If you are a working stiff like me, the most you’ll ever be able to spend anywhere at one time is probably a week, two weeks tops. This is why you want to come to my site, since you don’t have a lot of time to spend trying to figure out all the things to see there, and you need smart, funny people (like me) to make suggestions to you. Now anybody can recommend things to do in their home town. If you don’t know the good stuff to do within 30 miles of where you live, then you’re just not that observant. If you’re lucky, a couple of times in your life, you may be able to “go native”. Perhaps you take a job somewhere that people really like to go.
I grew up 30 miles south of Pittsburgh in the town of Monongahela. My only claim to fame (beside this wonderful blog) is that I went to school with Joe Montana. He graduated from Ringgold High School in 1974, and I graduated in 1976. He was (obviously) the starting quarterback for our conference winning football team, but he was also the start pitcher on the baseball team (drafted by the NY Yankees), and the star power forward on our championship basketball team. Yes, he, like many other star athletes, was all-world in just about everything. He had the best-looking girlfriend, more hardware on his letterman jacket than anyone else, etc., etc. Somebody knitted him a Notre Dame sweater when he committed to go there, and he wore it to school all the time. What about me you ask? Well I was captain of the hockey team and…..well….that’s about it really.
I had one class with Joe. Typing. Back then, we were told that if you wanted to succeed in college, you should learn to type. But there were none of these “Typing for the College-Bonnd” classes, so we had to learn with the future secretaries. This was good, as there were 90% girls in the class which was taught by Mrs. Laird who I know couldn’t have topped 5 ft. tall. She also had some kind of stealth technology which allowed her to glide through the typing students to determine if you were cheating by looking at the keys when you typed. What Mrs. Laird was striving for was for you to look at the thing you were trying to transcribe, and not at the keyboard. If you transgressed, she would give you a gentle reminder in the form of a rap across the knuckles with a ruler. I became a half-way decent typist. 60 or so words per minute. Now I couldn’t compete with most of future secretaries, but I could type circles around Joe Montana. Mrs. Laird hit Joe with that ruler so many times, it’s a wonder he ever had a Hall of Fame career. In the end, she wound up taping a piece of typing paper over his keys so he couldn’t see them. He would peak under the paper when she wasn’t looking.
More about Joe later.
After high school, I went to Penn State, and spent the first two years at a branch campus close to my house. My folks got me a crappy car so that I could commute. Coincidentally, I would drive right by my future wife’s (she of MyLifeCookbook fame) elementary school in the mornings. Now I’m 8 years older than her, and when you’re 57 and she’s about to turn 50, then it’s no big deal. But when you’re a freshman in college, and she’s crossing the crosswalk on her way to third grade, well, that’s a little creepy.
After two years at the branch campus, and two years at the main campus, I graduated with my degree in Engineering Science and had choices to make. The first was to get married to my high school sweetheart. This turned out to be a mistake, but it wouldn’t become obvious for a while yet. The second was to pick a job. 1980 was a great time to graduate with an engineering degree. Jimmie Carter was president, and the Arabs were using oil as weapon as the price of gas skyrocketed to about $1.50/gallon. Money was being spent on energy, and energy companies were hiring like crazy. If you had a pulse and an engineering degree, you had 10 job offers. My choices came down to Westinghouse Electric Corp. in Pittsburgh where I had previously worked as a summer intern, and General Electric in San Jose, CA. My trip out to visit GE was in the dead of winter. State College, PA was bleak. Feet of snow and sub-zero temperatures. The coeds were layered in clothing and were unrecognizable as such. I hopped a plane, got off at San Francisco airport and everything was green, sunny and warm. That decision was an easy one.
From California to Florida
GE had the best deal on going for a masters degree. I could join a special program, take classes for two years while working, then go to the University of California at Berkeley for a year, full-time, while being paid. It was a sweet deal. It also put a time limit on our time in California, especially after we had our first baby. When you know you are going to be living somewhere for a short time, you try to do and see everything you can. We went places every weekend, and before long, people who grew up in California were asking my advice on things to do. I have done a few posts that largely stem from my time there (San Francisco-South, San Francisco-North, San Diego, Yosemite).
After three years, we realized that the closest free babysitting was 3,000 miles away, so we moved back to Pittsburgh. I took a job at Westinghouse, and I’m still working there 35 years later. I had a couple of opportunities to take assignments elsewhere as a result of work. The first happened when I was awarded a scholarship that would allow me to study for a year at any university that would have me. My bosses wanted me to go to their alma maters MIT (Boston-cold) and Princeton (New Jersey-cold). I opted for the University of Florida (Gainesville-warm!), and spent a year there. It also helped that my parents were living about 2 hours south in New Port Richey, so I got to see quite a bit of them. It was a good move as I found a great guy to work with, Prof. Jim Tulenko, and was able to parlay the year away into my PhD in Nuclear Engineering. But for the purposes of this blog, I repeated the pattern of going everywhere and seeing everything for the year I was there (Gainesville, Sanibel, Orlando, Keys).
To the United Kingdom
The last opportunity I had was more recent. The United Kingdom decided that they wanted to build a bunch of nuclear power plants to replace their coal plants and meet their carbon dioxide goals. Any fossil fuel-fired power plant (coal, natural gas, oil) makes tons of carbon dioxide. Nuke plants make zero. So the Brits wanted us to participate in this new build project with our plant design that we are currently building in China and the US. To do this, we had to get the design approved by the British Office of Nuclear Regulation, and to do that, we needed a man on the ground in the UK. So in 2008, Denise, Max (who was then 3 years old) and I became ex-pats for 13 months. We lived in the north west in the town of Lytham-St. Annes, right on the Irish Sea in Lancashire. My wife is a great sport and even learned to drive on the wrong side of the road. We were far enough outside London, that Yanks were a novelty. Everyone we know came to visit us, and we had a blast.
We went everywhere. We bought books on the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District, London, you name it. We went to Scotland, Wales, and all over England. A good friend of mine, Kim, who ran the travel for our office got me a special pass that allowed us to take trips on the train (first class, no less!) on weekends for FREE, so we went to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Kendall, Hollyhead, Birmingham, and several trips to London in the lap of luxury.
Perhaps the best thing about living there was that trips to Europe (the Brits are part of the European Union, but consider themselves apart) were super cheap. We once got a flight on Ryan Air from Liverpool to Pisa for 10 pounds (~$20) each. So we took a lot of trips. Work sent me to Brussels, Vienna, Madrid, Stockholm, Berlin and Prague. For fun, we went to Riga, Latvia, Ireland and Italy). We did as much as you can do in 13 short months.
My point is that by far the best way to experience places is to live in them. This requires opportunity and the willingness to try new things. If you are lucky, you may find yourself in a job where you can travel and live overseas, but don’t wait until you’re 50 like I did, go there as soon as you get a chance. You will never regret doing this.
Back to Joe Montana
After high school, Joe went on to great things at Notre Dame. Dan Devine red-shirted him his freshman year, so although we were two years apart in high school, he only graduated from college one year apart. I went to General Electric in San Jose, and Joe got drafted by the San Francisco 49ers. By the time I got there, he was the backup to Steve Deberg. I wondered if it might be possible to score some free tickets, so I called the 49ers offices, and got a very nice lady. I explained that I was a friend of Joe’s from back home, and was wondering if she knew how to get in touch with him. I got a telephone number and asked about the tickets, and he set me tickets for the Tampa Bay game. The 49ers were in the midst of a dreadful season, which probably hastened Joe’s rise to be the starter. I got a chance to go down to the field and see Joe which was nice.
The next season, Joe was the starting QB. This was the year they won their first super bowl. I called the number which I had saved from the previous year and it was out of service. I called the team and got the same lady. “I’m sorry sir, but we don’t give out that information”.
They do if you’re a backup, but not if you’re a starter.
I was on the freeway in Livermore when Joe made the pass to Dwight Clark in the back of endzone to beat the Cowboys and head to their first Superbowl. Everybody on the road blasted their horns.
Even Steeler fans.