Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #24

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Quit a job.

This wasn’t easy to do, but it was definitely one of the all time greatest things I’ve ever done. My first full-time, salary job out of college was as an operations manager at a dot com call center. We expedited passports for people and my job was to make sure all the expediting was expedited. It was fun at first, but like most things new, the fun faded.

I’m sure there were jobs out there that would have stayed exciting to me, but the job wasn’t the problem. Before I’d taken this position, I’d had a sneaky suspicion that the role of employee was not one I was designed for. As the working weeks wore on, these suspicions knawed at my conscience.

Working for someone else gave me a very closed-in and uncomfortable feeling. It always had growing up, but now, being done with school, the visions of a subservient future depressed me heavily. I just couldn’t wrap my head around trading my freedom for anything. Having someone tell me when I could eat, who I could talk to, where I could go was absolutely horrible. It felt like 1000 tons of bricks were crushing every positive spirit inside of me. I was worried the crushing wouldn’t stop until I accepted that that’s just the way things were. I didn’t want to accept it. I wouldn’t accept it.

Two months into my first real job, I sat down in my first real bosses office, and I quit. It was hard to quit that job, not just because I was quitting, but because I was quiting forever.

During the following months, I took a couple other jobs, but I knew they were only temporary. I knew I was already done.

I knew I was free.

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #23

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I was standing on a grass field, wondering where the runway was. I spotted a small plane, at the mercy of the wind, coming towards the ground. An instant of fear hit me before I realized that the field I was in was the runway.

It’d only been about 90 minutes since I stepped off the 747 I’d taken from Sydney to Christchurch, NZ. And now I was ascending back into the sky, with four uncmfortably calm tandem coaches and three other uncomfortably nervous backpackers. I was amused at how quick the coaches were to strap a complete stranger to their chest. However, the awkwardness disappeared as soon we hit altitude and the door opened. The wind was rushing so loud. Maybe it was the wind…maybe it was the fear, but I couldn’t hear anything. I had nonchalantly found my place last in line when boarding the plane. I didn’t think about the fact that it would work like a pez dispenser. Last one in is the first one out.

So my coach is yelling things at me, probably repeating the instructions he’d given on the ground. All I could think about was is this guy strapped to me tight enough. What if he missed a strap? Would that make all the others come apart? That went quickly though. As soon as I started to second guess what I was doing, I was flung into the sky.

The falling was like on a rollercoaster dive, but longer and harder. I couldn’t breath, nevermind scream. Then, after a few seconds, the air governed our speed and the sense of falling faded.

The wind was loud, but otherwise the sensation of falling had gone away all together. We were so high, that the ground did not even appear to be rushing towards me.

It was like the dreams I always have of flying. Seeing a 360 degree horizon, the curve of the earth, the start and finish of mountain ranges, entire lakes…the world was so expansive.

Eventually, the ground started approaching. We opened the chute and then everything slowed again. The flying had returned and was quiet this time.

I took my camera out of my pocket and shot from the hip, not wanting to waste a second of my first skydiving experience looking through a plastic viewfinder.

As things on the ground came into view, so did the reality of my height. I imagined the sensation of falling again. What if the straps snapped and I fell now? The ground would rush at me so fast. I wonder if I’d feel it. Probably not I thought, which somehow made the worry go away.

When my feet hit the grass, I couldn’t believe it was over. I wanted to go back up right away, but cash was getting thin. So I settled on reliving the experience as I laid my head each night of the days and weeks following. Still today, when I close my eyes, I can see everything in detail.

Overcoming fears and the intense falling sensation were pretty great. But mostly…the feeling of flying is what I’ll never forget.

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #22

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See a UFO in Roswell, New Mexico

In case you don’t already know…Roswell, NM is where the proported alien spacecraft crash landed in 1947. The UFO Museum and Research Center provides surprisingly convincing evidence that something other worldy landed on American soil have a century ago. More importantly the town is a sight to see. The whole place thrives on tourism from alien enthusiasts and curious travelers on their way through New Mexico’s deserted landscape. The street lights all have alien eyes on them. The restaurants serve things like”alien eggs” and the “extra terrestrial sandwich”. It’s pretty funny.

The part that made the aura of the town more interesting for Mike and I during our two days there, was what we saw on our way into the city. We had been driving all day over mountains and through deserts. The night was pitch black, for there was no moon. But it was filled with billions and billions of stars. So it’s about 11pm and we’re still driving, hoping to see the city soon. As we get closer to Roswell we start conversation about the aliens and UFO’s. Do you think they exist? Do you think they’ve been here? Would our government cover it up…blah blah.

In the middle of this conversation, we come over a hill and the city of Roswell finally comes into view. I swear to you, the moment the city came into view, Mike and I looked towards the sky and saw the biggest flash of light we’ve ever seen in a night sky. It streaked at thousands of miles per hour across the horizon and then disappeared. I’ve seen shooting stars before and this was much, much closer. Granted, it was likely some large particle from space burning up in the atmosphere, but since I don’t know for sure, it remains and unidentified object that was flying like hell over Roswell, NM. So that’s my UFO.

Between my UFO experience and the evidence presented in the museum, I’m convinced there’s something out there.

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #21

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Visit a Nuclear Missile Silo

I always talk about comprehending the massiveness of things. I can’t explain to you how massive a nuclear missile is. It’s truly overpowering. You know, it must not be only the physical size that gives me that overwhelming feeling. It’s probably the fact that this giant weapon, the size of a Manhattan high rise, exists entirely for the destruction of life.

Peering through the glass, down the barrel of humanity’s most powerful gun, I saw images of cities disintegrating in a flash of light. I thought about how much time and money is spent on developing ways to take life. I thought about the irony in how much time and money is also spent on developing ways to save life. We do everything in our power to stretch the human life expectancy as long as we can…while at the same time we strive and strive to create ways to kill more people, quicker, faster, cheaper, cleaner.

What exactly are we trying to accomplish?

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #20

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Get a Thai Massage in Thailand.

I’d only had one professional massage in my life prior to visiting Thailand and I think it was close to $100 for 45 minutes. Well, as you might expect, you get much more for you money in Thailand.

When my friend Eric and I arrived in Phuket, the first thing we did was walk into a strip mall massage parlor and pay US$7 for 60 minutes of cheap labor bliss. They cranked our backs, twisted our heads, cracked our toes and slapped our butts. We left with a feeling good enough to make $7 per day a worthwhile investment for the rest of the trip. We tried many different places and surprisingly enough…the cheapest places had the longest list of services, which for some reason didn’t appear until the curtain was closed. It was kinda like a fairytale. By the end of the week my body was as relaxed as it’s ever been and my wallet wasn’t that much lighter.

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #19

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Have surgery.

My mortality became most evident to me the day they cut my body open and changed something inside. It was only hernia surgery, but it was my first time being cut open. I use to think hirneas were hemorrhoids, so for those other’s of you that do…let me explain. Evidently I over-exerted myself while carrying band equipment and my ab muscles pushed my intestines into my balls. That’s a hernia. So they had to cut me open, put my intestines back and sew a little plastic cone into the hole in my intestinal wall.

I had elected for partial anesthesia. That meant I would be somewhat conscious during the surgery. They gassed me up a bit then gave me a shot of novicane in the spine. I couldn’t feel my legs and I could tell what was going on, but nothing mattered much. I had no concept of time, but I could tell what was happening. All the medical people in white were leaning over me. I had the classic view from an operating table. They had a sheet propped up so I couldn’t see them pulling and poking at my guts. Feeling it was still freaky. I couldn’t’ feel pain, but could feel the pressure and what not of things moving around inside me. I think I started to get a little too wacky, because I was asking werid questions. I even demanded they changed the music the surgeon was listening to saying “this music kinda sucks, can you change it”. I don’t remember much after that…so I think they turned up the gas. Hah.

A week or so on the couch and I started to recover. Laughing hurt the most, so visits from friends were good and bad. The whole experience put me in such awe of the medical world. It also left me feeling like my body was so separate from my essence of being. I have no control over what goes on inside me. I can’t fix anything that breaks, so I’m glad there are people that can. Living life, hoping something doesn’t break, which can’t be fixed is scary for me. It’s just another thing that makes it impossible for me to put happiness on hold.

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #18

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Fly in a two seater.

I was 20 years old and sitting shotgun in what felt like a small pickup truck with wings. We were parked on a short runway somewhere in northern RI. As she prepared for takeoff, my 19 year old pilot-friend was giving commentary on her actions, but my attention was fixed on comprehending this little hunk of aluminum taking me thousands of feet into the air and then safely back to the ground.

When we had first walked up to the plane, I touched the wing and it almost knocked the thing over! At this, I knew I was in for a different kind of flight then the ones I’d taken before.

When the engine started, it sounded like a 2 stroke lawnmower at first. Eventually it smoothed out and the nearly deafening sound of the wind competed with my thoughts. With a little alpha beta wacka data clearance from the “tower”, we were bouncing down the runway. If you’re ever gone too fast in a golf cart, you know how it felt.

About half way down the run way we were up….then down. Then up again! Then down a bit! Then up! Oh man.,..this was fun. I’m smiling, I’m laughing, and I’m tearing the leather off the seat with my clenched fists. It didn’t even feel like we were going that fast when we finally took off…maybe 80mph or so, but nevertheless…we were airborne.

We cleared the trees and imagined what they would feel like coming through the windshield. We drove over a road and imagined having to use it as an emergency runway. We took a sharp turn and I saw myself falling out the door, which may have well been paperclipped shut it was so rickety. yes, it would be safe to say I was a bit scared.

That faded quickly though. Once I got use to the gusts of wind blowing us around like the plane was made of paper, I was able to enjoy the views and the awesome feeling of flight. It’s a feeling I’ve never had in a jumbo jet, or even a small charter plane. In bigger planes, the restricted view makes it feel more like watching a TV screen than flying.

We climbed, we dove, we turned sharply…I even took the controls for a bit. The response of the craft was surprisingly quick. With a slight push, I could inject the sensation of falling into my stomach.

My absolute favorite thing about flying, which is the same even from the window of an airliner, is the perspective it gives me. Being so high above the earth, with everything looking so small….reminds me that it is.

It was easy to imagine that it was only me there, flying alone…having complete control over what clouds to aim for, which way to turn, how long to dive.

Often the question comes up, “if you could have one super power, what would it be?” I always answer flying. And this might be the closest I’ll ever get.

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #17

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Jog across the Golden Gate Bridge.

First of all, the Golden Gate is the freaking hugest bridge I’ve ever seen. It’s massive. The walkway is wide enough for the hundreds of people that walk, run and bike across it everyday.

Since it was so high above the water, jogging across this bridge gave me a weightless feeling. On top of that, I was moved by the massiveness of the steal and concrete. It was like the ability and perserverance of humans to create such a thing was pushing me to run faster.

I could have just as easily walked across the bridge, but for some reason I like to go for a run when I find myself in famous locations. I think maybe it helps me feel like a local.

No doubt, not having a camera or an ear to the tourist’s chatter, gave me a unique memory of one of the man made wonders of the world.

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #16

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Teach high school.

Six years after I graduated high school, I was back in the classroom I took Physics in during my senior year. Except this time it was chemistry…And I was the teacher.

Like almost everyone else I know, college left me with a degree and no direction. One of the many things I tried was teaching. I went up to the state’s education department in Providence and got myself a substitute teaching certificate.

At the beginning of my second week, I got a call from the school department in the town I grew up in. They offered me a long term position covering for a chemistry teacher who had just had a baby. So with literally two days experience teaching high school, I was given about 100 kids, a curriculum to follow, and my own classroom.

Chemistry is the least favorite and most difficult class in high school. Nevermind the fact that most kids aren’t interested in learning anyway. I faced lots of challenges beyond the subject matter though. Like keeping the crazy kids under control, getting the lazy kids to work, avoiding the faculty drama, and staying motivated to do actual work for a meek $50 per day.

Like any job environment, I found there to by a ton of wired drama between all the teachers. I’d always wondered what went on in the faculty lounge. Now I was eating lunch with the same teachers I’d had six years ago. And guess what they were talking about? The students! Oh and of course each other too. I’m sure I was the topic of conversation in the faculty lounges many times. It was basically the same crap that the kids talk about in highschool. It’s funny, it’s like the faculty is just an older version of the students, except they eat lunch in a different place and sit facing the class.

The pay was way too small for me, so as soon as the regular teacher came back, I resigned from my quick stint of teaching.

Even though I was only a teacher for a couple of months, it was pretty rewarding to see kids come to understand something due to my explanations and see the ones that weren’t doing any work, respond to my motivation. Of course there were kids who were impossible, leaving me with a feeling of an unconquered challenge, but there were others who thanked me and praised me. These small rewards left me with a desire to return to teaching kids in some way, somewhere, someday.

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #15

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Bomb a hill on a skateboard.

The last time I skated it was the 4th of July in, I think, 2001. I had just come home from one cookout to change before going to another. At the time I was still in college and living with a bunch of friends. My roommate Dave suggested we bomb the hill on our street. I was hesitant to do it at first, but I said what the hell and grabbed my deck.

In case you don’t know, bombing a hill on a skateboard means just going down it as fast as you can. In case you haven’t ridden a skateboard, there are two fears when you start to reach high rates of speed.

1. Truck Wobble – When the board starts turning left, then right, then left then right on it’s own, because the trucks (wheel axles) are not designed for high rates of speed.

2. Death Pebbles – Little rocks, about the size of a pea, of which millions and millions exist. These tiny rocks act as instant stopping mechanisms when they come in contact with a skateboard wheel.

Dave went first. He took off fast, but he was more skilled than me…so I got off to a slow start. Starting slow didn’t matter. After about 50 feet I was freaking flying. Luckily I didn’t hit a death pebble. Unluckily, when I hit about 30 mph, truck wobble set in.

There is a point when you’re bombing a hill on a skateboard that you know you’re going to fall and there is nothing you can do about it. When the truck wobble became violent and I had reached that point, I jumped off the board, but humans can’t run 30 mph. They can try…but I only got about two foot stomping, knee cracking strides in before the upper half of my body did an unavoidable forward roll into the hot pavement.

First my elbow hit. Then my head. Then my back. Then everything else. I could smell the flesh burning off me. In slow motion I could feel the death pebbles I had missed embed themselves into my skin. When i stopped skidding my deck was still rolling down the hill. By itself. Just bouncing along…all innocent like. Dave wasn’t even in site and my head was ringing. Blood was making my clothes stick to me. It was pretty vicious.

That was the last time I skateboarded. My interest in it had been fading anyway. I wasn’t getting better any quicker than I was getting injured. Don’t get me wrong, bombing hills is a lot of fun. In fact, I recommend bombing the bus tunnel from the east side of providence to downtown. Preferably at night, so you don’t get flattened by a bus.

The best part about bombing that hill near my house and tearing my flesh off as a result, was learning to be more careful with my decisions to test my ability. I still take risks…lots of them, but since that 4th of July, I think they’re a bit more calculated.

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