While I have not been very good at keeping this site updated, I still do draw and create comics. Every two months I get an email reminding me to create a comic for FTF Geocacher magazine. It’s nice to keep from getting too rusty. Sadly, my geocaching time has been limited -my choice because of a series of things shifting my priorities. I still cache, I just tend to sign the log & then I don’t actually log it online. Go figure. I hope that I’ll be able to get back to drawing the comic soon, once competitive robotics season is over or maybe when (insert lame excuse here).
For the last few years I’ve been reliving my youth by playing Dungeons & Dragons. While there is a very nice game store nearby, I drive over to my favorite comic shop twice a month to answer the call of adventure. I know that many stores have games open to everyone so check out your local game shop or comic book shop if you are interested in trying it out. For first timers they tend to have pre-generated characters ready for you. This is not a post about fantasy role playing games, but rather something that has grown out of my characters’ adventures. I am currently running two characters: Cecil (you know I had to name one that), and Peter. One on Wednesdays and one on Sundays. Since the beginning I took notes to help me keep track from month to month. While the person running the adventure keeps notes and recaps at the start, I just feel better & have found it helps me focus.
So on Wednesdays, Cecil Ookington-Smythe – a halfling rogue fights to save the world from being taken over by evil dragons & those that worship evil dragons. If I slipped into geekspeak here’s a rough translation- I’m roleplaying a hobbit (you know like the short guys in Lord of the Rings- the ones without beards) he’s a thief/spy. I sneak around & do a lot of lurking, although as luck would have it he’s dealt the killing blow to a dragon so he can add “Dragonslayer” to his name. For Sunday’s adventure I am something completely different. I’m playing Peter Paulenmary, a half elf bard (think storyteller). While I’ve been using Cecil for a lot longer, I’ve really tried to flesh out Peter’s back story a bit more. Cecil’s excuse is he has told so many lies about his origin, he doesn’t remember the truth. Peter’s basically a guy running around gathering stories of adventure, He’s not looking for fame or fortune, just a spot in the local tavern to spin tales of heroes and get some free drinks. He has ended up taking some bad advice by heading to Ravenloft (think Transylvania) and is trapped with the band of adventurers he had met on the road. I like to think of the group wishing they hadn’t taken that left turn in Albuquerque. He’s pretty light-hearted & optimistic, he keeps a leather bound notebook that was given to him by his mentor, Woodrow of Guthrie, along with his favorite history book by S. Morgenstern.
So as the adventures have gone on, I’ve been taking notes. These started as just lists & names, but have become much more elaborate as you can see from the examples. This is basically how I see Peter’s notebook, filled with doodles and information that, when time finally permits, may be made into that great novel, song, epic poem, whatever. So while the actual comic has been on hold for way too long (I only have lame excuses as to why) I’m still recording a “geek odyssey” of sorts. Like anything, my style has changed over time, but it adds a little something to our adventures. Note: in some cases off topic bits from conversations end up in there. Proper conventions of writing are ignored, including spelling since many words are made up so a “phonetic-ish” spelling is used.
MINI Takes The States (MTTS) all started 10 years ago with the last model year of the first generation MINI. To kick off this historical event MINIUSA decided to go on a road trip. Starting in California and ending in Connecticut. It has since become a tradition that biennially MINIUSA celebrates its owners with a trip. This year the theme was “Track to Track” Starting at the Atlanta Motor Speedway and ending in Thermal, California. This isn’t just for fun (although it was) MINI Takes The States has a purpose. When MINI Takes The States first started I don’t even recall if there was a charity. Since then this has really become a trip about helping out. Feeding America was the charity this time around and we had a goal to raise enough money to provide 800,000 meals.
It all began with much fanfare and three guys parachuting into the new MINI convertible. A parade lap around the track and off to our next destination Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Before we get into too much of this adventure you probably need to know what a typical day on the road is like. Each morning we Rise and Shine (literally, the event is called the “Rise & Shine”) Which brings us early in the morning to our starting point, usually some thing significant or at least large enough to park a whole lot of cars. Did I mention that over 400 MINIs did the entire route and there were well over 1,000 people taking part each day? So after you follow the green flags and park, there is an area that has: the bus, a number of tents from either MINIUSA or some of the sponsors, and breakfast. People are milling about either registering, picking up their button (each city has its own button, you wear it on your lanyard so people can see where you started), getting a route sheet, talking to people, getting tickets to enter in the daily drawings, buying swag, or donating to Feeding America (either cash or non perishable foodstuffs). Basically a sea of people who share one thing in common, the MINI.
As we get close to departure time, Desiree, our Mistress of Ceremonies, gets on stage to start things off. We have general announcements, meet the “Executive of the Day” from MINIUSA HQ, go over the route with a local MINI owner, hear from the the local food bank about how our little bit is making a difference in the area, Then the various door prize drawings, from MINI Value Service, MINI Accessories, Pirelli Tire, and the local food bank. The last drawing is for everyone, you don’t need a ticket, but if you don’t show up after your name has been called three times, your name goes into “the pocket of doom.” We close with awards for the person who has raised the most money the previous day, the person who had the best tweet about #defyhunger, the leaderboard for the top car club, the infamous “Bug of the Day”(what most likely wil be splattered on the windshield), oh, and the car of the day- who gets a MINI Takes The States door magnet. Then we are sent to our cars to have a parade lap at the track or just head off to who knows where.
Getting 400 MINIs out of town is difficult, most days there were a lot more that 400. Usually we had the help of local law enforcement to get us out safely & quickly. Once on the road we were on our own. Many people would meet up with fellow MINIs and drive together. Having a radio was essential so you could communicate between cars. Everyone was given a route, on paper or electronically through the MTTS App. The route had been planned to take you past some beautiful country, and to see things you wouldn’t see if you just drove from city to city on the interstate. Somewhere along the route was a “Surprise & Delight.” Some location, usually in a small town. One day it was stopping for lemonade another day cupcakes, each was unique I doubt I would have stopped at “Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum” in Pennsylvania if it weren’t for the surprise and delight. When you arrived in town you could crash at your hotel, or you could attend the evening event. This event brought everyone to some interesting locations in the host city, mostly to rehash the days drive and socialize, and a chance to try out some local delicacies. In Charlotte we visited the NASCAR Hall of Fame Museum, Baltimore took us to the B&O Museum, Cheyanne we went to a rodeo. Fortunately, MINIUSA had planned in a few nights off so people could explore on their own (and do laundry). At the end of the night we head back to our hotel room and sleep until the morning, when we do it all again, for 15 days.
I’ve done part of each MINI Takes The States from one leg to the entire thing (twice). What makes this a fantastic trip is not just the places you see, the roads you drive on, but mostly the people you meet. I heard over and over again, “When you buy a MINI, it comes standard with friends” thanks to my adventures on MINI Takes The States I have friends from all over the world (who I’ve actually met, not just on Facebook).
For the record- round trip: 8,100 miles. Meals provided through Feeding America: 1.3 million.
A picture tells a thousand words so here’s the link to the MINIUSA’s photographers’ MTTS Gallery
So we’re a week out from MINI Takes The States 2016 and in preparation for this epic adventure I am… Doing nothing. While many folks out there have printed the route sheets, and repackaged their MINI a bazillion times, and done practice runs, and had their MINI serviced and detailed (full transparency I did do that), and contacted their next of kin, and… You get the idea. We all have come to realize that most of Social Media is just to turn the drama up to eleven, and it goes. So looking at everything am I laughing or make fun of anyone who has made sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. Not really, everyone has their level of comfort when traveling and not being in control of the majority of a trip does increase the discomfort. For me, I took my roadster in for service, just like I did in 2014. While there, since I have been lazy (real reason is we threw out our old hose and hadn’t gotten it replaced until now) I had the roadster detailed. So it would be ready for the trip. Came back with a clean bill of health and all nice and shiny. I’ve also added a little MTTS 2016 graphics to the car. So what do I still need to do? Pack I guess. For the monkey and me. What am I bringing, a messenger bag, and a suitcase – the one I take on planes. I’ll have things squirreled away in the car, but I definitely hope I will not over pack.
In the suitcase:
- Pants (jeans, and pants with zip off legs)
- Shorts (maybe, I always get myself into trouble with sunburns so I’ll flip a coin at the last minute)
- Shirts (MINI related- this is one of the only times you can get away with a MINI shirt every day) any in particular? I’ve got a few on my short list, and at least one required.
- Maybe a shirt with a collar.
- Meds, toiletries, underwear, socks
- Two pairs of shoes – In my experience feet start to rebel when you wear the same shoes for too long,
In the Messenger Bag:
- Electronics chargers (for iDevices and batteries)
- An iPad
- My sketchbook or a Bristol pad or both
- Drawing stuff – pencils, erasers, pens
- Glasses cleaning cloth
In the Car (within reach):
- iPhone with Waze and MTTS apps
- FRS radio with headset set to 7:21
- 30 oz. Yeti knockoff cup
- Snacks – trail mix, beef jerky, that kind of stuff.
- Sunscreen SPF 50
- My Tilley and a ball cap.
- Windshield cleaning wipes
- Tire pressure gauge (in the glovebox -always)
In the Car (most likely in the boot):
- An umbrella
- A towel
- A blanket
- A waterproof jacket or pullover
- Various cleaning supplies (Microfiber towels, Griot’s Speedshine) most of this stuff is already there.
Going over this list just now, I feel as if I’m bringing too much or maybe overthinking it. But this is about it and I can guarantee I’ve forgotten something important. (Squirt gums are optional) I think Sue’s list is similar except for the drawing supplies, she have knitting things and her GPS loaded with cache coordinates.
What no camera? I have a lovely Nikon DSLR that I really haven’t used since I started taking snapshots with my phone. It has two lenses, lots of memory cards, and takes beautiful pictures, but it’s hard to capture a spontaneous moment when you’ve got so much to check on and set. If I have room I might include it because of some the picturesque places we will be visiting, but probably not.
What about Cecil? His list is pretty easy:
- Shirts, one for every day (yes, he has enough for even longer trips)
- Two pair of shoes
- Book bag filled with buttons – no he doesn’t have a specific button like he had in 2014. With the whole “premium” rebranding he wasn’t sure whether the background would be black or white so he decided not to this time around. So he has some of his monkey buttons.
- A hat or two
For those who do not know about Cecil, he is a fully registered participant this time around. In 2014 he was included as a “pet” which confused MINIUSA and made Cecil irate that he would be considered at the same level as a dog. Oh yes, Cecil is a stuffed Monkey, who has MINIons around the world aiding him in his struggle for world domination. You might see a few at MTTS. Currently that includes raising money for Feeding America, through MINIUSA’s #defyhunger campaign during MTTS2016. If you would like to help, visit his team page and make a donation. Anyone who donates will get a hand draw monkey (one of Cecil’s MINIons) suitable for doing something with. No two are alike. End of sales pitch.
This month has been pretty interesting especially for a guy who tends to think that he is never “good enough.” Don’t blame me, I grew up trying to live up to my parents view of “good enough” that usually had something to do with being successful in areas I could care less about- i.e. sports or school popularity. So, even at 50ish, when I get recognized for something I usually think there must have been a mistake. When I received an email from MINIUSA that I had been nominated for their “Defy Labels” contest, I first thought there must have been a clerical error. You see at the Super Bowl (It’s a TV show about commercials that has a football game breaking up the ads) MINI had a spot kicking off their new image/branding. Whatever, I still like my Roadster.
Basically, I read the message of the commercial as putting things in neat little boxes devalues the item or looking at the people speaking- the person. Don’t worry about what other people think, be yourself, labels limit the possibilities. A classier view of being “Not Normal.” So I get this email with my full nomination: “If you think teachers are all about suede jackets with elbow patches and boring monotone lectures, you’ve never met Bruce. Teaching isn’t just a job or a career to him. It’s the intersection of art and LEGOs and robots and comics. Bruce knows that kids learn best when you strip away the classroom – and the labels that come with it – and you dig into learning with passion and creativity. When kids have teachers like Bruce who dare to do things differently, they learn more than just what’s in the text book. They learn to creatively approach challenges and they learn that it’s perfectly okay to take the road that looks the most exciting.” The silly part is that they have a character limit on what they display for each person so it ends on “Bruce knows that kids learn best when you strip…” which kinda makes me sound like someone you would never want near children.
A few weeks later I get another email (I really need to start filtering my incoming mail)- This time from one of our district high schools letting me know that one of the top 30 seniors named me as their most influential teacher. Wha? Huh? I think about how I have to teach now, and try to remember what I did eight years ago that was so great… Oh, yeah that was before anyone really cared about test scores, and school grades, when we could teach without fear. I thought about the student who nominated me (I was required to write 100 words about her for the award ceremony) and I fumbled over what to say, trying to think back to when I could teach, really teach. She’s a wonderful young lady with a bright future and I hope I found the right words. She was also asked to write something about me. On Wednesday I stood on a stage across from her and heard about how I had made it “okay to make mistakes,” and that I was one of the first teachers that let them know the person behind the desk, that teachers had interests to share and be excited about (MINI Coopers, Geocaching, and of course Cecil). I held back tears, quipped about how Cecil was sorry he couldn’t be there, and smiled… waiting to be escorted off the stage by security because there had been a mistake.
Like I said, I know that there had to be a clerical error in both cases. I’m know I’m not that good- That I can be better. With that in mind I have set a new goal: I want to be the teacher everyone thinks I am. I may not be teaching much longer with that mindset (thank you politics), but at least my students will be better off (Does anybody really care what a rhombus is?) and I will be happier.
For the record this post is not about asking for reassurances, pats on the back, or even votes. I just felt I needed to get this out of my head so I could move on. It usually happens with drawings, but this one is sorta hard to doodle. It was an honor to be nominated- I appreciate the people who believe in me enough to do so. Now I just need to live up to that honor.
OK just kidding… This years challenge is a bit cerebral. This year I’d like to to accomplish three things on the creative front. 1. Take all the MINIon Badges I’ve done and create a book with all of them (thank you Chris for giving me that idea). 2. Finally get the game I designed for my students years ago into a playable format. It deals with the rock cycle and helps them to remember what it takes to make igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks. Not as scientifically accurate as it could be, it at least is a start for elementary kids. 3. Gizmo Girl. I’ve got a story or two, I’ve done character designs, so get a finished issue (24 pages) ready for printing by the end of the year. In the mean time I’d also like to start doing My Geek Odyssey a little more regularly since I’m not drawing monkeys every day. This isn’t a challenge (although it kinda sorta is) more like an ambiguous goal. Basically, I’d like to have more comic strips posted that I did in 2015.
So that’s going to be my 2016 on the creative front. I hope you’ll stick around to see if I actually accomplish anything.