Back in Texas

Same tree, new year.
Same tree, new year.

Well, it’s been a long time (nearly a year) since I was home, but it feels good to be back. I can’t say much is new with us besides trying to get everything figured out for Hawaii. It felt like a mountain of paperwork, chasing people around base for signatures, and a lot of close calls. Originally they had told me I wouldn’t be out for another month or two pending order changes, but I was able to get everything worked out.

So far we’ve been to Dallas for a wedding shower. It was nice to see my grandma and the rest of the family, and we took home a decent amount of cash. It’s kind of up in the air as to when we will actually get to go back to Texas after this — more than likely, people will come to visit us. It is Hawaii, after all. Still on our to-do list is San Antonio and Big Bend National Park. Both of those places are some of my favorite in Texas, so I’m excited to head back that way one last time before we go.

Besides that, all I’m doing is growing a beard. Kind of neat to have facial hair for the first time in nearly three years. But soon enough, we’ll be in Hawaii. And we both can’t wait for that.

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Heading to Hawaii

So I bought myself a little something...
So I bought myself a little something…

Well, the day finally came, and I’m really in the Navy now. I just got orders to the USS Hawaii, a fast attack submarine out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It’s really amazing to think it’s been nearly three years of school and qualifications, but now I’m done with both Mechanical Operator and Engineering Laboratory Technician qualifications.

ELT school was actually pretty rough; a lot of mistakes and a lot of frustrations. I constantly felt like I was making mistakes and not being able to figure out how to fix them — but in the end, I was able to push through and actually start to get better at chemistry and the basis behind what we do.

Anyway, I ended up splurging just a little bit and getting something to replace my Mustang. It’s a 2013 Camaro, the V6 in a standard, and I pretty much love to drive it. I make up excuses to get out of the house I think. Definitely living the American Dream now — two car loans! Woo! It’s weird being an adult, that’s for sure.

The whole task of getting all of our furniture and cars out to Hawaii seems pretty daunting at the moment. I’m really not sure how that process really goes, but I do know that we’ll be paying out of pocket to ship Carissa’s new car over there. Anywhere from 1-3 thousand dollars; it’s still cheaper to buy the car here and ship it, however. The downside is that’s just another thing on the credit card. On the plus side, the future is looking bright when it comes to money — we’ll be getting base pay, submarine pay (including around 30 months of back pay), nuclear pay, housing, subsistence, and cost of living allowance. And, I’ll probably re-enlist and get a promotion on top of it. Pretty weird to think of having all that!

She's Snow White and I'm a "sexy" cop.
She’s Snow White and I’m a “sexy” cop.

Anyway, being done has its perks — I get to pretty much do nothing at work for a couple of weeks (good for getting all of our stuff in order before we go). We went to a pretty fun Halloween party on the weekend, now that I have weekends back. And, we even had an NFL get together on Sunday. All in all, very relaxing lately!

I’ll try to keep this updated on moving to Hawaii, and all the adventures we will likely get into. Before we head out, however, we’re definitely heading back to Texas. I will eat at least one full brisket before going to island paradise!

ELT School

Here's the 2013 Chevy Spark. It actually looks pretty cool compared to the best of the cars this size.
Here’s the 2013 Chevy Spark. It actually looks pretty cool compared to the best of the cars this size.

Well, I finished the classroom and basic laboratory stuff for the ELT (Engineering Laboratory Technician) school I’m in. Just a few more weeks and I’ll actually be done and qualified, with a projection of October 25th. Our boat is going to be going up and down for some maintenance, so who knows just when things will really be finished. We’re both really excited to leave South Carolina and try our luck out in Hawaii, Guam, or wherever else the Navy might send us.

In preparation for that, and after a lot of research, we traded in my Mustang, which was a hard thing to do. Now we have a 2013 Chevy Spark, a cool little mix between a hatchback and a smart car. We didn’t get all of the features I was looking for initially, but the deal was almost too good to pass up. It’s nice to finally have something new though. Until we can figure out when we move and to where, I’ll be driving it mostly because it gets amazing gas mileage. After that, I’ll get my reenlistment bonus and I’ll finish paying off my loans and put down a good amount on something cool.

Just another 4 or 5 hours and I'll be done!
Just another 4 or 5 hours and I’ll be done!

Apart from that, I still just have a little longer to go on the tattoo. It’s looking pretty good, even though I had to switch artists because mine ran off somewhere. Oh well. Either way, I have another on the way if things work out.

Because of my transition back to the submarine crew, I manage to get a 3 day weekend, which is pretty nice. Sadly, it starts out with a long day and a lot of work, but it’s a shorter light at the end of the tunnel as compared to my original mechanic qualifications. In the mean time, it’s time to get some steaks on the grill and enjoy the weekend!

Qualified.

Cleaning guns and drinking beer. Pretty good stress reliefs if I say so myself.
Cleaning guns and drinking beer. Pretty good stress reliefs if I say so myself.

Well, it finally happened. After over two years of time spent in the pipeline, today I’m officially a qualified mechanical nuclear operator. This means I’m officially done with the training pipeline (well, almost), and I’m no longer the lowest on the nuclear Navy totem pole. In order to qualify, I had to pass a two hour final oral board with a Nuclear Reactors civilian and a senior enlisted mechanic. They asked so many things, things that even went back to A School, which was about two years ago. Thankfully, I was able to fumble my way through and now I’m done. The relief I’m feeling is so amazing.

Sadly, my break isn’t going to last because I’ve been selected for ELT, or Engineering Laboratory Technician. Basically, an ELT is an upgraded mechanical operator who has had lab and chemistry training, as well as on the boat training for different radiological and chemical concerns. It’s generally said to be pretty good job that most mechanics (at least at some times) wish they could be doing. I’ll still always be a mechanic, but this will be my primary duty for the rest of my time in the Navy.

It’s kind of hard to explain to my friends and family what exactly I did to get here, or what I’ll be doing, or where I’m going. Unless you’ve been in, most of this is probably just a words that have some meaning — but without some connection behind them. I guess you’d have to read all two years of my Navy-related posts and try to piece it together. It seems like a distant dream and it’s still weird to think I’m no longer just an unqualified student. That said, I’m about to get another set of qualifications to deal with so I’ll still be a student for a little while longer.

After that, I have two real options. One is that I can become a junior staff instructor and remain in Charleston, or the other is that I can go to the fleet and be an ELT on a submarine or a carrier, wherever the Navy decides to send me. I’ve listed Guam, Hawaii, Kings Bay GA, and San Diego as my top selection, but who knows what will actually happen to me. Right now, I’d much rather just go to the fleet, get qualified in the fleet, and start my career. I like Charleston, but I’m ready for the real experience.

Our new cat Peepers. Shes really nice when she's asleep.
Our new cat Peepers. Shes really nice when she’s asleep.

Anyway, weirdly, my birthday is once again coming up and hopefully I may actually have a light work load to celebrate it. It’s been weird not having any real free time for the last 7 or so months, and I’m dying for a little leave. But, after I finish ELT school, I’ll get 30 days of transfer leave, which I can’t wait to experience. In what little free time I’ve had, I’ve been going to the gun range and pondering some new purchases. But, nothing so far.

Carissa begged me to adopt a baby cat and so now we have a cat. I’m not the biggest fan of cats, and this cat is nothing but trouble. Biting, scratching, freaking out around people. Soon I feel like it’ll be an outside cat. As soon as we have the chance, we’re getting a dog of my choosing.

Until then, we’ll see how it goes.

Seeing the Light

Me with Carissa. Not in a uniform and drinking beer. The best kind of day.
Me with Carissa. Not in a uniform and drinking beer. The best kind of day.

Well, it’s been a couple months, although it doesn’t really feel like it. Time flies when you’re not really asleep or awake, and you end up drifting through the days on rotating shift work feeling like every day is Wednesday. The “on crew” phase of prototype has been considerably harder and more frustrating. Most of my time has still been begging people for “check outs” on casualty procedures. I’d say that unlike college where the more you learn, the more interested in subjects you become, in prototype it’s completely the opposite.

I’ve been fighting through to the end and right now I’m about 80% complete in my qualifications. I’ve remained the top mechanic on my crew and managed to keep myself in the positive through some tough weeks, but it’s starting become more about getting signatures than about the amount of points you’re trying to make a day. (Every check out is assigned a point value, and you are required to make a certain amount of points a day, called a “delta”, the symbol denoting change.) It’s a pretty miserable experience but finally I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Theoretically, our graduation date is in June or early July, but we’ll see if that’s reasonable. At the moment, we have to switch boats due to limitations, which will complicate most things down the road. I’m currently “steam limited”, or in other words, I have to have the reactor at power to finish my assignments on the boat. So, until then, I am stuck in a no talking study area for 8.5-12 hours a day trying to get the last of my check outs completed. Then I take my final comprehensive test, and then stand watches, and then take my final oral board. All of these things are terrifying. If there ever was a job that makes me feel absolutely stupid every day, it’s nuclear power.

About 2/3 completed. It's looking amazing!
About 2/3 completed. It’s looking amazing!

All that said, I do get some time off here and there. On one of our “t-weeks” (short for training week, I believe), I was able to go to Savannah with Carissa and have a few good nights. Since then, however, I usually just want to sleep and not be in a uniform for a while. Also, I spent another 9 hours getting my tattoo worked on. It’s not complete yet, but it’s getting there.

Hopefully I’ll be in the light soon.

On Crew

I still make it downtown with the guys, even as a married man!
I still make it downtown with the guys, even as a married man!

So, it’s been 7 weeks since I last updated before I started Prototype. I finally finished the off crew period. Essentially, for the first 7 weeks of the pipeline you’re stuck in a classroom getting lectures all the time and trying to memorize a bunch of random facts and schematics about every system on the boat. The process starts off with you studying your material in a handbook and then trying to take a ridiculously hard computer test that you’ll fail the first time. Then, two hours later, you can retake it and pass. Then you have to track down a qualified staff member and do a verbal “check out” to get everything signed off in your books. There’s more to it than that of course, but it’s really boring and even thinking about it makes me depressed. It really is a pretty awful experience (and I’m leading the class in points right now!). Being a Nuke is almost ridiculous at times.

For the next however many weeks (in theory 20 weeks), I’ll be actually spending most of my day on the submarine and doing actual work, on top of getting more “check outs” and some time in the classroom. It’s rotating shifts of 12 hour days for 7 days and about 2 days off after that. No more weekends! I hope I’ll actually be able to see Carissa a little, but it’s going to be pretty hard. Oh well, that’s the Navy for you.

This is just a sneak peak of the linework. I'll show the full thing once it's done!
This is just a sneak peak of the line work. I’ll show the full thing once it’s done!

If you’re wondering if I’ve done anything at all since being at Prototype, I haven’t. There’s just no time. I get home from work and then go to sleep, and then on the weekends we usually grill out and drink. Doing nothing becomes one of the best experiences in your life when all you do is work.

The only real news is that I got a tattoo. I had been planning on one for a long time and I’ve debated actually getting on for the last few weeks. Last Sunday I went to a few shops and found an amazingly talented artist (Josh at Artistic Ink). He’s a traveling artist and he really did hook me up. It took about 6 hours just for the lines; and in two weeks, I’ll get the color. Can’t wait to see how it looks!

The End of an Era

All aboard the party bus, next stop Freedomville.
All aboard the party bus, next stop Freedomville.

And the start of a new one — one that will suck really, really hard. As of tomorrow, I’ll be (finally) starting prototype after being on various stages of hold at three different commands since May 25th. It’s been amazing to have done pretty much nothing for so long, but also it sucks because I have literally forgot almost everything I knew… and now I have to stuff it all back in there. Not fun! For the sake of keeping things simple, I’m just telling everyone that I’ll basically disappear for six to nine months, depending on how long I’m actually stuck in the pipeline (there are numerous delays).

It’s actually making me a little sick thinking of it. I’ve been able to spend so much time with Carissa that this is… strange, to say the least. It’s going to be such a switch from getting to see her all the time to pretty much only at night, and only so I can pass out and go to bed. On top of her working until pretty late, I’m not sure when we’re supposed to get a chance to see each other. Oh well, part of the Navy — and much less sucky than a deployment where I won’t even come home at night. But, that’s still down the road.

So, to make the best of it, we went to the 30th Annual Lowcountry Oyster Festival, put on by the Charleston Restaurant Association. I’ve always done the restaurant week things in the past and thought they were cool, and we both love oysters and other seafoods. It’s been featured on billboards and posters, and it’s all over the radio. I’ve been pumped up about this event for over a month.

The event is at the Boone Hall Plantation, which is about a 35 minute drive from our place in Summerville and it opened today (on a Sunday, strangely) at 10:30 AM. We left the house at about 11 AM and about 5 miles away from the event is where we ran into the most ridiculous problems. The parking situation was the single most infuriating thing I’ve ever dealt with and will largely be the reason I won’t ever be back. We waited on the main road for over an hour and half and then we turned into a winding, dusty dirt road that took another 45 minutes of standstill traffic to reach the parking lot, which took about 15 minutes to park in.

It is this packed and more, and completely disorganized.
It is this packed and more, and completely disorganized.

From there, we walk about 5 minutes to the entrance, waited another 10 minutes, and get through (tickets at 15 dollars at the door). After that, you have to wait in a line for another 15 minutes to buy tickets to buy the oysters and alcohol. The tickets are 2 dollars each, and each bucket of oysters is 10 dollars. (Amazingly, wine and beer were 3 tickets each, meaning 6 dollars for less than a solo cup of beer. Cool.) And, if you’re going to eat oysters, you need to wait in line for 10 minutes to get the knife tool (4 dollars) to open them (and gloves [2 dollars each glove] if you don’t want your hands to get all cut up like ours did). So we get all the tickets and the tools finally, and we wander around to where the oyster bucket line is. This time, everyone was packed together like cattle with no real line, and fighting my way to the front took another 35 minutes. We got 3 buckets of oysters, with about 1 1/2 dozen in each bucket (it comes with crackers, hot sauce, and cocktail sauce though horseradish was definitely missing).

After that, if you want to use the provided tables, you have to wait until they open up or each sit in the grass. We got lucky and jumped in a spot fast. We probably spent 40 minutes having fun and eating oysters (damn you will get messy). We had a good time and ate a lot of these sea loogies, which were really hot and delicious. So, we finish and try to get cleaned up, but the sanitizing stations are empty already (bring wet wipes with you, trust me!). We try to go to the bathroom, but there were obviously not enough units for everyone and the wait appeared to be a good 20 minutes or more, so we just held it in. Fun.

There was some live music, but nothing that caught our attention. Most people were just out there getting slammed drunk and eating fried foods from the other vendors (who gets fried chicken at an oyster festival?). The size of the venue is almost a little small for all the people, despite being a massive plot of land available for use. Every inch of space was taken up by people’s stuff, so finding your way around wasn’t too pleasant. If there were more things to do than the music, eat oysters, and get drunk, we didn’t see it. We wandered around a little, but there wasn’t a map of the event or anything, so we just left after we got somewhat full. Our big loop into the plantation put us right next to one of the entrances, so I thought we’d have an easy out. Wrong, of course. They closed it off and had us drive through the front of the event, near the ticket gates. Of course, everyone was walking everywhere, so we had to wait on all the people and then drive through another winding dirt road in bumper to bumper traffic, taking around 45 minutes. When we got to the highway, we were so relieved to finally leave.

You can eat oysters at a sit down place all over town, for less than the price you'll get them for at the festival. Try Coconut Joe's and have a walk on the beach while you're there.
You can eat oysters at a sit down place all over town, for less than the price you’ll get them for at the festival. Try Coconut Joe’s and have a walk on the beach while you’re there.

So, if you total everything up, we spent 60 dollars, 30 on food, and 30 to enter (and more, counting the gas). We spent more than 5 hours total trying to get to the event and actually being there, and of that, we spent a total of 40 minutes actually eating the stupid oysters. I am completely amazed that people were actually having a good time here. I went to the fair, which was packed and it took us maybe 30 minutes to get in the gate, and maybe 10 to leave. I wasted my entire last day of freedom trying to get out of the house and do something fun, but I can’t figure out why I just didn’t lay in bed. If I was a smart man, I could have gone to a really nice seafood place and had more food for less money and be way more happy. I’m not sure if this is what South Carolina calls a good time, but it really sucks.

What should have been a really fun day turned out to be a huge waste. Today is the day that Carissa and I spent in the car together hanging out. If we wanted to do that, we would have done it in our driveway. They’ve been putting this thing on for 30 years and they haven’t figured out the logistics it takes to do this yet? Ridiculous.

The reason I wrote so much detail about the event is because I Googled it myself and could only find a couple of facts, such that it existed and that there is a lot of oysters and live music. So hopefully someone else Googles this and decides to never come here and do this. You can get oysters at tons of seafood places around town, and your day won’t suck. Avoid it at all cost.