Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Living During the DC Sniper's Reign of Terror

My daughter and I were in Bowie, MD, on Sunday to celebrate our independence with a burger or two at my parent's house.  It was a good day, and a nice visit, and we headed home towards evening.  Driving along Rt. 197, we passed Benjamin Tasker Middle School, and I had a flash of memory to October 2002.  If you don't remember, that's probably a good thing.  It was a terrible time for the entire DC Metropolitan area.

During that month, just over a year after 9/11, the area was plagued by a terrible shooting spree that resulted in 10 murders and 3 wounded by John Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, the notorious DC Snipers.  I noted that one of the victims was a young 13-year old boy who was shot and wounded just outside Tasker on his way into the school.  The shooter, Malvo, had hidden in the woods adjacent to the school at the neighboring community park when he pulled the trigger.  I told my daughter Melody that I had played tennis in the courts right next to these woods many times.  I quickly recanted the story of the snipers.

On October 3, 2002, I was sitting at my desk at work, in Silver Spring, with the radio tuned to WTOP.  The announcer had just read a story about a shooting in Rockville.  Not long after, a second shooting was reported in Aspen Hill, at a gas station.  A third victim is shot soon after at a post office near Leisure World, and when a fourth is killed at a gas station in Kensington, it was clear there was something greater going on.  The whole area was on high alert.  One of the reports included a white van/truck, which started a panic about box trucks being the shooter's getaway vehicle.

My wife, Teresa, and I, when we arrived home that afternoon, were concerned, and we talked about it all evening.  It was sad and scary, and we began to speculate what could be happening.  We promised each other that we would be extra vigilant when we were out and about.  There is yet another shooting that evening, in DC, bringing the total to 5 murders on the day.

The following day, there is another shooting way down in Fredericksburg, VA.  This time the victim wasn't killed, but it greatly widened the area that the shooters had targeted, and we were greatly concerned that nowhere was safe.  We began to change our habits, which included waiting in the car when stopping for gas, and not walking in a straight line from the parking lot to the grocery store.  These were scary times.

With everyone on edge, nothing happened for a few days, but then, on October 7, the young boy was shot on the Middle School in Bowie, just a few miles from my parent's house.  Later that morning, as my mother stopped at the local Giant, being extra aware as she walked, a Baltimore Sun reporter stopped her at the entrance to the store and asked if she would be willing to be interviewed.  Mom said sure, but spent the entire conversation looking around the parking lot, something the reporter observed and mentioned in his newspaper article.  Mom expressed her concern and fear about the potential of being a victim just going about her daily routine.

On Wednesday, October 9, another shooting is reported at a gas station in Manassass, VA.  My family was preparing for a day at Busch Gardens, in Williamsburg, VA, for Friday, and the shooting had us concerned about whether we should even make the trip.  Ultimately, we decided to go.  Teresa and I finished work on Thursday, October 10, and begin our trip to Williamsburg.  It had just finished raining, so the roads were wet.  We were in our 1998 Jeep Cherokee, sitting at the traffic light at Rt. 198 and Whiskey Bottom Road, in Maryland City, when a car came screeching around the corner and began sliding on the wet pavement.  I braced for impact, as Teresa screamed, and the Lexus rammed right into our Jeep.  We were fine, but the Jeep was clearly damaged, as was the Lexus.  The young lady driving the other car quickly accepted blame and apologized profusely.  We found out, while we talked, that she was a relative of one of our neighbors.  We moved the vehicles to the adjacent gas station and called the police.  Teresa waited in the Jeep while I talked to the girl, but Teresa reminded me that I still needed to be vigilant of the snipers, and I decided to wait in the Jeep with her.  The police didn't show up after 30 minutes, so we exchanged information with the girl, made a quick call to our insurance agent, and drove home.  We debated whether we should still make the trip to Williamsburg.  Mom & Dad had already headed down, and brother Darren and sister Angie were going to drive down in the morning.  Since we couldn't do anything with our Jeep, we decided to switch vehicles, hopping in our second car, and go ahead with our trip.  Teresa's mom was very concerned about us, and tried to talk us out of going, but we felt like we needed the getaway.  We made it to Williamsburg without incident.

Friday, October 11, Angie and Darren arrived in the morning and we enjoyed our day at Busch Gardens.  We heard later that evening, however, that there had been yet another shooting, this time at a gas station in Fredericksburg, just off I-95.  Ironically, it was very near where Angie & Darren had stopped for a quick breakfast that morning.  They were planning to go back home to Bowie that night, and Mom & Dad were really worried about them.  We stayed overnight in Williamsburg.  We went home Saturday morning.

Monday, October 14, came the report of another murder, this time in Falls Church, VA.  We were driving a rental vehicle with our Jeep in the shop for repairs.  It was a full size Chevy Suburban.  It was a bear to park.  Teresa didn't want to drive it, so she took my car, while I drove the big SUV in to work in Silver Spring.  I struggled to park it in the parking garage under my building.  With all of the shootings, Teresa and I could only look forward to our next getaway, a long weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada, with my parents, coming at the end of the week.  We were planning to fly out on Friday.

That Friday morning, October 18, after spending the night at Mom & Dad's, the four of us piled into our big SUV and headed to BWI, where we flew direct to Las Vegas.  It was a topsy turvy day.  We were so glad to be away from DC, but we were concerned about our loved ones back home.  As if on cue, on Saturday, October 19, we heard the report of yet another shooting, this time in Ashland, VA.  The victim survived the attack, fortunately, but we knew the reign of terror was still going on.

After a fabulous four days, we had to fly home.  On Tuesday morning, October 22, we were waiting to board our flight when we saw the report of a bus driver who was shot and killed in Aspen Hill, MD.  Our hearts sank.  This is what we had to fly home to.  It was an uneventful but enjoyable flight, with a short stop in Cleveland.  When we left Cleveland, there were only about a dozen people on the plane, and we enjoyed the attention we received by the flight attendants.  One accidentally dropped a cup of soda on Dad's shoulder, and she was so embarrassed and apologetic.

Late on October 23, police issue an arrest warrant for John Muhammad, and announce the license plate for the notorious Chevy Caprice.  Early the next morning, at a rest area near Hagerstown, MD, a truck driver sees the car.  He calls the police, and soon they storm the rest area and arrest Muhammad and Malvo without incident.  The weapon was found with them, along with all kinds of evidence linking them to the murder spree.  The reign of terror is over!

It was such a relief to hear the news later that morning.  I leave the house fairly early for work, and I woke up my wife to let her know the news before I left for work.  It was a reason to celebrate.

I don't know why driving past Benjamin Tasker Middle School set off such a memory, but I still remember so much of the several weeks of fear the gripped us all during that October in 2002.  I pray that we never experience anything like it again.

Have a great, safe evening, everyone!

The following timeline was borrowed from CNN.com:

Timeline - D.C. Area Shooting Spree: 
October 2, 2002 - A shot is fired through a window at a Michael's crafts store in Aspen Hill, Maryland, but no one is hit. 
- Not linked by ballistic evidence.
October 2, 2002 - The first killing takes place when 55-year-old James D. Martin, a program analyst for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is shot in the parking lot of Shoppers Food Warehouse in Wheaton, Maryland. 
- Not linked by ballistic evidence.
October 3, 2002 - Police are called to a crime scene and find James L. Buchanan, a 39-year-old landscaper who has been fatally shot while mowing a lawn at a commercial establishment near Rockville, Maryland.
October 3, 2002 - 54-year-old Premkumar Walekar, a part-time cab driver, is killed while pumping gas into his taxi at a station in the Aspen Hill area of Montgomery County, Maryland.
October 3, 2002 - Sarah Ramos, 34, of Silver Spring, Maryland, is killed at a post office near Leisure World Shopping center. A witness reports seeing a white van or truck speed from the post office parking lot immediately after the shooting.
October 3, 2002 - Lori Ann Lewis-Rivera, 25, of Silver Spring is shot dead at a Shell gas station in Kensington where she was vacuuming her van.
October 3, 2002 - In the only killing in Washington and the first one to occur at night, Pascal Charlot, 72, is shot in the chest as he walks along Georgia Avenue. He is taken to a hospital, where he dies less than an hour later.
October 4, 2002 - In a Michael's parking lot in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Caroline Seawell, 43, is shot as she puts her bags inside her Toyota minivan. She is released from a Fairfax hospital on Monday, October 14.
October 7, 2002 - Iran Brown, 13, is shot and critically wounded outside Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Maryland's Prince George's County.
October 9, 2002 - A tarot card is found near the scene of the shooting at the school. CNN sources say it is the "Death Card" with the message "Call me God" for police.
October 9, 2002 - Dean Harold Meyers, 53, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, is killed while pumping gas at a station in Manassas, Virginia. A white minivan seen in the area was first thought to have some connection with the shooting but was cleared by police.
October 11, 2002 - Kenneth Bridges, 53, a Philadelphia businessman, is killed at an Exxon station just off I-95 near Fredericksburg, Virginia. Police enforce a huge roadblock, trying to find a white van-like vehicle (similar to a Chevy Astro) with a ladder rack on top.
October 14, 2002 - Linda Franklin, 47, of Arlington, Virginia, is killed by a single gunshot in a Home Depot parking lot in Falls Church, Virginia.
October 19, 2002 - Jeffrey Hopper, 37, is shot in a parking lot at a Ponderosa Steakhouse near I-95 in Ashland, Virginia, 83 miles south of Washington. Doctors remove the bullet from the victim during surgery on October 21 and connect him to the others by ballistics.
October 21, 2002 - Police surround a white van at a pay phone at an Exxon gas station in Richmond, Virginia. They arrest one man in the vehicle and a second man "in the vicinity" but later say that they can not be connected to the sniper shootings.
October 22, 2002 - Bus driver Conrad Johnson, 35, of Oxon Hill, Maryland, is shot as he stands on the top step inside his commuter bus in Aspen Hill, Maryland. He later dies at a hospital in Bethesda. Investigators confirm on October 23 that his death is connected to the sniper.
October 24, 2002 - John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo are arrested. They are later tried and convicted - Muhammad receives a death sentence and is executed on November 10, 2009. Malvo receives life in prison without parole.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Our Bucket List...So Far

My daughter Melody and I were sitting at Pub Dog yesterday (The Fourth) reminiscing about trips we've taken and things we've done, and we decided to produce a list of our "Bucket List" items that we've seen (so far).  Here are the things we wrote down:

  • Busch Gardens - Williamsburg, VA.  This is our favorite amusement/theme park, and one we visit just about every year.  It contains some of our favorite roller coasters, as well, including the iconic Loch Ness Monster, Apollo's Chariot, the Griffon, and Verbolten.
  • Coney Island - During a really cool trip to New York City, we stopped in Coney Island and rode the legendary Cyclone roller coaster, which is awesome!  We also ate Nathan's hot dogs right on the boardwalk.
  • Las Vegas, NV - Last year, during Spring Break, we flew into Las Vegas en route to Hollywood.  Melody loved it more than I expected, and it will be the focus of a future trip for us (when she's a little older).  We spent a few nights at the Excalibur while touring a few of the sites on the Strip, then stayed at MGM Grand before flying home on our return trip.  It is quite the spectacle.
  • Mount Rushmore - South Dakota's Black Hills region is a favorite of ours, and Mount Rushmore is really a highlight worth seeing.  Turning the corner and seeing those faces in the mountain is something we'll never forget.
  • Crazy Horse - Not too far from Mount Rushmore is another monument, this one to the Native American people in that region.  The Crazy Horse Memorial is incredibly large, so big that all of the faces of Mount Rushmore can fit in the head of Crazy Horse.  It is also the site of a really cool American Indian museum and cultural center.
  • Devil's Tower - Many of us have seen the movie CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, which features an incredible monument out in the middle of Nowhere, Wyoming:  Devil's Tower.  We hiked around the perimeter of the mountain when we visited several years ago and it was memorable.
  • Hollywood, CA - Last year, I asked my daughter where she wanted to go on our Spring Break vacation, and she said, "Hollywood!"  So we went to Hollywood and had a great time hobnobbing with television stars (okay, so it was one guy, and I went to high school with him), visiting a few of the studios, and seeing the sites.
  • Ocean City Boardwalk - Ocean City, MD, is a favorite Summer destination for me since I was youngster, and I'm happy to bring my daughter to the beach every few years.  The Boardwalk is a site to behold, with great food and iconic shops.  Breakfast at the Dough Roller, lunch at the Atlantic Stand, and Thrasher's Fries, along with a shake from Dumser's and a visit to the Kite Loft and the Ocean Gallery, and a walk on the beach make the trip complete.
  • Disney World - Though she was only three years old, Melody remembers well her first and only trip to Disney World.  Despite the crowds (in mid-January!), we had a great time!
  • Universal Studio (Orlando AND Hollywood) - We saw them both, and they are awesome!
  • Ben & Jerry's - The original factory in Waterbury, VT, is worth seeing.  From the humble beginnings of this small, upstart company to the thriving premium ice cream industry they've created, it's a neat little place.  Plus, they give you free samples!
  • The Strip District, Pittsburgh, PA - One of our new favorites is this area near downtown Pittsburgh where you can find some of the best food and best deals on just about everything.  It's also home to the original Primanti Bros.
  • Heinz Field or PNC Park - Homes of the mighty six-time Super Bowl winning Steelers professional football team and the hometown major league Pirates, sports are taken very seriously in Pittsburgh, and their ballparks are some of the best.
  • Chicago Deep Dish Pizza - You gotta go to Chicago for truly great deep-dish pizza.  Uno's, Giordano's, and Lou Malnati's top my list of favorites.
  • Willis (Sears) Tower - Once the tallest building in the world, the Willis Tower is still worth seeing.  Located in downtown Chicago.
  • Times Square - No trip to Manhattan is complete without a trip to Times Square.
  • The Empire State Building - No trip to Manhattan is complete without a trip to the Empire State Building.
  • Statue of Liberty - No trip to Manhattan is complete without... Oh, you get the idea...
  • Route 66 - While Melody has only seen pieces of Route 66 in California, Arizona, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Illinois, I've driven the complete route, and it is so worth seeing for a truly unique tour of our great country.  It runs from Chicago to Los Angeles, and takes you OFF the interstate and into the culture of what makes our country so great.
  • Cedar Point - Sandusky, OH.  Home to the best and greatest roller coaster in America.
  • Six Flags Magic Mountain - Valencia, CA.  This is Walley World!
  • Kennywood - Pittsburgh's quaint, beautiful home to some wonderful old roller coasters.
  • Oatman, AZ - Way off the beaten path, this little one-horse, 40-mule village in the middle of nowhere in Arizona, on old Route 66, is worth a stop if only to see the 40 mules roaming the streets.
There's more to come!  

Have a great evening, everyone!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Pittsburgh Weekend

After landing at BWI, I rushed as quickly as the airport would allow to baggage claim.  BWI does not do luggage very quickly, so it was almost 30 minutes until my bag arrived.  I said goodbye to my colleague, Greg, and headed to the shuttle to take me to the long term parking lot where my Jeep was waiting for me.  Once there, I headed towards home.  I needed to make a few stops first, however.  One was to get a haircut.  And I think I've found my new place.

It's a non-descript barber shop at the shopping center located on Johns Hopkins Road, just off of 29, across from the Chick-Fil-A.  The lady who runs the place is a very kind woman who does a very nice job cutting hair.  She has a gentle touch, knows her craft, and even shaved my neck with warm shaving cream and a straight edge.  I was pleased.  I then gassed up, picked up some lunch at Chick-Fil-A, stopped by Harris-Teeter for a few snacks, then headed over the Grace Adventures Day Camp to pick up my daughter, Melody.  It was great to see her after a week away!

We headed home and quickly repacked.  Neither of us have slept at home in a week, and we wouldn't be for a few more days.  We loaded up the Jeep and hit the road, heading west.  Traffic wasn't great, but we trudged through Frederick and into Western Maryland.  We decided to stop for dinner at a Bob Evans in La Vale, MD.  I was in the mood for some breakfast, since I missed breakfast in Dallas early that morning, so I got a delicious omelet.  Melody had the grilled chicken, and I complimented her on her healthy choice.

Back on the road, we soon hit US 40, the National Highway, at Keysers Ridge, and we cruised into Uniontown, PA, my father's hometown.  There, we stopped at my Aunt Sandi's place and caught up with my parents.  My cousin, Mindi, Aunt Nancy, and Uncle Jim were there, as well, and it was great to visit with everyone.  Soon, Melody, Mom, and Dad hit the road and we soon arrived in Pittsburgh.  We checked into our hotel and crashed for the night.  I was exhausted.  I had been up for over 18 hours and I was tired.  I sank into my bed and passed out.

We were up at 8, and we had a nice breakfast.  The server at the hotel was a kind older woman who loved to talk, and she was all Pittsburgh.  I love the people of this wonderful city.  They sometimes come across as pushy or aggressive, but they have hearts of gold, and they are passionate about their homes, their families, their food, and their sports teams.

We got dressed, and Dad, Melody, and I decided to do a dry run to the Strip District.  I had never been to this part of Pittsburgh before, but I have always wanted to see it.  However, it was pouring rain and we were bound to get wet.  I found the church where my cousin's wedding would be held later that afternoon, and we found parking nearby.  Then we got our rain gear and began to wander the streets.  We had a blast finding deals on souvenirs and shirts and jackets and anything black and gold.  After a few hours, we grabbed some pizza and headed back to our hotel.

We got ready for the wedding and headed back out.  The rain had diminished somewhat, which was great due to the parking situation near the church.  Gone was much of the parking we had found earlier.  The whole neighborhood was packed with people.  We parked a good half-mile from the church, and we hoofed it over in plenty of time.  We met up with Aunt Sandi, Aunt Nancy, and Uncle Jim, and joined my cousin's family for a wonderful, beautiful wedding.

After the wedding, we sat through a lengthy photo session with the wedding party, then we found a restaurant for a snack to tide us over until the reception.  We walked over to the Heinz History Center for a really great reception, then, in the wee hours, we headed back to our hotel for the night.

Up at 8 again, we slowly got ready, ate breakfast, and packed up.  We said goodbye to Mom & Dad, who were headed out of town towards the mountains.  Melody and I returned to the Strip, but it was more crowded than the day before.  We couldn't find any parking, so we drove over to the University of Pittsburgh, in Oakland.  We then walked over to the Cathedral of Learning, and eerie looking skyscraper housing much of the University's classrooms.  After walking around a bit, we decided to find lunch.  There was a Primanti Bros. right down the street, and so off we went.

Primanti Bros. is an acquired taste.  Their signature sandwiches include fries and coleslaw right on the sandwich.  It's great!  While Melody did not try one of the sandwiches, I did, and it was wonderful.

We headed back to our Jeep just as the skies opened up again.  We headed back east out of town, over to the PA Turnpike.  I jumped off at Somerset, and we headed down US 219 to Grantsville, MD, and the Hilltop Fruit Market, a favorite stop of ours.  We loaded up on snacks and cruised on home, picking up a Ledo's pizza on the way.

It was a great trip, lots of fun, and despite the rain, a wonderful time with family and experiencing new things.  We're so thankful for the Lord's protection on us as we traveled, and we ask His blessings on my cousin, JJ, and his new bride, Amanda.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Monday, June 29, 2015

A Week in Fort Worth One Morning...

It is 2:30 a.m. when my alarm goes off.  I've slept for about 4 hours, and I'm dog tired, but I pull myself out of my very comfortable bed and fall into the shower, hoping that the water will wake me up.  It doesn't work.  I skip shaving, but brush my teeth thoroughly.  Despite how early it is, I decide to go ahead and take my meds for the day, washing them down with stale, warm Diet Dr. Pepper, and quickly get dressed.  I packed last night, so there isn't much else I need to do.  I leave the sanctity of a nice hotel room and head to the elevator.  It's very quiet.  I'm guessing not too many people are awake at this hour.

I reach the lobby, and the young man at the front desk is surprised to see me.  He is casually dressed.  I saw him yesterday and he was impeccably attired in a nice suit and tie.  Now he is tie-less, and I can't be sure he's wearing pants behind the desk.  He is sorting through papers.  I tell him I'm checking out.  He tells me they aren't ready to give out receipts, but he will be happy to email mine to me in a few hours.  I decide that will be fine.  I'll need the receipt to collect my on my travel voucher.

I sit on the lobby couch and text a message to my colleague, Greg.  Greg is in charge of the rental car, and we are on the same flight.  I hope he's awake.  He replies immediately and says he's on the way.

I'm not sure how we ended up on such an early flight.  It is scheduled to leave at 6 a.m.  Since I have a full day of travel, my OA (office administrator) put us on the earliest flight out of Dallas, Texas.  Since we're in Fort Worth, we have a 40 minute drive to Dallas Love Airport.  Greg and I are both the types who need to be at the airport early in anticipation of any potential issues.  We don't take chances.

Our car is first in the valet line.  We begin looking for the attendant, and he's nowhere to be seen.  We are nervous about getting to the airport on time, and not having our car keys is not helping.  We check the car, but the key isn't in it, and it's locked, so we can't even place our luggage in the car.  Greg is getting angry.  I'm still very tired, and all I want is to sit down in the car and snooze to the airport.  Greg's concern is contagious, though, and it becomes clear I'm not going to get any sleep.

We hear the roar of the car lift behind us, as the heavy steel doors open and a Toyota drives out.  At the wheel is the attendant.  He sees us, and immediately jumps out of the car and hands us our keys.  He insists on helping us place our luggage in the trunk.  Greg gives him his tip, and we jump in and take off.  Greg drives us through the dark, empty streets of Fort Worth, headed towards the highway.

I set the directions to the airport into my iPhone and we're on our way.  Greg remembers we need to fill up the gas tank before we drop off the rental, so our first order of business is to find a gas station.  We figure we should stop close to the airport, but not too close, even if we're not paying for it.  We take our first wrong turn when Siri tells us to take the next exit and there is no exit.  We're headed north instead of east.  We get off at the following exit and there's a gas station there, so we fill it up.

Back on the road in the correct direction, we make small talk.  It has been a stressful week of decision making, and our organization has a lot to do in the coming days.  We strategize a bit since we both lead groups that will need to work together.  We have a plan.  At least I think we do.  I'm still pretty tired and and decisions I make must be tempered with exhaustion.  I think I just agreed to give Greg all of my contractors.

We arrive at the exit for the airport, and we're headed to the car rental facility, which is off-site.  After three wrong turns, we find it.  There is a line of about 25 cars waiting to enter the facility.  It's 4:15 a.m.  Our flight leaves at 6 a.m.  A security guard waddles over to our car and informs us that the rental office doesn't open until 5, though sometimes they open the gate at 4:45.  As Greg and I begin to panic, the guard adds that the airport doesn't even open until 5.  We'll have very little time to drop off the car, take the shuttle to the terminal, get our boarding passes, drop off our checked luggage, step through security, and race to our gate, hopefully with some breakfast which we both need desperately.  Greg suggests that we abandon the car and hoof it to the terminal.  It's a quarter mile, so it wouldn't take us that long.  Our fear is that the line once we get to the terminal will be really long.  I consider it.  Then it occurs to me that I'm not the one who has to worry about the rental car, and I suggest that Greg drive ME to the terminal and I'll wait there for him.  He doesn't trust me.  We decide to wait.

Finally, cars start moving into the rental facility.  We hop back into the car and realize that there is no order in the universe at this moment.  Everyone waiting to drop off their cars is now funneling towards the gate.  Civility is out the window.  It's every man for himself.  Greg has this look in his eyes, and I realize I'm now in the car with Mad Max.  He cuts off three cars, hits a small ramp, and we're on two wheels as we skirt between a minivan and a Fiat, right into the drop off area.  We're cleared by the attendant, and run towards the shuttle to the airport.  We arrive too late for the lead shuttle, and the driver shuts the door in our faces.  We reluctantly head to the second shuttle.  The driver is nowhere to be seen.  Since the engine is running, I'm tempted to take the wheel and get us out of Dodge, but soon the bus is loaded and we're moving.

We finally arrive at the terminal.  It's now 4:55.  The airport is PACKED.  There are only two airlines that service Dallas Love, Southwest and Delta, and it becomes clear that everyone is flying Southwest.  We get into a line, not sure if it's the right one or not.  A guy in front of us tells us we need to get in the other line in order to print out our luggage claim, then we have to get into the line we're in now to drop off our luggage and get our boarding passes.  It's a free-for-all.  We actually move very quickly, and it becomes clear that working together is going to help us.  Greg has maneuvered himself in front of me, though, and I don't trust him.

We are finally headed to security, and I'm hopeful that my luggage is on its way to the same destination as us.  The security line moves fast, and we're quickly headed to the gate.  When we arrived at the airport at the beginning of the week, I had spotted a Chick-Fil-A, and I'm anxious to get some breakfast, so we walk briskly towards a chicken breakfast burrito.  However, it appears everyone in the airport had the same idea.  The line is just too long.  I grab a little snack at a convenience cart, and we're at our gate.  I have a low boarding number, so I get in line just as they begin boarding.  Soon I'm on the plane, and I begin to relax.  It's a full flight, but at least I have my aisle seat, even if I didn't get an exit row seat.  A very nice couple from Pittsburgh notices my Pirates jersey, and they ask if they can sit next to me.  Hot dog!  I get to fly home next to a couple of Yinzers!  I just hope they're not talkers, because I'm going to be out cold as soon as this flight takes off.  And within moments, we're in the air.  And I don't remember anything else.  Which means I was, indeed, out cold...

Have a great evening, everyone!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Where In The World Is Eric?!?

The Blog has been very quiet for the last week, and you may be wondering why.  But, no, I'm not dead, or kidnapped, or lost in the woods with hungry bears.  I was not at home, however, so being home now feels great.  So, where in the world was Eric?

In a bit of an unusual circumstance, my office planned two business trips within a week of each other.  Several weeks ago, I spent some time with our management team in Oklahoma City, one of my favorite places in this great country of ours (that's sarcasm; if you haven't been a reader of this blog for very long, you may not know how much I LOVE OKC...).  We followed that up with a second trip with my colleagues, this time to Fort Worth, Texas, over this past week.  No sooner did I arrive at home on Friday than I took off again for a road trip to Pittsburgh, PA, for my cousin JJ's wedding to his high school sweetheart, Amanda.  We arrived home about two hours ago.  I'm wore out.

While this past week was truly neat, in that Fort Worth is a really incredible city, and our senior management team made some impactful decisions, the real highlight was in the sharing of JJ & Amanda's wonderful day.  JJ is my youngest first cousin on the Freed side, and I have a unique bond with him.  He's a great young man, and someone I'm very proud to know.  And Amanda is just the sweetest, beautiful young lady, and a great match for JJ.  Their wedding was truly something special and meaningful.  I'm so glad to have been a part of the celebration.  I was asked to present the invocation at the reception, which was such an honor, and I'm so humbled.  My prayer is that the Lord will bless their union and bring them great happiness, success, and love.  I think they're well on their way.

So I'm wiped out after traveling over 5000 miles over the past few weeks.  Enjoy some pics from the past week, and I'll try to get you all updated on stuff over the next few days.

Have a great evening, everyone!

Chisolm Trail mural in Sundance Square, Fort Worth, TX

Sundance Square, with courthouse in the distance, Fort Worth, TX

My hotel, Forth Worth, TX

The View from my room at dusk, Fort Worth

Great neon signs in Fort Worth

Great neon and Cajun food in Fort Worth

The 'Burgh -- Downtown Pittsburgh, PA, from the West End

Primanti Bros., a Pittsburgh institution

A representative sampling of Freeds at the Wedding of the Year

My darling daughter, my magnificent mother, and me

Daddy-Daughter dance, at the Heinz History Museum, site of the wedding reception

The Happy Couple, newly married

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day!

Wishing a wonderful Father's Day to my dad.  Dad has done so much for me over my life, and particularly in the decade since my daughter was born.  As a single dad, raising a daughter on my own, I've appreciated all of the help my family has provided, but it's Dad who has done the most, as my trusted advisor and friend.  Thanks, Dad!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Risk Tater

My daughter and I were tooling around Columbia today and we happened to be passed by this car with an interesting vanity plate.  I'm calling it interesting, and I promise I'm not making fun here, because I'm guessing the message he wants is not what he ended up with, unless he has a good sense of humor.  The plate reads:  RSK T8R.  I think the intent is to say, "Risk Taker," but what I'm seeing is, "Risk Tater."  Maybe he's describing how much he loves French Fries, or tater tots.  Maybe he's thumbing his knows at his cholesterol.  I don't know.  I just know I got a kick out of it.

"Risk Tater?"

I'm in need of a new suit.  My cousin is getting married next weekend, and it's the first wedding I've attending in about eight years.  I have plenty of sport coats, but not a suit.  I've put on a few pounds in the last eight years, so I went out hunting for a new one.  I want something nice, but I don't want to spend a lot on something I really won't use very much.  So we went out to the Mall.

The Mall was crowded today!  It's the start of Summer Break, yet everyone is inside shopping.  What's the deal?  Parking was next to impossible to find, though I finally found a bunch of spots near the Little Patuxent Parkway entrance, near the Whole Foods, and within shouting distance of the JC Penney's.  Then I started hunting.

I'm a tall guy, but not exceedingly tall, nor am I extra wide.  I'd like to think that my sizes aren't too unusual, but, to my surprise, I could not find my sizes anywhere.  I found lots of sizes very close to mine, but not quite there.  When it comes to a suit, you really can't compromise without it being noticeable.  So I had to have my sizes, or I wouldn't be getting a suit.  We went to Penney's (nothing in my size), Macy's (crowds and $$$), Lord & Taylor ($$$ and limited selection), and even Sears (nothing in my size).  I grew very frustrated, and finally just gave up.

We drove up to the Ellicott City Kohl's.  Wow, what a terrible parking lot!  I think there is a stop sign for every ten feet, and just about every parking space was being use.  Again, why is everyone inside shopping on the first day of Summer Break?  Kohl's limited selection of suits, plus their limited sizes, left me without a suit.

I'm going to try a few more places tomorrow, but I'm fast losing my patience and my opportunities to shop.  I may be out of luck if I strike out tomorrow.


I don't really like to trash talk, but I told my boss, an avid Nationals fan, that my Pirates were bringing the brooms and would be "sweeping" the Nats.  Little did I expect that the Bucs would completely collapse this weekend.  It was painful to watch AJ Burnett ("Batman") give up the most hits in a game for his entire career (14), while losing 4-1, with the Bucs offense somewhere lost at sea, on Friday, but then the Bucs were no-hit by the Max Scherzer-led Nats today!  The Bucs had just come off an 8-games winning streak leading into this series.  I rarely get to see the Bucs play in person unless I go to Pittsburgh, so with them in town to play the Nats, I was proudly wearing my Pirates jerseys.  That was a mistake.  The Nats fans, while not down and out mean like their Baltimore compatriots, made it difficult, anyway.  I'm glad the teams are not in the same division.  I'm going to be eating crow fed to me by my boss on Monday...

Have a great evening, everyone!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Love Quotes


1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NIV) Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.” 
― William ShakespeareA Midsummer Night's Dream

Patricia: My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement. Joe Versus The Volcano

1 Peter 4:8 (NIV) Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

“You don't love someone because they're perfect, you love them in spite of the fact that they're not.” 
― Jodi PicoultMy Sister's Keeper

“If I had a flower for every time I thought of you...I could walk through my garden forever.” 
― Alfred Lord Tennyson

Joe:  [to DeDe] "I bribed them to sing a song that would drive us insane and make our hearts swell and burst." Joe Versus The Volcano

“Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.” 
― Nicole KraussThe History of Love

“Never love anyone who treats you like you're ordinary.” 

“One word
Frees us of all the weight and pain of life:
That word is love.” 
― Sophocles

John 15:13 (NIV) 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach” 
― Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Surely I could tell
When I sleep tonight
A dream will call
And raise it's head in majesty
Dividing all my energy
To the meeting of your love
Where from whence it came
Like a singer searching for a song
I try to reach where you belong
As I will be the song for you
I will be your servant child
No, oh no
I cannot be deceived
No, oh no
There's something
That I feel
There's something that I feel inside
Surely I could tell
If you ask me Lord
To board the train
My life my love would be the same
As I could be the one for you
In the meeting of your love
In the meeting of your love
--The Meeting (Anderson, Howe, Wakeman, Bruford)
“Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love.” 
― Charles M. Schulz

Patricia: I love you!
Joe: I love you, too! I've never been in love with anybody before, either. It's great. I'm glad. But the timing stinks. [kisses her on the cheek] I've gotta go. Joe Versus The Volcano

“I have decided to stick to love...Hate is too great a burden to bear.” 
― Martin Luther King Jr.

“Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.” 
― Albert Einstein

“I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, 'How many good things have you done in your life?' rather he will ask, 'How much love did you put into what you did?” 
― Mother Teresa

1 John 4:7 (NIV) Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

“Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.” 
― Robert Frost

“With him, life was routine; without him, life was unbearable.” 
― Harper LeeTo Kill a Mockingbird

“Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person's ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” 
― C.S. Lewis

Patricia: I wonder where we'll end up?
Joe: Away from the things of man, my love. Away from the things of man. Joe Versus The Volcano

Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV) 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Monday, June 15, 2015

25 Random Things Revisited

I was going through some old stuff on my Facebook account and I came across this note called "25 Random Things..."  So I'm sharing it here.  I'll provide updates, as well, in RED.


Rules: Once you've been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged.

1. My favorite movie of all time is IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. If you haven’t seen it, I can’t recommend it enough. This year, I made a point of going to see it a few days before Christmas on the big screen at the AFI's Silver Theater in downtown Silver Spring. It really put the Christmas Spirit in me.  This is now an annual tradition.  I go every year.
2. I love my little girl!  I will always love my little girl!
3. Different combinations of friends and family have met us almost every Thursday for the past 2 and a half years at our local Red Robin restaurant. We also go to Chick-Fil-A at least once a week.  We stopped going to Red Robin several years ago, and now we seldom get everyone together.  Life gets so busy, and it's so hard to coordinate.  We miss this.
4. My dream car is a 1970 Olds 442 W-30 convertible. I have that dream often...maybe some day...  I still hope to someday have one of these.  It is the ultimate muscle car, in my opinion.
5. My almost-five years of marriage were among the happiest years of my life. I fell in love with and married my best friend, Teresa Shirlen Freed, who passed away in April, 2004. I’ve now been widowed longer than married, but I’m praying that, if it’s God’s will that I marry again, it will be as wonderful as the first time. Tell your loved ones everyday how much you love them. You can't say it enough.
6. I am very passionate about my Pittsburgh Steelers. They better win on Sunday! (My father shares season tickets with my uncle.) The city of Pittsburgh is a wonderful place, and I would move there in a heartbeat if I had a job waiting for me there.  I still love Pittsburgh and my Steelers.  Dad & my uncle sold the season tickets, though (bummer!!).  I still plan to retire to Pittsburgh.
7. I’ve driven the entire length of (what's left of) old Route 66 (Chicago to LA). Highlights include the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, TX, home of the free 72 oz. steak (if you can eat it in one hour….no, I didn‘t try); Albuquerque & Santa Fe, NM; “Sweet Home” Chicago, IL; Flagstaff, AZ; the nearby Grand Canyon; the Mojave Desert (where, at times, I know I was miles from any living person, alone with my thoughts and God. Driving through God’s beauty in the American West is both therapeutic and humbling.); and Hollywood, CA, which is just too cool for words.  I have since taken my daughter to portions of Rt. 66, namely western Arizona and Southern California, as well as Chicago to St. Louis.  We love our road trips!
8. I’ve driven through 39 U.S. states and 5 Canadian provinces, but I’ve been to only one other country. I'm now up to 41 states, and daughter Melody is up to 34!
9. My daughter regularly beats me at Wii bowling.  Minecraft has replaced Wii bowling for my daughter.  I prefer the real thing.
10. My favorite movie of all time is JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO. You'll only like it if you GET it. Most people don't GET it. It is amusing and inspiring, with lots of symbolism, and is very romantic.  Very underrated film!!!
11. One of my role models is Richie Cunningham. Most guys wanted to be like the Fonz. I wanted to be like Richie.  I still want to be Richie.  I think I grew up in the wrong era.
12. My car in high school was possibly the ugliest car in the parking lot: an ’81 Olds Omega – 2-tone white on gray with orange and red stripes down both sides, and “SportOmega” in large white letters on both doors.  I don't think it was so ugly.  It was sure unique, though.
13. I am a frustrated actor and director, though I’m fortunate to have had an outlet through church drama for most of my life.  I miss having this activity in my life.  I much prefer being "behind the camera" to being on stage as I get older, however.
14. I’ve been so blessed to have many wonderful pastors as friends and mentors, including George, Tom, Dick, Lisa, Moussa, Sandy, and my current pastor at Grace Community Church, Mark, as well as my grandfather, Chester “Pap” Freed, and my father-in-law, Jim Shirlen.  I can add Pastors Mitchel and Rich to my list of wonderful pastors.
15. I love Fall much more than Spring, and Winter much more than Summer. Bring on the snow!  This hot weather is for the birds.
16. I have three Tivos.  And I'm now down to one.  It's much less complicated.
17. My daughter inherited my love of roller coasters, and that’s one reason why we’ve been to seven different amusement parks in the past year.  Combined, we've now ridden almost 120 different roller coasters!
18. I played in the Orange Bowl during my freshman year at Maryland….in the Marching Band.  My old band director just retired, too.
19. I don’t care for coffee or beer. Never acquired a taste for either.  I tried wine, but I just don't care for it.  Coffee was an acquired taste, however, and now I drink at least one cup every morning.  I still don't love it, but the caffeine is nice.
20. My favorite movie of all time is REAR WINDOW….and NORTH BY NORTHWEST….and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN….and DAY OF THE JACKAL....  While DAY OF THE JACKAL is a good movie, it's hardly in my top ten favorites.  Not sure what I was thinking...
21. I spent over 10 years as a youth counselor at several different churches, and I was truly blessed by my friends and co-workers in that ministry, particularly Lisa, Scott, and Diana, and so many great kids!  I'm tempted to return to youth ministry now that my daughter is entering middle school.  I haven't seen my friends Lisa (in Cincinnati, OH), Scott (somewhere in Maryland), and Diana (down in Georgia) in much too long.
22. I’ve worked for the Federal Government for over 17 years, half with NOAA and half with the FAA, but all with the same organization, Aeronautical Charting.  I'm about to start my 25th year, still with Aeronautical Charting.
23. I have the most wonderful parents. My father is my best friend. My mother is like a mother to my daughter. I love them both so much. My in-laws are a true blessing, too.
24. There are several people who inspire me and have become role models to me because of how they have handled adversity in their lives: Brian, Sheryl, Brooke, Erin, and Mom, thank you! You are each in my prayers regularly.
25. God has blessed me with a wonderful life. Several months following Teresa’s death, as I was going through some papers, I discovered a slip of paper on which she had written the following verse. I don't know why she felt the need to write it down, but it was as if I was meant to find it. I am comforted every time I read it: “And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.” - I Peter 5:10. With Him, life gets better each and every day.

Have a wonderful evening, everyone!