Category Archives: Travelling

Dear Bay Area, Give LA a Chance

Venice Beach LA

I went to LA over labor day weekend and expected to hate it, having absorbed the LA-negative attitude of the Bay Area. To many people that call the Bay Area home, the idea of actually enjoying LA is as offensive as the existence of styrofoam.

“Oh LA” they’ll say “Yuck. LA can suck a lemon. The traffic sucks, the people are plastic, they don’t have any culture, they don’t even have city wide composting. Who could ever love LA? ho could ever love a city that wasn’t in the Bay Area. BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH I don’t live in the real world – I live in a bubble full of microhoods and local farm merchants that wear plaid shirts.”

So that’s the shtick you get from many Bay Area lovers, and if you believed them, you’d come away thinking that not only is LA a very lame city, but that it’s a moral and spiritual blight on the West Coast that poses a constant hazard to innocent citizens everywhere.

So I thought I would hate it and prepared myself accordingly. Then something strange happened, oh yeah, it turns out LA IS INCREDIBLE.

No one told me about the mountains you can see through the smog on a smoggy day and just see normally on a good day. No one told me about the mysterious magical summer nights where you can actually go outside without wanting to eat your own socks to raise your internal body temperature. No one told me that you could purchase an Argentinian plate of pasta from a movie actress that was from Vanuatu and the 2nd cousin of Leonardo DiCaprio. Or that you could walk into what appeared to be a lame restaurant and get an incredible philipino meal for super cheap while listening to live piano music and using a bathroom that has a shower in it.

And the strange tatooed people that wear hats and different kinds of shoes, where the men don’t just wear blue shirts and slacks and the women have weird piercings in their face.

I don’t know – it was kind of lovely. It was especially nice how unappealing most things looked – I mean, strip malls as far as the eye could see, hole in the wall mexican restuarants with no marketing budget, streets as wide as highways wherever you go. It would be hard to pinpoint something picturesque in LA – was it the bearded lady I saw? Or what about the stick-woman wearing needle-thin stilletos and a napkin? Or the veiny elderly man that hobbled in his walker to sit down while waiting to eat at Norm’s, a diner with some of the most average food I’ve ever tasted.

No – this was something more than picturesque – it was real, and maybe this is the poor-quality tap water talking but I liked how raw the city felt and how it seemed like there were endless opportunities and how it wouldn’t be hard to imagine why someone who just arrived might say to themselves “By gum, I’m gonna make it big here!”

People are willing to live there just because they’re following their dreams. That’s something nice, right? And that’s not everyone even – I don’t know how to say it. There’s more to LA than the smack talk, even though that’s there too. There’s just more there.

That can be LA’s slogan: There’s more here.

So give it a chance, Bay Area. Maybe you’ll like it.

An Overly Poetic Account of a Trip to Coastal Georgia

st_simons_island_georgiaWhoosh….whoosh…..whoosh…..that’s the sound the earth makes as it spins through space. We’re spinning around with it too and that’s the sound I make every day as I chop apples for my gallon of lunch salad, check emails for typos, and rush to post-work activities. Whoosh. Whoosh. One day, one night, and the Lord said it was good.

I finish opening up my Christmas gift cards and then it’s July 4th, 2013, the fourth anniversary of when I celebrated the Fourth in Boston for the first time, and two years since I graduated from college. In the whirlwind of numbers and dates and earth-whooshing, eight friends have committed to spending the Fourth together this year, and to caravan to coastal Georgia for three nights.

Down, down we drive from burbian Atlanta, through the forests of shapely Georgia pines and kudzu, and the atmosphere grows thicker as we become farther removed from our day-to-day lives and cross into St. Simon’s Island.

The office kitchen answer to the typical post-holiday question is, “Yes, I had a good 4th of July  – you?”

But the long answer is rife with poetry as my heart bursts from my ribcage and sings hours and hours of loud, overly dramatic music.

“We laughed, but it wasn’t like normal laughter. This laughter was the wine of the gods. We spoke, but it wasn’t like normal words. It was like Homer himself, blind though he was, were composing our interjections and outbursts. We ate, but it wasn’t like regular food, it was like food we threw together in an amateur fashion but because we did it with a pure heart and clear mind, no one complained.

“And on the night of the Holy 4th, as we tore ourselves away from Harry Potter to go watch fireworks and a man wished me a happy freedom, I knew he spoke the truth. Accented by friendly interactions with strangers, and beverages that could slake even a horse’s thirst, we wove our own Southern Gothic, and I don’t know what that means.”

You can see why I don’t give the long answer.

Sunday was goodbye day and the day of three separate trips to the airport. After the dust settled it was just me left in Marietta with a cancelled flight, wondering what to do next.

I know the world is still whooshing around me, and in an alternate universe I would be too, getting sucked back into my usual orbit and looking at the backs of the same people. But for some reason, I’ve been spat out and I’m looking at the blur from a city that’s not my home, in a home that’s not my home.

Here in my orbit-less state, I can almost see the time passing. I’m being allowed to take a deep breath before I go under again.

From this perspective, I know something of the meaning of life was contained in our trip, in the wine of laughter, and in the night walk we took on the beach at low tide, the Milky Way out there clouding everything up and us all trying to catch the first shooting star.

With no moon, you couldn’t tell where the sand ended and the sea began and the air was the same temperature as blood. I know that’s gross to think about, but it felt natural. On the sandbars, it felt like you could walk forever into the ocean, black as night. And now I’m thinking that maybe, in another universe, we’re still walking into the ocean forever, the world whooshing around and we are holding hands and singing and laughing.

So yeah, Georgia was pretty great. Sorry I didn’t bring you back any BBQ sauce or home tattoo kits.

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True Life: Bilbo Baggins is my Fashion Icon

Bilbo Baggins in the shire

Photo courtesy of: geeksunleashed.me

There’s a certain jacket I like to wear. It was green once, but has since faded to some kind of grey. The elbows are getting holes in them, and the cuffs are slowly fraying back into balls of thread. I wear this jacket almost every day, regardless of what other clothes I’m wearing or even the temperature outside.

I purchased the jacket for the Hungarian equivalent of $4 on a chilly afternoon in Budapest in May 2010. Some of my closest friends and I had managed to convene partway around the world, and we were doing what we knew best: bumming around and thrift-shopping. The jacket wasn’t really my style – or hadn’t been, at least – but I tried it on and felt something special happen. I felt a transformation and knew that it was my glass slipper, my magic pair of jeans like the ones from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. My friend immediately confirmed the glass-slipper effect, and even though I was slightly broke, I put up the thousand forint required and walked away with an instant favorite piece of clothing.

Over the course of the next three years, it developed a host of memories and some magical powers, powers to tie me to the future and the past in the same moment, to render me both invisible and extremely conspicuous, and to allow me to speak freely and confidently on subjects I know nothing about. It’s been with me to a few different countries, through different stages of my life, various loves and crushes, and a couple career visions. As it’s taken on so many memories and supernatural abilities, it’s lost a bit of its color and the ability to hold itself together and put forward a sharp appearance.

But that’s okay, because we support each other. Where would the memories go, if they weren’t contained in this article of clothing. Where would they fly away to?

Towards the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, with the dark rising in the entire world, all fates rolling towards one impending doom, Bilbo sets out on another journey at last after disappearing from his 111st birthday party. Here’s what Tolkien has to say about those last moments.

He walked briskly back to his hole, and stood for a moment listening with a smile to the din in the pavilion and to the sounds of merrymaking in other parts of the field. Then he went in. He took off his party clothes, folded up and wrapped in tissue-paper his embroidered silk waistcoat, and put it away. […] From a locked drawer, smelling of moth-balls, he took out an old cloak and hood. They had been locked up as if they were very precious, but they were so patched and weatherstained that their original colour could hardly be guessed: it might have been dark green. They were rather too large for him.”

This is the piece of tattered clothing that most people would be inclined to throw away, but it is Bilbo’s own personal suit of armour and the equivalent of my Hungary jacket, the one that ties me to past selves. I can remember every piece of clothing I wore on my journeys, and some of the stories that happened in them. These garments journey with us, to different countries or worlds or states of being, and for me at least they retain some of those journeys and become portals through which I expereince the past and imagine the future.

It’s not fashionable, but it’s meaningful, and I think that’s even better.

I pulled the quote from a full text version of The Lord of the Rings that can be found here. If you liked this article, you might also enjoy: Oh Travel, Why Are You So Magical?, wornstories.com, a website about clothing and memory, and Step Out of the Van and Into a Postcard

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The Official Snotting Black Guide to Loving San Francisco

san francisco twin peaks san francisco state university USF1. Love at first sight isn’t real. That’s true with humans, parakeets, human-parakeet relations, and cities. You think you know a city but then it starts raining and housing is hard to find and strangers talk to you while you’re in line for the bus. Give yourself space to find the reasons you love the city for yourself. Or go back home to Oklahoma.

2. The city will be just like you thought it would: hilly, tree-ridden, and expensive. Rejoice in the fact you knew what you were doing when you came here. Make sure your confidence level is as high as possible.

3. The city will be nothing like you thought it would be: you had no idea what you were getting into, people take themselves too seriously or not seriously enough, and it turns out that dreams don’t come true automatically with geographical relocation. Beginning with a surfeit of confidence, however, was the best way to beat your bird-brained assumptions out of you.

4. You can make it work. Believe this despite the fact that no one will blame you if you fail or decide to move away or change course. Maybe that’s what you should do anyways–you shouldn’t rule it out at least. It’s hard out here, but people make it work every day. You can too.

5. Attitude changes everything. Either you’re stuck in a job you don’t like or you’re getting the skills you need to move on to something better. Either you’re stuck with a cat at home or you’re learning how to love felines in order to relate to your cat-loving boyfriend. There’s always a lining to the cloud, but you choose what it’s made out of.

6. Everything your parents and your pre-calc teacher told you was right. You need skills. You need to be able to offer something valuable to someone. You need an income and somewhere to live after your friends get tired of you squatting in or around their apartments.

7. Everything your parents and your pre-calc teacher told you was wrong. I’m still trying to figure this one out, but I’m pretty sure it’s true.

8. Be prepared to talk to people either about their dogs or about food. It’s the surest way to the San Francisco resident’s heart. Be sure to call it “Frisco.” Locals love that, almost as much as they love instant coffee. (The last two sentences were jokes.)

9. Learn the secrets of the city, the way things look at night or from the tops of hills, the vistas you earn through inner thigh sweat, the places that everyone says are good but actually aren’t (I’m looking at you Bi-rite ice cream). In this way, you can make the city your own.

10. Don’t be afraid to be who you are, even if that means using a flip phone and eating McDonald’s soft serve ice cream occasionally. Singularity (both kinds) is what San Francisco’s supposed to be about, I think, so don’t go changing to try to please it.

11. Remember it’s all going to burn anyways.

What are your secrets to loving your city?

If you liked this blog post, you might also like: I’m not a local, but then again who is and Finally, a Bachelorette Party that Celebrates Pain, Confusion, and Fear and The Oatmeal that Changed My Life

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Crucial Information for the Midwesterner’s First Time in San Francisco

First of all, I would like to congratulate you on making it out to this heathen city. I’m sure you’ll enjoy your time and have some interesting stories to avoid telling your parents when you get back.

As you may have noticed already, San Francisco is not like the place you are from. Not only is it anywhere from 8-20x more expensive, but there is a very palpable cultural difference that reflects itself in everything from who people cheer for on Election Night to the kinds of music you won’t find on the radio station to the way people conceive the vast expanse in the middle of the United States.

Let’s begin with a few tidbits of information that will help make your time here as pleasant as possible.

1. Geography: Many San Franciscans have forgotten about the Midwest entirely, and are only reminded of it every four years when they watch most of it turn an accusing color of red and they boo. This is not a positive connotation. The red, for them, will stand for anger, ignorance, and obesity, three words that start with vowels. Some may even express fear at visiting the place you call home, as if the moment they stepped there, they would be accosted and forced to listen to country music  and believe in Jesus. Do not tell them that this is true. Avoid getting defensive, and merely laugh along with their bigotry. Then, make a note and send it back to your prayer circle to get something moving on the cosmic justice front.

2. Coffee: Be very careful of where you purchase your brown brew. Learn to identify the words “hand-crafted” or “hand-made” with “expensive” and “slow” and sometimes “too strong.” Be prepared to pay up to $4 for a brewed coffee that would have cost $1 at McDonald’s. If you’re not a true aficionado, it won’t be worth the money or the wait. Don’t feel bad about it. Just embrace who you really are and look up the nearest fast food restaurant on your smartphone. Do not ask a stranger.

3. Naked Flesh: Many/Most San Franciscans are horrifyingly more sex-positive than the average Midwesterner and lack a natural and healthy body shame. To make the matter more interesting, public nudity is lawful in some areas of the city (maybe all of it). It is possible, depending on your luck and the weather, that you will see nude flesh of varying quality as you mind your own business in the city, especially in an area known as the Castro. If this happens, don’t stare, don’t gawk, and don’t take pictures, weirdo. Just walk on by. If you’re with someone else who doesn’t see the nude flesh, do them a favor and don’t tell them about it. Let them live in peaceful oblivion and innocence.

4. Dogs:  San Franciscans love their animals. In many cases, the animals are their children and they are treated as such. You will see an astounding array of fresh pet food stores, dogs wearing various clothing items and political buttons, and  people taking their dogs out to eat with them at restaurants that encourage this sort of behavior. You can use this to your advantage by making it a conversation starter, “Do you have a pet? How much money do you spend on it, per year? Is that more than the money you give to charity?” And so on.

I hope this was a good introduction to the subject of Midwesterner travel in San Francisco. The topic may or may not be continued. It’s not really any of your business.

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