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Join me on my narrative musings of my travels to, during, and from my second AP grading journey in Tampa, FL!

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I suppose the trip really started the day before, on the highway, my 2007 Suzuki Reno sputtering and squelching down to a laborsome roll. The vainful revving cried all the signs of transmission trauma, and so rather than risk trying to press on, I pulled over and did the only reasonable thing that an at best moderately mechanically-minded college writing professor who had to be 1,300 miles away in Tampa in less than 24 hours could do: I called upon our Lord and Highway Savior, Triple-A.

One could find oneself questioning one’s sanity, packed in ‘old Joe’s’ tow truck along with his tools and drive-thru soda cups.

“I don’t care. But they track me anyways,” old Joe said, about as New Yawk as they come. He was an odd yet even more oddly appropriate character for a tow-trucker. Tattooed and white-bearded, with a lean frame of someone who had clearly started doing ‘real’ work at an age that most kids today spent working at convincing mom and dad to buy them a Nintendo Switch.

“Fifty-two years as a mechanic,” as old Joe put it, hacking and rubbing his Santaesque face mane.

“So you’re retired?” I asked, bouncing along in my seat.

“Once upon a time.”

“So this is just part-time.”

“Eh, started that way,” he said. “And here we are.”

“Well, I guess it’s good to stay busy.”

Old Joe glanced at me and winked. There was a warm twinkle in his glistening blue eyes, almost as if he might really be Kris Kringle’s long lost whatever. “You got a long way to go before you retire.”

Ain’t that the truth.

The Advanced Placement grading attracts a wide range of educators: from high school teachers to college profs, poets to bloggers, and all other manner of interesting, eclectic, and creative people in-between. Perhaps what we most share in common, however, is the drive for adventure: to journey some place far from home, for a distinct goal that we can explore beyond on our own spare time.

That and compensation for our work, of course.

Last year had been my first AP grading, and while it’s hard to pin down exactly what lessons I took away from that week – if any – one fact of modern life that I did confirm was that it’s far better to travel at abnormal hours than common ones.

‘Travel’ sucks. Anyone who touts how much ‘I love to travel’ on their OkCupid profile really means ‘I love to take a Xanax nap and wake up some undefinable time later in awesome places.’ Granted, we’ve come a long way from Oregon Trailing our way through droughts, and snake bites, and dysentery, but whom among us doesn’t wish an ever-easier time of it all? Shorter lines and quicker flights and more inches of legroom than your stretching limbs could ever dream of what to do with.

Well, while most of that is as near fantastical of a hope as finding ‘the one of your dreams’ by flaunting your travel exploits via online dating, there are some smaller, perhaps more practical steps one can take to make the least out of their travel. And scheduling a 6AM flight – like I did – might be the most effective of options within your control.

As such, I was able to spend a good part of the first day before our actual work began on the beach in Florida, about 40 minutes from downtown Tampa where we’d be confined for the next seven days or so grading. But not that first day of cloudy sun and fine white sand, and floating in the salty waves with deep breaths of “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

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While I may not have had as much time as I’d like for exploring, relaxing, etceteraing, I did have plenty of mental opportunities to reflect on my surroundings. For starters, Tampa feels too far south for its size – then again most Florida cities feel this way to me. But the few skyscrapers here stick out like sore glass thumbs from the flat former swamplands, drained but not entirely forgotten. You can feel the natural wet in the air, as it certainly feels you. Always wet. Always sticking. The whole scene wanting to return to muck and marsh, to suck apart the baking pavement, and stucco walls, and black-painted stormproof streetlights.

It feels like a shell here. Not a sad place, but one void of rodents and bugs and all other creatures that seem like they should be skirting, slinking, buzzing to survive. Gods know if I counted more than 7 birds within the city during my stay – to be more precise: four crows, two tiny little guys, a white gullish thing soaring overhead, and a chicken clucking about the brick side alleys of Ybor City – not surprisingly the most charming part of Tampa.

Overall it is an overtly human imprint on the land, directly reflecting the whims of the gulf coast environment even while trying to press it away. In the sun, the whole place brightens awake, caramel shingles and golden decos spanning the city. At least until the moody, moony clouds roll on in from the steamy waters to the west, fed since dawn, daily, by that same smiley oppressor, who’s really more like a plane of heat bearing down on your head rather than a single source of muggy light. But by work day’s end, that light is gone – vanished behind the very swirl it’s been stewing over the bay, from here all the way clear across to Mexico. These clouds turn Mordor-dark as the day draws on, the light breeze soon whips up like a siren of even more monstrous gale still to come. The rain strikes, fast and heavy to signal the workday’s end at 5:00pm, eager to play its part in nature’s ongoing war to reclaim this land from societal order. To dissolve all here that’s not green.

There aren’t very many green-colored buildings in Tampa. But I guess that’s true for just about every city.

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The grading factory crew!

Still, there’s plenty good with this place. From the fine fresh brews of Cigar City, to the wavily wondrous works of the Dali Museum across the bay, to icepops gone wildflavor. If only there were more time to explore all these and more – but grading is grading. Work is work. And so we labored, almost in sight of those swaying palms. [Click here for the full photo album]

There’s plenty more to say, but this seems like enough observational ranting for one post. What I will mention about the reading is in echo to my concluding sentiment following last year’s; that is, while it’s a hell of a lot of arduous work, it’s also a damn good time too.

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Will I be back in Tampa for next year’s AP grading? Good question. All I can think on that matter are the wise words of tow-truck Joe. I’m far from retired after all, and so my work future looks bright, even whenever and wherever the clouds roll in.

Thanks for taking some time to read a little about my AP grading journey. Feel free to share your own thoughts or any questions you might have about the event! Especially if you’re thinking about applying for next year!

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Much A-grumble About Winter

There’s been much a-grumbling in recent days about what seems to finally be arriving: the freaking cold (wasn’t it just, like, August?). Yes, winter is nigh, and so are all of the complaints that come with cold knuckles, chapped lips, and swinging snow shovels like giant lopsided axes in a fruitless attempt to smash your way through driveway ice. But, as with most trials in life, sometimes it helps to look on the bright side of things, especially when it’s already dark outside before you get out of work.

So in the spirit of our now long forgotten summer, or the holidays, or just in a pitiful attempt to hold off the crushing winter blues until at least the new year, here is my list of the top ten things to look forward to this winter:

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10. You can leave beer outside:

     This might seem like a useless winter time benefit for non-beer drinkers. Alas, father Joemas can’t make everyone happy, but for those among us who do indulge in the occasional tipsying beverage of choice, this can be a mighty fine season. Aside from the ability to store booze out on your porch rather than packing out your fridge, there’s many-a seasonal craft brews that will be gone come the spring thaw. Drink up now! *WARNING: make sure to bring beer indoors if temperatures drop at night below freezing as not doing so could result in broken beers and a sad you. #:'( #frozentears

9. You can leave food in the car!:

     Okay, this might seem like another one of my crazy Joe-bo schemes, but think about the logistics for a moment (and by logistics I mean laziness). In the spring or summer when I forget to bring my restaurant leftovers inside I sometimes end up driving  a couple of days later and wondering, “Hmm, I really hope that vinegary smell isn’t coming from my engine…” In the winter, I can delightfully stumble across a frozen bean burrito in my backseat ready for thawing!

8. My beard suddenly becomes a much more reasonable adaptation:

     As a perennial beard-bearer, I’m often asked, “Aren’t you hot under that thing?” The truth is that I barely notice my beard having borne it so many years now; however, once the winds of winter start whipping across my face, I’m suddenly reminded of why I’ve been cultivating my glorious facial turf all year: #facescarfwin

7. Cozy pajamas:

     Anymore needeth saying?

6. Holiday meals:

     Fall and winter are perhaps the peak seasons for holiday feasting. If American holidays in general are really actually about anything, then the answer is food, and the winners are perhaps Thanksgiving and Christmas. Of course, there are plenty of other great foodie days throughout the year, though the wintertime offers all types of deliciousness not found elsewhere: cinnamon, nutmeg, anything roasted and warmmmmm….

5. Hot chocolate!:

    Hot chocolate gets my vote 365, but if there’s one season where it truly shines that season is winter. If you’re feeling daring, I suggest trying an olde 60/40 – a trademark concoction formulated by who else than me? Basically make a cup that’s 60% hot chocolate and 40% black coffee (you should add more hot chocolate and less coffee based on the desired strength, but I myself am pretty bold so I stick closer to the 60/40 balance, but hey, drinkers choosers).

4. Snowmen:

     Step one: build them. Step two: tackle/sword fight them with sticks.

3. Sledding/warm fires/other activities:

     If it looks like Hoth outside, you might as well make the most of it. Skiing and snowboarding are always a fine idea if you have a chance to escape to a mountain somewhere, but for us common folk: some sleds, a hill, and a handle of Jameson should suffice to pass the time in style.

2. Something to complain about:

     Let’s face it: humans like to complain, even if there’s nothing really worth complaining about. Winter is a fine time to fill our otherwise empty lives with some icy grievances. Just think about the rest of the year when you’ll be able to say, “At least it’s not snowing.”

1. Dreaming of sunnier days, and hey, it could always be worse:

     Since global warming or changing or weirding or whatever you want to call it is going to boil us all away anyway, we might as well enjoy the winter while it lasts. Of course, there’s always the polar vortex, in which case we’ll freeze to death instead. Either way, everything changes; nothing lasts forever. It’s all perspective. The colder the winter, the warmer the summer seems. Until then, hot chocolate and dreaming of the beach sounds like a plan to me.

 

The summer office of professor Labs

The summer office of professor Labs