Welcome to roadtrip-life

Now that the road trip has been completed and there are no more posts to make, I reset the post order to be chronological. I hope you enjoy!

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The Bare-Chested Woman on the Bare-Chested Man

First impression: Guy behind a dumpster. Is he an employee on break?

Second impression: If he is, I'm not shopping there.

I had no real way of avoiding him, as the "is a bum" conclusion was made far too late for easy avoidance manouvers. Eye contact had been made. I mentally checked to see if I had any readily available change that I could give him if necessary.

None. Crap.

He looked at me and opened his mouth. He had no teeth. I prepared myself for him to give me some lame story about how he needed a bus fare or something (all while standing behind a dumpster at a liquour wholesaler).

"How're ya doin today?" he asked brightly.

I was off guard. The only words I could think of were about how I was broke and how sorry I was. I even had a lame smile all ready for him.

"Uh, fine." I responded. I pretended to be in a hurry. I wasn't, really. I had about 4 hours to blow while I waited for my car be checked out. He really was pleasant though. Funky.

"What's your shirt say?" He seemed genuinely curious. The shirt doesn't say anything. Instead there is simply a picture. A picture of a pirate skull surfing a hot dog on a sea of cheerios with a rat on his shoulder. A remarkably tasteful affair, believe it or not.

"Nothing, it's just a picture." I helpfully moved the strap of my bag a few inches so he could see it, all without breaking stride.

I did consider slowing down and discussing with him the properties of the pipe the pirate skull thing was smoking while calmly performing his morning surf, but I had somewhere to be. Well, I had convinced myself of that. In truth, I was still swallowing my lame smile I never got a chance to use.

He mentioned he had never seen anything like the picture before. I believed him.

It was about this time that I was passing him. I noticed he wasn't wearing a shirt. One that covers all the things a shirt should, anyway. He was wearing this dirty pink button up shirt that barely covered his shoulders, and could probably only be buttoned on a man a few sizes smaller than him. This, in itself, wasn't really a problem.

The guy wasn't terribly hideous or anything and it was a 90 some odd degree day in California. The interesting part was the two tattoos he had on his chest. One of which was a succubus with wings and large bare breasts.

Really, what is going through your head when you get a woman's bare chest tattoed on yours? Do you think women are attracted to that?

I suppose women prefer men with teeth too, now that I think about it.

The guys then? Does it make you look hard-core to your buddies? Give you street cred? Why don't you just get some hardcore Pamela Anderson action goin on your ass while you're at it? Then at least you can walk into your local bar and say "I had Pamela all over my ass all night, and the some more in the mornin'." Good for a laugh, assuming you're in the right kind of joint.

Of course, his local bar is the dumpster, I'm sure he'd be the life of the party.

I wish I'd had my camera. He would have been a great interview. Oh well, there'll be more interesting people all across the country.


It Begins!

In a few minutes, I'm getting in my car and going on a road trip!

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Day One

Perhaps it is because I drove through Yosemite Valley, but that was probably the quickest 10 hours of driving I've yet driven.

Yosemite is simply stunning. I got a lot of great footage and a lot of great photos. I didn't stop to talk to anyone though. It was labor day in the valley. Everyone seemed busy with kids and family and friends. I felt a little too alone to challenge anyone to wait and be interviewed. I hope to get over that soon.

I did make a few observations:

1. Don't go to Yosemite on labor day weekend unless you plan on leaving after labor day, leaving on the east side, or getting in line to leave on labor day and still leaving the next day.

I think I may have passed a couple hundred cars essentially parked trying to leave the valley. Luckily I left on the east side and had no delays whatsoever. Plus, I think the east side is looks better. You can avoid Yosemite’s ugly twin.

2. There is some park before you get to Yosemite Valley. I don't remember the name of it, just that the slogan was \"Land of a thousand uses\" or something like that. It really isn't important. The park was ugly.

The trees looked withered and crooked, but not in the interesting way that most east-central-California-valley trees do. They looked withered and crooked in a more, well, ugly way.

There was a nice valley on the other side of the trees, and valleys look good. Well, exception of this one. The far side of the valley looked like a giant slice of moldy jack cheese.

A national park can get away with being ugly. \"It has its charm,\" you can say. But when you take that same park and put it next to Yosemite Valley, you just get an ugly park that acts as a buffer zone to unabashed beauty much like the unattractive friend brought along so you can look better at a club.

3. There is a certain stench to the pass from the 120 down to the valley. It is rather sickening. It wafts away as you enter the valley, but it is still there contrasting the beautiful landscape with its stomach turning ranckness. Burning brake pads. Near 100 degree weather combined with steep twisting roads and other cars equals the horrid stench of burning brake pads. Drivers have no choice but to ride their brakes. The heat combined with this overuse of the instruments of negative acceleration produces a low hanging cloud that continues to emanate from our cars.

4. I still have no idea how to structure my videos. I’ve come up with a couple of ideas, but I usually end up changing my mind shortly after. I’ve interviewed a few great people at beaches near Bodega Bay, shot myself while driving, shot myself in some scenery and shot some scenery by itself for later narration.

I’ll probably go with the scenery+narration plan, but I’m not ready to put anything online until I get better ideas and more footage.

Also, I need a better tripod.

5. I’m staying tonight at fraternity brother’s house. I am quite impressed by the implicit trust that spans 40 years by simply being a brother of the same Fraternity. I only had to give him a call, tell him I was on a road trip, when I would be there, and he set up an air mattress, a room for me to stay, and told me to make myself at home. I’m sitting here now writing this post. (Note that I falsified the location by a few blocks so as to not point directly to his house).

Here is to a great first day road tripping, and to many more to come.

Carpe Diem.

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Lessons from the Road

1. Never piss into the wind.

2. Nevada is gusty.


People are nice

I expected to spend a lot of time on this road trip sleeping in my car and on uncomfortable couches. While that still may happen, I spent last night on what may be the most comfortable bed I have ever had the pleasure of sleeping on. It was one of those Craftmatic adjustable posturepedic beds. It even vibrated. Pretty spiffy.

Not much to post about the drive from Nevada to Idaho other than the fact that there was a lot of desert. I kind of liked the drive, except for the bit in Oregon. Nothing like driving on a long flat road through the desert and having the speed limit be 55 miles per hour. Seriously Oregon. I can kind of understand the 55 mph in the northwest, but in the southeast? The DESERT? What am I going to hit? A particularly large piece of tumbleweed? I'd notice a jackrabbit that tried to cross the road 20 minutes before I got there.

Also, I think I may have a plan for how to make my first episode. I'll work on it today and tomorrow and hopefully have it up by tomorrow night.

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Boxer: A Brief History

So my Alma Mater, Pacific University, has this mascot. A 50 some odd pound metal dragon dog thing. I am bringing it with me and photographing it everywhere I go.

We call it Boxer.

I kind of wish we didn't, as that is rather ignorant. See, the original Boxer was made 500 years ago in China. It was a symbol of good fortune to the family of druggists that owned it, the luck of the dog reflected on the luck of the family.

The family ran low on money and sold it to an alumni of the university who donated it to Pacific. The students of pacific then stole it from the school and began a long tradition.

The students named it Boxer, after then ongoing rebellion in China, occurring centuries after the animal was created. They also began to get into huge brawls over the animal, often ripping off legs or the head. I'm sure that does wonders for the luck of the family who sold him.

The original animal was stolen by the black student union in 1969 during a fight to take him, except contrary to tradition, the union never returned the original animal. The one we have now is a bigger, heavier, recast of the original.

In any case, spirit for the animal has been at an all time low at Pacific and my Fraternity, Gamma Sigma, recently managed to gain possession of him. I'm bringing him along and photographing him where ever I go in the old tradition of Boxer.

Here is one of the most famous Boxer pictures. The Alpha Zeta fraternity, Boxer, and presidential candidate Richard Nixon:

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"Throw it back"

What would you say if you were on vacation at a resort on a lake in Idaho and you saw some kid lugging a 50 pound metal... thing down the path?

"Throw it back!"

"I thought it was a real animal at first."

"Doesn't walk very well, does he?"

"Going swimming with your lizard?"

"Nice trophy."

I had originally feared that I would be able to find ways to get some exercise while driving. Carrying that heavy son-of-a a half mile down a hill in a forest to take a couple of pictures seems like a good way to do it.

So I lugged Boxer down to a rock all the cool Coeur d' Alene kids call "dickhead" rock. Apparently it looks like something from below. I can't imagine what.

I suppose a couple of images are a good idea.

A nice couple were walking the same direction as I was right as I got to said rock and they offered to take my picture with Boxer. I told them what I was doing and gave them a card. I hope they visit this site. If you guys are reading this, click discuss and say hi!

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Driving in Idaho

There is one thing you will notice if you are driving in Idaho. This quickie episode will start off the video series for the Roadtrip Life.

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Montana and Alumni

As I left Coeur d' Alene, I drove up above the lake and decided the views were worth a Boxer shot.

The drive today was rather uneventful. Montana is pretty. Lots of rolling hills dotted with trees. You're surrounded by them as you drive through. They're just.... the same rolling hills dotted with trees. I would be perfectly happy living in a little town nestled in these hills save for the other people that likely live in those towns. Driving through it was simply less eventful than previous days drives have been.

I wish I had been able to take a more scenic route, but I got started a little late (I had to fight with the website to get the Episode Quicklinks working correctly) and the straight through drive is about 8 hours. I did get a chance to stop a couple of times and take some interesting pictures of Boxer.

The sun was setting over the mesas in the distance behind me and I was driving into a lightning storm in front of me. I actually fretted for a little while that there would not be any place to stop and get off the freeway for a good Boxer pic. Lightning struck off to my right just as I came around a hill that had an exit. It was perfect.

Well, except a thunderstorm in Montana means the lighting doesn't strike terribly often, and there was this huge hill between me and the storm. But the sunset was great.

I really do hope I'll be able to set Boxer up in front of a video camera in order to get some good Boxer/lightning shots.

In any case, a Gamma alum of '86 hosted me last night. We spent much of the night drinking beers and swapping stories. I heard stories involving beach trips and university presidents (and university presidents at beach trips), the location of the bell that used to be in Old College Hall before it was moved. Sex tape scandals, master keys, and awesome methods of informing the student body of said scandal. I'll be informing the brothers about these things more specifically.

He was also there when the Boxer was recast. He gave me the location and phone number of the gal who got the thing made. She is down in Florida now, I hope to be able to stop and see her.

In other news, Boxer has lightened and greened considerably since being recast. On its way to being a regular Lady Liberty I suppose.

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Singular Moments of Clarity

I'm embedding a few photos from the terrain I was driving through as I was thinking of this. Eventually I tired of getting out of my car and lugging Boxer around, so I stopped. Trust that these views are only a small portion of the many places I could have stopped.

I’ve found that being told who I am or what I am doing without my request, or even my permission, is the height of attraction. Those moments when something or someone tells me my most inner thoughts, confirms them, are the singular moments of clarity in this world.

My most recent host loaned me a couple of books on tape he thought I might enjoy. Charles Kuralt’s America and Travels with Charlie by John Steinbeck. I respect Steinbeck and I’d heard of Travels with Charlie before. I popped it in first. His first few lines spelled me, to steal a phrase. I had to stop listening because his words led me to so many other thought I found I was no longer following along.

I began to note the things he said, thinking of quoting them around the site from time to time. Towards the end of the first chapter, I gave up: I’d mentally noted the whole damned thing.

“I set them down so that newcomers to bum-dom, like teenagers in new hatched, sin will not think they invented it.”

“A trip a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality. uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself, no two are alike, and all plans policing and coersion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip, a trip takes us.

I find this to be inexorably true. This trip, after only, 4 days, 5 days, lessee, my site says 5.35 days, oh I don’t care, some time, a few thousand miles, whatever, has very little in common with what I had planned.

1.I planned to pull off the road often to explore the nothings. I do this, but not when my fancy takes me. I have a different method. Two rules, actually. Rule one is drink a lot of water (I’m actually amazed at how dehydrated I’ve been). Rule two is avoid actual bathrooms whenever possible. This forces me to see some really cool things because I simply cannot put it off until later.

2.I planned to stop and talk to a lot of people, interview them on camera, and find out their stories. I find that I have no desire to do this. At first I thought it was because I was afraid, and I’m sure that is still there, but the first few people I talked to didn’t tell me anything interesting.

There is this temptation when a stranger walks up to you to simply clam up and give one or two word answers. The most interesting people will become lame in the face of a stranger.

Then you put a camera in front of these people? They clam up further. They don’t know where that camera is going or what you are doing with it. Then there are the legal issues of filming people that I’m not totally satisfied about.

Finally, I don’t want to have to worry about the camera, I want to talk to the people I meet, and I’ve been hosted by some wonderfully interesting and remarkably generous people.

3.I planned to film myself and upload these films onto the site. I am filming things, but editing takes time and it forces me to be alone. I simply don’t have the desire to do it. I can make the little quickies and will continue too, but nothing like I had planned.

4.I’m going to be alone.Oh being alone. I’ve got a lot to write about that, but I want to get back on the road. See, I’ve got to, erm, follow my first rule. There will be more.

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John and Me

Before I hit the road yesterday, I was treated to breakfast in a small diner in southern Montana. There was a live bluegrass band playing and most of the patrons were large guys in plaid shirts. It was a small town and it seemed everybody knew everybody, especially my host (the local optometrist).

I decided against picking up the band's CD.

The largest benefit of this was that I started on the road with a full stomach. The disadvantage is when the emptiness hit me.

My sweet spot for driving is about 8 or 9 hours. After that I start to get impatient and simply want to get to my destination.

The drive yesterday took me 14 hours. The views in the morning made it unquestionably worth it, but by the end of the day I found myself in a very strange mood.

I noticed this when I received an email cordially questioning where I was and where I was going. I didn't respond (I was driving, after all), but I found myself resenting the question.

I was doing what I was doing and I was putting things online, how dare anyone ask me questions?

Unsure of where these thoughts came from (Thus far, I've enjoyed all the communication I've received on the road), I began to question my mood. I found that I had withdrawn into Steinbecks book. Steinbeck got me. He new what I was doing. I listened as John Steinbeck told of many of the same troubles I was having as he traversed the country towards me. The Yellowstone conversation was particularly close to home.

"You went HOW close to Yellowstone without actually visiting?" John asked.

"17 miles John," I responded.

Well, not really. I haven't gone that mad.

He did ask the question on the tape before deciding to actually enter the park. He was shortly chased out when Charlie (his dog) decided to try to attack every bear he saw.

I did go within a 17 miles drive of the park, although I didn't go in. I still had another 11 hours of driving ahead of me. I'm pretty sure that Boxer could have taken any wayward bears had it been necessary though.

I stopped for a few minutes and wolfed down a burger, I'd just realized that I hadn't had anything but a can of chili since breakfast 12 hours prior. As I digested, I calmed down and the rest of the trip passed uneventfully.

I'm now in Greeley Colorado and I'll spend another day here, then I move on again. I'm not sure where I'm going tomorrow, I guess I should work that out.

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So tired

While driving through South Dakota, on about my 11th hour, I got a phone call that my host had to run out. I had no place to stay.

it was already 8 pm.

There are 0 Gamma Alumni in South Dakota.

Did I mention I'm in central South Dakota?

God I'm tired.

Motel time.

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Before I left, I feared that I would eventually find myself cold, lost, and alone, in the middle of nowhere, not knowing where I was going, or what I was doing.

Last night, I saw that happening.

I have all of the Gamma Alumni plotted on a map. I only have to click on a name to get an address and, with a little more work, a phone number. If you were to be stranded in the states, you need only to open up the map to find yourself surrounded by alumni, friends -brothers- who would help out a brother with little knowledge other than a couple of greek letters and the ideals of the brotherhood.

Anywhere in the states, save for South Dakota.

After struggling and failing to find nearby alumni, I decided to drink a Red Bull and get some food, then drive as far as I could.

Perhaps a decision would come to me.

I stopped to eat. As soon as I got out of the car, I started to relax, to lose that tenseness that allows me to drive tired. Then, 10 minutes later, I realized that I was eating McDonalds. Disgusted, I decided I was done. The tension that allowed me to drive was gone. I needed to sleep, now. I began to tense up again, my heart rate picked up, a combination of the Red Bull and the realization that I had no plan.

I stopped at a place that promised it was so cheap, imaginary friends could sleep free.

They say smells are one of the more powerful emotional triggers. My emotions were ready to be triggered. The previous inhabitants of the room clearly had ignored the no smoking sign on the door. That wasn’t the worst smell though. I don’t want to describe the worst smell. I want to pretend it wasn’t there, because then I don’t have to figure out what it was. Actually, that’s right, the smoking was the worst smell.

There I was. Lying on the predictably uncomfortable motel bed, exhausted, heart rate through the roof, facing what I had already established to be my greatest fear for the trip.

I did pass out, though not for long. I woke up again in the middle of the night with my heart still racing. I have a fraternity brother that will not speak to me, an issue about a girl. I’d had some dream that I was talking to him. In the dream, our conversation went well enough, though suitably awkward (I have no idea what it was about).

During the whole conversation there was this dragonfly buzzing off to my left, near my ear. I ignored it, the conversation was more important. The buzzing grew louder and louder. It was more and more irritating until I finally decided to do something about the damned thing. Without warning, only after I acknowledged it, it attached itself to my neck with all of its 8 legs and a sucker and a stinger and all kinds of other things dragonflies don’t have.

I woke up. I felt like I had only been asleep for minutes. My heart was beating as it had been when I passed out. I wasn’t going to sleep again any time soon.

I was, simply put, afraid.

All of my greatest fears, being alone mostly, hit me. It was now 3 am central, 1 am home.

I tried to sleep, to put my fears behind me.

It wasn’t going to happen.

I reached for my phone and text messaged a friend. I asked her to tell me I wasn’t alone.

Once she had, I felt silly. Of course I’m not alone.

I mentally went over the multitude of people I could have called who would have talked to me in the middle of the night as long as I needed, to chase away any fears of abandonment. As we continued our mid-night conversation, my heart slowed and I relaxed. I found an episode of X-files on TNT and the world seemed familiar.

I’m not alone in the middle of the night in central South Dakota. Not at all.

I’ve been more alone after work at home in the Grove. Even last night, I didn’t research the Alumni, a brother did. I called on short notice and he didn’t hesitate to do all of my research for me, to find numbers and send me to person after person, as I asked, as I needed.

I have a greater ability to communicate with people now than I know what to do with.

Now that the sun is up, my fears are gone. It is amazing how the light can chase away all of our fears, even those that have nothing to do with darkness.

I’m going to slow down. Apparently there is a gravestone of someone named Tollef Tollefson nearby. I’m going to go find it.

Maybe I’ll spend another night in South Dakota.

I’m behind on updates. I had a wonderful time in Greeley, and lots of comments to make of it, not to mention the first 11 hours of the drive yesterday. There are a few great pictures (including Mount Rushmore, and the experiences there).

I just needed to get this up, to explain my mood from last night.

One of the greatest disadvantages of being the only one in the car is the inability to do anything besides drive. At least, I shouldn’t do anything but drive. I can’t post and drive, and writing carefully takes time. Time spent not going anywhere.

The past few stops have been a long distance apart and I’ve spent far too much time driving as quickly as possible on split interstates. Split interstates are boring. They don’t follow the land. On interstates, you can’t pull off to explore random roads that look interesting; you have to take exits. I find myself calculating the exact minute I’ll get to my destination. Once I count down the minutes until I’m somewhere else, the journey is no longer the destination.

When that isn't the case. When the journey is the destination, and it has been for the vast majority of the trip, I am at peace. A full, overwhelming peace. I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. Wherever I’m going, I’m there.

So I’m going to go find Tollef Tollefson. The great great great grandfather of a friend.

I’m here, I’m there, I’m not alone.

P.S. I know you’re reading this. Thank you. Thank you to any of you who would have gladly done anything possible to help me in need.

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Heaven on a Bun?

Tourist towns always have the local joint. The one with the rules that all the locals know and the visitors don't. That way, when the tourists come and ask for fries with their burger, the locals can all laugh at them. This episode will give you the "in" on at least one of these joints.

Oh yeah, the cheese is optional.

::Discuss::Watch the episode

I was mistaken... for a dad?

Greeley, Colorado. The first stop on this trip where the only way I knew the person was through the Internet.

I've been posting to Forumopolis for several years now. I simply posted a thread saying I was going on a road trip and I needed couches to crash on. Plenty of people, including MsFrisby (her username on the forum), responded.

I usually try to arrive at my hosts locations in the evening. No later than 8 or 9. To show up later is rude. Unfortunately, I did not expect the drive to take me so long and I didn't arrive at MsFrisby's place until after midnight.

In the morning, after she made breakfast, we packed her kids in the car and took a quick tour of Greeley, including the libraries where MsFrisby works. Greeley has the most impressive public library system I've seen.

Shortly after this quick tour, we headed to Estes park. I started off the trip with the kids addressing me as "sir," then "mr." then, simply and with all the familiarity in the world, "guest."

First order of business in Estes: silence the kids and our stomachs. We headed to the Smiling Elk restuarant.

I had a very tasty jalepeno and bell pepper burger served with "elk lumpies" (mashed potatoes). She had some nachos that were unsurprising save for the chicken, which had a strange sweet flavor.

The kids suggested we ask for the recipe. After laughing because the chef would never give us the recipe, we asked anyway. Sure enough, he told us the secret ingredient. Margarita mix. Good idea, really. Margarita mix, a little paprika and an herb or two and you'd have some delicious chicken for nachos.

Here was the strange part. It was me, MsFrisby, and two kids. A perfect little family to anyone who cared to guess. The waitress certainly did. She handed me the bill directly. I paid it.

The kids were wonderful. Well, annoying, but wonderful. I've never really spent much time with kids before, they were 7 and 9. The opportunities for missed sexual humor leads to endless moments of grownups being "weird."

Did I just describe myself as a grownup?

Oh shit.

Huh. Funky. Anyway...

While cooped up in the car, the kids got loud and played dumb games.

"Lets find a car!"


We were on a highway, next to a car dealership.

"There's one. Another one. Anotherone. Anotherone. Anotherone. Anothernothnothernothernotherone!"

The suggestibility of kids is great too. How easy it is to make them think something is a good idea.

"How about this instead." I suggested, "Lets find the numbers on car license plates."

"No," they said.

"That sounds dumb," they said.

"I see a 1" I said.

"I see a 2" they cried, "and a 3!"

"Let's find a 4!"

Told you.

The trip to Estes complete, we ditched the kids with a sitter and headed to Boulder to meet another "forumite" and tour the bars.

Boulder has some awesome bars and restaurants. Apparently there is the highest ratio of restaurants per capita in the nation. 1 restaurant to 4 people or something like that. We started off at a microbrew that had floor seating. I mean literally, you could sit on the floor. It was quite the comfy carpet. Or you could stand at the bar, or sit at the long table with everyone else. Throughout the short time we were there, we took all of our options. When we were at the table, the waiter sat next to us, asked "what's up?" and chatted for a moment before asking what we were going to order. He did it like he was trying to decide what to order himself.

We were on a liquid diet. I had a couple of beers that used nitro in the tap instead of co2. It came out very smooth, kind of like Guinness.

After our beers, we headed to this loft place where the bartender actually admitted he didn't know how to make the drinks we ordered, but did an excellent job of mixing the ingredients once told.

We also ordered the basic nachos. What we got was a masterpiece only a college town with 1 restaurant for every 4 people could master. You'll have to forgive the cameraphone in a bar picture:

They were quite tasty. Since they were basic, there was no meat. We couldn't compare with the nachos from earlier that day.

We left the bar because there was a free Irish session playing at another bar, they were going to be done soon. They played some authentic music, though it was a practice session, so they were playing for themselves and we were just listening in. Apparently we could have bought them drinks if we wanted to. We didn't even buy ourselves drinks. We just sat and listened for a while.

Last, we went to a bar with a live band. It had the poorest whiskey selection I'd ever seen. I asked the bartender if he had any bourbon. He picked up a bottle of Irish Whiskey. I went with a 7 and 7.

I would describe the band, but I would fail. I think it was Indian pop rock or something. There was a guitar, a bass, and a few other instruments. At one point, the lead singer, dressed in a wifebeater and tie, was playing the triangle furiously. All the while some people were dancing in the middle of the bar which had no dance floor. They were quite talented. The ladies knew how to show off their assets and the guys, well, the guy, knew how to show off the ladies assets.

I was a little toasted by this point, and I was now realizing I would have to be up early to make it to Sioux Falls the next day (remember, this all happened before the "So Tired" and "Alone" posts). What better to do while slightly drunk and tired than take Boxer up to the town overlook and walk around the safety fence for a better shot. I didn't have a tripod and the battery on my phone (which I've used for every picture so far) died the minute I pressed the camera button. I borrowed MsFrisby's camera, asked her to hold my flashlight on Boxer, and took a million pictures. The low light meant a slow shutter speed and I only had my knee to steady the shot. I held my breath and tried to steady the camera. One of the shots actually came out.

We got in the car and headed home. I passed out minutes after leaving boulder, letting MsFrisby drive the hour back home.

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South Dakota: The First 11 hours.

::Note: This all happens before the events in this or this post.

What would you say if you were on vacation at a national monument in South Dakota and you saw some kid lugging a 50 pound metal... thing down the granite walkway?

"Looks Chunky."





Nothing else. A lot of people stared. A couple of people stared, realized they stared, glanced up, realized I saw them staring, and awkwardly said "hi."

I felt like a well endowed woman wearing a low cut shirt.

It is Mount Rushmore. The president's faces carved into the sheer rock. You've seen it before. You probably got a better look at it, actually. It is kind of small, way up there on the mountain side. Cary Grant wasn't even climbing down it. Also, the viewing area was nothing like in the movie.

Some old guy came up to me and pointed way down below at the base of the mountain and muttered something about a mountain goat. We're at one of the most impressive feats of stone carving ever performed, a piece of national pride, and he is pointing at a mountain goat that just ran behind a tree.

I guess he'd also seen the monument before.

On the way back from the viewing area, someone did find the courage to ask me something about my burden.

"What is it?"

"My school's mascot."


The brave question asker was stunned, but the floodgate, the conversation, was open. A small crowd formed and they all asked me the same follow up question:

"Did you lose a bet?"

"Lost the coin toss eh?"

I probably looked like I'd lost a bet. It is a long quarter mile (up hill both ways, naturally). I tried to explain to them that it was an honor to have Boxer, that there was any number of people who are jealous of the fact that I've touched him much less driven him across the country.

They probably didn't care, they were just wondering what the hell was going on.

I'm sure they won't be the last.

I do have an annual parking permit for the Mt. Rushmore parking lot. Anyone driving a "Blue 4DR" with an "OR" license plate can save the $7 if they visit the park before the end of the year and want mine.

The drive to and through North Dakota was pretty quick. I got unintentionally lost for the first time. Navigating using a combination of the sun (I knew where west was), a GPS (I knew exactly where I was, though not where that or anything else was), and google maps on the iPhone (I knew where I was trying to get to and where everything else was, but it could only be updated when I was in a town and I didn't know where I was).

I drove north and south a few times, only to realize I was going the right way the first time. I had just guessed my mileage wrong. I suppose I should use my odometer too. After putting all of the information together and getting re-oriented, I got back on the road.

I passed Lost Springs, population: 1. The sign itself was worth a boxer shot. I pulled off into the town (a fair feat, I wasn't driving slowly and the turn was close). I considered briefly looking for the sole inhabitant of the town, but I didn't know where to look. He could have lived in any of the 10 or so houses, the farm on the other side of the hill or the one on this side. Either that, or he worked in the bar. Maybe the "Antiques and Stuff" store. Maybe he lived behind that huge billboard telling tourists to come visit Lost Springs.

Maybe "he" was a "she." More likely, "he" was a "them."

No, I decided it was just a tourist trap with oddly drawn town lines so it could have pop: 1. I pulled off by the side of the road and cooked myself lunch. This was quite the adventure, it will be the subject of an episode later.

Anyone who has driven through South Dakota will recognize this place:

A marvel of roadside advertising, Wall Drug makes itself a necessary stop. Imagine a carnie town that centers itself around a drug store in South Dakota. There are all kinds of buildings built to look old. There are lots of narrow streets with rotting looking wood sidewalks that are not actually rotting. In fact, rotting looking wood is the primary building material for the buildings. At least, thats what it is supposed to look like, I'm sure it is just faux rotting wood paneling or something. I mean, Wall Drug proudly proclaims has been there since 1931. The other buildings sell "Authentic Gold!" or are an "Old Miner's Bar!" I thought I saw a miner themed video arcade too.

An interesting stop, a marvel of advertising. I didn't go in.

::Discuss::Permanent link

Iowa, it's not that bad

Yesterday I decided I was going to stay nearby. I was going to hole up in a motel (one that was at least a little nicer, wifi was a must) and get some work done. I still had video to edit from Coeur d' Alene and I was in North Dakota.

This would also give me the chance to relax I had promised myself.

I spent most of the day finding Tollef Tollefson. I did find him in an adventure that included mystery, tragedy, and a kindly old man. Then that kindly old man again. It'll be in an episode. (Yeah, I've promised two now and I haven't started editing either yet. Maybe I'll do another motel in a few days to catch up again.)

Anyway, I finished my search and decided to plan ahead for my room. I remember all those awesome Priceline Negotiator ads and decided to give it a shot. I searched for hotels that would give me the same price as the "so cheap your imaginary friends can sleep free" joint.

It put me at a cushy Mariott that usually charges twice the price. I guess they aren't kidding about saving 50%.

So I stayed in Sioux City yesterday, just over the border into Iowa. All I remember from Sioux City is that the city itself smelled odd. I kept trying to decide what it reminded me of. Some kind of food. If it had been delicious home cooking, I would have said it smelled great. Instead, it was probably some mill on the river. I decided it was sickening.

I only had a short drive to make. 3 hours the fast way, 4 hours the long way. I naturally took the long way.

I expected Iowa to be horribly boring. I mean, it's Iowa. You never hear anything about Iowa. Just some big midwest corn state. That's why I was stunned by this hill. I really enjoyed the trees and the fields beyond. I drove down it before deciding it was worth a Boxer shot. I found an old motel to park at and carried him down the road for a bit. There were a million butterflies about. They kept lifting off the ground, flying a few feet further in front of me, landing, then repeating as I caught up a again. A fun little dance, distracted me from the weight of Boxer.

I don't think the picture captures the view at all. Now that I look at it, it just feels ugly. I think the clean clear air (even next to the highway), the sounds, the butterflies, and the feel of the trees just made the environment.

I got back on the road and drove for an hour before coming to the windmills.

I had been fighting the wind the whole drive. The entire time my car pulled to the left. The northerly wind was strong. The wind turbines were no surprise. I decided I had a great opportunity for some Boxer shots and turned on a dirt road to go find them.

I had hoped to get right up underneath them, but I eventually gave up. I figured I could get a pretty good shot and took this picture.

I went to turn around and pulled a few feet further ahead... into a little road that led right up underneath one of the turbines.

It is tough to capture how big these things are. I'd say they were.... really big. I'll print it here in about as big a picture as I can get in an attempt to show the size:

These things are also incredibly unnerving. I'm sure the size of them is part of it. They are so slender and tall. then there are those gigantic blades spinning about. They look so slow from a distance, but when you are standing underneath them it is impossible to avoid imagining what would happen if that thing came off, way up there, spinning like that.

Then there is the noise. I thought about recording it, but I figured no recording would do it justice.

Imagine this:

The wind is blowing hard. You can hear it whistle by your ears, a low howl. The corn is dry and rustling about. Crackling and brushing in its tight rows.

The windmill is overhead, towering over you like a giant, completely ignorant of your existence, devoid of caring for your plight.

The generator hums along inside the windmill, the beating heart, the high pitch oscillating just right to resonate with the wind in your ears. Thoughts of a UFO in a bad sci fi movie fill your mind.

Then, on top of all of it is the maddeningly repetitive, predictable yet uncontrollable, woosh, woosh, woosh, woosh, woosh, the blades make as they spin so perilously overhead.

All the while, you are standing in the middle of a field.

In Iowa.

::Discuss::Permanent link

"Hey, Guess What?"


A pause.

“Hey man, I haven’t talked to you in forever, what are you up to?”

Another pause.

“Yeah? That’s great. Yeah.”

A much shorter pause.

“So I just called to tell you something. I was going to send you a picture in the email, but I figured you’d want to hear. I’ve got Boxer sitting on my dining room table.”

Ahh, that's satisfying. To hear an alumni brag to another about having Boxer on his table. I definitely means something to these ex-students.

Especially for Jeff Wilmes. He almost broke his neck for Boxer 15 years ago.

There was a Boxer toss on campus. The tosses were basically multi-hour scrums where loads of people fought as part of groups to try to gain possession of Boxer. While he was resting from the fight, a wrestler came up behind him and suplexed him (tossed him headfirst) onto the ground. He was pictured in the school newspaper:

He looks a lot better now:

I’m staying at his place in St. Louis for the next couple of nights before I head back north. I’ve finally reached the Mississippi River and some big cities. I’ll tour the city tomorrow and post about it, naturally.

I made some mistakes on the way here though.

I let myself get hungry. Being hungry lead to being impatient. Impatient and tired. This will come into play in a minute

As I drove south from Iowa, the terrain changed from the browning corn to the rolling green hills of Missouri. Steinbeck had mentioned that he considered himself to be halfway across the nation when the landscape changed from green to brown. He was going west, I’m going east. I guess I’m halfway across.

The hills and trees were beautiful, definitely worth a stop to get some Boxer shots. It ended up being the most frustrating stops I’ve yet made, so I’m going to post a bunch of images from it to try to make it seem a bit more worthwhile.

I figured since it was such a nice area, I would use it as my GPS coordinate point for this post. The batteries in my GPS unit were dead, so I replaced them and set it on top of my car. I usually do that because it takes a few minutes to get a good signal after powering on and it takes longer from inside my car. Usually the amount of time it take to take the pictures or fill my car with gas is perfect to get a good reading of my location.

I’m sure you can see where this is going.

After I took the pictures, I hurriedly loaded Boxer in my car. Remember, I was hungry. I had driven good 10 minutes off the highway to find a good spot to take the pictures. The point where I had pulled off the highway was 20 miles from the nearest large town. I wanted food, I knew it was only 30 minutes away.

Boxer loaded, I jumped in my car and took off down the road.

I had taken a few turns to try to find this spot, and I wasn’t exactly sure which way I needed to go. I reached to grab the GPS which I use primarily as a compass when I’m not making posts.

It wasn’t there.

I had left it on top of my car. It wasn’t still up there.

It was only a minute or two back behind me and a long narrow gravel road that I’m sure no one else had driven. The GPS was bright yellow, for this exact purpose I’m sure.

I drove up and down that road 3 times carefully looking for the thing. I even walked halfway down it. Nothing. Couldn’t find it. Far more than a half hour had passed and I was still a half hour from my planned food stop. Frustrated, I reached in my car for a can of soup.

I needed calories.

The can gave me trouble. It was one of those pull top things. I had to pull it hard to get it to come off. I didn’t think about the consequences, I was consumed in the battle. Me and the lid, a battle for the contents of that Cambell’s can.

I ignored that little voice in the back of my head telling me to stop, to pull out now. The voice told me it was already I losing battle. I didn't care, I had to stay the course. I was going to come out victorious.

I did.

The soup, liberated, didn’t stay in the can.

It splattered all over my hands, my shirt, my arms, my ego. Beef chunks, bits of potato, red sauce. Everywhere. My shirt was, previous to this explosion of freedom, white.

I reached in my car for some water to wash it off.

There wasn’t any.

No water. None. Four empty gallon jugs in various places throughout my car, two empty pint bottles, one empty knockoff Nalgene. All dry. I started this trip with so many gallon jugs of water that I didn’t think about the fact that I was going to run out. All I had was one napkin that already had a bit of food on it (I had used it to clean my spoon) and some hand sanitizer (that I had used in conjunction with the napkin to clean my spoon). I soiled the rest of the napkin and cleaned my arms as best I could with the sanitizer.

Finally, I grumpily ate my soup. It was really salty. Water would have been nice. Figures.

I slowly drove out, looking for one small glimpse of that damned GPS device I was now blaming for the whole incident.

Knowing myself, I probably managed to put it somewhere in my car and forgot I did it. Somewhere stupid, like my camera case. I’ll probably find it tomorrow. (hoping).

I was still hungry, and now it was quite apparent to me I was really tired. I downed a Red Bull (I have a Costco case of them in my trunk, by the way).

I finally got to the town I was planning to eat at. I stopped at some Northside Diner or something like that.

after pulling into the parking lot, I looked down at my now orange shirt. It was crusty. It had to be changed. I reached into my trunk for a new shirt and was removing my old crusty shirt in the parking lot when a bunch of young girls walked out into the parking lot. They were arguing over who was going to get shotgun as I frantically rebuttoned my shirt. I pretended to be doing something really cool and important in my trunk, hiding my stained and partially buttoned shirt from them as they got into the car next to me.

I’m not exactly sure why I cared.

I finally got my shirt changed and went into the restaurant. I think I was the only one there under 70. The waitress called me “hun” and set me down with a menu. Everything was really cheap.

One of the advantages of the Midwest, I suppose.

I ordered a burger. I’m a fan of them if you hadn’t noticed yet. There were both French and American Fries on the menu. I was going to ask what the difference was, but I simply avoided the issue by ordering curly fries. It all came out in the most picturesque American diner burger experience you could possibly have. I suppose a glass 5 cent bottle of coke would have been the finishing touch.

I wolfed that thing down (the meat was a little dry and the bun fell apart, though I’m sure it would have been delicious had I been in a better mood) and got on the road. Still tired. I chugged another Red Bull.

No dice. I was getting too weary to drive.

For the first time on this trip, I pulled over and passed out. I slept for a full hour sitting upright in my car.

I began to feel better as the food turned into energy and my mind began to work properly again.

Oh, this guy entertained me. He was driving a purple and gold Harley (A nice color choice if I don't say so myself) at speeds that matched mine. We drove for quite a distance with him in about that spot. He had his head so low on his shoulders I imagine it had to be painful. It was like he was trying to hide from the wind, but he was too man to get a windshield or a helmet. Instead, he just looked like was torturing himself.

I guess that’s pretty manly.

Early on in today's trip, I did accidentally end up in Des Moines. This building was awesome so I took a picture in front of it. I don’t know what it was. My guess is the Iowa capital building, but who knows.

P.S. I've been informed that contrary to my post about Iowa not being that bad, people do talk about Iowa. Iowa is the birthplace of many important things like the SAT and ACT exams, Maytag, and John Deere. I think we are all thankful for the SAT and ACT exams. (Thanks Steve)

With that in mind, I decided to make the location for this trip Macon Missouri, hometown of the Toastmaster. I know this because the town water tower proudly proclaims it so.

::Discuss::Permanent link

Something is wrong

This isn’t right.

My hand is damp, cold: clammy.

I’m a little dizzy. Disoriented.

Clink. I heard that. Barely. My ears are ringing.

A dark stain appears. It runs down my shirt. My shirt… wait, that’s not my shirt.

I’m wearing it, but it’s not my shirt.

I step forward a bit. Ungraceful, not purposeful.

Crunch. I definitely heard that.

The floor is wet. Covered in glass.

I start to raise my hand towards my mouth.

That’s the problem. My hand is empty. It wasn’t a moment ago.


I’m not that drunk. Am I?

It was a beautiful morning in St. Louis Missouri. On my car, dead bugs were begging to turn the front white. In the sky, the clouds were fast burning off and the temperature was steadily rising to a nice comfortable middling warmth.I had a short list of places to visit and take Boxer pictures, though I only really intended to go to one.

My first order of business was to get a camera. A nice, high quality, still camera. I would have started the trip with one had I accurately guessed the course the trip would take. If I knew I was going to have Boxer. If I knew how difficult it would be to film and edit while on the road.

I know now, so I got myself a nice camera. One that isn’t attached to my phone. One where I have manual options, a zoom, a focus ring, aperture, shutter speed, depth of field.

I decided it was necessary when I looked back over my favorite pictures so far from the trip. They look great on the phone, on the website. I’m incredibly proud of several of them.

Large size though? The full 2 megapixels? Terrible. Grainy, off color. This is the case even if well lit, especially distance. I couldn’t print them or do anything that required quality imagery. They don’t even look great as desktop pictures.

So I had my camera and I headed to the only St. Louis landmark I knew I had to get a picture at.

I enjoy taking pictures with Boxer. I love the added challenge. The first issue, naturally, is that Boxer is heavy. A pain to get on site.

The second issue that he is only a foot or so tall. Most things that are worth photographing are high in the air. This means I have to find a way to get Boxer off the ground (we return to the heavy issue) or I have to get low to the ground. I’ve spent a lot of time lying in the dirt, cameraphone in hand.

Then there is the issue of the fact that he is a metal Chinese dragon dog. I wonder if Boxer has ever been through an X-ray machine before. He has now.

It was rather fun convincing the guys at the Arch security to let me take Boxer up in the little trams (speaking of Campbell’s soup cans, those trams are NOT for claustrophobics…).

“What is it?”

“My school’s mascot”

“Why do you have it here?”

“I’m taking pictures of him across the nation.”

“So you want to take him to the top?”

“That’s it”

“Does your school know you have him?”

“They do.”

“Would you tell me they did, even if they didn’t?”

“I would lie to you, yes.”

“I guess I can trust you then. He’ll have to go through the X-Ray.”

They wouldn’t let me take a picture of Boxer in the machine.

“So I have to know. Really, it doesn’t matter, but I have to know. Does your school know you have him?”

“I’m not sure if they knew when I first took him, but given that there is now a huge banner about it on campus, I hope they know.”

Waiting in line with Boxer seemed to take forever. The conversations with people about this thing were actually quite entertaining. It didn’t take long for people to get it and start offering suggestions about places to go and pictures to take.

When our little car of 5 people got to the top, stepping out of the door with Boxer was great. Gasps, laughter, I think someone even clapped. I’m not exactly sure why, but they loved the fact that I had carried that thing up there.

Pictures were tough. I still wasn’t terribly familiar with the camera and the lighting was far from ideal. It was too bright outside for the little lighting inside to do anything. I ended up with a lot of Boxer silhouettes against the square window.

I got one that came out all right.

After loading Boxer into my car I got a phone call. Jeff had warned me that he might not be able to have a place for me to stay. He would give it a shot, but things might not work out.

They didn’t.

I was out of places to stay. I decided to leave my car in the parking lot of the Arch (I now have a collection of 3 parking passes) and walk to the nearest Starbucks for a net connection. I’ve yet to actually drink anything there, but the net connection is fast, the power is easy enough to get to, and the seats are comfortable.

I hit up couchsurfing.com. It was a desperate shot. 4 O’clock on a Friday. I sent out 10 emails with my plight. I finished a couple of other things up online and worked on my living arrangements for the next week. (I should be all set through next Wednesday night in Illinois, Michigan, and Indiana).

That done, I headed down to the sports bars across the street from the stadium to get a cheap bite to eat and a local microbrew.

I had just sat down when a local came in, sat down, and ordered his usual. He was so confident that I ordered the same, a sausage and pepperoni pizza. We chatted for a bit. He was a local guy, a programmer that had just moved to town from Illinois. He was a nice guy, said he usually gave his extra pizza to a homeless guy. A hard worker, also mentioned that he had no love for Muslims, all they know how to do is blow shit up.

He ordered us both shots of wild turkey, addressing the waitresses as babe, honey, or sexy. They were, but that’s beside the point.

He was right about the pizza. It was delicious. I’ve also got to give props to the bar for serving it on the oven pan it was cooked on.

By the way, St. Louis and Chicago have a bit of a rivalry thing going on.

I was just about to leave. To go find a Walmart parking lot in the middle of nowhere to sleep in when I got a phone call. It was a response to my couchsurfing request. This guy was going to let me crash on his couch, but we were going to go out on the town. It was Friday night after all.

I drove out to his place. It happened to be a few blocks away from the camera shop. It was a nice area of town, I had no problem leaving my car there overnight. We chatted for a bit before setting out for the bars, looking for all the hot babes, the sexy chicas.

We watched the end of the St. Louis/Chicago game at Bar Napoli, it got exciting. Two outs, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, St. Louis down by two. They didn’t win, but the bar was into it.

We headed to a swanky rooftop club. It was really nice. It was one of those joints with round doors and red mood lighting. Unfortunately it was dead. We chatted with a couple of people before we decided to head to “the” bar downtown.

It “happenin,” loaded to the brim with guys with popped collars and bleached blonde women.

Now, if it wasn’t apparent by now, this isn’t my scene. I don’t go clubbing. I’m a terrible dancer and it isn’t my game. I’ll play the part, at least I’ll try, but I simply don’t enjoy it.

I understand the appeal. Going home with someone new is a thrill. It’s succeeding in your goal. It’s winning in the battle of wits and attraction, to have all of your careful preparation and grooming pay off. Maybe, in the morning, you’ll find that not only is she attractive, you can even stand to talk to her. Well then it’s love.

To further explain why I don’t enjoy this game, lets examine this little conversation I had with a woman who decided to tell me what I needed to change to “win.” Step one, she said, “pop your collar.” She even did it for me, helpfully.

“No.” I put it down.

“Fine, unbutton another button.” Sure.

“Then pop your collar.”

The conversation was over. St Louis, the “lou.”

They had some swanky clubs and some sexy bleached blonde women (I prefer brunette). I dropped my drink and had some fun. It’s interesting town, far more interesting that I had predicted, actually. All I knew about it previously was something about the Spirit of, and it’s flight across the Atlantic.

Tonight I’ll be in Chicago.

::Discuss::Permanent link


The warm sun beats through the windshield.

The breeze filters through the windows.

The temperature, all told, is perfect.

The crickets are chirping in the corn field.

The air is clear and smooth.

I'm drowsy.

I think I'm going to nap for a while. There is nowhere I'd rather be.

Central Illinois.

I'm not sure what these plants are, but I really enjoyed them. They appear yellow when you look down on them from above and green from below. The middling range was as high up as I could get Boxer.

You'll notice that if you click on images, it will link to high res versions of the same, in case you want a desktop picture or to go get it printed at Kinko's or something.

I took way to many pictures of this, having fun with the camera. It is just so satisfying to feel that shutter click.

All told, today was tame compared to the past couple of days. Just a nice relaxing drive through central Illinois.

The first thing I noticed when I was driving through Springfield Illinois was the power plant. The second thing I noticed was that the power plant was not nuclear. The third thing I noticed was the nice lake next to it.

I had some more fun with the camera, experimenting with the wide angle lens and the expressiveness in the clouds.

The sun was probably about an hour from setting and I was feeling drowsy again. I decided to pull off the road so I could fade in and out of consciousness in the cornfields until it came time to take some pictures. Once again, I love how expressive the clouds are.

To be fair, I did some photoshop work on this one. I darkened the ground around Boxer's feet as the flash caught that as well as him and it is not the focus of the picture.

::Discuss::Permanent link

I thought a half mile was far.

I kind of want to go to Coeur d' Alene again when I'm done with all of this, just to carry Boxer down to dickhead. It seemed so far, so ridiculous then. I carried him considerably further today, and my body aches from the effort. I really should weigh him so I know what I'm carrying.

I drove into Chicago today without much of a plan for what to do. I picked up lunch downtown, a matter which I didn't think through very well. I paid more for parking than lunch itself, even though I ate at the corner of Guess and Gap, in the same building as a fur coat shop. I did get this guy-who-paints-himself-silver to pose with Boxer though.

That done, I went to take Boxer to Wrigley field. I have a frat brother who is enamored with the Cubs. It seemed the least I could do to take a picture in front of the sign.

It turns out that today was the last day they were offering tours. With a little shmoozing, I convinced them to let me take Boxer down to the field for free. I'll just post a bunch of these images in a row.

And there is more. Lots more really (I shot 309 images today), but I'm exhausted. I'm going to sleep and post more tomorrow.

::Discuss::Permanent link

I've had this conversation before

I’ve got it down pat now.

First people just stare awkwardly. Usually there is a period of about a minute where no one will say anything. After that time, people’s curiosity overrides their fear of asking a stranger a question. The same question, worded differently, begins the conversation.

“[what’s the story with/what is/why are you carrying] your [dragon/dog/lizard/lion/…/thing/it]”

“It’s my school’s mascot.”

The follow up is obvious enough.

“What school?”

“Pacific University in Oregon”

I’ve had two people recognize the school, one grew up in West Linn. Usually people nod blankly and move on. Sometimes they ask where in Oregon, that’s easy enough to explain.

“What is it?”

“A Chinese Dragon Dog.”

This is usually good enough. If people started off the conversation with a guess of what it was, I’ll just tell them they were right. I have no idea what it actually is.

“So why are you carrying it?”

“I’m going on a road trip around the country, taking pictures with him.”

If they’re still interested at this point, I’ll give them a card with this website. This usually involves an awkward shifting of Boxer’s weight as I reach for my wallet with the cards.

“Looks heavy.”

“Yeah, that’s a good description.”

“So is this a greek rush thing/do you have to carry him/did you lose a bet?”

This one is tough to answer. I’ve got about a sentence, maybe two, to explain the entire history of Boxer and why it is an honor to have him. I think I’ve found the answer that both gains their interest and explains a lot.

“No, we stole him, actually.”

Yep, interest gained.

“Does the University know you have him?”

“They didn’t at first, but they do now.”

Sometimes they want an explanation of this. I’ll briefly help them out.

“Can I hold him?”


What are they going do, run off with him? I’ve run with Boxer, they won’t get far. Plus, they don’t actually want him.

“Ooof. He’s heavy.”

“Yeah, that he is.”

The conversation is basically over here. Maybe we’ll go over where I’ve been or where I’m going next.

Anyway, after I toured Wrigley, I headed to Lake Michigan. I had never seen any of the great lakes before. I finally found a place I could park for free and it happened to have an excellent view of the skyline of some city/cities. It isn’t Chicago. If anyone knows what we’re looking at here, email me or post in the discussion. The location for this post is where the images were taken from.

I was amazed by the color of the water. It was a very interesting turquoise color.

Next I headed to the Sears Tower. This was unquestionably the most tiring exercise I’ve yet endured. I lugged Boxer through the entire tour they force you to go on before you take the elevator to what you want to see.

Chicago from 103 floors up.

Once again I had trouble with lighting. I also had to deal with the smaller windows near the floor since I was unable to hold Boxer and photograph him. I tried to balance framing the foreground (Boxer), the midground (the window), and the background (Chicago).

It was only about half an hour till sunset by the time I got up the tower, so I decided to wait around for the show. That horizon is apparently 50 miles away.

After our trip to the top of Chicago, I unloaded Boxer in my car and looked up dinner. I had competing recommendations. There was the cheezborger cheezborger cheezborger (no pepsi..coke) place made famous by the likes of John Belushi and there was the original Chicago style pizza place. Since I’ve had Chicago style pizza before I went with the Cheezborgers at the Billy Goat Tavern.

It was about a mile away and I had no desire to park my car again at the extravagant Chicago rates. I decided to walk there. Walking without Boxer felt great. It did occur to me that I was alone and walking through Chicago at night. I was, however, walking through the financial district. I figured I was fine as long as the buildings were over 50 stories tall.

Anyway, I got my Cheezborger, met a couple of guys that were also tourists, and drank a quite tasty house lager.

Food eaten, I was about to head back to the place I was crashing, about a half hour outside town. I decided to take one last trip back to that place with the nice skyline view. It was worth it. The night skyline was beautiful.

I love how the light plays on Boxer in these long exposures. (I was using the ground as a tripod with the camera strap wadded up underneath the lens for a little angle.)

::Discuss::Permanent link

There was an accident

Vehicles collided on the freeway.

I wasn't directly involved. Very nearly, but I got through it.

I'm ok.

My car's ok.

In fact, everyone is ok. There was no injury save a bruised shoulder on one driver.

That is a miracle.

He thought he was going to die.

It involved a fucking tanker truck

Lets go back. I was not feeling terribly well. Not sick, just... blah. I was already down two energy drinks and, with about an hour's drive left, considering a third. I could feel the caffeine struggling to do its job as parts of my body felt the surge of energy while others simply wanted to stop concentrating on anything. I figured that next drink may win that little battle.

I am still listening to tales of Captain Nemo's fantastical adventures under the sea. It had finally arrived at one of the interesting points (It is a really long book). Nemo was describing how he was going to get from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean in two days without crossing where Moses had walked.

While the narrator and Nemo were arguing about the logistics of speed, the distance around the Cape of Good Hope, and how this might work, the large 80's van started changing lanes.

You know the type of van. Big unwieldy thing. Not a VW. Thin brown stripes painted along the length of it. Ladder on the back.

The problem with this simple lane change maneuver?

There was a Focus in that lane.

Why couldn't the Focus just swerve out of the way?

He was pinched in by a Semi.

I pulled myself away from the Nemo's improbable situation that was likely to be solved by electricity in an era where electric conductive power was still about as magical as ion propulsion is today.

At first it seemed like the situation was going to dissolve like it normally does: start to merge, honk, swerve, correct, fret a bit, drive on. The van looked like he was going to pull away from the-

Oh wow, the blue Focus is swerving a lot. Is he going to be able to correct?

Nope. There was impact.

The Focus fell back, swerving to the right. There must have been horns blaring and tires screeching and I do remember hearing it, but all I really remember is the slow methodical voice of the reader of my book. I stopped paying attention to the Focus. My attention was on the van in front of me. It was now facing perpendicular to the direction it was going - to the direction I was going.

The moon was really low in the sky. A crescent.

It's amazing the things you notice.

I had been slowing down as the situation escalated. It was now clear it wasn't going to diffuse with a few frayed nerves. I hit the brakes hard.

I could feel the anti-lock pressing back. Every time I feel that I get a rush of relief that I bought this car.

The van collided head first into the barrier between the freeways. I swerved to the right, across the debris that was now spread across the road. The tires held, the brakes did their job. I slowed down, pulled over to the left.



Been here before.

Hit the emergency lights.

Get out.

Jump over the barrier. I don't know what is going on over there.

Find out if anyone is hurt. It doesn't look like it. He's breathing. No blood.

He's ok, but the van is sticking out into the road. I walked up the road a ways. I shined my flashlight at oncoming traffic, trying to get them to move over, to get out of this lane.

A few of them got it. A few of them damn near hit the van. Like really close. Some were wedged between the van and semis.

Finally the guy in the van managed to get it started to pull it off the road. We crossed the highway to go check on everyone else.

I got their stories. The guy in the focus was spun about at one point, he thought it was all over, wedged between a van and a semi, backwards. He needed a cigarette.

Apparently there were two semis involved. I only remember one. The Focus was black. I distinctly remember it being blue.

How the hell did I lose a semi?

The moon was orange. It looked like a giant peach wedge in the sky.

But I don't remember two semis.

::Discuss::Permanent link

Draft 2

You’ll have to forgive my indulgence here. I talked with one of my friends back home and found out that this opening isn’t as effective as I had hoped it would be. I’m going to mess with it a bit here. Is it clear what I’m trying to get across? Can you figure out what happened?

-Something is Wrong.

This isn’t right.

My hand is damp, cold: clammy.

I’m a little dizzy. Disoriented.

Clink. I heard that. Barely. My ears are ringing.

A dark stain appears. It runs down my shirt. My shirt… wait, that’s not my shirt.

I’m wearing it, but it’s not my shirt.

I step forward a bit. Ungraceful, not purposeful.

Crunch. I definitely heard that.

The deep bass ripples through the air again.

I step, slightly after the beat.


The floor is wet. Covered in glass.

I start to raise my hand towards my mouth, to take a drink.

That’s the problem. My hand is empty. It wasn’t a moment ago.


I’m not that drunk. Am I?

::Discuss::Permanent link

Do you? No, really. Do you?

Yesterday I thought I was in danger. There were other vehicles moving unpredictably all around me. Just to add to the excitement, one was loaded with hundreds of gallons of gasoline. We were all headed at nearly 80 miles an hour on the freeway, at least at first.

Today was different.

Today there was a moral dilemma. Today I was in a situation that I will likely be imagining myself in again and again for years to come: standing there, on the other side of the fence, with my shirt and shoes off. Debating. Should I jump?

I was downtown Detroit with a forumite, Eloisa. There is a very nice park with a nice view of everything nearby. I snapped a bunch of great pictures of Boxer.

Downtown Detroit.

The Renaissance Center.

The park is right next to the Detroit river. I started snapping pictures downriver, towards the nice tourist boat and the bridge. Click, click, click. Different angle. Click. Readjust Boxer, Click.

Some guy jumped over the railing right in my shot. Annoyed, I turned and started snapping pictures in the other direction. It’s still a nice view, I thought.

Click. Click. Adjust Boxer. Click. Click. Splash.



“Oh shit.”

The guy fell in. Or he jumped in. Whatever it was, he was in. He was in the Detroit river.

The river does not move slowly.

He could not swim.

I could, I can.

I swam competitively for 14 years.

I used to be a lifeguard.

I jumped over the railing. Eloisa grabbed my camera and Boxer. I handed her my phone, keys, and wallet. I kicked off my shoes. People were running everywhere. I pulled off my shirt.



Think a minute.

Should I jump?

The internal monologue was fast, powerful, frantic.

No: “This guy is panicked. He could pull me under. They warned about that in life guarding class. I don’t know the river. I don’t know what is going on. I don’t know why he is in the river. Did he fall or jump? Is he drugged out?”

Yes: “He is barely keeping his head above water and he is starting to get near that boat, further from a ladder. I don’t have much time.”

No: “I’m still wearing jeans, I know how hard it is swim in jeans. I don’t have anything inflatable to help keep him above water, no life guard tube.”

Yes: “I know how to save his life. No one else here does. It doesn’t matter if anyone else here does. I know how to save his life.”

“I can save this man’s life. If I don’t, he may die. He will die.”

No: “I can die.”

Do you risk your life to save another? A stranger? A stranger who may have just tried to kill himself?

Do you?

No really. Do you?

When the situation is in front of you? Now. You’ve got seconds. People running and screaming, yelling for someone to help.

Yes. Yes you do. A good person does.

A good person does not stand by and watch another person drown.

Yes: “I’m going to do it. Alright, behind him. Get behind him so he can’t get a hold of you. Jump in upriver… There.”

I stepped forward to jump and heard something. Wait.

“Grab a hold of this.”

The boat. There were life buoys on the boat. I didn’t think of that. Someone ran and grabbed a life buoy. Those round things. Lifesavers. I didn’t have to jump in.

One toss.

The drowning guy didn’t see it.

A second toss.

He saw it. A flail. A thrash. He got it. He’s going to be ok.

I’m going to be ok.

My heart is beating again just writing about it.

Was I going to do it?

Would I have really jumped in?

I told myself to. I decided it was the time, it was the place. It was now or never. It was the right thing to do.

Doesn’t mean I was actually going to do it.

I don’t even know if I should have done it.

It will be a long time before I stop asking myself that question.

Do you risk your life to save another?

Do you?

::Discuss::Permanent link

What now?

&I wasn’t sure what to do next.

For about a week, my stories just kept getting better and better. Without trying I was able to top myself time after time. There was the arch, clubbing, Chicago, Wrigley Field, The Sears tower, all these great stories. Then there was the accident and the Detroit River. How do I top that?

How do I keep improving?

I keep writing.

Well that’s obvious, but about what?

In two days, the only somewhat exciting picture I took was of corn in Ohio.

Well that’s not true, that isn’t being fair. There are quite a few interesting things that happened in the past couple days. Back in Detroit, for instance:

“Don’t stop.”

“I said don’t stop. If the car in front of you stops, go around him. If you are at a light, run it.”


“I told you not to stop.”

“If someone gets near the car, step on the gas. This is the ghetto of Detroit. We’re inside 8 mile. DO NOT STOP.”

Then, about 5 or 6 blocks later.

“Excuse me, do you have a permit? This is a PRIVATE park.”

“We just want to take a couple of pictures.

“mmmmhmmm, well be quick.”

While we were in the ghetto, a few blocks previously, the only houses without broken windows and spraypaint tagged plywood doors were the ones that obviously belonged to the old ladies.

Then you cross the line.

Then the houses are nice brick affairs with fancy windows and big ornate front doors. Each successive block the houses get bigger, fewer of them on the block. After the 5th block, there is one house per block. Bonafide mansions with gates and curved driveways. It was clear that we (I was still with Eloisa, remember) were ruffian kids trying to get into that park to cause mayhem and mischief.

One of the more surprising things about Detroit was how the extremely rich and the extremely poor butt right up against each other so commonly. In most places there is a long gradual change between one and the other. In Detroit, you can take a wrong turn around a mansion and end up in the wrong part of town. Then you don’t stop until you are at a mansion again.

After Detroit I went to meet up with another forumite (who goes by the handle Paramour) in Fort Wayne Indiana I stopped once to take a picture in a nice long tree lined drive in southern Michigan, but I found that I had never turned my camera off after the Detroit river affair and the battery was dead.

Paramour was an extremely nice guy who made me a delicious dish for dinner. I can’t remember what he called it, but it had an informative history. He was an extraordinarily intelligent guy and I wish I could have stayed up longer talking to him, but I passed out shortly after arriving.

The next day I drove through Ohio. I’ve been to Ohio once before. I was not impressed. This time I was considerably more relaxed (last time I was coming down with mono, ugh) and I enjoyed myself some more, but I was still not impressed.

I do enjoy Stewarts brand root beer from time to time (nice stuff, you find it in bottles occasionally. There is also cream soda and I think an orange soda). Anyway, I found the original Stewarts root beer stand in central Ohio. It wasn’t the tourist trap I expected. In fact, it was pretty much your standard grease pit. Tasty, greasy burgers, a quality root beer float. They had tray service to your car, but I got out to get some fresh air.

I was the only one there the entire time and according to their signs, they were closing for the season in a week. A little research showed that they had sold the root beer to some big plant in New York.;/p>

Oh well, Boxer has been to the home of Stewarts Root Beer.

I got quite lost trying to take a shortcut back to the freeway and found myself stuck behind this Amish guy. I don’t think I will ever get over the strange dichotomy of these carriages in big cities.

I stayed the night in a hotel in Ohio. Priceline set me up very well again. I sat down and tried to edit the movies I had promised, but I couldn’t get the creativeness going. No matter what I tried, it did not work.

I tried to write a post. To get something online. I stared at my online form for a while, daunted by the fields I usually had no trouble with.

I opened up Word. My standby for writing longer posts.

The blank page was worse. Nothing. I could write anything. Create any worlds. Tell my story any way I wished. Nothing came to me. Nothing that could even compare to Detroit.

I tried to create another film. I had a brief moment of inspiration, an epiphany about the way my films work, but the feeling and inspiration fled me before I could edit it. I stared at the screen for a while longer.

What has happened? Am I out? Am I done? Steinbeck lost his good stuff after his first time across the nation. He had one traumatic great story in Oregon, then he lost it. He described everything that happened to him as he drove back, but it was clear that his story ended in Oregon.

Did my story end in Detroit? After two and a half weeks?

I hope not.

I did find this letter from Ms.Frisby’s daughter back in Colorado. It cheered me up a bit. (I blurred the name out).

I fell asleep while discussing my laments with a friend back home. In fact, I was out before the conversation was even over.

Next step, Buffalo, New York.

I did feel a little better in the morning. I looked forward to New York. I’ve only been to the east coast once before. That was when I was on my 8th grade Washington DC trip. It was fun, but I was young and we moved fast through all the attractions. I want to get a chance to feel the east coast like I’ve experienced the Midwest so far.

I realized that I hadn’t even thought of Niagara Falls and I booked a hotel there. Priceline wouldn’t give me a place for my usual price, but a few more bucks landed me in a 3 star place. That’s a whole extra star.

I drove directly there to see what the star and couple extra bucks were worth. It had a swankier lounge, a workout room (I planned on using this later), an indoor AND outdoor pool, and a more expensive restaurant attached. The room had more expensive looking furniture, more pillows, and the complimentary bathroom stuff was nicer. Not only was there was separate shampoo and conditioner (I can’t stand the two in one crap), but it was bath and body works orange ginger energizing aromatherapy shampoo and conditioner. I plan on stuffing that in my bag on the way out.

All this stuff was nice, but the Internet wasn’t free. Go figure.

The room scouted, I headed to the falls. Here I took the pictures that brought me back into the trip.

There is still fun to be had, pictures to be taken, people to meet, and distances to lug Boxer. I hauled him almost 3 miles. I decided against using the weight room after all.

By the time I got to the falls, the sun was setting. Excellent. I do believe this is my favorite picture so far. In fact, previously I had my desktop picture rotating through all the pictures I’ve taken so far. Now it is solid on this one. Feel free to click it for a high-resolution version if you would like to do the same.

Even the Canadian knockoff space needle looked cool in the sunset without the falls.

I was about to walk back when I remembered that there was still another half of the falls to see and a walking bridge over to it.

I wasn’t sure how far it was, but I wasn’t going to drive this far to miss a view. Plus it was right over there. It didn’t look that far.

I later found out it was a mile around to that point. Nice picture though. It was a bit better of a view of the falls, sans sunset though (sorry about the blur, I didn’t think of bringing my tripod).

I was still not to the other half of the falls though. That was a quarter mile away down a hill. It is really tough to slow down while carrying Boxer down a hill. People kept walking really slowly, cutting back and forth horizontally.

It was as if you could see them thinking:

“I’m going to stop and take a picture right…NOW.”

Barely missed that guy.

“Oh, let me move this stroller right in front of that kid trying desperately to slow down. That’ll be a great idea!”

I’ve never shouted excuse me with such… need.

She moved it.

Exhausted, I put Boxer down at the bottom of the hill. I was standing only a few feet away but some ladies who didn’t speak English (I have no idea where they were from, I didn’t recognize the language) sat and had their pictures taken with Boxer. I, with permission gained through gestures and smiles, took the opportunity to take their picture. Astute viewers may notice that the framing on this picture is horrible.


There was a lot of steam here and it was getting dark. I still didn’t have a tripod so I couldn’t get any nice pictures (Though I really wish I did. Long exposures of water look great). I do kind of like this one.

After all this I hauled Boxer back to my car. Stealing one of the little golf carts zipping around crossed my mind more than once.

I had hoped they would put all the nice colored lights on the falls like in the postcards, but they didn’t. There were lights, but they weren’t colored and they cast strange shadows I didn’t like. It wasn’t worth hauling Boxer back out of my car.

Back at my hotel I decided to mitigate the extra costs of the 3 star by using the coffee maker to brew hot water to make some ramen (with canned chicken breasts and canned whole kernel corn, that is a very tasty and filling meal. Warning, not low in sodium).

To Albany today, Vermont tomorrow.

::Discuss::Permanent link

The classiest drink ever served

The drive through New York was beautiful, boring, and efficient.

The trees on the sides of I 90 turn colors sooner than the trees elsewhere, no doubt due to the cars on the highway. This leads to a beautiful array of colors ranging from green to yellow and orange. I thought of stopping to get a picture, but didn’t want to pay the toll to pull off the tollway. That, and I’m really enjoying the new book I’m listening to, The Count of Monte Carlo. It is about 55 hours long, so I’ll be listening to it for a while.

From one side of the state until the other, 260 miles or so of straight, neat, tollway. There was a $10 fee for the drive. As a benefit, the road was flat and the speed limit was 65 miles per hour, a number that the frequent cops ensured was enforced. This led to great gas mileage. I approached 30 miles per gallon for the first time ever in this car. I figure the extra miles per gallon saved me $5 in gas, mitigating the cost of the drive a bit.

Speaking of calculations, I am approaching 70 degrees longitude, 45 degrees from where I left. That is roughly an eighth of the distance around the world by degrees. Since the circumference of the earth at 45 degrees latitude is cos(45)*25,000, or 17,000 miles, I’ve gone about 2,100 miles as the crow flies. According to my gas logs, I’ve driven about 7,500 miles.

With those numbers, I could have driven here, back home, then almost all the way back again were I going directly.

I got to Albany in the evening. My host was another forumite, Caleddin. He and a friend were sitting on the porch when I arrived, perhaps the least awkward greeting I’ve had so far.

During our conversations I found out he has quite a few similarities to me. He had just graduated college with degrees in philosophy and biology. My degrees are in philosophy and film. He had just finished a 2 month counter-clockwise road trip around the nation. I’m almost a month into my clockwise roadtrip around the nation.

We compared notes and methods of road tripping while we hit downtown Albany. Our first stop was a burrito joint. At first, I was reticent to get a burrito in New York. I’m from California after all.

I decided I’d like to see the New York opinion of a burrito. It turns out that I didn’t even really notice the burrito by the time it came, my taste buds had been so thoroughly destroyed.

We arrived at the place that was entirely different from any burrito joint I’ve yet been to. In California (and, to a lesser extent, Oregon), the Mexican restaurants are actually owned by Mexican families. There are the whole in a wall burrito joints and the nice taquerias. The former will only serve beer and the later may have a cantina, but it is primarily there to make margaritas.

This place was clearly American. It was loud, packed, and oriented around the bar. The bar made a lot of margaritas, but they weren’t the specialty. I know this because the specialties were interesting and intriguing and printed clearly on the wall.

I started off with a “hard cider.” It was Woodford Reserve Bourbon and fresh New York apple cider. Woodford is my favorite bourbon and the drink sounded interesting. Frankly, Woodford and New York apple cider are both better enjoyed in separate glasses.

While I was drinking this concoction, I tried in vain not to order the “old fashioned classic.”

Now let me first note that I believe a whiskey old fashioned to be the ultimate in drinks. It is simply the best way to bring out the complex flavors of the whiskey.

This was nothing like that drink.

It was a “40 oz Colt 45 served in a champagne bucket.”

I would never order this unless, well, ok, I would order this once no matter the circumstance. It is the ultimate in contradiction. Take the least classy method of getting drunk and serve it as you would the classiest method of doing the same.

Here it is, a 40 in a champagne bucket.

After dinner, (The burrito was unsurprising. It was not as large as I had been promised, kind of cold, and I don’t really remember how it tasted as I was drinking some of the worst beer ever brewed) we headed to the most genius bar I’ve ever been to. The guy who owns this place is a marketing guru.

First, it is a place with tons of different kind of beer on tap and in bottles. There was a huge range from tons of different countries. The place is clearly a beer drinker’s bar.

That, in itself, is not amazing. I’ve been to places like that before.

What was amazing was the computer in the back. There was a beer drinkers club. You put in your number and it prints out a list of all the beers you haven’t tried yet. It also prints the number of beers you have had to drink at the bar. After 40, you get a free T-shirt. After 125, you get a free mug on the wall to drink your beer out of and a discount on beer.

The opportunities in a system like this are amazing. You’ve actually made it productive to drink more beer. The next step is to add an Amazon style “you tried this, you may like…” suggestion system. The possibilities are endless.

The next morning I headed north to Vermont, to visit some of my mother’s friends. This is a wonderful place that I plan on staying at for a few days.

Shortly after arriving I got a phone call from a frat brother I had hoped to stay with in Chicago. While I was trying to get a hold of him, I was lost trying to figure out why his name sounded so familiar to me. It was in my head, something important, but I couldn’t figure out what. I wasn’t able to get a hold of him then, so I gave up and stopped worrying about it.

He called today and explained why I wasn’t able to contact him earlier, he had been at his cabin in Minnesota. I lamented missing the connection and told him I would give him a call if I ever came back through. It wasn’t likely, but you leave such things open.

Then it hit me.

He wrote “Over a Century of Brotherhood.” The history of the Gamma Sigma Fraternity. It is the canon that all the brothers memorize.

I called him back. He explained a couple of things that I was confused about and began to tell me stories from his pledging and his fraternity times. I decided that I could not miss the opportunity to meet this man. I will be driving back to Chicago after Washington DC. Such alumni are too important; such stories are too amazing to pass up. That is the opportunity of a lifetime.

So, I’ve still got this in my head. If you were to add a points system to the beer list, you could give away beers. Make the less selling beers worth more points and you can get rid of those while the regulars know to avoid them.

Why hasn’t this been done more often? It seems so simple and easy.

::Discuss::Permanent link

I changed the CD in my car

Since day 1, I have only had one CD in my car. The Red Hot Chili Peppers' newest album, Stadium Arcadium, disk 1. I only listened to it when I was first leaving a place or getting to it, and only then if I hadn't found a radio station when doing the same.

See, the iPhone likes to crash if you are listening to music, navigating, and downloading maps at the same time. At crucial turn making or music enjoying moments, having your map and music disappear can be very frustrating. Murphy is always present in electronics and if the maps and music are going to disappear, they are going to do it at a crucial turn making or music enjoying moment.

So I avoid this by hitting the CD button. I usually only end up hearing a couple songs in the short time it is on and I'm distracted anyway: driving and turning crucially and stuff.

Well, I finally got tired of the Peppers, so I switched the disk out. I put in Tool's 10,000 Days. A CD that never fails to make me think of a frat brother. One of the guys who is unendingly successful at getting on my nerves.

The story is set on the way back from a frat event. I was driving as usual, being one of the few guys with a working car. Throughout the event, he had insisted like a small child that we listen to this damned CD on repeat. The way back was no different. He whined until we put in much like I used to whine until mom put in the Sesame Street Oscar's Rotten Birthday tape, on repeat, for the 40th time in a row.

Fine, I do enjoy it, 10,000 Days is a pretty good album.

Then he insisted that we turn it up. I already had it pretty loud, but I relented. I also enjoy a really loud blaring (while driving down the freeway with the windows down and the wind in your hair) once in a while. It feels good to have someone else ask for it, to relieve me of the guilt of doing something so...unrestricted.

Towards the end of the first song, I glanced in my mirror to see if he was done, if I could turn it down.

I noticed he was tapping his leg and nodding his head, but entirely off beat. He was even mouthing the wrong words. This was between songs, there wasn't a beat to be off, no words to sing.

I had to take my eyes off him to pay attention to the road(imagine that). When I got a chance to look back, the next song had started, still loud.

I saw him adjusting his iPod.

He had his earphones in. He was still tapping and mouthing words.

The music we were listening to was loud, but apparently he had decided he was bored with it. Rather than telling us, or complaining until we turned it down, he had just put in his headphones and turned them up loud enough to hear over the music in the car.


Oh brother.

The memory brought a smile to mind as I listened to the first song again. He can piss me off, but he is still a brother.

On another note, I'm still in Vermont with an extraordinarily nice family that is doing a wonderful job of taking care of me. (And they are reading this. I'm not above sucking up publicly). My car is in the shop, getting checked out to ensure that it doesn't blow up in the next couple of thousand miles. I'll still be in Vermont for at least two more days before I head around Maine and back down to Boston, NYC, and DC. The amount spent on gas should drop precipitously during this time, thankfully enough.

::Discuss::Permanent link

We climbed a mountain today

Vermont is stunning.

Hot, humid, muggy, and visually stunning.

When you sweat here, the sweat doesn’t just disappear in the wonderful cooling fashion it should. Instead, it drips.

It soaks your shirt and makes all your clothing stick to you. It requires a rag to keep it out of your eyes. In the humidity, sweat becomes a miserable salty bath rather than a refreshing cooling mechanism.

I got a patent lesson in this yesterday on the record-breaking hike my host took me on.

It was 3 and a half miles round trip with a 900 foot elevation change. The hike is the furthest recorded distance Boxer (this version) has ever been hauled by one person. I’m really hoping someone decides to shatter this record. A record of only 3 and half miles isn’t very impressive (although it appears to be much further with an almost exactly 50 pound pointy brass dog).

Hiking in the Green Mountains is considerably different from hiking the Sierra Nevadas, as I have always done.

Other than the humidity, the trees and the terrain are much different. The towering Ponderosa Pines and redwoods of the west have given way to the much wider, leafier maples and oaks in the east. Rather than be awed by the awesome height of the softwoods of the west, the darkness created by so many layers of thin canopy, the hardwood trees of the east provide a comforting, embracing, almost claustrophobic shade. The muted colors that adorn these trees, the hues of green, yellow, and orange provide proof that the seasons are indeed beginning to change. It’s a good thing too; the weather certainly wasn’t an indicator.

So here's Boxer, sitting on the top of the Snake Mountain, looking over the Champlain Valley, Lake Champlain, and the Adirondacks in upstate New York.

::Discuss::Permanent link

Waterfronts have been eventful

“Is that Champ?”

Champ, like Nessie, is a monster of the deep. The locals like to pretend he is as important as the legend. I doubt it. Champ kind of lacks the long-standing Irish legend aspect that Nessie has. In any case, a strange looking beast like Boxer getting his pictures taken at lake Champlain will bring joking questions like that.

In fact, if you were to tack that question on to the previous conversation that I kept having, it would be the same thing over again.

I likely sounded really tired and dismissive when this nice lady started the same conversation with me.

“You could say that,” I responded to her.

Sure, I’ll roll with the joke.

“What is it really?” She pressed further.

“My school’s mascot.”

“Oh? What school.”

I’ve been over this before. I’ve been over it enough times that it has become tough not to blow people off and be rude.

Be a people person, Dean.” She had told me back in Oregon, before I left. She was right. I responded cordially:

“Pacific University, in Oregon.”

I have noticed that the further east I travel, the more surprised people seem that I’ve been this far.

“Ohh, I’ve been to Oregon before.”

I almost responded with the answer to the usual next question. The follow up is always, “What is it?” while they gesture at Boxer. The response that that question is, “a Chinese dragon dog.” I stopped myself before opening my mouth. Telling her that Boxer is a dragon dog had little to do with her statement that she had been to Oregon. Now that I think about it, she hadn’t even asked me a question.

“Oh really?” I asked. I figured a question should be asked. Of course, I didn’t really care, I was just trying to be a people person. We were off the usual conversation track and I was winging it. Sometimes people respond to the standard conversation with complete non-sequiters, to keep me on my toes.

For instance, One lady in Detroit asked if Boxer was a goat. “Sure,” I told her. She then proceeded to tell me that she had seen two goats that very day.

“Live ones.” she assured me.

How so very relevant, Detroit lady. This lady, the one currently blazing a new conversational path, wasn’t nearly as bad as the random goat comment lady. We were talking about Oregon and we are now physically far enough from the state that to have simply seen it is an object of discussion.

“Yeah,” she went on “I have a family member who lives in Portland. He makes movies.”

“Portland is a beautiful city.” I responded, still uninterested. In most cases I would be more responsive to someone who appeared to actually want to talk, rather than just fulfill their curiosity and move on. In this case, it was still hot and muggy, I was tired and a little grumpy. Frankly I was feeling sorry for myself. It took a moment, but I caught up with the entirety of what she had said.

Wait a minute.

What did she just say he did?

A filmmaker in Portland?

“Does he find enough work there? I know several filmmakers that find themselves bartending in Portland.”

“He must, he just bought himself a house. He does freelance work, an assistant camera operator for most every commercial shot in Portland. There are only three people that do what he does in Portland.”

Now I was interested.

Just the day before, my host in Middlebury had told me, “You never know when you will need that one person you met while hiking in the middle of nowhere to help you network and find a job. Use your assets.”

The conversation progressed, the lady told me more about this 28-year-old guy doing what I would love to do. I mean, I don’t want to go to Southern California, I really don’t.

I want to stay in Oregon.

I gave her my card, she gave me her card. She took my picture and promised to send it to him. I’ve already emailed her, thanking her for the conversation. I suppose she may load up this site and read this post. I hope she finds that the conversation has been at least somewhat faithfully represented.

Our little talk ended and I finished up with my pictures and loaded Boxer back into my car.

It was time to take a walk and explore the shops near the waterfront. I needed cash to pay for parking (which I never ended up needing to pay) and I decided I could really use a sweetened drink.

I was in a really funky mood now. See, my hosts in Middlebury Vermont were good friends of my parents from 30 years ago. They have two daughters roughly similar to mine. These people love to parent.

God bless mothers and fathers like this, people who will take in any wayward soul in need of some food and a place to stay. They will advise and comfort, feed and provide, and in some cases they can provide all of the above with the right smile or kind word. All they ask in return is the simple promise that such gifts are helpful and needed.

They are, oh they are.

But, like all parents, it comes time to leave. I crossed the state of Vermont (in an hour) to go visit their daughter at the University of Vermont in Burlington.

Burlington is the classic college town. Lots of old slightly run down houses lining slightly worn down streets next to a huge bustling eclectic downtown scene.

The whole town is obviously a college town atmosphere. While I was on the waterfront today I walked by a young guy sleeping upright on a park bench, head back, dopey smile on his face, joint (or possibly a hand rolled cigarette) gripped firmly in his lips. A person like that is only found in a college town. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me, I was still scouting where I wanted to take my pictures.

My new host is definitely a college student. She is busy with lots of homework to do, pretend to do, to put off, or simply not do. She lives with four other girls that are all awesome, but busy. Everyone is coming in and out, running to this obligation or that. All day things change as people run around, busy.

“I have to go volunteer.” She told me. It is a class assignment. Last night she ran out to play broomball, a form of hockey played with a broom instead of a stick and tennis shoes instead of skates.

She woke up early this morning to go to class, though she lamented that she strongly considered just not going. She could miss one day.

Yep, that’s college.

I miss it.

I miss the obligations and the frustrations, the assignments and the guidelines, the politics and the parties. Mostly though, I miss the people.

I mentioned earlier that I want to stay in Oregon.

I’m not sure if that’s the case though. I want to stay in school. Unfortunately, school won’t stay around for me. If I go back to Oregon, all the people that I would want to go back for will leave, eventually.

I suppose I have a couple of years of friends there. I could work in Portland for a couple of years, getting some job experience in my actual field. I could hang out with those people still in school while getting a little more prepared to leave, because it is obvious to me that I’m not prepared to leave.

I mean, I was standing on the waterfront in Vermont, on a nationwide road trip, seeing the country and having fun doing it, wishing I was in Oregon.

That guy made it. He is a filmmaker in Oregon.

To say I was in a funky mood is definitely the best I could describe it.

I finally found that sweetened drink I had been looking for. It was in a “market and deli” that was more of a deli then a market. In fact, it was entirely a deli, without a market of any sort. They did sell specialty sodas to go with the sandwiches, including a Vermont Tangerine Cream Twister Soda. A brief glanced proved that it was, indeed, a hippie soda. It promised it had no artificial flavorings or colors. The ingredients list was short and everything was pronounceable, so I believed the natural claim. The soda was clear, so I believed the coloring claim.

It tasted simply delicious. It was just smooth enough to savor the orange flavor, just sweet enough to be a soda, and had next to no salt, so it was refreshing. Not to mention the bottle matched the color of the fallen leaves.

We’re going to Maine tomorrow. Boxer is going to see the Atlantic Ocean, at last.

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The Pond

I'll admit, I was a little apprehensive approaching last nights host. It was the longest stretch of a relationship I could possibly imagine without the comforts of simply being able to admit, "this person is a complete stranger that I met online a few minutes ago."

On my way to Maine, I crossed through New Hampshire where I drove around trying to find a good spot to take a picture of the trees. This is magnificently difficult. To try to capture the feeling of the changing trees in a picture is likely to be as insignificant as a "what I did this summer" essay is to be as to describe a summer vacation.

After New Hampshire I first came to realize that the apprehension I felt towards meeting these new people was greater than the apprehension I've felt towards anyone yet. Since I was here through an actual connection, it mattered what they thought of me and what I thought of them. If they had been strangers, a bad match would leave me to only either dealing with it for a night or simply getting in my car and leaving.

I first resolved to put off the issue by driving straight past their house, headed instead to the beach. At first I feared the beach may be some distance, but it turned out to only be half an hour. I may have seen the Atlantic ocean before, but if I did, I certainly didn't care.

This time I cared. The salt air that filtered in through my open windows as I approached felt great. I parked and ran up the little pathway over the dune to the beach with all the exuberance I used to have as a kid on weekend trips to the beach.

Thousands of miles (The mile counter hasn't gone up in a while because it has been several days since I put gas in my car.) later, I finally crossed the country.

The beach itself was nice. I noticed the sand was yellower than I was used to. Also, the waves were slightly larger than the ones on some of the lakes I've passed. In other words, they were pretty lame. Still, it was the beach.

For the first time in my life, I stood looking out over the ocean while the sun was setting at my back. I've seen the sun set over the ocean countless times, considering I lived on the west coast my entire life.

The difference was quite beautiful. The sunset behind me gave the clouds a range of soft purple hues that beautifully blended with the soft blues above them in the sky and below them in the sea. The lone seagull nicely offset Boxer to help balance the image. The resulting rainbow of freezing hues was a complete contrast to the sky that appeared to be lit aflame behind me.

Before I left, I turned and snapped a couple shots of the sunset up the beach. The result turned out to be one of my favorite pictures so far (I love sunsets, if it wasn't apparent).

Just in case anyone is curious what kind of tracks Boxer leaves:

I packed up everything and got back in my car, ready to meet this family. It wasn't long before she asked the question that had worried me so.

"So how do you know our family, again?"

"Well, see, your brother's wife."


"That's right, she lived in the same house as my mother 30 years ago."

"Wow, well we're not strangers to coincidences. I wouldn't have met my husband if we hadn't been at the same auto shop getting our pumps changed at the same time."


They turned out to be wonderful people. I had a great time chatting with them and their son. She made dinner while we played pool. I was handily beaten three times before I decided to show them a favorite pool game of mine. There is only enough competition to make it interesting for everyone involved, but it is so difficult that I have yet to see anyone actually complete the game (though my hosts got incredibly close).

Dinner was fantastic and they assured me that I could stay as long as I wished (though a year might be pushing it, came the caveat). I was tempted, I really enjoyed staying with them, and I'm sure there is a lot to explore in Maine. I already had all my plans set for the next day though. I have a place to stay right outside Boston and I am ready to start hitting the big eastern cities I've heard so much about.

I'm currently writing this from right outside Brown University in Providence Rhode Island.

Driving into Rhode Island was interesting. First, because it is one of the few New England states with the good sense to actually use mile markers as a basis for exit numbers. Second, because I was supposed to take exit "27" from the freeway. I feared that this was 27 miles into the state. Instead, I turned out that, no, 27 is the second exit in RI. Highway 95 runs diagonally through the state - and that distance is only 27 miles. Got to love Rhode Island.

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They were bumming at least

It is high time to have another interesting bum post.

These guys are clearly not homeless, but they were trying to get my money so I guess it counts.

Their sign read, "Family slain by ninjas...need $ for Karate lessons."

I've heard the joke before, but I've never seen it. Plus, the guy with the guitar was playing Johnny Cash in a hardcore death metal fashion.

I laughed, took a picture and gave them a couple bucks.

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Pacific asked me for money today

I haven't been out of the school for 4 full months and I got a call from a disinterested student asking me to donate back to my alma mater.

Seriously Pacific. 4 months.

He asked if I had put my media/philosophy degree to use yet.

Well, I suppose I have. I'm on a road trip writing about what is going on and I made a couple films about it, but I'm in no position to donate cash to the institution that has received more of my money than any other business.

I've heard the school calls recent alumni asking for money, but 4 months?

At this rate, they'll piss me off far sooner than I'll have money to give them.

I wonder if I should make this an "interesting bum" post, given that my criteria for a bum is someone trying to get money for nothing...

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Is that Bahston or Bohlyston?

Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

I had heard the question before. I assumed it was from a philosopher. After all, I first read it in Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin replied with something along the lines of, “I came from my room, I’m a kid with big plans, and I’m going outside.”

I was wrong. Paul Gauguin was a painter. Well, I suppose he was probably a philosopher too, but his medium was not a book, but a painting. I saw it today at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. It was next to four original Monet paintings.

Previously, I have never been a fan of Monet. This is the case for impressionism in general. It just didn’t really do it for me. Pictured in a book, a poster, or even a slide on a wall, it didn’t have the impact that so many other awesome paintings did.

In a gallery though, the original paintings are breathtaking. They have such magnificent use of light that they seem to glow on their own. Then the textures of the paintings capture the gallery lights in such a fashion that as you walk across the room, the light shifts and highlights different parts of the subject.


The first thing I did upon entering Boston (with my host graciously and thankfully driving), was head to the USS Constitution, otherwise known as Old Ironsides. The officer on duty played his cards perfectly as I was waiting in line with Boxer.

“At this point I would like to ask everybody to remove anything with any metal on it to place in the X-Ray scanner. That includes keys, electronics like cell phones, cameras, and iPods, you may also need to remove your wallet, belt, or large metal dragons.”

When I walked up to the ship, Boxer made the Navy woman on board the ship lose her place on her spiel. Halfway through a sentence she just trailed off as I topped the gangway.

I also stopped by Fenway Park, the other park in America that people care about on its own merits.

Unfortunately there was a game going on when I arrived, so I wasn’t going to be able to get Boxer onto the field. I tried to con a press guy and 2 separate security people to let me take some behind the scenes pictures, but there was no avail.

One of the security guys kept pressing me on what would happen if he ran off with Boxer.

"You wouldn't get far."

"But if I just picked it up and ran."

"I'd tackle you. Then I'd probably get arrested." I knew what answer he was looking for, but I didn't feel like giving it to him.

"But if you ended up losing him, what would happen to you."

He wanted to know what the school would do if I didn't come back with the mascot. I didn't want to tell him the answer, but I was done lying in the gutter taking pictures of Ted Williams. I gave it up:

"I don't know."

I was able to convince different security guy let me step around a fence to the loading bay for this picture.

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Number one and number two

"What's up, one?" asked the man with two teeth. He was pushing a shopping cart loaded with all of his worldly belongings down the middle of the street.

"Not much, two," replied the man with one tooth, "how're you doing today?"

"I'm doing great. I woke up this morning. Can't ever ask for more than that." He sounded sincere.

"That's right. That's right. Live for the moment and savor your breath. Be happy you're here, be happy it's now."

I'm sure two responded, or would have responded, but he was pushing his cart the other way and one was walking the same way I was.

Sometimes listening to the have nots can remind you what you have.

A little further down the street, I heard my favorite song ever.

"I'm not drunk," the drunk man sang, "I'm not drunk, I'm not drunk, Oh I'm not druu-uhh-unk."

Apparently it's best sung while urinating on the sidewalk.

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New York: people are awesome here

A couple days ago I drove into Manhattan, New York. A friend of a friend offered to host me at her apartment on 1st ave and 2nd st aka downtown aka the village. She is a film student at NYU.

I noticed that drivers coming into New York drive like they are trying to intentionally make traffic worse. If they want to change lanes, they will change lanes. If this lane change will cause three other cars to slam on the brakes, screw ‘em, that lane will be changed. Since brakes are the cause of traffic, these impatient Yankees Never mind the fact that with the slightest bit of patience, those lane changes could be made with minimal traffic interference. Outside of the city, patience isn’t a virtue New Yorkers seem to possess. I expected this to be the case inside the city, but I found this to be untrue, by and large. There will be more on that later.

Soon after arriving and greeting my host, her roommate, and her boyfriend (also a film major), we headed to get some Chinese food in China town. This place was utterly delicious and cheap. I tried a bunch of stuff I had never had before and was quite satisfied.

Unfortunately, my host got sick right after we got back to her apartment. Since they were still in school, the other two got back to doing some work. It was really interesting talking to someone who came from an entirely different film program. NYU is rated as one of the top 5 film schools in the nation. I’m pretty sure Pacific is unrated. A few differences I noticed:

1. They shoot film. For nearly every little project they do, they shoot 16mm film. I never shot a frame of film in school, or anywhere else for that matter.

2. They are not nearly as good with Final Cut Pro as we were. This could be seen as the natural progression of the first. Nearly everything we shot (digitally, on tapes we had to pay for), we edited on Final Cut.

3. Their professors sound like uninvolved pricks. Maybe it was just the complaining side of things I got, but I will take the issues I had with my professors over the ones she seemed to have with hers.

4. It seems like we got a far more technical education whereas they got a more practical one.

I noticed something else hanging out with the NYU film students. I had never hung out with film students before. I didn’t get along with my department in school. We just had different ideas of fun, and we certainly didn’t look at film the same way.

In the small kitchen of the Manhattan apartment, there were three Intel Macs set up. Intel Macs have an IR sensor so they can be controlled like a DVD player. A fun little thing with this is that one remote can control as many machines as it can reach.

We spent until literally 5 in the morning (remember, they had class to go to a few hours after that) messing around with the music. We set the three computers to random, and, with the press of a button, we could change the song in perfect synchronicity. After a while we added in my phone’s little built in speaker and an iPod hooked up to a larger speaker system. Then we got more scientific. We started carefully selecting songs that were heavy in different types of noise. For example, we found that using a recorded speech, a light instrumental song, classical, and techno simultaneously turned out the best results.

In the morning, I did my tour with Boxer. I wanted to get some pictures with the dog so I wouldn’t have to worry about it after that. I drove to Central Park first. I really enjoyed the drive, which was doubly surprising since I had expected it to be horrible.

I quickly picked up on the method of driving in the city. The lines on the road are guidelines. Go where you need to go. Everyone drives terribly and they will expect you to drive terribly. There is only one thing that is predictable, people want to get from here to there and don’t want to get in an accident along the way.

Usually when someone gets caught behind a stopped vehicle that has to be driven around, the car in the very back of the line has the most space and is thus able to pull out and step on the gas. This forces the line of cars to invert as people wait for the car behind them to turn out faster than they can and cut them off.

In New York, people are calmly gracious enough to let you pull out and change lanes, likely because they know you are going to pull out anyway and cutting you off will likely lead to an accident, which prevents them from moving forward. This is the exact sort of foresight that is entirely lost on people as they drive into the city on the freeways.

After Central Park, I headed to ground zero. I’m not exactly sure what I expected to find here. There was mostly a bunch of suits walking around between various other buildings in the area. There was a lot of activity going on at the site. They’re building the memorial and starting on the Freedom Tower. While I’m not such a fan of the Freedom tower, I do like the ideas they have for the memorials.

Finally, I planned to take the free Staten Island Ferry to snap some pictures of the Statue of Liberty. This was tough. I wasn’t willing to put Boxer on the railing of the boat and it was otherwise impossible to get pictures taken. I got a nearby passenger to hold the dog up as I snapped some pictures. They aren’t ideal, but I suppose the point gets across.

The next day I left Boxer and my car in a free gravel lot hidden behind a police station that my hosts told me about (it’s on 9th between C and D, if anyone is headed to NY and wants some free safe parking). I headed down to Times Square and wandered about 5th ave. After a while I went and took a nap in central Park listening to a guy playing his sax for money.

I also decided that New York was the place to get my hair cut. It has been a long time since I’ve liked my hair and I figured this was the city to find someone who could remedy that. I like what she did, though I’m not confident it is the best I could have. In any case, she told me about a bar I had to see.

She was right. The 230 5th avenue 22nd floor rooftop bar is right under the Empire State Building. One hell of a view to enjoy while sipping drinks that are roughly double the cost of those anywhere else in the city. I left after one drink, after all, my net worth isn’t describable in terms of net worth. At least, not like the ABC executives that were having a party in a corner of the roof.

I walked back to reasonable prices and hit up some normal people bars. I chilled at “acoustic night” at some bar with some passable solo artists, one of which was distinctly not acoustic. I also hit the bar across the street where I discovered the easiest way to start a conversation in a Manhattan bar. (In retrospect, I should have called rule 8)

“So I’ve noticed that New York beers taste like ass.” I said.

To my defense, they do. Coney Island and… I can’t remember the other one, are terrible beers. I solidly regretted picking them up.

Three guys turned their attention to me after I voiced my opinion. Luckily they were all really cool and no one wanted to kick my ass for the slight against New York. Instead we spent a couple of hours discussing good beers from different places in the country and the good times had in those places drinking the local beers.

In fact, this was my experience everywhere. People love to chat, have a good time and give advice to anyone that will take it. I had more awesome random conversations in New York than anywhere else. My host mentioned that it was likely because people in New York are so used to meeting people that they have lost nearly all fear of making a fool of themselves.

I’m now in Brooklyn staying with a frat brother. I will try to stay a little more on top of these posts.

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What happens when you take a population and shift them into an entirely different location?

Brooklyn is the new place to be for artsy (read: hippie/hipster/etc in denial) types. This leads to an interesting contradiction where everything is covered in graffiti and trash, but the shops are all bike shops, audiophile speaker stors, Pan-asian vegan cuisine restaurants, and the "Rolix" watch street salesmen have been replaced by used book street salesmen. I think this picture of a painted hippie van in front of a spray paint tagged, plywood covered, empty lot is descriptive of the area. I was standing in front of a nice sushi restaurant when I took this picture.

Last night I planned on bar hopping, but I found myself spending most of the night at one place.

The first thing I did was order a cheap beer. I've decided that it is time to cut the costs of a night on the town with cheaper drinks. I was surprised when I got the 32 oz monstrosity pictured here for what I thought was an only slightly over inflated price, (indeed, a price that would fit right in on the other side of the Hudson).

Shortly after I found an interesting group of people that I spent most of the night chatting with. One of the primary subjects of discussion was, "what is iconic about Brooklyn."

There was a claim thrown about that if Brooklyn were its own city, not a boro of New York, it would be the sixth largest city in the US.

It must, then, have something iconic about it. Something that anyone can look at and say, "that is Brooklyn." Chicago has Wrigley and the Sears Tower, St. Louis has the Arch, Portland even has the tram now. The answer I kept getting about Brooklyn was that there were awesome rooftop views of Manhattan.

It is true, there are some great views, but it seems like there should be something more iconic about an area than a view of another area.

"Go to Manhattan and take a picture of Brooklyn," one gentleman jokingly suggested, shortly before buying us all a round.

"Us, here, the people of Brooklyn, we are the iconic thing about Brooklyn." It sounds good while in a Brooklyn bar, but it really is a cop out. A picture of a bunch of cool people in an awesome Brooklyn bar could be a bunch of cool people in any awesome bar.

I guess there really isn't anything iconic about this recently turned artsy suburb. I do really like it though. Something about the entirely unpredictable and unassuming landscape spotted with interesting and kitschy shops appeals to me.

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The Cali Boy Scale

For your entertainment, I will provide the east coast Cali Boy Scale of Interest:

If the phrase "Cali Boy" has been uttered by the female party of interest a certain number of times in a conversation, she is saying:

1 time: I recognize you are from California.

2 times: I recognize that guys from California are attractive.

3 times: I recognize that you are a "Cali Boy."

4 times: ...

5 times: ... !

I'll leave those to the imagination, after all, my grandparents read this.

(more later)

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"Step right up. Mumble. Mumble mumble, freak."

After lounging around for a couple of hours yesterday, I figured it was time to go see something. Brooklyn had to have something interesting, it is New York after all.

While I mentally searched for something to do, the soundtrack for Requiem for a Dream came on. Specifically, the song was “Coney Island Dreaming.”

Oh hey, that’s here, isn’t it?

Before I go into my experience of Coney Island, I should lay out my expectations. I knew it was a beleaguered amusement park that tries to be edgy. I always think of horribly distorted laughing plastic clowns, the most disturbing of “carnies,” and hot dogs that are amazing, i.e. edible. All in all, I expected it to be an entertaining experience in a disturbing subculture.

What I saw was lame.

It was a beautiful, if a little hot, Saturday afternoon. Admittedly, it was late in the season, but such a day should bring people to a permanent carnival for some disturbing fun. At least, this was my expectation.

The place was pretty much deserted. A few of the rides were running, including the big Ferris Wheel that had tracks to allow the cars to move around while going in a circle. Novel, I suppose.

A few of the carnie games and food stands were open. I had already eaten a bite, but I figured a Coney Island hot dog was worth a try. I had two options for dogs. One was Nathan’s, the original Coney Island hot dog place. The other was a video arcade that offered 2 dogs and a soda for $3.

Nathan’s was across the street and the traffic lights never seemed to change, so I went with the video arcade place. Frank’s Fantastic I think it was called.

The dogs were long and slender and not any tastier than any other dogs I’ve eaten. In fact, they were best described as ketchup and mustard delivery vehicles.

I munched on these dogs as I began to wander around the carnie town that was mostly deserted. A carnie ghost town? Sounds like Scooby Doo.

I stopped to watch some guy spend money shooting a game roughly based off of pool. It appeared he had to sink a shot that defied physics. If he did, he would win a Playstation 3. There were some strange rules attached to the game, I’m not sure what they were, but I’m sure they were designed to separate money from fools.

“I’m not lying, the Playstation is right here!” The carnie laid his hand on a not shrink-wrapped black box emblazoned with an image of the expensive game system. “You can go home with this right now.” I’m sure the system itself was hooked up to the carnie’s TV at home. “Now,” the carnie continued, “five will get you six and if you get three on two you can go home with this system!”

The guy forked over some cash. I’m not sure how much, though I’m guessing it was 2, 3, 5, or 6 bucks. I walked on.

Around the corner there was a small group of kids being led in a song by a guitar-wielding guy who’s skin appeared to be almost entirely red. The amount of said skin that could be seen did not make me happy.

The song was something about zoning laws. They repeated the same two verses about 10 times, but I still didn’t understand anything past the words “zoning laws.” I’m sure the kids really cared. After all, I see 8 year olds complaining about zoning laws all the time.

As I wandered around the area, I gave in and decided to try a Nathan's original dog. It was almost exactly the same as the two dogs and a soda place. There certainly no difference in taste and, of course, it was $3 on its own.

After a bit of adventuring, I found the “Cyclone” roller coaster. The Cyclone is ride guaranteed to beat the crap out of you, but be fun enough to be worth it.

It was closed.

I had no desire to ride the slightly enhanced Ferris Wheel, and every other ride was a kiddie ride. There were cars that went in circles on tracks, boats that went in circles on tracks, and horses that went in circles on tracks. There was a free fall ride that looked like it fell about 20 feet. Sounds like a blast, though I’d rather jump off a high dive or rock for free.

Finally I walked by a place telling people to “step right up, step right up.” I gravitated towards the speaker. “Step right up” is the call of the carnie, promising something interesting. By this point I was really hoping to be thrilled. Guess what?

I wasn’t.

I should have expected this. The phrase “Step right up” needs to be said with confidence. It needs to say, “You will come here, you will give me money, and you will be happy that you did.”

Instead, he seemed to be saying, “My boss told me to say this. I’m getting paid minimum wage. My life would be easier if I was a Wal-Mart greeter. I don’t really care if you do this or not.”

It was a shoot the freak booth. A bunch of paintball guns were set up and some guy put on a bunch of paintball armor and slowly moved around holding a trash can lid. People shot the lid. Lame.

The whole Coney Island thing seemed to be lacking confident identity. The place tries to be disturbing and unclean. The target market seems like it should be teenagers and adults that still act like teenagers. “Bump your ass off” does not sound like family fun. Even so, all of the rides at the place were hardly interesting enough to thrill a kid old enough to know what an “ass” is.

The beachfront was nice. I would not shed a tear if the whole place was torn down and turned into a nice suburb of Brooklyn.

On my way back from Coney, I stopped at Prospect Park. There was a really cool arch and fountain thing. I wonder why no one mentioned this as something to take pictures of in Brooklyn. I suppose because it is hardly cared for. I tried to read the plaque describing what it was about, but the plaque was actually a plastic sign that was smeared and falling off the post.

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Our Nation's Capital

I came into Washington DC last night and hit up the Capital Mall today. I have been here once before. That was my 8th grade graduation trip.

This time it was 90 degrees and I had a 50 pound dragon dog. The total walking distance on the mall was about 4.5 miles. I'll guesstimate that there was at least another half mile of to, from and inter-subway walking. 5 miles would be a new record, but I cheated. I used wheels. I put Boxer into a little rolling suitcase thing with his head sticking out, which was a bit of a pain as Boxer caught on everything, was off balance and rolled the suitcase over a lot, and I totally destroyed the suitcase.

The subway gets off first right at the Capital building. It really is a beautiful building.

After this we headed down the mall to the Washington Monument. My host is one of my best friends from high school and it was nice doing a little reminiscing about times past as we walked through the sweltering heat and humidity.

Shortly after we walked to right underneath the Washington Monument, I realized that I needed to be in the penumbra at the tip of the shadow so the sun needed to be right over the peak of the obelisk, giving it that halo look.

We crossed the street to the tip of the shadow and took a picture that I'm very proud of (though I prefer horizontally oriented pictures).

We continued down the mall alongside the reflecting pool that a kid named Tim fell into on our 8th grade trip. Also, Tom Hanks ran through it in the movie. It really would take talent to run in the pool, Tim mentioned that the bottom was really slick and covered in gooey slimy stuff that made him slip more after falling in.

I like how the Geese are hanging out right in the section of the pool that has the wind blowing over it, giving a nice midrange for the picture.

Of course we got some nice pictures with Honest Abe. Unfortunately I wasn't patient enough by this point to wait for a moment to get this picture without any bystanders.

Finally we stopped by the Vietnam memorial.

I heard that the Index (Pacific's Newspaper) has printed an article about this trip. If you are here from that, welcome! (If I can get a scanned copy of it, I'll post it here on a different page).

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The eighth son

I know what Boxer is.

I can't tell you what a revelation this is. I'll try though.

I spent an untold number of hours researching Boxer and, while I had a few leads and ideas, I never found out what Boxer actually was. The leading idea was that Boxer was a "foo dog" or Imperial Guard Lion (Wikipedia link). This didn't make much sense to me. Imperial guard lions are almost always found in pairs, one male, one female, have one paw on a lion cub or globe, and stand outside to guard a building. Finally, they are large and owned by rich families.

Everything I had heard about the history of Boxer did not lead me to believe that this fit with what he is.

I knew Boxer was owned by a family of druggists in Foo Chow China. I also knew he had incense placed inside him on holy days. Finally, Boxer originated in the Ming Dynasty, about 600 years ago. (Also, both of Boxer's legs are on the ground).

It wasn't essential that I knew what Boxer was and I didn't have the time to dive into pages and pages of dragon lore, so I let it be.

I was in Philadelphia today. I took pictures of the Liberty Bell and Independence hall and a few other awesome things. Those will all be posted later.

It was when I put Boxer down in front of Independence hall that the answer was given to me. There was a group of Chinese tourists taking pictures of the Hall and they immediately turned their attention on Boxer. Most of them didn't speak English and gestured and smiled to ask if they could pick him up. They all said "uumph." One guy who did speak English asked me why I had it. I told him. He asked me what it was. I told him I didn't know.

"It's Dragon's first son." He replied, "With the scales and the stature and the hooves like a deer. Dragon's first son."

They promptly walked away. I pulled out my phone and immediately googled to see if he was right.

He wasn't. Dragon's first son is a tortoise dragon, he is often found at the base of pillars and means the building will be sturdy.

It was a lead though and I followed it up. What were the other sons? I found there were nine total.

With increasing trepidation I read descriptions of each son. Most of them weren't quite right. Finally, the eighth son, Suanni, had the following description:

"The 8th son SUANNI resembles the resplendent lion as he is usually drawn with the mane and body of a lion. He rarely moves so he is usually shown stationary. He has a preference for sitting quietly and observing. His golden body is enhanced with flames. He is often shown sitting on top of incense burners and candle stands. His presence brings knowledge and wisdom and he also ensures that the sons and daughters of the family will all look attractive." (source)

That's it. I'm sure of it. Wikipedia even says the concept originated in Ming Dynasty. Boxer is actually Suanni. Check this out.

Look about right?



That's it.

Dragon's Eighth son.

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Rocky and the Bell

“Be good and eat your veggies,” said the man in the tri-corner hat.

I suppose if you must depart with a piece of wisdom, mother’s favorite is as good as any.

I’m back up north a bit in Philadelphia. Philadelphia the much vaunted home of the Aramark corporation headquarters. I couldn’t possibly have taken a road trip across the country without getting a picture in front of Pacific’s much loved food service provider, now could I? (Feel free to apply as much sarcasm to that statement as you wish.)

I should have planned out this section of my trip ahead of time. I didn’t do it right. I drove down to DC, then back up to Philly. Next I’m going back down to Baltimore. I guess I figured that since all these big interesting towns were within a few hours of each other, I could jump between them in any order.

I forgot about toll roads.

It cost me $20 to get to DC, then another $10 to get back up to Jersey, then another $3 to get into Philly. This is just to drive on the roads. Whatever happened to just charging the states’ taxpayers for the roads so I can mooch off of them to drive on the interstates for free?

There was only one picture that was essential to take in Philadelphia. I needed a picture with Boxer and the Liberty Bell. This was an entertaining event. First, the security was the tightest out of any place I’ve yet to be, yet they did not have an X-Ray machine. They had signs that listed all of the banned items. The list was only outdone by airport security, no knives of any sort, even pocket knives, were to be allowed near the bell. They carefully examined Boxer and every pocket on my camera bag, but they did not ask my to empty my pockets or to have me walk through a metal detector.

I had to lay on the ground to get this picture, but when I stood up to take a look at the bell from the front, the guard told me that if I didn’t stop immediately to pick Boxer up, she would have to evacuate the building and confiscate the statue.

The bell is a national artifact, a symbol of freedom (or at least it became such near the civil war, according to the tour I mostly ignored). I can certainly see why they need to protect it from explosives, but knives I don’t understand. I understand why they searched my bag and kept me near my strange hollow thing, but why didn’t they have explosive sniffing dogs or metal/x-ray machines?

They also all asked me strange questions. I guess there is a school nearby with the dragon as their mascot so they just assumed that he was representative of them. It didn’t help that the school had a strange name that sounded like a grunt, leading me to mistake many a question as an uninterested observation. Ignoring security guards’ honest questions leads to suspicion, suspicion that I was trying to avoid.

Anyway, after the liberty bell, the next obvious destination is Independence hall, especially since it is right outside.

This is where I finally figured out what Boxer was, as I posted yesterday.

Jubilantly, I returned to my car where I ran into the man in the tri-corner hat. He drove one of those tourist horse-carriages. He was really energetic and really interested in the whole Boxer thing. After we went through the normal conversation, he suggested I go take a picture in front of the Rocky statue at the Museum of Art. He even told me what bus route to take to get there.

I got off a little early, accidentally. This is fortunate because it put me right in front of Rodin’s “Thinker.” I had always assumed that this was in Europe somewhere.

After a little while trying to figure out where the museum actually was (and totally missing the huge “museum of art” letters written on the map), I found those famous steps. Luckily for me, I didn’t have to climb them with Boxer. Instead, the statue is at the bottom of the stairs, off to the right. Since there was nothing preventing me from putting Boxer on the statue, I did just that.

While I took these pictures a couple came up and started taking pictures on their own, totally missing the son-of-dragon (I’m going to stick with dog, actually) at Rocky’s feet.

On the way back, I did take a picture at this fairly entertaining graffiti.

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Am I going to pick up a drawl?

I got that feeling again today.

That complete and utter, “I’m road tripping and I can do anything I want” peace.

I last felt it in central Illinois.

This time I was in central Virginia.

While I had technically crossed the Mason-Dixon line almost a week prior, Maryland and the DC aren’t the south. Not only did they not secede during the civil war, but (and a friend from the south assures me that this is the far more important metric) they serve a continental breakfast instead of grits.

Virginia though, Virginia is the south.

It was on hour 4 of today’s drive. I still had about 4 more to go. I don’t think I’ve driven more than 4 or 5 hours in three weeks. It was really nice. I missed driving. I figured it was time to stop for a bite to eat, so I pulled over next to this lake and looked through the box of MREs (military field rations with complete with chemical heaters) my host outside philly hooked me up with. One of them was helpfully labeled “Rice, Beans, Sausage, Cajun Style, I figured I’d celebrate entering the south with an abomination of a southern favorite.

The chemicals take about 10 minutes to heat up the food, and during this time I wandered about, enjoying the nice clean air and other beautiful aspects of being in the middle of nowhere with no responsibilities.

I felt quite energized. I had slept for more than 12 hours the night before, just outside Baltimore. I’m afraid I was quite unenjoyable towards my host there. She was kind enough to take me on a brief tour of the harbor and make me dinner. I repaid her by promptly falling asleep.

Boxer didn’t come to the harbor, but I did snap pictures of this decommissioned sub:

The was also the Baltimore World Trade Center and a lighthouse ship:

Finally, we took a look at The “Old Iron Sides” Constitution’s sister ship, The Constellation:

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A ripple on an otherwise flat world

I’ve been lax.

I promised myself (and a few other people) that I would keep this site updated and current. If I got behind, I would start to miss things and lose some readers.

I’ve broken that promise. I’m behind. Way behind. My last update covers up to central Virginia. I didn’t even stay in Virginia; instead I went straight to North Carolina. Then I went to Georgia where I stayed for a couple days. Now I’m in Tennessee.

I stopped a couple times while I was in Georgia to slow down and catch up on what was going on. I just didn’t know where to start. It wasn’t that nothing spectacular had happened. I have had a great time in the south so far. I think it was a combination of two things. I didn’t have any awesome Boxer pictures and I am reticent to talk about my hosts.

I am far more willing to write my impressions about complete strangers who may or may not read my site. I both owe these strangers far less than my hosts, and I have nothing to lose by writing about them. If I write about my hosts, I may inspire some fear (or at least some nervousness) in future hosts that I may write about them in a strange way they don’t like. After all, they consented to let me sleep at their place, they didn’t consent to being written about on the Internet (regardless of the necessity of such consent).

I think this, more than anything else, is why I have refrained, with only one exception, from giving my hosts a name. Of course, simply referring to them as “host” becomes complicated as an update covers multiple sites and hosts, but I think I prefer the anonymity it gives.

Lets see if I can straddle the line between appropriately describing my hosts and providing a good description of my experience.

North Carolina comes first. I showed up in Raleigh, “Carrie” (Carry?) on Friday. There was an unfortunate gap of time where I was unable to meet up with my host because of work schedules. I wandered around town for a bit before holing up in a Starbucks to write up the post about Virginia.

My host in the northern of the two Carolinas was another forumite. All of the people on this forum have one thing in common: They are nerdy enough to post on an Internet forum. How this nerdiness spreads into everyday life is always interesting. There are the book nerds (I hang out in bookstores and have more bookshelves than cupboards), the World of Warcraft nerds (I spend hours playing a single game, the rotation of the earth and the resulting changes in light and “time” mean nothing to me), the Halo nerds (Single handedly lowering the youth pregnancy rate by giving guys something else to do while drinking). Luckily, my host was the perfect kind for a Friday night. The “lets go to the bar and get a few drinks before crashing back here and joking around while playing video games” nerd.

It was a great night wherein we meet up with a few other guys from the forums that we drank with for a while before retiring to the video game console and cheaper beers. To make the night even better, one of the guys snatched the bill from my hand before it got there.

The next day I stuck around in town for lunch before heading out. We hit up a barbeque joint that served the meat rather interestingly. Rather than cook my pulled pork sandwich in the sauce, they simply served it dry and the sauces were on the table. Apparently, the North Carolina sauce is the vinegar based one. I prefer the tomato-based thick sweeter sauce.

I should mention at this point that I have noticed how incredibly flat the world is. I have had very similar experiences at nearly every place I have been so far. The only major differences have been the people I’ve met along the way.

It isn’t that these people are fundamentally different from each other. It isn’t like a northeasterner is any nicer or meaner than a midwesterner. With the exception of the idiots I saw as I was driving into Manhattan, I’ve noticed that people drive the same everywhere. This may come as a shocker to you (and nearly every host has told me about how terrible the drivers are where they live), but people drive the same everywhere.

Now, I realize that a lot of this “flatness” is because I seek the same sort of things no matter where I am. I know what entertains me and I look for that. Further, my hosts are all somewhat likeminded with me. After all, I knew them somehow.

Further, in this age of communication, with the Internet and television, accents are disappearing. Before I came to the south, I only heard a bit of a local accent in a couple of places in Boston. Otherwise everyone just has a “stage” or neutral accent.

That was before I came to the south. It was in North Carolina that I heard three ladies talking in a bar. Every once in a while they said some things that had a bit of an accent, otherwise they sounded like just about everyone else.

It was briefly exciting. Sort of like a little hill on a road that has been perfectly flat for miles. Certainly this little event is more interesting than the NASCAR time trial that was on TV. Watching cars turning left is boring enough. Watching them turn left without any other cars on the track? Dear lord.

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Waffles and Hypothetical Racial Tensions

After spending most of my life OTP, I went ITP.

Did you catch that? It was Atlanta Lingo. (The pictures of fish are distributed through this because I took them in Atlanta and they look better not concentrated).

I guess all the cool people live inside the perimeter highway, including my host for this past weekend. Shortly after arriving on Saturday evening, we prepared to go check out the clubbing scene. The first place we went, it was the, erm… wrong night. Here is a situation you won’t find most other places in the world.

We drove (very slowly: traffic was not kind) past the front of the club. Pretty much everyone in really long line was black. I think we counted six white people and couple of Latinos. Each of these representations of multiculturalism was obviously there with someone who was black.

I feel like I should defend myself here. I’m not sure if it will do any good, or if it is necessary. First, there were only 3 or 4 black people in any school I have ever been to. I have never really interacted with the issues that arise with minorities. Second, there were plenty of black people in the clubs of Saint Louis (the only other place I went clubbing), and I had no trouble dancing with or talking to them. Third, I realize that such defenses are irrelevant as racial issues do exist and I have no idea how to handle them.

It wasn’t like there was anything going on in the line of the that would have been occurring had everyone in the line been white, but it was also apparent that we shouldn’t go in.

“It just isn’t a good idea to tempt things.” My host told me.

I agreed. We went somewhere else.

We found a different club, if you want to call it a club. I suppose the most politically correct way to describe it is to mention it’s name, the “Pink Pony.”

The clientele for this place was nearly entirely white.

While we were standing in line at this club (a line at a place like this?) we did find something that entertained us greatly. A car pulled up bearing an official “medical inspector” license plate and a few stickers displaying the same. The guys inside had brutally unhappy faces that looked like they couldn’t impossibly this establishment, much less anything else. They sat in their car for a while before parking it in a VIP place.

They were both wearing stuffy suits. One of the guys had a bow tie. The other, the far more interesting and unhappy looking, was using a golf club as a cane. It actually looked like he had stolen it from the local Hap-E!-Put miniature golf course. They walked in, skipping the line.

We were all wondering what he could possibly be there for. One person noted that he once saw on CSI that the medical inspector checks out the body after a murder.

Oooh, intriguing.

We never did find out why he was there, but we did end up sitting not far from him at one of the bars. He had a British accent and enjoyed scotch.

The next day we headed to a Waffle House. These things are all over the place in the south. Nearly every exit has one. Further, everyone knows the joke.

“What has four arms, four legs, four tits, and three teeth?”

“The night crew at the Waffle House.”

They serve the normal breakfast stuff, a couple of burgers, and hash browns 7 different ways. I had mine “peppered” and “diced,” meaning they came with jalapenos and tomatoes. There was a special where you could get them smothered in cheese.

In fact, there was a special where you could get everything smothered in cheese.

I decided against it. It was already all starch soaked in oil then fried and covered in syrup. I decided to go with the healthy option and forgo the cheese.

Following our trip to the southern breakfast special, we headed to the aquarium.

The lady asked if I was a student. I told her yes. I suppose I used to be, and I still have my old ID card. I’m glad she didn’t ask me how I managed to be in Atlanta with an Oregon student ID during the school year. It made the trip quite a bit more affordable.

I haven’t been to an aquarium in quite some time. Fish don’t really interest me. Luckily, taking pictures of fish does interest me. I love the depth they provide. Plus, it becomes incredibly frustrating to try to get them to line up the perfect shot when you have no control over where they go.

“Hey, you, red fish, move to the left. A little more. A little more. Damnit. Blue fish moved.”

I also snapped some pictures of the 6 month old kittens. They were almost cats, but they still had that curiosity that makes them so endearing. I love that look they get.

“What’s over there? This is interesting. Let me hit it with my paw. Is it edible? No? Oh hey something over there? I gotta check it out. Time to sleep.”

That, and they are fuzzy. Everybody loves fuzzy things.

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The South, University of

How would you begin to express this?

My host suggested that he would start with a b minor 7.

I went with a 1/500 of a second exposure with a 26mm lens at f/4.2.

I’m not sure I captured it. I’m not sure it is possible. There is something infinitely majestic about sitting atop a plateau in Tennessee watching the sun set off in the distance on a perfectly clear day with just enough clouds to show off the magnificent coloring in the sky.

It also helps to be sitting underneath this enormous cross.

The cross was a war memorial covering several wars. I'm not sure if it was a memorial to all soldiers, just Christian ones, just soldiers from the area (presumed to be Christian), or what exactly is going on there.

Picture the University of the South. Imagine a school that embodies everything that is the South. Know that it is in central Tennessee. What do you see?

Is it the above view on a hill? Is it something like this?

Personally, I expected to hear banjos, see confederate flags, and watch guys in big trucks chew tobacco.

I was entirely wrong.

Well, I was wrong about the last one anyway. I did hear a guy playing a banjo, and there was this confederate flag. It’s just that the guy playing the banjo was in a nice suit and the confederate flag is an actual civil war battle flag. I didn’t see any big trucks, instead I saw a bunch of cars with bumper stickers like these.

All told, the school was absolutely beautiful. It was about the size of Pacific in students, but it owns the second largest amount of land of any campus in the States. The food service, like that of Pacific, is provided by Aramark. It was quite tasty. They were also not secure at all. If you walk in the front door you have to swipe a card. If you walk in the back door, no one notices you. I used this back door method to get four free meals. My host told me if anyone asks why I was there, I should claim I was his prospective student. Just the day before I was claiming I was already a student to get cheap aquarium tickets. It seems I’m regressing with my lies.

I had a great time in Tennessee. My host is a very active guy and loves to play the same sports I do. I unfortunately missed the Ultimate Frisbee game, but we wasted little time to head to the schools gym to start playing racquetball.

I lost the first game of horribly. I got back into the rhythm of the game and won the second match by a pretty good margin. Then I crashed and lost the third and fourth. All in all, it was an excellent cardio workout, the likes of which I haven’t had in quite some time.

After the game of racquetball, he went to a class and I hit the library to post about Atlanta. The campus was beautiful and everything was really nice, save for the internet speeds and the cell service, both of which were terrible.

I had been enticed the entire time I was considering heading to Tennessee that there was some great places to go climbing. The school had an indoor wall and, while I generally prefer indoor climbing, outdoor is where the experience is. That is when skin touches rock and the air is fresh. The holds are tougher to see, likely sharper, and the fall is much less comfortable. The benefit is that it is natural. It is the element to be conquered.

Unfortunately, I simply don’t have the muscles for climbing anymore. I don’t have many other ways to work out my finger or forearm muscles. It was a little depressing given that I used to love climbing and was quite good at it.

Whatever I do later in life, I hope I find a way to climb. There is simply no other sport that can compare to the exhilaration found in climbing. First, it is incredibly mental. Sure you can power through the moves, but often times it helps to slow down and think about how your body has to be situated to make that next hold work. Do I need my hips to be in or out? Do I need my feet higher or lower? Should I flag my foot to the left? Should I stack on that crimper or mantle on that sloper?

Then, and I think I like this part more, the sport is a combination of power and mental work.

There is only the climber and the rock. I will stay on that rock as long as my fingers grasp it. I have to physically let go in order to fall. Unless the rock breaks, I have to fail or I succeed. Fall, or reach the top. It is a competition against my own desire to stop the pain in my hands. As I said, I was really out of shape. I fell a lot.

The next day, on the way out of Tennessee, headed to Kentucky, I got lost.

See, I was supposed to take TN-41 alternate south, which, I found out later, was headed north. Instead, I got on TN-41A north, which was headed south. After a while I found myself considerably too far west of where I wanted to be.

It all really didn’t make much sense.

I was about to pull over to figure out where I was when I saw a sign at a crossroads that cheerfully informed me that the Jack Daniels Distillery was straight ahead.

Turns out I wasn’t lost at all. Turns out I was going on a distillery tour.

There were a few interesting tidbits about Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey that I picked up.

1. Jack Daniels is NOT bourbon.

2. Jack Daniels, the guy who started the largest whiskey distiller in America, stubbed his toe on a safe, got gangrene, and died.

3. Lynchburg, the town the distillery is located in, is in a dry county. With the exception of on the premises, no alcohol may be bought or sold in the county. There are 74 million gallons of Whiskey in this dry county.

4. Jack Daniels, unlike bourbon, is charcoal filtered.

5. The sugar maples are turned into charcoal after they are soaked in high proof whiskey and lit on fire.

6. Historic Lynchburg should really be called, “the worlds largest seller of Jack Daniels memorabilia.” There are about 20 old looking shops here. They all sell Jack Daniels memorabilia and little else.

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The quintessential kentucky day

Bourbon and horseracing. That’s a good Kentucky day.

Here is “Destill My Heart” at the Woodford Reserve Distillery, having a snack. Destill came in last in all 7 races she ran. She is now an attraction at the visitor’s center.

Bourbon tasting has been high on my list of things to do since I began this trip. It was back in April that I first started drinking whiskey. At first, I found the burn repulsive. I had motivation though. The girl I was dating at the time loved the stuff. I certainly wasn’t going to be disgusted by something she loved, so I dove in headfirst and developed a taste for it.

Long story short, while my relationship with her is over, my relationship with bourbon is just beginning.

I love the complex flavors that can be found in the firewater. Makers Mark has a fantastic smoky flavor. Woodford Reserve has a delicious maple cinnamon flavor. I’m sure some of the others have great flavors too. I’ve only just begun to sample them.

It is fascinating though. Alcohol tastes bad. All of it does. When we say an alcoholic drink tastes good, we are really saying it “tastes less bad.”

Then again, I guess you could say that the process of “acquiring a taste” for booze is to learn to ignore the bad so as to better appreciate the complex flavors that can only exist in alcohol. I’m really curious, would seltzer water taste good stored in a barrel for seven years?

Probably not. It has to be rotten grapes or grain to properly age in toasted barrel.

This is sweet mash. It is a mixture of corn, malted barely, and rye. Bourbon must be at least 51% corn. Woodford reserve is 72% corn. Scotch is usually about 90% malted barely. This bourbon mixture is currently fermenting.

In a few weeks, it will be sour mash.

It will then be triple distilled in these copper stills. After the first it is technically beer. After the second, it is technically wine. After the third, well, that’s whiskey. This process is specific to Woodford Reserve. Apparently most distilleries do this step in only one or two steps, and they do it in stainless rather than copper.

From here, they are poured in barrels, rolled down this track, and placed in these big storage buildings for seven or eight years.

The barrels must be white oak, they must be charred, and they can only be used once. The barrels are then sold for various purposes, including the creation of scotch. See, bourbon isn’t stored for as long as scotch because the barrels are new and they impart their flavor much quicker as the burnt wood absorbs and releases the whiskey in tune with the temperature changes.

I used to believe that bourbon must be made in Kentucky. This is not the case. Instead, bourbon must be made in America. It just so happens that all bourbon (so far) is made in Kentucky. Note that bourbon is never charcoal filtered like Jack Daniels.

One of the most interesting things about whiskey is that, unlike wine, it is not made in the same location as its primary ingredients. The best wine is made in the valleys where the grapes are best grown.

Apparently, the Kentucky whiskey is so good for the same reason the thoroughbred horses are so fast. The water is naturally limestone filtered so it is loaded with calcium. This apparently makes really healthy yeast for fermentation and really strong bones for fast horses. I’m not sure why water from other places can’t just be fortified with calcium, but I digress.

Ok, I guess I wasn’t really digressing, there wasn’t much more to say about that. After the bourbon tour, I had a choice. I could go visit other distilleries, or I could go to a horse race at the Keeneland racetrack.

I went with the horse race.

I know next to nothing about horse racing. That didn’t stop me from putting a couple bucks on loosing horses in a couple different races. I made some slightly more educated guesses for the second race. By more educated guess, I looked up the horses names and went with the one with the coolest name. “Liquoreaux” sounded like an awesome name. I imagine it is pronounced "liquor roo."

I nearly won some money. My horse started off way ahead before giving up about halfway and finishing…well, look.

You can see him on the leader board there in the background. Number 5 in green. See, on the list there at the bottom? Listed in last place? That’s him. Or her, I guess. I suppose the horse is probably a her. I really don’t know much about horse racing.

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Banjos could signify doom

“Kapow! Fwoosh! Zingg!” said Hobbes, "the trees are like natures own fireworks display."

It was time to pull off the highway. Time to find that shot. I had been driving through the beautiful red and yellow trees for hours, unable to stop and take pictures. I was on an Interstate after all. Interestingly, I don’t mind them nearly as much now as I did before I got to the east coast.

Still, I had to take an exit in what looked like the middle of nowhere before I started driving around looking for a place to take pictures.

In Tennessee, every exit is a highway. In fact, just about every road is a highway.

Anyway, I exited the highway after I exited the freeway. I drove around in the middle of nowhere Tennessee for a couple of hours before I found the spot. A long dirt road that wound its way around a hill, the lower side of which was beautifully covered by changing trees.

My ears perked for the sounds of banjos that might signify my coming doom at the hands of hillbillys, I managed to get some pictures I was proud of.

After I jumped in my car, I realized how lost I was. I had no idea where I was, which direction I was facing (it was overcast), or which way the freeway was from me. I drove around for a while before I pulled off behind a church that had a van that said where it was from.

I knew where I was. Now I just had to map it with my phone.

Unfortunately, the error for “that location does not exist” and “could not connect to the Internet” is the exact same thing, “directions could not be found.” I had a good network connection, so each time it told me “directions could not be found,” I just assumed I was wrong about my location. I kept driving about looking for a better indication of where I was.

There is also a bug in the Google Maps application on my phone where occasionally the phone will refuse to connect to the network. It happens most often when trying to use it with a spotty connection as I had been for a while.

I finally found a post office with its exact address printed on the side of the building. When I was still unable to get the phone to recognize this location, I realized it was probably that bug. After resetting the phone, the search worked and I was able to map my way home.

By home, I mean Atlanta.

In the near future I knew I had to get to Alabama. This is for reasons I will explain later.

Since I was headed to Alabama, Atlanta seemed like a nice central location. To add to the benefit, I had another place to stay in Atlanta so I could get a chance to check out the town a different way.

Shortly after arriving, I realized I had lost my debit card at a gas station at some point on that drive. I called in to cancel the card.

The lady asked me, “what city state did you lose the card?”

“well, uh, I’m not exactly sure. I think it was Kentucky.”


“Lets see, it also could have been Tennessee or Georgia.”

“and which city in those states”

“I have absolutely no idea. Let me check.” Luckily I write down what city I fill up in so I can put it on this site. Unluckily I delete them after I put that fill up online. I had already put it online.

“Nope, I guess I don’t know.”

Anyway, she cancelled my card and sent a new one to my parents place back in California. It was about time anyway. The card expired at the end of the month, the magnetic strip was splitting lengthwise, and the signature strip had long sense been stripped down to say “void.” The fact that I was still able to use the card (until I lost it) does not engender faith in the safety of the security features of such cards. I mean, isn’t the word “void” supposed to mean something?

I now have no good method of getting cash until I get that card. I hope what I have will last me for a while.

This time in Atlanta we headed to “Stone Mountain,” site of one of the worlds largest rock carvings. Naturally the carving is a Civil War Confederate memorial.

I was more interested in the complete lack of originality in the name of the Mountain. Why specify that a mountain is made of stone? Were the people who named it under the impression that most mountains were made of cheese?

We headed to the viewing platform and snapped a few shots of the memorial before leaving to go hike up the far side.

On the way out, there was a butterfly that appeared to be on its last legs. It allowed me to snap a bunch of pictures before he tried to fly away.

He didn’t get far.

We moved on.

The hike was nice and refreshing. The whole way up there were places where people had carved their names + that of their lovers. Poor Nick here will wait into eternity for his lover.

A mile a half both ways, I don’t know how much elevation change there was. It doesn’t really matter, as Boxer did not come along.

Up top, there were some nice views of Atlanta.

You could also look down to see the viewing platform we had just been at an hour or so before (on the bottom left of the picture).

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Sweet home... Alabama?

I got sloppy joe all over my shirt.

That is, if you read the outer bag. If you read the inner bag it says that it was meat with barbeque sauce that I got all over my shirt. The sloppy joe sloppiness (meat with barbeque sauce barbarism?) was doubly frustrating because I had succeeded in finishing my “fruit punch with electrolytes” out of the brown plastic bag without spilling a drop on my clothing, though my hands and feet were dyed red.

During the process of changing my shirt, I noticed I was being swarmed by butterflies. Given that I was still in the middle of nowhere, I set Boxer out on the dirt road in the hopes I could get a butterfly landing on him. None did. None even got close. Even after I set a flower on his head as bait.

After 15 boring motionless minutes of hoping, I got bored and started chasing this butterfly just about everywhere. I had to keep him between me and Boxer, away from any ridges in the road, and I had to get low enough to frame the shot right and keep the butterfly in focus. I’m sure anyone watching me would have thought me to be quite the crazy, running around and ducking down to get a shot before getting up and running again.

After snapping that shot, I got a few of the butterflies in the field.

This ladybug was much more stationary, which made it easy. I tried transplanting him to Boxer (barely in the background), but he woke up and flew away.

After all this macro photography, it was time to hit the road. Steinbeck stopped in Texas to take a break. For me, this break is in Alabama.

Then again, Steinbeck stopped with family and his wife flew in.

I don't have a wife and I'm not staying family (though I might think I was, given the wonderful way I'm being treated). Instead, I am staying with one of my friend’s parents who happen to have a disturbingly similar name. My name, Dean Croshere, is not usual. His full name is only two letters different and pronounced nearly the same.

The place that I’m staying is accurately described as the highest room of the tallest tower of a storybook castle.

I am, however, not waiting for a knight in shining armor to rescue me.

Pictures of this place will come when the lighting is right.

The first night after I arrived, we took a small tour of the town. There is this nice pier that has been rebuilt after most of it was destroyed in Katrina a couple years ago.

There is also this awesome fountain. I was actually prepared this time. I brought a tripod. It allowed me to get some nice 30 second exposures which create the nice soft fountain effect.

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This is amazing

Have you ever read this book?

I’m guessing that most of my readers have. It is pretty standard reading for elementary school students. This woman wrote it.

Sharon Creech came to give a speech at the place I’m staying.


I’m not sure exactly how to explain the wonderful place I’ve been in for nearly a week now. I know I’m going to be here for nearly a week more.

I mean, this really isn’t a common thing. If I wanted to, I could have sat in “my” room and watched a Newbury Award winning author talk about her newest book. Of course I didn’t. I sat with my hosts in the yard with all the kids running about while their son stayed inside working on a project for math class.

That is skipping the morning. Earlier that day my host had arranged for me to show my 45 senior thesis documentary film about Boxer to a small audience in Alabama. He contacted the local newspaper and managed to get a press release I wrote printed with the Nixon and Boxer picture. They had everything prepared and a small basket set up for donations. I made a few bucks, showed a few people my movie, and spoke for a minute about the history of our school and mascot.

Then we went home.

…and watched Sharon Creech give her speech. I bought a copy of the book that she then signed. Well, she put a signed sticker inside it anyway.

She just finished saying what she wanted to say when the rain started. There was a bit of warning so the crews that had laid out all the books were already frantically putting them away. I helped with the last few books before running and joining the sound crew. By the time I started helping them, the rain was coming down hard.

I started grabbing cables and coiling them. There is a special way high quality cables like these are coiled. Under over it’s called. Each time another coil is made, the wire is twisted the opposite direction to keep the net twist at 0.

Under over I coiled. Over under.

The guy who owned all the equipment checked to be sure I knew what I was doing. It was a brief assessment; it was raining on his gear.

Over under. The cables I coiled were covered in mud. Under over. Kids were everywhere trying to help, (colliding with each other, in a big thud?). Their parents were out folding chairs, they were moving equipment, and just plain being wonderful.

Once all this was resolved I wandered back to the house where my host handed me a beer.

Remember how his son was working on that math project?

He and his group were stuck. They didn’t really understand what they were doing. They tried to explain it to me and didn’t get far.

Through a series of questions, we got to the point where they could take the project over and finish it up themselves. I’m glad I got the chance to help them out on it. Luckily it wasn’t homework for me, I could think of it as a logic puzzle. That, and I love physics. They didn’t know it, but they were doing a simple torque problem. I briefly explained lever arms and how they relate to force.

Filtered throughout this post are some pictures I snapped of the place I’m staying. I’m sure I’ll take more of this amazing and beautiful home, the neighbor of which I’m currently re-roofing.

::Discuss::Permanent link

I didn't want to be there

I ran away.

I was roofing. Rather, I was de-roofing.

It was cold out, rather chilly. I could see the sun, I could see the shadows on the ground. When the light hit my skin, I was warm. When it didn’t, I was cold.

The roof was in the shadows.

The light didn’t hit my skin.

I was cold.

It is a very claustrophobic feeling, being cold. Especially when you can see the sun.

It wasn’t just that I was cold. I was moving, so my body was struggling to warm itself. It was like the expanding warmth of my body was trapped inside a small contracting shell of a cold exterior.

The section of roof I was working on was steep and small. Between a valley and a roll. Corners and edges are a pain to remove and refuse any sort of good rhythm.

Rhythms clear the mind. They help to induce a state of meditation. As any athlete or employee will tell you, a state of meditation while working is simultaneously calming and blissful. The job or workout breezes by with less attention to pain or frustrations.

I really needed to clear my mind. I was on a downward spiral of thought. One where I accepted that my fears might come true.

Interpersonal relationships. Women.

Did they mean what they said? Should I take silence as a good thing or a bad thing? Were they lying? Are they- she- just humoring me? What does she want? Is it the same thing I want? Am I being stupid? Should I do what I know I should do or what I feel I should do?

Each answer kept coming back in the negative. If I tried to stop and think in the positive sense, I couldn’t get free.

I reached a roll. It didn’t want to pry off with my shovel. I pick up a crowbar and hammer. I readjusted myself. My borrowed work jeans shifted uncomfortably as I tried to find a way to support myself on the small steep roof to pry off the shingle. They’re practical. Tighter than I’m used to. They didn’t help.

I hammed the crowbar in. Grabbed a nail. Yanked. It came out.

Too easy.

It didn’t take any real effort.

The next nail.

Place, hammer, pry.

I wanted it to be hard, to strain the limits of my strength. To tire me. To distract me.

It didn’t.

I went back to the same pattern. 1. Roof: Shovel till I hit a corner, 2.Thoughts: downward spiral. It was only a minute or so later that I hit the valley. I stopped. I considered picking up the hammer and crowbar. I felt so trapped. I had to be somewhere else. Anywhere else.

In two quick steps I was at the top of the roof, in the sunlight. It felt good. I dropped my gloves. The air on my hands was refreshing. I still wasn’t happy. My mind was still deadlocked. I wasn’t sure why I felt that being somewhere else would help, but I was sure.

I felt guilty. My host was in some kind of a meeting with some people that seemed like they might be clients. I didn’t want to disturb them to say, “I’m currently mentally breaking down. I’ll be back later.”

He’s a good guy. I knew he would worry. Maybe even leave the meeting to try to calm me down. I just needed to walk.

I was already off the property.

I only had a vague idea of where I was. I knew mobile bay was nearby and I vaguely recalled a map and where a few things were. I could use my phone, but that was not what I needed. I would have loved to be lost.

A couple of times I distracted myself, got my mind off the negative spiral. I would congratulate myself for the that I wasn’t thinking about her when I realized I wasn’t thinking about her, which made me think about her, which started everything over again.

I found the bay almost disappointingly quickly. It was only a few blocks down the road. A hop skip and a jump later and I was on the pier.

“Women these days” the fat old guy fishing with his buddies began. I was right next to him and listening intently, I mixed up exactly how he continued, I think it was, “Dats a hrumph dump humph.” It might have also been, “Ders sha num rump bumpfh.” While the later is entirely different, it gets the same idea across.

I also couldn’t have agreed more.

I didn’t stop to fraternize. The pier was long and there was more to walk. I still needed to walk it.

Most of the way down I stopped and looked over the edge. There is a little gazebo thing that was casting a shadow in the cloudy dark green water. The shadow was enough to allow a few inches of visibility. Tiny little fish, maybe even tadpoles, swam madly about, in and out of the shadow provided visibility. I stared for a few minutes trying to find deep meaning. I actually hoped for the kind of epiphany, the kind of revelation that would free me from my little self induced torment so I could go back to work.

Lets see, “Look at all those fish dashing madly about, they…. Um, have no meaning? My life has no meaning?” That’s no good. Lets try again. “Look at all those fish dashing madly about, lessee here, um, dirty… small… insignificant….”

I gave up. The fish weren’t my answer.

I kept moving. I thought about getting in my car and driving. Going somewhere else. Leaving. Going on a road trip. Luckily my car was in the garage getting checked up again. I admonished myself for wanting to run away on some kind of road trip while on a massive free form road trip.

I found a little place at the very end of the pier that wasn’t occupied by fishing lines. I’m not sure how long I sat there, out of places to go, my only option to go back.

The light glinted off the water and disappeared much as the little sparkling bits in the trails of fireworks disappear at the big 3rd of July show. I always thought that was clever. To have the big show on the third so everyone goes to it before having their own 4th of July party.

Glinting, moving, fading, another sparkle right behind it.

I slowly calmed down. I spent a while just breathing, relaxing. A speck or two may have gotten stuck in my eyes as they kept, erm, watering.

I have no idea how long I was there. I guess eventually I hit that meditative state I was looking for.

I started to head back. I was feeling a little better and I was no longer thinking about the crap I had been stuck on earlier. In fact, just thinking about the fact that I was no longer stuck on the matter didn’t throw me right back into it as it had earlier.

I stopped to read a little poster on a wall midway back across the pier. It was pleading with people to not litter in mobile bay.

“The Mobile Bay estuary is worth seeing because it is beautiful and it is worth understanding and protecting because we need it.”


Why is the word “because” in the same sentence twice?

I wrote better than that in middle school.

Lets try it a little differently, maybe with some punctuation.

“The Mobile Bay estuary is a beautiful resource that is not only worth seeing, it is worth understanding and protecting.”

For some reason I found this incredibly humorous. There are multiple novelists that live in Fairhope. It is a little artist town here in southern Alabama. I find it amazing that not one of them could be recruited to write the little “protect Mobile Bay” board on the pier. Maybe just a local high school English student?

This little issue reminded me of another atrociously written sign I saw in North Carolina.

“Each Employee’s Hands Must Be Washed Thoroughly, Using Soap, Warm Water and Sanitary Towel Or Approved Hand-Drying Device, Before Beginning Work and After Each Visit to the Toilet.”

Ok, first of all, what is happening with the capitalization? Why is every word capitalized? For that matter, why is “or” capitalized while “and,” “to,” and “the,” are not? Second, why is the entire thing written as one sentence? Could this not be expressed perfectly well in two or three sentences? Third, why is there no article before Sanitary Towel? Would it not make more sense to write “A Sanitary Towel” though with the capitalization scheme, it makes about as much sense to write “a Sanitary Towel.”

Lets try this again and make it readable.

“Each employee must thoroughly wash hands before beginning work and after each visit to the toilet. A properly thorough hand washing technique must include the use of soap, warm water, and a sanitary towel or approved hand-drying device.” I suppose this version would not allow someone else to wash the employee’s hands for them while the original version would. My version also includes a period to separate the idea that hands must be washed from the idea of what thorough hand washing includes.

I came to the conclusion that the various government of the south must be uniformly afraid of punctuation. There is no better explanation for the government sponsored signs in North Carolina and Alabama both displaying an atrocious use of the sentence separating constructs.

I was feeling better about myself. Not only had I finally regained control of my own thoughts, but I had spuriously convinced myself that I was more intelligent then the combined governments of the south.

I headed back into town. I still had a roof to remove.

I managed to get myself a little more lost this time. I decided to finish the little loop that I had begun, a decision that would take me through town and back to the house in roughly the same amount of time. Of course, with all of the interesting things to check out in town, I forgot to pay attention to what street I should be turning on. One of these interesting things was the trash cans.

“Waste Please” they read. Heh. Whoops. I don’t think this is what they are asking for. I’ve never before seen a city advocate that the people waste more, much less ask so kindly. Perhaps they meant, “Waste, Please.”

I also walked by a fudge shop. I’m pretty sure it is impossible to be even slightly depressed while walking past a fudge shop. The smells will mechanically turn any depressed mind into a little door opening shop entering automaton.

I decided an ice cream cone was just what I needed.

I was right.

There is something so youthful about an ice cream cone. A little sugar and cream, the coldness on the inside competing with the heat the beating sun was now providing. How many times has mom fixed a lost game, a race disqualification, a bad day, with a trip to the local ice cream parlor?

Actually, not many, now that I think about it, but that ice cream cone I ate while running away from my responsibilities in Fairhope sure felt good.

Oh yeah, responsibilities.

My host was worried, as I was sure he was going to be. I apologized profusely, picked up my shovel, and got back to removing some shingles.

They were no longer in the shade.

::Discuss::Permanent link


The Grand Hotel in Point Clear Alabama is old. Old by my standards anyway.

My standards are simple. Anything older than my fraternity, founded 1863, is old. Anything younger (or newer) is young (or new).

As I said, the Grand Hotel is old.

It is also one of the few places a mint julep can be ordered on any usual day.

I have a particular way that I like a mint julep to be made. I’m fairly certain that, much like the old fashioned, it must be made at home to have it made right.

That said, atmosphere is important. A nice warm October evening in the south, the back yard of a 200 year old hotel, it seems like some pretty nice atmosphere.

The sunset was remarkable. I had brought my nice camera, but I left it in the car. I did what I could with my phone. I do rather like some of these.

I ordered another, this time with a little more sugar. The bartender was a very upright fellow wearing a tux.

“Yes, sir, right away, sir.” He spoke with a heavy german accent.

This julep was better. I continued exploring the grounds, stopping briefly to remark on the wonderful weather and remarkable sunset with a nice old lady (people are exempted from my usual method of ranking how old something is).

I headed back to Fairhope to pick up dinner. A pizza and a couple of beers later I decided to leave my car where it was for the night.

As I walked back into the house, I saw a couple pictures that were simply waiting to be taken. I grabbed the camera and a tripod and set up the shots.

Night photography is best performed a little drunk.

Assuming about a minute or so of adjusting lenses and dials, each of these shots is a 30 second exposure. After the 30 seconds, the camera takes another 30 seconds to render the image. This means it takes about 2 minutes for one exposure.

Being drunk helps pass the second minute exposure after exposure.

Here is the house I’ve been de-shingling. The darkness obscures it, but I’ve been working on the right. The small section I mentioned yesterday is on the backside of the far right end.

One thing I realized, and have wanted to experiment with for a while, is that a long exposure can be written on with a bright light.

The writing on these pictures is not done in photoshop.

It is quite difficult to get this right.

First, everything has to be written backwards.

Second, there is no way to tell where the past stroke was written.

Third, there is no way to tell how wide the canvas is. Fourth, there is no way to stay even with the canvas as it occupies 3d space. Finally, It takes a full minute for each exposure, and only about 15 seconds to write the letters. That’s 45 seconds of waiting to see if the previous attempt worked or not.

My last attempt, when it was finally legible, was my 44th exposure. My buzz was pretty much gone.

I’ll let that one stand on its own.

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Mobile Pier

Some of these articles are very text heavy and may have one or two incidental pictures.

This is not one of those articles.

I specifically planned to be at the pier at sunset to take some pictures. In the process of researching the sunset time, I came across this stock picture for sale. I hoped to be able to take a picture that came near the quality of that one.

I knew I couldn't recreate it. First of all, that picture was taken before Katrina. The pier in the foreground does not exist.

Second, that is a long exposure. I didn't bring my tripod (or Boxer, I wanted to be light) and wasn't going to be taking any long exposures (Though now that I think about it, long exposures of sunsets is a really good idea. I'll have to try that later).

Finally, There were plenty of cooperative clouds in that shot, and there weren't any when I began mine.

There were two or three really short piers next to the boat ramp. I went down to the furthest one in an attempt to frame one of the closer piers in the same manner as that stock photo.

It didn't work.

With plenty of time until sunset, I snapped a picture of this corrugated pipe sticking out of the sand in the beach area. I thought this really strange considering the beach is an attraction and probably not natural.

Directly behind the corrugated pipe was this scene.

Sunset was fast approaching. I gave up with my far pier and started to move closer to the main. This was when I noticed the birds. The next pier over was loaded with them.

While there isn't one on the pole, there is one on the light hanging off the pole. You can see him if you look closely. I kept inching closer and closer. I hoped to be able to get a silhouette of a bird on a pylon with the sunset in the background.

They weren't going to have it. Every time I got even fairly close, the nearest birds would fly off, spooking the rest.

I gave up that idea.

Instead, I scared them all.

My camera can take up to eight and a half pictures in a second.

You can bet I was pretty near to that.

They were flying everywhere. I knew where my subject was. It was just a matter of getting lucky.

I still had a couple of minutes until the sun hit the water. I snapped a shot of the sick bird that was camped out on the steps.

By the way, these pictures have the most editing I've done for this site. This one is the first time I've significantly altered the look of the picture. The colors in the original were stunning, I just preferred them muted and unified. Not to mention the original picture is a landscape.

At this point I was walking down the pier taking near constant pictures.

Sunset came and went, as it does.

There was a guy just in front of me that told me I shouldn't be taking his picture. I started to apologize and showed him that he couldn't be identified, much less located in the picture.

Turned out, he didn't really care.

Then someone recognized me. It was someone I met on my first night here.

I love to meet new people, love to chat. Most of the time my subject isn't going to change much. Most of the time it is, at worst, a minor annoyance that I have to stop taking pictures to talk to someone.

At sunset, I was straining to keep my focus on her and her friend as I saw beautiful shots literally fly by.

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Now you can play along too!

I updated my map, if you prefer the old fashioned style to my points on a gmap locations. It is probably best that you click on this one to see it high res.

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Central Ala- 'Bama

Alabama is an incredibly interesting state. I was surprised by it's vast array of challenges and stimulations. That, and I feared for my life, as this episode shows.

::Discuss::Watch the episode

Ideas are bulletproof

Remember remember.

In the spirit of rebellion and Guy Fawkes day, I will print an article I wrote for the Index, Pacific's newspaper. I also printed the two responses it generated. If the politics of a school and it's mascot bore you, this is the post to skip.

The Recent History of Our Mascot

Boxer is my passion. For the past two years I have extensively studied and researched the history of our illustrious mascot. He has had many twists and turns, and many ups and downs. Students have fought for him and traveled with him. They have stolen him and hidden him. They have buried him and drowned him. They have hung him from helicopters and frozen him in ice. They have overturned cars and stared down loaded firearms. They have broken themselves for him and broken off pieces of him just to be able to claim, “I touched Boxer.”

No other mascot on this planet has such a history. In the words of Phil Creighton, “He certainly is unique.”

I have traveled great distances and spoken with many alumni. I have seen the look in their eyes as they regale me with stories of Boxer flashes and Boxer tosses. I have heard a now-deceased man in his 90s tell a story from his youth. In this well remembered story, he fell two full floors from the fire escape of the now-demolished Herrick hall, landing on his back with Boxer on his chest. He then ran, bleeding, to his car while the ladies that lived in the hall chased after him. You can see his name printed on the Heart of the Oak donor plaque in the new library. Look for “Milton Johnston” under the $1,000,000 or more section.

When I say that I have a passion for Boxer, I know that this passion is nothing. I have not broken myself and I have not broken Boxer. I have not hung Boxer from a helicopter and I certainly have not fallen two stories with a 50-pound (he is almost exactly 50 pounds by the way) pointy brass dog. These brave alumni truly have passion for Boxer.

Our era is different. We have no opportunity to have this same passion. We cannot break ourselves for Boxer. The school will not let us. Indeed, they cannot let us. How could they respond to the media, investors, or law-suit happy parents, should any of these groups ask how they let students break bones in a traditional mascot “toss?”

No, we cannot blame the school for our inability to fight savagely over our idol. We cannot blame them for taking hold of Boxer and creating the series of events that they hoped would create the same passion within the students that the old tosses and flashes did.

We also cannot blame them for failing.

Indeed, they did fail. Boxer fervor had died to such a degree that Boxer was walked through the UC shortly after noon to a reception of little other than disinterested glances and a couple of questions. Disinterested glances and an otherwise lack of interest are not passion: they are apathy.

The school had the right idea when they organized the competitions. They created a group of students that would oversee the group with the blessings of the administration.

There were some mistakes that were made in the Boxer Spirit events that lead to the demise of the passion. One mistake was the timing. They were held during Greek pledging and at the same time as the seasons of several sports teams, effectively eliminating these historical contenders from the competition.

Worse than the timing was the nature of the competitions. They were tightly regulated, authorized by the administration, and beset by rules.

This is the primary point. This is why people stopped caring. The school took control of Boxer. They created rules.

Boxer, by his very nature, belongs to the students. Since the first time he was removed from his pedestal in the school chapel in 1906, the students have controlled his fate. Until recently, there have never been hard and fast rules. Instead, there have been guidelines governed by tradition and limited only by the imagination of those lucky passionate souls that possessed him.

Some brothers of the Gamma Sigma Fraternity, an organization of which I am proud to call myself a brother, were frustrated with recent events and student apathy. They responded to pressure from alumni and managed to obtain Boxer contrary to the wishes of the possessor and the school. I guess you could say we stole him, but that is to miss the point.

We slowly began to admit that we did, indeed, have possession of Boxer. First we brought him to the Gamma reunion dinner. Then we flashed him to the entire Pacific alumni crowd at the reunion weekend. Finally, we flashed him to the freshmen at sign shake and ring.

There are two different types of events with Boxer. The first is the flash and the second is the toss. A Boxer flash is necessarily unannounced. The purpose is for the group that has him to say, “we have him and you don’t.” After the flash, the group then runs off, escaping with Boxer. I recorded Bernie Cooper telling a story of when his Phi Beta Tau Fraternity flashed Boxer at the Mac Hall Christmas Dance in the 1940’s. It ruined the dance because everyone would chase after Boxer and “all the women were standing there saying, ‘well it used to be a good dance, where are all the guys?’” Flashes of the past have included helicopters, hot air balloons, and community pools. If the people flashing Boxer were caught, the flash would be a failure and an impromptu toss would begin.

A toss is announced. Historically, the tosses would happen after a year or so, following a few good flashes. The group would plan the event and place posters around the school so everyone interested could show up. Boxer would be released to the crowd at the time and place specified on the posters. He would usually be introduced in a creative manner such as the time he was in a 3’ x 3’ block of ice, or when he was chained high up in a tree on campus. Once the crowd got a hold of him, multi-hour fights began. Students would often take breaks to go to class while others stepped in to take their place.

This freshman flash occurred just a few days before I left on my trip. It was only while I had Boxer stored in my room that it occurred to me that I should bring him around the country. I cleared it with the rest of the Fraternity and off I went, Boxer stowed safely in my trunk.

I really enjoy taking pictures of Boxer. He adds interest to a picture. We have all seen pictures of each of the national monuments and of all the points in between. Those pictures are taken by better photographers with better equipment. Having Boxer gives me both a common thread and strength to my pictures.

He also adds a challenge. Boxer is heavy. He is not easy to haul from point to point in order to take the pictures I want to take. He is also very short. Since he is slightly over a foot tall, I end up spending a lot of time lying in the dirt to try to get pictures of the terrain towering above him. Finally, Boxer looks strange. Everywhere I go, people ask the same questions about Boxer.

First people just stare awkwardly. Usually there is a period of about a minute where no one will say anything. After that time, people’s curiosity overrides their fear of asking a stranger a question. The same question, worded differently, begins the conversation.

“[what’s the story with/what is/why are you carrying] your [dragon/dog/lizard/lion/…/thing/it]”

“It’s my school’s mascot.” The follow up is obvious enough.

“What school?”

“Pacific University in Oregon” I’ve had two people recognize the school; one grew up in West Linn. Usually people nod blankly and move on. Sometimes they ask where in Oregon, that’s easy enough to explain.

“What is it?”

“A Chinese Dragon Dog.” This is usually good enough. If people started off the conversation with a guess of what it was, I’ll just tell them they were right. I have no idea what he actually is.

“So why are you carrying it?”

“I’m going on a road trip around the country, taking pictures with him.” If they’re still interested at this point, I’ll give them a card with my website. This usually involves an awkward shifting of Boxer’s weight as I reach for my wallet with the cards.

“Looks heavy.”

“Yeah, that’s a good description.”

“So is this a greek rush thing/do you have to carry him/did you lose a bet?” This one is tough to answer. I’ve got about a sentence, maybe two, to explain the entire history of Boxer and why it is an honor to have him. I think I’ve found the answer that both gains their interest and explains a lot.

“No, we stole him, actually.” Yep, interest gained.

“Does the University know you have him?”

“They didn’t at first, but they do now.” Sometimes they want an explanation of this. I’ll briefly help them out.

“Can I hold him?”


What are they going do, run off with him? I’ve run with Boxer, they won’t get far. Plus, they don’t actually want him.

“Ooof. He’s heavy.”

“Yeah, that he is.”

Sometimes the conversation is over here, other times we will go over various minutia, his history, or perhaps something entirely different.

While Boxer provides much for me on this trip (especially a great way to get alumni to let me crash at their places), I can only hope that this trip will inspire conversation and debate on campus. The students themselves have the power to decide the future of the mascot, and it is best that such a conversation is held as widely as possible.

I will set forth my current records with the expectation that they will be shattered by some students more enterprising than I. During my time with Boxer, I have hiked three and a half miles as the sole person carrying Boxer while climbing 900 feet in elevation. I have also driven nearly 8000 miles with Boxer in my car. I expect to double this latter number by the time I make it home to return Boxer to the students.

How, exactly, Boxer is going to be returned to the student body is still up in the air. I have my opinions, but as Boxer is still in the possession of the entire fraternity, the group as a whole will make that decision. The decision is a difficult one.

I would encourage students to write the Index and have their voice heard. What is the best way to maintain or increase interest in Boxer while simultaneously protecting the school’s interests? Is it better to have Boxer be a highly coveted private creature, a thing which only the lucky few can say they have touched or been photographed with, as it has been in the distant past, or is better to have Boxer be a commonly seen public creature, an object which every student sees, touches, and is even photographed with frequently, as it has in the more recent past? Is Boxer better left in the hands of the student body, regulated by tradition, or to be protected by the administration, governed by the well planned, rules of this establishment?

There must be a solution that will balance the school’s need for civility with the student desire for passion. These are the years in which the future of Boxer will be decided. You are the students that will make the decisions.

Jennie, My host in DC, snapped this picture of me snapping a picture of Boxer. It is nice to get a third person view of what I'm doing here.

There was one direct reply to this essay printed in the paper.

Boxer awareness

Boxer, by his very nature, belongs to the students. On this point Dean Croshere and I agree. If, however, Boxer belongs to students, why is he with an alumnus halfway across the country? I have heard the phrase "Boxer Awareness" tossed about several times in justification of Dean's actions, but as his road trip progresses, I have to ask myself: with whom is Boxer Awareness being raised? Just who is Dean trying to reach through this cross country road trip?

Certainly, Dean must not be trying to reach this year's freshman class. If he is, I fear he is working counter-productively toward his goals. As Dean mentioned in his article, he and a couple others from the Gamma Sigma fraternity flashed Boxer at "Sign, Shake, and Ring" this year, in a departure from the traditional presentation of Boxer at this event. When I was a freshman, Boxer was on a table next to Dr. Phil and each new student was given the opportunity to pause, examine the mascot as thoroughly as necessary, and even have a picture taken. Most consider meeting Boxer the best part of the event.

A Boxer flash was absolutely a memorable interruption of the ceremony, and I'm sure it was a powerful experience for the 70 or so incoming students who were lined up when Dean and his friends came through. But what was the experience like for the other three-hundred entering students? The ones who went that whole day, and then all of orientation, and now all of September, without ever seeing our great mascot up close? About a week after school started, I heard about an incident in which a couple freshmen attempted to steal the plaster replica of Boxer from the PUCC office, thinking it was the real thing. This is a bittersweet anecdote. Sweet, because it demonstrates the eagerness of this newest class to be included in our proud traditions. Bitter, because they clearly had no idea what it was they were trying to steal.

Dean ended his article asking that Pacific students write the Index and sound off about what should be done to protect the Boxer tradition. The first step in answering that question is to demand Boxer's immediate return to campus. "Boxer Awareness" in Detroit, New Hampshire, or at Wrigley Field doesn't matter in the slightest if there are students here, at home, who have no idea what they're missing.

---Tyler Atwood

Vice President, Pi Kappa Rho fraternity

Tyler makes many good points here, but he avoids the one issue that really matters. If I were to mail Boxer back to campus, was is to be done with him? I would happily do it if there were some kind of (good) plan.

There was also a reference to it in another letter, this one written by Micael Russo, that was generally lambasting the Index.

"How could I live with myself if not for yet another picture of the Boxer Dragon in front of Mount Rushmore?"

I'm not sure what he means by this. There has only ever been one picture of Boxer in front of Mount Rushmore (well, ok, I took 10, but I only published 1).

::Discuss::Permanent link

The Fountain of Youth

Back in the early 1600s, Ponce de Leon supposedly searched Florida for the fountain of youth.

Near the town of Ponce de Leon in Florida, is a natural spring called Morrison springs. I have a feeling there may be a connection there. These springs are big, warm, natural pools.

At least, I found them warm. I know I’ve swam in heated pools that were colder than it was.

I really wish I had an underwater camera so I could have taken a picture of what it looks like from under water. It really is perfectly clear. We put Boxer in under about 7 or 8 feet of water. I swam to the far side of the spring and looked back, he was perfectly clear and covered in silt. He looked like a shipwreck treasure.

The depths here are incredibly misleading. There is a dark spot towards the middle of the spring. That is the spring itself. It gets dark because it is hundreds of feet deep; the entrance there is probably 30 or 40 feet down. My attempts at swimming towards it only netted me a minor earache.

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Easy, The Big

“Good morning,” she said. “My name’s Megan.”

I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. She smiled sweetly.

I slept in her bed last night.

She didn’t.

She was the suitemate of a friend of a friend in a dorm at Tulane University in New Orleans. When she heard that I was stopping by, she offered to let me stay in her bed, since she was going to be at her boyfriend’s place. Oh, and by “last night,” I mean Friday night, four days ago.

She had come back to the room to get ready for class. After what is likely the strangest introduction I’ve ever been party to, I went back to sleep.

A few hours later I went to breakfast with Katie, my host. She was the friend of a friend who’s suitemate’s bed I slept in last night.

If nothing else, this trip is making for some interesting relationships.

Katie had to work on a couple essays so I headed down to the French Quarter. Remember how I posted a few weeks ago about how I had lost my debit card? Well, I’ve since received a new one, but I still haven’t received my PIN. I have access to my money, but I have no method of getting cash. I also have no cash left. I actually gave my last dollar to a guy playing his Sax down by the river.

This leads to problems. Bourbon street runs on cash. There are a lot of ATMs, and nearly every place has a big cash only sign. This is probably a good thing. It kept me from spending much.

I still managed to wander around the area for a while, wandering in and out of the shops. There are four types of stores on Bourbon Street. Places you can get souvenirs, places you can get voodoo’d, and places you can see naked women (and sometimes men), and, finally, places you can get drinks,

In the first, I had no interest in the souvenirs. These fell into two categories. There was the overly gaudy stuff like shot glasses with plaster designs all over them, and there were T-Shirts with unbearable slogans. It is like there is some law that every shirt sold on bourbon street must have the word “Fuck” written somewhere. “New Fucking Orleans, Louisiana” wasn’t my favorite. “Fuck Fema” was also popular, particularly when printed on old shirts that had been stained during Katrina.

In the second, Voodoo shops are lame. I did want some incense, but I didn’t have any cash, and I wasn’t going to buy $20 worth of it, nor any voodoo dolls, nor any palm readings or tarot predictions.

In the third, I didn’t have any cash.

In the fourth, I found a way. I found a place I could get a mint julep with my card. The drink was just bad. I should have gotten a hurricane or something else that comes from the slurpee mixers behind the counter. I sipped this while walking around town looking at the other attractions in repetition. I started to get bored around the same time that I finished my drink.

This was when I hatched my plan. I was pretty close to being done with that film. I had time. I was in a beautiful place. All I needed was a cigar, a beer, and power.

The first two were easy. The beer was a German Dopplebock. The Cigar was an Onyx, rated 97 by cigar enthusiast magazine, the highest rating ever. The third was a bit more difficult, though cheaper. I wandered down the waterfront for a while until I found a power transformer on a little lawn overlooking the Mississippi River.


This is where I did the primary editing for that movie I uploaded Sunday. Sitting on a little lawn in front of the Mississippi River in New Orleans smoking a Cigar, sipping my beer, and listening to a guy playing his Sax for spare change. He's the guy that got my last dollar.

It was a wonderful afternoon.

I had just finished up when Katie gave me a call. She was hungry, so was I.

I headed back uptown to campus. We briefly discussed dinner. I really wanted gumbo. I’d never had it, and New Orleans seemed to be the place to get it.

It took some research, finding the perfect New Orleans Gumbo. We asked a few people around campus, searched the internet, and she made a couple of phone calls. We ended up at a place on frenchmen, right by the French Quarter.

The gumbo was all right. I mean, I’m sure it was great gumbo, but it’s gumbo.

Gumbo. (It’s fun to say, isn’t it?)

After dinner, we got a few drinks and played some good old fashioned drinking games in the dorm rooms, complete with an oh-shit-someone-knocked-on-the-door-quick-hide-the-booze moment.

I had planned to leave the next day, but Katie convinced me to stay and extra day. The nice thing about this trip is how easy that is to do.

The next day I got up early and worked a bit more on that movie. The voiceovers were all terrible, I guess the busy waterfront wasn’t the best background noise. Voiceovers are a pain to do. I have to find a place that is quiet, but I can talk. If there are people anywhere nearby I get incredibly self-conscious and either end up whispering or sounding as self conscious as I am. After all, I am loudly saying things like, “I didn’t want to have my skin fashioned into something unspeakable.”

After I tried a few nearby locations, I broadened my search. Katie went back to work on her papers and I headed to my car. It was in a parking structure.

A parking structure that was 7 floors tall.

I hit the stairs and climbed to the top. It was deserted save for three cars and a really big bee.

I could talk as loud as I wanted here, say whatever I wanted, and get the movie done. While I waited for various things to render, I snapped some pictures of Mr Bee. I like this one where he is in mid step. He looks so determined.

Once I finished, I briefly scouted about for a net connection. I didn’t find one, so I hopped in my car and headed out into town.

I’ll post all of that later. I’m tired.

::Discuss::Permanent link

The Texas Apprehension

(Sounds like the name of a movie, doesn't it?)

I was apprehensive about Texas. It was next. I didn’t know what to expect.

I should have known better. I was apprehensive about New York, I was apprehensive about North Carolina, and I was apprehensive about Tennessee. Yet I found, that in each of these states, people are just people. Despite different particular interests, people just want the same basic things: happiness, companionship, and a good time. In fact, I’ve found that if you are able to convince a person that you aren’t going to screw them over, they will give just about anything to be able to obtain those simple things.

I find myself feeling guilty about my Alabama video. I jumped to a pretty harsh conclusion. At the same time that I’m experiencing the incredible generosity of people, I assumed that the person that lives in this house (if anyone actually lives in the house) was the sort of person that would do unspeakable things to me, rather than relax and share a beer.

Yet, I feared that Texas might be different. All that hoopla about “don’t mess with Texas” and “everything’s bigger in Texas” all generated the same worry in my mind:

“Texas might be different.”

It was the same worry I had about the South, the same worry I had about the Northeast, the same worry I had about the Midwest. I had heard so much about these people and how they are real men (or real women), how they have real difficulties. How they won’t stand for this kid with Oregon plates, how I would experience culture shock.

I didn’t experience any in any of those places. I was treated to the best of Southern hospitality while I was in the South. People went out of their way to make sure I was happy. In the South, I only asked for a place to stay for a night, and that’s all I really hoped for. Instead, people bought and/or made me food and drink, provided companionship and acted as guides, and worked hard to make me happy.

The thing is? I was also treated to the best of Northeast hospitality, Midwest hospitality, Idaho hospitality, and Northwest hospitality (No, I don’t consider Idaho to be Northwest).

I did have some trouble with places to stay in Texas. I thought I had several places to stay throughout Texas. I figured I would be spending at least a week between Houston, Austin, and Dallas. It turned out that four offers for hosts fell through due to bad timing and bad communication.

I pushed straight through to Austin. The drive was only 8 hours, my usual sweet spot, but this time it felt like it took forever.

There are several reasons for this. One is that the reader for Robinson Cruso, the book I was planning on listening to next, was terrible. I couldn’t handle listening to him. Another is that I was pretty much out of podcasts (pre-recorded radio shows). Finally, Western Louisiana and Eastern Texas is really, really boring.

I really need something intellectually stimulating when I’m driving long distances. If I have something to think about, I am entertained. At the beginning of my trip, I had personal issues to mull over, problems to solve, a forthcoming trip to contemplate. I did a couple of the first few drives with just my music playing on random, letting my mind wander.

It’s wandered, and so have I.

I’ve been mentally going in circles over those problems for long enough. I need someone talking.

I chose to try am radio. I tried one station. It was Sean Hannity, the Republican radio pundit. He had a caller.

“Hi Sean, You’re a great American.”

“So are you. You’re also a great American. What’s your question?”

I don’t actually remember the question, I was too busy trying to figure out why they were congratulating each other on being “great Americans.” What does that even mean? It wasn’t long before he introduced his next caller.

“We have a liberal on the air, it’s [someone from somewhere].”

“Hi Sean, I am curious about why you said-“

“I have a question for you.”

“but I”

“I have a question”

“I just calle-“

“My question is what is Hilary Clinton’s stance on something simple…. Like, say, oh, driver’s licenses for illegal aliens.”

“That doesn’t have anything to do wi-“

“Answer the question.”

“I don’t underst-“

“If you don’t answer my question, I’ll hang up on you. You have to answer my question.”

“Um, last I heard, she was against t-“


I changed the station. That’s about as much willful ignorance as I can handle in one sitting.

“-AHAHAH. No, you see, she’s since changed her-“

He was on the other station too. I mashed the seek station button.

“And then the Lord-“

It wasn’t Hannity, but I had no interest. I searched again.

“These liberals can’t even get one of the most basic tenets of the leading-”

Hannity again. A third station out of four.

I turned the radio off.

After listening to my music on random into Austin, I managed to find my host’s apartment. Our greeting was awkward, but we moved fairly quickly to the decision that we should hit the downtown Austin scene for a bit of local flavor.

We hit up this big Irish Bar that seemed like it would normally be packed, but tonight was a Monday night. We were just about to finish up our dinner and beer when a waitress came up and asked if we wanted to play some trivia, winner gets a $50 bar tab, plus some other beer at some other points.

That $50 tab would completely cover our food, drinks, and a round for the cutest ladies in the room.

We signed up.

There was going to be 6 rounds of 10 questions each, ranging from general knowledge to Shakespeare. Our team was the two of us and “Mr. Google” who just happened to be hanging out in my phone. That, and anyone I could think of to text message for answers.

I’m shameless when it comes to free beer.

We won the first round, and kept our lead by a point into the second. We were actually coming up with a vast majority of the answers on our own. I think Google may have helped us get 2 of the answers right that we would have missed otherwise.

We did horribly in the third round, completely sacrificing our lead. Being mid twenty-year-old guys, 70’s pop culture questions were just out of our league. Our total scores were tied up at this point.

The fourth round maintained our scores. The fifth round, the Shakespeare round, was where things got interesting. This was a free beer round. The winner of this round gets a free round of beer. Through some intense help from a couple friends, we managed to tie with “super, super team.”

There was a tiebreaker.

One person from each of our teams – I went for ours – were to come up to the MC to answer a do or die question.

We both answered the same. It was another tie.

Now it was double tiebreaker time.

The question was, “What is the job of the character Helen Hunt played in ‘As Good As it Gets.’” I put, “writer’s girlfriend.”

They didn’t take it.

With tensions high, the final round began. There was a three-way tie in overall points and the winner was getting $50 worth of free beer.

We bombed. Our worst score yet.

We paid our bill and left. A shame we didn’t win, but at least we had a good time.

While we played, we spent a while joking around with the other teams, having a generally good time. My host was a wonderful, generous guy.

I can mark another place off my list of states to be apprehensive about.

P.S. I'm sorry I didn't conclude the New Orleans post. I really just a had a bunch of pictures and a few minor things to write about. I set up a flickr page to upload my pictures. I will put everything there and it should be more up to date for where I am. Feel free to check out all of my New Orleans pictures there. It also has my Texas Panhandle pictures up.

The Flickr should not change much about the way this page is updated.

You can find it at http://www.flickr.com/photos/roadtrip-life/.

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The Emasculating Hostel

I stayed at a hostel in Dallas.

It was an interesting place, completely informal. I had to follow some strange instructions printed on the front door of what was otherwise just a large house. The instructions asked me to wander around to the back and knock on the door there.

I did.

“Hello?” The apparent owner of the establishment came and opened it.

“Uh, Hi.” I responded.

“Hi.” He retorted.

“Um, is this a hostel?” It certainly appeared to be one. There were quite a few people of various nationalities milling about, mostly watching TV. Not to mention the sign on the door that read, “hostel”

“Yes.” He answered as if this was a strange conversation to him.

This was followed by an awkward pause. I kind of figured my desire would be obvious. I’m at a hostel, I need to stay a place for the night. I kind of figured he would offer, or ask if he could help me. Something.

“Can I get a place to stay for the night?”

“Sure!” It’s like he finally figured out why I was there. He didn’t seem to be slow or unintelligent. I actually think he was just shy, which seems really odd for an owner of a hostel.

Since I still didn’t have cash, and he wouldn’t take a check, we worked out me paying him through Paypal, which cost a couple of extra bucks, but I suppose it worked.

He showed me my bunk. It was covered in plastic with a thin sheet thrown over it. It was the middle of three bunks. I had to find some method of climbing into it while laying down. I had about two or three vertical feet, not even enough to bend a knee up.

All told, it was a nice warm bed for not much money.

The other people milling about the hostel kept to themselves. I heard bits and pieces. There was one girl who was hitchhiking across the country with her backpack. She managed to get a guy in a big rig to drop her off at the hostel.

There was a couple from Germany, and another group that was speaking some Asian language.

All told, they make my little trip look weak, driving about in my car, staying with friends and family and in my own country. It felt strange to have my endeavor emasculated without intention in this way. Luckily I distracted myself and stopped worrying about it.

I arrived early in the evening and sat down to write a post, an endeavor that took several hours, as usual. Due to this, and the fact that I left early the next morning, I didn’t get a chance to see much of anything in the Dallas/Forth Worth area.

I did notice one thing. The drivers are more timid than anywhere else in the nation. Most of them are, anyway.

I think it is because there is so much space. In New York, where I’ve found the most aggressive drivers, there is no space. There are many cars and not much road. Drivers must go where they need to go, and everyone else must get out of their way.

In Texas, there is enough space to be gracious to other people and expect them to be gracious in return.

Gracious drivers are not necessarily good drivers. I’ve had people stop on uncongested quickly moving through streets to let me pull out from a stop sign.

It may have been the gracious thing to do, but it was unpredictable and thus dangerous. If they had just kept driving I would have been able to pull out behind them just as quickly as waiting for, and figuring out why, they stopped.

I have never seen so many people afraid to merge as I have in Texas. In traffic, merging usually only requires the most basic establishment that the person behind you sees what you are doing, usually established with a handy signal built into your car. People are really good at reading the “body language” of cars.

They can see a car that is about to change lanes, and they will give them space. If they don’t, they will cause an accident, and no one wants that.

In Texas, people seem to be unwilling to trust that they will be given access to a lane. They will drive with their signal on until there is an extremely large amount of space before they move over. At one point, while stopped at a light, I had to honk at someone who had stopped with his car halfway between two lanes. He was looking back at me like I was going to drive through him or something. Just drive. Go.

Of course, not everyone is timid. There is still a portion of the drivers that will not signal or wait for you to notice them.

I prefer an entire population of predictably aggressive drivers to a partial population of gracious ones.

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Oklahoma, at least it had my bank.

This is scenic Oklahoma.

I’m not being sarcastic. This was the most scenic view I could find on the more scenic of the two “scenic” turnouts I had crossed in the past 10 miles. These turnouts are almost certainly the best possible use of few thousand dollars of taxpayer money, after all, they were certainly the most scenic parts of Oklahoma that I saw.

I was on the way from Texas, to Texas, on a route that I slightly modified to take me through Oklahoma.

See, the easternmost Bank of the West is in Southern Oklahoma, though there isn’t any in Texas or New Mexico. It wasn’t terribly far out of my way to drive to reach one of the bastions of money storing utility. I could finally put a PIN number on my card so I could answer the prompts on the LCD display of any ATM machine or POS sale doohickey.

It was describably relaxing to watch the teller count the cash and put it into my hand. So describable, in fact, that I would describe it to be as relaxing as being secure in the knowledge that I had cash. I could finally pay just about anyone for just about anything.

I don’t really know much about the Oklahoma City bombing. I know Timothy McVeigh exploded what I think was a truck full of manure based explosive inside the federal building, killing over a hundred people, including many children that were in the daycare section of the building.

Of course, that is one opinion. The other, as was espoused to me by the man who seemed to have nothing better to do than espouse these things, was that the whole thing was a government orchestrated conspiracy plot. He kept repeating himself in a mumbling fashion without actually describing how the government would benefit by blowing up a federal building in Oklahoma City. He couldn’t even explain why the government blamed a domestic bomber instead of foreign terrorists, as they originally assumed.

I finished taking pictures of the memorial and, failing to find the ice cream cone that I found myself craving, I hit the road.

Oklahoma City is the very center of Oklahoma. The drive to it from the south was so boring that the earlier scenic picture can be described a highlight. The drive from the City to the east was just as boring. At least the Midwest has corn and soy, Oklahoma has nothing.

Except for these guys. Maybe they should have just stuck with "wide load."

I also still had nothing to listen to. My podcast directory was entirely dry and I was growing really bored of having my music on random.

That’s when I got a genius idea. I still had the audio book of Travel’s With Charlie in the backseat of my car. I could listen to it again.

I popped it into the deck and began listening to the tome that had helped to guide the beginning of my trip. I first listened to the tape when I was about a week into my trip. Now, on my tenth week, it had new meaning for me. For one thing, I now had a scale for my trip. I’m at about 15000 miles in just over 2 months. I figure I have 2 or 3 thousand miles and a few more weeks to go, putting me at about 17500 miles in three months. Steinbeck traveled 10000 miles in roughly the same amount of time.

Amongst other reasons for this, he almost certainly drove slower, especially considering his 1950’s truck with the living quarters stacked on the back. I have more observations about his trip, but I’ll leave those for a later post, maybe even a reflection piece when I’m all done.

Steinbeck helped me pass the time until I arrived at my destination, the Palo Duro Canyon state park in Texas. It is labeled to be “the Grand Canyon of Texas,” proving, once and for all, that not everything is bigger in Texas.

The Canyon is just outside of the city of canyon, located just south of Amarillo Texas, the place Steinbeck had to stop for a few days so a vet could nurse his poodle, Charlie, back to health.

I arrived after the gates were closed, but there was a little late arrival campground provided for people like me. I cooked myself another MRE while I shot some long exposures of the remarkable night sky.

Then I got bored. Real bored. I have been so over stimulated for this entire trip, that I wasn’t really sure what to do with myself.

I spent a little while taking pictures of the deer in the field right by the gates. I’m not sure what chemical light provides a green light like this, but it sure provides for a nice picture.

I also got creative and took a long exposure self portrait.

After this last exposure, my camera battery died.

Unsure of what to do, I made a few phone calls. I was lucky enough to have a good cell connection. I spent a couple of hours talking to friends and family back home as I wandered about the premises.

Finally, I got tired enough to go to sleep under a wide open sky featuring canopy of more stars than I’ve ever seen or even knew existed.

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The Grand Canyon of Texas

I woke up shivering. I was in a sleeping bag rated for this weather, wearing a sweatshirt, beanie, and scarf, with every drawstring pulled tight.

It was 4:30 AM. Too early.

I rolled over so I was breathing into the hooded section of my sleeping bag and went back to sleep.

I woke up again at around 7:30 AM with the warm Texas sun beating down on me. After cooking some oats for breakfast, I headed to talk to the ladies at the entrance gate. They gave me a campsite to stay at that night, instructions for where to go, and the best trail to hike.

I found my campsite. It was unspectacular. There was no grassy area to sleep on like there was in the late night entry place so I would have to sleep in my car if I stayed the night. There was, however, a place to set up a campfire, something I had really hoped to be able to do the night before. I looked around at all the other neighboring campsites. Only one was occupied and the owner seemed to be packing up to leave.

I wasn’t entirely sure whether I wanted to stay for another night or not.

Regardless, I drove to the recommended trailhead and checked out my route. The guide said it was an 11 mile round trip. That seemed like a good distance.

I resolved not to take any pictures until I was at the far end, on my way back. That way I would both have a scale for how interesting things were, and I would be able to see everything at least once without examining everything else for it’s photogenic qualities.

I walked a 2.5 mile trail, a 2 mile loop, and the same 2.5 mile trail back.

I’m not sure how that qualifies as an 11 mile trip.

I got back to my site and cooked myself lunch. I took a can of whole kernel corn, a can of precooked chicken breast, and a cup-o-noodles. I emptied the water from the corn and chicken breast into the pot and set it to boil. While it heated, I ate a can of soup. These cans are great appetizers.

Once the water boiled, I poured it into my cup of noodles. After the noodles softened, I ate a few bites, added some corn, ate a few more bites, added some chicken, ate a few more bites, and added some more. It was absolutely delicious.

It ought to be, I figured that with the soup, corn, chicken, and cup-o-noodles, not to mention the salt water everything was packed in, I ingested about 200% of my daily value of sodium.

It’s a good thing I drank so much water on that hike.

It was time to make a decision. There was a roughly 6 hour drive ahead of me to Santa Fe and it was 2 PM. With the time change at the edge of Texas, I would make it by 7 PM.

I didn’t really feel like another hike and I couldn’t come up with anything else that could possibly occupy me for the rest of the day, much less the night. I couldn’t even get cell service in the canyon.

I stopped on the way out at the gift shop/ranger station to pick up that ice cream cone I’d been craving since Oklahoma. It tasted great, after all, it was more salt.

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Another Film School

For the second time on this trip, I stayed with someone I met before I left. Will, my host in Santa Fe, was my best friend in middle school. We practically grew up together. We didn’t hang out quite so much in high school, though that was where we both got a start in film.

Our high school, Analy High, had a magnificent video program. The teacher wasn’t exactly wonderful, we quickly taught ourselves enough to feel like we could teach the class better than her, but she was very good at one important skill.

Getting money.

I would take a teacher like her, one knows that she isn’t incredibly knowledgeable, yet is able to get enough money to keep the program adequately funded over the opposite. The teacher that is somewhat knowledgeable, thinks they are incredibly talented, and is entirely unable to write a grant or get money from a managing group, seems to be far more common and is far more frustrating.

Will and I both went to video school. He went to a tiny private school in the southwest, I went to a tiny private school in the northwest. While College of Santa Fe, his school, is half the size of Pacific, the film department is 3 or 4 times larger.

I’ve become used to touring the film departments of other schools.

I’ve become used to being jealous. It is so easy to tour some other place, see all the facilitiesand equipment that place has, and become jealous. CSF has a whole theater with a 16mm projector next to a digital projector. A modern digital projector.

Pacific has a multi purpose room with a few uncomfortable couches and chairs that can be brought about to see the smallish pull down screen. There is one old projector that may have cost a fortune in its day, but could be replaced with a pretty cheap one now. Maybe a new projector could show the color red without bleeding it to the right, creating a horrible smear that destroys the mís en scene.

This is obviously not the full story. While I would kill for a department that didn’t have to live in the basement of various buildings, that didn’t lose the serial key for expensive necessary applications, I would not give up the people at Pacific for anything.

I was not impressed by the people at the CSF. There were a few cool people, sure. By and large, though? I could see myself getting real bored and frustrated, real quick.

There is so much riding on college, so many differences and so many things to choose between.

Should I go to a big school and blend in, but have a huge alumni base and massive amounts of school spirit, or should I go to a small school, be unique and noticeable, but struggle to stay proud of the institution?

Should I find a well funded program that made so many of the greats we all look up to, or should I go to the poorly funded program, and make my own name?

To make it even worse the decision has to be made in high school under the pressure of actually being accepted or not.

It is so easy to regret a decision about college. While I may feel pangs of regret that I didn’t have this or that, I can always take a step back and a deep breath. I went to Pacific. I have met incredible people and learned important things from them. Besides, the grass isn’t always greener over there.

The cafeteria at CSF was pretty bad too.

::Discuss::Permanent link

Local Color

I didn’t have any plan when I left Santa Fe. Well, not much of one anyway.

I knew I was going to head towards four corners to try to find a campground of some sort so I could spend the night for cheap.

I didn’t get on the road until the early afternoon, so I crossed into colorful Southeast Colorado. Naturally, the brown sign declaring the state to be colorful is the same color as everything else in the state.

There are some remarkably beautiful brown things here, but they are still brown.

I drove towards what I thought would be an open campground until I got to Cortez, Colorado. It was about 7 PM, so any gates would be closed, though I might be lucky enough to have a late entry place like there was in Texas. I expected there to be a small road that lead towards the campground leaving out of the west side of the city.

There wasn’t.

I realized I had no idea how to get to this campground.

I drove back into town and checked on the prices at a motel that offered WiFi. I figured I could at least get some writing done.

Her price was above what I paid at the three star place in New York. There was no way. I went back and sat in my car and tried to do some research on where I could go. I was getting tired.

I needed some caffeine. Luckily, the motel shared a parking lot with a diner.

I sat at the counter and ordered my coffee. Ever since I listened to Steinbeck again, I’ve tried to stop for coffee more often. I always do it the same way. I walk in, ask the waitress or hostess if I can just get a cup of coffee. She’ll sit me at the bar or a table, bring the coffee and ask if I want any cream. Nope, just sugar. Real sugar, please. I can’t stand the nutra-fake stuff. I always use two packets of sugar. This is regardless of the size of the coffee or the packets of sugar.

You get some interesting local color in diners. Rarely are these people the top crop of society, but probably good for an inward laugh.

“They’re real short handed today,” the guy at the other end of the bar said.


“One of the waitresses didn’t show up today, and it’s been real busy.” I’m sure he would have told me this even if I hadn’t prompted him. I looked around. He was right. It was pretty busy.

“I’ve worked in a restaurant before,” I said, “I know how frantic it can get when you are short a hand.” I realized he might be able to point me to the cheapest place in town, or maybe some other option. I didn’t know, I decided to hint at what I wanted. “I’m trying to find a place to stay for the night,” I opened.

He either missed it or ignored it. “It’s like when a dishwasher doesn’t show up. I’ve washed a lot of dishes, you see. When a dishwasher doesn’t show up, you’ve got to make up for the guy who isn’t there. Everyone expects you to do the work of both of you.”

This was not only a repetition of what I had just said a moment earlier, but it had a blatantly obvious statement tacked on to the end of it. It would be one thing if he was just complaining, but it sounded like he was actually trying to teach me something about the world.

Maybe it was the way I looked at him, but he paid for his coffee, got up, and left.

I followed shortly after, ending up a motel across the street that was considerably cheaper, and possibly even nicer.

The lobby had a couple of old couches and an iron stove. An elderly gentleman came out and asked if he could help me. There is so much inflection that a person can put into a statement that simple. He said it in the manner of a person who honestly wanted to make sure I got what I wanted.

It was really refreshing.

The room was clean, the WiFi was slow, the TV wasn’t cable, and the beds were comfortable. I wrote a post, talked to some friends back home, watched the one movie I had brought with me, but never got a chance to watch, and promptly fell asleep.

::Discuss::Permanent link

From the Green Mesa to the Red Desert

I woke up early in the morning, determined to get as much done as possible before heading to my next destination. I was determined to get to a camping site this time, but not till after I drove to the Mesa Verde.

I’ve always wanted to see a mesa. I’d read about them and seen pictures of them. I find them to be so majestic, rising directly out of the flat earth, ending abruptly in a flat top.

Mesa Verde seemed like the place to start. I wasn’t positive, but I thought I remembered a Native American art history class that mentioned Mesa Verde was the place the Pueblo people had built their towns right into the cliffs.

I was right.

The ranger at the gate was another extraordinarily pleasant fellow. He told me the winter schedule had started that day, and there was only one “house” that had tours. The tours started at 10:00 AM, 1:00PM, and 4:00PM. They started from the museum, which was 45 minutes down the road. I smiled, thanked, and paid him the park entry fee.

I didn’t want to wait around for the 1:00 tour, as I still planned to get over to Utah and up to the Canyonlands before the sun set. As the ranger said, there was a 45-minute drive ahead of me, and it was 9:45. I made it in 20 minutes. I easily caught up with the tour group.

These cities are certainly incredible. All of the brick for the buildings, mud for the mortar, wood for the fires, food, and water had to be carried up or down the primitive stone ladders or along long paths. The cities had multiple floors and large meeting areas.

Their circular “kivas” or prayer pits, had side passages to allow the cool air to be pulled into the bottom, then spread around the outside of it, so as to not disturb the fires as the smoke escaped the hole in the roof. Rather genius.

I think I was the most surprised by how small everything was. I guess it makes sense, but I always expected the windows and doors to be about the size of the windows and doors we put on things.

After the tour, the guide pointed out an optional two-mile loop called the “petroglyph loop.”

I headed towards it with another group of 3. Being young and tall, I headed out in front. I found myself quite a ways in front of them, despite the fact that I kept stopping to take pictures of the giant valley beneath me.

At one point, when I was coming around a corner, I heard a screech. I use the word screech here, because it accurately denotes the pitch of the call. The connotation that a screech is a horrible noise could not be any less correct, though it took me a moment to realize it was a bird call. It was magnificent. It was long and high, with the pitch increasing more as the volume trailed off. The sound didn’t echo so much as it reverberated throughout the canyon.

I turned and looked through a perfect frame in time to see what I think was a giant condor gliding effortlessly through the valley. It was huge. I was transfixed. My camera was in my hand, powered on, and focused as I had just taken a picture in that direction a moment earlier.

All I had to do was raise it to my eye and press the shutter.

I couldn’t do it. I was, as I said, transfixed. Paralyzed. The bird was so amazing, following it’s arcing, swooping, gliding, path through the air before it passed out of sight.

I would rank the sight of that bird right up there with my favorite moments from this trip. It was so magical. I heard its beautiful call a couple more times on the hike, each time I turned as quickly as possible, camera at the ready, hoping to snap a picture of the beast.

It was always out of sight, never willing to have his photo taken.

I came to namesake of the trail and paused to read up on the meanings of it. It tells the tale of how these people left the Grand Canyon (the squarish spirals in the upper middle), and splintered off into various clans. The people got lost (on the far left) in the desert before the Kachina gods found them and told them the right way to go.

I had just finished reading up on all of this when I heard the other group coming up behind me. I decided to wait around to see if they were friendly enough to join for the rest of the trip.

When they came around a corner, we exchanged pleasantries, and joked around for a moment.

“I won’t tell if you don’t” the eldest of the group held something out to me. It was an energy bar. I was incredibly hungry. I took it, thankfully. “It’s almost kinda sugar free.”

Nice enough to join, that’s for sure.

It wasn’t long before I joined into conversation with this man, learning that he was 77 years old, hiking this rather rough trail with his son and daughter-in-law. He certainly loved to talk and began telling me stories of his youth, how he never drank or smoked, but still found a way to have a great time. He told me about one girl he dated, “an Indian girl.”

“Not all Indian girls are pretty” he told me, “but this one sure was, my oh my.”

He taught me how to swear in “Indian,” words he said she taught him, but I promptly forgot. I’m no good at remembering these things. I can barely remember any Spanish, and I studied that for almost 3 years.

His daughter-in-law and I stopped at all of the scenic points along the tour to snap pictures as he kept telling stories. I love the little rock balanced on the big rock on the end of the peak there.

He told me that women and old men were displaced over here by the recent fires in Southern California, “I think I’m gonna go find myself a girlfriend.”

The fires are a bit of a sore spot for me, for reasons I’ll explain when I get to So. Cal, but his comment was awesome. He sure was one hell of a 77-year-old man. He said his father died in his late 90s from smoke inhalation while he was burning the weeds from his property. We can only aspire to be as active and powerful as these men.

After finishing this hike and grabbing lunch from the cafeteria, I got back on the road. I had spent a little longer here than I expected, but I still stopped a few places along the way to take pictures of the remarkable views from up here.

At one point, a short jog from the road, there is a little landing with nearly 360 degree views that cover a remarkable distance.

If I remember anything from my class correctly, these clouds coming in from what I believe are the San Francisco mountains (no relation to the California city), carry the Kachina gods that are represented in those Kachina that are so popular in museums.

After leaving the park, I headed over to Utah and up to the canyonlands.

My first priority was to find a place to camp.

I checked the first place I had planned to try. It was out of season so there was no running water, but there were envelopes and a container to accept those envelopes. There were 15 or so camp sites with picnic tables, fire pits, and little else. There was noone else in the site besides me, and the it was five miles out along a tiny road. It was perfect, but I didn’t have any wood, and there were signs posted all about that there was a $100 fine for scavenging for wood.

I wasn’t worried about getting a fine. After all, I’d have a good 15 minute warning before anyone got here. It was more of a problem that there wasn’t anything besides shrubs to gather wood from.

I headed towards Moab, about 30 miles further along the road. I wasn’t in any rush, as time no longer had any consequence. I bought myself a couple bundles of wood, an act that was extraordinarily painful as I grew up on an overgrown Christmas Tree farm. Wood rotted before we could burn it.

I also stopped for dinner at a nice place that opened moments after I first tried the door. The waiter was incredibly energetic and happy, it put me in a better mood. I decided to have a beer.

“What’s on tap?” I asked. I noticed they had a full liquor license, and there were a couple of microbrews in town, so I expected a fair selection.

“Bud, and Bud Light.”

“Ok,” I said, “I’ll have a Bud Light then.”

He brought me my beer and my “Navajo taco,” and made the peach cobbler sound real delicious, so I had him bring me some of that too. The Navajo Taco was the same thing as the Indian Taco I had back north of Des Moines, Iowa, all the taco fixings on a big thick dense bread shell. It had to be eaten with a fork.

Stuffed to the brim, I headed back to my campsite.

There was another site 20 miles further down the road. I figured that since it was further away, it must be better. It was only 2 or three more miles later that the road turned into gravel. It had probably not been redone since the spring previous, so it was pretty badly “washboarded.”

The bumpy road made for slow going, which was probably a good thing. It wasn’t long before I came around the corner to see a large, misty-eyed doe standing right in the middle of the road. She looked at me, looked away, took a step forward, stopped, turned, took another step, stopped, looked at me, turned again, then bounded off into the darkness.

Eventually I got to my campsite. Not only was the moon new, so it was on the other side of the planet with the sun, but there were some clouds covering up a lot of the stars. I couldn’t see a damned thing. Luckily I had my flashlight and headlights.

I paid the fee, picked what seemed to be the best site, and built a fire.

I’ve never had less trouble getting a fire started than with whatever these bushes were. They had little dried leaves on the end. The branches themselves got thick real quick into hard yet hollow tubes.

I stuffed a couple of them under some of the logs I had bought and held a lighter near them.

The leaves practically exploded into flame, quickly setting the hollow tubes into a hot fire that lit my logs better than lighter fluid ever has.

I had been charging my laptop in my car on the way over; I left the hotel that morning with only half charge. Charging my computer using my car is likely the most inefficient thing I could possibly imagine.

The engine converts liquid potential energy into rotational energy. The alternator converts rotational energy into DC power. The DC power comes to the cigarette lighter where I have a DC-AC power inverter. My computers power cable is plugged into this, which runs directly to an AC-DC power brick. The DC then charges the battery, which then runs through another DC-AC inverter, which powers various things like the screen.

Whatever works, I suppose.

I grabbed this fully charged laptop and started writing by the fire. It was a really nice way to work, with the computer and the fire working together to keep my legs warm. I worked till my battery died, before I fell asleep in my car, both because there was no grass and no stars. I was right. It rained in the middle of the night, if I had been outside, I would have woken up in a mud pit.

Instead, I woke up to this.

P.S. I've been putting little bonus comments and quips under the discussion links, to encourage people to click on the link, perhaps to leave a comment. I do read those and I appreciate everything written there.

::Discuss::Permanent link

The Utah Playground

It should say something about this portion of the trip that I do not remember taking a picture of a view this spectacular. Based on where it is in line with my other pictures, it is somewhere in New Mexico, between Santa Fe and the Colorado border.

Anyway, I woke up in the middle of the Utah desert at sunrise. I was the only one in my campsite and, even if there was someone at the other campsite, it is pretty safe to assume I was alone out there.

There were two Canyonlands overlooks, one further from the main road, and one closer. I decided to continue my belief that the further one must be the better one. I headed off in that direction.

Meanwhile I struggled to try to send a text message. I had one bar, enough to receive messages, even emails, but not enough to send them. The night before I had accidentally started a phone call, but it got disconnected before she picked up. This is when I was driving down a bumpy dark road with deer everywhere. I didn’t worry about it and just figured I’d talk to them later.

The person I called did worry. She tried to text me. Twice. It was fairly apparent that she was worried about me, and I can certainly see why. I figured I would let her know I was all right as soon as I got a signal. After all, she handled all right until now, and it was still dawn here, an hour earlier back in Oregon.

The road I was driving on now turned from bumpy gravel to a slightly muddy dirt clay mixture. Remember, it had rained in the night.

There was a couple of times where I accelerated to keep momentum up a hill so as to get stuck. Eventually I decided it wasn’t worth it. I had no way of contacting anyone, as I still didn’t have signal, and I was probably 20 (if someone was camping at the other site) to 50 (If no one was) miles from someone else.

I turned around.

It’s just as well: the closer viewpoint was amazing. I love this picture. At first glance it looks like a bunch of little piles of dirt shot from eye level. Then it comes to realization that dirt doesn’t do that on the small scale. Those spires at the end have to be around 20-30 feet tall. That dirt path in the upper right is a road.

Its not like there are these little bluffs and then a lot of desert, no, there are a lot of bluffs continuing on out through the desert. The Colorado river is out there somewhere.

A nice couple showed up while I was having breakfast (another MRE, this one was “meatloaf and onion gravy”). They mentioned that they had just come from Arches National Park. I told them that was where I was headed next, so they gave me some pointers and tips on the park. They then mentioned that they were planning on heading to the other viewpoint, I advised them against it.

This comparing of notes became commonplace real quick. The southwest is like one giant amusement park where everyone compares notes on the cool rides and how to avoid the lines.

I love of the fog disappears into the distance during a sunrise.

It layers the mountains and really shows off the depth in these mountains. It also helps that they seem to mimic each other, so they almost appear to be shadows receding into the background. The two pointy ones to the right are called the two six shooters, because they look like, well, you know. When lightning strikes them, this apparently magnifies the effect.

On the way out, I snapped a picture of what I think is another side of the San Francisco Mountains. I could be way off, and likely am, but I do know that the rain overnight had brought snow to the peaks. The snow was almost entirely gone by that evening.

Once I got back on the freeway I headed back up to Moab, this time passing through to head up to Arches.

It was still pretty early once I’d picked out and reserved my camping spot, so I decided to take the longest hike in the park. It was supposedly 7 miles or so round trip, with scrambling involved.

The first portion of the hike is pretty much inundated with tourists. They seem to be walking almost toe to toe in order to see this arch.

I wasn’t terribly impressed and the sun was not helping me out for this picture. I pushed on.

Not much further down the road is another nice arch. There was no space to get a proper picture, but the sun was cooperative.

As I hiked down the trail, it split off into various side trails leading to various arches. I chose these side trails at random and ended up arriving at one at the same time as a middle-aged couple.

“Oh, let me get out of your shot,” I said, more as a way of telling them to get out of my shot than anything else.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “I’m not taking any pictures. We’re going to be here a while, we’re having lunch.”

“And wine,” his wife chimed in.

“But we’ll get out of your way.”

I was thankful that they got the hint and snapped my shots.

“You must have planned this,” I prompted them. People don’t usually bring wine out on day hikes.

“Oh yeah, we come out here twice a year, spring and fall, and stay for a few days at a bed and breakfast in Moab. Been doing it for five years now, we’ve gotten to be good friends with the people there.”

“Sounds amazing”

“Yeah, and every time there is something else to see. Like this. We’ve never been to this arch before, so here we are, having wine and cheese.”

She offered me a string cheese. She seemed to have plenty, so I took it and offered my thanks. I never bring anything to eat on these hikes. It’s probably bad idea.

After a while, the conversation mellowed out and I moved on, thanking them for the cheese and wishing them well.

The hike wound through the devil’s garden, making sure to offer views of all of the available arches.

At the furthest point from the park, I found I had nearly full cell service. I opted to call my friend who had been worried about me the night before.

She had been to Arches before and knew right where I was. During the conversation, I started on my hike again. The call ended itself without warning. I guess this was to be expected, the tower I was using was probably some distance away.

I had my 2 liter camelback water container on my back the whole time. The biggest problem I have with it is that I start to drink out of it unconsciously whenever the hike gets a little boring. This means I go through it faster than I should and I always run out of water. Remember that I also didn’t bring any food.

It was now about 1 or 2 in the afternoon and I hadn’t eaten since that MRE I had for breakfast. I was out of water and getting thirsty and I was in the middle of the desert.

Of course, I make this sound all more dangerous and risky than it really was. It was only a 7 mile hike.

I got back to my campsite and made myself a tuna fish sandwich, ate it, a can of soup, and a can of peaches.

I figured I could either go see delicate arch at sunset, supposedly the best time to see it, or I could take a nap.

I took a nap.

After I woke, I built another fire that took me two tries. The first time I guessed wrong as to what kind of kindling I should use. I couldn’t even get the smallest sustained flame. On my second try, the grasses ignited my alternate kindling (another type of bush) perfectly.

I spent the rest of the evening writing by the fire.

::Discuss::Permanent link

The Beginnings of Rock Fatigue

Delicate Arch was still something to see. It is the most famous arch in the world, after all.

The hike isn’t terribly long and it was entirely deserted shortly after sunrise, as I hiked up to it. The morning sun felt great and I felt pretty good. I couldn’t help but feel a little burnt out on rocks though. A couple of times I considered turning around and taking a picture of the amazing landscape that was behind me, but I simply couldn’t bring myself to do it. It wasn’t as amazing as the Canyonlands or as the Devil’s Garden that I had just left.

I can certainly see why Delicate Arch is an evening view formation. The side that is easy to see is in shadow in the morning. Still, the shadow did help to make an interesting picture.

I crawled about on the sandstone to try to get pictures from different angles, but I couldn’t really get anything. I was just about to leave when I noticed my shadow. This shot simply wouldn’t be possible in the evening.

Also, I’m sure that the evening is filled with onlookers whose shots I would be disturbing by standing under the arch like this.

As I hiked out, I passed three or four small groups of people that were headed up to see the view.

My next stop was the Monument Valley. This is probably the most famous part of Utah. It is featured in nearly every big budget “western” movie including The Searchers, How the West Was Won, and Back to the Future III.

The sheer rock sprouting out of the flat desert is remarkably impressive. I enjoyed snapping some pictures of it.

I was not the only one. I’ve never seen so many photographers in one place at one time before. Most of them had big expensive cameras. I think I saw a Hasselblad among the lineup over there.

What was most interesting to me is the way they were all facing. No one was taking pictures of the sunset. Maybe I just don’t understand enough about photography. I mean, That ledge does provide a great view.

Personally, though, I find this to be the shot.

Or maybe it was this.

I was definitely experiencing some rock fatigue. In the past few days I’ve seen a lot of rocks, and some amazing formations of dried ancient undersea geology. Here were some more rocks, and they were still amazing.

I was dying for some real face to face human contact, something that I haven’t really had since I’d switched from couch surfing to camping back in Santa Fe (and Austin, really).

I wandered about the campground and tried to interest some of the other campers in a conversation. Everyone was solo.

“Hi” I’d open.

“Uh.” They’d grunt in response.

“Beautiful evening.”

“…” In other words, “go away.”

I eventually retired to my car to try to write a little.

Instead I ended up just playing a game on my computer to try to spark a little interest. I ended up falling asleep at about 7:30.

::Discuss::Permanent link

It's passion, plain and simple

“Drunk as I am, it’s amazing. I saw him once in ’90. And here he is in 2007.” Neil reached out and touched Boxer for what might be the 100th time of the evening. He touched the dog the same way a believer might tentatively touch the Shroud of Turin. A tentative touch, as if Boxer might disappear the moment he made contact with it. His speech continued. “I fought for him. I bled for him. And I did bleed for him. And here he is. Sitting on my kitchen counter.”

Sitting on his kitchen counter. It wasn’t the first time he’d noticed this. After all, Boxer had been sitting there since I’d arrived in the mid afternoon, many beers, many stories, a cigar, and a couple shots of tequila ago.

How weak I’ve been. I allowed myself to lose faith. I’ve worked so hard to find alumni. To hear these stories. To see this passion. And I lost interest after 15000 miles.

This man is letting me stay in his house. This man made me dinner. This man bought me beer. He does it because I’m a brother. The fact that I brought Boxer is simply a bonus.

A bonus he cannot believe. Boxer, his symbol of College Spirit, is sitting on his kitchen counter. He cannot believe that. Our conversation has moved on. He still reaches out to touch Boxer tentatively. It’s as if this time, the 101st touch, Boxer will disappear. This time Neil will wake up. It’s as if he might wake up and College Spirit was never on his kitchen counter.

I’ve run out of methods of transferring this reverence. I’ve run out of ideas to try to spark the energy. The words, “How could I live with myself if not for another picture of the Boxer dragon in front of Mount Rushmore,” continue to echo through my head.

The sentence tells me that not only are students tired of my trip, they don’t even understand what it means. The sentence tells me they aren’t even interested enough to read the accompanying article explaining why there are pictures in front of Mount Rushmore. It tells me they don’t understand why it matters. What’s more, they don’t want to understand. They don’t care.

15000 miles hasn’t made them care.

Of course it hasn’t. Why should it? My passion is not their passion. They have papers and projects and love lives and other important things to worry about. The passion of some alumni who wants to bring to them the passions of other alumni is completely irrelevant. In fact, my passions simply fill their student newspaper with mindless drivel and useless pictures of Boxer in front of Mount Rushmore.

But that’s just it. I can’t stop. People noticed. Some people were pissed. People talked about it. Some people talked about Boxer. A few people did, even if most are ignorant. I shouldn’t stop now. I won’t stop now. I can’t stop now.

I can’t be out of ideas. There must be some way of making students realize that this matters. There must be some way of making “Boxer” into “the Spirit of all the College” once again.

Goddamnit I will not give up. I will find that spirit. I will make Boxer matter. I don’t know how, but I will find a way.

Boxer is College Spirit, and forever shall he be.

::Discuss::Permanent link

2 days to Civilization

I woke up to this.

I mean that quite literally. As soon as the sun peaked around that mesa, it hit me right in the eyes. I’ve been sleeping in my car since grass does not exist in the desert. My car has large windows and no shutters. Then again, I suppose if I wasn’t even in my car the sun would be worse.

After snapping some pictures of the sun rising over the mesas, I decided that I wasn’t going to go on the $60 “behind the scenes” mesa tour with a guy named Dean. Instead, I wanted to move on. I had this bored impatient feeling in the back of my mind.

I headed towards Flagstaff. I needed a new UV filter for my camera, breakfast, an internet connection, and gas. My waitress for breakfast was apparently Ms. North Carolina, though I didn’t find this out until just before I left. She was cute and efficient.

The only camera shop I could find was a chain joint in a mall. The guy helping me out was clueless. I asked him what the difference was between a double-coated UV filter, a haze reduction UV filter and why I should get one.

“Well, you see,” he began, “the double-coated UV filter is double-coated for better UV filtering performance.”

Holy shit. Really?

He went on. “The haze reduction UV filter is more designed to reduce haze.”

UV filters have 2 purposes. One is to reduce haze. The other is to act as a clear lens cap. I was replacing it because my previous one had given its life performing as the latter. Every lens that can support a filter should have at least a UV filter on it at all times, they are simply too cheap and too effective to not be used. Any person working in a photography store should know this.

I should be generous. I’ve worked retail at a shop like this. You aren’t really trained in everything. You are sent out on the floor and are told to read the packages to customers in an attempt to sell them what you want. At least he was courteous and entertained me. I don’t even remember which one I bought.

I also checked out the prices of getting prints of digital photographs. 8x6 prints are $.50. 10x8 prints are $5.00.

While I was in Moab, I discovered that Best Western Inns do not secure their wireless Internet. I found one in Flagstaff nd asked if I could use it. The manager hemmed and hawed for a bit before saying I could go ahead.

Getting gas was entirely uneventful, however expensive.

I also called ahead to Vegas and finalized my plans. I would be arriving on Friday and it was now Wednesday. I had two more nights of camping and I would be back to civilization.

I got back on the road and headed vaguely towards the Grand Canyon. I figured I’d find a camping spot sooner or later.

The first place I found looked interesting enough. It was Lee’s Ferry in the Glen Canyon. I figured it was a good final stop before I headed to the Grand Canyon.

It wasn’t. I had already paid for my camping spot before I realized that this canyon, however beautiful, could not stand up to the amazing things I had seen the past few days.

It appeared that it was pretty much just a boat ramp and fisherman’s hangout. I wandered down a trail for a little while before getting bored and heading back to my car.

I was so bored that I fell asleep at about 6 PM.

Then I woke up.

At 1:00 AM.

After 7 hours of sleep.

I was not tired and not happy. I was bored and stuck. Well, not stuck, really. I could leave.

So I did. I drove to the Grand canyon at 1 AM.

I have strange memories of this drive. I was in a sort of a daze. I only passed a couple of cars going the other way and encountered none going my way. The moon was now just a crescent and had long since set, leaving the night to darkness without it’s enchanting glow.

At one point, a rabbit darted out in just front of my car. He might have just made it across my lane, but he panicked and turned back. It was a decision that ended in a sickening crunch. I’d never hit anything larger than a bug before. It was not pleasant. It certainly did not improve my mood.

An hour or so later on I passed a deer by the side of the road. I do not so much remember seeing the deer as I remember remembering the deer. I’ve got this nightmarish vision of her head floating in the darkness, her body disappearing into a dark mist by the side of the road. Her huge eyes glowing a yellowed waning moon in reflection of my headlights.

It wasn’t much further on that mist began to give the road the appearance of floating on nothing. It settled mostly below the roadway on both sides. All I could see was the road, long, straight, and disappearing into the same dark mist in front of me. The sides of the road had thin fringes of weak dried grass that appeared to slope quickly downwards and away.

I’d never been on this road before. I had no idea what was down there. I had no idea if it was a huge cliff or a small bluff. I had no idea what would happen if I fell off the road.

I just remember it passing continuously in hazy repetition.

When I finally reached the Grand Canyon state park, this little illusion did not improve upon itself. The rangers were burning. Regularly dotting the sides of the road were unattended fire pits glowing and flickering through their own smoke and the settling mist.

Eventually I got to the campsite and passed out in an unattended stall, hoping that I wasn’t going to be rudely awakened by a ranger asking why I hadn’t paid anything.

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Stupendously Grand

The deep rumbling of the headlights shook my car.

A large engine was idling at the campground before mine.

I hadn’t paid.

I was in my sleeping bag. My car was off. My shoes were in the…in the… they were somewhere that wasn’t on my feet.

The sky was beginning to brighten on the horizon off to the east.

The noise grew slowly louder. As headlights approached, the truck began to take shape. It coasted slowly towards my site. I readied my explanation for why I was there without any kind of permit.

As it came by, I looked at its side panels for the park ranger logo.

There wasn’t one.

He drove on without any incident. I was awake for the second time that morning.

It was time to go explore the Grand Canyon.

I left the campground before I realized I had no idea where the Grand Canyon actually was. I knew I had passed a couple of scenic views on the way in, but I didn’t know what was further down the road. I turned around 3 total times before I finally settled on which way to go.

I eventually found myself at a parking lot with an arrow that said Grand Canyon views, that way.

Only a short hike later I found myself at this point.

If someone held a gun to my head and asked me to describe the Grand Canyon in one word, I would probably stutter out “Grand,” simply out of confusion for why someone was committing such a crime for such a stupid point.

Other words that now come to mind are “stupendous,” “enormous,” and “amazing.” I’ve also got “gregarious” stuck in my head, but I don’t think that’s a good description of the Canyon.

“It’s a remarkable view, eh?” He pronounced “eh” as the letter “a” is pronounced. As a Canadian might stereotypically end every sentence, though this didn’t occur to me until later.

“It sure is. It’s breathtaking.” I replied. He, a gentleman in what I would guess would be his 60’s, and I were both standing out at the point taking pictures. Behind us was a young couple about my age sitting there just watching the sun rise over the canyon.

This canyon can cure any amount of rock fatigue. It is so immensely stupendous, so stunningly enormous, so deeply amazing, so … grand that it will impress any viewer. Period.

Shortly after the sun peeked over the far reaches of the canyon, the eldest of our group headed back up the trail. With a “have a good day, eh?” he parted.

As the sun continued to rise, I struck up a conversation with the couple seated on a little rock outcropping above me. We began by comparing notes as to which canyons and sights we had been to.

I mentioned how disappointed I was with the Glen canyon and they thanked me, as they had been planning to go up that way. I recommended Arches and the camping spot I went to near the Canyonlands.

They had just come from Zion national park and highly recommended it to me. They mentioned the best trail, said it was great even though her fear of heights almost made them turn back.

“But you’re sitting up on a rock outcropping on an overlook with no fence between you and the Grand Canyon,” I protested.

“This isn’t bad,” she said.

I now had a really strong desire to go do this hike she mentioned.

“Zion is most expensive place we’ve been” she warned, “Not like here, where camping is free.”

I felt a little silly at that. I guess I didn’t need to worry about being caught at all.

“The National Park pass has really helped us out though,” he continued for her. National Park pass. That would have been a good idea. I had thought about it before. It’s an $80 pass that gets you into nearly every national park for free. Usually I just passed it off as being for the sort of person who was going around the country visiting national parks.

The fact that I was doing just that hadn’t occurred to me until he mentioned it.

Oh well.

I told them I was from Oregon, 15000 miles into a road trip. They mentioned they were from the eastern border Canada. They were spending a few weeks visiting a friend in Portland and were driving around to see all of the sights on the western seaboard.

Before I headed to Zion, I wanted to hike down into the canyon. I remember when I was really young, my dad had mentioned that you could hike down inside it. At the time I had begged him to take me to the canyon so we could hike it, but he brushed me off saying, “After 20 steps you would be begging me, ‘Daddy will you carry me?’”

After a brief breakfast of a few random things (I found one cup o soup, one packet of oatmeal, and one spicy Thai noodle thing floating around in my trunk), I headed towards the first trail I found. The sign warned harshly against hiking alone and said you should always tell someone about your plans.

I tried to send a text to someone, but nothing went through, so I headed down the trail with just my usual 2 liters of water.

Hiking in the Grand Canyon sure is amazing. Or was it stupendous?

As soon as I realized I was going to be hiking down into that forest with the light shining through it, I picked up the pace. I wanted to snap some pictures of the crepuscular rays before the mist all burned off.

I didn’t really make it. This little bit of mist was the best I could do.

The trail I was on was 11 miles long, or a 22 mile round trip down to the Colorado River and back. I’m sure I could have made it if I were prepared.

I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t even have any water purification methods with me. I couldn't do the whole trip. It really shouldn't be done alone anyway.

Of all the places I’ve been on this trip, there is no place I’d rather come back to than the north rim of the canyon to do this hike properly.

When I decided to turn back, it wasn’t the distance that I had hiked that worried me. After all, I was only 2 or 3 miles in. It was the distance down that I had traveled, the distance back up that I still had to go.

I had started on the rim of this canyon. That white peak jutting out there in the middle is where I had taken the canyon overview picture earlier.

Some of the switchbacks on the canyon are steep enough that most other trails would make switchbacks out of them, if that makes any sense.

There is a tunnel in the trail. I’m not sure whether or not it is natural, but it does act like a perfect frame.

It was kind of fun looking back down on the way up. The mist had burned off, so the view was considerably greater. You can see the bridge down in the valley, shortly before I had turned around. You can see the tree out on the ledge that looks like it is high up on a bluff in the picture from below, but now looks like it is just a little toy.

Hiking in the Grand Canyon is perhaps the most amazing because of how the rocks change with the depth. Each time the rocks change, there is a sign explaining what era this particular layer of limestone, sandstone, or shale is from. Each erodes at a different speed, so any quick drop-offs, like the one where the mist became thick, are different layers. I believe that drop-off is where Redwall Limestone begins. The next layer is shale, and that’s where the springs begin. See, the water trickles down through sandstone and limestone, but can’t through shale, so it slowly seeps along the top of the shale until it comes out in a spring.

I made it (some of the way) down and all the way back out again and I never asked my daddy to carry me, however nice it might have been.

When I got to the top, there was an older gentleman there. He asked about the hike and I showed him pictures. We discussed the difficulties of the full 22 mile round trip, and whether or not it was a 2-day or a 1-day hike. I was strongly in favor of considering it as a 2-day even though 1-day might be possible. Although he began by arguing the contrary, he agreed with my points that it would be better to relax by the Colorado at the campsite down there for a night and enjoy the hike back up than push too hard and not see as much.

We also discussed our trips. He had just come down Canada through Bryce Canyon. He highly recommended it because the colors were so beautiful there.

He went back to his car to prepare for taking the hike the next day and I went back to get some noontime pictures at the overlook.

As I hiked down to it, another elderly gentleman mentioned in passing, “mumble, mumble, south rim, eh?” he pronounced eh in the stereotypical Canadian fashion like the other gentleman had.

I pressed him to repeat what he had said.

“It’s better than the south rim today, eh?”

“Why is that?” I asked, “I haven’t been over there.”

“It’s so crowded you can barely see the canyon. Completely full up.”

“Interesting, thanks.”

It was interesting. The south rim was almost entirely full of tourists while the north rim, here, appeared to only be populated by a few Canadians. The view was clearer, if nothing else. The center canyon, pictured running towards the upper right hand corner, points almost exactly at the north rim viewing area. I don’t think they have THAT much better of a view. I’ll stick with my Canadians.

Well, I would, if I was staying in the park. I wasn’t. I was headed towards Zion.

I got to Zion in a much better mood than I had been in the past few days. I had one more night to stay in the woods, then I would be in Las Vegas with some frat brothers.

I must admit, I was stunned when I came into Zion. I didn’t really know what to expect. Unlike the names of every other park, Mesa Verde, Arches, Canyonlands, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, the name Zion is entirely non-descriptive. Therefore I propose that the name of Zion be changed to “Awesome Canyon.” It’s a much better self-descriptive name.

I didn’t really stop to take any pictures. Many of these things are tough to take pictures of. There are just sheer colorful rock cliffs everywhere about.

I arrived at the park in the evening and picked out a camping spot. I even paid a couple of extra bucks to get one that had power, so I could entertain myself all evening.

It was about 45 minutes until sunset, so I headed towards a 1-mile hike towards the “hidden canyon.”

It excited me because it warned that people afraid of heights should avoid the trail. They weren’t kidding.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures of the “hidden canyon” that were of any quality. Apparently there is an arch at the end of it, but it was starting to get dark and the hike wasn’t one to try without plenty of light.

It was a good day.

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What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Well, except for pictures. Pictures are fun.

Oh, by the way. Playing slots with Boxer on the seat will not win you millions of dollars.

Unfortunate, that.

I could use millions of dollars.

Instead I lost about $6.50.

::Discuss::Permanent link

Is it?

“Is Oregon home?”

“Huh?” I had a can of peaches in my hand. I was all prepared for the question I had expected. That wasn’t it.

She gestured at my license plate. “Is Oregon home?” she repeated.

“Oh, um, uh.” This is a remarkably difficult question. At this moment my car is what I call home. My license plate says Oregon, my driver’s license says California, my parents live in California, my last official residence was Oregon, and my road trip isn’t technically over until I get to Oregon. I want to go back to Oregon soon, but I may be spending a lot of time in California. I’m registered to vote in Oregon. My car is registered in Oregon. My life and car insurance is registered in California. I don’t know where home is.

The question was being asked in California, so I stuttered out, “uh, no, California is home.”

“Ok” she smiles.

“Any fresh fruit, live plants, or animals?” That was the question I was waiting for. California has strict rules regarding the import of fresh fruit and live plants to avoid importing the diseases these plants and fruit can carry.

I finally had my chance to give my prepared comment, “Not unless you count…” She waved me through and wasn’t even paying attention when I lamely finished with “a can of sliced peaches.”

I’m unsure what to write about Southern California. It’s kind of the end of my trip in any real sense. Instead of scrounging places to stay from tenuous relations, I’m staying with my parents and grandparents. They kind of have to take me in.

I think I’m going to skip the whole thanksgiving and lead up to it.

There was one major event that I will cover though.

I went to my grandfather’s house.

The problem is that it wasn’t there.

This happened when I was in Alabama. The wildfires swept through Southern California in wind driven firestorms that caused millions upon millions in damage. My grandparent’s saw the fire coming down on the other side of the hill, as they had many times before. Usually it won’t make it across the freeway. It is a big freeway.

This time though, this time they heard from a neighbor than it had skipped the freeway and was burning up the hill. Rather than wait for an evacuation order that may come too late, they packed up the cats and a few papers into the car and drove off to stay with some family.

They didn’t really take it seriously. If they had they would have been a little more discriminating with what they took. They would have actually thought about what their house might look like when the fire was done.

It was remarkable what happened to different things. Porcelain and granite lost all of their strength. The toilet and the countertops could each be crumbled in one hand. Anything that was paper, like the files in the file cabinet, just became a charred stack of flimsy material.

A lot of damage was obviously just from heat. The glass in the dishwasher melted. The jars were all misshapen and flattened. The only things that survived were the chimney, the tile shower, the tiles behind the potbellied stove, and the propane tanks. Oh, and a couple of plastic chairs that somehow got out of the fire.

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A conclusion, I promise, eventually.

It is often said that dreams are tool for the brain to sort out and file its memories.

In much the same manner, the hours of attentive repetition driving presents acts as a wonderful tool for the brain to sort out its emotions and thoughts.

After several hours of driving, I was often able to just sit at the keyboard and let the words flow onto the page.

Now that I'm not driving, I'm finding it much more difficult to get my ideas onto the paper. I've started several times, only to give up and erase what I've written.

I'm trying to write a conclusion, I promise.

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Sixteen Thousand Seven Hundred and Sixty Six Miles

What happens when you drive sixteen thousand seven hundred and sixty six miles to nowhere?

When the place you arrive is the same as the place you leave?

When you find what you sought because that was nothing?

When you are the same but the world isn’t?

When you have changed but the world hasn’t?

When you’re not sure which is which?

When, of all the places you have ever called home, none is?

You keep on.

Because anywhere you go, home becomes.

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I went to my Grandfather's funeral yesterday.

Archie, J Hicks Jr. Newspaper Printing Pioneer, Entrepreneur passed away on May 4, 2008

"I'll be right up," Archie told his kids. But he had a difficult time leaving his work to be on time for dinner. We nicknamed him 'I'll be right up,' says his daughter Anne. Archie loved his work, his employees, being involved in the pressroom, running and building a business his way. Archie thrived on being out in front and finding a way to make it work, even if it was risky. He worked hard and invested himself completely in his vision.

Archie was a gifted "builder." He loved to visualize and create a solution be it mechanical or process and doing whatever it took to achieve success. He enjoyed working closely with his staff. They were more than employees, they were his second family.

A pioneer in the newspaper industry, Archie was not satisfied with just publishing a newspaper, so he developed a small commercial printing side of the business using offset printing technology. As a result of his knowledge of offset printing, he was approached by the Goss Company, the largest manufacturer of newspaper presses in the world, and offered an opportunity to partner with them to revolutionize newspaper printing technology. A classic entrepreneur, Archie saw the potential to be a leader in the industry. Then the largest producer of typesetting equipment in the world, Mergenthaler Linotype came on board to work with Archie to develop the first electronic typesetting for newspapers. A gutsy move for a small town operator. Archie had to develop a commercial printing business to support this expensive move and he did. Archie made it work. The little weekly Encinitas Coast Dispatch newspaper became a model for the future in the mid 1950's. Publishers visited his plant from around the world---India, Sweden, Canada, Mexico, South America, Jamaica, and Africa and of course from all over the USA. The technology was complex and so, even with translators, a lot of head scratching and hand gestures ensued. 25 years later, all the major newspapers in the world converted to the technology that Archie Hicks helped pioneer. The US State Department called Archie in 1979 and asked him to go to El Salvador and the Philippines to assist them in converting to the new technology. Continuing his leadership in the industry, in 1966 Archie rose in the ranks to become President of the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the major trade association for the state's newspaper industry. Attending his inauguration were then-Governor Ronald Reagan and Billy Graham. While President of CNPA he sailed on an atomic submarine, the Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier and sat in the pilot's seat of a PTV-5F early warning plane during a flight on the DEW line over Alaska.

During the 1970's Archie also developed business models and processes that saved the U.S. government and many of the State's University school districts hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.

Archie was a third-generation graduate of the University of Southern California. His involvement with USC didn't stop with his graduation. He was an avid USC Football fan indoctrinating is children at an early age into the USC tradition attending games and being on campus. After his kids graduated from USC, Archie increased his involvement and served on the Board of Governors of the School of Journalism at USC. He lived for USC football and attended every game he could.

Archie was active in community affairs, especially in Carlsbad, where he lived from 1977 to 1987. He served as President of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce in 1982 and worked with Bob Nielson as Co-Chair of the Carlsbad Downtown Merchants Association. Archie loved to be active, create and build. He designed and built trains, furniture, homes, and his business. He enjoyed the ocean, fishing, riding horseback, playing golf and tennis and was an avid reader of mysteries. He loved people -- his family, his friends, his special poker buddies and people he interacted with in his daily life. His wife Terry remembers him as a very gracious man who loved telling stories and making people laugh. Archie also enjoyed elegant gourmet dining especially if an orchestra played big band dance music. Archie loved to dance the Lindy and the shag.

Archie was born October 15, 1917 in Long Beach, California. As a young child he grew up in Palmdale, Tehachapi, Arcadia and then Encinitas where his family owned the local newspapers. The Hicks family bought the Encinitas Coast Dispatch in Oct. 29, 1929 and moved to Encinitas. At the time, Archie was in sixth grade at Encinitas Central School. There were three boys and seven girls in his class. There was no high school in Encinitas in the early 1930's so Archie and his classmates, Tom and Bob Cozens and Jack Harrington attended Oceanside High School. He played football and swam for Oceanside High as well as participating as a thespian in school plays.

Archie was an excellent swimmer, competing for Oceanside High and for the Del Mar Plunge team and he worked as a lifeguard at Del Mar. He earned a full-ride water polo scholarship to USC. Following his family heritage, in 1940 he was the third generation in his family to graduate from USC with a degree in Business. At USC he belonged to Phi Sigma Kappa social fraternity and Skull and Dagger honorary society. In October 1940 Archie married Faye Moore. In 1941, immediately after Pearl Harbor, Archie enlisted in the Navy, attended Columbia University Officer Candidate School and entered the war as a lieutenant bound for the South Pacific as a skipper of a "sub-chaser."

After WWII Archie returned to Encinitas to enter the family newspaper business and start his family.

During the 1960's Archie expanded his newspaper group by purchasing the Del Mar Surfcomber and Rancho Santa Fe Times. In the 1970's he purchased the Carlsbad Journal and began publishing Civilian Enterprise Military Newspapers. During the late 1960's his son Bob and daughter Anne graduated from USC, continuing the tradition. Bob joined him in the business in 1968, running the newspapers while Archie branched out to develop new commercial printing opportunities. The family newspapers were all perpetual state award-winning publications.

In 1985 Archie married Terry Buescher on a cable car in San Francisco, eventually settling on an Avocado ranch in Fallbrook. He retired in the late 1970's and continued with his latest commercial printing enterprise, typesetting college publications until his death.

Archie and Terry very much enjoyed traveling and visited China, New Zealand, Australia, New Orleans, Fiji, Hawaii, and Hong Kong and spending time on their Fallbrook ranch with family and friends.

He is survived by his wife Terry, son Bob (and wife Cathy), daughter Anne (and husband Dave), stepdaughters Linda (and husband Mike) and Tracy (and husband Michael); grandchildren Summer, Skot, Hunter, Dean, Richard, Mary, Danielle, Mikey, Scott and Deanna; and great grandchild Skylar.

A one hour audio track from the funeral can be found by clicking here.

Click the "watch this Episode" link below to watch an upbeat slideshow showing images from his life.

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