A Terrible Weekend On The Lake

15 June 2018

A quick preface/disclaimer/warning: I put this post together from a few of my journal entries. They were written in near real-time while I was experiencing the death of a man who I didn’t know. He died near my family’s lake house last weekend, where I’ve been spending this summer.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Saturday started out like any other day. I woke up around 9:30A.M., took a shower, ate breakfast, and read in my hammock on the dock. After eating a late lunch I went back down to the dock to shave my head. When I got there I noticed a massive storm sitting over the lake to the north and west. It began thundering so I went back up to the house. My brother Price and I started planning his bachelor weekend.

The sky darkened with clouds as the storm made its way south. The wind picked up and was blowing off the lake, towards our house. There were whitecaps on the lake and our windows rattled with a few gusts of wind. Waves were breaking onto the dock. Lightning was flashing on the far side of the lake. It wasn’t raining.

Price and I looked out the windows and noticed that two boats - a pontoon boat and a speedboat - were meeting a pair of kayakers out on the lake, maybe 100 yards off our dock. The pontoon boat floated between us and the kayaks, blocking our view of them. This was all far enough away that we couldn’t see what was going on, so Price got our binoculars. I could see people on the boats, and the two kayaks were vertical and mostly underwater. The boats were floating north and neither seemed to have their engine turned on. But nobody was trying to get the kayaks. Or the paddles. There were life jackets in the water. There wasn’t anybody else on the lake. Something seemed off.

Price walked down to our dock when the boats floated out of eyesight (some of our trees block the view to the north, so we couldn’t see anything after the boats floated past our neighbor’s dock.) Melinda, our neighbor to the south, walked over to meet him. After a minute or two I heard sirens. As I walked down to the dock, Price was running up to the road to meet the firetruck.

When I got to the dock Melinda looked very concerned. She told me that she thought someone went under. That took me a second to process, but there wasn’t any time to think on it because the two boats were driving towards our dock.

The speedboat arrived first, on the north side of our dock. On board was a woman, her brother, and three children. The man helped to keep the boat from slamming into the dock, as the wind and waves had not calmed down. I helped the three kids and the woman off the boat. I took down my hammock so it wasn’t in the way.

The pontoon boat arrived next with two young couples and a woman on board. Price helped tie it up to the front of the dock. The woman got off first, crying and in shock. Another woman got off and looked at me with the widest eyes, a look that I won’t soon forget.

The first woman was met by an EMT who walked her to an ambulance. She and her husband had fallen off their kayaks and into the water. Her husband drowned.

At this point the firefighters had arrived on our dock. One of them got in the speedboat to go back out to where the man drowned. An ambulance was parked in Melinda’s driveway. Police officers arrived in plain clothes because they had all been enjoying the weekend and were not on duty.

Slowly more and more emergency personnel showed up. The Sheriff. His lieutenant and deputies. More firefighters. More officers. They took our statements. Price and I put folding chairs out for the two couples who were in the pontoon boat.

The two kayakers had been out on the lake for the day. They were on the far side of the lake when the storm began rolling in. They decided to make their way to the other side of the lake - where our house is, and near where they had put the kayaks in - which is almost a mile across. Neither had a life jacket on, and neither knew how to swim well. They were panicking and paddling hard.

They flagged down two boats when they were about 3/4s of the way across. A wave knocked him out of his kayak. He grabbed her kayak, flipping her out. The people in the pontoon boat threw all of their life jackets towards him. He wouldn’t put one on. He was panicking. They got her onto the boat. When they went back to get him he was gone. This all happened in the moments before Price and I looked through binoculars to see the kayaks vertical in the water.

The emergency personnel cleared everyone off our dock. Sheriff Hancock asked Price and I if they could use our dock and our yard and we said of course. The dive team showed up and used the pontoon boat, which was a rental. Boats from the Department of Natural Resources were gridding the search area with sonar. Off-duty police officers who were on their personal fishing boats joined in the search.

I walked up to the house to calm down and drink some water. I started writing. “They’re currently still searching. It’s 7:09 PM. He went under at probably 4:00P.M.”

A light rain began.

I met Mercedes. She was in the speedboat. I helped her and the three kids off when they got to our dock.

I met Zach, he went kayaking with him three weeks ago.

I met her cousin. She was thankful we let the family sit on our porch, which was out of eyesight of the local media who had arrived.

Police tape was strung across our yard and into Melinda’s yard, on the side of our house facing the road. The Sheriff’s Command Center RV was parked in our driveway. The dive team’s pickup truck was parked in our yard by the dock.

The young couples that were on the pontoon boat were brought back to the marina where they rented it from to get their car. We’ve since only spoken to them via text message.

The dive team packed up after sunset, around 9P.M. They’ll be back at 6:30A.M. Price and I walked down to our dock, which was quiet except for the boats still gridding nearby. Two police officers were there. They told us at least one will be there all night. The rental pontoon boat was tied up to the end of our dock.

I didn’t sleep well that night. I was mostly up thinking through too many what-if scenarios.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Price and I went for a walk, maybe around 10A.M. When we were out we heard and then saw a helicopter flying up and down the shoreline of the lake and then back to the search area off our dock. It was the Georgia State Patrol, who were called in to assist in the search. We were out for about an hour. On our way back in we could see the enormity of the recovery effort. In addition to the Sheriff’s Command Center, there were at least five other vehicles in our front yard and another five down by our dock. A fire truck was parked on the street. Across the street were at least ten vehicles. A few media vehicles were parked along the street. A tent was setup near the Command Center with food and drinks.

I met Jason, his brother. He arrived late at night and slept in his car in our driveway.

I hadn’t fully processed the situation, so instead of sitting inside I walked over to Melinda’s to talk to her and her husband, Eddy. I watched the helicopter flying directly overhead. I watched the boats on the water, the divers in the water, the people all over our dock and our yard. I met a county commissioner and some folks from the Sheriff’s office who I talked with for a while.

A cadaver dog arrived and went out on a boat. I’m not sure how that works but I believe it’s trained to bark if it smells a human. Since there were other boaters out on the lake the dog’s senses were thrown off and it was barking quite a bit. The dog was biting at the water that went past the boat, which is something our family dog used to do.

I spent four or five hours on Eddy and Melinda’s dock. The Sheriff came over to chat at one point. It was after 9P.M. when they called off the search for the day. Price and I went back up to the house, and to take our minds off things we watched a Tig Notaro standup on Netflix. I barely made it through without falling asleep. I slept like a rock that night.

Monday, 11 June 2018

On Monday morning around 8A.M. Price and I were sitting on the porch swing. The emergency personnel were just getting started for the day. The helicopter was circling the lake when the pilot spotted him floating. We watched the boats - two pontoon boats for the divers, a few DNR boats - all converge very quickly. Sheriff Hancock walked up towards us and, giving a thumbs-up, told us they’d found him. He walked Jason to a neighbor’s dock where the wife and other family were waiting.

The helicopter landed in a nearby yard. The boats slowly made their way back towards our dock. Holding on to the front of one of the pontoon boats were two divers in the water. They were holding onto an orange bag. The coroner showed up and backed his truck to the steps that lead down to our dock. The divers carried him out of the water and onto our dock, then up to the coroner.

The divers packed and cleaned our dock. The coroner drove away. The Sheriff walked up and thanked us for the use of our yard and dock.

In no more than an hour the pickup trucks and the SUVs were gone. The Sheriff’s Command Center RV was gone. The police tape was taken down. The family left. The boats drove away.

Price and I walked down to our dock for the first time since Saturday. We moved the fenders back to the side of the dock. I put my hammock back up and laid in it for a while.

The man was a body builder. He was around 6'5" 250lbs, all muscle. It took less than a minute for him to go under. There was nothing Price and I, or anyone else, could have done. The people on the two boats that met them did everything they could have.

If you’re on the water, please have a life jacket available - one that is fitted to your body size. Learn to swim. Learn to tread water. Learn to float. Understand how quickly this could happen to even the strongest person.

Later in the week Price and I were in Florida to celebrate our niece’s sixth birthday. We went out on a friend’s boat with six kids and three other adults. It was our first time on the water since this whole experience. The kids all had life jackets on, and there were enough on the boat for the adults. I found myself double checking, even though I’d been out on this boat with these people before and it probably hadn’t crossed my mind. Having grown up around boats and on the water, these things are second-nature to me. We had a lovely time.

The water will always be a part of my life. It makes me happy and calm. I feel most relaxed and peaceful when I’m swimming or sailing or on a beach. Last weekend I was reminded of the power of water. I’ll never take it for granted again.

I'm Taking a Year Off

4 May 2018

Today is my last day at The New York Times. Working here for the last two years has been the most incredible experience of my career up to this point. I have learned so much, I have grown as a person and as an engineer, and I have worked with the best damn team that I could have asked for. I will miss you all greatly.

Tomorrow I get to start an adventure that I have wanted to go on for many years. I’ve waited for this, preparing financially and professionally for the day that I would feel comfortable leaving a steady income and jumping into a big unknown. I will be traveling for most of the year with few concrete plans, which is exciting and scary and I can’t wait.

If you want to follow along I will be posting regular updated here and on my Instagram and YouTube accounts!

Edit: I wrote about why I’m taking this year off.

Japan Day 10 - Flying Home

1 May 2018

Day 10 of the trip was the last day we were in Japan. You can watch the video on my YouTube channel.

Our Airbnb hosts had a lovely breakfast prepared for us when we woke up.

James had to leave super early that morning, but Nicole, Paul, and I decided to go into Tokyo one last time to see the Imperial Palace and eat lunch. The palace was closed but we got to walk around the grounds.

We then got on the Narita Express train to take us to the airport. I said goodbye to Nicole (who I would see the next day because we’re roommates) and Paul and headed to Terminal 2 for my flight back to NYC.

This is the final video of the Japan 2017 Series! Look forward to a lot more travel content to come later this summer, as I’m leaving my job this week to start a new adventure.

Japan Day 9 - Chiba

26 April 2018

On day 9 of the trip we headed back near Tokyo for our last night in Japan. You can watch the video on my YouTube channel.

Our bullet train left Osaka Station at 1:43PM and we arrived in Tokyo around 5PM. We then headed to our Airbnb in Chiba, which is on the north side of Tokyo and closer to Narita Airport, which we’d all be going to the next day.

The house we stayed in was a lovely traditional Japanese home where a family of three lived. The mother and daughter were learning English together, and one of the ways they practiced was by giving guests a tour of their house.

We headed out to find dinner, but on a week night this far outside of Tokyo most places were closing early. We ended up in a mall that was eerily empty but had some snack food to try out. For dinner we of course chose the place that spoke zero english, and google translate wasn’t much help. The meal ended up being really good though.

Afterwards we walked in the rain to an American bar which was run by a Japanese-speaking Persian man. At the bar we watched the movie Bartender starring Tom Cruise, and enjoyed our last night in Japan.

On day ten of the trip: we leave our Airbnb and head into Tokyo one last time, before making our way to the airport to fly home.

Japan Day 8 - Eating Okonomiyaki in Osaka

17 April 2018

On day 8 we travelled to Osaka, where we ate the most delicious meal of the trip and also rode on a ferris wheel. You can watch the video on my YouTube channel.

We left at 11A.M. to head to Kyoto Station. Our Japan Rail train left at noon, and the trip to Osaka was about 30 minutes long.

After arriving we made our way to our Airbnb, then Nicole and I went out to get massages. We had to make appointments for later in the day, so we wandered around a pet store in the meantime.

We all then met at a restaurant for dinner. We chose a place that served okonomiyaki, which is a grilled pancake / omelette from heaven. The restaurant had a map where customers could pin where they were from.

After dinner we went to ride on a ferris wheel!

Brandi then left for Thailand, so we said goodbye to her and then went back to our Airbnb to do laundry.

On day nine of the trip: we take yet another train ride, and stay with a family for our final night in Japan.

Japan Day 7 - Part 2: Shrines in Kyoto

10 April 2018

During the second half of day seven we visited two shrines in Kyoto. You can watch the video on my YouTube channel.

Before getting to the shrines, Nicole and I went in search of an afternoon meal. Most restaurants close between 2 and 5P.M., so all we could find was a cafe that had some alright spaghetti.

The first shrine, Kiyomizu-dera, was under renovation so we could only see part of it.

All of the the buses were packed on account of it being tourist season, so we decided to take a taxi to the next shrine. That shrine, Fushimi-inari, is famous for having thousands of gates winding through trails in the woods. The cicada bugs were really loud here too.

Afterwards we tried to get into a fancy restaurant but it required reservations, so nicole and I split off to get tacos while Brandi, James, and Paul went to eat at a hotpot restaurant.

On day eight of the trip: we eat okonomiyaki in Osaka.

How We Built The New York Times Holiday Gift Guide

7 April 2018

My team at The New York Times built the 2017 Holiday Gift Guide on the same platform that we build How To Guides. It took effort from product, design, editorial, and engineering, and you can read about how we did it on the Times Open blog. I wrote the fun section titled “API and Data Model Updates”.

Japan Day 7 - Part 1: Nishiki Market, Kyoto

3 April 2018

We began day seven of the trip eating street food at Nishiki Market in Kyoto. All of us tried some interesting food, and we wandered around the little shops in the market as well. You can watch the video on my YouTube channel.

Nicole tried a fried octopus ball and did not enjoy it. Paul was very adventurous and tried just about everything.

After we’d had our fill we all got ice cream or slushies then went back to our Airbnb to take naps around 2. When we woke up we were hungry for a full meal but unfortunately most restaurants close at 2 and open again at 5. Nicole and I went to find a cafe that might be open. We found a place that had some okay spaghetti which held us over for a while.

During the second half of the day we visited a couple of shrines.

Japan Day 6 - Hiking (near) Mount Fuji

27 March 2018

On day six of the trip we hiked to a waterfall near mount fuji and then traveled to Kyoto. You can watch the video on my YouTube channel.

We woke up at 4:15A.M. to watch the sunrise, because we were told that it is the best time to see Mount Fuji before the clouds roll in.

After eating breakfast, we packed our bags and left them in the front office of our villa. We needed to store them for a few hours while we went on a hike to a local shrine and waterfall. The shrine was a 15 minute walk from our villa, and the waterfall was a 30 minute hike from there.

After cooling down at the waterfall, we decided to walk down the road that led back to where we started instead of taking the trail down. We also met a solo traveler from Luxembourg who hung out with us for a few hours.

When we got down to the road we were pretty hungry so we found a place to eat lunch. We were told to try the local Yoshida Udon Noodle which is only available in this area. It did not disappoint.

We then got caught in a downpour, so our villa was nice enough to send a van to pick us up and take us to the bus stop so we could make our way to Kyoto.

The 3:20P.M. bus ride was about 45 minutes long, and took us to Mishima station where we got on a bullet train. This bullet train ride would be our first on the trip. The train ride was a couple of hours long, and we got to Kyoto around 8P.M.

On day seven of the trip: we eat street food at an outdoor market in Kyoto.

Japan Day 5 - Leaving Tokyo

20 March 2018

On day five of our trip we leave Tokyo and travel to Mount Fuji! You can watch the video on my YouTube channel. It took us most of the day, and a few trains, to get there, but the views of the countryside were worth it.

To get out of Tokyo, we first took the local subway to Shinjuku station, where we got on a Japan Rail train at 1:30PM. This train took us about an hour outside of the city to Otsuki station.

Once we arrived at Otsuki station, we waited for our 3:15PM train towards Kawaguchiko station. This trip took about an hour as well, and we made many local stops while passing through smaller towns along the way.

At Kawaguchiko station, a van from our hotel was waiting to pick us up. When we got in the van, we were informed that we were being taken to a supermarket, and that we had 30 minutes to buy groceries for dinner and breakfast. Apparently, the few restaurants that were nearby closed early and opened late. The supermarket was a godsend because they had real peanut butter!

After we unpacked everything at our villa, we walked across the street to Lake Kawaguchiko. Typically the clouds part after sunset, unveiling Mount Fuji, so we waited by the lake and took in the scenery.

We got back to our villa after dark and made dinner. I believe it was some sort of burrito / stir-fry hybrid. We also found out that we’d accidentally bought alcohol-free beer. Oops.

After dinner we played cards, then went to the hot spring baths at our hotel. There were separate rooms for men and women, and we had to get naked and take a shower before getting in. Apparently the water was directly from the lake, and meant to have healing powers.

On day six of the trip: we hike to a waterfall, we leave Mount Fuji, and we ride on our first bullet train!