Archive for December, 2010

A Very Kwak Christmas

30 December 2010 at 2:58 pm
by Berck

In the days leading up to Christmas, as the boxes accumulated under the bacon, I noticed two identical boxes addressed to me with the same nondescript return address. I worried that someone had messed up and given me duplicate gifts. Jonah assured me that was simply impossible.

When it came time to open the boxes, it turned out that their contents were identical. One box was from Mom, the other was from Ben, and Jonah was very wrong. But it also worked out perfectly. It turns out that I’d mentioned that I really wanted some Kwak glasses in front of a group of people, all of whom got the message! Woohoo! Two isn’t enough, but four is perfect. Thanks, guys!

It’s now snowing, and we’re hoping Neal still makes it down for Pizza. Here’s Ben being Ben.

Boxing Day

27 December 2010 at 9:35 am
by Berck

Ben and Amanda have an excellent end-of-the-year tradition of coming to Colorado. They keep coming back even though we never feed them.

This year, Ben treated us all to brunch at the Broadmoor. Jonah and I have been talking for years about how we should do this, but it’s pricey and requires reservations. Ben thought ahead this year and got us reservations several weeks ago, but even then the only seating remaining was at 9am, which is when they open.

We have something of a tradition of suiting up at least once every year. It started the first year when Ben, Jonah, and Amanda all got suited up to greet me on my return from a job interview. How I Met Your Mother was new, and it seemed like the thing to do.

9am on Boxing Day seemed terribly early, but somehow we managed to get down to the Broadmoor at 8:45, only to discover that they absolutely do not seat anyone until 9am. Which meant there was a healthy line just to get a table.

Brunch at the Broadmoor is a buffet, and it’s possibly the only buffet worth bothering about in the world. The vast array of options is overwhelming, and I suspect no one could possibly try everything. I gave it a pretty good shot. With many return trips, I ate:

Lamb, antelope, prime rib, duck, ham, eggs benedict, biscuits and gravy, salmon, oysters, crab legs, assorted charcuterie, mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, cheese blintzes and a cup of what was probably the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had. Jonah seemed particularly enamored with the seafood, of which there were dozens of varieties. She had, I think, 4 kinds of salmon, of which I tried a bite of two and they were very good.

I totally neglected entire sections of the buffet. There was much traditional breakfast like pancakes, waffles, eggs, a bespoke omelet station. The array of desserts was astounding, but at that point I was only able to manage nibbles of some really insane things like “port jello shots” (Amanda’s name for them). In addition, Ben had apparently mentioned that we were there to celebrate Jonah and my anniversary, so they brought out some kind of ridiculous raspberry cake with raspberry sauce and a candle just for us.

After brunch, despite having consumed a truly frightening amount of food, we managed to head down to Manitou Springs for Skeeball, still suited up. Manitou Springs has a huge vintage arcade area that takes up a half-dozen buildings. They’ve got pretty much every old arcade game you can think of from decades past, with nothing more modern than the early 90’s or so–before video games got insane. They’re almost all $0.25, but we never play anything other than Skeeball.

The Skeeball machines are vintage, purely mechanical and awesome. You have to pull a lever to get your balls, and you have to be sure to hold the lever long enough, or it’ll eat your quarter without providing all 9 wooden balls. The return springs on some of the levers are a bit weak, and if you don’t make sure the lever is fully returned, the machine won’t count score.

By the time I was a kid, skeeball machines all had 100 point tubes in the corners, but delightfully, the machines in manitou springs were created before that fad, meaning that the 50 point at the top of the center is the maximum score per ball. I’ve never liked the 100-point corners as it’s too complicated to come up with a good strategy.

We spent a ridiculously long time playing skeeball. Even with 4 people, it takes a long time to go through $10 worth of quarters on $0.25 skeeball. I held the high score for a long time, 290 points, a feat I even duplicated. But then Ben smashed my score with an awe-inspring 310. Jonah probably had the highest average score, as her strategy was to aim for the 30 point tube. Amanda declared herself the “Winner” most often, because her machine was the only one whose “WINNER” light seemed to function. They all had mechanical bells that let out a delightfully pathetic ding whenever you hit the 50 point tube.

In case anyone is wondering, Skeeball is most fun when played in a suit.

After having tossed the last of our balls down the lane, we gathered our tickets. Despite the vintage skeeball, the arcade had a very modern ticket redemption system where you feed the tickets into a machine, it counts them, then prints out a ticket with the total number of tickets. I approve of this modernization. Amanda picked out a couple of plastic dinosaurs that matched her dress, then herded us all into a photobooth. The photobooth was out of order, but that just made it cheaper for us since we had our own camera.

At this point, it was noon or so, and we decided it was high time to move on to more serious drinking. We headed downtown and wound up at Bristol Brewery. The brewery is large and distributes their very popular Laughing Lab far and wide, but the bar attached to the brewery has a very neighborhood feel.

It also has a shuffleboard table. Ben requested shuffleboard pucks and stated he knew how to play. This turns out to have been a blatant lie. After investigating the rules on his Droid for awhile, he showed us how to play. After a few minutes, some folks in the bar came over to show us how it’d work a lot better if we turned the pucks right side up…

Eventually, someone bought everyone in the bar a round of drinks, which excited Jonah to no end because she was convinced that never actually really happens.

After a few hours at Bristol, it was time for our movie. The local indie cinema is awesome, in that it also sells local beer. We got there 45 minutes before the movie was scheduled to start because we figured, correctly, that Boxing Day would be a hugely popular movie day. The line was longer than I’ve ever seen at the Kimball. Actually, I’ve never seen a line before, and this line went way out into the street.

It turns out everyone was there to see True Grit, and we’d made the correct choice for the day to watch Black Swan. We’ll go back and see True Grit later in the week.

It turns out the Kimball has three screens, when I’d thought there was only two. Black Swan was showing in the smallest of the three, which was upstairs in what seems like an attic converted into a theater. We sat in the second to last row, which I think was the perfect distance from the screen. I think there were only 10 rows, the seats were very comfortable, and it made me realize we should go to the Kimball more often than the once a year we usually manage.

Black Swan itself was good, as long as you know what you’re in for. Aaronofsky isn’t for the faint of heart, and this was as Aaronofsky as it gets. Despite not being remotely interested in ballet, I enjoyed the movie. That could be because Natalie Portman finally has hair again. It may also be one of the hottest movies she’s ever done, including an excellent lesbian sex scene with Mila Kunis that nearly garnered the movie an NC-17 rating.

After movie, we headed down to Oscars for some more Laughing Lab and some fried oysters. Despite it being dinner time, we were still completely full from breakfast, and the oysters were all we ate for dinner.

All in an all, a legen…wait for it….dary boxing day. There’s a few pictures up in the gallery.


23 December 2010 at 8:37 am
by Berck

The presents sit under the bacon with care…

21 December 2010 at 10:05 pm
by Jonah

Done with the semester!

17 December 2010 at 12:31 pm
by Berck

The promised snow didn’t really arrive until last night. I still rode the bus yesterday so I didn’t have to worry about getting stranded at school on Yoshiko.

The calculus exam went pretty badly. It was just overwhelming. The 2 hours, 40 minutes allotted simply wasn’t enough time for me. It seemed more than twice as long as a normal exam, and my brain seemed sluggish as a result of lack of sleep. Other people seemed to think it was on par with her other tests, so maybe it was just me. That said, there were a dozen of us who hadn’t finished at the end. There were a couple problems I didn’t even get to.

I have no idea how she’s going to calculate the grades. If she uses the system she specified in the syllabus, I calculate that I’d get an A for the class as long as a I got a 60% on the final. But she seemed to indicate she was going to place even more emphasis on the final, so I don’t know. I suspect I got somewhere around an 80% on the exam. I just hope this doesn’t destroy my shot at an A in the class.

It feels good to be done with the semester, but now I have a whole new source of anxiety.

On Thursday, a FedEx delivery guy showed up on my doorstep with an envelope he wanted me to sign for. Somehow I immediately knew what it was as there’s only one entity in my life that FedEx’s envelopes around: Mesa Air Group.

Inside, I found a recall notice. I immediately freaked out. How could I be getting recalled? I’m too far down the list, Mesa’s still in bankruptcy, it’s not like they have new airplanes showing up… The letter was very misleading, but it mentioned there was more information online, including the furlough list. I read the letter a little more clearly, and while it did say things like, “Welcome back to work!” it did mention that they were only recalling 16 pilots. After checking the list online, I determined that out of 492 furloughed pilots, I’ll be #275 to be recalled. Clearly, some of those have found other work and won’t be coming back, but I suspect most will. It appears that Mesa sent the letter to all furloughed pilots. We have 7 days to reply with our intentions or be removed from the seniority list. I replied with my intention to accept the recall.

After trying to get as much information as I can, it appears that Mesa has been losing 15-30 pilots per month. It seems that Delta, Airtran, JetBlue and Southwest all hiring a bit, now. If these numbers hold steady, I could find myself with a training date in less than a year from now.

This is good in that I want to return to work, but bad in that I really want to finish a computer science degree. It seems that I will be able to graduate in May 2012, but it looks like there’s no way I won’t be recalled at some point in 2011. At this point, I’m definitely committing to continuing at school through the spring semester, but I’m not sure what to do beyond that.

I’m torn. As much as I want to finish my degree, giving up my spot at Mesa might be a dumb move. Hiring is likely to pick up quite a bit about the time I graduate, but I’m not sure how competitive I’ll be for a flying job without having flown in the last 2 years. Airlines like to see several hundred hours in the last 6 months. I could possibly get a job flight instructing before moving on to other things, but then I’d also be faced with starting at the bottom again. If I return to Mesa, I’d be making slightly more than $30,000/year, which is a lot better than the $19,000/year I’d make starting at any other airline.

On the other hand, I’m not sure how exciting returning to flying at Mesa would be. Denver is no longer a base–the best I could hope for is probably Chicago, and I might get stuck in Dulles for awhile. Commuting to sit reserve is a miserable existence.

You’d think Mesa might let me wait a little while before returning. It would require a leave of absence, and they’ve said that’s not a possibility at this time. Mesa wasn’t even granting leaves of absence when they were busy furloughing people, so I don’t think that’s likely to be an option. It’s frustrating that requests that would be almost certainly granted by normal employers are simply unheard of in the airline industry.

On the other hand, a year at UCCS will cost close to $12,000, and I’m not sure that it’s worth it if I don’t come through with a degree in the end.

In the meantime, it’s good to be done for the semester. I can do anything I want for the next month! Ben and Amanda will be here in a week, so there’s much whimsical fun to be had!