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The Evolution of AKAAWOL.com



Back in 1999 when I started AKAAWOL.com, I had no idea what I was doing or the direction the site would take. But that's not even going back far enough to really tell you the history of this website.

Let’s look back to where the name came from. Back in 1986, I joined the US Navy to get my life back on track because there was a girl I really liked. I wrote her a couple of letters a week, often writing every day and then sending it out when I was concerned over the weight of the envelope. There was never a reply. So after bootcamp and a few months into my electronics schooling, I wasn't too concerned with throwing my new career into the toilet. Of course as luck would have it, it didn't take long before my carelessness got me into legal trouble and I was on my way out. Only being kept in the service in case they needed me to testify in any additional trials, I was in a state of limbo.

Then around April of 1987, my sister requested I return home to give her away at her wedding. As our father had died and I was the only son, I felt a sense of obligation. I put in the request, but was denied as a flight risk. So I used a voucher I had from my flight to California and flew back to Detroit. For anyone without military experience, this leaving without permission in the service is called Absence WithOut Leave or AWOL. Now it wasn't my intention to get a nickname out of this; I was just back home, carrying out a family obligation. Granted, I didn't rush back to California; I was enjoying my time away from the service and catching up with friends. Ok, so there was some partying going on as well.

So the first day that I got the second part of my nickname was when I walked into a Denny's restaurant on Woodward Avenue in Bloomfield Hills. I had instantly tensed up because there were two uniformed officers sitting at the counter and as I rounded the corner, a guy I knew as Hubcap (I swear that while I remember his nickname, I'm not sure I ever knew his real one) yelled out for me saying “HEY, AWOL!” I nearly died! Those officers would have received a bonus had they checked and found that I was in fact absent from the service and returned me to their custody. But they ignored us and everyone had a laugh over how white I had just turned. Then it was something of a joke how the term AWOL could also mean out of one’s mind and how that too might apply to me. So it was decided by my pals that this was to be my new nickname.

But this wasn't to be my only time of being AWOL from the service. I don't recall when exactly, but soon after my return to California I was placed on an appellate leave. This means the service didn't have to pay me and I only had to report in every 90 days. I returned to the Detroit area with every intention of holding up my end of the deal, but things were difficult for me back then. I had a low paying job and a van that was leaking oil pretty badly. But on my 89th day, I drove out to Selfridge Air National Guard Base to check in like I was supposed to despite using two quarts of oil and a lot of gas to do it.

Mind you, I was clean cut enough for work at a gas station in Birmingham, Michigan (a really nice neighborhood). But the guy that was working the desk said that my hair touching my ears (just barely) was enough for him to dismiss my effort of getting there and that I should return after getting cleaned up. I explained that I didn't have money for a return trip or even the haircut for that matter. Not my problem, he told me. But I won't be able to return, I explained, which just resulted in the reply, “Then you will be AWOL.” That was the last thing he said to me.

I was running out of money and the job I had taken up painting billboards was coming to an end when I turned myself into the service. That was December 10th of '87. They were booking tickets for my flight to California (at least I'd be fed and warm) when they got word that my discharge had been completed on December 7th and so I was escorted off the base. So you see, I had been AWOL twice and never charged for it either time. Guess that was more proof that it was just who I was supposed to be.

Later, I learned how to make friendship bracelets and was partaking of the music scene in Detroit where I would sell them. I was typically around people who might be high on all sorts of stuff and it was there I discovered the marketing side of my nickname. I would introduce myself to people admiring my work by saying, “I'm AWOL, not to be confused with a wall,” and make a gesture like I was knocking on one. Before this, most people never remembered my name, but suddenly everyone knew it and word was getting around about how awesome my bracelet work was. So much so in fact, that even years after that scene had died off, I would still occasionally get people who would recognise me and only remembered me as AWOL.

Years passed and still it was friends who kept the name alive when I decided to get vanity plates for my car. That's where the rest of it came from. Turns out there was a motorcycle in Michigan with the licence plate of AWOL, so I couldn't have it… So I considered what else I could do. I could have up to seven letters on the plate so after a little deliberation, I came up with “AKAAWOL”. It made sense to me as not everyone called me AWOL; just friends really, so “Also Known As Absent WithOut Leave” still was me.
akaawol licence plate

Fast forward to 1999 when I was working for a company called Tech Team as a helpdesk technician. It was there that coding became a hobby. It started with the free service known as GeoCities. But growing ever tired of their ads and looking for better service, I was recommended Doteasy as my domain host and I've been with them ever since (well, except for a small lapse due to no payment and the required time before I could have the name back).

Back then the site had a completely different direction. I was behind a computer for more than eight hours a day and surrounded by fellow geeks who were always offering cool stuff to check out. So I had a vast number of links on all kinds of topics and all that I had deemed so cool that they were worth sharing. Mind you, this was before social media as we know it now. I had a site filled with categories of cool crap I had found or had been shared with me.
akaawol old logo
The logo of my original site.
akaawol patriotic logo
Another version that was inspired by the 4th of July; guess I had been feeling patriotic.

The site has taken on a few different looks over the years, and may have only had a modest following for most of its existence, but things changed after I came to Singapore. I revamped my site even as it found new purpose. I decided I wanted to tell anyone back in the USA what a great country I had found here in Singapore and show the differences between the two countries.

I had experimented with a Wordpress version that was fun and cool, but it was hacked not just once but twice. So that is why this current incarnation, albeit back to using HTML, seems to have started back in October of 2012. That was when I started over and decided with the help of my wife how this site would look and what it was to be about. The new look needed a new logo, so I decided to incorporate the image from a leather stamp my wife had help me get produced. I had drawn out the image and scanned it; she had cleaned it up so that it could be used by the company I had commissioned to make it.
akaawol leather stamp

I noticed my number of views were going steadily up, and this encouraged me to work even harder. The idea of what all the content would be about really came from the site’s evolution and its readership. Turns out many in the States check in to see about life in Singapore but even more readers are Singaporeans looking for my take on their local events and culture. The site continues to evolve as I explore this country, plus each time I'm asked questions by the locals, it makes me realise how really different our cultures are.

Besides, it’s funny how I, not unlike many Americans, had never even heard of Singapore other than that brief bit in the third instalment Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. And Singaporeans have no idea of what the USA is REALLY like. So I suppose I'll never run out of things to talk about. Some people keep diaries; I've got this site to not only write about my experiences but also share the photos I take with the camera my wife got me. Now the world can look in and not only see how I'm doing today but even look back and see how much I - and my website - have grown.


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