April 2016

29 things I learned about my 20s before turning 30

This is it: the last day of my twenties. With less than three hours to go, I figured I would reflect on what I’ve learned…

  1. How close friends are is highly elastic…but depth can be determined based on how easily you snap back into being friends after having not seen each other for years.
  2. Travel in your twenties. You’re old enough to see things and try things without other people telling you what to do, while also inherently being amidst a microcosm where “simply making decisions based solely on what you want” is practice you can get. Meet new people, get some perspective on the world, be an outsider.
  3. Barring some sort of windfall, you’ll be paying off your student loans for more than ten years. Stay on top of it, don’t miss a payment, and pay a bit more than the minimum if you can…but don’t let paying your student loans get in the way of traveling. Your debt will be there when you get back.
  4. Three subpoints about drinking:
    1. Don’t do it to excess.
    2. If you’re going to break the first rule, do it in your early twenties. Its novelty goes downhill very quickly in the second half.
    3. Don’t be stupid – have a sober friend who’s got your back and can prevent you from making a bad decision.
  5. Learn to cook. You don’t have to be able to win an episode of Chopped, but have two or three go-to meals you know how to make well enough to make for gatherings.
    1. Have some cookware. Doesn’t have to be some thousand dollar massive set, but $75 at Big Lots will get you 2/3 of what you need.
  6.  Learn to dance. Specifically, learn to ballroom dance. If you’re half decent at leading, you can pull any person onto the dance floor with you, and you’ll be the life of the party as you ballroom dance to “Party Up”, or some other wildly not-ballroom-dance-music.
  7. Odds are, you’ll probably get into a car accident.
    1. Don’t text and drive. It’s a worse habit than smoking.
    2. Keep your cool. The other person at the accident site probably won’t…but keep your cool.
    3. If nobody is leaving the scene in an ambulance, consider yourself incredibly blessed. You’ll probably have plenty of paperwork and phone calls ahead of you…but you’re in a place where you can make them, and you’re unlikely to be ending up in court.
  8. Learn to debate the side of the argument you disagree with. Second Amendment is sacrosanct? Give me three reasons for gun control. Love your Mac? Come up with three reasons to get a PC. Despite the #FeelTheBern bumper sticker on your car, give me three reasons why Trump might be a good candidate. It’s not always easy, but being able to debate on the side of an argument with which you disagree gives you the ability to go past the rhetoric and oft-repeated talking points, and instead find reasons that resonate with you. It may change your view, or at least change how you discuss these topics with people with whom you disagree.
  9. When you start your twenties, you’ll know that actions speak louder than words. By the end of your twenties, you’ll (hopefully) be able to act accordingly.
  10. If you start your twenties adhering to a particular faith, you’ll likely end it differently. I’m not saying that you’ll walk away from your faith, but your twenties will challenge it tremendously, and the way your faith is implemented at the end if your twenties will look different than when you started. This is not a bad thing.
  11. You might be married. You might not. Either way, you’re fine. The real lesson is not comparing yourself to someone else or allowing someone else’s actions in that respect to be a basis for your own self-acceptance. You probably don’t want to be married to that person’s spouse, anyway.
  12. On the heels of that, your value as a person is not determined by your Facebook likes or Instagram followers.
  13. Depending on your job, you might finally get away from homework and textbooks. Rock on. Some jobs will still saddle you with both of those.
  14. Knowing where your data lives is important. So is making backups. Odds are pretty good that you’ll lose data during your twenties.
  15. You’ll be making lots of very important decisions with a whole lot of data missing. This is unfortunately going to be something you’ll do for the rest of your life, and yes, it’s terrifying. You’ll make it.
  16. Your relationship with your parents will evolve. They’ll always be your parents, but becoming more of an adult means you’ll have different kinds of conversations, and they’ll worry differently. This probably applies to your siblings, too.
  17. Your drawer of deprecated cell phones will accumulate. Your closet of clothes that have gone out of style will accumulate. Set limits and be willing to let go of things you’ll no longer use. Keeping everything that is of sentimental value means that you’ll clutter your living space with things that are of no practical use. Keep some. Donate the rest. Live within your means.
  18. Pick your battles. There are few things in life worse than when a relationship is the cost of “being right”. The corollary to this is that if you opt out of a battle, truly opt out of it. Don’t put it in storage, ready to go when you need examples to win an argument. If you’ve opted out of a battle, commit to that situation being inadmissible in future arguments.
  19. Jobs come and jobs go. Know when to hold and know when to fold, but being unduly loyal to an employer is opening yourself up to being taken advantage of.
  20. Volunteer somewhere. Some of my most well-invested time is the time I gave away. Lots of people need your help, your skills, your hands, your smile.
  21. Splurge on something once in a while that’s really, really worth it – it’s an investment that will keep you from making every impulse purchase you see at Target.
  22. Save some money. No, this isn’t a contradiction with the last point. Keep some money in the bank.
  23. The more time you spend trying to get someone to appreciate you, the less likely it is that you’ll be successful, and the more likely it is that you’ll blow off people who do appreciate you in the process.
  24. Get a good chiropractor. It’s a great way to help your body, and it’s one of the few doctors whose procedures actually feel good when performed.
  25. Take pictures of the people, not the things. Did you see the photo gallery from my last trip? Without referencing it, I’ll bet the two most memorable pictures are the one of me on the beach and the selfie with Jon and Lauren, though perhaps you said the lightning one. There were fifteen images in that gallery. Photos of things are helpful to tell the story, but they’re generally forgettable. There are (literally) millions of images of the Eiffel Tower on the internet…but you will be the only one who takes a picture of you and your friends with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
  26. When you start your twenties, the contacts in your phone will almost entirely consist of friends and family. Use your twenties to make connections. Get the number of an accountant you trust. Get the number of a travel agent, a mechanic, a lawyer, and an insurance rep. These people will help you through life – they can answer the quick and simple questions better than the internet…but return the favor. If they save you a bunch of money or headache without formally billing you, get them a gift card for a nice restaurant, or send a bottle of wine to the office. Don’t take advantage of kindness, but know where to look for it.
  27. Learn when to hold ’em, and when to fold ’em. It’s not always easy to know when to stop pumping time or money into something, cars and relationships being the go-to examples. Like I said, you’ll make some messy decisions with incomplete data sometimes. You can’t always make the right choice, but remember that inaction is still a choice.
  28. Be kind as a matter of course. Hold doors. Help people struggling with heavy packages. Be patient with the old lady at the grocery store who’s trying to win the exact change trophy. Don’t get angry when someone cuts you off in traffic. Let someone else have the last slice of cake. Buy someone a cup of coffee. The simple kindnesses become a habit. That habit means that you will be adding positivity to the world.
  29. Have fun. This is the one decade of your life where you’ll be able to make decisions and mistakes in an environment where you’ll still have time to bounce back. It’s a valuable time. Enjoy every one of the 3,652 days your age starts with a ‘2’.


3,650 days until I write about what it’s like to be in my thirties.

Day Seven – The Twofer

No sunrise today…which had a whole lot to do with the less-than-desirable weather we’ve been having. One day, I’ll learn to pack both a winter jacket and a sweatshirt no matter where I’m going – T-shirts weren’t cutting it, but my leather jacket would’ve been clear overkill. I disembark at 8:00AM, so the next twelve hours will be quite interesting, but even this morning that was clear.

With none of the outdoor things really open (The hot tubs were, but only a handful of occupants), the rope course was a definite no-go. At my mom’s suggestion I had a parfait and oatmeal for breakfast; the parfait was beautiful; I wish I’d brought my camera. The oatmeal was very good, if not a bit sweet due to the near-excess of brown sugar applied.

I attended one of the demonstrations, regarding how to make a black forest cake. The head chef from yesterday was doing the actual demonstration. One of the restaurant managers was doing the ‘best effort’, showmanship-based method, and Dan Dan, our cruise director, was on the left, and made precisely zero attempt to follow the procedures, using lots of ‘creative license’. He made his cake into “Mt. Fiji” with incredibly liberal use of the whipped cream, while Restaurant Manager juggled the eggs for his batter (successfully; I was impressed at both his nerve and his execution), and invited all the kids up and gave them a handful of whipped cream, right into their hands, “communion style” – he remarked, “I didn’t know there were this many Catholics on board!”. I was certain it wasn’t going to end well. Dan Dan continued to turn his Mt. Fiji into a volcano, using the cherry brandy as ‘lava’…he quickly learned how to use the whipped cream for ‘spackle’, as the lava leaked pretty quickly. the cherries were used on the side and turned into a landslide…it was a hot mess. It was overall an utterly hysterical demonstration to behold; Head Chef had an actual-cake that was most definitely bakery-grade, Restaurant Manager had something that looked “basically edible”, and Dan Dan’s was the most hysterical train wreck of a cake, and the definitely crowd pleaser.

A bit later, they had another Q&A with the captain, the chief engineer, and the hotel manager from yesterday. They showed the ship under construction, compared it to a few other Norwegian ships, discussed the engines, and things of that nature. I had no idea that the top speed of this ship is 25 miles an hour. While also informative, the best part was undoubtedly the questions. One boy about seven years old asked the captain, “so, if you’re here, who’s driving the boat?” the entire audience lost it; the captain’s had a good sense of humor and knew to roll with it…the answer being that there are two navigation officers on the bridge at any given time. Another person said, “So, what do you do with the ships when they’re no longer used, do you sell them to Carnival?” Again, an outburst of laughter from the audience ensued. The captain indicated that sometimes the ships are indeed sold between cruise lines, they are occasionally gutted and revamped, and if none of those are practical, then the ship is sold for scrap; six figures of steel is still worth a hefty nickel.

Next, I went to an improv show, which wasn’t bad, but reminded me that I do indeed need to go to Friday Night Faceoff again, as they’re definitely better. Even so there were a few laughs to be had; I think the cast felt heavily constrained by their required PG-rating (and probably were). After that, it was packing time, a sad feeling as I placed my unused khakis, cargo shorts, and dress shoes into my suitcase, gathered my paperwork, and laid out my clothes for tonight and for tomorrow morning.

Day Six – See the Sea

Sorry to keep everyone waiting today. For whatever reason, didn’t feel much like blogging today.

It was slightly saddening to be awoken by sunlight – it means we’re heading home. It’s been difficult to keep the Dr. Seuss philosophy – don’t be sad it’s over, be glad it happened. Besides, I still have a bit of time left. I spent most of yesterday morning writing the blog post – 2,500 word posts do, indeed take a while. I did try to be a bit more out-of-my-cabin, which had mixed results. I attended the Q&A with the hotel manager and head chef, who answered a number of interesting questions. They pack 54,000 eggs and 50,000 bottles of beer on this boat; the song “50,000 bottles of beer on the wall” would take a while to complete. The hotel manager definitely had a sense of humor, and was the most talkative of the bunch. They discussed things like plumbing, recycling, and the fact that excess food that can’t be served becomes fish food…the chef joked that the fish weren’t happy because we were well below the normal amount of wasted food on a cruise. They showed the laundry room; there were three dryers in the image whose loading doors were nearly as large as the people operating them…unsurprising if you’re drying an average of 6,000 sheets a day.

I tried three different times to get to the rope course, however all the teens ended up over there; I would’ve been on line for over an hour. I’m uncertain whether it would’ve been worth it. Lunch was light, but something notable I must try to make myself are grilled tomatoes. dressed with a little pesto sauce and a bit of salt, they were impressively delicious, and were definitely a standout. I ran into Chip the Magician near an elevator; he does indeed bear a resemblance to Peter Capaldi, though he had no idea who I was talking about…I then had to briefly explain Doctor Who to him. Even though he explicitly said if we ran into him to stop him and ask him to do a coin trick, I was rather principally opposed to that…however, a young girl and her family did go up to him and asked him; I watched from a distance, as it was just as wonderful to see the wonder on the girl’s face, rather than the cynicism and attempt to figure the trick out if I were the one participating in the trick.

In the evening, I went to the pub for dinner, if only because it was close to the area where they did the ‘battle of the sexes game’, in which I managed to participate. It was amusing in that the person picked before me was nearly three times my body mass, and over a full foot taller than me. He was a teddy bear, but the apparent difference between our statures was lost on no one. The much greater overall amount of physical diversity on the men’s team would turn out to be incredibly difficult, given the list of tasks – move lemons between necks without using hands, two golf balls with a foot-long rope attaching them needed to be relayed from between the knees of one team member to the next, and putting on and taking off a t-shirt in succession was a much harder set of tasks to do with tall and short people, there was a clear physcal advantage that the ladies had, given that their heights and body shapes were all much more similar. Of course, the scoring was such that the last event was worth more than the earlier ones, which lead to the conundrum of games of this nature – if all games are the same, the game ends whenever one team has the majority score, so it very clearly could end early. If the scores are weighted to favor the end events, the earlier ones don’t matter. Moreover, being a judge in these games makes it a matter of determining when ‘close enough’ really is ‘close enough’, and trying to avoid being pedantic while also preventing an ‘anything goes’ free for all. The last event was “the singing bee”, where one team sung a song, and the last word needed to be the first word of the song sung by the opposing team, the last word of which would need to be responded to, and so on until one side froze, and was unable to respond. It’s amazing how many song lyrics I know, and how difficult it can be to come up with those song lyrics on the spot…although I did manage to help the team with my rousing rendition of “we will rock you” – my singing was as amazing as you’d expect, but I did have the crowd doing the whole “stomp stomp clap” routine. By the skin of our teeth and a dozen technicalities, the men managed to win. It was a good time. I won a branded pen and beer cozy.

I was planning on hitting up the club for the night, to see if I could meet up with Jon and Lauren, but I decided to nap for an hour, and when the alarm went off to head out, I lost all ability to leave my perfect comfy bed. Sleep tonight, party tomorrow.

Day Five: Refunds, Rides from Strangers, and Objective Achievements (updated)

Today was a fun day, but it didn’t start out that way.

It started at 7:30 in the morning. Those of you who know me are perfectly aware that me and 7:30AM are not friends…but today was snorkeling and parasailing day, so a double dose of coffee was going to have to do the job. After getting dressed and applying sunscreen for the first time this trip, I headed downstairs to get my excursion vouchers. The gentleman at the counter was a bit surprised that the housekeeping guy didn’t leave the vouchers in my stateroom last night. I shared his sentiment, only because that guy has been amazing to me all week, so I wasn’t sure why the delivery wouldn’t have happened. Moreover, the excursion guy told me that I’d never make it to the parasailing location if I went snorkeling, so I had to pick. Parasailing it was, so yay refunds. This left me to go back to sleep, which I did for a few minutes.

I was woken up by an overhead announcement that the staff would be doing an evacuation drill, and that any passengers were not required to participate, and just to stay out of the way of the staff involved in the drill. So, I got dressed and didn’t think anything of it, but by time I was out of the shower, they did the whole “honk the horn in this particular pattern indicating that everyone must do their best Jack / Rose impression”, as well as an overhead announcement saying that passengers should report to their evacuation locations. There was no disclaimer on that announcement, so I figured, “meh, it’s just one deck, couldn’t hurt”. I asked one of the crew members what I was supposed to do as I headed down, and he indicated that I should go to my spot. He even looked at my room key and saw that I was a passenger, so I figured, “seems legit”. I head into the theater and had no less than five people on my way out tell me that it was crew only…including my DJ friend. See what I get for actually paying attention on emergency evacuation drills? I just can’t win.

As I did my walk of shame back to my cabin to get my towel and such, I noticed how utterly empty the ship was Not a soul in any of the restaurants, no movement of the elevators. It was an almost eerie sight to behold. I made sure I packed as light as possible – ship card, passport, and $30 in cash.

I met up with the other four people who intended to go parasailing. I was surprised the group wasn’t larger. We sat and talked for a bit while we waited to leave. After about 15 minutes, the crew member in charge of the excursion told us that the winds made it unsafe to parasail, and that the excursion was canceled, so I should expect a refund. The group who waited with me was cool with me tagging along with them as they went to explore the island. One of the taxi/tour people gave us an offer for a lift around the island, and over to the beach at the end, accepting money upon our return to the ship. Hubert had a name badge that resembled a taxi medallion, and two police officers from the island were nearby and not intervening, giving me the impression that he was less likely to strand us on the far end of the island and extort us for a lift home. Another family from the Carnival ship that was also docked was to be a part of our tour, as well as another woman from ours. The nine of us entered the four-row passenger van and started going around the city.

It was strange that the sketchy area from last night didn’t seem as worrisome as we drove through it. Perhaps the fact that there were lots of people there made it seem more ‘lived in’ than the near-lack of people that were there yesterday. Hubert pointed out the sign that said, “wrap ya tings”, advice that he felt may have helped him during his casanova days – he stated that he was a father of ten. A few blocks down, we passed by the Parliament, and the prison-turned-library. Over the next 45 minutes or so, we passed by the hospital, the rum cake factory, a fort that was weathered out of its utility before it was ever actually used to fend off a pirate attack, and the Queen’s Stairwell, a place I’d completely forgotten about, but instantly remembered having been to the last time I came to the island once I saw it – a family photo that hung in my hallway for many years was taken on those steps.

While there, a local police officer spent a few minutes to talk to those of us who were at the top of the steps waiting for the rest of our party to finish shopping. He said that the island doesn’t have much of a heroin problem, though marijuana and cocaine are a bit more prevalent. Most of the matters he deals with are situations like when people try to sell T-shirts to tourists without a vendor’s license, or minor parking/traffic violations; crime isn’t a frequent occurrence, as could be demonstrated by the fact that the officer was not carrying a sidearm. He answered a few more questions about the economy – while tourism was unsurprisingly the nation’s economic foundation, the banking industry is a solid second, with agriculture its third. It started to rain slightly; the officer directed me and my fellow tourists to duck under the overhang of a nearby building, though the drizzle was over minutes after it began.

Before we headed over to the island of Atlantis, Hubert took us on a quick drive through ‘da hood’, showing us how the other half lives. Some houses had cars, others did not. Some had outhouses. One house had a massive hole in its roof. The houses were colorful in that pastel shades were prevalent over the more standard white/grey/tan/wood exteriors of American homes, but most houses in this area had clearly been worn. While a part of me felt a bit bad about the fact that a poverty-laden area would end up becoming a tourist attraction, the other part said that it’s also equally important to keep in mind that even a small island whose income largely comes from the one percent (globally speaking), poverty is still a problem.

Atlantis is where the money went. Hubert told us that it’s a $3 billion resort, and it was clearly intended to attract an upscale clientele – when your shopping area is made up of Michael Kors, Gucci, Prada, and Rolex, it’s clear that my Macy’s money need not apply. Going to the “million dollar chair” wasn’t going to do me much good, as I didn’t have a camera with me (remember – I packed for parasailing). Notably, they did have an aquarium area that was visible through a window; some small sea turtles were cute and fun to watch. I was the first one to leave the interior on our stop there.

When we got to the beach, I made a deal with Hubert. He and I settled up, and I asked him if he would be willing to take me back to the ship and return me to the beach. He agreed. I went back to the boat to get my phone and a little more money, though I also changed out of my wetshoes and showered quickly. Being concerned about the possibility of not being able to get the complement of souvenir T-shirts amidst a swarm of people planning on getting them “before we go”, I took a few minutes to get the shirts I needed; the vendor and I both got a good laugh over how much easier it was to find XXL shirts than medium. The vendor was also nice enough to throw in a free shot glass. I got back to Hubert about 20 minutes after I left him, he’d decided to take a quick nap while waiting. On the way back to the beach, he and I spoke a bit more about the island and what it’s like to deal with tourists for a living. He says that overall it’s not bad. Like everywhere else, he’s had his share of rotten apples and patently unreasonable people, but he’s also had excellent groups and overall says that the tourists that he works with are pretty good to work with. That’s nice to hear. He also was able to exchange a Bahama dollar for an American dollar, so now I’ve got another foreign currency to add to my collection.

I arrived back at the beach with about an hour left before we had to leave. This was perfectly fine with me, as I wasn’t planning on swimming. It was just nice to be able to sit at the beach, in the shade (what, you thought I’d be sitting in the sun and roasting my way to a metric ton of sunburn?), hear the waves crashing and people having a good time. The sand was clearly coral in origin, rather than silica. its fine texture was fun to run my fingers through, as it felt really nice. Near the entrance of the beach, there was a lady named Olivia who was selling Piña Coladas out of a coconut, all I could drink for $20. Apparently, ‘southern hospitality’ crossed the ocean; she had that “what can I get for ya, sugar?” demeanor that was really nice, and was amusing to hear in a Bahaman accent (which sounds ‘mostly Jamaican’ with a bit of a British flair). She and I spoke a bit about what she does, and how she got into selling rum-filled coconuts to tourists; she shared a generally-positive opinion of tourists and enjoyed her ability to make a on the beach talking to everyone. As we were talking, she would nonchalantly refill my coconut, making sure I never saw the bottom of it. I was surprised that she was able to go an entire day making piña coladas on three water bottle’s worth of rum. I won’t say how many I ended up having, but “more than I planned on” would sum it up pretty well. At the end, Olivia shucked the shell off my coconut, and I was able to eat some of the meat before heading back with everyone. I once again reveled in the amusement that half the people who were showing photo ID to get back on the boat were using driver’s licenses; I was a bit annoyed that I spent as much time as I did worrying about my passport.

Our friend serendipity struck; Jon and Lauren were on the same ingress line several feet in front of me. We made plans to get together at one of the premium restaurants tonight, coincidentally the one closest to my room. Despite those plans, I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, so I was hoping that hitting up one of the restaurants right when they opened for dinner would hopefully avoid crowding.

The Manhattan Room was relatively empty when I got there, though it filled up fairly quickly shortly after I was seated. Nothing on the daily menu seemed terribly appetizing, so their salmon mainstay seemed a safe choice. Where I was seated, directly in front of me was a fairly large table of 10-12 people. Immediately in front of me was a girl in a wheelchair – not an “I broke my leg” wheelchair, the full-sized ones used by those with mental handicaps. An individual seated next to her (presumably her sister) fed her an ensure-like substance through some sort of a feeding tube apparatus, and her head movements seemed minimally voluntary. Despite the fact that she wasn’t physically capable of feeding herself, her hair was neat and nicely braided, and she had on a nice dress. It was clear that the family put a lot of time and effort into caring for her. Her sister, as well as the person on her other side, asked her questions, held her hand, and attempted to interact with her throughout the meal. They clearly still treated her as a part of the family, and it was so wonderful to see her being tended to with such a great amount of love and care, and somehow, this girl managed to exude a sense that there was life within her, and – dare I say it – even a sense of humor. I have no idea how she managed to express her personality despite her clear (and comprehensive) physical disabilities, but for someone to be able to express that without speaking or meaningfully moving definitely stood out.

Given that I’d been observing all of this as a result of my physical position in the restaurant, I took a moment to speak to the sister to both apologize if I came across as ‘staring’, and to express my compliments to her for how wonderfully it seemed that she was taking care of her. I wasn’t sure how that was going to be received, but she seemed to appreciate the gesture.

However, I was shot, so my next stop was to get some shut-eye.

I woke up about 9:00, though I am pretty sure I heard my cabin steward open the door, only to realize I was asleep. I really appreciate the fact that he’s been excellent to me the whole trip; on more occasions than not my occupancy of the room has made his room cleaning pattern a bit of a challenge. While it wasn’t very long before I had to meet up with Jon and Lauren, I wasn’t feeling too well. Whether it was due to the food, my higher-than-anticipated ethanol consumption, or some combination thereof, I definitely wasn’t feeling like I wanted to eat. Still, I figured I’d sit with them and chat, which I did. Jon talked to me about some of his graphic design work, though he’d never heard of Digital Juice before – that was most definitely taken care of. Lauren told us about the time she found herself amidst an audit that involved the head of finance losing her job…and having charges pressed. We talked about our feelings regarding the music that was being played across the way; “Closing Time” and “Wonderwall” were tracks that spawned discussion. It was nice to spend some time with them talking about their lives for a change; I do thoroughly enjoy their company.

We debated heading out for the night, but I wasn’t down for it as I still wasn’t feeling the greatest (though better than I had been). No, tonight would be my early night. I will be woken up by the sunrise.

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