Sunday, September 11, 2011

My mind is open wide and now I'm ready to start - Arcade Fire

I left Boston on a rainy Thursday, and made it to DC eight and a half hours later, helped by a cd copy of the book, Moneyball.

I hadn't really felt the gravity of the situation until I pulled away from my apartment with a full car.  Boston has been my home for 15 of the last 16 years.  It is where many of my friends are.  Despite the lack of a grid or signage, I know the crazy roads.  I have opinions about where the best Reuben can be found, good bike rides, hiking trails, and auto mechanics.  My familiarity with the subtleties of the city have made it a comfortable place to be.  As I drove away, I was sad about leaving friends and my sense of belonging, yet also excited about and humbled by the opportunity.

(My first stumbling block in learning DC is which ice cream to buy from the grocer.  My Boston staple, Brigham's chocolate, is not available here.  Any suggestions for a regional favorite?  Thankfully, they do sell Entenmann's here.)

DC is hot.  I know September hot is nothing like July hot, but it's still hot.  I've always experienced the dry-heat / humid-heat thing by going from Boston to Tucson or a similar dry-heat place.  Now I've gone to super humid-heat and it's a doozy.  I am used to walking fast, but will have to learn to pace myself and allow for stop overs in stores with a/c along the way.  I'm not looking forward to this heat while wearing a suit.

My apartment is great.  The pictures the landlord sent do not show how great it is.  There are a few things I'd do differently, but overall, I love it.  It is in the same block as the Verizon Center, a neighborhood that has tons of restaurants, shopping, a movie theater, and lots of pedestrian activity.  Having never lived downtown before, this has been an excellent sensory experience.  So much going on.  Late night noodles and dumplings are in my future.

This morning, I went on a six mile ride around the Capitol, Supreme Court, down the Mall to the Hirshhorn sculptures, past the Washington Monument, and was headed to the Jefferson Memorial when the bees attacked.  I was approaching a crazy man.  He was jumping and flailing around.  I assumed he was nuts, but harmless.  While planning a route around him, I was swarmed.  The bees were not happy.  I joined the man in jumping and flailing, and got away with only one sting on my shoulder blade.  Jefferson will have to wait.

I'm about to go meet my classmates in a pre-training welcome outing at a bar in Virginia.  It's an unofficial outing, but it feels like the beginning of my experience here.

Tomorrow, I become official.

Arcade Fire video

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, Mr. Suit - Wire

Getting an offer has been a huge relief, and has also filled up my to-do list.

Suits:  Ten years ago, I wore a suit everyday to work at the bank, but for the last five years or so, it was rare for me to go the whole work day with shoes on, forget about a suit.  Apparently, pleated pants were in style in the late 90's.  After some donations to goodwill, and some purchases, I now have three suits I'm happy with, and some new dress shirts.  I could buy a few more things, but I'll be able to fill in the gaps when I'm in DC, if necessary.  I'm still not sure if suits are the day to day outfit on the job for most FSOs, or if they are really only used for orientation in DC and special occasions elsewhere.  If I'm going to wear them all the time at post, I'll likely buy another.

Forms:  After the offer, came the forms.  Thrift Savings Plan, health insurance election, beneficiary selections for several things, life insurance options, etc., etc., and yet another occasion where I had to declare that I understand that I am at the whims of State and that I'll go wherever they decide.  My favorite was one that puts me one the hook for all costs if I leave before completing my first year at post.  With medical clearance, security clearance, training costs, per diem, and moving costs, I wonder what that would add up to.

Housing:  I've never lived in the city.  For the last 15 years, I've lived close to Boston, but never in it.  When it comes down to it, I'm too cheap to pay downtown prices.  With the per diem arrangement during training / temporary assignment to DC, I've got much more to work with than I'd ever allow myself.  So, it's now or never.

I've found a place in Chinatown.  I'll be a few minutes walk from the orange line, which will take me to the FSI shuttle.  It'll be a 45 minute commute, which sounds bad, until I remember how much I used to enjoy reading on the T on my commute to Boston.  I'm going to wear out my kindle.  It is also on the red line, which goes to the bars and restaurants of Dupont and Adams Morgan.  If only the curling club were on the Metro.  Sadly, I'll need my car for that.

Since the per diem amount shrinks over time, if I am in training for more than 8 months or so, I'll start to pay the landlord out of my own pocket in addition to the per diem.  It's hard to say how long till this happens since the rates for fiscal 2012, which starts in Oct., are not out yet.  The apartment is a gamble in comparison to Oakwood, the official housing where lots of FSOs stay and where I'd be guaranteed not to pay out of pocket, but I wanted to be downtown, and think I'll appreciate the opportunity to get some space and time to myself.

Moving:  My move date is set for the week before orientation starts.  I don't have a ton to do before then.  One of the great things about having sold my house and having gone to Guatemala to get the language bonus points last year is that I boxed up all my stuff and put it in storage.  I packed with joining the Foreign Service in mind.  I sorted out long term storage boxes, boxes I'd want shipped to post but not DC, boxes I'd want in DC, and some boxes I'd want if I didn't get the offer.  Also, since I'm driving to DC, I'll be able to bring my clothes, plants, computer, printer, bike, office supplies, and more in my car so that I'll have them immediately.

Expiration day:  This isn't on my to-do list, but is worth mentioning.  Today would have been my expiration day off the registrar's list if I hadn't gotten the offer last month.  It has been 18 months since I made the register.  Today could have been a very sad day for me.

(Wire - Mr. Suit)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Anything's possible - Kevin Garnett

I got an invite to the September class.  I'm super excited and relieved.

I couldn't bring myself to open the email for a few minutes.  I just stared at the screen and shouted expletives.  My body gave me a boost of adrenaline or something, 'cause I got real hot and started sweating. 

Over the last few years, I'd arranged a lot of my life around getting this job, and my looming expiration seemed cruel.  I'd mentally accepted the idea that an invite wasn't going to happen, and was bummed about it.  But on Tuesday, I got an email with the offer.  Pretty dramatic.  More dramatic than I wanted.

I began this candidacy in February 2009.  The offer came 869 days after taking the FSOT.  A long ride to get to the start.