Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Shutdown

It's September 30th, 2013 and I'm sitting on the couch watching the news with my family. There's a clock in the top right of the screen counting down to midnight like it's December 31st, 1999 all over again. The news cut to a live feed of the Capitol building like there were going to be fireworks, or an explosion, or something crazy....but nothing happened. Everything seemed normal.

I woke up the next morning like I do every morning, with high hopes of exercising before work only to hit my snooze button three too many times before lazily rolling out of bed, grabbing a quick shower and heading to work. I'm usually listening to Paul & Young Ron in the morning, although I'm not sure why since all they talk about recently is Breaking Bad and I've only watched an episode or two...maybe it's the illusion that I'm having an actual conversation with people, or maybe it's just the illusion of having actual people around me during my commute rather than being alone. But I digress, since there was the commotion on the news last night, I decided to google what FM channel NPR was (at a red light, of course). I don't view myself as the typical "NPR kind of guy," but I needed to get some actual news in my life. It was official, it was the first day of open enrollment for Obamacare. This was a historic day, but I didn't realize how historic until the next line. "Almost the entire government is shutdown," the radio said, "all National Parks, Museums, and other departments are completely shutdown." I was surprised, but I wasn't aghast. I just kinda shrugged it off, took in as much information as I could before I got to work, and went about my usual day. I sat in my cubicle, listened to my co-worker's silly banter while I did my work, ate my bagged lunch, and then I went home. I listened to more NPR on the way back.

There aren't too many things the government can do to really affect my attitude or feelings on a personal level, but after I got home and reflected on what had actually been going on with my family, I became truly and deeply saddened.

When I first began writing this blog, I was headed West to start my first job. I took an incredible road trip across our wonderful country with my best friend, and my love for the United States of America began to blossom. One of our first stops was St. Louis and the Gateway Arch. I didn't know anything about the Gateway Arch before then, but it turned out to be the most meaningful day of the entire road trip for me. As a Park Ranger explained, historically the Gateway Arch symbolized the westward expansion of the United States, and as I listened and looked West from the top of that arch, I had a feeling hope and excitement. I felt like a pioneer. My journey was just beginning and I couldn't wait to get started.

My job at Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah began not one week later. I had one of the most memorable times of my life. I met some of the most incredible people and I learned something from each and every one of them. My supervisor, a long tenured archaeologist at the park was a tough person, but she taught me how to have a strong work ethic and showed me how hard archaeology actually was. The other department leaders and staff were wonderful. I was surprised as to how smart, welcoming, and genuinely caring they all were. They all loved their jobs so much, and they loved Bryce Canyon with all of their hearts. It showed in everything they did. They welcomed loud, obnoxious, ignorant people from around the world into their doors like it was their home...with open arms and smiling faces. No matter what those guests were like when they first came through those park gates, the staff would stop at nothing to make sure that those guests would leave as different people with new perspective and appreciation for this special place they called home...and it worked. I saw kids' eyes float from their iPhones to the night sky with wonder and amazement. I watched people's spirits lift and come pouring through their eyes and smiles as they watched a sunrise over the canyon. Every time I watched someone's life change, mine did too.

I can't tell you how proud I am to say that I wore green and grey. I love our National Park Service with all of my heart, and as I watched closed signs be put up and rangers hang their hats today, my heart shattered into a million pieces. I tried to imagine our country without a National Park Service, without these amazing places or people to interpret them, and I began to cry. It's a country that I cannot, and will not imagine. These parks, from the Gateway Arch to Bryce Canyon and everything in between are absolutely essential to the United States of America. They are our past, present, and future. If you've never been to one of our National Parks before today, consider this shutdown your wake up call. I beg you, don't take these places for granted. Take time to see and appreciate the real United States of America...you won't regret it.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

My Top 10 Favorite NY Sandwiches

It's no secret that NYC has amazing food.  Many people would argue that it's the best food in the world...and I would probably agree with them.  I had the very best sit-down, fork & knife meals I've ever had in my life while living there, but most of the time I was working so long and hard that I didn't have the time [or sometimes the money] to eat out.  Once I realized this, finding the very best sandwiches that NYC had to offer became my mission.

I've always considered myself somewhat of a sandwich connoisseur (bread and cheese are my 2 favorite foods; look out 45 year old version of me).  When I build a sandwich at home, I meticulously place every ingredient so that every bite has a little bit of everything, and I always make sure that the sandwich won't fall apart or do the "squeezeout" (that horrible moment when the soul of a sandwich falls out the backside when you take a bite).

So, through my adventures in NYC, I came across numerous sandwiches that absolutely blew me away, but 10 stood out.  I realize that this list is HIGHLY controversial, but in my experience, these sandwiches were the tastiest and the most consistent.

Okay, enough chit-chat. Here we go...

10. Hill Country Club - Hill Country Chicken

A classic Chick-Fil-A sandwich on steroids: a perfectly grilled, buttered bun with an unbelievably moist fried chicken breast filet topped with two slices of crispy applewood smoked bacon, fresh sliced avocado, and a thick, refreshing slice of vine-ripened tomato that compliments the richness of their homemade buttermilk ranch dressing perfectly

9. Lox Deluxe - Thompkins Square Bagels

The best bagel I've ever had in my life.  This quickly became my go-to neighborhood breakfast place.  These bagels are more like cake than a bagel.  If you can catch one that just came out of the oven, be ready for the ride of your life.  The lox deluxe has everything you could possibly want.  Just pick your favorite cream cheese or tofu spread (i'd highly recommend their veggie tofu), and they'll take care of the rest.  After a few minutes, you'll be presented with a warm, fresh bagel with a heaping pile of spread, fresh lox, tomatoes, red onions and capers. What else could you ask for on a Sunday morning?

8. The Almighty Brisket - JoeDough Sandwich Shop 

The fact that this shop was just a 4 minute walk from my apartment made this place extremely dangerous.  This incredible, "melt-in-your-mouth" brisket sandwich absolutely blew my mind.  Let's start with the bun.  It's the absolute freshest, toastiest brioche bun you've ever felt in your life. Your knees will buckle as soon as you pick it up.  Before you even bite into it, you'll stare at it in amazement as it glistens in the sunlight.  It's light, airy, and oh so tasty.  As you bite into this guy, the tang of the horseradish mayo and the sharp, melty cheddar hits you quickly then your teeth slide through the brisket like a hot knife through butter.  Say goodbye to the days of stringy brisket pieces hanging off each bite.  You could cut this sandwich with a spoon.

7. IL VIP Panini - Sergimmo Salumeria

This thing is like the godfather of italian heroes.  I've never encountered anything like this before in my life.  I really didn't know what to expect when I walked into a ghostly salumeria, but I went for it anyway.  I was in for a surprise.  Homemade italian bread with a healthy pile of amazing prosciutto di parma, three monster slices of fresh mozzarella, some fresh arugula, extra virgin olive oil, and.......wait for it......FIG SPREAD.  The combination of these italian staples makes for an incredible experience.  The slight bitterness of the arugula, the milkiness of the mozzarella, the buttery flavor of the prosciutto, and the heavenly sweetness of the fig spread makes this sandwich the biggest party your mouth has ever seen.

6. Buttermilk Fried Chicken - Melt Shop

I was literally flabbergasted after every bite of this sandwich.  I couldn't believe how this hot, delicious, melty chicken sandwich could even exist....but after every bite, I was reminded that I wasn't dreaming.  These guys have perfected the grilled cheese, so it's no wonder that the sourdough bread and pepperjack cheese were absolutely perfect, but the precision that was used to create the buttermilk fried chicken, creamy red cabbage slaw, and the "special melt sauce," really had me groaning to a near obnoxious level.  My friend literally had to lean over and say "Dude, relax." because we were getting weird looks.  If you're in NY, give this guy a try and see how many bites you can get through without letting out a groan or two.

5. Grey Dog Club - Grey Dog

The best club sandwich I've ever had.  There are three key components here that elevate this sandwich to legendary status: the fresh sliced turkey, homemade honey mustard, and the challah (not pictured).  The melted swiss, bacon, lettuce, and plum tomatoes definitely help, but the warmth of the fresh turkey, perfect tang of the honey mustard, and the crunchy, yet pillowy toasted challah makes this sandwich want me to be a part of the club for an eternity.  The Grey Dog also seems to attract some of the hottest girls in the city during lunch hour, so now you've got two reasons to go.

4. Mediterranean Oven-dried Seasonal Vegetable Panini - Peacefood Cafe

As you can tell from my previous sandwich choices, I am most definitely NOT a vegan, but this panini from Peacefood Cafe made me want to convert.  Homemade focaccia is the bread of choice here, and they do it really well, but the main focal point of this sandwich is definitely what's on the inside and how they managed to make it taste so damn good.  The mix of veggies varies week to week (because they always serve up fresh, organic), but it's usually a combo of zucchini, cauliflower, tomatoes, eggplant, and arugula.  The veggies are oven-dried and roasted to perfection with an amazing seasoning that just makes the natural flavors of these veggies go BOOM!  On the bread they spread some homemade cashew cheese (don't worry, you won't know the difference) and a basil spinach pesto to give this veggie party an extra bump.  Order yourself a hot Apple Ginger Soy to round out the experience.  I promise you won't be disappointed.

3. Hot Roast Beef Hero - Defonte's of Brooklyn

This sandwich was love at first bite.  Before I touch on the dreamy quality of the beef, I'd like to talk about construction here, because this thing is like fort knox.  First, is the fresh, italian sesame loaf that's so thin it's almost like it's not there. It's crunchy and firm on the outside, and airy on the inside.  The crunchy outside is absolutely crucial to how this sandwich becomes so monumental because the next step is the natural jus.  For those of you that don't know, jus is the natural juice that the roast beef creates while it's cooking. Defonte's takes a nice spoon full and pours it right on the bread bottom.  I know, I know.  You're thinking "Why would they do such a thing!!!!??? It's going to be a soggy mess!" Remember that crunchy outside of the bread I told you about? Somehow, Defonte's has figured out a way to keep this hero from becoming soggy at all.  The inside of the bread retains the jus and the outside stays perfectly dry for your delicate little hands. Now, onto the next part: fried eggplant.  Defonte's fries up some fresh eggplant that's been marinating in "who-knows-what" and slaps it on top of the jus, then a few slices of fresh mozzarella (that melt naturally over the hot eggplant and bread, of course), then comes the most amazing roast beef you've ever had in your life.  This roast beef is more like filet mignon.  Upon biting into this hero, everything just magically dissolves into a heavenly flavor in your mouth.  Everyone should have this sandwich at least once before they die.

2. Lobster Roll - Luke's Lobster

The lobster roll is a touchy subject in NYC because there are so many of them, but this one takes the cake for me.  Luke's is a special place.  Old fisherman decor is scattered around the place, and some good, chill indie rock that you've never heard before plays softly from the kitchen.  The menu only has a couple of items: Shrimp Roll, Crab Roll, Lobster Roll.  It's listed at a cool $14.00.  I'm sure you're thinking "14 bucks!? That's just f$%&ing crazy, man. No way any sandwich is worth that much." Well, I'm here to tell you that you're wrong. Dead wrong.

This sandwich is heaven on a roll.  It's a warm, fresh, toasty, buttery bun, filled to the brim with fresh, premium, hand-pulled, gigantic, in-tact chunks of lobster (it's not rare to see a full claw) drizzled with butter and sprinkled with Luke's homemade spices.  To me, this sandwich is the mecca of all lobster rolls, so next time you're in NYC, make sure you get to Luke's!

1. Coconut Tiger Shrimp Bahn Mi - Num Pang

Here we are, at number one.  This sandwich makes me drool every time.  I ate this guy maybe 2-3 times per week because I just couldn't stay away. What's better is that the 20th one of these was just as delicious as the first.  Again, the bread was always spot on.  The fresh baked and lightly toasted mini-baguette was crunchy on the outside, and soft on the inside.  Topped with homemade chili mayo, two slices of cucumber, and pickled carrots, the bread patiently awaits the coconut shrimp that's freshly grilled every time. Once the shrimp finds the bread, some toasted coconut flakes get sprinkled on top along with some fresh sprigs of cilantro.  This is by no means a "traditional" bahn mi, but this thing kept me going back each and every week.  The fresh crunch of the bread, the spice of the mayo, the refreshing effects of the cilantro, cucumber, and pickled carrots, along with the sweet, delicious shrimp, come together to make what I think, is the best sandwich in New York City.

Disclaimer: I did not eat every sandwich in NY, so if you've got one that you think should be on the list, comment below!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Oracle

Imagine yourself broken, battered, tired, and lost. You're trudging, one foot after the other down an old, brittle concrete path littered with cigarette butts, feces, and glass bottles. Each step is agonizing, but you know that you need to keep moving. Everyone says that this path leads to a great fortune and the highest form of success, but you have yet to catch a glimpse of that mythical end. Just as you're about to run out of steam, you reach a fork. Two completely different roads lay before you:

To the West, jagged, sandy rocks jut out from the dirt road that leads to snow-capped mountains along the horizon. The sun shines brightly down that road, but surely these obstacles will be difficult to overcome even in the most pristine weather. To the East, the road is cleanly paved with newly painted marks; the yellow hashes and white lines seem to glow against the dark, warm tarmac. There is a storm looming on the horizon, but surely the quality of the road will make travel through any storm endurable.

You stand there in trepidation and wonderment, when slowly a ghostly figure of an oracle appears from thin air. She's everything you would imagine: a blue glow encompasses her being, and as you gaze into her soft, green eyes, her wisdom is apparent. Just as you begin to try to justify this vision as a result of your obvious exhaustion, she speaks. Her voice is so soft and steady, that it gently rests upon your ears...."Rest easy, my child. The adversity you have faced on your journey has left you weary. For your hard work, I have laid these two rejuvenating paths for you. Both are fruitful, and both are challenging..."

She looks to the East, "The path to the East is smooth and predictable. It will provide you and your family with long-term security and strength. But beware, although this road is dependable, it is long and tedious. You will burden yourself with stress, and achieving personal health and happiness will be no easy task."

She looks to the West, "The path to the West is rocky and uncertain. By traversing this road your body and mind will become strong. But beware, although this road will provide you with exuberance and vitality, supporting your family will prove to be difficult. You will burden yourself with hard work, and finding time for your family will be no easy task."

As she slowly fades away into the sky she whispers, "Whichever way you go, you must give all of yourself, or all is lost. The choice is with you..."

You look East, then West, East again, then West again. Each road tugs at your heart strings so hard that it almost brings you to tears. Which path will you choose?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cranky Old Man

Apparently, an old man that lived in a nursing home wrote this. He barely ever spoke and when the nurse came across this, she was so touched that she shared it with everyone. It changed the entire nursing home forever. That nurse shared it on the internet and I just found it. It touched me deeply and I hope you pull something from it, just as I did. Always take advantage of the elders around you; respect them and learn as much as you can from their...exposure to experience.

Cranky Old Man.....

What do you see nurses? . . .. . .What do you see?
What are you thinking .. . when you're looking at me?
A cranky old man, . . . . . .not very wise,
Uncertain of habit .. . . . . . . .. with faraway eyes?
Who dribbles his food .. . ... . . and makes no reply.
When you say in a loud voice . .'I do wish you'd try!'
Who seems not to notice . . .the things that you do.
And forever is losing . . . . . .. . . A sock or shoe?
Who, resisting or not . . . ... lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding . . . .The long day to fill?
Is that what you're thinking?. .Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse .you're not looking at me.
I'll tell you who I am . . . . .. As I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, .. . . . as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of Ten . .with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters .. . . .. . who love one another
A young boy of Sixteen . . . .. with wings on his feet
Dreaming that soon now . . .. . . a lover he'll meet.
A groom soon at Twenty . . . ..my heart gives a leap.
Remembering, the vows .. .. .that I promised to keep.
At Twenty-Five, now . . . . .I have young of my own.
Who need me to guide . . . And a secure happy home.
A man of Thirty . .. . . . . My young now grown fast,
Bound to each other . . .. With ties that should last.
At Forty, my young sons .. .have grown and are gone,
But my woman is beside me . . to see I don't mourn.
At Fifty, once more, .. ...Babies play 'round my knee,
Again, we know children . . . . My loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me . . . . My wife is now dead.
I look at the future ... . . . . I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing .. . . young of their own.
And I think of the years . . . And the love that I've known.
I'm now an old man . . . . . . .. and nature is cruel.
It's jest to make old age . . . . . . . look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles .. .. . grace and vigour, depart.
There is now a stone . . . where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass . A young man still dwells,
And now and again . . . . . my battered heart swells
I remember the joys . . . . .. . I remember the pain.
And I'm loving and living . . . . . . . life over again.
I think of the years, all too few . . .. gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact . . . that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people .. . . . .. . . open and see.
Not a cranky old man .
Look closer . . . . see .. .. . .. .... . ME!!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Land of Opportunity

This July 4th, I want everyone to remember how lucky we all are to be living in the United States of America. A place where anything is possible. A place where you can be an archaeologist, ski instructor, marine biologist, sustainable business consultant, chauffeur, and mobile app businessman all in less than 4 short years. A place where if you can dream it, you really can make it happen.

I read an article the other day, written by Tim Kreider that really made me think about the recent life-bending decision I've made. This article, aptly named "The 'Busy' Trap" delves into the world of someone who has "chosen" to be "busy" and why so many people have mindlessly made that decision.

I encourage you all to read it. Here's the opening paragraph:

"If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: 'Busy!' 'So busy.' 'Crazy busy.' It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: 'That’s a good problem to have,' or 'Better than the opposite.'"

That first paragraph immediately drew me in because I have always been on the responding side and I always default to that "stock response" of "Better than the alternative!" or "Good to hear." Those of you that I have spoken with on a regular basis have heard me say this time and time again.

I never really understood how people could be so "busy." I lived in a world with so much time that I rarely knew what to do with it all. A world where the only thing that stopped me from doing something was a sunrise or sunset, and even that didn't usually do it. In the lifestyle I led, my job was easier than recreation. In a sense, recreation was more my job than my actual job. Competition in my world up until this point was based on how good you were at recreating and my world is about to take a complete 180.

Always being on the "not-so-busy" end of the conversation slowly ate away at my confidence in the lifestyle I was leading. "Am I doing something wrong, here? Why am I not as busy as these people?" As a chauffeur at one of two 5-star, 5-diamond properties in all of Colorado, I was making decent money, I had a good (actually, amazing) group of friends, a great place to live and the opportunity for fun was always in high supply. But I began to crave more. "More of what?" you may ask. I'm not quite sure. More feeling of accomplishment, more of this "busy" everyone kept speaking of, I guess. 

On January 1st, 2012, I decided that I was going to make a move before the next winter (because I knew once I started skiing again, I wouldn't budge). I began to put out 10's of applications per week, most of which were for jobs I wasn't qualified for at all; at least, not on paper. I quickly learned there weren't any jobs paying 6-figures to someone that's awesome at skiing and driving escalades. My efforts resulted mostly in no progress and no interviews. Through the few interviews I did have, I always felt like I was defending myself from the condescending tone I got from one interviewer to the next. I could feel the disapproval and misunderstanding they had for my decisions. I was so sick of hearing myself talk about how the economy sucked when I graduated and the company that was going to hire me went into a hiring freeze, blah blah blah....nothing but excuses and explanations for something that just wasn't meant to be. I got depressed and upset that I couldn't break out of this rhythm of seasonal jobs I had been in since graduation. After a few more weeks of nothing else developing, I finally said enough is enough. If I want a change, I can't just hope for it or look for it in this black hole called the internet, I have to live it. So I used the internet for the one thing I knew it was good for...buying a plane ticket. I bought a one-way ticket to a place that I knew next to nothing about, a place where Ol' Blue Eyes said, "If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. It's up to you. New York."

Just a couple of weeks after I bought my plane ticket, the unthinkable happened: I had an interviewer say to me "I admire the decisions you've made." Hearing that was like a glass of water after wandering the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. It was the most refreshing, empowering feeling in the entire world. I felt more ambitious, strong, and confident than I had in months. After the interview was over, I let go a great sigh of relief and with a smile on my face, I thought "This is it, Will. Let's do this." 3 interviews later, I got a job offer with a promising mobile app start-up right in New York City. I couldn't be more excited.

Now, I'm writing this from my girlfriend's 37th floor apartment in Midtown Manhattan with a smile on my face and ambition in my heart. A new chapter has begun for me and what this one holds, I have no idea.

The craziest part about all of this is if Tim Kreider and so many other Americans wanted to get out of "The 'Busy' Trap" so badly, why do I want to get in?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Luckiest Man Alive

Here I sit...on a bench at the foot of Smuggler mountain, reflecting on months gone by. So much has happened that I really haven't been able to relax and write about just one thing, place, person, or occurrence. Something in the air today somehow made me feel elated and I was finally inspired to write once again.

The bench below me is cold. I can feel the frozen, but thawing wood through my jeans. The strong, bright sun is beating on my face, countered only by the brisk wind sweeping through the valley. This feeling of being frozen one second and toasty the next is one of my favorite feelings in the world. The sun is slowly setting behind Aspen mountain in front of me and below me, covered in the mountain's shadow like a dark, cold blanket, sits downtown Aspen. The ground under my feet shimmers with trodden snow, and speckles of brown grass poke through the sea of white like tiny hairs.

This is my favorite spot in Aspen.

A man strolls across the park, we exchange smiles and he continues on. A few minutes later, a woman in a red coat and her dog appear. The dog is ecstatic to be here, just as I am. He rolls in the snow with joy and I smile as I appreciate the incredible scene in front of me even more. The lady and I exchange pleasantries, which include one of the only things locals know how to speak about recently...the lack of snow. "But nevermind," we say, "life is still amazing."

Many people don't understand the path that I have chosen. A path that has been far from easy or lucrative, but it's these moments, the ones that give me so much happiness and inner peace, that guide me, that have led, and will keep leading me in the right direction.

These mountains, this sun, a place and the ability to appreciate all that has been bestowed upon me, makes me the luckiest man alive.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Mad Dog; The Man, The Hero, The Legend

On Tuesday, April 26th, 2011, South Florida and the entire country lost a beloved football player, radio personality, and philanthropist. Jim "Mad Dog" Mandich passed away last night after battling cancer for over a year. Mad Dog was one of the best things to happen to South Florida and sports talk radio.

Jim was a generous friend to my family and I. He gave us so much in so many ways. From rounds of golf, to meeting pro athletes at the Dolphin's Touchdown Club, to giving me one of the most unforgettable experiences of my entire life, Jim was always there to give.

On January 8th, 2009, I faced a sort of difficult decision. The next day was the BCS National Championship game at Dolphin Stadium and I was at my mom's house (a short 15 minute drive away), but I didn't have a ticket. Did I want to drive back up to Gainesville to be with my fellow Gators to watch the game, or did I want to try to scalp a ticket and do whatever I could to get into the game?? I decided on the latter. I was so close that it seemed wrong to drive away from it.

Ticketless, but excited, I got to the stadium bright and early and began asking people for tickets. As my time slowly ran out, as did my morale. I gave up in mid-afternoon and began to try to distract myself by tailgating with my friends, but in the back of my head, I was watching the clock tick towards kick-off and I still didn't have a ticket. The sun began to go down and I accepted the fact that I would be watching the game from the tailgate.

My phone rang; it was my Mom. "Where are you?" she asked. "Um, at the game of course. You know this," I replied. "I know that!" my mom exclaimed, "but WHERE are you exactly?" I was pretty confused. I told her where we were tailgating and she showed up with my step-dad with some "semi-good news." "Don't get too excited," my mom warned, "but we might be able to get some tickets." I started jumping for joy immediately. Just the idea of POSSIBLY getting into this game was exhilarating. My morale shot through the roof and I started partying harder. "Meet us over at the 560WQAM booth in about 15 minutes," my step-dad said. I ran over to the booth in 10 minutes and there was Mad Dog, doing a live radio show right there in front of us. We walked up, he gave us a wink and a signal to wait a few minutes. We waited patiently as I did my best to keep my excitement inside. Jim finished up his show, put on his blazer and walked up to us with his family. It was about 20 minutes until kick-off and as we exchanged a few words and pleasantries, he handed us 3 beautiful, genuine club-level tickets with embossed graphics and all. I could barely contain myself. You would think that he just saved my entire family from a natural disaster the way I was thanking him. I've never been so ecstatic. The feeling of entering through the club-level elevator, hearing the usher tell me to enjoy the game, and finally arriving on the club-level was absolutely surreal.

The smell of hot-dogs and stale beer filled the air and the sound of gator chants filtered through the oklahoma marching band....I made it, and it's all because of Jim "Mad Dog" Mandich.

On top of just even getting into the game, the Gators chomped the Sooners 24-14, and celebration ensued. WE ARE ALL STRONG FOR OLD FLORIDA, DOWN WHERE THE OLD GATORS PLAY, IN ALL KINDS OF WEATHER, WE'LL ALL STICK TOGETHER, FOR F-L-O-R-I-D-A!!!!! GO GATORS!!!

Thanks, Jim, for one of the most unforgettable experiences in my life. You and your seemingly endless generosity, kindness, and passion will never be forgotten! You will be missed! Rest in peace.