Columbia, Maryland Report

We’re six miles up in the air right as I write this. Thirty-two thousand feet above who-knows-where, on our way back to San Jose from a successful implementation weekend in Columbia, Maryland. Yes, it was successful, and for the most part trouble-free. We even managed to squeeze in leisure/fun time, albeit in short, intermittent doses.

Flew out on Thursday morning. I went with my coworker Dom (one of the guys with whom I used to work at SBC who are now my coworkers again). He lives in SF, so he left his car at the office and rode with Bill and me to the airport. The flight was at 7:20 AM, which pretty much meant that Bill and I had to pick Dom up at dark o’clock. The outbound trip itself was uneventful. Our connecting flight got delayed at DFW for an hour, which was no big deal.

Speaking of DFW… it’s huge! Or, as Stan “American Dad” Smith would say, GiNormouGantuan!It seemed like it took almost half an hour for our plane to reach our gate from the time it touched down. Anyway…

At BWI, I got offered a free upgrade to a Mitsubishi Spyder convertible by Avis because it was my first time using my Avis Preferred membership. We had to turn it down, because we were scheduled to pick our Project Manager up the next day. So we got a Chrysler Pacifica instead. It’s one of those not-quite-an-SUV, not-quite-a-minivan, not-quite-a-big-car freaks of the car world. Sort of like the platypus in the animal kingdom.

We checked in at the hotel (Courtyard by Marriott) and then walked over to a restaurant nextdoor called Texas Chophouse or something like that. We both had sirloin steak and king crab legs for dinner, with alcohol of course. Hmmm… why is it that booze has become de rigeur whenever I eat out with any of my coworkers? Anyway, the food was horrible. The steak was tough and bland and the crab legs were overcooked. Both the drinks and the company were good, though. Dom's cool - a really smart and insightful guy, though you might not guess judging from the chillout/slacker image he projects outwardly. I got to hear all about his wild youth, and I told him a couple of my own misdeeds. After dinner we went back to the hotel and soaked in the hotel whirlpool for a bit.

Friday during business hours was spent preparing for the actual cutover and stressing out because our project manager was such a useless SOB. I won’t even go into details because that’ll just turn this post into a rant-y bitchfest. Suffice it to say that I don’t want to work with this particular PM again.

Omitting all the boring technical details of our implementation…. just hitting the highlights….

We worked till about midnight or 1 AM on Friday night, and were back in the office by around 10 AM Saturday. During our work, we discovered a few pretty big voice issues that took a while to get fixed. I have to say that I don’t think I could have successfully implemented this project without Dom. I just don’t know enough about voice to troubleshoot issues such as those we encountered on the fly. Anyway, I said I wouldn’t go into a technical snoozefest so…

While we were there on Saturday someone dropped in to hang out with us. He’s a voice engineer to whom we had reached out prior to our implementation, because he was based in the area and knew the site well. Nice guy, very friendly, and immediately struck me as a geek. Voice guy had a gregarious personality, and had funny comments about everything and everyone. We went out to dinner with him. We took two cars to Arlington, VA. In one car were Dom and the voice guy, and in the other were the useless PM and me.

Before heading out to dinner we stopped at voice guy’s apartment in Arlington, where he promptly proceeded to tell us all about his high-tech gizmos, tools, and toys. Let’s just say that I have never, ever…. EVER… met anyone as geeky as this guy. It was impressive and scary at the same time. After the uber-geek talk, we went to a Thai restaurant and stayed there until they drove us out by turning all the lights on. Voice guy and useless PM wanted to go out still, but we ended up going back to the hotel to rest and recuperate.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that I got sick on the trip!

Dom was in pretty bad shape on Friday, and whatever he had must’ve been really virulent (is that the correct fancy word for "contagious"?) because I was feeling perfectly fine on Friday but was sick as a dog by Saturday. As soon as I woke up on Saturday morning I went to the nearest convenience store to get OJ, Airborne, and Advil.

Sunday was spent testing and cleaning up a final few minor things. Got done early enough for me to go back to the hotel and take another soak at the whirlpool. Then Dom and I drove back to Arlington to have dinner and drinks with voice guy again. We got lost on the way there and I had to stay on the phone with voice guy to get driving directions in realtime. Got to see the some of the memorials again, from a distance. Let me see… the Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington, Iwo Jima, and Air Force memorials all presented themselves to us for our viewing pleasure.

We went to this sports pub that voice guy was raving about (called “The Sports Pub” – is that supposed to be witty, or is it just unimaginative?). The ambience was ok, the crowd was thin, and the food was so-so. But the drinks were great – which means “strong” – so we three had a good time, anyway. I had the most to drink, because I wasn’t the designated driver and because voice guy was a lightweight.

Anyway, here’s where it gets interesting…. about two-thirds of the way into our dinner/drinks session, voice guy somehow works it into the conversation that he was gay. I guess he figured that it was ok to be out to us, because earlier in the evening we had been talking about places like Du Pont Circle and the Castro when we talked about good hole-in-the-wall bars. I was a bit surprised at the revelation, actually, because all I could think of when I looked at voice guy was “uber-geek”. Sporty, geeky, gregarious, could-be-kinda-lonely, but "gay" never crossed my mind.

In very short order of course I shifted all my powers of observation towards Dom, because I wanted to see what his reaction would be. As I had guessed and hoped, it wasn’t a big deal to him. The conversation continued flowing without missing a beat, and we talked about homophobia in the Deep South compared to the attitudes of people in the major urban centers. Then voice guy says that all the drinks I liked were stereotypically gay. (Earlier in the evening we were talking about our favorite drinks, and I mentioned wine, kamikazes, Malibu rum and pineapple, vodka sours, and Bailey’s.)

THAT was my opening, and I missed it. I chickened out, and now I’m kicking myself. "What opening," you ask? Well, I had wanted to come out to “the wonder twins” (AKA Dom and Ben - long story) for quite some time now, because being closeted from people you work and occasionally go out with is tiring. I’m already out to everyone else in our little unofficial clique at work. I just never could figure out how to come out to the twins. So here was my perect opportunity…

Voice guy: “All the drinks you like are stereotypically gay.”

What I should have said: “That’s because I am.”

What I actually said: “I thought cosmopolitan was the stereotypically gay drink.”

ARGH! Honestly, I don’t know why something inside of me stopped me from just saying it. I mean, five people at work already know (officially – meaning the information came from me directly) . Four of them (Cathey, Tim, Christina, and Leo) have even met Bill. What was so difficult about adding another person to that list?

Anyway, Monday rolls around… we do our thing at the office till about 10:30 and then head out to the Baltimore Inner Harbor to have lunch and explore a little bit before flying back home. Inner Harbor is very nice. The weather was prefect – 75 degrees, sunny, with a slight breeze. We had lunch Capital City Brewery, where we both ordered crabcake sandwiches. One word: disappointing. Our table location was nice, though. It was out on the balcony, overlooking the Inner Harbor. Across the water we could see ESPN Zone and this cool mall in a converted antique brick power station.

At lunch I think Dom dropped another subtle hint that he knew or suspected I was gay, but again I didn’t take action. I think it’s because being evasive about my sexuality when the questions or hints are indirect has become so ingrained in me that it is now a knee-jerk reaction. If he had asked a direct question, like Leo and Christina did, I would have come out to him. I also had a perfect opportunity to come out to the other twin, Ben, a week earlier. I didn't take that opportunity, either. Ugh. Soon. Soon.

Walked around the harbor for a bit. Checked out some of the floating exhibits of the Maritime Museum, including a WWII submarine and an old 3-masted sailing warship. Took a couple of pictures. Sneaked into the lobby of the Aquarium. Saw the nicest, most dignified-looking sewage pumping station ever. Chuckled at a crazy homeless man we saw talking to himself as we were walking around. Then drove back to the airport. Got a bit lost finding a gas station where we could fill the rental car’s tank up before giving it back to Avis, but we made it to the plane on time.

And now here I am, at 32,000 feet.

Gotta go. We’ll be landing soon. Bill and Snorty McDoggelsson are waiting.