Still There?

For those who don’t know, most of my family and I have moved to Grafenwöhr, Germany. So today (18 Feb) I finally felt completely overwhelmed. A real “WTF am I doing?” moment. Bordering on panic attack overwhelm.

Maybe it was the stress of having lived in 5 different hotel rooms over the last 45 days. Maybe it was not having viewed a single new place to live yet. Maybe it is the lack of a vehicle to drive around in. Maybe it was the whole 5100 miles from home in a new continent. But maybe it was just the third meeting in which I was the only non-German speaking person and EVERYTHING was being discussed in German.
For some time now I’ve been thinking about re-naming my blog. Over the weekend the inspiration of what to call it hit me: Outside the Comfort Bubble. I am so far outside my comfort bubble it isn’t funny. Today was just a massive exclamation and emphasis of that point.

It’s also an odd point because I started blogging not only because I wanted to write but because I had time on my hands. What I was doing at work at the time was easy. I was on cruise control. My blogging started to taper off when I reached into the unknown. Or as a friend, fellow engineer, and blogger would say I began to stretch myself. Even my writing began to taper off as I further reached with my deployment to Afghanistan. Since arriving in Germany just over a month ago the desire to write, to point out my observations, and just plain express myself has been building but that step outside the comfort zone is overwhelming. I am a sponge soaking in new information and trying to find a way to process it.

There’s the new location, new roads, new rules of the road for driving, new language, new staff, new support staff, new standard operating procedures, almost none of the things that I have taken for granted remain. I remain the most humble person you will ever meet, yet I was good at what I did. In taking this new job and moving most of my family I said, “I got this, watch and see.” Since arriving, I have gone from “WTF!” to “WTF?” What have I done? This is going to be a challenge. This is going to be harder than it already has been. I see that now.

At the end of the day on the way home I heard on the radio Tubthumping. Now it isn’t that I’m a big Chumbawumba fan, but something about the lyrics resonated with my eternally optimistic side. No, it isn’t that I was concocting a session wherein I alternated whiskey drink, vodka drink, lager drink, and cider drink. It is the reminder that I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down.

It will be a few days before I fix the blogpage. It may be a few days before I post anything else as well. But it’s coming. I am reminding myself as I recently did my oldest daughter of my favorite piece of kitsch hanging in the Biloxi Hard Rock. It is a signed drum head from Alex Van Halen that reads, “Fall down 7 times, stand up 8!”

Our Day of Infamy

What follows is an account of what I was doing on this day fourteen years ago. It is predominantly a re-post from a few years ago but this day will always hold more significance for me because I spent the last two 11 Septembers in Afghanistan. I didn’t go there because of today, but if it hadn’t been for this day I wouldn’t have been there.

On this day most of us remember where we were when we still had a World Trade Center in New York, New York (the town so nice, they named it twice).

For my part, I was going in to work late because I had something to deliver for work in downtown Birmingham. I was going to give my brother-in-law a ride to his condo in Dirt Pile (known to everyone besides he and I as a little burg named Mountain Brook). I stopped at my normal gas station, a Jet Station. You cannot make up the good stuff.

When I went in to pay the clerk told me that an airplane had flown into the World Trade Center. Now this did not concern me one little bit. NOT IN THE LEAST! Because I am a Civil Engineer, at the time I was still in school, in fact, I was taking my Structural Steel class. But I wasn’t worried because I know that skyscrapers are designed to withstand an airline collision. Of course, that design is predicated on the fact that the pilot realizes he’s headed for a building and is attempting to avoid it. The Empire State Building was hit by a B-25 in 1945. It is, to my knowledge, the highest fire that has ever been successfully put out. But when the pilot realized a collision was unavoidable he was still trying to avoid it.

Getting back into the truck we continued on and heard that the second tower was hit. Immediately I realized, the first plane wasn’t trying to miss and we were in for a bad day. Modern sky scrapers are not made to hold the weight of the floors above them. The floors are designed to hold up the weight of the floor, the weight is then transferred down. It is a fascinating concept that is a part of the reason I never wanted to be a structural engineer, however, no engineer can ever look at a structure without thinking load transfer ever.

As the radio told us the second tower was hit I turned to my brother-in-law and said, “Johnny, some country just used to exist.” I was as positive of that then as I am now.

Best Birthday Present Ever

A lot of people have been re-sharing their stories about Hurricane Katrina on her 10th anniversary but mine is a little different. The post below is one I did four years ago updated a bit but only the years have changed.

Not bad, except there should be a building blocking the view from this angle, imagine the surprise of the people inside as that one disappeared. Or as the casino barge ran into the hotel.

Ten years ago last Saturday I lost contact with all but one of the family I had in the middle of Hurricane Katrina. My Dad, Mom, Uncles, Aunts, Cousins, there are too many to count. Predominantly they were in Biloxi, a few in Ocean Springs, one as far away as Diamondhead (near where the eye passed), but brackish blood runs through the Byrd veins.

The unwritten rules of hurricanes seem strange to most uninitiated. Cutting the grass the day before it hits, having an ax in your attic, calling everyone you know after the power goes out. I was at work 320 miles away as the storm hit, but still in contact with my family. My sister had half-evacuated. She left her home a half mile from the beach in Biloxi and went to her fiance’s house in Saucier, maybe 10 miles inland. Mom, Dad, 3 uncles, 2 aunts, at least 2 cousins and a second cousin all stayed in Biloxi. Another aunt, uncle, and at least 2 cousins were in Ocean Springs watching the storm arrive.

The stalwart survivor of countless storms since the late 19th century lost to Katrina

About 10 o’clock. I couldn’t get Dad. He, Mom, and a friend of the family were in his house four miles from the front beach. I heard from my sister about 10:30, there was water up to the window sills in the house. None of my other relatives were reachable. Then my sister again about 11, the house had 4 feet of water in it. And then the reports stopped. Not the calls mind you, just the reports there was no news to report. No one knew anything. I was on the phone with cousins in Texas, Washington, an Aunt in Georgia, and people I had not talked to in over ten years. But no one in my family on the Coast except my big sister. The storm passed through my own neck of Alabama. Bad wind, lots of rain, a few limbs down, power out. A neighbor lost some shingles. The power came back on, still no news.

Eleven o’clock turned to noon, one, three, nine pm. The phone was glued to my ear but not with family on the Coast except T-Byrd. On the way home from work I flagged down an SUV that was so full of people there were two guys riding in the back with their feet hanging out the glass because there was no room and told them to follow me for a meal. I tried to take them to our church where we housed a Red Cross Emergency Shelter full of people with names like Thibodaux and Arceneaux with thick Cajun accents. Working with them reminded me of the family I had no contact with. These were the lucky ones that got away just before the levees cracked. They were anxious to get back home to pick up the pieces and start rebuilding, as they had three times before. Yet still no word.

A casino mercifully wiped out the Ohr Museum, unfortunately they built it back.

Tuesday, 8 am. Noon. Two o’clock. I talked with people I didn’t even know. Someone who lived down the street from my second cousin twice removed (I love living in the South where you can keep track of these things). I relayed messages and numbers from friends, old friends, and strangers to anyone I could find. Five pm, and still no word. Seven, midnight. My cousins in Texas and Washington were as frantic as I, yet none of us wanted to admit it to each other (am I wrong? I know at least one is reading this now). I was the connection between all of them. I had no idea where our family was, but I was not going to let them down. My own wife had our children under control, freeing me up to do what little could be done to find out about the rest of the family.

Wednesday morning, six am, nothing. Eight, nothing. Then nine, a strange number on the phone. Nothing odd about that now. I had been dialing and being called from area codes and phone numbers I still don’t know. I answered and heard my Dad’s voice.

The relief that washed across me was strong, but guarded. They were alive. The conversation went like this (not a paraphrase or fuzzy memory here, this is my occasional anal-retentive memory at its best):

“Dad, you have no idea how worried I was.”

“Why, we were alright?”

“Dad, the last I heard there was 4 feet of water in your house.”


“Dad! Mom’s only 5 feet tall!”


I could hear him shrugging his shoulders. They had borrowed a neighbor’s car and went out checking on things until they found someone who had a working cell phone and called. Within an hour I had reports from all of the Byrd extended clan, no fatalities, no injuries, two and a half houses in need of complete stud to stud, floor to ceiling rebuilding. Uncle Pat and Tara had some pine trees down in their yards (within a mile of one another).

The Biloxi/Ocean Springs Bridge lovingly referred to as the bunnyhop bridge.

This was the point at which the wave of relief was complete. I hung up my phone for a half hour and basked in the glow. After nearly forty-eight hours of not knowing, I received the greatest Birthday present of all time: the knowledge that my family, that had not bothered to evacuate or retreat in the face of a Category 5 storm (later downgraded to 4) was alive.

Tullis Manor, not the big thing, that is the casino that took out the historic home

At the least it was better than my sister’s who now shares a birthday with not only the late Michael Jackson but the anniversary of the storm that changed it all.

Where do we go from here

It has been a very long time since I wrote anything other than something for work. Odd for me, definitely different.

As I review my old writings I’ve re-read some of the notes I used as posts while still in Afghanistan. I started from the bottom up so to re-post them now would be odd because a simple scroll down to the second or third posts back would see the same things, but I had some odd connected thoughts.

I also stumbled across one I didn’t blog, or don’t think I blogged because I didn’t note when I blogged it. It was a post about the Battle of Bunker Hill but it was symbolic of a stand that I was about to make–and did. It may or may not have cost me what it could but it certainly came at a cost. Or maybe it was a benefit. No one would quite get the meaning or emphasis out of the writing that I did. Yet that never used to bother me. To be honest, still doesn’t.

So maybe I’m back, maybe not. The site definitely needs to be redone but I’m not sure which way to go. Only time will tell, maybe a little time, maybe a lot. We’ll see.

A Year without Posting

I knew that something was wrong. Something was missing. Something wasn’t right.

I tried to fix it, and failed. I decided I’d try again in a few days, when things slowed down. They haven’t, I didn’t. Finally in frustration I asked for help.

The response I got wasn’t helpful at all. I tried to follow the instructions but to no avail. So I decided to try again: in a few days, when things slowed down. They haven’t. They didn’t. In frustration I asked for help again.

The problem was the same, the response was different. This time they removed the block and everything works.

Except of course that I discovered I haven’t posted in over a year. A very good reason for that is that I stopped writing. Again. For a writer, that is not good. Mostly because that makes you not a writer.

My last post was 11 Jun 2014, 9 days past my self proclaimed year without wearing a tie. My last bit of writing was 11 Jun 2014. I even stopped keeping track of the airplane flights I was taking (I think I ended up spending close to 6 days in the air over the course of 16 months).

Is that about to change? Maybe, maybe not. I need things to slow down first.