Monthly Archives: June 2011

Young Man On The Road #6: God bless America. . . they’re going to need it.

Salt Lake City, UTAH

June 25-26, 2011

If Boise, Idaho, could impress me, I had some hope for Salt Lake City.  We did know people in SLC, so that was going to help.  But still, I wondered, what were Ian and I going to do in the Mormon capital of the world?

Not what you’d expect:

1) Hit the bars.

Anyone who knows the basics of the Mormon religion knows that alcohol is prohibited.  Therefore, I did not expect Salt Lake City to be the first place where Ian and I went out drinking.

Robert, our host and long-time school buddy from Livermore, is a University of Utah alumnus and resident of Salt Lake City.  He not only opened up his house to us for the night, but also acted as a guide to the city.  He first took us on a short tour of the campus.  Being a former pitcher for the Utes, Robert stuck to showing us the sports facilities.  The most amusing part of the tour was when we walked by a wall of gymnast photos and Robert walked along pointing out the athletes he’s dated.

Later that evening, my good friend Olivia, who left California for Utah during high school, drove into town to see me.  I used to hang out at her house after school all the time from about 8th to 10th grade.  People’s paths are constantly diverging, so it’s great when they cross again.  Robert continued his tour guide duties downtown.

Our first stop was Lumpy’s, where the ground level featured leather armchairs and a TV at each table, while the basement level had pool and darts.  It was awesome on two levels.  (So was that last sentence.)  Olivia ate deep fried mozzarella logs.  Logs.

The second bar. . . well, I don’t quite remember the name of the second bar.  Neither does Ian.  I do remember that the picture above was just one of many (free) rounds.  Robert knew the bartender, as well as a couple other patrons that night, so drinks were flowing but not our cash.

2) Talk to a local who was not white.

Like most popular cities, Salt Lake City was designed as a grid system with numbered streets.  Unlike most popular cities, those numbered streets run both north-south and west-east, which can cause problems.

Everything starts with the Mormon Temple in the center of the city (and by “the Mormon Temple” I mean THE Mormon Temple!).  Each street ascends in number in each direction, by increments of one hundred.  So, the street three blocks east of the Temple is 300 East, whereas 500 West can be found five blocks west of the Temple.  Locals usually call these streets by the ordinal form of the primary digit(s); e.g. 400 North is “4th North” and 2200 South is “22nd South.”  Simple, yeah?

Not so much.

When streets are numbered in all directions, you can have four similar corners.  “6th and 6th” can be one of four spots, so adding the cardinal directions is essential.  It gets worse.  “100 West,” for example, runs in both directions from the central west-east road, meaning you have a “North 100 West” and a “South 100 West.”  The addition of another cardinal number is for clarity, but it did nothing but confuse me.  It gets worse.  The directions we were using also used cardinal directions for instruction.  When Google Maps told me to “turn South on North 100 West,” I pretty much gave up.

Ian did have an easier time navigating Salt Lake City, but there came a moment where we needed help from a local.  He rolled down the passenger side window and asked the man in the car across from us where Smith’s was located.  That man happened to be black.  What were the chances?  No, really, in a predominately white city, what were the chances that the one random person we talked to was not white?

(I actually looked it up: 20% chance he wasn’t white, 2% chance he was black.)

3) Watch a Mexican league baseball game.

Since graduating from Utah, Robert has gone on to join several local baseball league teams, and coach at least one.  The morning after our night on the town, he had a game with the Mexican League.  Again, what were the chances that that was what we would experience in SLC?

Being the champ that he is, Robert woke up and left early while Olivia, Ian, and I just kinda lounged around until 10:30. . . or what I thought was 10:30.  My computer was still on Pacific Time so it was actually 11:30 by the time we left the house.  Our plans to stop by Robert’s game at 11 and leave by noon were out the window.  Ian and I didn’t get to Robert’s game until around 12:30, and we weren’t sure it was Robert’s game until we saw the backs of the players’ jerseys: Rodriguez, Sanchez, Garcia.  Yup, we made it.  There was no way another Mexican League baseball team was playing in Salt Lake City at the same time.

Ian and I had a few stops before and after seeing Robert pitch an inning, including a necessary stop at the Mormon Temple.  Not everything we did had to be unexpected.  We didn’t leave SLC until 2:30.  Oops.

Bonus: What DIDN’T I do that you that you WOULD expect? Find a keychain with the logo of the local university.

Before meeting up with Robert at his place upon arrival, Ian and I took a look around the main Utah campus.  Though a hot day, it was a pretty nice walk: wide pavements, rolling green hills, sleek and modern buildings.  My initial goal was to walk into the student store and buy a keychain for my collection, but the student store was closed on weekends and we weren’t staying until Monday.  No worries, I thought, there has to be a college merchandise shop nearby.  So we wasted some time at the student union (which not only has pool tables and arcade games, but a freakin’ bowling alley!  There ain’t even a bowling alley in the city of Berkeley, much less the campus).

What did I discover?  There were no college merchandise shops nearby.  The reason we were so late leaving the next day was because we drove all around looking for a place that might sell a University of Utah keychain.  Smith’s–their equivalent of Wal-Mart, Ross, and Safeway combined–came up empty, as did their Target-equivalent Shopko.

Keychain chain incomplete, we headed off to Denver, which we hoped we could make before midnight.

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Young Man On The Road #5: Your MOM went to college!

Boise, IDAHO

June 24-25, 2011

After the well-planned pavements of Portland and the scenic splendor of Seattle, it was a bit anticlimactic to end a seven-hour drive with the subdued skyline of Boise.

Those aren't small black clouds, it's just dirt on the windshield.

‘Twas a small city.  The end of I-84 just kinda turned into one of the main streets.  Literally less than a minute after entering the city, we were in our host’s parking lot.  Less than an hour later, we had seen the majority of the downtown area by foot.

Ian and I were fortunate enough to get a response on CouchSurfing.org from a young man named David a couple days before leaving Seattle.  This successful Idaho native was just out of college with one of them career-like jobs and a two-story apartment to himself.  He actually had just moved in three weeks prior to our arrival, so the place had scarce furniture.  David apologized for only being able to offer two mattress pads on the floor, but that was more than we needed.  We didn’t have to sleep in the Honda Civic, so we were happy.

Our laid-backed host was ready to relax for the weekend after ending another stretch at his 9-to-5 job, so he hung back at his place after giving us a key, some directions, and a few suggestions.  I am still awed by David’s generosity and willingness to open his home to two strangers.  Thank you, Internet.

David's Apartment

David’s place was about a five-minute walk from Downtown Boise.  The area was clean and quaint and reminded me of Downtown Livermore.  Wide sidewalks lined locally-owned restaurants with outdoor patios.  Having just come from a few big cities, I made many tongue-in-cheek comments on how Idaho’s biggest city was tiny and dead.  However, once I readjusted my false expectations of the capital city to be an urban city, it quickly grew on me as a nice mid-sized town.  And once we turned onto 8th Street from Main, I saw that it was not dead at all.

Although it was about 9 PM by the time Ian and I started exploring the town, the sun was still out and Boise’s main drag was bustling with activity.  Many young families were eating dinner on a sidewalk patio or strolling about with their small children at the same time college-aged kids were arriving at the bars and pizza joints via bikes or taxis.  Ian and I grabbed a cheap slice of pizza and good beer at a place called Pie Hole (apparently a chain, since we saw one in Salt Lake City later).  Bellies satiated, we headed next door to a bar called Fatty’s.  It featured beer pong, shone party lights, and stood as the destination for several of the college-kid-filled taxis.

Fatty’s was spacious, though a bit emptier than expected at first.  We chilled with some good beer for an hour or two while the place filled up.  Linda, our waitress with a nice smile and kind eyes, answered our questions about Boise and offered some suggestions.  Even drew us a little map.  She pointed us in the direction of China Blue, a surprisingly hopping dance club.  It was surprisingly racially diverse, too, though David had told me earlier that Boise is where the government sends refugees from around the world.  While Boise in the daytime reminded me of Downtown Livermore, Boise by night was closer to the active college town of San Luis Obispo.

The next morning, after driving to Boise State to get a peek at the football stadium’s famous blue turf, Ian and I made a point to check out the weekly farmer’s market before leaving.  The farmer’s market was another one of Linda’s suggestions.

Ian and I expected maybe a block or two of vendors selling food we wouldn’t buy.  Instead, we were greeted by a parade of clown cars, costumed mascots, and old marching men in fezes.  The parade cut through maybe four to six blocks of what amounted to more of a sprawling street fair than a farmer’s market.  And it was crowded!  People of all ages and stereotypes were milling about the hundreds of street vendors, who were selling everything from fresh vegetables to hand-made crafts.  It felt like Berkeley’s Holiday Street Fair on steroids.

Though Boise isn’t a skyscraper-laden concrete jungle, it surpassed my expectations of enjoyment with its college town vibrancy, active nightlife, and progressive street fair.  I must say, Idaho, you impressed me.  You turned me from a judgmental, big-city cynic into a true admirer of your quaint capital city.

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Young Man On The Road #4: Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs

Seattle and Mountlake Terrace, WASHINGTON 

June 21-24, 2011

Ian and I had no regrets leaving Portland after just an afternoon because waiting for us in Seattle (well, just outside Seattle in Mountlake Terrace) were the sweetest, most accommodating hosts we could ever ask for.  My Uncle Scott (and by “Uncle” I mean cousin’s wife’s older brother) and his wife Jennifer let us stay in their beautiful home even though they were going to be away in Montana for business.  They were leaving Wednesday morning and were willing to let us arrive after they’d left, but we thought it best to power through Portland to see them Tuesday night.  Best decision yet, as Scott and Jennifer are terrific company: equally interesting and interested, always willing to provide, and offering to cook meals for us! Ian and I almost didn’t want to leave the house, but we had a city to explore.

On Wednesday we toured the University of Washington and the surrounding U District before driving downtown.  The redbrick buildings and wide open spaces of campus were pretty, but it wasn’t Berkeley (I say, completely unbiased).  However, University Way, a.k.a. “the Ave” was like a cleaner, longer, friendlier version of Telegraph Avenue.  No street vendors, granted, but no hobos either.  We scarfed down some $3 Vietnamese sandwiches (score!) and then headed south towards Seattle’s most prominent landmark.

I did not go to the Seattle Space Needle the last time I visited the Emerald City.  Crazy, yeah?  They friggin’ love that thing; it’s plastered on every souvenir and half the business logos.  But Anthony Bourdain was too cool to see the pyramids while in Egypt, so I felt no pressure to see the Needle during my first visit.  This time, I felt somewhat obligated to go.

Thing is, it’s actually a pretty cool place.

Behind the 360-degree observation deck is somewhat of a lounge area with a cafe, snacks, and a post-modern aesthetic.  Just below that is a swanky rotating restaurant that Ian and I definitely could not afford.  I did, however, spring for a chai latte upstairs.  I felt very Seattle-y sipping a Starbucks beverage with a view of the city below.  Due to a private function, we had the great fortune to be turned away from the Space Needle when we first attempted to ascend to the top that afternoon.  Returning that night after exploring Downtown, I’m sure we got a much better view with the lit city skyline and the long-lasting twilight sky.

The area around the Space Needle was even more impressive.  It’s surrounded by the monorail that leads straight to Downtown (three blocks from Pike’s Place Market) and the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum.  Our first goal of the next day was to visit the EMP/SFM because their two featured exhibits were the  Nirvana and Avatar!  You can really gauge where you stand on the nerdy-to-cool scale by seeing which side of the museum you’re most excited about.  I love me some Nirvana, but I was totally geeking out over the interactive Avatar displays.  That should be no surprise to you folks.

We ate a packed lunch in the car (thank you for the leftovers, Scott and Jennifer!) then headed to Belltown afterwards too see my former roommate Charlie.  We lived together in my first apartment in Hawaii, but he left the island for Seattle a year ago.  He is now a bartender at a sleek Japanese bar where I ate sushi, drank beer, watched Cal baseball lose, and caught up with my old buddy.

After a little more downtown exploration, we packed it in somewhat early.  Ian and I had laundry to do, dishes to clean, and cats to feed.  Plus, beautiful house.  We were reluctant to leave the vibrancy of Seattle and the warmth of Scott and Jennifer’s house so early, but we had am eight-hour drive ahead of us.

Up next, Boise!

P.S. Sorry these posts have been pretty long and decidedly not “micro,” but I’ve had the opportunity to use my laptop more often than I thought.  Also, brevity ain’t my thing.

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Young Man On The Road #3: You Have Died of Dysentery

Eugene and Portland, OREGON

June 20-21, 2011

Ian and I actually started the big trip in two different places.  I had spent the night at my sister’s place in Sacramento while he stayed with his family in Livermore with the plan to pick me up the day after Father’s Day.  “I’ll be there by noon,” said he.

Then, “I’ll actually be there by 2 pm.”

At 2:30 pm, Ian found me walking around Midtown Sacramento, and there our journey began.

. . . but not before a quick stop and less-than-quick reshuffling of luggage at a nearby Safeway.  By 4:30, we were packed in, amped up, and on our way to Portland!  Or so we thought.  The late start and setting sun decided we would make Eugene our first stop.

We rolled into the Northwest college town around midnight and stopped at the one place that seemed to have any action: a packed bar on the University of Oregon campus called Rennie’s Landing.  Now while the food looked fantastic, we decided to save our money and just get a pint each.  I wasn’t surprised but truly delighted to see that their small selection of beers on tap comprised quality brews, including one of my favorites, a black ale called 1554 that I haven’t been able to find outside of Henry’s in Berkeley.

After a quick game of pool (which I won!), we had to find a place to sleep. We weren’t yet ready to start our trip with a night in the Honda Civic, and since our last minute crash sites fell through, Ian and I sprung for a cheap motel.  Totally worth it since we were able to cook some rice and reheat some leftover steak.

Yeah, that’s right.  We have a rice cooker.

The next morning, we walked around the beautiful, green, bike-friendly UO campus for an hour, then continued on to Portland.

Oh, Portland, how incredible you are!  It’s refreshing to see a well-planned city with an efficient rail system and a green agenda (hey, Honolulu, HINT HINT!).  You can feel warranted pride emanating from the people gathered in the many parks and along the waterfront.  This city works.

Stuffed with trail mix and jerky, Ian and I weren’t yearning for a Portlandian meal (which would most likely be healthy, organic, and delicious), but we weren’t going to pass up Voodoo Doughnuts.  A Facebook comment, a Reddit comment, my travel book, and Anthony Bourdain collectively told us to go there.  The  downtown location was under renovation, but a thirty-minute walk brought us to the second location and $10 got us a baker’s dozen.  To describe these doughnuts would expand this already-lengthy post by another paragraph, so I’ll let a picture do the talking.

As much as we loved Portland, we had nowhere to stay the night.  On the other hand, we had somewhere to sleep and people to see in Seattle, and being there by night would get us on our proposed schedule.

So we left.

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Young Man On The Road #2: Overview

Today is Day One.  By tonight, Ian and I will be in Portland, OR, but then where after that?  For record’s sake, I’ve included the list of our destinations and their target dates.  These places and dates are set in virtual text, not stone, so everything is subject to change.  In fact, that was the original point.  Fluidity.  We’ll stay in a place longer if we like it, or jet sooner if we don’t.  We’ll take detours and side trips.  I’m sure we’ll be unwillingly stuck in a place at least once, for one reason or another.

But where was I?  Oh yeah, the list.

CITIES/PLACES

  • Portland, Oregon (6/20 – 6/21)
  • Seattle, Washington (6/21 – 6/24)
  • Boise, Idaho (6/24 – 6/25)
  • Salt Lake City, Utah (6/25 – 6/26)
  • Denver, Colorado (6/26 – 6/28)
  • Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota (6/28 – 6/29)
  • Deadwood, South Dakota (6/29)
  • Omaha, Nebraska (6/29 – 6/30)
  • Twin Cities, Minnesota (6/30 – 7/2)
  • St. Louis, Missouri (7/2 -7/3)
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin (7/3 – 7/4)
  • Chicago, Illinois (7/4 – 7/7)
  • Ann Arbor, Michigan (7/7)
  • Detroit, Michigan (7/7 -7/9)
  • Toronto, Ontario, Canada (7/9 – 7/12)
  • Buffalo, New York (7/12 – 7/13)
  • Boston, Massachusetts (7/13 – 7/16)
  • New York, New York (7/16 – 7/22)
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (7/22 – 7/25)
  • Baltimore, Maryland (7/25)
  • Washington, DC (7/25 – 7/29)
  • Charlotte, North Carolina (7/29 – 7/30)
  • Charleston, South Carolina (7/30 – 8/1)
  • Atlanta, Georgia (8/1 – 8/3)
  • Gainesville, Florida (8/3 – 8/4)
  • Orlando, Florida (8/4 – 8/5)
  • Miami, Florida (8/5 – 8/8)
  • Tallahassee, Florida (8/8 -8/9)
  • Mobile, Alabama (8/9 -8/10)
  • New Orleans, Louisiana (8/10 -8/14)
  • Houston, Texas (8/14 – 8/15)
  • Dallas, Texas (8/15 – 8/17)
  • Austin, Texas (8/17 – 8/20)
  • San Antonio, Texas (8/20 – 8/22)
  • Lubbock, Texas (8/22 – 8/23)
  • Santa Fe, New Mexico (8/23 – 8/24)
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico (8/24 -8/25)
  • Phoenix, Arizona (8/25 – 8/27)
  • Las Vegas, Nevada (8/27 – 8/30) <= LET’S TRY TO PARTY!
  • Joshua Tree, California (8/30 – 8/31)
  • San Diego, California (8/31 – 9/2)
  • Los Angeles, California (9/2 – 9/8)

Remember, it’s 1 car of 2 guys for 3 months.  Save for a few pre-arranged stays, our only guaranteed shelter is Ian’s Honda Civic.  So. . . if you’re going to be in any of the places around those times, give us a call.  We’ll wash dishes.

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Young Man On The Road #1: The New Blog Rises

This post marks the beginning of a new adventure, the first entry of a new series (Young Man On The Road–here on out to be referred to as YMOTR), and the revival of my dear old blog. Yeah, sorry, it’s been a good while; hope you were all able to get on without me.

With this new series comes a new style: microblogging. Shorter entries for your shortening attention spans. No offense, I have one, too. In actuality, the reason for the short style is two-fold: long entries were too daunting to follow-up, and I just got a WordPress app for my smartphone! Yeah, that’s right, I’m using a CELLULAR TELEPHONE to write into this Internet thing. . . from the airport!

And y’all know why I’m in the airport; I’m flying back to Cali to embark on a three-month road trip with my buddy Ian. Exciting? Definitely. Frightening? A bit, but I got past my first two probable hurdles: 1) I was worried my luggage would exceed the fifty-pound limit. It was forty-nine. 2) I was worried my ukulele was too big to carry on. It wasn’t. The ease with which I cleared these obstacles bodes well for my trip.

I hope.

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