Monday, September 13, 2010

From Utah to many places

Last week I departed Utah with the college group to Wyoming for the annual retreat. Unlike the rest of the group, though, I wasn't returning to Ephraim three days later. I departed Wyoming at the same time in the same convoy, but embarking on a 2600 mile journey of adventure and purpose. You see, God took me by surprise not only with his plans for my summer, but also with my next year. I had no idea I'd be staying so long when I made the original TX to UT trip this May. I hadn't packed for a year in UT, and furthermore I left most of my belongings in a storage spot that wasn't appropriate for leaving untouched for a year. Therefore, it was necessary to make a trip to TX to collect the belongings I'd need for the upcoming year and stow the rest in the storage van. The myriad of bonuses arising from this necessity include the opportunity visit with my friends in TX, rasie support, and bring back my ATV. As I write I'm sitting on my would-have-been-roommate Tyler's couch here in Longview, TX, so you know I made it here safe. Allow me to bring you up to date on how I got from then and there to here and now.

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My original plan for this trip included taking my new-to-me motorcycle with me on the trip. I'd ride it from Utah to Wyoming and throw it in the back of the truck for the rest of the trip. This would give me the safety net of being with a convoy on my first long motorcycle ride, allowing me to bail out if some unforeseen problem arose. Unfortunately, my bike wasn't roadworthy when we needed to leave. Things were way too busy with the ministry, and all the things that needed to get done with the ministry came ahead of getting my bike back together. Sadly, the carburetors still sit disassembled on a table. Things were actually a frenzy of activity before we left for Wyoming actually. It's a miracle I didn't forget anything major. Only minutes before we rolled out I was eyeballing the dimensions for a plywood tailgate I was cutting out to fit Kentucky's truck, which he let me borrow for the trip.

We got to Wyoming just fine, though, having picked up my friend Meg in SLC on the way. We got there late but even in darkness we knew the location of the retreat was totally sweet. Some background- the Olsons are friends of the ministry and live in Wyoming on a sweet ranch, and they let us come invade their space and use all their toys once a year for the college ministry retreat. They have a sweet house, some ATVs (four-wheelers to the rest of you), horses, and lots of acreage. We pretty much run amok there for two days. Well, there is more structure than that- we have bible studies and organized activities but during the unstructured times I would fairly call what I did on the ATVs 'running amok'. That's what ATVs are for, after all.

Here are some pics from the trip so far:

We had a hoot, but eventually it was time to go. The last morning we spent there we cleaned up everything we touched during the weekend. For me, though, I had to prepare the truck for the long journey, including removing all Kentucky's stuff from the truck and into the vans. There was a bunch of sawdust in the back of his truck that had spilled, and I wanted to sweep it all out. I didn't want to sweep a bunch of sawdust into the Olson's driveway, though, so I grabbed a broom and went off in the truck to a more remote wilderness-like area where it wouldn't matter if some sawdust was spread. As an aside, while I was sweeping it out the horses came to visit me. I tried to be polite and not sweep sawdust into their curious faces. It was a unique experience to be standing in the back of a truck in the middle of the Wyoming open range, sweeping it out while surrounded by horses. Anyway, I after sweeping out the truck I returned to the house. As I was walking up, my phone rang; Chip was calling. Apparently the absence of both me and the truck prompted everyone to think that I had left for TX without saying goodbye. I was both flattered and somewhat insulted- flattered because they were so bummed that I didn't say goodbye (I felt loved) but somewhat insulted that everyone thought I would do such a thing. Never!

The plan for my trip was to lay over in Denver and Wichita. Generally, I'd try to make a trip of this length in two days rather than three, but leaving with the group around 1PM excluded that possibility so three it was. I've never used a hotel on a road trip- between myself, my parents, and others that I know, I generally can ask around for most places in the country and someone will know somebody I can stay with. I asked Chip if he knew anybody in the Denver area I could stay with, and sure enough there were some supporters of the ministry there that were willing to put me up. They were a very nice older couple who were interested in my story and provided me with everything I could possibly need for the night I spent there. It was great. They already knew all about the ministry, being supporters, but were glad to hear the news and stories I brought and we had a good time discussing it all. I got underway early the next morning, leaving with my hosts.

Before we left for Wyoming, Kentucky had been trying to install a new radio in his truck. Unfortunately he didn't succeed and the truck was left with only the stock radio, which doesn't have an auxillary input jack. My lack of CDs meant I listened to the radio from Fort Steele to Denver the previous day. I wasn't willing to use local radio (all country) through whole trip, so the night before I'd looked up the closest Target store so I could go get an FM transmitter. I headed there before taking off for the day and used the gift card that Ian and Libby sent me for my birthday. Thanks guys! You made my trip much more civilized! After getting that figured out, I departed for the day's journey, Denver to Wichita.

The previous night I'd set my laptop to download the audiobook of the Tom Clancy novel I'm currently reading (Executive Orders) and the Zune MP3 software to discover and sync the downloaded files to my Zune, which is Microsoft's version of the iPod. (As an aside- don't buy a zune. I hate mine. It is an abomination to music enjoyment) Unfortunately, my clever plan didn't work well at all because the Zune software tried to identify and sync the files while they were still downloading, so they all got mis-IDd and placed, to my great chagrin, out of order, which is catastrophic for an audiobook. I discovered the problem this morning but had no time to fix it before I left.

Wichita made sense as an in-between destination between Wyoming and Longview, and fortunately I knew some people there. My friend from LETU, Joe Carroll, is from Wichita. I got on the horn with him and asked if he could hook me up with anyone. His parents still live in Wichita and were willing to host me. Bonus! I arrived in Wichita that evening, having made better time than my borrowed GPS estimated. It turns out that the GPS is very conservative and I get places in advance of when it tells me I will. Beats the alternative. The Carrolls were also gracious hosts and provided me with everything I needed. They were interested in what I was doing in Utah and we had a good long conversation over the delicious dinner that Mrs. Carroll fixed. I also ended up scratching my head for a while with Mr. Carroll over an engineering curiosity that he'd encountered at work. Joe got his engineering talent from his dad, who is an engineer with Hawker Beechcraft, a company that makes airplanes.

 That evening I tried fixing my MP3 audiobook problem but, in typical Zune fashion, had trouble. I'll spare you the details but just know that at one point I was looking around the Carroll's house for a small screwdriver as a fix. Not good. Eventually it got sorted out and I was able to listen to Executive Orders the next day.

In the morning, the Carrolls were as hospitable as they were the night before. Mrs. Carroll made me a wonderful breakfast of bacon and eggs that I was surprised to find was just for me (I had a lot of bacon to eat). She sent me off also with a grocery bag full of goodies for the road, including the entire rest of the pan of lemon bars that she'd made the previous night. Mrs. Carroll is a saint in my book.

The next day's journey is as typical as one would expect of any road trip, with the added adventure of fueling a diesel vehicle for the first time and having a fun time trying to fill up with the giant nozzle meant for a semi truck. Part of the day's busyness preceding the trip to Wyoming was replacing one of the truck's fuel tanks. This got done with no problems... until Kentucky went to fill the tank up and diesel went everywhere. Turns out we forgot to put the rubber O-ring under the fuel sender before we put it on. Bad news bears. Diesel was everywhere after he filled up, and we knew not to fill up the front tank more than halfway until that got fixed. This left me with the rear tank, from which I can get about 200 miles. A big 'ol truck like this is supposed to have range to go for miles on end, but without the bigger front fuel tank it's got short legs.

I made it into Longview ahead of schedule, as is apparently typical with the GPS I'm using. I dropped off the stuff I brought down for Kristen and Gareth and spent the evening visiting with Candyce and Tyrell and guys on 2A. There were supposed to be devos that evening, but they were supplanted by a last-minute all-residence-hall meeting, which is never a good sign. Before I go on my rant, some background. When I was visiting LETU back in 2005, I heard that one of the residence halls had great big wooden structures in the rooms that the student had been allowed to build, essentially adding an extra floor to the high-ceilinged rooms. This was true, and my dorm rooms have looked something like this since I've been at LETU, and for approximately 30 years hence:

At said meeting we were told that lofts, the defining feature of Tyler, had been condemned by the local fire marshall and all of them had to be removed in their entirely by October 4th. This was met with unprecedented student unrest and resistance. Lofts have been part of the dorm's culture at LETU for decades, and to have them taken away is a huge loss. Spirits were both high (with outrage) and low (with depression) at the news. It's a terrible thing. However, after hearing about how it has all come about, it is apparent that nothing can be done about it within the realm of feasibility. While I'm greatly disappointed by the news, and perhaps a year ago I would have taken up a crusade for the cause, today I just can't bring myself to. I know from the Bible that the entire world is headed way, way downhill. I hate to see the little things like this happen but I know it can't be stopped, and it is all part of God's great plan. LeTourneau was once a great school, and now it's headed down a different road, for this and many other reasons. Many other things that once were good now are tainted. I hate to see the mighty fall, but that's just the way it has to be sometimes. That is not to say that everyone ought to take every inch of the world's downward spiral in stride- but just to use their discernment in which battles to fight. I can't take this one on.

I've been here visiting LETU for about five days now, visiting with friends and taking care of the little business that I have here. It's been great to see all my friends and acquaintances from this part of the world again, but I also am reminded that this chapter of my life- college and early adulthood- is largely behind me. When I drove onto LETU's campus my excitement for the people was dampened by the place. I no longer fit into a place that is one step out from home- I've gone farther since then, and to return is a step back. I know I will be returning to LETU in a year to finish my degree, and that's going to be hard. All the same, I have to finish one chapter of my life before I can move onto next without being held back by the last.

I will take off tomorrow afternoon. In the same way that my return to LETU was dampened, I am looking forward to my return to Utah. Although the prospect of venturing out into the unknown future that Utah carries with it is scary, it is also where I feel I belong. I do worry about my future- I don't know exactly how God is going to provide all the needs I'll have this upcoming year, or even that he will- maybe his plans for me only include Utah for the next few months. Maybe they include Utah for six years and two children. I don't know. I do know, though, that placing my future in his hands is what makes me come alive, because it's what he created me for.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Suspiciously convenient and reasonable tire shops, round two

A week or so ago, my friend Flic asked me if I would be willing to help her get to the Salt Lake City airport in case an impending family emergency took a turn for the worse. Well, she got the call yesterday that it was time to get on a plane, so we made a drop-of-the-hat trip to SLC. I got a text around 2:45 and we left by 3:00. Gabe, Flic's boyfriend, came and got me from the college house and we departed shortly from Flic's place. The three of us piled into her old Accord and set out. It was a somber trip due to the reason for the trip, but Flic has a strong spirit and was calm and kept her head on despite the circumstances.

We got about 45 minutes into the two-hour trip and were on I-15, a major interstate. We had the windows down due to the Accord's lack of air conditioning, which made talking a bit difficult but helped beat the heat. At one point we were passing a semi truck, and I was looking out at it- I noted that the trailer was sporting the new super-single tires: really wide single tires where most trailers have double tires. I was focusing on the tires as we passed, and as we got up by the front tires I heard a skitch-skitch-skitch sound that means something is wrong with the tire. I assumed it was the semi's tire and considered hand-signalling to the semi driver that something was wrong with his tire, but decided against it. It couldn't have been more than three seconds later, though, that our own front passenger-side tire catastrophically blew out.

Gabe was driving and kept control of the car and steered us to a stop in the left-hand shoulder. We came to a stop and it didn't take long for the gravity of the situation to reach us- Flic had a flight to catch in SLC that departed at 7:58 and it was after 4:00. SLC isn't the fastest airport in the world to get through, and we were still upwards of an hour away. Dadgum. Well, with no time to waste, we set about changing the tire. That was good news and back news- Flic actually had several tires in her trunk, but unfortunately they were all sketchy tires, and the best one was one that had been preemptively taken off due to a bulge in the tread and was only have half aired-up. We figured it'd be better to put it on and limp to a safe parking place than to sit in the left shoulder. I got about changing the tire, which really went like any other tire-change except that Gabe spotted a crack pipe on the shoulder of the road where we stopped- I guess somebody pitched it when they were getting pulled over.

While the tire change was in progress, each of us was thinking of ways to ameliorate the situation- I had AAA but no card on me. We considered having someone drive my car up so we could complete the journey in it, and actually got as far as Shane looking for my spare key but getting stumped. (I still don't know where I put it when I moved down into my apartment) Flic was on the phone trying to see about changing her flight to the next available one. I thought perhaps we could get the car up to SLC on the sketchy tire if we aired it up at the next gas station.

When we got the replacement tire on, we could see it wasn't really going to last long- it was quite flat. Gabe and I concurred that we oughtn't to go over 30 mph on it. Fortunately, we weren't too far from the next exit. We decided to drive to the nearest gas station and reassess our situation. I was on the phone with Chip trying to figure out if they needed to send someone out for us, and I didn't want to trouble someone if Flic was going to reschedule her flight anyway. We limped in the right-side breakdown lane at 30 for a mile or two. We actually passed the first exit, for South Santaquin, because it only joined with a road and offered no services- we knew the next exit had a gas station and wasn't far. Gabe had accelerated to 45 so he could be in the slow lane somewhat legitimately. We pulled off at the Santaquin exit and were planning on hitting the gas station- but right next to the gas station I spotted something handy:

"Tire shop!" I shouted and pointed up at the top of the hill.
"Go!" said Flic, I'm sure to the confusion of the Travelocity agent on the other end of the phone.

We pulled onto the side street that'd take us up there, and just as we were pulling into their driveway, the sketchy tire let go, evidenced by the sudden sound of shredded rubber flapping against the road and wheel-well. At this point we just laughed that it would happen here. We pulled into a parking spot, tire flapping.

I took note of the tire size and determinedly walked into the tire shop. Time was of the essence, after all. We had to wait for a few minutes for the sales person to become available, during which time I considered just waltzing into the shop floor and seeing if one of the tire jockeys could fix us up. Soon enough it was my turn and I asked the lady behind the counter if they could fix us up with a P185-70 R13 tire- or any other 13"rim tire with a remotely similar size- ASAP.

"I don't know, thirteen inch tires are getting kinda rare these days, but let me go check."

She disappeared down a hall and I waited. Flic was on the phone with someone then, and Gabe was probably waiting outside. After a few minutes the tire lady reappeared with a tire in hand!

"Fantastic!" I exclaimed. "Do you think you can get us back on the road in twenty minutes?"
"Sure thing" was her response.
"What's the damage?" I asked.
"For this one, eh... " she paused a moment- "Thirty bucks."

Fair enough- I didn't even have to start telling her about our dire circumstances. My guess is that she'd plenty of young people in sketchy cars who needed a cheap tire to get back on the road in a hurry. Gabe got the bill paid while the tire jockey performed the tire work, and after only ten minutes or so, we had a drivable car. We expressed our gratitude and departed around 4:45- according to my phone's log, only about 35 minutes elapsed between my first 'Oh snap, we're in trouble' call and my 'Everything is OK' call. That's cool.

We got back on the road with joy at how God had provided for us- if you'll remember, this is the second time this summer that God provided a tire shop right were it was needed. Flic remembered, though that we had failed to start the trip with prayer- an oversight that God didn't hold against us while he provided for us. We prayed then simple and joyful prayers of gratitude and supplication for the rest of the trip. Flic started telling stories of sketchy road trips she'd taken in the past wherein God had come through amazingly in the face of car problems.

Flic still worried that we might not arrive at the airport in time- likely because some overzealous ticketing agent told he she needed to be there two hours in advance, which is a complete falsehood for domestic flights. I thought we were golden, and I wasn't wrong. Although we got delayed some by traffic, we arrived at SLC with much time to spare- something like an hour and a half, I think. After some hugs, Gabe and I took off with the request not to leave the city until Flic made it through security. I was driving and took us to NPS rather by autopilot, mostly just because that was the place I knew how to get to from memory, which was only five minutes away or so. I was just up in SLC the day before and had driven that route with Kim and our new assistant staff Sarah while running a slew of errands for the ministry.

I figured NPS was a great place to pass the time while waiting for Flic to clear security, but she texted us that she was through before we even got into the parking lot. Well, being at NPS isn't an opportunity to waste so we went in anyway. NPS is a surplus store that deals with everything. They buy up outdated food, truckloads of whatever crashes on the highway, items that just don't sell... whatever. They have everything from frozen bacon from last week to car body panels and nearly everything in between. It is a wonderful place, sort of like a discount store with everything under the sun. I'm particularly taken with their industrial section (building, actually), because everything there is cool and could totally be used on a Sweet Project. Unfortunately, they seem to have a good grasp of what everything is worth, so there aren't any spectacular bargains there, just decent deals. The industrial building was closed when we got there, but from the food/household goods building I got a 10-pound torpedo of frozen ground beef that could be used as  murder weapon ($14.97), four frozen pizzas ($1.50 ea) and a few packages of Rice-a-roni for something cheap.

I wanted to seize the opportunity of being Up North to get silverware for my apartment, a vital item that was neglected the day before when I picked up most of the other stuff I needed. Gabe searched for a DI on his fancyphone. DI stands for Deseret Industries, which is the Utah/LDS equivalent of Goodwill or Salvation army. After a pitifully long fight of getting lost which probably took 30 minutes, we arrived at a DI to see that it was closed. Shucks. Well, too bad. Time for dinner. We'd been up and down that particular block three times so I knew there was a Taco Casa down the block, so we headed there. At the red light, though, I noticed the presence of two Sketchy No-English Taco Carts.

"Sketchy taco cart?" I asked.
"Sketchy taco cart." Gabe replied. It was so.

I wanted to order in spanish to show off the modicum of foreign-language skill I retained from high school, but biffed it. After surveying their menu board, I strode up, confident that "Dos tacos al pastor y un birrito de carne de res, con todo" would roll off my tongue, but instead:
"Hablas ingles?" Doh. Biffed it.
"Hm?" replied the taco lady, with a turn of the head.
"Do you speak english?" I asked.
She gestured to an adolescent who took my order in english. In retrospect, I think I wanted to make sure that I wasn't going to make a fool of myself by rattling off awful Spanish only to have the taco lady reply "Dude, I speak English." Instead I just ended up looking like a rube. Oh well. I later tried my spanish skills on the adolescent when I returned for drinks (bebidas) only to get answered in English. Fail. Oh well, I got this, and it was totally rockin' delicious:

I'll make a fool gringo out of myself for cheap awesome burritos any day.

Gabe and I had an uneventful drive home, except when I spotted a supercar dealiership:

Don't tell anyone, but I took that pic while driving a standard-transmission car, and holding a soda... in the middle of an intersection. Some call it irresponsibility, I call it skill. That's a Ferrari/Maserati dealership, by the way.

Here's an update on everything else I've been up to. I feel lazy when I write updates because I can never remember what exactly I've been doing, all I can remember is that I've been busy and all of it has been important. I've been working on a mailing of a support letter and today I started work on swapping the transmission in a van that was donated to the ministry. I've also been working the cafe and putting in some hours on-call at my new part time job, moving/installing appliances and furniture for a local store. Jamie is the on-call style consultant for the store and a friend of the owner. Apparently, before she came and styled everything, they just lined all their furniture up in the store in rows. It needed a woman's touch, I'm told. I've also taken up the reins as the guys dorm advisor, trying to keep things orderly up there.

That's all for now. As a last note, this is the time of year that Chip and Jamie look to build up the fund that supports Sarah and I throughout the upcoming year. I'm also starting to wonder about how bills are going to work when my student loans come due. If you'd like to receive a support letter to learn more and prayerfully consider supporting me, just send me an email. Thank you!