Best Concert Ever?

I know this post will be up for debate. Just as an FYI, this post, much like many others on this site, is my opinion and mine only. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. This is mine.

I have been to God knows how many concerts in my 30 years on this Earth. The shows I have seen range from Green Day to Paul McCartney AND Ringo Starr, to Raffi when I was a kid, to Roger Waters to big music festivals. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved every one of them. But today I want to talk about what is more than likely THE best concert I have ever been to: the Foo Fighters. OH MY GOD! The Foo Fighters kicked SO…MUCH…ASS!

First off, Dave Grohl is a “local” musician. He is from the Washington, DC area and I had the opportunity to see Foo Fighters at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. Aka right outside DC. So I saw the Foo’s in Dave’s local area. Actually, Dave’s opening line—before playing any songs—was “OH IT FEELS SO GOOD TO BE HOME MOTHERFUCKERS! FEELS GOOD TO BE HOME!”

From there, the band launched into an AWESOME version of All My Life. (Please note, I am not going to go into detail with every song they played. Otherwise we would be here all day.) But after All My Life, they immediately segued into Learn to Fly, probably one of my favorite FF songs.

I’m writing this concert review on Monday, March , 2021. The actual concert was in July of 2018, almost a full three years after the show. But this show was SO good, it is still fresh in my mind.

That is for a few reasons. One: the songs. The Foo Fighters have been around since 1995, so almost as long as I have been alive. As such, they have a lot of songs. Two: the length of the concert. The Struts opened the show at a little before 6pm (maybe 6:00 exactly). Around 7:20-7:30, the Foo Fighters took the stage. Keep in mind, Merriweather has an 11:00pm curfew due to it being an outdoor, open-air venue. So the Foo’s wasted no time in getting started, nor did they stop until they hit that 11pm curfew, and that’s only because security literally had to come onstage and tell them to stop playing.

And the third and final reason: the band itself. I touched on this earlier, but Dave Grohl is probably the best frontman of any band I have ever seen! Plus he’s an amazing musician. Dave also talks to his audience…like, A LOT! I can’t decide whether Dave spent more time actually singing or talking. Actually, Dave talks so much, part of me was thinking, “Oh that’s nice…now play music!” Plus he is a super nice, down-to-Earth guy. When I saw the Foo Fighters, Dave invited a fan with a sign to come onstage and shotgun a beer with him.

The next member is Pat Smear. Dave and Pat previously played together with another band you might be familiar with, Nirvana. And no, they did not play any Nirvana songs so don’t get excited about that. But Pat is one Hell of a guitar player!

Nate Mendell plays bass and he looked genuinely happy to be playing with the rest of the band. He seemed into the music, and I like that. Because, some bands do their thing, play the songs almost half-assed, and leave. Not the case here.

Rami Jaffee is a PHENOMENAL multi instrumentalist! He plays keyboards, piano, and occasionally accordion. And he plays well with the rest of the group and fits in well. Dave makes sure to give him, as well as all other band members, their time in the spotlight.

Chris Shiflett is the lead guitar player in Foo Fighters. And while Dave is the main person in the band, Chris can hold his own. Chris is, much like the others, an AMAZING instrumentalist!

And now we come to what I consider the “backbone” or “glue” that holds the band together, and Dave knows this. He makes sure specifically to highlight this person. But enough stalling. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the drummer for the Foo Fighters and, apart from Dave Grohl, my personal favorite member of the band: Taylor Hawkins. Let me just say, Taylor is the best and most enthusiastic drummer I have ever seen. (Sorry, Ringo Starr…) Not only that, but Taylor also has a PHENOMENAL singing voice! See, about halfway through the 3 1/2 hour show, Dave and Taylor swapped positions. Taylor Hawkins took lead vocals for a cover of the QUEEN song, Under Pressure. Dave played drums.

So yes, the Foo Fighters do do cover songs during their set. Sometimes, it’s a blatantly bad cover. Sometimes it’s because it is what the artist is known for. But the Foo’s do it to play homage to their musical inspirations, and they do it well! During the show I saw, they played Under my Wheels by Alice Cooper, Blitzkrieg Bop by The Ramones, the aforementioned Under Pressure, Nate Mendell played the bass intro to Another One Bits the Dust (also by QUEEN), and a weird mashup of the piano part of Imagine by John Lennon with the lyrics to Jump by Van Halen.

I know I said I wasn’t going to go too in-depth with all the songs, but there are a select few I want to mention. My Hero, one of the first songs Foo Fighters ever recorded, for me, was the highlight of the show. Dave let the audience take over midway through the song. That was an INCREDIBLE musical unity moment! The encore was Best of You, Times Like These, and Everlong. Best of You was extended—taking audience participation into account—from 4 minutes to roughly an 11 minute song! It was crazy!

One more thing before I wrap this up: the noise level and intensity. This was by far the longest, loudest, wildest, and shakiest concert I have ever been to, and I’ve seen The Who. Widely considered the “World’s Loudest Band”, The Who absolutely pale in comparison, at least nowadays, to a Foo Fighters show!

I said this was a “shaky” concert. What do I mean by that? Well the Foo Fighters played so loud, you could literally feel the foundation of the pavilion shaking. So as far as I am concerned, Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters give what I consider a perfect concert!

So is this THE best concert I have ever attended? For me personally it’s a 100% YES! I could go on and on and on and on about the show (much like the show itself) but I think I’ve said enough in this really long review. So that’s my opinion of my one Foo Fighters show. Thanks for reading!

-Tom

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A Common “Misconception”

I think a common misconception about me, Tom Whalen, is that I am a workaholic. See, I am well respected in the Autism community here in Maryland. I’m almost an Autism “ambassador” here. And in no way do I take regret in that title or use it lightly.

But for me it’s not All Work and No Play. I like to have fun just as much as the next person. Maybe it’s a combination depending on situations. I LOVE my job and consider it my life’s calling. So what do I do for work? I am an Autism self advocate. I speak publicly about my life and experiences on the Autism Spectrum. And who knows? Maybe in this instance, the label “Workaholic” could be a good thing.

As I said, I really don’t have that All Work and No Play mentality. I have a life outside my advocacy work…well, sort of. I absolutely love talking to people about my Autism diagnosis. But at the same time, I’m not the kind of person who is in-your-face about it or shoving it down your throat constantly. In public, I socialize, drink, go to shows, movies, et cetera…in general just have a good time.

But if someone asks me about work or what I do, I am ecstatic and will happily tell them. Simply because this is my life. In other words, I know what I am talking about. Look, I know this next statement will sound cliche, but I really feel, in the humblest way possible, like I have the best job in the world. I get to travel occasionally to various places in Maryland and DC once to speak. I have well-respected allies. And that means the world to me. I know—or at least hope—I am educating people about Autism and potentially making a difference.

So in closing, do I enjoy my work? Uh…DUH! But I feel I really don’t deserve the “workaholic” title. I am merely an employee who loves his job. That’s all. So what do you think? Is there anything about you that you’d consider a misconception? Let me know in the comments and thanks for reading!

-Tom

Disney Movie Conspiracy

I want to preface what I say below is not my work. This is an Internet theory and I am adding my two cents to the theory. I merely thought it was an interesting spin and take on a classic Disney film. I have attached a link to the original article below.

My earliest recollection of Disney is my Dad and I watching the 1992 animated Disney film, Aladdin. As a kid, a lot of the jokes went over my head. Now as an adult, I can appreciate the humor the late, great Robin Williams brought to the film as the immortal Genie. I still love Aladdin and it is tied with Lion King as my favorite animated Disney film. Actually, the “song” for me and my girlfriend is A Whole New World.

So how is this related to the title of this post? Well there is a theory that Aladdin does not take place in the distant past, as we are led to believe. Rather the film takes place in a post apocalyptic future. Somehow time has reverted and technology has been obliterated or wiped out. Some potential “proof” of this is the Genie. If you recall, in the Genie’s breakout introductory scene, the Genie makes a comment that he has been in the Lamp for 10,000 years “which can give ya such a crick in the neck!”

In addition to that, Genie impersonates celebrities throughout the years. These include Arsenio Hall, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Marx Brothers, Superman, Rodney Dangerfield, and Ed Sullivan. How could he have knowledge of those people in an ancient civilization? And Aladdin seems to understand the references. So…possibly dystopian future?

In the scene where Genie transforms street rat Aladdin into the handsome Prince Ali, he says Aladdin’s clothes are “Much too Third Century”. We are currently in the 21st Century. So if the Genie was around in the Third Century and has been in the lamp for 10,000 years, theorists suggest that this would put Aladdin at least in the year 10,300.

I also want to point out the Magic Carpet. Hover technology obviously exists in the Aladdin timeline. During the A Whole New World scene, Aladdin and Jasmine are shown flying over multiple landmarks, such as the Pyramids, the Sphinx (still under construction), through Agribah, up into the clouds, through the Parthenon in Greece, and through a desert with wild stallions. It’s obviously not feasible to travel from Agribah to Egypt to Greece and back within the course of about 5 minutes (movie length). To do that, the Carpet would have to be traveling faster than a fighter jet. Like at least three times as fast. And even then it’d be impossible to see all that in such a short time span.

Also at the end of the film when Jasmine chooses Aladdin as a suitor, (or husband), Genie tells Aladdin he is “Not gonna find another girl like her in a million years. I know…I’ve looked.”

To me, this line is where the theory kind of falls apart, at least a little. Maybe Genie can time-travel and has just seen humanity from BC to the current era and beyond. And maybe a time-traveling Genie is a conspiracy theory in and of itself, but let’s just tackle one thing at a time here. There is one more “theory” that was actually confirmed by the director of the film: the merchant in the beginning of the film is Genie in disguise. The Genie has control of the lamp, and not the other way around. Maybe once Genie was freed, he could travel throughout time, well…freely.

At first I thought the conspiracy theorists were overthinking this. After all…IT’S A CARTOON! But there is evidence to support the theories. Robin Williams did ad-lib most of his lines. He was having fun with it. While I do not 100% buy into the theory, I have to admit it makes sense. But, again, it’s a CARTOON! And with Robin Williams being the King of Improv, what did you expect? Gene’s history references are all over the place. But I digress..

What do you think of this Aladdin theory? Just to remind you, it’s that Aladdin is set in an apocalyptic dystopian future. Does the evidence add up? Or like Genie, does this theory go up in smoke? Let me know in the comments and thanks for reading!

-Tom

An Oldie But Goodie

Today I saw a movie I have not seen or really given any thought to for quite some time. I saw the 1985 classic film The Goonies. I saw it in Fallston where it was playing for a $3 ticket deal. So I decided to go. I gotta say, with all the language involved and some innuendos I am kind of amazed the got away with only a PG rating. But then again it was made in the 1980s…

The Goonies has a great cast, first off. The movie features a very young Sean Aston and Corey Feldman. The movie also has Josh Brolin. Goonies follows Mikey and his misfit gang of friends called The Goonies. (Go figure…) Mikey and his gang find a treasure map in the attic. It turns out the map belonged to a pirate named One-Eyed Willie. So the Goonies decide to head out and find the treasure for themselves to save their parents’ homes from land developers.

The Goonies come across a restaurant owned by the criminal gang the Fratellis. The Fratelli family are on the lam from breaking out of jail and are none too pleased that the Goonies found their hideout. Chunk, one of the gang, is eventually captured by the Fratelli’s. He is thrown into a “dungeon” in the basement. There he finds probably the most famous character in the film: Sloth. Sloth is a deformed “person” (I think he is a person) who is chained up. Chunk is terrified by Sloth at first…until he gives Sloth a Baby Ruth candy bar.

The way to One-Eyed Willie’s treasure is not easy. It is full of danger and booby traps. These include a pit of spikes, falling boulders, the kids being shot at by the Fratelli family, and a room where you need to play human bones to a certain tune or the room will disintegrate. That plus they say “Shit” quite a few times in the film, along with some other minor profanities. I have a feeling if the movie were to be released today, it’d probably be PG13.

Back to the movie…it is actually difficult to explain the premise of The Goonies without giving away major spoilers or plot points. But all I will say is, The Goonies is chock full of quotes that people still use today. One in particular, “HEY YOU GUYS!” has been immortalized in pop culture. Hell, it was even referenced in Family Guy at one point. That and the Truffle Shuffle are iconic in film history at this point. The Goonies is so iconic, even Bob’s Burgers parodied the movie for an entire episode.

The film has a very 80s vibe to it, too. Mikey is seen wearing a Purple Rain shirt, other characters wear leather jackets and denim, and to top it off, Cyndi Lauper did the main theme for the movie! I mean, how much more 80s can you possibly get? So do I recommend a rewatch of this film? Yes, but keep in mind it’s age. The Goonies is a quintessential 80s film. It is up there in 80s history with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the NeverEnding Story and ET. It probably helps that Steven Spielberg and Chris Columbus wrote and directed it.

So The Goonies is a great film overall. If you are into corny jokes, adventure, and fat kids jiggling, then by all means check this movie out! So out of 10, for pure nostalgia and timelessness, I am giving The Goonies a 9.5. That’s about as good as it gets. I rarely give out a perfect rating for movies, so 9.5 is damn near perfection in my book.

So have you seen The Goonies? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments and, as always, thanks for reading!

-Tom

Best vs. Fun

I have been on numerous roller coasters over the years. I have traveled to multiple states and even out of the country (Canada) to ride roller coasters. Today I want to count down my top roller coasters. I am categorizing my rides into two categories: Favorites and Fun. These are in no particular order, with maybe one or two exceptions.

First the “Fun” category. I want to start with my “official” home park, Six Flags America in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. I have one roller coaster there that I have a sentimental connection to. Six Flags America does not really have any coasters I’d consider a “favorite”. But there is one ride that is an exception. Superman Ride of Steel was my first ever hyper coaster (a roller coaster that stands 200-299 feet tall). I rode this back in the early 2000s and was terrified of it! I had never been on a roller coaster nearly that tall before, at least not up until that point. However once we went down that first 70 degree drop, flying like the Man of Steel at 73 mph, I was hooked! To this day, it is one of my favorite hyper coasters of all time. It isn’t the tallest, the fastest, or the wildest, but for pure “fun” factor, this is definitely towards the top!

Joker’s Jinx is a launched roller coaster that is just a mess of track. It goes from a dead standstill to 60 mph in 4 seconds and goes upside down 4 times. This was my first launched roller coaster, so again, it holds some sentimental value.

Next I want to give a mention to Manta at SeaWorld San Diego. This ride is technically a family coaster, so it isn’t that tall (30 feet) or fast (40 mph) but it is the ride I did most at SeaWorld San Diego. Purely because it is smooth and just plain fun! Two launches, some airtime (where you get lifted out of your seat), and a long ride? What more could you need in a good family ride?

Next I want to talk about Dorney Park in Allentown, Pennsylvania. They have a hyper coaster called Steel Force. I prefer the aforementioned Superman Ride of Steel at SFA, but Steel Force is fun, as well. I want to preface: I have only ridden this coaster in the front. I rode it for the first time back when I was in my early to mid 20s. I thought it was a fun ride! Then I went back in 2019 with a group and got more airtime than I expected. The front row had some ejector airtime (where you feel like you are going to fly out of the ride) and part of me wishes I had tried it again in the back.

Now we get to my home park away from home: Hershey Park. Hershey has some of my favorite coasters, so this is where the categories might overlap. SooperDooperLooper, which ironically only has one loop, was the first roller coaster I ever rode that went upside down. Nowadays, the SDL seems a little “meh” to the average person, but I love this ride! The loop is circular so it is very forceful.

The next Hershey coaster I want to talk about is Great Bear. This is an inverted coaster (meaning you hang under the track) and has 4 inversions. It is a fun invert, but I have ridden a few better ones. Still, it was the first inverted coaster I ever rode, so I love it for pure nostalgia.

It’d be a crime to deny one coaster at Hershey in particular it’s fair due. I am talking about Storm Runner. This thing rockets you from 0-72 mph in just 2 seconds. It has a 150 foot tall hill with a 180 foot drop into a ravine and three inversions. It’s total ride time is only about 30 seconds, but what a 30 seconds it is!

Now on to my favorite park EVER…Cedar Point. This place is a Mecca for roller coaster enthusiasts. It is damn near impossible to rank the coasters there for me, so I’m not even gonna try.

But among my favorite rides at Cedar Point are Raptor (my favorite inverted coaster), Iron Dragon, the swinging roller coaster that goes over a lake, and Blue Streak, the old wooden coaster. Those are in the fun category. My all time favorite coaster is at Cedar Point and I will get to that later.

I want to give an honorable mention to a ride at SeaWorld Orlando. That ride is Journey to Atlantis. It is technically a water ride, but it does have a roller coaster track so I am counting it. Plus it was in the 70s when I rode this so it felt great getting soaked! Oh, and as a bonus, I got stuck on this ride for about a half hour, so I got a free pass to skip the line at any ride I wanted.

I also had the opportunity to ride the world’s tallest roller coaster and 2nd fastest in the world, Kingda Ka in New Jersey. Kingda Ka launches from 0-128 mph in 4 seconds. It’s fun but due to how fast it is, it can get a little bumpy.

Now onto the “favorites” category.

I have had the opportunity to visit Kennywood near Pittsburgh, PA. The top ride there is Phantom’s Revenge. This thing is 160 feet tall, but it’s main drop is a whopping 220 feet! So how does it do that? Well Kennywood is built on a ravine and Phantom’s Revenge plummets into that ravine at a speed of 85 mph. I have only ridden this ride once, but it was memorable because I rode it during Phantom Fright Nights (Kennywood’s Halloween event) with scare actors in the front row…IN THE DARK! And when I say “dark”, I mean pitch black. Like that “you can’t see your hand in front of your face” dark. It was wild!

Last year, I visited the Disney parks in Orlando. Among my favorite rides at all the Disney parks (excluding Star Wars) are Tower of Terror (my favorite drop ride EVER!), Slinky Dog Dash, which maybe is more in the “fun” category, Expedition Everest, and the biggest surprise for me, Space Mountain.

I also visited Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Here’s where it starts to get good. Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure is probably my favorite launched roller coaster of all time. It is a long ride and has a jaw-dropping seven launches. Plus this ride is special to me seeing as I had the honor of being the last person allowed on the ride before the park closed for the night.

I want to give a special mention to one roller coaster that does not exist anymore: Volcano the Blast Coaster at Kings Dominion. This was the only launched inverted roller coaster ever made. It literally shot you out of an erupting volcano with real fire! So yeah it was pretty sweet!

Here is where I am going to backtrack for a minute. As I said, I visited SeaWorld Orlando back in 2018. This park is home to my favorite hyper coaster in Mako. In the front, this coaster is great! In the back, this coaster is AMAZING! I rode Mako 17 times in one day! And of those 17 rides, 10 of them were without leaving my seat. Manta is a flying coaster (where you lay under the track) and is my favorite flying coaster I have ever ridden. It is very fun and actually scenic. Not to mention smooth.
Next I want to take you to Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, California. I have a few “favorites” here. First is Xcelerator. This thing is 205 feet tall, lasts about 40 seconds, and catapults you from 0 to 82 mph in 1.7 seconds. And believe me…you absolutely feel that punch!

GhostRider is among my favorite wooden coasters. It lasts a long time for a roller coaster (almost 3 minutes) and has plenty of airtime!

Going back to Cedar Point, I want to narrow it down to my favorite coasters there. Maverick, a launching roller coaster, Millennium Force, the first roller coaster to ever go over 300 feet, and my all-time favorite roller coaster (up to this point) …Steel Vengeance. Oh…my…God! This ride is Heaven on Earth! And add the fact I rode it at 12:00 am, when it was hauling, and you get one great ride! Remember all the airtime in the rides I mentioned earlier? Yeah…well take all that airtime and double it! Steel Vengeance was voted the best roller coaster in the world and I can see why!

So those are my top roller coasters, and we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface with the coasters I have ridden. I am sure I will add more to my collection and re-ride some old favorites. What are your favorite rides? Let me know in the comments and thanks for reading!

-Tom

Florida Keys Trip

Last November, my parents, Aunt Gina, Uncle John and I decided to do a “tour” of the Florida Keys. We had been to Fort Lauderdale before, but had never been further than that. I gotta say, for a last-minute trip, I loved it! I cannot recall what we did each day—on vacation all the days kind of tend to run together—but I will do my best.

We landed in Fort Lauderdale on November 24. (I only remember the dates because I am looking at my phone). We were hungry, so after getting a rental car, we ate in Hollywood, Florida. I got a beer and conch fritters. Conch is a type of mollusk, or shellfish so I wasn’t sure how it’d taste or look. But after the first bite, I was HOOKED! Oh my God, you guys! Conch fritters are amazing! Do not overlook them if you are ever in the Florida Keys!

From lunch, we drove to Islamorada. We stopped at a place called Robbie’s. Robbie’s is almost a flea market-esque vibe with one exception. It is located on the water and you can feed Tarpon! Tarpon are these massive fish! They are harmless but damn are they gigantic! It was freaky doing this, since they are so big and you can’t really get an idea of where they are coming from. That plus the fact that they shared the water with Lemon Sharks. So yeah…sticking your hand into water with a fish in your hand and Lemon Sharks? A little unnerving.

So after Robbie’s we drove over the famous Seven Mile Bridge to our hotel for the night. We ended up in Key West, about a 2 hour drive from Islamorada. One thing that caught me off guard about Key West was all the feral roosters running around. Like, legit wild roosters. Some with blades on their feet…fighting roosters. Don’t mess with these things!


While in Key West, we decided we wanted to go snorkeling. We went to Fort Zachary Taylor to snorkel. I had a little bit of a scare here. See, I am not the best snorkeler in the world and do best in shallow water. The water at Fort Zachary Taylor started off shallow but almost immediately dropped off and got very deep. My dad had to drag me back to shore with my snorkel so I could breathe. It was close.

That night, we went downtown to Mallory Square to watch the sunset. Mallory Square is essentially the downtown area of Key West. It was a beautiful sunset! There were street performers to entertain. They were ok. They knew how to draw a crowd, though.

The next day, we drove to a landmark location. We drove to the Southernmost Point in the Continental US. It’s a buoy that marks the end of US territory and is only a 90 mile boat ride to Cuba. From there, we drove to a beach called Bahia Honda Key in Marathon, Florida. I tried snorkeling again. And this, my friends, is my kind of snorkeling! Very shallow water and fish everywhere! I went out to the rope dividing the snorkel area from the ocean and it never went above my neck. It was amazing!

At Bahia Honda, there is a bridge you can walk up and across. It gives a panoramic view of the area, and is just gorgeous!

The day after that, for me, was the highlight of the trip! First off, I want to mention the “hotel” we stayed at. We drove back up North back to Islamorada. We stayed at this place called the Islander Resort. OH MY GOD! If you are ever anywhere remotely near Islamorada, do yourself a favor and stay here! The Islander was the highlight place we stayed at! It had bars, full-service restaurants, pools…you name it, they had it!

So why was this day in particular my favorite day of the trip? Well Islander Resort aside, there is this outdoor aquarium/wildlife sanctuary called Theater of the Sea. Now I love the Aquarium we have here in Baltimore, but I’m sorry. Theater of the Sea blows the Baltimore Aquarium out of the water! No pun intended. It is a little on the pricey side (about $50 admission) but it is SO worth it!

But for me, there was an added bonus! I got the chance to swim with a sea lion named Bella. That was a surreal experience. I gave Bella belly rubs, treats, hugs, kisses, and even played fetch with her! Bella was super sweet and affectionate!

What I liked about Theater of the Sea was the fact it was kind of like a guided tour around the place. Having said that, you could hop on and off the group tours if you so chose. But this was the best day of the trip for me! I love wildlife and animals in general. So I was in marine Heaven in this place! Oh, and did I mention Theater of the Sea has their own private “beach” you can snorkel at?

One thing I failed to mention is that the animals at TOTS are all non-releasable. Bella, for example, had neurological issues. All the dolphins and turtles were either injured or born in captivity and are too used to humans to ever be released in the wild. So I commend them for that.

Another highlight of the Keys “tour” was that same day. We went out for dinner at a place called Upper Matecumbe Key. The food was good, but what made this a memorable meal for me was what was in the water. In the water, there were pelicans, tarpon, sharks, and probably my favorite sea animal, MANATEES! I fed legit sharks and saw wild manatees and I thought I was gonna cry. It was amazing!

Early the next morning, I woke up early. I am usually up early, but earlier than usual in this case. I was up at about 6am. So what did I do to kill time until my family woke up? I walked along the beach and watched the sunrise over the water.

I have watched the sunrise in Hawaii on top of a volcano and that was the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen! But this is a very close second.

We left the Islander Resort and headed for the Everglades. I have been to the Everglades before and saw a few gators in the wild. This time, not so much. Don’t get me wrong. There were gators, but they were part of a show at Everglades Adventure Park. Really the only reason we went to the Park was to do an airboat ride. The airboat was a lot of fun, but, alas, no gators. We did see a wild iguana on top of an alligator statue. That was amusing.

The next day, November 29, was our last day in the Keys. We decided to take a cruise around Fort Lauderdale. I admit, it wasn’t my favorite thing on the trip. Yes it was scenic and informative with all the famous locals but to me, it was a little boring. So after that, we headed to the airport to head home.

So that was my experience touring the Florida Keys. Would I recommend it? Well for someone like me who loves road trips and traveling in general, 100% yes! But if you aren’t a fan of driving around a lot, it’s hard to say. But I loved it! Do you like to travel? Where have you traveled? Any road trips? Let me know in the comments and thanks for reading!

-Tom

IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS

Ok, Ok…I know it sounds cliche, but do not take the little things in life for granted. Things we as Americans and other privileged countries do without even thinking about or see as “necessary”. Showering is one example of this. Why is taking a shower taken for granted, you may ask? Well back in High School, I was in a full body cast to help straighten my spine. Actually, over the course of about 3 months, I had a total of three casts. After the casts, I had a fiberglass and metal back brace that, thankfully, was removable.

It hurts to relive this, but in order for my back to be straightened out, I had to be stretched out about 3-4 inches. Like, literally stretched. As in being strapped to a table, having my arms and legs tied to a pulley, and the doctors cranking the pulley little by little. Damn did that hurt! Actually the first time I went through it, I started shaking violently and came close to passing out and convulsing. And I promise you that’s not an exaggeration.

So while being stretched out, I had a plaster cast wound around my torso. It felt weird as it hardened. But as I had a full body cast, it was impossible for me to shower. I couldn’t get the cast wet. I had to rely on sponge baths on a stool, which my parents helped me with…which was awkward.

In between casts, I had maybe one shower between each. So not being able to shower for basically 12 weeks straight? Yeah, it SUCKED! Again, it’s the little things we do every day and take for granted.

Fast forward years later, to the year 2015. I graduated High School barely cast and brace-free in 2009. In 2015, I had a pacemaker put in due to an underlying and congenital heart condition. So the day after I went home from that, I passed out and fell on my left arm. My funnybone, as well as my elbow, were both shattered. So I had surgery on my arm. To this day, I still have metal and screws in my arm. I attached a photo of the X-Rays.

Thankfully, after a little under a week in the hospital for my arm, I was able to go home. But, again, had a cast on my arm. Thank God this time it was a flexible soft cast as opposed to a hard cast. Even still, I couldn’t get the cast wet. So I had to shower literally with my left arm out of the shower with a plastic bag wrapped around it.

After that cast came off, I had 56 staples in my arm to close my wound. I could shower with those, but had to be careful as it was a very tender area. I still have a scar running the length of my upper left arm to this day.

So in closing, be thankful for what you have and are able to do. Small, everyday things can be a Godsend. Showering, having a real bed to sleep in, even having a close family…these are things we rarely think about or are thankful for. Having been shower-less for weeks on end, I appreciate the hot water hitting my body every time I shower. Do you agree with me? Thanks for reading!

-Tom


Ideas For An Autobiography

I bought a book yesterday called “My Life Story. My Memories of the Past, Present, and Thoughts For the Future”. It was while flipping through the book today I came across two separate questions. I’d like to share the life questions I came across and prompted me to consider writing an autobiography. Here they are, along with my responses.

Q: DID YOUR PARENTS EXPERIENCE ANY MAJOR SCARES WHEN YOU WERE A BABY?

A: Hell yeah they did! According to my Mom, almost as soon as I was born, the doctors and nurses took me away because they noticed something was “wrong”. I was take for what my Mom describes as “The longest echocardiogram ever”. But ultimately I was sent home.

A little while (few months) later, again according to my Mom, I turned blue and went limp in my Dad’s arms. I was rushed to Johns Hopkins Bayview where I underwent major life-or-death open-heart surgery. I was operated on by a surgeon named Duke Cameron for a condition called Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR).

To this day, I have scars on my chest as well as photos of me, a 4 month old baby, hooked up to needles, IV drips, and all kinds of machines in the Intensive Care Unit. But here we are, 30 years later. And I’m still here.

Q: WHAT WAS THE GREATEST DISCOVERY OR REALIZATION OF YOUR CHILDHOOD THAT STILL RESONATES FOR YOU?

A: Having survived life threatening open heart surgery and losing my grandfather on my Mom’s side (we called him Pop) at a young age, I think the biggest or greatest realization I had was actually the concepts of death and mortality. I feel it is both a blessing and a major pain in the ass that I “learned” the concept of death at such a young age.

My family was always very open and straightforward with this topic. One of my earliest memories I have is when I was 6 years old. I remember my parents coming home and my Mom was crying. My Dad sat me down and, very directly, said “Pop died”. I remember feeling sad.

NOW I feel I need to explain something here. As a kid, I loved Pop. Not just because he was family, but because as a 4, 5, 6 year old kid, I remember Pop always bringing me the best toys at Christmas and Easter. It sounds selfish, I know, but as a little kid, how could I not get stoked about opening a tin of Tinker Toys or a Brio train set?

Probably my most prized possession I own, even to this day, is a stuffed light up GloWorm doll. From what I was told, Pop gave me the GloWorm after my open heart surgery. Until recently, I slept with GloWorm on my bed. He is still on my bedside table. And I like to think Pop is watching over me through GloWorm.

My grandfather on my Dad’s side, who we called Da, died on March 16, 2018. That in and of itself is, in a dark, twisted sort of way, funny and ironic. Da’s side of the family is Irish and it’s the background I identify most with.

With Da, I could see it coming. A few days prior to dying, Da had been admitted into hospice care at Gilchrist. And, well, let’s face it…if you go into a place like that, odds are you’re not coming out alive. So for me, it was just a matter of playing the waiting game and wondering when it’ll happen.

My family are VERY close, so having basically the “head” and patriarch of the family die was a massive loss. But on the other side of things, having people in my family die was, and still is, a learning experience. It happens to all of us, some sooner than others. It’s a valuable life lesson to learn, and it will always stick with me

So what do you think? Should I keep writing? Or quit before I go too deep? Thanks for reading!

-Tom

FAMILY VS FRIENDS

I have a large family. Some of us are closer than others. I have friends I consider to be family. On the flip side of that, the family I am VERY close with, I consider my closest friends. Take my Mom and two sisters, Abbey and Caroline, for example. Obviously they are family members but they are also my biggest supporters and allies. They support me through all I do, and I’m not entirely sure that’s just family obligation.

Now, on the other side of this, I consider some of my best friends as surrogate family. Take Allie, my girlfriend of 9 years for example. She and I are closer than I could ever have imagined. She is my soul mate and love of my life. I can be “me” around her. There are some members of my own family I am not 100% comfortable with seeing me like that. Again, like my Mom, Abbey and Caroline, Allie is a huge ally and the one I want by my side through all my trials and successes.

My boss at work, Pathfinders, and all involved there are like a second family to me. I know this sounds like a workaholic logic, but I am one of those people who essentially live to work. We all work our butts off for the same cause and outcome. I know that is the point of a business in general, but in this case, it is something I am passionate about.

Thanks to all involved—my work, family, and Allie,—I have had some incredible opportunities. My life and role have been nothing short of amazing! And I know I sure as Hell could never have reached this status without everyone helping me out and supporting me along the way.

One other “family” I feel obligated to thank is the Itineris community. Like PFA, we all work towards the same basic goal: Raising awareness for Autism. I have been with Itineris since June of 2012. My time there had led to my employment and, by default, the greatest moments of my life!

I have had the opportunities of speaking at a National Autism conference, attend the unveiling of the Autistic Muppet on Sesame Street named Julia, meet the creators and puppeteer behind Julia, and instruct medical staff around the state of Maryland on how to safely interact with Autistic patients. So yeah, I’ve had a Hell of a life!

My greatest moments in life, in one way or another, have involved at least one of the afore mentioned. I have multiple people to thank and I simply cannot do it all in one post. So to everyone involved, thank you for my life!

So for me, it’s a little tricky to discern between friends and “real” family. In my opinion, family are people who care most about you. And I have plenty of people who fall into that category. What is your definition of friends and/or family? Let me know and thanks for reading!

-Tom

Upcoming Shows

I have two shows coming up in April 2021. Both within a week of each other. The first show is a show I have been wanting to see for awhile now but didn’t think I’d get the chance. Any fans of the show Whose Line Is It Anyway will recognize the names Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood. I’ve seen the other members of the show a few years ago with a buddy of mine. The show, Whose Live, had Greg Proops, Joel Murray, Jeff Davis, and, of course, Ryan Stiles.

I personally love the show Whose Line Is It Anyway just because of how naturally it flows. As Drew Carey said, “The show where everything is made up and the points don’t matter”. Nothing was scripted. It’s all improvised. Unlike a concert that has a set list of particular songs that the band is going to perform, Whose Line and its spin-off shows (including the one I am seeing in April) there is none of that. My dream is to see Colin and Ryan together live, since they just fire off each other effortlessly. But I’ll take what I can get. Colin was always my favorite cast member anyway. He always kept the rest of the performers on their toes and, on more than one occasion, managed to get the rest of the performers to break “character”. And the audience loved it! And so do I!

The other show I am seeing is one of my favorite bands, They Might Be Giants. I have seen TMBG about five times and their show never gets old or stale. They change their set list of songs every time I see them. Yes, there are staple songs like Birdhouse In Your Soul that are almost obligatory, but apart from that what they play is a complete crapshoot. You never know what they will play show-to-show. The music varies.

Like Whose Line, the show has an air of improv to it. They Might Be Giants interact with the audience like no other band I have ever seen before. They crack jokes at each other, mess with the audience, and in general do not seem to take themselves seriously. And I love that! It’s just so natural feeling as opposed to “Ok. We’re gonna play this song next and the song after that and it’s all set in stone.”

They Might Be Giants actually have been known to change songs in the middle of their shows. Simply because. And my favorite part of the show? There is ZERO barricade or divider between the band and the audience. None whatsoever. Like, if someone wanted, they could easily jump up on the stage. I’ve been tempted to do that before, but common sense and money held me back. I paid $30 for the ticket and I do not want to be thrown out.

So those are the two shows I have coming up. What shows do you like or have seen? Let me know in the comments and thanks for reading!

-Tom