. Since I worked at the park I know the ins and outs, the shortcuts and the ways to game the system. And so we were off, first we dashed to the back of the park to hit the Dueling Dragons.

Tip: Head for the back of the park and work your way forward. Most everyone hits the close attractions immediately and so lines in the back will be shorter.

After riding Fire (one of the dueling dragons,) we’re coming around to go through the line and I decide to make a joke with one of the employees. My joke, as it turns out, skips us to the front of the line and cuts a good 20 minutes off of our wait time. From there we skip from ride to ride and generally enjoy the parks.

From there we head to meet up with some friends. We meet them at a Sushi place and enjoy a wonderful meal filled with lots of delightful discussion. I hadn’t hung out with them much, so it was a joy to get to know them better. I enjoyed some great nigiri, both tuna and shrimp while K had some great sushi.

Then it was off to the movies. Originally we planned to see “Live Free or Die Hard” but that was immediately and inarguably eclipsed when we discovered Transformers had been released. I thought it was coming out on the 3rd but it was in the theatres and we were all too happy to go see it.

My Transformers Review — I’m 23 years old, tonight I was 8.
I loved it. Simply loved it. It kept the same feel as the cartoons, being crazy and off the wall.

I even loved the product placement. They didn’t shove it down your throat, but you knew the items were there. Remember, Transformers were created from the idea for the toy, then they built the story around it.

It’s 1:47am and so I need to sleep, I’ll write more tomorrow. Promise.

Email is just email

Many of you, over time, discovered that emailing me was darn near as fast as IMing someone else. I’ve long since largely signed off of AIM and MSN and Yahoo and the others because of the time vacuum they became for me, but now I’m even rolling back how frequently I check my email.

I’ve come to the realization that multi-tasking is a farce. Truly. It seems like you’re doing more, but in reality you’re doing more of less. So where a blog post will take me ten minutes to pound out. If I’m reading the news, emailing, talking on the cell phone and blogging, I can do all of those in 45 minutes, each of them has lower quality in the end and if I did them sequentially it would only take me thirty minutes to do all of them.

So, over the past week, I’ve begun experimenting. First, I removed the mail notifiers in Firefox. But even then I used the easy to access bookmarks and checked it even more frequently to see if I had any new email. So the next step was to actually create a second profile in Firefox solely for the use of email. When I open that account my start pages are my two main personal email accounts. That’s all that profile is for.

I was astounded by how much more I accomplished in my day. So I took it a step further.

I removed Google reader notifications, so I no longer have a new blog post to distract me every 3 minutes. Now I check my reader twice or three times a day. Yes I still read 70+ feeds, but with the mastery of the Google Reader key controls I can skim through them in a matter of ten minutes usually. Sharing or starring entries of interest to be read later.

I check my work email when I get to work, since I come in when the other employees are halfway through their day I have to catch up on any events or changes, but it doesn’t need me to keep Thunderbird open on the laptop. Now I check it after the completion of other tasks. At this point, I can pretty safely avoid opening Thunderbird for the rest of the day, everyone else is gone and it’s just me here.

It’s amazing how much more productive I am when I make tasks sequential rather than simultaneous.

Questions and Credit

I think the fear of asking things is a horrible horrible thing. The most clear cut example is in school when kids are afraid to ask questions, worried of slowing the class progress. Professors and teachers address this repeatedly, even with the horrid quote “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” I’m guilty of it to a certain degree I suppose, but I’ve gotten quite better in recent times.

But this fear of asking questions is so deeply threaded in our society that the idea of haggling is almost taboo. You don’t go into stores planning to haggle except for local shops. This is such a sad thing. Sure you can’t negotiate a Snickers bar for $0.25 but you can most definitely haggle for that $2500 stereo.

Today’s lesson though is a bit of a victory for me. It has to do with the ever-evil credit card companies. I only have one credit card, and it’s one I’ve had now for almost two years I think. It’s an American Express Student card and since I originally got it with the $600 limit on it, they’ve since let me rise up to $3000 in credit. Something I took advantage of when I was out of school, off of financial support and living outside my means.

Now I’m struggling to pay it back. Though I realize my debt is measley compared to much of the US, and indeed it’s small compared against most people my age, I’m determined to make the right financial choices.

Sure I eat out a lot and spend fairly freely, but I always have enough to make $200 on my credit card (which I no longer use.) Well last week I come across a fantastic down to earth article about personal finance. If you haven’t read this article you all should: Become Wealthy by Clayton Cramer.

And he points out the evils of credit card debt. So I sat down and figured out how much my credit card was costing me and was shocked to discover that my AmEx had ballooned to just over 30% APR. I had missed some payments when I was in tougher times but I hadn’t kept a close eye on the interest rates. So they were saying my minimum payment was $85 and I was spending $75 on it just in terms of interest. Sweet Jezus! I nearly wet my pants when I read that.

Paying $200 a month meant 17 months before it was paid off (I used some online calculator, CNN Money’s credit card calculator is excellent.) So my $2600 was going to end up costing me $3400, on top of whatever I’ve already paid to them. Ugh.

This morning I decided to ask them what I could do. I knew they would change APRs for people struggling to make payments, but would they do the same for someone able to pay up and over their minimum payment? I called them and spoke to a chirpy gal named Lisa and after phrasing my question she asked to put me on hold while looking over my account.

About two minutes later she came back and told me they had changed my APR to 16%!!! Nearly halving my interest rate. So now still at $200 a month it will only cost me ~$2900 to pay off my credit card. Still not ideal but oh so much better than it was earlier.

Five minutes of my time saved me $500 in interest. Eat that Geico.

Now to just get a job where I make more money. Anyone out there want to hire me as their blogging liasion? Hey, it never hurts to ask. πŸ˜‰

The Big Show

Well the show has come and gone and it went well. Very well. Monday was a blur. I took a test in the morning, sat impatiently through class then went to the theatre to do some work. We had had a fairly busy weekend and so I needed to stock concessions for the show. After about an hour the unthinkable happened, I dropped a bottle of Pepsi.

The world slowed to a crawl, I watched the bottle fall, and fall, and fall. It fell perfectly such that the neck slammed into the ledge of the cooler, cracking the plastic cap and it spewed Pepsi all over me. I grabbed it and muffled the spray in my hands, throwing it into the nearest trash can and listened to it hiss as I glowered in the now Pepsi soaked clothes.

Thank God I was aware that the universe would try to mess up the day, and so I literally had worn a completely different outfit than I planned for the show that night. So I had, in my car, a change of shirt, pants, socks, etc…

Once I was changed and toweled off I left the theatre and met my family for a pre-show dinner. We went to TGI Fridays and relaxed for a while, caught up with my Aunt and cousin and just generally laughed.

We all got to the theatre early, the show was at 8pm, I had to be there by 7pm, and my family got there early to guarantee that they got good seats. It was then that I really began to get pumped. The green room was abuzz with the energy and excitement and we were all eager to get the show going.

We warmed up in the theatre and then moved back into the green room, then watched in shock and eagerness as the theatre filled with friends, family, and passerby. We literally filled the theatre with over 200 people. It was to be expected with a cast of 14 players, but still, to see it is amazingly cool.

Finally the time came and the theatre went dark, John did the introductions and my team ran out on stage to thunderous applause. My family and friends had gotten great seats, center stage two and three rows back (my personal favorite seats in the house.) Dad was hooting and hollering as loud as I’ve ever seen him.

Common sense would say that coming on stage, for the first time, in front of 200 people, would be terrifying or exhilarating or something at least. The fact though is that I fell into my normal routines, sure I had a little more adrenaline, and I knew the audience was there, but I also knew that whether I was funny or not – I would be okay. And therein I found peace.

The show went by extremely fast, almost 2 hours long but for me it was done in a flash. I won’t recount the scenes I did, to retell them would only be academic and would lose all the humor in them.

After the show, we went out to the lobby and the people came by. Family and friends told me how great I was. Strangers congratulated and shook my hand. I smiled. I thanked them. But I was a zombie. Simply put, I was high. I stood next to myself, watched as someone shook my hand or hugged me, I watched as I hugged them or shook their hand back. It was an out of body experience. An amazing out of body experience.

After the show, the real wait began. The show is part of our graduation evaluation for the class, and as such our teacher gives us all individual reviews. With fourteen people, it is obviously going to take a while. We began around 10pm, and at first Dr. D was moving along at a good pace, 10 minutes a person, but by about 11:30 we had slowed down a fair bit. I was the last to go, I had to lock up the theatre on my way out. When I finally finished with him, we left the theatre at 1:45am. Almost four hours after the show ended.

By the time I left, my mood had dimmed. Not because of my review, in fact the review lifted my spirits, but because I ended up missing any post show celebration. People had left Fridays (where we were supposed to congregate) around 1am. I don’t blame Dr. D, it was unavoidable, I just wish that I had been able to get out and celebrate.

But the fun didn’t end there. Since then, I’ve enjoyed a minor taste of stardom. The next night at a normal show for the theatre I got a few compliments and pats on the back from people who saw the show. And then last night I went to the opening night for the new local show at Universal Studios, the Blue Man Group has opened a permanent venue down here. K had tickets to the show which had a reception/party afterwards and I got a huge boost to my ego because two people at the reception afterwards recognized me and told me how much they enjoyed my show. Wow. Talk about being blown away.

So the show went well. Life is good right now. Now to just keep on making the funny.

Remembering

Yesterday I was hit with an intense but short lived blast of stage fright. Today I was hit by something I already knew. It was something that has flashed through my head dozens of times, but today it took center stage. The show on Monday is going to miss a very important person in the audience.

Mom.

Yes, I know she’ll be there in spirit. But as good as that makes me feel, I still wish I could look into the audience, past the stage lights, and see her there grinning and waving to me. I wish it with all my heart, with all my being.

There was no greater joy than to be on the field playing Football in high school and to look up in the stands and see mom there waving at me. She and I talked about it during my freshman year and that I couldn’t wave back to her, the coaches wanted our heads in the game, so I told her that I would grab my face mask and “adjust” it as my way to wave back to her.

And so every game I played, sometime during the first quarter I would look into the stands and find the parents, then mom would see me looking and wave eagerly, and I would grin up behind the face mask, gripping the plastic coated bars and shift them visibly. And there we would share a moment, a bond between us.

God I miss her. She would be so excited about Monday. I can imagine her telling her friends, she’d be eager and excited to see it, to see what I could do. That was her joy, seeing her children accomplish things. Man, this is rough.

The show will go well on Monday, I’ll push these thoughts out and I’ll perform like I would if she were there, but until that point I’m embracing my memories of her and working through the emotions that come with it.