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Oregon Bound

One of my favorite sayings is, "May you live in interesting times.”  Since leaving my steady job in Portland back in 2001, these past six years have been the most interesting of my life.  They haven’t been the best years – far from it, in fact, with the passing of many of those dear to me and an unending string of turbulent life and job situations, all resulting in too many restless nights.  But they have certainly been the most memorable.


Before leaving on my three-year trip in 2001, I worked for 10 years with an engineering consulting firm Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) in Portland.  My job was safe and secure and many people thought I was crazy for giving all that up "just" to travel.  Admittedly I had some trepidations about leaving the security of my steady job and since then my life has taken a series of unexpected twists and turns, not ending up at all like I had planned.


But considering all of the wondering people I’ve befriended, the amazing places I’ve been, and the hurdles I’ve overcome since then, my decision to leave my job has been enriching beyond measure.  My finances certainly took a hit and I have a lot less "stuff" now than I would if I had continued working at PB.  But if I had done the safe thing and complacently stayed at my job instead of following the road less traveled, my life would’ve also been bland, boring and unremarkable.


It hasn’t always been easy these past six years, but I’ve had many “interesting times” and for that I’m grateful.  Change, while stressful at times, is almost always good, so my advice is to never hesitate to throw yourself into new situations if they present themselves – and especially if they don’t.



Above left:  Happy times with the PB and PB-Farradyne staff in the summer of 2005.  This is the annual PB picnic on the shores of Lake Washington.  That's Chef Yuhe flipping the burgers.

Above right:  Yuhe and Eva (green shirt) on a boat ride.  Eva's an Aussie with a thick accent to prove it.



Above left:  And the annual PB-Seattle golf tournament.  On the left, those are my good buddies and former volleyball teammates, Steve and Dana, whom I've known for 13 years.  That's me on the right.

Above right:  My lifelong friends from Austin, Julie and her SWAT-brother Lou (see News: June 24, 2001). They're standing above Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct, which will be replaced soon, a project I worked on for two years.



Above left:  Checking out a World War II B-24 "Liberator" bomber on July 4th weekend, 2005.  Very cool.

Above right:  The cockpit of a B-17 bomber.  As I learned the hard way, it's a really tight fit, especially for someone who's 6'-2".  The crews who flew these planes suffered tremendous casualties during their missions and are real heroes.

Sleepless in Seattle

As I mentioned in my Back to Work update from 2005, I worked in the Portland office of Parsons Brinckerhoff, a firm with about 10,000 employees, from 1991 to 2001 before leaving on my road trip.  After my travels, in 2004, I wanted to rejoin the same office and move pack to Portland, but they didn’t have much work at the time and couldn’t rehire me.  So instead I joined a subsidiary of PB, called Farradyne, and moved to Seattle instead of Portland like I had planned.  Although I had never lived in Seattle, I had traveled through the city about a million times and have lots of relatives there, so moving to Seattle was almost like coming home.


There were 11 employees in PB-Farradyne’s Seattle office, which was located in PB's main office downtown.  The best part about working at PB-Farradyne was that I was reunited with my good friends Glen and Lisa, whom I had known at PB-Portland for many years and who were now both Farradyne employees (by the way, Glen is the best supervisor I've ever had, but don't tell him I said that, o.k.?)   As I discovered, the rest of the Farradyne staff was terrific, too.  They were all highly-motivated, dynamic, and really smart, certainly much smarter than me, so it was a great group to work with.


Above:  A group of PB and PB-Farradyne staff in Seattle.  I'm in the back left and my boss, Glen, is back center.

Things were going well at PB-Farradyne in Seattle until the spring of 2006, when I learned that the mother company, Parsons Brinckerhoff, was planning to sell the Farradyne subsidiary and its 200 employees (including me) to an overseas firm called Telvent.  Unfortunately as part of the buyout deal, Farradyne employees were not being allowed to quit PB-Farradyne and join the mother company, PB.  I was a miffed about that because I had worked with PB for 10 years in Portland and considered myself a lifelong PB employee.


The spring and summer of 2006 were quite stressful and I spent five months debating what to do, with many sleepless nights.  I wasn't overly worried about losing my job, just irritated about the sale and frustrated that our great group would never be the same.  Sad to say, that's Corporate America these days.  Decisions made by bigwigs thousands of miles away are often hugely disruptive to the "Working Joes" like me – and all in the name of boosting profits.  But I was luckier than most because at least I had a (somewhat) secure job waiting for me if I wanted it.  Many people in that situation of corporate mergers or downsizing don't.  Nevertheless, I don’t like people telling me what I had to do or what I couldn't do – which is one reason I’ve never gotten married.


I’ve always followed the beat of my own drummer to a degree instead of marching lockstep with the crowd and this situation was no different.  After giving it some thought, I decided that I didn’t like people telling me who I can or can’t work for, so I decided to quit my job at PB-Farradyne before it was sold to Telvent.  Of Farradyne's 200+ employees, I was one of the very few who willingly decided to sever ties with PB/Telvent and head out on my own.  And so, after 12 years with PB, I said goodbye. 


My rebellious nature, by the way, is in the genes:  several of my ancestors fought and died in the American Revolutionary war in the 1700s and another helped lead the Canadian Rebellion of 1837.  I'm pretty independent and if someone tells me that I have to go one way, I'll usually go the other even if it's just out of spite.


My two years with the now-defunct PB-Farradyne was a memorable and important chapter in my life.  Through Farradyne I got back into the workforce after traveling for three years and, more importantly, I met some amazing people like Erin, David, Duane, and others.  I figure that PB's decision to sell Farradyne was purely business.  They did what they had to do and I did what I had to do.  I enjoyed my 12 years with PB, I learned a lot there and I formed friendships that will last a lifetime.  But it was time to move on.



Above left:  In the fall of 2005, several months before I got wind of the Farradyne sale, I went down to Portland for a blissful weekend.  As much as I liked Seattle, it was wonderful to relive my good memories of Portland.

Above right:  I attended every University of Washington volleyball match in 2005.  They won the National Championship that year and many consider them the best U.S. college volleyball team ever.



Left:  Enjoying Thanksgiving in Bellingham in 2005. 

That's Bob, Heather, Evelyn, and my sister Doti. 

Look familiar?  They're the same folks (and in the same positions) as last year.  Different turkey, though.





Above left:  I learned curling in the spring of 2006 with some PB folks.  Curling is very cool, especially if you don't bundle up.

Above center:  The annual University of Washington rowing regatta.  Seattle's a dynamic city and there's something exciting going on every weekend.

Above right:  Our PB-Farradyne "Farewell" lunch in June 2006 a few days before I left.  Those are my good buddies Duane (left), David (smiling), Les (behind David's smile), and Erin (with phone surgically implanted).  Some PB folks also joined us.


Despite how the PB-Farradyne saga ended, I had a great time during the two years I spent in Seattle.  One encounter, though – brief and totally unexpected – stands above the others.  In the fall of 2005, my manager Erin and I flew to Miami to do some work with the Florida Department of Transportation and after a few days, I flew back to Seattle, changing planes in Atlanta.  Flying alone is usually a solitary experience:  you might exchange a few words with your seatmate at the beginning of the flight and then maybe a few more after the landing, but usually that’s about it.  Once in a while, though, you meet someone special.


As I settled into my window seat in Atlanta on the flight back to Seattle, an attractive woman in her early 30s with dark hair sat next to me.  The seating on this plane was 2-3-2, so she and I would be traveling companions all the way to Seattle.  As she was settling into her seat, I quietly took out my camera and shot a few pictures out my window as the plane started to taxi down the runway that late afternoon.  Then she said to me, “It’s pretty out there,” and I turned to her and said with a slight smile, “Yeah, it is.”  During the next few minutes, we exchanged introductions.  Her name was Darlene, she was a physician from Massachusetts and was heading to a conference near Seattle, her first-ever visit to the Northwest.


We continued our conversation during takeoff and afterwards, and the more we talked, the more I wanted to learn about her.  She must have felt the same way about me because for the next five hours, Darlene and I talked non-stop during our non-stop flight, totally engaged in each other’s company. 


Above:  Moments after I shot this picture in Atlanta while sitting in a plane waiting to take off, I met my seatmate Darlene and we talked for the next seven hours.

Now mind you, I’m a fairly quiet and solitary person and often get worn out by talking to someone for just an hour (and usually less).  I can’t remember the last time I talked constantly to someone for a few hours, let alone five, but we connected so well on so many levels that the time flew by quickly.  Every now and then during the flight, I figured that she’d want a break from our conversation, so I sat back in my chair or looked out the window.  But then she’d ask me something else and we’d start in on another long discussion, perhaps about my travels overseas or her time in the Coast Guard. 


I don’t usually let people get too close to me too fast, but with Darlene, I quickly dropped my defenses.  She was charming, dynamic, adventurous, funny, and seemed to embrace all that life had to offer with zeal and a glint in her eye.  A few hours into the flight, we were teasing and joking like old buddies reunited after many years.  By Denver, we'd become good friends and somewhere over Idaho, kindred spirits. 


Everyone else around us was quiet during the flight, so even though Darlene and I talked and laughed softly, I’m sure they all heard our lengthy conversation – whether they wanted to or not.  In fact, after we landed in Seattle (after what seemed like a 10-minute flight), I said to the woman sitting in front of us, “I hope we didn’t disturb you,” and she turned around and said with a forced smile, “Oh, I heard every word!”


As we were preparing to get off the plane, Darlene mentioned that she was going to take a bus to her hotel in Gig Harbor, about a 30-minute drive south of the airport.  I offered to drive her but she said, “Oh, not if it’s inconvenient.”  It was actually in the opposite direction but I said, “Oh no problem, it’s right on my way,” because I wanted to spend more time with her.  We talked all the way to baggage claim and into the airport garage, and then in my van as we headed down the freeway.  Late that evening, seven hours after we met and without a break in conversation, I dropped her off at her hotel.  She thanked me profusely and, with an appreciative smile, gave me a warm hug.


I haven’t seen Darlene since that evening and probably never will again.  But now, two years later, I still think of her from time to time.  I can still see her smile and hear her laugh, and I even picked up some of her mannerisms.  When she’d get excited about something, she’d smile and say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah!” very fast, which I find myself doing now. 


She was like an instant best friend and in my entire life, I've never met anyone that I connected with so quickly.  I’ll never forget Darlene and getting to know her – and realizing that there are people out there who I can so easily befriend – was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my Seattle years. 



Above left:  In Miami with the Florida DOT staff.  Erin's nose is on the right.

Above center:  Birds-eye view of Miami on the way to Atlanta.

Above right:  This is in Bellingham later that fall.



Above left:  Seattle in the summer of 2006 just before I quit my job and left town.  This is the waterfront near where my grandfather started a grocery store around 1910.

Above right:  So long, Seattle.  It's been a great two years.

Back to Portland

During the upheaval at PB-Farradyne in the spring of 2006, I was offered a position with an engineering consulting firm based in Portland called Otak and after much deliberation, I decided to accept their offer.  I moved back to Portland in July and started working at Otak shortly afterwards. 



Portland's Trail Band is a unique group that plays new "old-time" music.  Here they are singing Oregon Bound.


My new firm is a lot different than PB because, for one thing, it has about 400 employees compared to PB's 10,000, and for another, all the major personnel decisions are made in their Portland office by people who know the employees and understand the impacts those decisions have on their lives.  After my experience with PB / Telvent, those were both major reasons why I decided to sign on.


I spent my first five months at Otak as one of the company’s lead transportation planners.  In January, I figured that I wasn't busy enough working 40 hours a week so I decided to also take over the computer mapping (known as "GIS") duties for their main office.  If  you've been reading my website, you probably know how much I love making maps. 


Above:  U-Hauling it to Portland in July 2006.  As you can see, all of my life's possessions fit in the truck – barely.

Between the two positions, I’ve been pretty busy at Otak, often working six- or seven-day weeks and at times have barely kept my head above water while trying to meet all the urgent deadlines.  But this is the type of harried position I’ve always loved, going back to my firefighting days in the Colorado Rockies, so I’m really happy with how things have turned out.  Like the old saying goes, "It's not work if you enjoy it," and I definitely enjoy making maps.  Plus the people are terrific.


Because I've been with Otak only since last summer, I don't have much vacation time stored up and haven't taken any big trips yet, but I have done a bit of solo traveling throughout the Northwest.  Last fall, I went camping in the beautiful, mossy rain forests of Olympic National Park in Washington and I took a similar trip in the spring of 2007.  I'm saving up my vacation time for a long trip next year.  I'm not sure exactly where I'll go but it'll probably be somewhere overseas.


I’m especially happy to be back in Portland, my hometown since 1980.  Seattle is certainly nice and, nestled between the Puget Sound and Mt. Rainier, has a beautiful backdrop.  But it also has an East Coast big-city feel with its massive traffic jams, a smattering of pretentiousness, and more than a few less-than-polite residents.  Portland is a bit nicer and a whole lot friendlier than Seattle and I think most people who've lived in both cities would agree.  After six years on the road, I'm finally back home.



Left:  This is Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park, Washington, during a fall camping trip in 2006.




Above left:  And the enchanting Sol Duc Falls, also in Olympic National Park.

Above right:  Later that fall in Eugene, I watched a thrilling volleyball match between the University of Washington and the Oregon Ducks.  Mac Court was packed with 2,600 raucous fans and it was one of the best matches I've ever seen.  Oh, the Huskies won 3-2.



Above left:  At Ecola State Park near Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast in March 2007.  One of my co-workers saw me here but didn't say a peep.  Can you blame her?

Above right:  And the rusting hulk of the steamship Peter Iredale, which was grounded in 1906 near Astoria with no loss of life.  Every time I visit it, it's a little smaller (see News: June 11, 2001 for proof).



Above left:  The recently-rebuilt replica of Fort Clatsop, the 1805-06 winter encampment of the Lewis and Clark Expedition near Astoria.  The original replica fort (see News: June 11, 2001) was built in 1955 but burned down in 2005.

Above center:  Kayakers navigating the treacherous waters of Deception Pass, Washington.

Above right:  A piñata party after work at Otak with smiles all around. 



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