Author Archive

As I recently mentioned, on the on the day of the Alfred P. Murrah bombing I had already turned in my two weeks notice at Best Buy. The bombing took place on April 19, 1995 (a Wednesday), and I started the Monday after that at the FAA. The Monday after the bombing would have been April 24th, which means…

Today is my 20th anniversary with the FAA.

Back in February I wrote about my first day of work at the FAA. As I mentioned in that post, my first job with the FAA was on a national Help Desk. The company that originally hired me was JDL. Back then the Help Desk contract was bid on a year-to-year basis, so there was no guarantee that the same company would be awarded the contract the following year. And if they didn’t retain the contract, there was no guarantee you would get a job with the new company. I was hired during the 8th month of a 12 month contract, and based on what I was told I assumed I would have a job for around five months. Even so, for those five months I would be making almost twice as much as I was bringing home at Best Buy.

As expected, JDL lost the contract at the end of the summer. About the time I had my desk packed up, the new company (Advancia) offered me a raise if I would stay. So, I did. I worked for them for a year before they lost the contract. The next company (BTG) offered me a raise if I would stay. So, I did. Again.

One of the first projects I worked on was physically upgrading workstations. A minimum baseline had been set (a 386 processor with 8 megs of RAM, a 540 MB hard drive. and a 3-COM network card) and every workstation in our organization that didn’t meant those requirements had to be upgraded. This was done by sending small teams of two or three people out to every office across the country and physically performing the upgrades. Within those first 18 months of working there I had spent weeks in Atlanta, Minnesota, Phoenix, St. Louis, and Spokane.

Our part of the FAA was expanding, and word got out that federal jobs were opening for those willing to move. Bryan took a job in San Francisco. Bob took a job in Atlanta.

I took a job in Spokane, Washington.

With help from friends and family, Susan and I packed up our belongings and moved 1,800 miles northwest to Spokane. Susan worked briefly at a local gym before getting hired on by the FAA as well. We were both twenty-three years old. By the spring of 1998 both of us were so lonely and homesick that we decided to move back to Oklahoma. I quit my federal position and was rehired by Advancia in Oklahoma as a contractor back on the same old Help Desk. Susan was able to transfer to another federal position in Oklahoma, and kept her government status.

I worked for Advancia until they lost the contract. Then I worked for one part of Lockheed Martin, and then a different part of Lockheed Martin. It wasn’t until 2009 that I was able to find another federal position within the FAA. I worked for a security group before transferring back to my old job in 2010. Things have changed so much since then and continue to change. I worked in a security department for a while doing security scans. I worked as a domain administrator and enterprise administrator over the network. But mostly, I worked as a jack of all trades, doing what I could for whoever needed help. Some jobs, positions and tasks have been more fun and rewarding than others. Overall, I’ve had fun.

I lost track of all the places I’ve visited for work. Aside from the cities mentioned earlier, off the top of my head I can recall trips to (working roughly west to east): Boise, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tempe, Cheyenne, Denver, Kansas City, D/FW, San Antonio, Baton Rouge, Greensboro, South Bend, Chicago, Columbia, Raleigh, Pittsburgh, New York City, and of course Washington DC — not to mention all the states and cities I’ve visited while traveling to and from those cities. Simply mentioning some of those places doesn’t do them justice. I’ve been to Chicago probably half a dozen times over the years, and D.C. at least a dozen.

I’ve met a lot of great people and made a lot of good friends over the past 20 years. I’ve also drank ungodly amounts of alcohol. If it survives until I retire, I hope someday they name a conference room after my liver. I’ve seen, done, and been through some crazy stuff, from making changes on the fly to 60,000 user accounts to sitting at home during a federal furlough watching CNN day after day, wondering if I was going to be able to make my house payment or not. Oh, and there was that time I accidentally deleted the FAA Administrator’s account…

When I started on the Help Desk back in 1995 there were ten analysts (including myself), two leads, and two support staff. Of those, four (Carol, Johnny, Ron, and myself) remain. Some of the old timers are still around. A lot of them have retired. A few of them died.

I work from home most days now, so I spend a lot of time alone. Even when I go into the office I only encounter one or two co-workers at most. Most of my work is performed virtually and remotely with people who aren’t even in the same state as I am, so there won’t be a big cake waiting for me at the office today (which is good; I’m off work today). The government’s not real big on that sort of thing, anyway. And because I worked for so many different contract companies, there’s nobody that really knows my start date anyway. Even though I’ve been with the FAA for 20 years as of today, I only received my “five years of service pin” last year.

When I took that first Help Desk position I had no idea this job would last more than five months, much less twenty years. Things have changed so much in the past twenty years. It will be interesting to see what the future holds.

The week of April 19, 1995 was my last week at Best Buy. I had turned in my two weeks notice the week prior, and was set to start my new job at the FAA the following week.

I mostly worked evenings at Best Buy, so it was not uncommon for me to still be in bed at 9am. Susan and I were living in a mobile home off of NW 10th and Morgan Road — 10 miles from the Alfred P. Murrah building.

I was laying in bed when I heard my bedroom windows begin to rattle. It felt like a city garbage truck was idling right outside my home. I didn’t think much about it until I realized that our trash normally ran on Tuesday, not Wednesday. I rolled over and peeked out the window, but didn’t see anything.

Now awake, I went to the living room and turned on the television. Reporters were already reporting that “something” had happened downtown — they just didn’t know what yet. I stuck my head out the front door and saw the black plume of smoke rising from downtown for the first time.

I went back to the living room and for some reason, stuck a blank VHS tape in the VCR and hit record.

At that same time, Susan was working at a medical supply company. Her building was six miles away from the Alfred P. MUrrah building. She said that she was sitting at the front desk when the blinds in the front windows all swung away from the window and then crashed back into the glass. She and her co-workers went outside to investigate as they were sure “a truck had hit our building.” A few minutes later, a spouse of one of her co-workers called the office to tell them “something bad had happened downtown” and to “start getting medical supplies ready.”

For most of the day I sat at home by myself, watching the drama unfold in real time. There were so many bits of misinformation released that day. Early on, authorities were on the search for Middle Eastern men. There was also the moment when authorities found, or at least thought they found, a second device. The official explanation was that the second device was a training device that had originally been in the building. There was a lot of confusion that morning.

I went to work that evening. Best Buy was one of the donation centers. We had gathered flashlights and batteries from the store to donate, and customers were dropping off boots and cases of water and a few other items. We had a wooden pallet at work full of those things. I don’t remember if someone picked them up or if someone dropped it off downtown.

During that time I was spending a lot of time of IRC (internet chat). I logged in and began relaying information. This was before almost anyone had a cell phone — and even if they did, the phones were so jacked up that it was almost impossible to get a call connected. I sat on IRC for days, relaying information back and forth to people in other parts of the country.

The week after the bombing, I reported for work at the FAA. It has never been lost on me that like many of the people who were killed that day, I too am a federal worker. Most of those people had absolutely nothing to do with Timothy McVeigh’s vendetta against the government. I’m quite sure the 19 kids that were killed in the daycare didn’t.

It didn’t take long before people began hearing names of victims that they recognized. My second-cousin worked in the daycare of the Alfred P. Murrah building and was killed. A classmate’s father was also killed in the blast. More than that, throughout the years we’ve met many people who were survivors of the blast. Susan has two or three co-workers who were in the Murrah building that day. I worked with a guy for a while who told me he was trapped in the building for hours after the explosion and actually made a tourniquet out of a network cable to stop his leg from bleeding before he was rescued.

I’ve taken friends visiting from out of town down to the Murrah Memorial a few times. Every time, it’s hard. Every time I stand in front of those 168 chairs that represent the 168 people who died that day, I get choked up. Every time I stand in front of those 19 smaller chairs that represent the children that died in the daycare, I lose it. I’ve been through the museum next door exactly once. I recommend everybody go through it. If you’re interested, I’ll pay your way and drop you off at the door. I don’t think I could do it again.

Sometimes when we go downtown Susan points out the church across the street from the Murrah building. She had gone down there four days before the bombing to find out about having our wedding there. We were going to get married in that church and have our reception in Leadership Square. That obviously didn’t happen.

They say “time heals all wounds.” I don’t know that it does. With no real direct connection to the explosion, I still feel sad when I go down to the memorial. I still get choked up when they talk about the kids that were killed. Oklahoma City is much different than it was 20 years ago. The MAPS project revitalized Bricktown. We now have the OKC Thunder. But even though downtown Oklahoma City may look different, nobody who lives here will ever forget what it looked and felt like downtown 20 years ago.

April 19. 9:02 AM.

I think I get choked up more easily than I used to. I definitely get choked up more often than I used to. One thing that consistently chokes me up is seeing people die.

President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 (10 years before I was born).Last month I had this book called Four Days as a kid that documented those four days in November (from Kennedy’s assassination to his burial). One page had several stills from the famous Zapruder film, including the horrific frame 313 that shows Kennedy’s head literally exploding. In frame 312, his head is in one piece. In frame 313, it explodes. I remember flipping back and forth between those two frames over and over. In frame 312, the President is alive. In frame 313, he is not. I remember feeling curious and shocked and disturbed by seeing that picture, but I don’t remember feeling sad.

Last month I did an episode of You Don’t Know Flack about tornadoes. While doing research for the show I watched May’s Fury, a special released by KFOR, along with several Youtube clips of both the May 3rd, 1999 tornado and the May 20, 2013 tornado, each of which hit Oklahoma. Each time the tornado struck a populated area like Chickasha, Moore, or Midwest City, I knew that I was seeing people die — perhaps not directly on screen, but as those massive tornadoes ripped their way through populated areas and you could see debris being hurled in every direction you just know that you are witnessing people losing their lives. And I got choked up.

You would think I would be more callous to it by now. Last week I turned on the evening news and watched a police officer shoot a man in the back, killing him. No warning, no disclaimer, no nothing — just, “so, this happened today,” followed by pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop.

“Now, sports.”

I love true crime books. I enjoy reading about how the bad guys commit crimes and how the good guys track them down. I’ve read all about Timothy McVeigh, and the Branch Davidians, the Turner Diaries, and all kinds of conspiracy theories surrounding that day. I love reading about that stuff and talking about that stuff.

But every time I drive through downtown Oklahoma City and drive past the Murrah Memorial, every time I see pictures and video from that April morning of smoke billowing from my hometown, every time April 19th rolls around, I think of the 168 people that died there that day.

And then I get choked up.

In last night’s game against the Timberwolves, the Oklahoma City Thunder looked as good as they’ve looked in quite some time. Enes Kanter dominated in second-chance attempts, Dion Waiters went 5-8 on three pointers, and Russell Westbrook went on a tear and scored 37 (23 of which were in the first quarter). Kanter, Waiters and Westbrook combined for 95 points, and together the team scored a whopping 138 points.

It wasn’t enough.

I mean, of course it was enough to publicly pummel the wounded Wolves by a margin of 25 points (it’s not every day you beat an opponent who scores 113 points by an additional 25), but it wasn’t enough to get the Thunder into the playoffs. The Thunder kicked off this season with a 3-12 record before getting things on track, but the track this year felt more like an off-road path. Down the home stretch the Thunder went 1-6 by losing to the Jazz, the Mavericks, the Grizzlies, the Rockets, and the Spurs (twice). With three games left in the season the Thunder lost a crucial game to the Pacers (who themselves were battling for a playoff spot) after going 11-28 on free-throws, roughly what my son shoots in our driveway.

The Thunder entered the last two games of the season tied with the New Orleans Pelicans for the final playoff slot. When your chances of making the playoffs depend on another team losing rather than your team winning, perhaps don’t deserve to be there in the first place — especially when that same team beat you three times during the regular season. With the taste of bile in my throat I quietly rooted for the Spurs to poach the Pelicans in the same manner they had recently tripped up the Thunder, but it didn’t happen. Both OKC and New Orleans won their last two games, and as they say, the tie goes to the pelican. (Nobody really says that, but everybody should start.)

I’m not sure much good would have come from making it to the playoffs. There was talk of Serge returning to the court, but walking into the playoff arena cold after returning from an injury is a good way to re-injure yourself. Without KD there’s no hope of winning it all, and frankly right now the odds weren’t good for escaping the first round against the top ranked Golden State Warriors. And you have to think that if Russell Westbrook turned up the gas any hotter he may literally break himself in half trying to single-handedly win playoff games.

Westbrook scored more points than any other player in the NBA this season. His response to that was “it means nothing,” and he’s right. Westbrook, like the rest of us, will be sitting at home watching the playoffs. (You have to think Westbrook has a nicer couch than the rest of us.) Westbrook takes a lot of crap for “being a ball hog” as we used to say when we were kids, but this year he didn’t have much of a choice. With Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka rooting from the sidelines most of the season, Westbrook’s options were to keep shooting or dish assists to new faces we’re just now getting used to calling Thunder players. When forced to the spotlight, some players thrive (James Harden) while others have wilted (Reggie Jackson), but if there was any question as to why the Thunder keep Westbrook when they have Durant, go back and watch last night’s game against the Timberwolves again.

(And if there was any question as to why the team parted ways with Perkins, as much as I liked the guy, go check out Kanter’s stats again.)

A lot of teams have what they call “rebuilding years.” This wasn’t a rebuilding year. It was a good year that unfortunately had a lot of great players cheering on the sidelines. The new pieces of the puzzle that fit with what we do — Kanter, Waiters, Singler — combined with the (hopefully returning) Thunder veterans are going to take this team to the playoffs and hopefully the finals very soon.

Thanks to Anthony Slater and Darnell Mayberry of the Thunder Buddies Podcast for giving us insight to the team and season and Dustbury.com (go for the Thunder commentary, stay for the rest of the amazing content) for his post-game analysis. I’ll be looking for you guys in the fall.

Thunder up and out.

This week’s release of the latest Mortal Kombat game (MK X) caused me to reflect on my own memories of the Mortal Kombat franchise.

I don’t actually remember the first time I saw Mortal Kombat in an arcade, which is a terrible way to start an article about my memories of Mortal Kombat.

I do however remember the launch of Mortal Kombat on home video game systems, which took place in September of 1993. I didn’t own any modern consoles at the time (I was a PC guy and a retro console gamer), but I remember seeing magazine ads and television commercials everywhere. Since I didn’t have any of those consoles, I didn’t get to play Mortal Kombat until 1994, when it was released for DOS.

The first time I actually saw Mortal Kombat running on a video game console was at the hacker conference Hohocon on New Year’s Eve, 1994. At the front of the room, connected to an overhead projector, was a Super Nintendo with a console copier connected to it. Console copiers were devices that allowed people to dump programs stored on video game cartridges (ROMs) to floppy disks and play them back without needing the cartridge. Because 16-bit cartridges often held more information than the average 1.44 floppy disk, the games often spanned two or three floppy disks. In between presenters, a couple of guys loaded up a copy of Mortal Kombat on a Super Nintendo using a console copier and proceeded to brutally smash one another until the next presenter took the stage. Within a couple of months, I had acquired a Super Nintendo, a console copier, and a copy of Mortal Kombat.

I just checked my old, old archives. The first Mortal Kombat for DOS came on three 1.44 MB floppy disks. Mortal Kombat II, the sequel that shipped in early 1995, came on eight. Mortal Kombat III, with the digital (CD) music removed, spanned fifteen floppies.

MK X for the PlayStation 4 takes up 33.5 GB. Fortunately it’s available to download, as that would take up 24,676 floppy disks. Don’t copy that floppy — you’ll throw your back out.

Along with MKII and MKIII, Mortal Kombat (the movie!) also debuted in 1995. I’ve always felt like that movie got a bad rap. It’s silly, yes, with lots of in references to the games. If you want to see a terrible movie, watch the sequel sometime. Oof.

One of the most controversial aspects of Mortal Kombat was its fatalities. After winning a battle and quickly punching in a series of joystick directions and buttons, players could perform gory fatalities like punching people’s heads off or electrocuting them. Performing fatalities required knowledge, timing, and a lot of quarters. Most gamers thought they were funny. Most parents didn’t. Nintendo certainly didn’t.

About ten years ago my sister hooked me up with a guy getting rid of a broken Mortal Kombat arcade cabinet. The cabinet turned out to be a (poorly) converted Atari Black Widow cabinet with a bad power supply and monitor. After adjusting the power supply and swapping out the monitor, I did get the machine up and running.

It’s funny to think of Mortal Kombat 4 as “one of the newer ones,” but that’s when the series made the initial jump from 2D to 3D. That was 18 years ago, in 1997. Along with the arcade version, MK4 made its way to the Nintendo 64, the original PlayStation, and Windows. Somewhere around that time, I lost interest in the series. Unfortunately that means I don’t have a lot to say about all the versions of Mortal Kombat since then. I played one or two of them on the PlayStation and XBox before shelving them once again. I did think the MK vs DC fighting game was unique, and I ended up picking it up from some bargain bin eventually.

To say Mortal Kombat has come a long way in 20 years is quite the understatement. We went from 2D digitized sprites beating each other up to the following clip from MK X, which I almost hesitated to post. Pixels are pixels I guess, but the light-hearted spirit of the early games seems to be totally gone.

A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Mike and Carrington, hosts of the No Quarter Podcast. After 125 episodes Carrington was stepping down from the show and Mike was looking for a new co-host. Based on my podcasting experience and arcade knowledge the guys thought I would be a good fit for the show. Mike, Carrington and I spent a week standing up a new website and getting the new feed added to iTunes and Stitcher. The weekend before last Mike and I recorded our first episode together and then had to wait a week for all the technical web glitches to work themselves out before we could post the show. (Yes, it was hard keeping the secret for an entire week, especially when speculation about me joining the show grew!) The show went off without a hitch, and I’m looking forward to another long run of No Quarter shows with Mike.

For those of you keeping track, I am now currently recording five podcasts: No Quarter (an arcade game-themed show), You Don’t Know Flack (a collection of stories related to old computers, games and technology… and sometimes other stuff!), Sprite Castle (my Commodore 64-themed show), Throwback Reviews (dedicated to reviewing movies from the 1980s), and Rusted Metal (a show dedicated to rock and metal bands mostly from the 70s and 80s).

To somewhat keep my sanity, I’m now doing Sprite Castle and You Don’t Know Flack on alternating Mondays. The next episode to be posted will be episode 9 of Sprite Castle, next Monday morning. No Quarter is weekly and goes online Sunday evening. Throwback Reviews is recorded monthly, and Rusted Metal is done when time allows.

At the top of this page is a link that says Podcasts. You can click it (or this one) to find web pages, iTunes links, and RSS feeds for all of those shows.

Podcasting isn’t the only thing I’ve been using my microphone for. I’ve begun recording the audiobook version of Commodork: Sordid Tales from a BBS Junkie. The original print version of Commodork contained 13 chapters. The audiobook version will contain 26. Each chapter will be followed by a completely new bonus chapter that will contain “behind the scenes” notes about writing the book along with updated information about things that have happened since the book was published. I’m very excited about this project and I don’t think it will take long to complete.

Work continues on Gastric Steps: He Said/She Said my (and Susan’s) book about gastric bypass surgery. I am still working on the book’s final chapter. I hope to finish it sometime this summer.

I’m probably forgetting some stuff but those are the ones that have space dedicated to them on my whiteboard at the moment.

In the spring of 1995, my sister and her boyfriend were engaged, set to be married on August 19th of that same year. Their wedding plans fell through, but Susan and I had been living together for a couple of years by then and since all of our family in Chicago had already made plans to come to Oklahoma on August 19th we decided to get married on that same date.

All of this happened before I officially proposed.

When I was a kid, my parents would hide our Easter eggs the night before Easter after my sister and I had gone to sleep, and would make a list detailing where each egg was hidden. It’s a good system, one that prevents a forgotten, smelly egg from being discovered later in the spring.

Or summer.

The night before Easter of 1995, Susan and I sat down and colored eggs. Later that night I hid them in really hard to find places around the house. I then made a list of fourteen clues to help Susan find them the following morning. The final clue ib the list suggested that she go back and read the first letter of each clue. The first letter of each clue spelled out W.I.L.L.Y.O.U.M.A.R.R.Y.M.E.

It was perhaps not the most romantic of proposals, but it was definitely my style.

Here we are twenty years later, still coloring and hiding eggs.

I’ve written about Photon (the original Arena Laser Tag game) on my blog multiple times. I talked about the culture of Photon, my excitement when I learned that a new Photon center was opening just outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma and all about Jeff and my visit there. I also recorded a podcast episode of You Don’t Know Flack where I talked about Photon.

One thing I’ve never talked about were the paperback series of Photon books.

Despite being a huge fan of Photon, until I visited Jim Strother’s Photon arena in Tulsa I had no idea there even were Photon paperbacks. In the lobby of his arena, in a display counter under some scratched up glass, Jim had all seven books.

Upon my return to Oklahoma City I checked a few used book stores for the books and came up empty handed. I couldn’t find any copies available for sale online either, so I wrote off ever tracking them down.

Last month a friend of mine (who is working on a Photon-themed project) reminded me of the books. I checked online again and this time was able to find them all for sale. Seven online purchases and a few weeks of waiting later and I am now the proud (?) owner of all seven books.

There were two different series of books, so it makes sense to talk about them separately.

The first is book is titled Thieves of Light. It was written by Michael Hudson and there’s no series name but it doesn’t much matter as this is the only book in the series. From what I’ve gathered from the back of the book the plot sounds strikingly similar to The Last Starfighter, only in this book it is Christopher Jarvis who is plucked from earth due to his amazing laser-blasting skills and whisked away to participate in intergalactic battles for real under his new Photon name, Bhodi Li. From what I understand the book ends implying there will be more books to follow, but that wasn’t the case.

The second series consists of six books, all of which have the phrase “A Photon Adventure Novel” printed on the front cover. While the other series was intended for young adults, this series appears to have been written with teens in mind. The Adventure Novel series consists of six books: For the Glory, High Stakes, In Search of Mom, This is Your Life Bhodi Li, Exile, and Skin Deep. All six books were written by the prolific writer Peter David under the alias David Peters.

I wasn’t planning on picking these books up until I read the summary on the back of the first book. (The bold that appears below is my own for emphasis:

“ON EARTH, PHOTON IS A GAME and Christopher Jarvis is one of its best players — wielding his laser gun with high-scoring precision and razor-sharp skill.

“BUT IN SPACE, PHOTON IS FOR REAL and Christopher Jarvis becomes Bhodi Li — Photon Warrior – the newest recruit in the elite fighting corps. Their mission: to stop the dark Warlord of Arr in his savage conquest of the universe.

“FOR THE GLORY. Crossing the barriers of time, the Warlord plans to enlist Adolf Hitler in his evil ranks. And Chrisopher, now Bhodi Li, must face the brutal treacheries of World War II to fight these two deadly does… or surrender forever to ultimate darkness!

“DON’T MISS THE OTHER LASER-BLASTING PHOTON ADVENTURES!”

In case you missed it, let me point it out again. The dark Warlord of Arr’s plan to win Photon in outer space is go TRAVEL THROUGH TIME AND BRING BACK MOTHER FLIPPIN’ HITLER.

Oh yes. I HAD to own these.

For the record, six of the seven books can be picked up for a penny each plus shipping on Amazon. Roughly, that equated to four bucks per book. The last book of the series, Skin Deep… well, good look. The cheapest copy currently on Amazon is $150, and there are copies listed for $999. Apparently the series didn’t sell well and this last book may have been produced in lower numbers than the other. I didn’t pay $150 for my copy but I paid more than someone should pay for a paperback book about a bunch of laser-wielding kids battling Hitler in outer space. Fortunately by book six, Hitler is long gone (again). In Skin Deep, Baethan (a half-man, half-machine cyborg) is captured, cloned, and “reduced to a wimp,” so his friends must rally to help him regain his courage.

As I told my friend Jeff, every one of these books are bat-shit insane.

And now I own them. Thanks, Visa.

For what it’s worth, the cover artwork on the books also makes a great background for my phone.

Now I have to get to reading. Hitler awaits!

I first heard NBC’s Parks and Recreation described as “The Office set in a parks department.” I wasn’t done watching The Office when Parks began airing and I didn’t feel like watching two similar shows at the same time so I put Parks on the back burner. Because the show has almost been cancelled multiple times, I decided to wait until the series finally ended to begin marching through it. With the final episode airing just last month (February, 2015) I decided to sit down and binge watch all seven seasons (125 episodes) of the show.

In the pilot episode of Parks and Recreation we are introduced to Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), deputy director of the Department of Parks and Recreation in fictional Pawnee, Indiana, and many of her co-workers, including Tom, Donna, Jerry, Mark, April, and office manager Ron Swanson. In that episode, Leslie meets Ann Perkins and her boyfriend Andy Dwyer, who accidentally (while drunk) fell into a large pit left over from an abandoned construction project. Leslie and Ann make a pinky promise to turn the pit into a park, the primary story arc of the first season. Other than Mark (who was written out in the second season), all of these characters made it through the series and appear in the show finale. In the second season we stopped to pick up Chris (Rob Lowe) and Ben, auditors who arrive to slash the department’s budget but ultimately end up staying along for the ride.

I liked the bureaucracy and roadblocks the office constantly ran into when trying to get things accomplished within the government (let’s just say I could relate to it) and in fact, even though those roadblocks were often played for comedic effect, I often felt like they didn’t go far enough. Where the show lost me a bit was during the multiple romances. Within just a few seasons we had Ann dating Andy (and breaking up), Leslie dating Mark, Ann dating Mark, Ann dating Chris, Ann dating Tom, Tom divorcing Wendy, Ron dating Wendy, Leslie dating Dave, Leslie dating Ben, and Andy dating April — not to mention all the relationships the main characters had with non-starring characters (Ron’s ex-wives, the Tammys, and later his marriage, for example).

Like most shows there were large story arcs (the absorption of Pawnee’s rival city Eagleton, the Harvest Festival and Li’l Sebastian, Leslie Knope running for (and later removal from) City Council, with lots of small single-episode plots along the way. Season six concluded with an hour long, cameo filled episode focusing on the Unity Concert (designed to unite Pawnee and Eagleton) and felt like a show’s finale. In the last two minutes of the episode we leap forward 3 years (from 2014 to 2017), where we spend the show’s final season (7). In 2017, Knope is now the Regional Director of National Park Service. Although only some of the show regulars still work for the Park service, even those who have left (like Ron who started the Very Good Building Company and Tom who is busy running his new Bistro) still find themselves featured in each episode.

In the series finale (spoilers), we jump even further into the future (sometimes years, sometimes decades) and see the final fates of all our favorite characters. Due to the nature of sitcoms, none of them developed cancer or fell on hard times; instead, they all end up happy and successful and in many cases rich and famous. There must be something in Pawnee’s water supply. (Oh yeah: T-DAZZLE and H2Flow).

Fortunately the series stepped out from shadow of The Office and was ultimately able to stand on its own. I enjoyed following most of the characters throughout their collective journeys.

And now, to get back to the real world of government work. Please and thank you.

Susan, the kids and I spent spring break driving northeast and seeing awesome things!

The weekend before last we drove to Louisville, Kentucky. There we visited the Louisville Slugger Factory Tour, the Topps Card Museum (inside the Louisville Slugger Factory), the Churchill Downs Museum and Tour, and the Big Four Pedestrian Bridge.

From Louisville we headed to Washington DC. While in DC we visited the Smithsonian American History Museum, National History Museum, Air and Space Museum, and National Archives. We also visited the Spy Museum and took a side road trip to Pennsylvania to visit the Stoogeum, the official Three Stooges Museum.

After Susan and the kids hit the road toward Oklahoma, I stayed behind and continued up to Buffalo, New York to meet my buddy Sean and his family. Sean and his family were excellent hosts and not only did I get a complete tour of their town (Tonawanda) but I also got to sample many of their favorite restaurants.

By the time we pulled back into our driveway we had added another 3,450 miles to Susan’s car and visited Missouri, Kentucky (for the first time), Illinois, Indiana, West Virginia, Washington DC, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York. I just finished updating my States I’ve Visited page. I have four states left and expect to hit them all in 2015.

I’ll be posting a few pictures and recounting some of the museums over the next few days. For now… I rest.