Low Pressure to No Pressure- The Hazards of Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of driving and if there’s one thing I’m finicky about when it comes to auto maintenance it’s tires.  Next to oil changes, the most important consumable maintenance on your vehicle (IMO) are your tires.  While I don’t drive high-end sports vehicles, I do push my cars hard and want a combination of performance and ride. I’ve got a 5 year old Mazda 3 which is shockingly, fun to drive even at its low-end pricepoint.  The OEM tires were a really firm, hard set of Goodyears which had absolutely no stick in the rain so after some research, I went with some Continental ExtremeContact DWS rubber.  They were solid all-season tires with good performance in dry, very strong in the wet and snow.  Moving from the sporty summer tires I notice they were a bit softer all around but and ok trade-off from my perspective.

ContinentalExtremeContact

Over the next year or so of using this tire, I unfortunately found the tires to be continually soft in a noticeable way.  You would think over time you’d just get used to it but it would still pop up in my head every now and then.  I also started to notice more rumble on highway driving and I’d attribute it to wear.  Rotating the tires would help out a bit but eventually the problems would come back.

Just this past fall and winter, I would always double-check the tire wear and inflation as the seasons changed.  It seemed that with these Continental tires, I had to put air in them a lot more often.  I’d come out and the tires would seem low and performance squishy.  And finally over the past month, the low air pressure light would come on.  The tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) signalled the low air, I’d spend the $1.00 to refill them and then repeat the process a week or two later.  That’s when I finally noticed that one of the tire valve stems was cracked.  Now it was time to bring the Mazda in to Discount Tire and get things fixed, eh?

LowPressureSensor

What I found at Discount Tire was that I could replace the valve stem and the attached low  pressure device (inside the tire) for about $60.  But after thinking about it a bit, I got to wondering. Were the low pressure monitors the cause of my ongoing tire problems?  While there was a major problem with one tire, it wasn’t the only one that would seem to be soft.  And when you really think about it, who needs a stupid light to tell you that the tire is low? Usually a quick look at the tires and feel for the vehicle’s handling will tell you all you need to know.  Never had a low-pressure light or needed one so why waste $60?  So I told the tire technician to pull them all out and go with standard valve stems.  And I am so glad I did!

With the old-school valve stems the tires are running smoother and tighter than ever.  While I’m sure some of it is due to a rotation, performance is now significantly better.  Plus I don’t have to worry about replacing another low pressure monitor months down the road.  When you really think about it, putting one of these devices in your tire is just inviting it to get shaken out of place and cause an imbalanced tire.  Which in turn leads to more road noise, uneven wear and maybe worse.  And what do you really get out of these monitors besides an idiot light that you shouldn’t really need as a good car owner?

So yes, if you’re finding you’re getting inconsistent tire performance and low pressure situations, definitely take a look at your TPMS system.  Maybe you have a cracked valve like I did resulting in a slow leak.  While it’s not a super dangerous situation, you really don’t need bad tire performance when the the device that’s supposed to monitor low pressure is causing that exact situation!  Silly huh?  And while that low pressure light is on all the time, I rather do it the old-fashioned way.  My TPMS is still available, it’s just that it’s moved to my eyeballs and backside that tell me when my tires are getting low and squishy!

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Posted in Cars, Opinion, Rants | Leave a comment

Ahh, Chinese Samba Troupe…

carn-all0-end

It’s always good to look back at pictures, dredging up memories of days gone by.  But every now and then, you do something that you’re going to remember for the rest of your life, even without ANY pictures.  For me, it was dancing, yes dancing in Rio De Janeiro during Carnival!  As one of the biggest holidays in the world, Carnival in Rio is world renown for its festivities, costuming and all-around craziness.  I had a group of friends that were all pretty familiar with Brasil and I had always wanted to visit so yeah, let’s book that trip!  Little did I know but the group had bigger plans.  We’re going to dance in the Sambadrome, is that ok with you Ron?  Well what am I going to say?  I’m heading down with five women, who am I to say no?  And yeah, what goes on in Rio, stays in Rio.  I hope…

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We spent the first part of our vacation doing the usual tourist stuff: Sugarloaf, Christ the Redeemer and of course the beach.  About three days in we start the preparation.  One of our friends picks up the costumes and we meet up at her apartment.  There are trash bags for each of us and as we pull the pieces of the costume out of our bag, we’re all cracking up.  If you crossed a peacock with a Roman gladiator, well that would describe what we were going to wear!  For the men, there was a large chest-plate, wrist guards, a rainbow smurf hat and then a array of spined, glitter sticks popping out of the back of the whole get-up.  And oh yeah, underneath it all a skimpy pair of blue shorts and white short socks, OMG.  And I’m not saying the girls’ costume looked any better but they sure as hell seemed more comfortable with it.

Along with the costume we were given a lyric sheet and recording of a song that would be used for our gringo Samba troupe.  Each troupe/neighborhood has a special song as tribute for Carnaval that had historical meaning for the community.  And yeah, it was going to be a bit hard given I don’t speak Portuguese but what the hell, I was pretty much winging the entire vacation!

The next night we’re back at the apartment and prepping for the parade!  We’re in our short little shorts, glitter is being sprayed everywhere and we’re just cracking up at each other.  Beer is being passed passed around to calm our nerves because none of us know what to expect.  Thank god I’ve been working out so I look ok in my little shorts!  We pile into a couple of cabs and head on over to the Sambadrome, trash bags in hand. When we reach the queueing and preparation area, things are pretty much in chaos which is not unusual for Rio.  We do some investigation and yes, of course we’re in the wrong spot and running out of time.  We all grab our bags and start racing through the streets of Rio.  We pass one old Brasilian fellow, he looks at me and my Filipino female friends and exclaims, “Ahh, Chinese samba troupe…” Which is close enough, I’m pretty sure this guy has pretty much seen EVERY-thing over the years.

When we finally reach the prep area of our school, I finally start putting on my gear and it’s a spectacle.  I’m laughing my ass off at the other guy in the group, Dave who’s a pretty tough looking dude, but looks absolutely silly in his costume.  Eventually we start moving into the Sambadrome and it’s pretty much a blur for me from there.  Music is blaring, the bleachers are filled with throngs of cheering Brasilians at 2am and we move forward as a uncoordinated unit.  The gringos don’t know what the hell we’re doing but it’s our fees that pay off the rest of the troupe costumes!

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While part of me is a bit embarrassed, you’re one of 500 gladiator-peacocks so who cares, lets have some fun!  The dude next to me is totally getting into and thrashing about acting as if people can actually see him individually.  And the jack-ass is moving about so much, he nearly pokes me in the face with his sharp peacock feathers.  I start to give the Dancing Queen some space just for pure safety.  The Sambadrome is 700 meters long which is a LONG way at this pace.  It takes us a nearly an hour plus to get through but the noise and adrenaline from the crowd keeps us going.  Eventually we get to the other end where a lot of people are grouped up, find my friends and we’re off into the stands to watch.

It’s 4am and the crowds are still pumped and it’s amazing to see the samba troupes parade through.  Even more amazing for us to think that we were down there just an hour ago.  We get some drinks and beers to celebrate and then it’s back to the hotel for a 6am bed time.  I’m pretty sure I’m not EVER going to do this again so scratch one more item off my Bucket List!  Rock on Rio and may the dancing never stop…

Posted in International, Memories, Travel | Leave a comment

Smooth Operator… Uhm, no!

InBed-AfterSex

You watch the movies and you know what happens when the clothes starts coming off.  The guy is all smooth and the next thing you know, they’re sitting back in bed, enjoying the fruits of their labor.  Well I’ll have to confess that sex hasn’t always been that easy for me, I’ve done plenty of stupid things over the years and I’ll bet you have too.  There’s something that happens in a guy’s head as he’s about to come in for a landing, and you sort of lose your effing mind just as all systems are go.  Well, here are some of my stupid sex stories!  And yes, while I’m not always a smoothie I usually get the job done.  Eventually!

Looking back, I remember one night with a long-time girlfriend.  Of course we’re in bed, with plenty of lip action and I’ll admit to being a sucker for giving oral sex.  And she would always enjoy it immensely even as a good, Italian-Catholic girl.  I’d always use my hands as part of the deal so as things heated up between the two of us, I would use my fingers to get her going.  But this time, things were a little different.  Instead of moaning with pleasure, she jumped a bit and cried out with a little “ooh”.  I was a bit puzzled but kept on going and then it happens again.  “Ooooh!”  But it’s not a happy ooh, one more of surprise.  Next thing I know is she says, “I’m burning”, hops out of bed and runs off to the bathroom.

jalapenos

I’m sitting there pretty confused as she’s splashing water on her privates.  All of a sudden it hits me!  I had been making a batch of chili and of course, used jalapenos to spice up things.  And even though I had washed my hands thoroughly, the capascin (hot stuff) gets underneath your nails and you can guess what happened here tonight!  I confess to busting out in a bit of laughter and telling my girl what had happened and THANK-fully she was a saint with a good sense of humor.  Once things had cooled down, down there for her, well she was back in bed and we were back in business.  Yep, things really heated up between the two of us that night, and for that I am SORRY!

FrontOpenBra

Another funny story I had was with a girl I was dating, Denise.  Denise had one of those hard bodies: 5′ 2″ tall, long brown hair, popping ass in back and a very curvaceous front side, probably Double-D’s.  She was a naturally pretty girl and used to getting hit on by men so it took me a bit of time to get to know her and take next steps.  And she was just my type, physically so I was willing to be patient.  But finally, the day comes!  We’re on the bed and things are moving forward.  Off comes the shirt and there are her beautiful breasts in a pretty bra.  She’s all-natural and I’m just in awe of what’s in front of me.  As I move to unsnap the back of her bra, she lets me know that it’s a front-loader.  First time for me, I’ve gotten pretty good at taking off bras but hey, time for something new.

As we continue making out, I’m delicately working with my hands trying to unsnap the front of her bra.  I am SO close right now, the smoke is coming out of my ears.  But trying to be smooth I try to pull the bra clasp apart.  Nope.  I look for maybe a button or something to open up the clasp.  Nope!  I try to slide the bra clasp vertically.  Nope!  At this point and time, things are totally heated up in more ways than one.  I can NOT get this stupid bra off for the life of me!  I can’t even focus on kissing her so I turn my full attention on the bra clasp.  It’s like a safe-cracker with the clock-ticking before the police arrive!  I’ve got sweat coming down my temples, my libido in full-roar and I still can’t get this stupid thing open.  If feels like I’m right in front of Fort Knox with all this wonderful gold on the other side of this bra!  Up, down, sideways, squeezing it, NOTHING is working, her bra clasp holds fast. I’m straining so hard with this stupid bra I nearly have a stroke because I am SOOOOO close but being denied access to nirvana right now.  Finally Denise notices my stressed out face, reaches down, folds the clasp out and pop, off comes the bra.  Oh wow, mercy me.  Thank you so much, girl!  You were totally worth the wait and near aneurysm…

So yeah, I’m not the smooth Casanova I always hoped to be but it’s all good.  When you’re young and just learning the ropes, that kind of stuff happens.  But it all gets better with experience.  Or does it?  Oh yeah, there’s one more story and it was sadly not too long ago!  I had been going through a dry spell and meet this one lady from an online dating website.  The first date goes off well and date two is scheduled for my place.  I’m going to cook dinner, I figure I might as well keep things as close as possible to the bedroom just in case.  Nancy comes over and she’s looking mighty fine for an accountant type.  Nice trim body, recently separated and probably in a let’s get back in the game mode.  She’s brought a bottle of wine and dinner is going great, the meal has come out well and the wine is flowing.  But I’m not really feeling any heat from her and after dessert, we’re cleaning up and both feeling a bit disappointed.  You can’t win them all, right?  But as she turns to leave she suddenly stops right in front of me and stares me down.  Ok, this is when you kiss her dummy!  As our lips lock, things go from 0 to 60 in a heartbeat.  There’s a lot of groping and tonsil hockey going on, this accountant is on fire.

RedHotPoker

As we slowly make our way to the bedroom, the clothes start coming off and it’s time for the bed.  I lift her off the ground to pop her onto the bed but unfortunately, that’s not the only thing that pops.  My left knee gives all off a sudden and is now in ridiculous pain!  I had hurt it a month ago and tonight, as I’m moving her to the bed, it gives way again.  It feels as if someone is jabbing a red-hot poker in the center of the knee joint. But thankfully we’re on the bed and the rest of the clothes is coming off.  But as we’re lying on top of each other, limbs entwined of course my knee gets wrenched AGAIN.  A wave of pain, lust, excitement and anguish flows over me.  My date is naked underneath me and yet, I’m finding it just a LITTLE bit hard to concentrate when my knee is in searing agony.  As you can guess, it’s hard to get uhm, certain body parts focused on the job at hand in this condition so I need to stall for time.  Time for the oral sex, and in spades.  As I go down on my little accountant, she’s definitely letting me know she’s enjoying things.  But I have to say I wasn’t, because my throbbing member (no, not that one!) was in bad shape.  So I hoped that maybe I could just get her to orgasm orally but it wasn’t happening, not on our first night together.  So eventually after 20 – 30 minutes of trying, I flop over in pain, not that she can tell in the dark.  Ain’t nuttin’ going on tonight and she starts putting her clothes on, in disappointed fashion.  And she probably doesn’t notice but I can barely walk as she heads out to the door, sigh.  Of course I never hear from her again which is a total shame but my friend, if you’ve ever torn your meniscus badly, I can tell you it will take all the air out of your balloon, literally and figuratively speaking.  In my defense, I could barely walk the next morning…

So there you go, my fellow Casanova’s.  My bedroom hijinks and embarrassment laid out in full.  I am far from perfect and during the above moments, there’s total proof of how bad we can be when the action gets hot and heavy. But I certainly think I deserve an A for effort, peace out!

Posted in Humor, Memories | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Motorcycle Madness

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I’m sure you’ve seen those sleek, bright two-wheelers roll by on the street and had some opinions about the bikes and the riders sitting on top of them.  Crazy, bad-ass, thrill-seeking, stupid; well any and all opinions are fair.  In the end, I have to confess that riding a motorcycle is both an exercise in caution and preparation, sandwiched along with some craziness.  No one gets on a motorcycle expecting to do stupid things but yet, they do happen to even the most careful of riders.  When you’ve got the equivalent horse-power of a high-end sports car at the twist of a wrist, it’s a challenge to control yourself.  And why not give her a whirl every now and then?

Out in California where I learned to ride a motorcycle, it’s legal to split lanes.  So when traffic comes to a stop, you’re legally able to ride in between all those poor suckers in their stopped cars and move to the front of the pack.  Which is SUPER useful on the busy streets of San Francisco.  On my Suzuki SV650 I had swapped out my rear-view mirrors and replaced them with small mountain bike mirrors at the ends of my handlebars.  So they stuck out about 2 – 3″ beyond the bike but gave me a nice, unobstructed view behind me.

SF-Bus_in_traffic

But going back to the motorcycle craziness.  At times traffic was so thick that you had to split lanes.  And the narrow streets meant that you would have to lean your bike from side to side to avoid getting clipped by car mirrors.  Tilt to the left, tilt to the right, swerving just enough to miss the jutting side-view mirrors. Large SUV’s were always a challenge due to their width and big ol’ mirrors!  But even with all that, there were times when I would get so close to cars that my tiny little handlebar mirrors would strike the car mirrors.  Now that is shaving things REALLY close.  And sometimes cars would get so tight together that there was no place to go, so you’d have to maneuver across the lanes when there was a gap, zig-zagging your way through stopped vehicles, like Frogger. Very crazy, if any car switched lanes you were going down and fast!

And the beauty of a motorcycle is the ability to get from point A to point B, stat!  I remember one night after hitting a house party, riding back with my friend Gene.  We were out near San Ramon and heading back into downtown San Francisco to our office to pick up our work gear. So after hanging out with some beers we hopped on our bikes (I know, bad idea) and started back to the City.  This ride typically takes about 37 minutes or so but of course, one thing leads to another.  He had his Ducati, I had my Suzuki and the inevitable happens, we start racing.  Over to Route 24 which is a long, twisty downhill, we hit speeds of near 100 mph in pretty thick traffic and darkness.  This area is dense with cars and the road is grooved for rainfall which makes it tricky for motorcycle tires.  From time to time we get past 100mph on highways that are probably limited to 50mph.  At these speeds we’re talking about jail time so all I can say is that we better not get caught!  We blast across 80, through the  Bay Bridge and are at the office in 24 minutes flat.  Now it may not sound like much, but slicing 12 or so minutes on a 37 minute ride is IN-sane.  And yeah, we were a bit crazy that evening, I’m just thankful we got home ok.

Scores Of Travelers Depart For Long Holiday Weekend

And in one last riding incident, I was running along Bush Street in downtown San Francisco, timing lights.  I was trying to make sure I hit all the greens to avoid down-shifting the bike and braking.  Everything is going great but as I approach Chinatown at a major intersection, instead of the light turning green, it goes to a double-red ALL around.  A heavy pedestrian intersection and here’s their chance to finally cross.  I hit my brakes HARD, desperately trying to come to a stop.  It’s difficult to get a bike to stop with only two tires so I slide right into the intersection, coming to a screeching halt.

SFMotorcycle-Cop

People are staring at me with a WTF expression and as I peer to my left, who do I see?  A San Francisco motorcycle cop. He’s just staring at me and I’ve got my head drooped, thinking to myself “shit”, how could I have any worse luck?!  I pop my helmet visor open and have a guilty sheepish look.  The cop finally addresses me.  “You made a mistake, didn’t you?”  I shake my head yes.  “You’re not going to do it again, are you?”  I tell the officer no.  He waves me on, I take a deep breath and I am off before he can change his mind.  Now maybe he just didn’t want to bust out the ticket book but I was SO glad I wasn’t written up.  He understood that I wasn’t trying to do anything illegal but just got caught by surprise, phew!

So yes, those two-wheeled beasties can get you into some serious trouble.  Sometimes on purpose, other times just because you make an honest mistake.  Or sometimes because somebody else makes a huge mistake…  So if you think motorcyle riders are a bit crazy, I’d find it hard to disagree.  There’s something about the freedom and power of a motorcycle that has you pushing the limits of the bike and yourself which is hard to resist.  So what can I say, riding a motorcycle is NEVER boring…

Posted in Memories, Opinion | Leave a comment

Caution, Black Ice Ahead!

IceAhead-Sign

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of driving and have logged probably somewheres around 450,000 miles.  I mostly drive a stick/manual vehicle so they’re also hard miles.  Up and down the hills of San Francisco, racing across Manhattan and lots of highway driving.  I’ve driven across the country solo, done the SF to LA run several times and also Boston to Florida several times.  I like to think I’m a pretty careful and experienced driver since I haven’t had an at fault accident for 20-plus years.

Looking back, I did get off to a rocky driving start but you learn quickly.  And I’ve driven through some awful conditions ranging from deep fog in Montreal to deep snow in New England.  But sometimes you look back at one time and you shake your head: How did I ever get out of that situation in one piece?!

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Looking back to I believe it was early March 1998, way back when.  I had plans to take a vacation trip to Mexico to Club Med and the plan was to fly out of NYC.  From Boston to NYC it was 4+ hours and I had to make a stop in CT to pick up my friend Ed.  I take off about 5pm and it was already starting to snow.  And hard.  Thick, big flakes that piled up quickly.  Since it was dinner time, they chose NOT to plow, they were better off in the early morning.  So the two hour ride became a slog.  But thankfully my brand new 1998 Accord handles it pretty well.  The snow piled up quickly and diminished visibility badly.  I would drive peering through the windshield, trying to use the same car tracks as the vehicle in front and yet, 20 – 30mph was about the best I can do.  I finally get to Hartford CT at about 10pm.  My 2 hour ride had stretched into 4 hours plus and I was tired.   We talk a bit and I get to sleep around midnight.

Given an 11am charter flight out of NYC, I planned for another 4 hour drive to the airport, plus one hour for safety.  That means we have to be out by 6am and I set the clock for 5am.  When the alarm clock rings I’m in a cold daze.  It’s time to get up and I look out the window.  We must have had 8 – 12″ last night and things don’t look good.  We hop back into the car and conditions aren’t better, they’re actually worse than last night.  It takes us a while just to get onto 91 South due to unplowed back roads.  Finally 91 is a bit better but still icey.  Lots of cold crusty, snow packed roads which presents its own set of challenges. We switch over to 95 south and things get much better with the density of travel here.  But things are about to change quickly.

About 25 miles out of NYC we start seeing accidents.  The snow and ice has melted a bit and re-formed into black ice.  A thick, clear layer of nearly frictionless ice. It’s getting late, 9am and we are running out of time.  While we are really close, these last miles are going to be a bitch.  Cars are crumpled into the guard-rail and we start to see warning signs.  We turn on the radio for secondary information, remember, these are the days before smart phones so…  For the first time in my life I-95 is SHUT DOWN.  The ice is so treacherous that they have shut down the BIGGEST highway in the country.

We start panicking, we both have thousands of dollars invested in this trip.  A detour sign shows up and we creep along a smaller highway still trying to make it to JFK on time.  More accidents, we must have seen well over 15 in the last ten miles.  I’m pushing the envelope on the Accord, doing 40+ and the car next to us is keeping pace.  All of a sudden I see the car start to fish-tail, go into a full slow-motion spin and careen into the guardrail and SMASH!  It’s down for the count.  You have got to be kidding me!  This ice is so slick and dangerous, it takes a ridiculous amount of attention to keep my Accord on the road.  No sudden moves with the steering wheel.  Baby-step increments of wheel input and brakes, NO sudden moves.

snowy-JFK

We finally get near the airport and start looking for parking after an exhausting trip.  Unfortunately it’s a charter flight so there’s NO signage for the correct terminal building.  We take a stab at a parking lot and get out.  Finally see an airport guy and asks for directions and we are of course, on the other side of the airport to National Airlines.  We hop onto ground transportation and half-way to our terminal it stops.  Apparently this bus doesn’t go ALL the way around the airport.  Tired and frustrated, we start blowing off some steam and a nearby limo-driver overhears us.  He offers to give us a ride in his car to the necessary terminal so we hop in and take a cold, short ride over for $20.  Inside we are pulling a full-on sprint through the airport, cold, tired, baggage in hand. Through security we sprint up to the gate and turn in our boarding passes.  As we step into the plane, it’s 95% full and they give us a round of applause, woohoo!  We’re the last ones on, the door closes shut behind us and we are off to Mexico, phew…

Since that drive, I have never been in road conditions like that before.  One of those days when you’re supposed to stay at home but the circumstances deemed otherwise.  We must have seen 25 – 30 major car accidents in 30 minutes and could easily have been one of them but thank my lucky stars, we managed to navigate the situation.  But yeah, I don’t plan on doing that again anytime soon if I can help it.  Cause if I-95 gets shut down, you better believe it’s serious!

Posted in Memories, Opinion, Travel | Leave a comment

A Very Sad Day, Until Burger King Walked In…

OldSchoolBKUniform

If anyone has experienced the sudden death of a close friend or relative, it’s hard to explain the intensity, sadness and fear of the moment.  I’ve had the unfortunate circumstance to have had two people, very young in life, pass on.  But that intensity and sadness can change in a split second.  While there’s often a thin line between love and hate, I also have realized there’s a thin line between sadness, pain and humorous laughter.  Here’s my story…

Way back in high school, my group of friends were semi-outcasts.  Definitely smart and brainy, we were a motley crew of ethnic minorities (Asian, Jewish) who were not part of the usual popular crowd.  Even though we were talented in both cranial and even some athletic skills, I would say that none of us would say that we peaked in high school or had active dating lives then.  But we found each other and afternoons would be spent playing basketball, Dungeons & Dragon, Monopoly and more.  Over the course of our friendships, we had one new member creep into our group, Grant.  Grant was a bit different from the rest of us, he wasn’t a brainiac or ethnically different, but he was a tweener.  Part of a military family, he didn’t seen to fit in with any of the stereotypical groups and ended up being a good friend of ours.  His love of military history caused us to coin him, “Sergeant Shnorkles” because he was a bit plump and had an upturned-nose.

My fondest memories of Grant would be at sleep-overs or playing football.  As gross as it sounds my favorite practical joke would be to creep over in the dark to where he was sleeping and pass serious gas as close as I could to his face.  He would always start cursing me out and start retching but never was mean-spirited or really that angry about it.  And when we would play football, he was always an upright character.  He seemed to enjoy it but had a formality to himself.  Grant enjoyed defending the QB and over time, I found it harder and harder to get past him to sack the passer.  Without knowing it, Grant was spending more and more time in the gym, getting himself fit.  He was a lot stronger now and as his physique changed, he started spending less time with us and more time with a new group of friends in Revere.  He had a beat-up old Oldsmobile 2-door and would cruise the strip at the beach on the weekends.  Which we didn’t mind, because even though it would have been fun to spend more time with him, misfits don’t judge or peer-pressure each other.

One night about three weeks before high school graduation, Grant took us for a ride in his big-engined beastie.  He seemed on edge and a bit crazy, he threatened to careen us off the road and would purposely swerve on narrow roadways while we screamed in the car.  There was a lot swearing and punching to get him to back off and he finally did, but he gave all of us a serious scare.  Think Mr. Toad’s Scary ride times ten.  As he let us out of the car we all wished him an affectionate “fuck you” for the experience he had put us through, but of course we were glad to have just caught up with him.  He said a good bye, gunned his V-8 and was off into the night.

Little did we know but Grant had been in transition.  As graduation weekend approached, most of us had gotten our college acceptance notices and we were off to various schools ranging from Boston College to Brandeis to the University of Michigan.  Grant had missed his college of choice and was committed to a year of military prep school given his family history.  And for whatever reason, he must have felt that it wasn’t an acceptable option for him.

The next day, late in the morning my house received a call.  This wasn’t the days of Facebook or twitter so news took a while to travel. Grant had been found shot at his home, WTF?!  As news continue to trickle in, we found that Grant had shot himself with his own shotgun.  His family had tried to revive him but there was no luck, he was gone at 18.  As the shock and sadness set in, various members of our rag-tag posse showed up at my house to mourn together.  Paul, Aaron, Marc, Jay, DaveM, Ben and my cousin sat in the living room, stunned.  We talked about the happenings of the night before and could make no sense of his actions.  While Grant wasn’t going to the school of his choice we all found it so unbelievable that he would do such a thing with him being on the edge of the rest of his grand life.

In the midst of all our sadness and tears, our last friend Dave K steps into the room.  He had been working at Burger King, the usual teenager job and had gotten notice last.  He was obviously distraught and overcome by the news.  Dave was a stocky guy, muscled and a bit stout.  If you don’t remember Burger King uniforms from days gone by, think polyester.  Burnt orange polyester with ribbed-corduroy pants.  A shirt-vest combo where a plaid orange vest was stitched onto a fake yellow shirt with big yellow collars.  They were wretchedly ugly especially when you consider the fact we were getting paid $2/hour or so.

Dave was standing there in front of us on the verge of tears.  He was wringing his ugly burnt orange visor in despair with the silly BK logo on front.  As we relayed the facts to him we slowly took in this poor guy standing in front of us.  He smelled of grease and smoke and was wraught with emotional pain and upset.  Miserably sad his tight polyester pants and pseudo-vest heaved with his emotions and…

We all bust out in uncontrollable laughter.  Raucous, teenage mirthful laughter.

The ridiculous visual of Dave standing in front of us was just to much for all of us to handle.  We were on the edge and had tipped over from pure sadness and pathos to ridiculous hilarity.  It was like all this pressure and steam had been released, Dave sat there a bit confused but eventually joined us when he realized why.  Good for him, good for all of us.

And yes, while the sad moments around Grant’s passing still pop up in my memory bank from time to time, so does that moment of laughter and mirth.  And you know what?  I’m pretty sure Grant would have been right there with us, laughing at our sad Burger King…

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Job Search Mania

So am I the only one who really detests looking for a job?  Well yeah, it’s not like I had much choice about it.  Let’s roll back the clock, it’s late 2009 and I get laid off by a local tech company because they want somebody more senior in my marketing role.  After working 60+ hour weeks for two years, you could say I was a bit disappointed but homie don’t stay in any company where I’m not wanted.  So even though I had an option to find another job within the company, I didn’t think it was a wise move given the potential of being seen as damaged goods.  And yeah, my pride.

So I take the severance package, relax and start living my life that was always on hold due to the furious pace at work.  The local economy has tanked and it’s right before the holiday season so no need to worry right now.  I re-discover my social life, go exploring all around the Triangle and have an immense amount of fun.  Six weeks of unemployment becomes six months and eventually…  Well, have you heard the term “long-term unemployed”?  That’s who I was and after a serious heart to heart with my family, it’s time to go back to work.  The economy is slightly better now but not much better.   But don’t worry people, there WILL be a happy ending.  Just bear with me and you’ll hear the whole story about how you can get back to work and a corporate role after 958 days (yes, you heard that right), 958 days of being unemployed.  It’s not easy and I don’t recommend it to anyone but read on if you want to hear about the tough lessons learned.

Ok, those of you who are still with me need to know my background.  I’ve been in the corporate world over 20 years and have worked for 10 companies over three different career paths.  You could say I’ve been around the block and I’m not scared much about interviewing or the job search process.  But THIS job search was a bit different.  The job market, the amount of time I had been out of corporate and the fact that I was looking for a marketing gig.  A field where I only had about three years of experience so it was going to be an uphill climb.  And here’s what I learned…

Know what you want to do and ideally, whom you’d like to do it for.  As a professional, the shotgun approach of applying for anything doesn’t work.  It makes you look unsure of yourself and that you don’t understand your value.  And in my opinion, a target company is a bit more important than the target role.  Be willing to flex a bit in your experience and try tangentially similar roles, just don’t be shooting for a finance job if you’re a marketing person.  But the goal is to get into your target company and move laterally from there.

Network, network, network.  Make sure you let people know you are looking but do so without being desperate.  When you network it’s about developing a relationship that will be a two-way street.  My primary strategy was to reach out to my alumni network and conduct informational interviews.  I targeted marketing people but my goal was to target a company so non-marketing people were fine too.  Try multiple networking events and volunteer opportunities.  You’ll quickly find out which ones are of value to you and introduce you to potential peers.  There’s some trial and error here, others that are in a job search may be able to help out.

Recruiters are a mixed bag, certainly leverage them but they are looking for a neatly wrapped package with a bow on top that they can drop on their client’s doorstep.  And they are competing with other recruiters so they need to find candidates even if the fit is off.  So certainly work with them but they can be either too narrow or too loose with their expectations.  Either they’ll want the perfect candidate or be desperate to get a decent body in front of their client.

Interviewing is not easy for either side and I had plenty of mixed experiences.  Went through one set of company interviews which included custom research and a presentation.  The first six interviews went well, discussion had moved to compensation and team-members were asking when I could start.  It all hit the fan with interview seven, the hiring manager’s manager.  She came in guns-a-blazing and was looking to discount my skill set which she was able to do.  IMO, she was not politically aligned with the rest of her team and was going to be a tough sell for any of their candidates.  Another set of interviews required three months of emails and voicemails before I secured an informational interview over coffee.  Roll two months forward and finally a position opens up.  I interview, it goes decently and the hiring manager is talking about where to put my desk.  A week plus later there’s no response and I’ve been told they’re going in another direction. And the hiring manager won’t even respond to my emails or questions, not very professional IMO after networking with them for six months.  A no is fine, just treat me like a professional.

The Marketing role that I did end up with starting with networking and an informational interview in the fall of 2011.  There was no specific role open until February of 2012.  A connection and friend made the introduction.  There were five interviews onsite and I had an old high school friend put in a good word for me.  AND I knew somebody internal to the company who gave me the lay of the land.  So while the process took a while to kick off, it was only about 2 – 3 weeks from when the first real contact happened before the job offer.

My most important take-away for an extended job search is to stay positive and believe in yourself.  And most importantly, believe in your story because you will be asked to tell it MANY times.  In the end, interviewers ask three primary types of questions and you’ll need to answer them with aplomb.

     * Does the candidate have the skills to do the job?

     * Will the candidate be interested and excited to do the job? 

     * Would I like to work and have the candidate on my team?  

That’s it!  Pretty much all the questions will revolve around those three areas as outlined by this posting from Forbes. And your goal is to answer those questions with authority, details and your personality to make your candidacy the best one available.  And yeah, a lot of luck too.  So best of luck to all you long-term job-searchers!  Keep your heads up and don’t forget those three questions because if you can’t sell yourself, nobody else can…

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