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Middlebury, Vermont

Atlanta, Georgia

July 19, 1996
1996 Summer Olympics

It's not actually July 19, 1996 as I write this, however that was the day I went to the Olympics' Opening Ceremonies with my grandma. We got front row tickets in the lottery and were within feet of all the excitement and close to Muhammad Ali as he lit the Olympic flame.

After the Opening Ceremonies, we spent the week going to as many events as possible, many of which we knew nothing about and had little to no interest in the sport, but the atmosphere was fantastic. We attended everything from fencing to track, water polo to soccer; anything that appealed to us or to any event we could get tickets. What makes the Olympics so entertaining is not the competition (although that helps), but the people present in the city. There are people from every country, speaking every language, it's like a microcosm of the planet... or at least a microcosm of the people in the world with money who are interested in the Olympics, but that's about as close as it comes to bringing the world together.

The Olympics are a time to set our difference aside and join together as one people, which is, after all, who we are. I don't understand how once the Olympics end, people start fighting again, or perhaps a better question is why the Olympics stop the fighting. Whatever the reason, the Olympics were a blast.

*    *    *

Middlebury, Vermont

June-August, 2001
Summer School

I made an oath that I would only speak Russian for the duration of my stay at Middlebury: ten weeks. That includes time in the classroom, in the student union, on campus, in the dorms, and even if we leave campus entirely. This single rule is what makes the program so successful, so it is taken seriously, so seriously that if you speak any other language and get caught three times you will be expelled. Of course you can talk to family and friends on the phone in English, however even that is strongly discouraged as is all communication via e-mail.

Everyone must live in the dorms and each school (Russian, Mandarin, Arabic, Japanese, French, Spanish, German, and Italian) gets a dorm for themselves; we were in Gifford, which sits atop a hill next to Mead Memorial Chapel. The professors also live in the dorms, so cheating on your oath becomes more improbable.

At lunch we all eat together in the dining area, each school gets the hall at a certain point. Students in our school serve us, all food is listed only in Russian and our professors help the student staff communicate with the cooks by acting as translators.

Courses are intense; each class only consists of about 6-8 students and we have courses from 9:00am until noon, at which time we eat, then spend at least 5-6 hours studying and doing our homework for the next day.

The program works due to Middlebury's isolation. This isolation adds to the beauty of the campus, but also become a mental challenge not easily overcome. The town of Middlebury has little to offer, so most of my time was spent at the union or at the track and student exercise facilities.

The union made fantastic smoothies and had incredible sweet potato fries. It didn't take long before this became my new home as my classmates and I would study, play pool, and relax.

I got most of my frustration out by running; shorter runs on the track, then a workout in the nearby weight room and at other times just running as far away from town as I could manage, before I was threatening myself with getting lost so turned around and headed back.

The area is gorgeous; on one run I found a couple wooden bridges crossing the river much like a New England painting would portray. The mountains are covered with evergreens and look like giant rolling green hills, hence the name Vermont (green mountain).

One of the requirements of the program is that we all must participate in an extracurricular activity ranging from sowing, drama, cooking, to my choice, soccer. Each weekend our team would play another school in soccer; our only chance to interact with the other students at the college. However, we still couldn't communicate with them.

Much like the real world, the French school, Italian school, and Spanish schools dominated in soccer and our team was a sad group, however our school is much smaller and more nerd-filled. Like, pee-wee soccer, we rotated, giving everyone playing time, so whether you start or not depends on the week's rotation and either way, you'll probably play the same amount as everyone else. That helped the good players from not putting too much stock in winning and the poor players motivation to play hard.

While winning, or soccer for that matter, wasn't our strength, we seemed to get along well and every person in the school who was even half athletic (there's about 20 of us) played soccer, so after each loss we just sort of hung out and moved on. It just wasn't worth being competitive since there's no talent and no motivation; it was a school requirement for some and something to do for others, but still one of my highlights.

At times, each day seemed to drag into the next at Middlebury, however at other times it became apparent that I wasn't alone and friendships grew quickly and the bonds we formed seemed contradictory: we always had this experience, however didn't always want to talk about it once it was done.

While I made some great friends at Middlebury, there were a great number of people that were there for the prestige that comes with attendance at the college's language school. Prestige seems like too much work to me and I'm not good at name dropping, however some of the students dwelled on it and how good it would look on their resume; it was them that made the experience difficult.

Despite the good and bad people, we had people from everywhere. The Russian school only had about 100 people in it, but had students from Malaysia, Tanzania, Korea, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Columbia, Israel, France, and Norway.

My dorm's hall consisted of people from Oxford, Columbia (the country), Brown, Yale, Trinity, plus a professor and me... by academic-reputation, entrance requirements, and standing comparison, I was an unintelligent buffoon, but it mattered not.

When I enrolled here, my professor told me that you know you are near fluency when you start thinking and dreaming in the language you're studying and it was at Middlebury where he had his first dream in Russian. I think here everyone dreamt in Russian and we all thought in Russian; it was nearly impossible to not think and dream in Russian. The language consumed us and, like infants learning to speak, we had to find a way to communicate, so quickly learned what we had to.

Oh, and the sunsets from my dorm room were unreal...

Silver Lake, Vermont

June, 2001
Hiking with the Russophiles

We escaped Middlebury, however not from the people who occupy the campus. Our class, the second year Russian school took a day trip to Silver Lake for a hike and picnic. It was great to get outside and see the area, however we were still under oath, so had to speak Russian the entire trip.

For the first time since I started at Middlebury did I have the chance to completely detach myself from school as I snuck away, hiking around part of the lake, then just relaxing as I sat and stared out over the water. I released my mind of intelligent thought, then tried to release it from conscious thought, which I did quite successfully for a brief moment.

After the trip, I felt like a re-booted computer; I'm still in the same position, however I cleared my recent memory so was refreshed and moved a little quicker, but still knowledgeable enough to know my brain would soon be bogged down again so I had to enjoy it while I could.

New York, New York

July, 2001
Escape from Vermont

We've escaped Middlebury for a long weekend in New York City and have a great hotel in Manhattan with one of Natalia's friends. I feel like a child who's parents held him down, never allowing any freedom, then that child goes off to college and is overwhelmed and can't stop moving, exploring, questioning. Middlebury, Vermont is isolated and slow, while New York seems to be the complete antithesis.

We spent our entire trip just direction-lessly wandering around in awe, going to every landmark we had ever heard of: Times Square, Rockefeller Plaza, Central Park, Battery Park, Brooklyn Bridge, Wall Street, World Trade Towers, Empire State Building, 5th Avenue, Madison Avenue, Soho, Greenwich Village, NYU, Little Italy, China town, and on and on.

We also made it to less known sites including Brighton Beach, the Russian community in Brooklyn. The signs were all in Russian, the shops were all selling Russian items, the people spoke only Russian; it was a small part of Russia in the U.S. Since we're all in a Russian emersion program in Middlebury, we were half delighted that we could easily communicate, but half enraged that we were still speaking Russian when we could be speaking English (although that's against the school rules).

The trip left me in awe and the highlight was definitely the views from the Empire State Building.

*    *    *

Seattle, Washington

August, 2002
Emerald City

On paper, Seattle sounds perfect: on the water with the mountains nearby, however the people seem to be surviving work only to reach the weekend. I've been told the rain wears on people and there is a lot of depression here, however there is also a lot of enthusiasm for the outdoors, which I thought would make it livelier.

The city, however did little for me. I felt the people were tired and sleepy due to the overcast skies so turned to coffee to constantly remain upbeat and perky until it became an addiction and later a way of life.

The space needle provides great views while the roads and traffic provide headaches. The appeal for me is the accessibility to the outdoors, not the city itself. It's not a bad place, but the nearby mountains, water, and national parks are the highlight.

Mt. Rainer, Washington

August, 2002
Paradise on Mt. Rainer

We stayed at a place called Paradise Inn, on the mountain itself. The room my brother, Brent and I shared had two beds and a sink, I immediately called the bed by the window and when I was in bed, I could see the mountain perfectly. Brent, on the other hand, had a fantastic view of the sink, which he looked at for hours at a time.

The hotel didn't have any phones, televisions and only shared bathrooms and showers, which made one of my other brothers, Tyler verge on the border of a panic attack, until he made a joke of it; that didn't help him move on from those loses though.

Every day we would hike or take our car to a different part of the mountain; at nights we would gather in the hotel's great hall and listen to a park ranger talk about the mountain, the wildlife, forests, climbing, everything.

Mt. St. Helens, Washington

August, 2002
Mother Nature Wins

I couldn't take my eyes off of Mt. St. Helens. The museum was lost on me as were the other tourists. The size of the mountain and the pure devastation that it caused is almost incomprehensible.

It was here, for the first time that I realized the power and domination of this planet. We are but passing ants on the earth's surface; from a distance we are all the same, seemingly running in all sorts of random directions, however together can influence and change the planet. Unfortunately, we often times gather together to change it for our benefit, to use it, but in the end the planet will still win.

San Juan Islands, Washington

August, 2002
"Enjoy the Whales!"

That's how our concierge sent us off after helping book a whale watching tour. He was a rather large man, suppressing his personality until the tour was booked, then he gave us a big grin, a thumbs up and that line "Enjoy the whales!" in a deep booming voice.

We got booked on a small boat since we had enough people for a more private tour and he thought we'd get along fine with the captain and whale watching guide, who we later discovered to be quite overly-excited.

Our small boat took on our entire family and we were greeted by a guy who clearly had spent the whole morning drinking coffee. After setting off from the harbor, he informed us that they have great luck spotting whales, however today they are far off and the chances weren't as good, but still decent.

As we rode towards the whales they continued to get further and further away so we eventually gave up and started finding porpoises for porpoise surfing. They get in front of or just under the boat and ride the current we create; they seemed to love it and they kept finding us. We stood on the bow of the boat and just stared into the water as we would have 2-4 of them nearly the entire time.

At times, we would stop to look at a bird or some other animal, however it was the porpoises and our guide that were the highlights. Our guide is on his way to Alaska... and has been for the past ten years. He apparently stopped in the San Juan Islands for the weekend and hasn't left since. He was full of stories and entertainment so even if we didn't see any animals we still would have been entertained.

As we left the boat, we asked our guide where to eat on the island and he said "anywhere but Vern's, you churn at Vern's." We thanked him and left... we ate at Vern's the night before, however we were all holding our dinners in just fine up to that point so didn't want to say anything to him.

We spent a couple days on the islands, however it was the fruitless whale watching that was the highlight, partly due to our guide and partly due to the natural beauty here.

Las Vegas, Nevada

August 31, 2002
Football & Gambling

As soon as you arrive at Las Vegas's airport, you are overwhelmed by the advertising, which boasts huge names in entertainment at every major casino. The commercial continues on the top of every taxi and through flyers being handed out to everyone who passes any street corner on "the strip."

Vegas seems to attract different types of people: those who love the rush of a gamble, those who want to feel important and be treated to reflect this, those who want to party, those who love entertainment, those who have a business meeting, and the group I fall into, those who go simply because they can. My roommates and I are all 21 now and the Badgers are playing UNLV so why not?

It takes about 10 minutes to lose $100 here unless you're playing poorly, then you should cut that time in half. I wanted to play slots, thinking that would extend the life of my money, but failed, then back to the tables for blackjack, which seemed to be the best way to continue my entertainment, although definitely not the most fun way. I like the rush of roulette... you hit and quadruple your winnings, you lose and it's gone quicker than you would believe is possible, but I soon came to realize blackjack is the best way to make the most time of my money.

By today, day three since I arrived, I decided to give up gambling. In a way, gambling is like paying for entertainment, plus there's a chance you might win money in return, but in another way, gambling is like lighting your money on fire.

Before heading to the Wisconsin-UNLV game, my roommates placed some money on it, of course betting on Wisconsin to beat the spread, then piled eight of us in a car and headed out to Sam Boyd Stadium.

Near the end of the game, the stadium's power went out and the stadium went black. It was bazaar and I've never heard of anything like that happening, considering there is probably a back-up power source, however they could only manage to get the back-up emergency lights on, so after a wait they called the game and gave Wisconsin the victory.

We hitch hiked home only to hear the beginning of rumors: the casinos were going to lose millions of dollars on the game if Wisconsin won by that margin and if they waited another two minutes the game would have been official. So, it was said, the casinos stole a car, crashed it into the main power barrier to cut power in the stadium with about seven minutes left so the game would not be officially finished, and hence all bets were off, which is exactly what happened.

I'm not much of a conspiracy theorists; but it is odd how the back-up generators didn't work and a driver hit probably the only place that would completely black out the stadium in a stolen car. I've never heard of a game, before or since, losing power and not being able to recover it so the game had to be called. None-the-less, it added to the atmosphere and story and Wisconsin walked away with a victory... welcome to Vegas!

*    *    *

Ann Arbor, Michigan

November 16, 2002
Big House

Ann Arbor is like one giant fraternity row and coming from a university at which many fraternities are looked down upon as "buying friends" it was culture shock. With the University of Michigan, comes a pride that you are now a part of a long-standing history.

The city and university are not representative of who I am; I simply didn't belong and have no interest in trying to belong, because I felt it takes a true effort to belong instead of finding your place. It felt like a giant business school and if that's where you want to be, then this is where you belong.

We went to the Wisconsin-Michigan game and the atmosphere in the Big House is less than big. Part of it is that there is no second level so noise just leaves instead of being echoed throughout the stadium, but another part is that students seem to be more about going than watching. It's like an image that you need to portray: that of a football fan; as if every freshman must take a class on how to be a Michigan football fan. The students don't seem to be football fans so much as being fans of being football fans.

Outside the student section there was a cross-section of fans from rich alumni to "average Joes" who just love Michigan football. Wisconsin had a chance to tie it near the end, but the disappointing season continued with a dropped pass in the end zone on 4th down.

The highlight (since Wisconsin lost) was a trip to the Big Boy for dinner, which was like any other diner. Big boys are all over the place here, however they went extinct in Wisconsin years ago, if they ever even made it that far west to begin with.

*    *    *

Boston, Massachusetts

May, 2003
Bean Town

I've been to Boston a number of times and love the atmosphere. It looks old and historic, yet the culture is very modern; more interested in the present and the pride that comes from their roots than the actual history itself.

The culture seems to be almost ultra-urban; as if most of the city's residents have never been to a rural area and only know city life. People, it seems spend most of their leisure time sitting in a bar or at Fenway socializing and their idea of a retreat from the city is to take a stroll in Boston Common as for many, their definition of "outdoorsy" is crewing on the Charles River.

I like Bostonians though, they are more realistic than most people and don't seem overly arrogant. Their pride comes from being a Bostonian and it seems everyone can trace their ancestry back to either Ireland or the Mayflower. This is their source of pride, which is difficult to overcome at first since I'm not from Boston and often times feel like I'm looked down upon. However you soon get beyond that and it seems there's little individual arrogance.

The people are passionate and refuse to accept defeat, while never losing faith in that which they believe. The Bruins, Sox, and Celtics are always supported no matter how bad they may be. The Patriots, however only gather a crowd in good times. It seems their loyalty to their sports teams symbolizes them as a people; in many ways it's what unites them and is a common topic of conversation. To switch allegiance to another sports team is almost looked upon as denouncing God Himself.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

May, 2003
Whale Watching, Round 2

We went on a whale watching tour, which guarantees you'll see whales. This was the second whale watching tour I've been on. The first had no guarantee, but said they see whales 99% of the time.

I'm batting 0 for 2 and joined the 1% club so get a free whale watching tour next time I'm in Provincetown. I don't think the whales like me, so agreed I'll never go on a whale watching tour with anyone ever again to help their odds of seeing whales.

*    *    *

Metropolis, Illinois

May, 2004

Metropolis, home of fictional superhero, Superman! What else can I say?

St. Louis, Missouri

May, 2004
Detour to the Arch

On our way back from Florida to Chicago, my brother Travis and I stopped in St. Louis for a two hour tour of the city and trip to the Arch. Fortunately the lines weren't too bad so we got tickets to go to the top of the arch a couple hours after arriving. We toured the information center during our wait, then headed up the tiny elevator to the top.

St. Louis looks nice from the top of the arch, but from here even East St. Louis, Illinois didn't look too bad, so obviously the vantage point distorted my view. It wasn't long before we were headed down to continue our trip to Chicago.

Springfield, Illinois

May, 2004
Land of Lincoln

Springfield seems to contrast Chicago to a great degree, yet it's Springfield that's the capital. Springfield is small and local, with a city block of buildings set aside to look and feel like it did when Abraham Lincoln called the city home. Outside this block however, the city moves at a leisurely pace, but not so slowly to bore a person. Something about Springfield is very appealing, although I can't quantify what it is. I feel the city would make a good home.

*    *    *

Bar Harbor, Maine

July 16, 2004
Bar Harbor & Acadia National Park

Bar Harbor and Acadia was the retreat for the East coast elite for years before it was made a national park. The area is beautiful, however also quaint. When something is "quaint" I usually get bored of it quite quickly due to my lack of patience and this was the case in Bar Harbor.

We drove to the top of the mountain in Acadia National Park, went on a lobster tour, visited a church with multiple Tiffany windows, then waited for our cruise ship to depart.

I took little from here other than a story about how there used to be so many lobsters in the ocean people would literally walk 10 feet into the ocean and rake them in. In fact a prison in Maine had a prisoner uprising because they got sick of eating lobster every day; lobster was poor man's food. I tried the local specialty, but placed it on my list of seafood preferences: none. I'll stick to my Midwestern roots of beef.

*    *    *

New York, New York

January 1, 2005
Ummm, Yeah, Not for Me

New York is not me. The people are too rushed, image seems too important, and connections are everything. There is no separation between personal and business lives, you live your job; your job is everything and climbing the proverbial "ladder" becomes an obsession, which is more important than happiness for many. They're always rushing in Manhattan but I'm not sure what they're rushing towards... a better job, a higher income, a nicer condo, car, neighborhood? They never seem to remove themselves from this rat race to enjoy that which they've earned or take a break to realize what they have, to appreciate it.

Once you pass the barrier into Manhattan many locals become robots, avoiding contact with others, only talking if approached, never distinguishing themselves, but rather blending in. This is ironic since most of these same people desperately try to climb the ladder, however very few are willing to be different, to stand out; they all try to distinguish themselves by working harder or longer, by making better connections. I believe the truly successful remove themselves from that mold and take a risk, but from my experience this is not the norm in Manhattan. In Manhattan you climb corporate ladders, rarely ever making your own ladder for others to climb. It seems hard work is rewarded more than creativity, but those willing to be creative may find themselves more successful and happier I would think.

New York, however has more than this, it has small communities and neighborhoods in and around Manhattan that boast unknown delis, restaurants, and bars. It's in these neighborhoods that make New York unique and that are more friendly, welcoming, and inquisitive. Here others will approach you, instead of you always making first contact. Time is not rushed; family, friends, and whatever culture is dominate in the neighborhood dictate their lifestyle. This is what makes New York so different, so unique, so attractive.

*    *    *

New Orleans, Louisiana

January 18, 2007
Jackson Square & all the Local Foods

I've heard that since Katrina, New Orleans hasn't been the same. In fact they were giving tours of the destruction for all to see and this seemed to be a bigger draw than the French Quarter for all who know the city.

I met one doctor who lives here and had his entire office wiped out. He lost all of his records, his office, and doesn't even know what happened to most of his patients, who he hopes left and just didn't return, but said realistically a couple must have died in the storm. He was fortunate enough to get out before the storm hit.

I met a few other people who lived in the city years ago, but have since left. They were drawn to the destruction tours and couldn't entirely comprehend what their city had turned into.

For me, the most striking things were the graves and the casino. All the tombs here are built above ground in giant stone coffins, since the land is so low the bodies would be washed away and into the city's drinking water if they were buried. Much of the city is like the Netherlands in that it's at or below sea level. The second thing that jumped out at me was the casino in town between the Mississippi River and the French Quarter. In most of the U.S., casinos are only allowed in Nevada or on Indian reservations, the latter is rarely in town, however here the casino had prime real estate right in the city itself.

I spent some time in the French Quarter, which has great character, however it's the people that give it atmosphere and, sure enough, by dinner time it was crowded; some people going out to dinner, others at a bar for the game or just talking about the building excitement for the Saints upcoming playoff game against the Bears (go Bears!).

New Orleans has an atmosphere and food that is so unique it, at times, feels like its own country. Cajun cooking is fantastic and while I was here I tried as much as I could: jambalaya, po-boy, gumbo and accidentally crawfish. The city's French Catholic roots come out in the cooking, which is based on the "holy trinity" of onions, green peppers, and celery... jambalaya is the winner in my book, although you really can't go wrong here in terms of food.

*    *    *

Los Angeles, California

February 17, 2007
Hippies, Pot Lolli-pops, & Police

I'm back in the L.A. area, this time Long Beach. The first time I was here was in 1994 for the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day. Christmas 1993 Santa didn't do well in the present giving and my brothers and I were each left with only a couple cheap gifts. My parents, however made up for the elves' laziness and gave us a trip to L.A. and tickets to the 1994 Rose Bowl. It was funny how my parents usually didn't give us any presents for Christmas, only Santa did, until 1993. Perhaps my parents knew Santa was going to go cheap on us so they decided to make up for him.

That first trip to L.A. had everything from Santa Monica, to Malibu, Long Beach, Hollywood, the Chinese Theater, Rodeo Drive, and of course the Rose Bowl parade and the game itself. Wisconsin won, all but putting it away with a drive near the end of the game, on which Darrell Bevell scrambled to his left for the longest run of his career, a 21 yarder for the game winner. Nothing in L.A. can compare to that, however each time I've been back since I seem to see something new and interesting.

My second trip was again for the Rose Bowl, this time the 2000 Rose Bowl. I went with my friend Tim and we stayed with his uncle and partner. They were incredible hosts and spoiled us rotten. Upon our arrival they gave Tim the keys to their BMW Z3 to have for the week and each night would order dinner in for us then would sneak out to fill the car with gas each night so we would have no expenses.

We occupied our time everywhere, but mostly in trying to navigate the city. One day we helped the city of South Pasadena make their float for the parade and on New Year's eve we went to Santa Monica to meet up with some friends... and it seems the rest of the Wisconsin fans in the city. Wisconsin again won the Rose Bowl and I again claimed the trip a success.

Back to the present today. There was a reggae festival in our hotel yesterday and I've never seen so many barefooted, marijuana-smokers in one place since reviewing footage of Woodstock. This morning the headline in the paper was that the police busted one of the biggest marijuana finds in recent memory. This is not a surprise considering the entire hotel reeked of marijuana and people were giving out "marijuana-flavored" lolli-pops to anyone who was willing to take one.

On the way out of town we went to John Wayne Airport and I felt like it was built in the 1960s and never renovated since, which added to the appeal. We ate at the restaurant there, which overlooks the landing strip. I felt like I was in an old movie waiting for my plane and soon I would be walking out on the runway to climb up the steps as we took off; our loved ones stood near the building waving to us as we left them behind. After going through security and entering the plane my fantasy disappeared.

*    *    *

San Diego, California

February 23, 2007
Rain in San Diego?

I've heard the weather is always perfect in San Diego and always rainy in Seattle. I've been to Seattle a couple times and it only rained for about five minutes once. It's been pouring in San Diego since I arrived yesterday, so I'll dismiss that stereotype.

Despite the rain, we headed into the gas lamp district for dinner and upon one of the downpours, we decided to eat at the closest place we could find; it was a Persian restaurant. I felt like I was in these people's home; the walls were covered with pictures of their family. The food also tasted like they had spent hours working on it, one of the best home-made meals every made. It was fantastic.

After dinner, we simple wandered around, not getting a truly in depth feel of the city, however a touch of it; plus I had to work the next day.

Phoenix, Arizona

February 26, 2007
Detour in the Desert

Well I'm in Phoenix. There was a snow storm in Milwaukee, so my flight was cancelled and we can't get another flight until Wednesday. There seems to be a decent number of people stranded considering most of the Midwest's airports shut down yesterday; we're staying on, what our cab driver calls "hooker's hollow" or "crack alley."

Yesterday after checking in to our hotel, we headed down to Tempe for dinner. The area is home to Arizona State University and seems to be overly concerned with image. We ran into one of my co-worker's friends from college and she said all people care about here is image. It seems obvious and while there's a lot of entertainment, the people I encountered have very different priorities than me.

Today I was a tourist, walking around downtown and hitting all of the sites mentioned in the brochures from the tour guide rack in the hotel. The city feels like a business center, which has plenty of work, however at night people retreat to their respective suburbs and the city goes quiet by 6:00pm.

Phoenix isn't bad, it's just not me. The highlight was eating at a place with a sign out front shaped like a giant longhorn steer's head. The food was good southwestern fair, the floors covered in sawdust, and the crowd real.

*    *    *

Tucson, Arizona

April 10, 2007
Architecture in the Sun

Tucson is hot, but I'm here and want to make the most of it so ventured out into the sauna.

The city feels like the people have been drained of all their energy in the sun or are hiding from it; the people move slowly, life seems to burrow in the shade and at times I questioned if the city had any life at all.

The architecture is very stereotypical southwest U.S. and the churches felt more "Mexican frontier town" than anything you find in the northern U.S.

For lunch I had what was once named one of the best meals in the country: el Charro's carne seca chimichanga. Its meat had a unique flavor. Good, but not one of the fifty best meals in the country.

*    *    *

Glacier National Park, Montana

June 1, 2007
Solitude in Pure Beauty

I've spent the past couple days in Glacier National Park. This time of year is a good time to go since there are almost no tourists so hiking trails are empty, but the "Going to the Sun Road" is not yet dug out.

There's not much to write about the park, when the pictures can convey my message much most accurately. I spent most of the past couple days hiking, relaxing, and doing little else, other than enjoying some of the best scenery I've ever encountered.

Marysville, Montana

June 1, 2007
Ghost Town

I hit the dirt trail heading west, seeking out a place called Marysville, a ghost town. Years ago the town sprang up due to a silver rush I believe and after it was a bust and dry there was nothing left to keep the people so they deserted the town.

There's not much to Marysville today other than a couple streets, abandoned buildings and random animals wandering the streets. The dirt road I took to get here had little as well. The 5 mile journey took nearly 20 minutes and when there was a car coming towards me, one of us would stop as the other passed on the narrow pathway.

Ghost towns say something about time and what was no longer is. The buildings seem well built so obviously when this was a town it had enough money to build with quality, however it also means there has to be nothing left here if they abandoned these buildings.

You quickly realize there's not much to do in a ghost town, but it draws and attracts me; every building is boarded up and no one's in town but you and the local from down the road passing by. I soon started my 20 minute journey back to a paved road, then on to Helena.

Helena, Montana

June 2, 2007
Ukrainian Wedding in the Village

I got into Helena yesterday, picked up my friend Paye from the airport, then headed off to Gruber and Yana's rehearsal dinner. Their wedding was small so they had their rehearsal dinner at a park, grilled out and invited everyone who was coming to the wedding.

After the dinner, Paye and I decided to try to navigate our way around Helena and find the state capital building without a map. We failed, however if we remained persistent I'm sure we would have found it within an hour. Helena is small and the capital building quite dominant in the city's skyline.

Today Gruber and Yana got married in true Ukrainian fashion, starting at about 10:00am with the paying of the dowry. Ukraine is quite mountainous in the west so is based more on village life than cities and with each mountain-side acting as a barrier every village has its own unique dialect, traditions, and culture.

When a man decides he's going to marry, he travels around the village, gathering up as many villagers he can find to support him. He then goes to his potential bride's house, supported by the villagers and shouts at the house requesting his bride. Of course the bride's father refuses and tells them to go away, but no Ukrainian man, or in this case former Ukrainian Peace Corps volunteer would accept that.

So the groom offers up money to the bride's father, as did Gruber and the father of the bride accepts the money, but sends out the ugly sister, or in this case the dog with a white veil. So he must up the ante and dishes out more money, but again is refused, in our case receiving his guy friend in a dress. Unlike myself, the groom wasn't disgusted by this and continued the bargaining until he emptied his wallet, the father surrendered and the bride, Yana emerged from the house.

A wedding wouldn't be Ukrainian without vodka, especially the home-made stuff that blinds people or the national favorite made of honey and spicy peppers, so shots of vodka were poured and distributed to each guest at the early hour of 10:00 or 11:00am. Once the vodka was gone, we all gathered in our cars and headed to the church, which in Ukraine would ideally just be down the street.

The wedding took place in English, Ukrainian, Russian, and Slovakian with translators present to help all those who weren't fluent in all four languages, which included everyone but the bride.

The wedding reception was at a ranch on a farm with a stream running through it. The scenery was better than any reception I've been to, the food excellent and Paye and I found good company with a guy formerly in the airline industry, who moved here to spend more time fly fishing.

During the reception the bride was stolen, again tradition and later returned upon Gruber's insistence that he did want to marry her and demanded that she be returned.

Nearing the end of the evening, the bride again left, however this time she left voluntarily. Yana returned in her everyday clothes, symbolizing the transition from single to married. In many ways, it almost felt like this was more important and significant than the wedding ceremony itself for Yana.

*    *    *

Fort Worth, Texas

July 29, 2007

Texas in July is not a good idea in case you're considering it.

Fort Worth was founded as a stop along the old route west from Dallas; one day's trip west by carriage. Today, however much of the town has been taken over by the growing city of Dallas; Fort Worth only retains its western outpost town feel if you have a very vivid imagination and strictly stay in the downtown area or the nearby stockyards.

Being my first time in Texas, I immediately headed across the street from my hotel to an authentic-looking barbeque restaurant called Risky's. The sign had a longhorn steer's skull on it and the tables were covered with red and white plaid tablecloths; I knew it had to be good. Every table had a few containers of homemade barbeque sauce and a roll of paper towels to serve as napkins. The waitress recommended a sampler plate and I was hungry so ordered it. After being served I noticed everyone eating with their hands, so joined in, soon losing the crowd beyond my plate, which took priority... and for good reason; it was incredible.

Most of my time in Fort Worth was consumed with meetings, however when I did manage to get out, I realized a weird culture which consists of seemingly confused people thinking they are modern-day cowboys, businesspeople, and a small group of extreme wealthy driving incredible cars, including one restaurant which had a Lamborghini on its curb, which hardly stood out parked beside the other clientele's cars.

*    *    *

Hartford, Connecticut

September 8, 2007
In Hartford with Friends

I met up with my friend Jim, who showed me the city. Hartford has an odd feel in that it's so close to New York City, however feels like a city you'd find anywhere in the country; much more laid back and less hectic than New York. I felt like it was New York's backwater, where the people who aren't interested in that rushed lifestyle can live and work at a much more peaceful pace. I really enjoyed my time here.

*    *    *

Parkersburg, West Virginia

November 1, 2007
Strippers & Bars

Me: So what's there to see and do in Parkersburg?
Taxi driver: We got two things in Parkersburg: bars and strip clubs.

*    *    *

Taxi driver: There's a bar, that's a good strip club. That's "paradise," one of the best strip clubs in the city, you got to go there before you leave. There's another bar, it's a pretty good one.  See that strip club, don't go there...

I stayed in an old historic hotel and soon realized much of the city has a wall around it to prevent flooding from the Ohio River. To even see the river you must get to higher ground or exit the walls and walk along the river.

Time moved slowly.

November 4, 2007

Me: Airport please.
New taxi driver: You from outta town?
Me: Yeah, I was only in town for a couple days for a meeting.
Taxi driver: Did you get to any of the strip clubs or bars while you was in town?
Me: No, I was pretty busy.
Taxi driver: Man, we got some good bars and strip clubs here.

*    *    *

Me: Oh, there's "paradise"; I hear that's a good strip club
Taxi driver: No, you don't want to go there; them girls all a little chubby and most of 'em ain't got all their teeth... but they take their clothes off!

I made it to the airport early so stopped in Mary's Plane View restaurant and ordered the pot roast, which seemed to be the dish to order. By the time my food arrived the restaurant was packed; I think everyone went straight from church to this place and within 15 minutes of my arrival, there was a line out the door.

The crowd here was older, but happy to be alive and enjoying the company of friends. Service was excellent and the food was incredible, of course it would have to be to attract all the locals to the airport restaurant. It was simple home-cookin' and my tender juicy pot roast, well-seasoned potatoes, and some vegetables on the side, plus a salad, all for about $7 was well worth the money.

Soon I left to catch my plane and allowed the waiting crowd in the door.

*    *    *

Miami, Florida

December 13, 2007
Latino Beat

Miami attracts a lot of different kinds of people including hoochies, drug dealers, retirees, young entrepreneurs, models, vacationers, and those who don't seem to have any ideas where else to go.

The city has an incredible skyline on Miami Beach, however, unlike most cities, they are almost entirely high-rise condos, not office buildings. The beach itself is home to people from every walk of life, however my favorite are, not the bikini-clad women, but the old men who spent hours staring at the ground waiting for their mental detectors to go off. If that's what retirement is all about I'm not ever going to stop working. Of course in this case I'm more pathetic than those people, they were at least seeking out treasure, I was just watching them.

Once you cross the waterway and get into Miami itself you find yourself on a narrow strip of land which is a border between the water and the rough part of the city. One of the first things to welcome me to the city was a sign that read "Pawn shop - Best prices on gold, diamonds, and guns."

The city is permeated with Cuban immigrants so I asked one's opinion on a good Cuban restaurant. I always try to eat the local food so while in Miami I tried to stick with Cuban food or the fusion of that with American, however I soon realized Cuban is not my taste.

*    *    *

Chicago, Illinois

January, 2008
Ummm, Food

My mom grew up in Chicago so I've made the journey there plenty of times, including a trip this past weekend. She doesn't particularly like the city, however she isn't a big city person in general so there's a bias there. To me, the city is just a part of what I know and the influence of it on my mom is a part of what made me who I am, so to describe Chicago is difficult for me.

Like so many big cities, Chicago is for everyone and nearly anyone can find a place here. Yet for others, it's just another big city with flashy lights, shops, and restaurants, no different from New York, London, or Lagos. To me... it simply is.

The city is a contrast. There's great food, but you often times must dress up to be let in the door, there is incredible architecture, yet at the expense of nature, there is phenomenal entertainment, which is expensive and at times inconvenient, there are great museums, but like all museums lacking the best learning method, reality. The city feels sterile, yet alive, vibrant, yet ordinary.

To look upon the city from the Sears Tower is no different than seeing it first hand, like a postcard. Chicago may have an incredible feel for some, however for me that feel has been ingrained in me and is simply normal. My motivation for traveling to Chicago is to see family and eat great food.

Chicago's food is something to seek out. They are famous for their Chicago-style hot dogs and deep dish pizza, however I substitute the hot dogs for Italian Beef. Italian Beef is roast beef cooked in broth with a combination of Italian seasonings, then thrown on a bun; I always top it with green peppers, and sometimes mozzarella or an Italian sausage and dip the entire sandwich in the broth, fantastic. Eating it is the biggest challenge and you really have to bring your mouth to the sandwich instead of vice versa or the food will fall all over you.

My other favorite is the deep dish pizza. Gino's East is the best I've had and nothing beats the Chicago (or supreme) pizza or spinach-occoli. The pizza has a thick crust and is then built "up-side-down," starting with cheese on the bottom, then the toppings (Chicago has sausage, green peppers, onions, and mushrooms, but I skip the mushrooms and the spinach-occoli has spinach and broccoli), then the sauce, which is dominated by stewed tomatoes. This is what makes the trip worth it every time... that and seeing family of course.

*    *    *

Cable, Wisconsin

February 23, 2008

I skied the Birkie today, well I tried to ski it, but every chance I got I just stood on the skis while gravity did all the work. I felt horrible from the time I woke up this morning and I didn't prepare well enough to ski the entire 50-kilometer, or 31-mile course in a decent time.

It was more about the experience for me though. When I was a kid we had to write a paper for school about our favorite time of year and only after getting our papers back did I realize I was the only one who didn't write about receiving presents on Christmas morning... I wrote about the Birkie.

For as long as I can remember we would head up to Telemark Lodge in Cable and live the festivities for four day with my family, grandparents, cousins, and second cousins. Telemark was like our second home, specifically room 110, which is the room we requested and received every year.

My brother, Brent still holds the record for completing the most Barnebirkies, since the first couple he "skied" when he was below the minimum age limit, which was only later enforced. He and my cousin Kara often times just talked in the back of the crowd and if they didn't finish last it was an accomplishment.

Once while my cousin Josh was sledding down the ski hill, he launched himself off a ramp and straight into the hotel's glass door. He rubbed his head a little, but shook it off and continued with the rest of us.

One of our traditions was to stop at a pizza place in Hayward on our way up. The pizza was always bad. We then stopped at the ski shop as my dad would look around at everything and we would just want to get to the hotel. Most years, the ride up consisted of doing homework so we could take the next few days off to have fun.

On this trip, it was only my dad, brother Travis, and I. Much of what we knew of as the event had disappeared so occupying four days was more difficult, but one day we managed to go dog-sledding, which was a blast.

This trip wasn't as much fun as in the past, but we didn't have most of the people either and that's what made the trip so fun to begin with.

*    *    *

San Antonio, Texas

April 7, 2008
NCAA Final Four

I got into town with just enough time to head to the Alamodome to try to buy tickets for the National Championship game: Memphis and Kansas. Since I'm staying in the same hotel as Memphis' team I'm torn on who to root for; if they win I don't get any sleep, however it may be a fun party to join.

I made it to the Alamodome a couple hours early, however ticket prices were high, higher than I wanted to pay for two teams I've been rooting against for the past couple rounds. Two hours before game time upper level corner seats were $100 each, an hour before about the same. About 45 minutes before tipoff I thought "this is my last chance, if I don't find anything good now, I'll have to head back to make the tip on TV," when ticket prices fell and the scalpers almost became desperate and seemed to be competing with each other to discharge their tickets. I found a ticket near center court, however in the rafters; the $50 price tag, however was unbeatable, so I bought it and went in.

The dome was electric before tip and people wore their shirts from every school, even if they didn't make the Final Four, much less the Big Dance. I had little motivation to root for either team, however I found myself surrounded by Kansas fans, including the students next to me, so I agreed to root for Kansas to make my evening more fun.

The first half was competitive, but the second half consisted of run after run, until Memphis seemed to have compiled an insurmountable lead with only a couple minutes left. However, unlike most basketball games, the fouling game started turning in Kansas's favor as Memphis continued to miss from the "charity strip" and Kansas couldn't miss from the field. As the clock ticked down the crowd rose to their feet as Kansas hit a three-pointer with almost no time left.

That final shot not only sent the game into overtime, it also was a dagger in the back of Memphis as they collapsed in overtime and Kansas ran away with it.

My hotel was silent that night... I slept like a rock.

April 8, 2008

I still had today to relax before my meeting so hit all the tourist spots like the Alamo and spent some time on the River Walk. There's little here, other than the Alamo, that makes this city unique.

For dinner, I found a Mexican restaurant away from everything. When I entered I noticed I was the only white person there; it was exactly what I was looking for. Most of the people here were families and I think I was the only person dining alone, but I was there for the atmosphere and food, not the company I failed to bring with me. Neither the atmosphere nor food disappointed.

*    *    *

Las Vegas, Nevada

June 19, 2008
Cirque de Soleil

I've been to Vegas a couple times since I last wrote and still no longer gamble, have found refuge with the entertainment. I've seen a couple Cirque du Soleil shows and they are incredible. If you're ever in Vegas, go see Ka, that's the winner in my book.

*    *    *

Taliesin, Wisconsin

July 12, 2008
Frank Lloyd Wright's Home

Taliesin was Frank Lloyd Wright's home, studio, and school. I like a lot of his ideas in architecture, especially using the local materials and integrating it so your home fits in with the landscape. However, many of his buildings are too flat for me and his experiments I often times find more interesting than functionally or anesthetically pleasing.

The tour of the grounds was beautiful and at times we could see the slow demise of many of his structures, which our tour guide said was the one major and justified criticisms of Frank Lloyd Wright; he was more of an artist, then an engineer.

*    *    *

Hartford, Connecticut

September 12, 2008
Mohegan Sun

Jim took me to Mohegan Sun casino in the southeastern part of the state. Jim loves these megalithic structures and in this case I can't blame him. When I watched Jim here I felt like he just can't wrap his head around the motivation, construction, and justification of cost put into the complex. Jim's been all over the world and has seen everything from Rome's Coliseum to historic cities hundreds of years old, yet he's always more mesmerized by modern architecture it seems.

His wonder is justified; and when you spend a couple hours here you start asking yourself the same questions. To question the coliseum is to try to understand a people long since gone, but to understand this casino is to try to understand a modern culture; it's more real and present. However questioning why they installed a multiple story waterfall is ridiculous. Why wouldn't you install one? It was incredible.

*    *    *

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

February 12, 2009
Liberty Bell, Freedom Hall, & Cheese Steaks

The city of brotherly love has a reputation as a city full of intolerable people who don't care about you; most people who visit leave unimpressed and holding a slight grudge. I, however found the opposite to be true and left loving the city.

The people of Philadelphia seem to have a very high level of distrust, so those who they do trust they put complete trust in and this is limited to family and people that "are like a brother to me." Since all of their trust gets used up on those close to them, it seems every person passing through their city is viewed with skepticism. If they don't trust their neighbors, of course they're going to approach me with hesitation.

Most conversations seem short and I often felt like the person on the other end of every encounter was trying to intentionally remain brief and to the point so our conversation would end without incident. They don't seem to have a high tolerance for incompetence or indecisiveness, nor do they want to give you the impression that they have either of those traits themselves. Yet their answers seem sincere and they tend to listen, perhaps only so their response is accurate and the conversation can end.

Other conversations, however ramble on forever, as if they are looking for a sounding board to unleash on. I often times got the impression that Philly is home and many of these people have never left the city, making them either more skeptical or more inquisitive, wanting to learn everything about me and where I'm from.

Of course most outsiders' attraction to the city is for the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and cheese steaks... or at least that was one of my motivations for making the trek downtown from my meeting in the suburbs.

The Liberty Bell and that area are quiet this time of year, but there were still plenty of tour groups and a shockingly large percentage of foreigners. I felt the park employees were bored this time of year and many seemed eager to teach me about anything I was willing to listen to. I ran into one employee at the location of Benjamin Franklin's house and he said that he hadn't seen anyone for over an hour. I was the only person in Congress Hall other than two rangers and each, one upstairs, one down were happy to share with me the history; it was as if I had a personal tour guide.

The other thing I needed to do while in Philly was eat a cheese steak at "Pat's King of Steaks," commonly accepted as the originator of the cheese steak. They had a sign explaining how to order a cheese steak like the locals do so threw my hat in the ring and ordered "one wit whiz." They eat their cheese steaks here with cheese whiz, however it's almost a combination of bottled cheese whiz and nacho cheese sauce and was better than I had anticipated despite the mess it makes. Of course you can get other kinds of cheeses and the "wit" is if you want fried onions with it or not. The sandwich didn't disappoint and neither did the fries, which I also had swimming in cheese.

After seeing the Liberty Bell and getting my first authentic cheese steak I felt my trip was satisfactory, of course I have another two days in the city for my meeting, so it looks like I have plenty of cheese steaks ahead of me.

*    *    *

Del Mar, California

March 1, 2009
Oh, Del Mar

I've spent the past few days in Del Mar, which is basically a resort town between San Diego and L.A. There seems to be a very active nightlife and more restaurants than most towns three times its size. It feels like everyone here is on vacation, with the beach close to everything. Despite the drinking and eating culture in town, my lack of patience soon found me without entertainment.

The only night I went into town we ate at a restaurant someone at the hotel recommended as being the least touristy place, while at the same time being one of the best in the city. We ate there and got their signature dish, prime rib and deep fried asparagus. The food here, as everywhere in the city is excellent. I feel like everyone here dines out at every meal so the food has to be good or they'd be out of business.

There's nothing more to write about Del Mar; if you like drinking and beaches, you'll love it, if you're like me... well, get the prime rib and keep looking.

*    *    *

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky

April 19, 2009
Wild Caves Tour

I went on the "Wild Caves Tour," which is a 6 1/2 hour expedition through caves which are still in their natural state. We climbed through mud and water, while squeezing ourselves through very narrow passageways. At one point we all turned off our lights and went silent: all you could hear was dripping water and you could see nothing. I closed my eyes, opened them and could tell no difference.

The tour was fun and an adventure, however the visual highlights were that of "Frozen Niagara," which is easily accessible for the other tour groups near an entrance. The day was exciting, but caves are simply hallow passageways in the earth and there's little to see or do other than to keep moving until you reach wonders like Cathedral Tower or Frozen Niagara.

*    *    *

Maui, Hawai'i

January 7, 2010
Haleakala, Road to Hana, & 'Ohe'o Gulch

The trip up Haleakala was mostly a blur due to the early departure: 4:30am. Apparently the sunrise is spectacular and is listed on nearly every "Highlights of Maui" list. We arrived in time to get a parking spot and stare towards the west until the sun rose. The sunrise was accompanied by a native Hawai'ian park ranger proclaiming a ritualistic chant for the sun. His voice broke the silent crowd, none of whom seemed any more awake than myself. His other-worldly chant was followed by a logical and straight forward scientific explanation on why the mountain's top is not technically a crater. I felt like I had missed a transition from one subject to the next or the first PBS show about Hawai'ian culture had ended and a science show had began without me noticing. Despite this, his information was educational and kept me enthralled, perhaps due to the lack of energy to shift my focus elsewhere.

After the sun awoke, it gave life to the rest of the mountain and soon the island. The mountain's edge over-looking the west was full of tourists, however the road both up and down seemed lonely and life absent. The landscape is rocky and the atmosphere almost encourages isolation of thoughts.

After seeing Haleakala at sunrise, our Road to Hana began at the intersection of 36 and 365, which, for our benefit I'm sure, reset the mile marker to 0. Just prior to this intersection we stumbled upon a surfboard fence, seemingly out of place given the distance to the ocean. After this fence we turned right onto the Hana Highway to begin our journey.

It only took two fruit stands before the urge and hunger overcame my anxiety to see a waterfall. Fruit stand number three was rewarded by the temptation of fruit stands one and two; we found a pineapple screaming "Eat me!" so we did. After picking out the pineapple, we gave it to the woman at the stand who managed to chop the entire thing into bite-sized pieces and bag them in about the same amount of time it takes a person named Cindy to dig a $5 bill out of her purse for the deliciously over-priced pineapple.

As the drive continued, I was fed grapes like an ancient Greek aristocrat laying on a couch, however instead of lying on a couch I was trying not to crash into oncoming traffic and instead of grapes, I was being fed the fresh pineapple pieces... it was delicious!

The road to Hana seemed overly narrow and crossing each bridge consisted of both sides yielding due to each bridge's narrowness. As I approached each bridge I would look to the other side, determine if I could continue or had to wait. The first few bridges were confusing, but soon I understood the rules of the road, not that those rules helped me see around corners carved out of rock.

The first sight we wanted to see was at mile marker 9, but we missed that one... the next was at mile marker 10 and a half; missed that one too. Then mile marker 11 and 11 and a half, but missed both of those. The sights aren't marked other than the fruit stands and locals trying to make money on a "look out" or "viewpoint" looking out at trees with their fruit stand in the foreground, so finding the sights at first are difficult, especially when trying not to die due to oncoming traffic.

Soon after mile marker 11, we came around a corner and were greeted by a great vista looking over the coast so we had to stop, especially since we missed the last four sights. We climbed over the guard rail, which had a few feet to stand before a long, but not excessively steep fall. A local was kind enough to slow down and tell us that people die there and that we have to return to our car. I suppose each person has a different "danger tolerance," but this was excessive. The only conceivable way we were going to die was if: 1. A semi went through the rail and over the cliff with us in the way; 2. We had simultaneous heart attacks which killed us; 3. We decided to jump off the cliff and even then death would not be guaranteed; or 4. God simply decided our lives needed to come to an end at that very moment.

After narrowly escaping with our lives, we returned to the car and continued on. Shortly after our safe return to the car, we began paying better attention to our Road to Hana guide and noticed that the "turn offs" and "roads" were typically little more than dirt trails hidden just before guard rails or corners.

We successfully found Honomanu Bay down one of these same dirt paths, which led down a steep road to the beach. The trip down was only two minutes, but two minutes of agonizing how and if the car would get us back up that very same pothole-filled hill.

Honomanu bay is surrounded by hills jumping out of the ocean and in the middle, a small black sand beach just begging me to try to use my new camera's incomprehensible advanced settings. After using the settings and looking at my pictures, I decided I was much better off just looking at the bay instead of taking bad pictures.

The next stop of the journey was Ke'anae, a small village jutting out into the ocean. The waters here were treacherous, yet perfectly designed for photography, or in my case, bad experimental photography. The lava formations seemed to have been thrown from the mountain into the ocean without any order or care. The rocks were of all shapes and sizes, giving me visions of the best pirates trying to navigate the shore, but being taken down by the mountain's prowess as treasures and loot lie on the sea's floor.

The waters crashed into the village shores and with the rising of each wave, the ocean displayed her true color: a pure blue, the sea in its wild state intimidating all and reminding each of her power.

Back in the town of Ke'anae itself, we realized this town seems like a sleepy little fishing village watching life pass, yet in no hurry to expedite the process. I image locals first watched the tourists come and go in awe, wondering where each was from, but today they seem to pay no attention to us. Both locals and tourists alike seemed to be at an understanding that the presence of us tourists is temporary and our fleeting stay would not affect them.

Unlike the touristy resorts of the island, here locals and tourists seemed to have no interaction, no contact, no effect on each other. I know that to a tourist like me I only saw local life instead of experiencing it and for the locals, they simply saw another person too busy to stop, another person who viewed time as a fleeting gift, instead of seeing time as unimportant compared to living in the present.

At the halfway to Hana point we stopped at another fruit stand, but this time only for banana bread. The guidebook said this was the best banana bread on the highway and I couldn't help but test them. Of course it's difficult to test a statement like then when you have no other banana bread, but it was the best banana bread I've ever had so if there was better on the road, I should have spent my day eating banana bread instead of avoiding traffic and looking at sights.

Soon after our banana bread stop... and inhaling half the small loaf, we stopped at the Coral Miracle Church or Our Lady of Fatima Shrine. This little shrine felt more local than the other sights thus far. There were a couple people working the garden, who were friendly and said "aloha" while the nearby church was empty and almost forgotten.

The final stop before Hana was Wailua Valley State wayside, which provided great views towards the volcano and, in the opposite direction, the church we had just visited.

After getting back to our car we began to understand the beauty in this drive is in the drive itself and the journey. No sight was incredibly impressive, but every turn struck us and sparked our imaginations. What was to come in Hana mattered not, in fact we could have turned around at this point and it would have mattered not. The sights weren't to be seen; it was the journey that was to be experienced.

Despite the journey, our next destination was beyond Hana so we continued on. Hana is a sleepy little town and if you need directions or want to know "where's the downtown" don't ask, you're probably standing in it.

We found a place to eat and tried to forget about time as we watched two hitchhikers attempt to fit into the back of a two person jeep, which they somehow managed to do. The food at this small restaurant consisted of burgers, seafood, and Hawai'ian dishes. I naturally ordered the Hawai'ian dish thinking I would get a taste of local life, but as the locals were at the next table eating burgers, fries, and fish, I confusingly stared at some sort of soy sauce-infused chicken thigh that I had ordered. Cindy ordered the burger, which, based on the locals around us was more local than that chicken thing I ate. Despite my failed attempt at being local, the food was good and consisted of a soy sauce and green onion sauce over the chicken with rice and a macaroni salad on the side.

Before heading back to the west side of the island, we continued on to 'Ohe'o Gulch.

'Ohe'o Gulch, also known as the Seven Sacred Pools has a reputation as being a great swimming, hiking, and waterfall watching sight. Upon arrival yesterday we heard that the weather has been excessively dry lately so the waterfalls have been turned off. This was more noticeable here than at any other stop on the Road to Hana, perhaps due to the typical waterfalls here. Each pool's water level remained stagnant as the skeleton of the waterfalls only made me hope it would begin raining, but my hope was soon evaporated in the burning sun.

The hikes here still made the journey worthwhile, stepping onto rocky outcrops, from where we could look up the valley to Haleakala's rim displaying the walls steeped in vegetation. The valley looked like a model, almost unreal, however the swimmers everywhere reminded us that we were in a national park surrounded by people.

We hiked around the bottom of the valley, seeing the bottom couple pools, then headed up across the road to see more of the higher pools. The area is beautiful without waterfalls, if the rain was pouring I image it would be even more spectacular.

Soon we were back in our car for the drive to Wailea, ducking in and out of valley walls and rocky outcrops, many of which made the Road to Hana look tame. As the drive continued, the journey felt more and more like a video game as each corner demanded just the right amount of braking, turning, leaning, and attention as cars and semis barreled towards us on this one and a half lane road.

January 8, 2010

Wailea is, well, upscale, and my home for this trip. The rich seem to flock here as do I when I happen to be on an all-expenses paid business trip. The atmosphere is relaxed, yet up scale. The shopping center contains Tiffany's, Rolex, Gucci, and a general store selling incredible sandwiches for only $5.48. I only ventured into the general store.

After getting in two days ago, I was happy to have some time today to see Wailea. After working all day, I made it outside just in time to catch the sunset and walk along the beach, which was oddly cleared out only a few minutes after the sunset.

January 9, 2010
Southern Beaches & Lahaina

Today I had hoped to get up and go snorkeling, however the water was too rough so we had to delay our trip, which, thankfully meant I could return to my meetings instead of having fun.

When I had a break in the morning I went outside to see the ocean and found about a dozen people just stopped on the ocean walk staring into the sea. I looked up and, to my amazement, there were humpback whales just off the shore. I've been on two whale watching tours and have seen a total of zero whales, yet here I didn't even have to get on a boat to see about a dozen whales breaching just off the coast.

In the afternoon we got in our car and explored this coast to the south. The beaches along the ocean here are all public so you can walk the entire length of the shore or do as we did, jump in our car and head south to Makena State Park.

Our first stop in the south was Big Beach, which was, well, big. The beach was crowded with sun bathers and life guards telling people to stay out of the water due to the huge waves. Maui, I was told, doesn't usually get huge waves, but today they reached well over ten feet high in some parts of the island, and here they were about 6-8 feet at their peak.

I spent most of my time here watching an old man scavenge the beach with his metal detector. He found three things, but he was too far away to be able to tell what he found. I think they were gold coins from an ancient Hawai'ian civilization. On an infomercial I once saw for a metal detector the actor playing the old man found an old ring at the beach, someone else found gold coins, and someone else lost 50 pounds from the exercise; what a great hobby!

After the old man moved on so did we... to Secret Cove, a small beach hidden to the south of Big Beach. Tourists have recently found this cove so it's no longer a secret, but is still quiet and more peaceful than nearby Big Beach.

After spending some time in the south, we headed to Lahaina for dinner. The tour in Lahaina began with an incredible parking spot and ended with a luau. Lahaina is much more of a city than any other place on the island and the main street feels much more alive and active than anywhere else on Maui.

After finding our incredible parking spot, we began a walking tour of the city seeing everything from an old fort and churches to shops, restaurants, a culturally significant tree and tourists. The main street in town, Front Street was swarmed with people eating, shopping, and relaxing so we joined to find a t-shirt or some history.

The center of life here is the large Banyan tree dominating the central square and sprawling out in every direction. In the shade, there are people selling pictures, paintings, and souvenirs to any passer-by willing to stop.

We walked most of Front Street until we reached Hard Rock Cafe® to buy a t-shirt for my brother, who has a collection of about 10 Hard Rock Cafe shirts from different places. Our walk back to the southern part of the city took us via a new route, getting us to the Feast at Lele just in time to relax, catch the football playoff scores and head to the ocean before sunset.

The Feast at Lele began just before sunset so we could settle into our seats and relax before the food and real show began. We were greeted at the door by fresh pink orchid leis and a drink consisting of guava, pineapple, and orange juice.

We were taken to our seats and sat down just in time to watch the sunset and be introduced to our waitresses. There are multiple waitresses so each table receives impeccable service, personal attention and advice on the food and inside information about the show, but also demanding larger tips due to this attention.

The Feast at Lele is a tour of Polynesia, beginning with Hawai'i's music, food and dancing, then moving on to Aoteatoa (New Zealand), Tahiti, and finally Samoa.

The first course was Hawai'ian, highlighted by the kalua pork, which set the standards high for the rest of the meal, in fact it was one of the best meals I've ever had. It was slightly salty and extremely moist. It was cooked for hours in an underground oven with banana leaves then shred and served.

As we ate, a boat came on shore and the show began. The girls danced a slow rhythmic dance to a drum in the background. For much of this first performance I was more interested in my food than the show, but both were good.

The next show began with food from Aoteatoa, which I found poor, however I also don't like seafood, and it was mostly seafood. Our waitress warned us about one dish, which she said is not popular, however a very authentic staple in the diet of the Maori of Aoteatoa (New Zealand), so I was glad to try it, but more happy about the warning.

The performance for Aoteatoa was a traditional Maori show consisting of painted faces, stomps, and sticking their tongues out. I've seen a Maori performance on TV before and this seemed very similar to that show from the outfits to the strong and powerful actions in dance. While the food wasn't nearly as good as the Hawai'ian feast, the show I found much more entertaining.

Following the Aoteatoa show we moved on to Tahiti, which, quite honestly was somewhat forgettable as was the food. Both were good and if this was the first show would have been great, but no food could compare to the pork and the show was very similar to the Hawai'ian show to the undiscerning eye, although this one was slightly more upbeat and faster.

The fourth course was of Samoa, which was again very good. There was a steak in this course and the dancing was much more active and lively, in some ways similar to Aoteatoa (New Zealand). Once our meal was finished and the show had ended, we were served dessert and treated to a fire show, which was incredible. The performer quickly captured the audience's attention and easily kept it throughout the performance.

Once the fire show had ended the place very quickly cleared out and soon I realized we were nearly the only people left, so we took off for our drive back to Wailea.

January 10, 2010
Snorkeling & 'Iao

Snorkeling at last. The waves had calmed overnight and this morning the beaches were perfect for snorkeling so we grabbed our snorkel gear and went to nearby Ulua Beach.

The visibility was good, although the waters were still pushing some sand around. We swam out to the coral reefs just meters from the beach and saw all sorts of fish and strange animals I know nothing about. There are plenty of sea turtles in the area as well, however we didn't see any. Unfortunately, our time was limited as I was due back to my meeting, so we headed in and I made it to my meeting in the nick of time.

After my meetings, we left Wailea for good as we headed north to Kahului for our departing flights.

I had all afternoon before my evening flight home so decided to go to the nearby 'Iao Valley State Park before dinner. The entrance into the valley quickly escalates from small hills to giant cliffs rising out of the earth covered with greenery. It felt like I had returned to the Road to Hana or to a movie due to the scenery.

I ran into a cruise tour group, one of whom asked me to take their picture. The average age of this group was about 80 and they seemed friendly, however their cruise consisted of 10 days at sea... fighting cabin fever had to be a challenge, however they viewed that as a positive.

The highlight of the park is the 'Iao needle, which is a rock formation that juts into the sky. The rock itself was made more impressive among the mountains surrounding it and the stream and bridge adding the final touches to the scenery. After a couple short hikes I was off to dinner, then to the airport for my evening flight.

*    *    *

Tampa Bay, Florida

April 13, 2010
A Visit from Brent

I got into Clearwater Beach today, which has little of interest to a non-beach person like me, but I'll be over-working all week, so am more concerned about a quiet hotel room and good food.

April 17, 2010

My brother, Brent got to Clearwater Beach today and talked about how all the people down on the beach were crazy, but I haven't made it to the beach all week so just sort of nodded in agreement.

He continued on for a few minutes about all the crazy "beach performers" and how their sanity was in question as was the sanity of most of the spectators. Although he described these performers as odd, I simply viewed them as street performers, a strange sub-race of humans who tend to do any stupid, odd, desperate, and seemingly abnormal act for the little change you may have in your pocket. I know this since I'm a professional street performer, but so is Brent, so these people must have been incredibly odd.

April 18, 2010

After working a couple hours this morning, Brent and I headed through the rain to downtown St. Petersburg, then Tampa before I had to go to the airport for my flight home. Our drive to St. Petersburg consisted of us leisurely driving while furiously eating the Peanut Butter Patty Girl Scout cookies I had brought with me.

In St. Petersburg we went to the Salvador Dali museum, whose paintings are known as psychedelic, insane, mesmerizing, and odd. Later I would discover this art to be the most normal part of our day, but for the time I still found his work "slightly off."

Having little interest in over-analyzing paintings, we headed to the Hard Rock Café to get one of our other brothers a Hard Rock Café t-shirt. Once we got there though we discovered there was no Hard Rock Café, only a Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, so we bought the shirt and decided to throw some money away.

After we each lost a dollar on the quarter slots, we found the slots in our price range, the nickel slots. It was the Deal or No Deal slots and I thought that sounded like fun so put in a dollar. I didn't really know what I was doing, so looked at the person next to me and pressed the same button she pushed. Then I got to chose cases, which I literally did by covering my eyes and reaching my hand out towards the touch screen. Then after randomly touching the screen five times I got a bank offer just like on the TV show. I didn't know why the slot machine was giving me money since I thought I was supposed to lose all my money, so accepted and cashed out. My nickel bet turned into $90.55. I was beginning to think Brent was on to something about this area's other-worldly atmosphere.

We still had time to kill and were done gambling so decided to go downtown Tampa to see the city. Reaching downtown was a simply process and we soon found a parking spot on an empty street.

As we exited our car we were welcomed by an eerie silence. We looked down the street in every direction and there was no one, no cars, nothing. We could see, when viewed from the correct angle, six or seven intersections marked by a row of don't walk signs, but these signs were all we could see.

We soon found a map of downtown and looked at it. Despite our doubts, we were in the middle of downtown Tampa, yet felt completely alone. As we were trying to figure out where we were, what there was to see, or what was going on, a strange man walked up to us and, without saying a word, just began to stare at us from about three feet. I made eye contact and felt his eyes touch my soul, but he felt empty and his glazed-over eyes stared at me as if I was either intruding or insane for being there.

Where the rest of the people were will remain a mystery to me until the day I die. The feeling we had was that of confusion and fear, as if a horrible epidemic spread through the city killing everyone. People weren't here, yet some of the deceased left their cars behind to garnish the city's streets. Brent said the atmosphere was best described as if the city had become a nuclear bomb testing region and everyone left but us.

As we began to doubt our sanity we started calling people we knew to find out if the world had ended. It took some time, but we confirmed our existence as we know it. No sooner had we gotten off the phone did we see a young couple standing, twirling, and kissing in a cloud of fog besides the river. This would usually be a promising sign of reality, but their actions in the dense fog were unusual and they only left us looking over our shoulders in a state of paranoia.

We found a seat under a large overhanging balcony as we tried to describe the feeling the city gave us. Brent eloquently stated the feeling as something that makes a person second guess reality to the point that they run off screaming only to find themselves in an insane asylum. He was right, we were a step away from insanity… or a step away from this science fiction novel from becoming a science non-fiction novel as our lives were robbed from us by whatever or whoever it was that created this isolationism that we had found ourselves in the middle of.

We turned to cross the river and found the same couple from the fog passing by us: walking in the same direction, but in the wrong location. They had come from the north, but only moments earlier they had walked the same path, in the same direction, yet here they were, as if they were teleported or we had traveled back in time a couple minutes to see them on their journey just before entering the fog. I began doubting what I had seen as my mind raced when Brent said, "Wasn't that the couple that was just walking that way?" as he pointed south and his complexion turned white. "Yes... what, how did they... what's going on?" Brent was as confused as I was and their seemingly physically impossible warp from one location to another only confirmed our feelings of confusion.

The bridge crossing the river was littered with graffiti, but empty. After crossing the narrow river we came upon a set of train tracks, which I jumped across. Typically if there are no trains on the tracks I cross without a rush, but if time travel was possible with that couple and in Back to the Future Part III, then it's possible in this land of confusion we now found ourselves in. I somehow expected a train from the past or future to suddenly appear on the tracks and end whatever dream or life I was in the middle of at the moment. What I would typically consider impossible or highly improbably I now expected to become real.

The smell here, on the campus of the University of Tampa shifted from sewage to play dough, but what didn't change was the emptiness of the city. We caught a few glimpses of people here, but I still doubted their existence as we began searching for some sort of paper or document which could give us the date or give us details of the parallel universe we had found ourselves in.

The campus is dominated by what we had first believed to be a giant mosque, due to the minarets adorned by crescent moons. As we approached this building's main entrance we hesitated, but entered what was once a hotel and currently claims to be a university building. The bathroom's entrance led down a series of steps, and the one wing was dominated by a museum of sorts.

We escaped this building and soon found ourselves on another bridge to re-cross the river. As we crossed this draw bridge, a biker approached us from behind so I stepped to the side, as Brent sped up and moved to the other side to let him pass. As this very moment, the draw bridge began to rise and we found ourselves on opposite sides of the crack. I fell to the ground due to the rain falling on the metal flooring and clung to the crated sidewalk. I looked in both directions, but there were no boats demanding the bridge rise. I let go of the crated sidewalk and slid down the rising bridge only to notice that the guard rail and lights weren't moving.

I shouted to Brent and he screamed back, but the rising bridge didn't allow us to see each other. The streets were still empty, but now we were each alone. I told him to go to the first bridge we crossed, but as I finished talking we saw that bridge rising as well. Brent thought about jumping in the river and swimming across, but as we questioned the plan a loud screeching sound made a reflex within me to scream and become consumed by a pain in my ears as I fell to the ground, curling into a ball, closing my eye, clinching my jaw, and desperately covering my ears.

When the sound ended, I was surrounded by people who had cornered me against the raising drawn bridge. They all wore the same expression that the homeless man earlier had worn: emotionless and soulless; none said a word and I was consumed with a fear that prevented me from screaming out to Brent. I heard nothing but silence.

I awoke somewhere else and at peace with the situation although I'm not sure where. I was on the stage of a semi-circled tiered theater. I wasn't a professor, nor an experiment or showcase. I was the center of this room, but those in attendance looked at me with eyes of the intrigued and curious. They were kind, gentle, and treated me as their honored guest, yet the room remained silent and I seemed to be a treasured piece of art for analysis and thought provocation rather than an equal worthy of conversation.

The next thing I remember was walking down the empty streets with Brent as we spotted a car parked in the middle of the abandoned street. A block later we saw a closed Quiznos subs despite the fact that it was the middle of the day.

I don't know how I got back to Brent, what those people wanted from me, why they let me go, or anything else about today. Brent remembers nothing of the blackout, not even the bridge's rising or loud screeching noises. His memory must have been erased, while with each passing day my visions of that day become more vivid. (Okay, the part from the rising bridge to the return isn't true, but everything else was; it was the most surreal experience ever!)

*    *    *

San Francisco, California

May 20, 2010
Hangin' with the Locals

There are signs all over California telling me I'm going to get cancer or become sterile and I find it quite depressing. There's no better way to be greeted at a hotel or a restaurant than with a sign that reads "Warning: Chemicals Known To The State of California To Cause Cancer, or Birth Defects or Other Reproductive Harm May Be Present In Foods or Beverages Sold or Served Here." It didn't take long before I was hungry enough to risk the conception of my future children in exchange for a turkey club with avocado.

May 22, 2010

Tonight I headed to the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. The area around the BART station is an odd combination of fruit stands frequented by a seemingly young and educated population and homeless people just sitting around, few of whom were begging for money, just enjoying the night air I suppose.

Here I met my friend Crystal and her boyfriend Adam. Crystal and I worked at the U.S. Embassy together in Chisinau, Moldova and despite my initial fears, we both survived for a number of years following a three month stint of sustaining life solely on bread, olive oil, and the X-Files. By the end of those three months we were becoming so delusional I at times thought she was Scully and I Mulder, which was not ironically my great great grandfather's family name.

Fortunately, this meeting didn't consist of government cover-up theories and discussions of alien life intruding our fleeting existence as we know it. Instead we walked around the neighborhood, caught up, and finished with a bite to eat. Poor Adam had to listen to us reminisce all night long.

When I travel I like to meet with locals to learn about the local culture, but here the night was all about life and catching up. If I learned anything about the local culture it's that the focus here is external, showing the truly global perspective of San Franciscans and their greater understanding of their role on the planet as individuals and as a community.

Despite the incredible global perspective here, each neighborhood caters specifically to the local population and their interests. One reason big cities are so attractive is that they offer so much diversity from neighborhood to neighborhood and even if you hate one part of a city, there always seems to be another area that is more to your liking.

The Mission area is home to a number of bookstores, however all seem to be independently owned and each has a very specific focus, like attracting the likes of extreme liberals. In fact there is very little chain anything here and you get a true sense of each neighborhood based upon the ethnically diverse restaurants and variety of bookstores, most of which are locally owned and operated to cater to this specific neighborhood's interests and socioeconomic makeup.

May 23, 2010
Alcatraz, Coit Tower, ' More

After not enough sleep, I dragged myself out of bed and into the city. There seemed to be a lot of people running in the morning, but they wisely stay on the flat waterfront instead of trekking up and down the hilly terrain.

My walk to the pier for my Alcatraz tour went from sunny and hot to wind tunnels hidden in the shadow of a building, which made the temperature feel 20 degrees colder than in the sun. I didn't know if I should wear a sweatshirt to remain comfortable in the shade, but sweat in the sun or something lighter so I could be comfortable in the sun and freezing in the shade. I eventually chose the latter and was rewarded when I got in the sunny, wind-protected line at the pier.

On the boat to Alcatraz there was a family all wearing orange Clemson shirts and about 20 people wearing shirts that said "San Francisco" or referencing some other geographical location in the near vicinity. This seems to be a trend among tourists as we each tend to dress in one of three ways:

Some people just dress how they always dress, however this seems dull so most tourists like to spice it up a bit. Those with only a little better taste or lost baggage on their flight immediately buy the first shirt or sweatshirt they find that flagrantly objectifies the city that they're in. This dress is beneficial in that when they go back home everyone will know where they went on their most recent vacation, but they can also wear it on vacation and they almost always do, despite being unwashed. I'm guilty of this from time to time.

The last group seems to have a collection of shirts indicating their origin. I also have this collection in my closet, but try to avoid bringing most of them on vacation with me. For others however, they look in their closet and say "what should I wear" before considering the destination or consulting the weather. The answer usually jumps out at them quickly "Oh I need my Green Bay Packer shirt and my Milwaukee Brewers shirt, my Bucks shirt... a few holes in that one, but I think it'll be fine for a couple days. Hmmm, that's three shirts and I'm gone for five days, what else? Oh, my Wisconsin Badgers shirt and... well I can wear that one twice." So the decision was made and all the locals in their destination must suffer the fate of that decision.

Once I got over my tourist fixation I enjoyed the clear skies and the views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz from the water.

After our boat arrived on the island and I disembarked I did my best to escape the bird bombing zone unscathed, which I somehow managed to do. The island is nice and the history quite interesting, but I was more mesmerized by the tourists and the fact that I was one of the few English speakers on the island. San Francisco is a very diverse city and there are people from everywhere here, whether they're on vacation or live here.

My next stop was Pier 39, but it only took me a couple minutes to come to my senses and leave. I then made my way up Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower. The first thing that struck me was the wall art inside Coit Tower. It seemed roughly thrown together, but more importantly it was odd. There was a scene of a slaughterhouse and another of a man with crazy eyes washing a cow's butt. I can't make this stuff up; go check it out yourself, it's a good trip.

The elevator operator in Coit Tower had a great Chinese accent and was overly excited about nearly everything. As I was trying to get back down from the top, the elevator was nearly full and he said to me "Not fun, free fall, you wait" as he closed the door on me. I did wait and made it down on the next trip.

The next spectacle I saw was not at all what I expected, although I should have known better. I believe Lombard Street is a fellow Guinness World Record™ holder as the World's Crookedest Road and I thought we'd be able to spend some quality time together as I was going to stare lovingly at her, but our moment was lost before it began. After looking at the road for 2-3 seconds, my attention was shifted toward all these camera-wielding, photo-obsessed, hollow-headed tourists. I know they just wanted to get a good shot, but standing in the middle of the road as cars are coming at them is not wise. Even after taking a picture, instead of looking at the oncoming traffic and moving they just reviewed their picture, then showed all of their friends. Do the cars coming at them in real life not appear in their camera's viewfinder? If they were really focusing on their pictures they might notice the car in their shot that's taking up half the frame.

By this point I was starving so went to Ghirardelli for lunch, which consisted of peanut butter, hot fudge and vanilla ice cream. It was fantastic, but at $8.50 can't be a regular item in my diet.

The nearby Trolley Car line was long and entertaining, then long and less entertaining, and finally long and painfully not entertaining. There's a street performer there that plays the guitar and sings. He is quite good, however he planned his performance for an audience that must wait about 10-15 minutes and today's line was about a half hour wait. By the end of the wait he was repeating his well-known covered classic rock hits and I didn't need to listen to "Blowin' in the Wind" or "Mr. Tambourine Man" for a third time.

As we got on the trolley car, another street performer began; a guy trying to break the world record for getting out of a straight jacket the fastest. Apparently his strategy for accomplishing this was to roll around on the ground without any sort of order or success. He look'd a fool... and didn't get out while I was there.

Once I clung to the pole on the trolley car's street side we took off and within two blocks someone waived us down and jumped on; so I listened to "Mr. Tambourine Man" for a half hour when all I really had to do was buy my ticket then walk two blocks and waive the trolley down? That's good to know for next time.

The trolley car emphasizes the city's hills and after just over half the route I got off at China Town to continue my tourist jaunt. I was welcomed into China Town by a beautiful gate and a heavily intoxicated man holding a sign that read "need cash for alcohol research." He was quite drunk at this time, about four o'clock in the afternoon, yet the handwriting was so neat and clear (other than the slight misalignment, but there are no lines on that cardboard) even his penmanship teacher would have been proud... of the handwriting, not his present state, or perhaps of his handwriting if done in the present state. Personally, I think someone else wrote the sign for him; it was way too neat.

I spent no time shopping for tacky souvenirs and more time seeking out a good Chinese restaurant, which I never quite accomplished. I ate at a restaurant, but it wasn't great. I've heard San Francisco is one of the great culinary cities, but whoever said that must have only eaten ice cream at Ghirardelli for their entire stay. The food isn't bad, but for the reputation it has as a culinary leader, I found myself slightly disappointed throughout the weekend, although much of my time was in the suburbs.

My final time in the city was spent in the city's neighborhoods and my walk to them took me through the financial district, down Market Street's trendy shopping and into a street festival market selling everything one could think of. These street shops were being packed up as I arrived, but that only encouraged the nearby bars and restaurants to swell as the street grew louder and louder until I walked back into the city's limbo and later into Alamo Square.

The street to the east of Alamo Square is one of the most recognizable streets in San Francisco. Its fame comes from the houses known as the Painted Ladies or better recognized by Generation Xers or Millennials as "that place from the start of Full House." The scene was great, but Full House, well everyone has their own opinion.

Like most tourist stops, I found myself watching some guy in the park more than I stood staring at houses I've seen in multiple pictures. This guy had a boom box and was just dancing to the beat. He was really animated, really bad, and at one point just started twirling around in a circle with his hands out and his eyes at the sky.

My final true stop was Height-Ashbury, where I was greeted by a guy explaining how his cart was stolen and he had $50,000 in it. He wasn't as upset that he lost that much money as he was that I wasn't interested in talking to him. No sooner did he leave, did another person offer me some drugs, then another, then I found a "band" playing on the sidewalk. I quickly realized how blessed I was to have listened to "Mr. Tambourine Man" for a half hour earlier in the day. I image it's quite difficult to play a guitar when you're leaning against a wall with the guitar on your lap. It's probably even more difficult to play in that position when you're doped up on all sorts of drugs, but he was still playin'. I really hope the drugs made it sound different to him than it did to me, because I wouldn't want to submit anyone to that torture for hours every day, much less bestow that upon myself.

I turned around to start my walk to a BART station when I found a seemingly affluent couple dumpster diving. He found a really great looking toaster in there so went back for more. They clearly weren't homeless though since both were well dressed, she was carrying a purse, they appeared relatively put together, and mostly importantly they had a use for a toaster. I think this might be the only neighborhood I've even been to that accepts, encourages, and almost prefers shopping in garbage cans than in stores, but I saw the stores and they're a little sketchy, so it might be for good reason.

Before I left the area for good I was offered drugs just one more time. I don't think I look like a drug user, but I suppose drug users can be anyone. These are just small time businessmen doing some marketing and networking I suppose.

My trip back to the BART station went through the Castro neighborhood, which is known as the center of the thriving gay community in San Francisco. Gay neighborhoods always seem lively and active and Castro was no different. The streets were filled, the shops packed, and there were people everywhere despite being a Sunday night. This part of the city just seemed alive from that quick walk.

Back at the airport I recollected on my time here and the past six years since I last saw Crystal; all I could focus on was the government cover-ups and alien infiltrations. The truth is out there...

*    *    *

Salt Lake City, Utah

July 21, 2010
Diversity & Food

The land of Mormons is shockingly diverse. My cab driver from the airport was Iraqi and my cab driver to the airport was Pakistani... of course there aren't really any local cab drivers anywhere in the U.S. so this isn't a surprise. The diversity goes beyond this though; there are Greek neighborhoods near downtown, the rodeo is filled with Hispanics (of course it was fiesta night) and the city had a fair share of non-Mormon churches.

After checking into the very ornate Grand America hotel I made my way into the city, but first stopped at a local restaurant to eat. I choose the place, the Royal Eatery only because the locals were pouring in and out of the dive. The woman working the register recommended the gyro so I ordered that with some fries and an Oreo shake. After I asked for the fries she asked if I wanted "fry sauce." After inquiring what exactly that was she told me in her heavy Greek accent that I'd like it so rung it up before I could respond... for $0.25 I wasn't going to complain. Everything was good, including the fry sauce, but I was soon on my way east to the University of Utah.

Through the streets of the city I found unique architecture and street art everywhere. This street art was essentially graffiti, but done as marketing and advertising tools. After trudging through these unique neighborhoods and excruciating heat I made it to the University of Utah, which has a nice campus at the foot of the mountain.

After making my way back downtown I visited the state capitol, which stands on one of the largest hills in the city. It was here that I noticed the state's obsession with beehives. The beehive symbolizes industry and is a staple of Mormon symbolism. In fact, the Mormons created a group called "The Beehive Girls."

"The Beehive Girls," under the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS or Mormon Church) encouraged girls to care for kerosene lamps daily, identify and appropriately price lace, care for a hive of bees, destroy 25 flies a day, and get 8 hours of beauty sleep a night. Killing flies, encouraging bees, and obsession with beauty sleep? I would make a bad Mormon girl.

Back to the capitol... the building is impressive, but the views from the hill are better. To my left the skies were blue, to my right dark clouds gushed rain and in front of me the Mormon Temple and Temple Square.

As I approached Temple Square, the rain began to pour and more than one wedding couple got stuck in the downpour with me. The square quickly emptied out other than the stuck wedding parties, of which there were three or four. Each bride was dressed so conservatively that one would feel stressed to see any upper arm or even much neck.

After taking a few pictures and finding some shelter under a tree I made my way into the "FamilySearch" center to do some research. This facility is run by the Church of LDS and the atmosphere was odd. Thus far, every Mormon I've met has been extremely friendly and gracious, yet I feel like many want to preach to me. I received questions asking if I needed help and I overheard one girl asking a couple next to me if they wanted to know why Mormons take genealogy so seriously. It was as if they were there to help, but were looking for a way to take about the church, which isn't a bad thing, but can make a person uncomfortable.

The questions sparked my curiosity and the computer screen offered three options, the family history library catalogue, online family history search, or learn more about the church of LDS. I clicked on the last of these options and learned a bit, including their church's belief in missionary work and the requirement to preach the church's mission whenever given the opportunity.

No one here was pushy or overbearing. In fact they were more hands-off than I had imagined and much more diverse. One girl working in this center was Asian, another Hispanic, and another Caucasian. Each was dressed in the seemingly standard church of LDS missionary uniform: nice dress pants or skirts, a white button down shirt, ties on the gentlemen, and easily readable nametags.

The genealogical resources here proved somewhat useful and the stop was worth the effort, but my time was running short so I returned to the hotel to settle down. After re-cooping for about an hour I headed out to eat, only to notice the city had turned into a ghost town. Most restaurants were closed by this time (about 6:00pm) and the streets had emptied out. Only after finding about five places that were closed (breakfast and sandwich shops) did I find a Chinese restaurant open so stopped in for dinner.

July 22, 2010
Park City & the Rodeo

After much indecision, meetings, and weighing the costs, I decided to rent a car and go to Park City and the Rodeo today. Park City was first, then I returned to Salt Lake City for the rodeo.

My last important meeting ended at 3:00pm and I was then running to the lobby to get my rental car and head to the mountains. My car rental person arrived a little late, but made up for it by giving me a white minivan. Soon I was on my way to Park City and my first stop, Olympic Park.

The 2002 Winter Olympics took place in Salt Lake City and Park City; the remaining Olympic Park has turned into an adventure playground. I bought the all access pass so got rides on the bobsled, mountain sled, and two zip lines. Since I arrived at about 4:00 and everything closed at 6:00 I was told to go to the bobsled first since it was the only ride of the four that had a wait of less than 30 minutes.

My timing to the top of the bobsled track was perfect. I had just enough time to watch my safety video, read multiple legal documents, sign a waiver, and find a helmet before the next sled was departing, a sled that needed one more rider. I joined a father and his son of about 12 in the sled for the next minute.

The bobsled goes so quick, but what makes the ride so thrilling is the fact that you are perpendicular to the ground as you go around the corners at incredible speeds. Through these corners you can feel the force pushing the blood out of your head and your spine compressing. The worst corner was the second or third, which gave us enough time to pick up speed, but not enough warning to prepare for the G-force. After that corner you know what to expect so each corner is thrilling, but now you're prepared for the G-force.

We finished the ride and our time said that we were in second place for the day coming in at fractions of a second over one minute. Our driver said we hit 69.5 miles an hour around corner six and that equals a G-force of almost 5.

After the bobsled, everything seemed tame, but by the time I got to those rides there was no wait.

After Olympic Park, I made my way into Park City itself, an old mining town. The town is very picturesque and reminded me of a stereotypically ski resort town, but the focus on shopping and drinking didn't keep my interest long. After walking around aimlessly for about an hour I was headed back to Salt Lake City.

After sitting in traffic I paid my $5 for parking, then headed across the street to the Maverick Center for the "Days of '47" Rodeo. I got in line for tickets and found myself surrounded by cowboy hats, boots, and a surprising number of tattoos and Hispanics. I found the $5 tickets being sold outside the ticket office so got a ticket in the rafters and went into the arena.

The rodeo was sort of what was expected and started with steer wrestling and ended with bull riding. Although it seems everyone was there for the bull riding, I discovered the most hilarious event to be "wild cow milking."

There were a number of cows standing around in the arena when the gates opened and about six cowboys came riding in on horses with lasso in hand. After lassoing a cow, another cowboy came running out on foot to put the cow in a headlock. Once the headlock was secure the first cowboy got off his horse and tried to milk the cow, who was stuck in the headlock. This whole mission seemed difficult due to the cows trying to kick the cowboys and buck the other person away, but soon enough a cowboy had filled enough milk to run over to the judge who declared him the winner.

Between each event there was a break featuring a mariachi band or Latin-American dancers since apparently it was fiesta night, hence the overwhelming majority of Hispanics. This entertainment was ok, but I just wanted them to get on with the show since I had to wake up early the next morning.

As each event passed I began to notice the enormous difference between these professional athletes and many other professional athletes. Many athletes point to themselves and play to the crowd, but each cowboy just went about his business as if it were just that, business. After he would milk a wild cow, rope a steer, or get thrown off a bull, he would simply walk away as if it were just another chore on the farm. Few even recognized the crowd and even after an incredibly fast steer roping, each cowboy would just walk away, get on his horse and gallop off the arena floor.

The introductions of the cowboys were great as well. The announcers did a fantastic job of getting the crowd involved so stressed local cowboys and gave a little history of each, like past events they won. The best introduction was of the cowboy, whose great great grandfather built the oldest still standing two-story log cabin in the world. This was apparently big news in the rodeo world based upon crowd reaction.

Other than the wild cow milking, the highlights were funnel cakes, BBQ pork, and people watching, particularly the latter. The crowd seemed excited about everything, especially cowboys from Utah, funnel cakes and bull riding. In fact, when the bull riding began, even the funnel cake stand closed as the entire place got in their seats and became glued to the show.

I stuck around just long enough to watch cowboy after cowboy be thrown from his bull as the crowd became more and more excited. After a few rides I left early to beat the crowd.

On the way out I realized it was "free bread day" at the rodeo and each of us was offered two loaves of white bread. I've heard of free hat, lunchbox, and even free bobble head day, but free bread day? After saying I'm from out of town and didn't need any, the free bread guy gave me only one loaf and said that I had to take at least one loaf of bread, because it's really good stuff. It quickly became a gift to my housekeeping staff.

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Vail, Colorado

August 18, 2010

Vail looks like a small village in the Alps. The hiking was good, although slow at altitude and the town was quiet this time of year. Most people here were friendly, but there's not a lot to say about Vail.

Aspen, Colorado

August 19, 2010
"Where the Beer Flows Like Wine"

Aspen is a legendary ski resort town, which has been described with high acclaim by people from all backgrounds. From a Midwestern banker who proclaimed "everyone here is a yuppy" to the famed Lloyd Christmas who claimed that Aspen is "a place where the beer flows like wine. Where beautiful women instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano," Aspen truly is a destination waiting to be talked about.

Aspen offers a great amount of higher living and should be visited for those with a few million extra dollars and an ego to match or for those like me, wishing to take a lesson in arrogance.

Having heard that Colorado and Aspen are very dog-friendly I arrived in... I mean with my sheepdog, fashioned my largest sunglasses, got some new clothes and "sold some stuff" so I would have some extra spending money on whatever is the latest rage.

My first stop was the dog store, which boosted hand-painted $100 collars and other expensive dog accessories. I bought two collars and a $250 leash; however when I asked if the store had any tile mosaics of a sheepdog for my kitchen floor I was greatly insulted. The woman working the store was kind enough to inform me that they only sell pure-bred tile mosaics, although she's "heard that some mixed breeds can be nice." I could not believe my sheepdog would embarrass me in front of this complete stranger, whose approval I sought so badly that I immediate traded in that dog for a scooter and a Scottish Terrier, a dog worthy of wearing a $100 hand-painted collar.

With a new pure-bred dog in hand I made my way to a nearby "lobby bar right by the lobby," which was not yet open, but the bar tender was kind enough to let me in since he just figured I was "a raging alcoholic." Here I demanded that the beer flow like wine, but they only offered artisan beers and for nearly $12 a pint I decided to let the lobby bar remain closed.

Despite my lack of money, I thought to myself "I can play this game too!" I soon dropped $20,000 on a $3,000 carpet, rented a jet to match the dozens of private jets at the airport, maxed out my credit cards on everything I was told is in style, and pranced around town with my Scottie.

The tourists were but jealous fools only dreaming of one day becoming like me. I had at last become one of them; I had become a yuppy obsessed with my image! Now all I needed was to meet "someone who can plug us into the social pipeline." Then I could ignore all the low life tourists to prove my superiority! Flock to me beautiful women, flock like the "salmon of Capistrano!"

Manitou Springs, Colorado

August 22, 2010
"Morons Gather for Running of the Pike's Peak Marathon"

Today hundreds of morons gathered in Manitou Springs, Colorado for the 55th annual Pikes Peak Marathon. Each year this event attracts morons from dozens of states and foreign countries. The Pikes Peak Marathon consists of a half-marathon climb to the top of Pikes Peak over rough, uneven, rocky, and root-filled terrain before reaching the summit at over 14,000 feet. Once each runner reaches this point, he or she turns around and begins running down the same exact path for an additional 13+ miles.

According to one runner from Wisconsin "this is by far the stupidest thing I've ever done." He then continued to explain that although running for near ten hours seems unintelligent, the fact that he finished the day only about ¼ of a mile from where he began was ever more perplexing, "at the end of the day I realized I had spent a lot of money and hundreds of hours training to move myself a mere quarter of a mile... I'm beginning to think this doesn't make sense."

For other runners, including the father of the above marathoner, this self-inflicted torture appears to be some sort of "fun" or perhaps a sadistic cleansing ritual. "Oh, it was great fun! We really had a great time. We also got to see the Air Force Academy, the cliff dwellings, and the Garden of the Gods while we were here in Manitou Springs."

The world is filled with idiotic marathon runners, however the Pikes Peak Marathon is the pinnacle of idiocy in the field and this is emphasized by the event's well organized finish line. The line representing the race's finish is also the entrance to the medical/hospitality tent. In this way the morons can be immediately patched up from their wicked falls so they can begin training for their next event.

As always, this year's marathon attracted a great support base of fans, frightened loved ones, and a top-notch announcer who ironically encouraged each runner by claiming he or she looked good only to immediately call medical's attention to each still-running, blood-gushing moron.

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Los Angeles, California

January 1, 2011
Gather the Women, Children, & Kerosene

I'm not one for conspiracy theories unless it's a well acted portrayal by Mulder and Scully in a mesmerizing case of "The X Files," but when a conspiracy theory shifts to reality, I take note and listen. Those end of the world theories we've all been hearing about are in fact true; the destruction of this planet is upon us!

For years numerous religious cults have been burning themselves alive, and for what? Attention? Salvation? An escape from child molestation charges? Perhaps to avoid this inevitable and torturous existence we now live in. None of the major college football bowl games are on broadcast television! None, not even the National Championship.

What the hell happened to this world?

The religious cults who talk about mass suicide into the late hours are easy to pass off as crazy. So are these Mayan calendar observers who claim to know the exact day the world ends. But then the birds came and died, soon after that the fish, and now the death of logical common sense among the television executives.

TV was my confidant and a trustworthy, reliable friend, but she's turned her back on me. If I can't trust TV, who can I trust? The crazy preacher with a bucket of kerosene and matches? I don't think so, but maybe he's not as crazy as I once believed.

It all makes sense now: first there were the crazy cults, then the Mayan calendar coming to an end, then on New Year's Eve in Arkansas about 4,000 birds mysteriously dropped dead from the sky. Even at that point I foolishly bought into the scientific explanation of their deaths, but then nearly 80,000 fish mysteriously turned up dead in a nearby Arkansas river. I again bought into the science and called the "end of the world conspiracy theorists" crazy. Then, on January 1, 2011 all of the BCS bowl games were moved to cable in favor of some show called "Castle" and "The Bachelor"? If those cult members are crazy, then so am I, because it is "theory" no more; the world's coming to an end!

Ask yourself: is it a coincidence that nearly every suicidal cult is located in Texas, home to a 2011 BCS school, or that these bird and fish deaths took place in Arkansas home to another BCS school? Arkansas hasn't played in a major bowl game since 1984 when they got waxed by Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl (the Cotton Bowl hasn't counted since the mid-1980s) and TCU hasn't won a major bowl since the 1950s!

In my delusional little head, this is the end of the world, so if you want to take your women, children, and kerosene into a huge military-like stronghold somewhere in Texas and burn yourselves alive, I won't look down upon you (although I don't recommend it). I meanwhile, am sadly and painfully considering getting cable (or friends that have a big screen TV and cable) for next year's bowl season.

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Niagara Falls, New York

March 3, 2011
Niagara Falls, 2 Hard Rock Cafes, & Guinness

Unfortunately, for all the Niagara Falls loving people of the world, I thought the highlight of my trip to the falls was actually my experience at the Guinness World Records® Museum. After hearing the entrance fee was nearly CAN $12, I naturally asked if Guinness World Record holders get in free and was told "yes, but you got to prove you're actually a Guinness World Record holder." I quickly got the young man checking his 2010 Guinness Book of World Records and I was in the door for free!

The museum was alright, but the excitement of the guy working the desk there made the whole trip worthwhile, although the fact that I get free admission for life to the museum is even more exciting for me personally. I really think I made his day, but he seemed almost upset and apologetic when he told me that he doesn't think they have an exhibit dedicated to my record.

Enough of my ego-boasting and on to the falls. If these falls were in the middle of nature I think they'd be extremely impressive, however I almost feel as though they're just the central attraction in the middle of a gimmicky town cashing in on their location surrounding the falls. With the nearby buildings and towns, the falls look almost small considering the buildings on both sides of the river are taller than the falls themselves. It also feels like the city dweller's nature escape, but you're still in the middle of an urban area.

Despite the slight disappointment, the falls are still quite impressive and traveling there during the winter months means no entrance fees and no crowds, which makes the visit more pleasant.

Although I had to get back to Toronto for my meeting the next day, I still had time to buy a Hard Rock Cafe shirt from both the Hard Rock Cafe in Canada and in the U.S.A. for my brother, who now boasts a collection of nearly 15 shirts.

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Las Vegas, Nevada & Grand Canyon, Arizona

October 30, 2011
A Day Away From Vegas

After spending the past few days in Las Vegas for a meeting I got up early today to head out to the Grand Canyon. Before getting to the Grand Canyon, I must mention that Vegas is quite the place, particularly within site of the "it" club.

I stayed at one of the newer hotels, The Cosmopolitan, which contains Vegas' most popular nightclub. As one person fairly accurately stated, "Average age: 24; average skirt length: here (his hand placement would indicate a skirt of about 6 inches); average heel height: 5 inches." Oh, yeah, and in case you're planning on being in Vegas for Halloween, a thong and bikini top does count as "in costume."

The hotel rooms were beautiful... and mine came complete with a birth control kit and a book of pornography. Vegas, or "Sin City" as the city sometimes prefers, is a city at which the first encounter is filled with glitz and glamour, but after that I just feel like I'm in a dirty, sinful, immoral city filled with great entertainment, food, and prostitutes. I'm ready to go to the Grand Canyon now.

This morning I got up early and headed off to the cheapest car rental agency I could find. I found the dirtiest and most dinged up car I could find then drove off to Arizona to the Grand Canyon with the hope that any damage I do to the car would be hidden among the car's other dings.

The Grand Canyon looks exactly like it does in pictures. Unfortunately, I wasn't more impressed in person than I am looking at photos of the site itself, but being surrounded by nature gave a feel that pictures cannot convey. The silence of being miles away from roads and cars, the wind cutting the hot dry air, the sun beating on my skin, and the occasional bird soaring overhead, or at times below, within the canyon walls all gave the scene a more surreal experience. Only the regular helicopters jetting through the canyon reminded me that this natural wonder has been commercialized.

From the top of the canyon, it makes a person want to trek down into the canyon's basin to hike and raft the Colorado River below to see the rock formations up close and personal. To hear the echo of the rushing water bounce off the multi-colored walls. From the crater rim the sight is impressive, but little more than just a sight; the canyon's floor I'm sure is an adventure and gives a person the freedom nature gifts to us, but on this trip I didn't have the time to experience this.

On the way back to Vegas to catch my flight I made two short stops; first in a Joshua tree forest and second at the Hoover Dam. The forest sprawled for miles in every direction and with the mountainous backdrop, made for some great pictures, but little to truly do. The Hoover Dam is more impressive in person than in pictures because it is difficult to comprehend the enormity of dam until you walk or drive across it in person. Then, by trekking uphill to see the artificially made Lake Mead one can see the impact the dam has made on the area. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to get a dam tour, but the quick stop was worthwhile as I rushed off to Vegas to catch my evening flight home.

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Orlando, Florida

December 14, 2011
Disney World

I've spent the past week in Disney World, "The Happiest Place on Earth." Every time I come here I seem to ride the same rides and go to the same places, but the parks always remain interesting in that the people here truly represent the United States. You see families, couples, and individuals from every class and walk of life. You see adults acting like children and children refusing to grow up, people solely focused on getting to that next ride and others stopping at random to just look around. Disney World, though, is still a place that brings out the child in each of us and reminds many of us of earlier memories that we'll carry with us for the rest of our lives.

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South Dakota

June 9, 2012
Driving & Mt. Rushmore

We (my dad, brother Travis, & I) left bright and early this morning, headed out to Yellowstone National Park. It's about a 22 hour drive so we're looking at two days. We started out making good time and eating lots of candy and other snacks for sustenance; we arrived to South Dakota at about lunchtime and that's when our struggles began.

We saw a sign for a couple food options in Rapid City, but it was a bit too early for lunch so we thought we'd get some food at the next place we saw... the next place was about two hours later. Turns out there isn't much in South Dakota and even less people as our long, straight drive consisted of a few exits, but little else. Two hours later we got our food and continued on... unfortunately, we forgot to get gas and trying to find a gas station was another journey. For about 22 miles we slowed down to conserve fuel as we drafted a semi. It worked and we got our gas, then continued on.

We decided to take a short detour to see Mt. Rushmore at about 7:00 pm; we walked around for about a half hour before heading out. The monument is quite impressive, but what struck me were the number of foreigners working here, that and the statement that Thomas Jefferson was the first American (supposedly) to write a recipe for ice cream. Perhaps that's just a ploy to sell ice cream, which worked on us.

We left Mt. Rushmore at about 8:00 and stopped for the night just short of the Wyoming border.

Grand Teton National Park

June 10, 2012
Scenery, Hiking, & Mountains

We got up early to make the second leg of the trip to Yellowstone and our first stop, Grand Teton National Park. Our drive started off well, making it to Wyoming early, then taking a short detour to Devil's Tower. This monument juts straight into the sky, consisting of numerous pillars; it is very odd and somewhat mesmerizing.

From Devil's Tower we continued on, soon running out of expressway and onto the side roads, which have high speed limits, but are quite mountainous and indirect. By this point on our drive we were starting to tire of the car, but not the candy, which seemed to provide a number of meals thus far.

We made it to the park just before dark and before calling it a night grabbed a bite to eat. Again the foreigners dominated this restaurant and I'm hoping it just opened for the season, since the food was poor at best. Oddly our food didn't match the descriptions on the menu, as my sandwich lacked two of the three ingredients mentioned, but included many others. The chicken was also so overcooked, it was literally black. It's tough to blame the cooks though, they don't know what they're doing.  It would be like me moving to China to make Chinese food for the Chinese. I like to think whatever I make would at least be edible though... thank goodness for mayo.

June 11, 2012

Our day began at about sunrise. After getting ready, my dad and I headed to the nearby ranger station to get some advice and find the park's highlights. The ranger was a kind, but odd man; he explained how bear spray can be placed in one's pocket in case you lose the holster, something he was kind enough to demonstrate. After this, he gave us the top vista stops in the park and helped point us in the direction of some wildlife.

We got Travis and started off with the ranger's suggestions, grabbing some views, but with little luck as the clouds were covering the majority of the mountains and there was little we could do to change that. The best part about this drive was the large number of bison we saw. We slowly made our way around the park, hitting all of his highlights, until we made it to the large welcome center and Jenny Lake.

At Jenny Lake we decided to hike half way around, then checked out some of the highlights over there, including Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. The hike was good and for some time a mid-sized woodland creature led us on the path. I believe it was a marmot, although I'm not entirely sure. He didn't seem to be bothered by us though as he ate leaves just feet from where we were without much concern about us.

Once we made it to Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point we found everyone who took the book across the lake; the area was packed, but after we again crossed Inspiration Point the crowds had diminished and the path was left to us and the bears; fortunately we didn't see them.

We took the boat back across the lake then stopped at a couple hotels and viewpoints on our way back to Colter Bay, our home for the night. Along the path we saw a number of elk, but little else. We grabbed dinner at the Jackson Lake Hotel (much better than yesterday's food), where we tried out the buffalo burger.

June 12, 2012

We began our trip to Yellowstone by heading south. We decided to check out the Chapel of the Transfiguation then on to Mormon Row and the city of Jackson. The highlight was Mormon Row, which has simple barns set in the middle of incredible scenery.

Jackson, Wyoming & Idaho

June 12, 2012
Drive Through Idaho for Lunch

Jackson, better known as Jackson Hole is home to the rich and famous as the celebrities love to have homes here. Unlike Aspen, Jackson has great character and feels authentic. The city square welcomes visitors with antler thresholds and the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, which has saddles instead of seats.

After Jackson we headed west to drive through Idaho, our first trip to the state. We had to somehow justify our existence in the state though so stopped for lunch at a small local cafe called the Gingerbread Run Cafe. We were welcomed by a sign that said they were going out of business, which scared us a bit, but we went in anyway.

The food was half American and half Chinese so I went with a chicken sandwich with an egg roll. Both were surprisingly good and after finishing and thanking the owners, we headed out to Yellowstone.

Yellowstone National Park

June 12, 2012
Drive Through Yellowstone to Gardiner, Montana

We entered Yellowstone National Park from West Yellowstone and headed up to Gardiner, Montana. Our drive in was gorgeous as a small river wound through valleys and a few bison and elk were just eating along the roadsides.

After a short stop here and there we eventually made our way to Norris Geyser Basin. The area was impressive, but the odor was so strong and overpowering, the smell of sulfur, I soon had to turn around and ended my walk through the area early.

After Norris we continued our way north, again making a couple stops along the way until we made it to Mammoth Hot Springs. Here my brother and dad speared me the misery of the odor and agreed to just drive through the Upper Basin area. We then headed to Gardiner to meet my best friends, Basil and Sylvan, who arrived to the park today. Oddly, we ran into them in Mammoth.

That night Marlene made us dinner as we ate outside, overlooking the river, from where we could see the Roosevelt Arch and the park.

June 13, 2012
Grand Prismatic Spring, Old Faithful, & Lake Yellowstone

Today we got up and headed straight down to Old Faithful making a stop at the Grand Prismatic Spring on the way down. Pictures of the Grand Prismatic Spring from the sky look incredible as the hot pool moves from dark blue in the center to reds, oranges, and yellows on the outside. These colors are due to microorganisms that live in this intense heat, but can't survive in the extreme heat in the middle of the pool where the water appears a deep blue.

From here we moved south to Old Faithful and as we got out of our cars we could see it... um, geysering?  I'm not sure what the verb is for that. Anyway, we missed the start so spend the next hour and a half checking out the nearby welcome center and grabbed lunch. After this we say Old Faithful, um, geyser? After this we went our separate ways as Basil and Sylvan went north for a horse trip and dinner as we moved east to Lake Yellowstone.

As we approached Lake Yellowstone we stopped to take a hike to a lake viewing spot then went to Lake Yellowstone Hotel, the second largest wood building in the United States. After taking about a dozen pictures of the famous yellow bus that tours the park we moved north.

As we left Lake Yellowstone the rain started, but we stopped at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone along the way. The walls of the canyon were bright red and yellow as the walkways and area was completely void of people. We wanted to spend more time, but the rain came down heavier, we were tired, and we planned on stopping here tomorrow so headed back to Gardiner for the night.

June 14, 2012
Wolf Watching in Lamar Valley

We got up at about 5:00 am to head out to the Lamar Valley, one of the best wildlife viewing areas in the park. Our trip was delayed since Vinny lost his keys, but eventually we decided to go ahead with Basil and Sylvan as Vinny and Marlene stayed behind, searching for their keys.

We made it to the Lamar Valley early and instead of looking at the fields, we just looked for the huge camera lenses. It didn't take long before we were on a small hill overlooking the enormous valley and learning all about wolf behavior. In front of our eyes we watched a live documentary as we had bison in the foreground, grizzles on the far valley wall, and the show in front of our eyes. Yesterday the wolves killed, what they believe was a bison.

There are two wolf packs in the valley, the Mollie Pack and the Lamar Pack; the Mollie Pack is the larger and more dominant of the two. It was the Mollie Pack that took down the bison, but the Lamar Pack was sneaking up to grab a bite or two of the bison. As a wolf from the Lamar Pack approached the kill one of the wolves from the Mollie Pack protecting the kill chased him off; the two ran through the herd of bison at full speed until the Lamar wolf had fled the area and both had crossed the road to our right.

From here we just watched the show as it was mesmerizing. However, Basil and Sylvan eventually tired so we moved on. From here we made it a mission to see all the wildlife we hadn't yet seen and succeeded in no time. Without 20 minutes we saw two moose and an hour later we saw big horned sheep. We also asked around to find black bears and within a short time found one just off the road; as we turned around it began crossing the road as we got a great view of him slowly walking across the road. During this time we also ran into Vinny and Marlene who found their keys.

We headed back down to the canyon and went on a few hikes. We spent a couple hours here before heading back to Gardiner for the night. Due to our early start we were ready to make it an early night so went to Gardiner for pizza and ice cream. After this we said goodbye to Basil, Sylvan, Vinny, and Marlene then went to bed for our long drive tomorrow.

North Dakota

June 15, 2012
Theodore Roosevelt National Park

We got up early and headed north through Montana to North Dakota. We got an early start and made it to Theodore Roosevelt National Park by early afternoon. We drove around the park with low expectations after the wolf show from yesterday. However we found the prairie dogs quite amusing as there were thousands of them just off the side of the roads. Oddly, we found these animals more amusing and interesting than the bison, which we seen thousands of over the past week.

We continued on through the park, stopping occasionally to see vistas of the Badlands. Then, as we came around a corner we spotted a heard of wild horses on a road just off the road. The sky was dark blue as the sun broke the clouds to shine a bright light on this wild herd of white, brown, and black horses. It was an odd scene as it was completely unexpected and the horses held an odd serenity. For some reason these horses were almost more impressive than the wildlife we've seen the past few days; perhaps only because we had no expectations to see them.

After the park, our long, straight drive east was fairly dull; we stopped for the night in Jamestown.

June 16, 2012
Buffalo Museum

We got up early and headed over to the Buffalo Museum in Jamestown. Here we saw an albino bison and the world's largest buffalo, which is nothing more than a giant statue. From here we started our day and made it back home, despite the rain, for dinner.

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