Monthly Archives: July 2011

Young Man On The Road #14: How Do You Like Them Apples?

July 12-16

Boston, Plymouth, and Plainville, MASSACHUSETTS

My hair was near shaggy by the time we left Ontario and rolled back into the States.  Dreading the East Coast humidity in front of me, I knew I needed to chop it off.  Besides, I have deluded myself many a time into thinking that I can grow out my hair, each time yielding the unfavorable Filipino ‘fro.  First order of business the next day would have to be finding a barbershop.  First order for that night?  Find Kristin’s house.

Kristin was one of my sister’s best friends growing up, pretty much making her another sister to me.   She left the Bay years ago for Boston, eventually making the suburb of Plainville her home.  Finding Plainville wasn’t a problem, considering we have three GPS devices on hand, but getting there on time got tricky.  Somehow, Ian and I both had it in our heads that Boston was about four hours from Toronto.  We each mapped out the route and independently concluded that our trip ahead was a meager afternoon drive.  However, sometime between packing up our stuff in Toronto and eating Buffalo wings near (but not in) Buffalo, New York, we discovered that our next destination was actually eight hours away.   We still don’t know how we were both so wrong.

Thankfully, Kristin and her boyfriend, Aaron, were still awake by the time we rolled up to their house near midnight.  They said they usually stay up until midnight anyways, which was probably true but could have been a lie to make us feel comfortable.  They excelled at that; not lying, making us feel comfortable.  They opened their whole kitchen to us, bought us breakfast food and snacks, made a list of suggested places, and told me the nearest place to get a haircut.  They seemed just as excited to host us as we were to be there.

Jerry’s barbershop was just down the road a few blocks.  I took off in the morning before Ian was fully awake (I have, on average, about three hours of time to fill before my counterpart is ready to move).  Jerry immediately knew I wasn’t a local.  The first thing he asked me when I strolled into his tiny, one-chair establishment was, “Where are you visiting from?”  His barbershop was a small room with wood-paneled walls plastered in aged photographs, knickknacks and magazines lining the counter, and a rabbit-eared television in the corner.  A couple old men strolled in after me, swapping fishing stories with their long-time barber and friend.  Sporting brown skin and sandals, I stuck out like a sore thumb.

At first, I just figured it was such a small community that it was obvious I was visiting; they’d never seen me before.  Later, while sharing a local brew with our college friend Meredith at Cheers, I learned that it might not have been my unfamiliar face but also my uncommon ethnicity that tipped them off.

Segue.  What was that?  Yes, that Cheers.  There are actually two in Boston: the “Original,” which served as the inspiration for the show and provided the establishing (outside) shot of the stairs, and the “Replica,” which has an interior designed after the set of the show.  We met up with Meredith at the former.

Where everybody knows your name. . .

Anyways, the three of us played catch up for a bit—“What are you doing now?” “When did you move?” “How do you like living in ____?”—and then Meredith laid down a piece of information that I saw but never noticed: for such a big city, Boston is pretty white.  That took me by surprise.  You’d think that a well-known American metropolis that grew around a major body of water would attract some immigrants.  What about the Irish and Italians?  Yes, they were the major immigrant groups in the 19th Century, but after a prerequisite period of persecution, they have fallen into the category of “white.”  It does not seem like any modern immigrant groups have shipped up to Boston lately.

I do not find that fact bothersome, but rather more of an anomaly.  And I am in no way suggesting the locals were rude or prejudice toward me because of race.  Jerry could not have cared less about the color of my skin and was eager to welcome me to the Boston area.  No, it wasn’t my race that caught him off guard, it was my alma mater.

“So are you in school?” he asked.

“No, I finished college about two years ago,” I replied (I always intentionally use the word “college” so people don’t assume I just graduated high school.  It has happened.)

“Oh yeah?  From where?

“UC Berkeley.”

“. . .”  Jerry paused with amused shock as if he couldn’t believe that I’d admit to such an atrocity.  He continued, “In my day, that school was filled with a bunch of wackos.  I bet it still is.”

At that moment, I feared that the conservative, old, white guy with clippers in his hand was going to give me a straight up military buzz cut.  I did ask for it shaved on the sides and short on top, after all.

In trying to explain that Berkeley has opened up to more conservative types, too, I said, “Oh, actually, there’s now a place for everybody at the school.”

“Oh, I bet there is!”  Jerry said with a scoff.  He obviously took my statement the opposite way.  I could almost read his thoughts, I bet they let in illegal immigrants, and homosexuals, too!

But I digress.  It is wholly unfair for me to pin Jerry as homophobic.  I mean, he is definitely conservative, but I should not assume he is prejudice in any way.  Jerry is a kind and helpful man who immediately rattled off a laundry list of places to see and things to do.  He was excited to share Boston with me and even though he named many of the same places Kristin and Aaron suggested, I was grateful for his advice.

“You should definitely see that, uh, that American History Path, er, um, the Walk of History. . . Hey, Bob, what’s that thing called?”

“The Freedom Trail.”

“Oh yeah, the Freedom Trail.  Lots of great things to see on that.”

Freedom Trail: this painted line would alternate with a red brick path.

And he was right.  Ian and I spent most of our second day in Boston in awe of the places along the Freedom Trail, a literal line on the ground that leads you past many old, historically significant buildings and sites.  Being a history nerd, I was genuinely excited.  Ian brought up a good point in that while we would have been amused with such sights as kids, we are now old enough to understand and appreciate their significance.  That is why we are excited to see Washington, D.C. even though we both went on the 8th grade class trip (Damn, that was over a decade ago!).

Ian and I figured it would be a quick, 30-minute jaunt through the center of the city, but the Freedom Trail continued through the mafia-laden North End, across the Boston Harbor, and up Bunker Hill.  Our “jaunt” turned into a two-and-a-half hour trek, but it was well worth it.  Notable sights include: the State House (whose golden dome was a prominent symbol in The Departed), Old South Meeting Hall (where colonists debated British rule), Quincy Market (a bustling tourist trap of food, commerce, and musical acts), the Bell in Hand Tavern (oldest tavern in the country), freakin’ Paul Revere’s house (no parenthetical explanation needed), and the USS Constitution a.k.a. “Old Ironside.”  Also notable: the cool yet sunny afternoon weather, a far cry from the torrential downpour that greeted us on our first day.

“Old Ironside, oh yes, you gotta see Old Ironside,” said Jerry, “Also, if you go all the way down that road, you can see Plymouth Rock where the pilgrims landed.  They have those ships, too, the Nina. . . the Maria. . . the Santa—hey Bob, what are those ships called?

“The Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.”

“Oh yeah, those.  You can see those.”

Actually, I couldn’t.  Those were the ships Christopher Columbus used to sail from Spain to a tiny island in the Bahamas. . . over a century before the pilgrims landed in New England.  What Jerry meant to say is that we should see the Mayflower in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  And we did.

Plymouth was a quaint little town with a ton of historical significance.  Nicknamed “America’s Home Town,” Plymouth’s rolling hills sport old white houses (the first in the country) that overlook a calm bay split by a rock wall and littered with sailboats; a typical New England town.  We did not see the Mayflower, but rather a replica called the Mayflower II, which, according to historians, is as accurate a replica as they could make.  Just down the coast from the ship was a Greek-like gazebo structure with columns.  It was put in place to protect Plymouth Rock.  Yes, the Plymouth Rock.  This shocked me for two reasons: 1) it was kinda small, but after four centuries of parading it around you’d expect such wear; and 2) I was not aware that it was literally a rock.  I figured “Plymouth Rock” was some symbolic point, a nondescript general area at which the Pilgrims landed.  If anything, it was a point of land that jutted out into the sea.  But an actual, tangible rock?  Well, don’t I feel sheepish.

The Guide and the Rock

The park official that gave the half-hourly history of the rock was one of the best guides I’d ever encountered.  She was a small, old woman with a huge personality who passionately told the story of the rock in an excited tone, not unlike one uses to read stories to a child.  And she did it all with an old, Bostonian accent.  It seems like a difficult job to tell an engaging story about a rock, but she was up to the task.

“It’s a shame,” Jerry kept saying, “It’s a shame you only have a few days.  You need at least. . . three weeks.  Yes, three weeks to see everything.”

If I really like the place, I’ll come back for way more than three weeks, I thought.  Part of the trip for me was scouting out my next quarter-life crisis move.  Before the trip, I was set to move to Seattle, but I’ve since rejected the notion because I already know what a west coast city feels like.  I could easily assimilate.  I don’t want easy, I don’t want the same.  I want a city with a subculture and lifestyle of its own, that I’d have to adapt to, and I figured Boston would be it.  I’ve heard it heralded as the San Francisco of the East Coast.  What that means, I didn’t know and still don’t.  Boston definitely has its own style, and I dig that.  There’s a lot of history, old immigrant culture, and pride among the natives.  But it also lacks a lot, too.  It lacks diversity, forward thinking, and a transplant population (as in, the people who live there were born there).  I love how Boston celebrates its past, but I don’t see a future there for me.

With a fresh new ‘do, I thanked Jerry, tipped him well, and left.

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Young Man On The Road #13: Let’s Go to the Mall. . . Today!

Toronto, Niagara Falls, Mississauga, and Brampton, ONTARIO (CANADA)

July 7-12

Ian and I were both very much excited about Toronto.  For him, it was a chance to hang out with family he rarely sees.  For me, it was the opportunity to experience a new country.  For both of us, it was a chance to eat some homemade Filipino food.

We stayed in his cousin Jason’s apartment in Mississauga, a suburb only twenty minutes from Toronto.  Because we had a week in a comfortable situation, we felt no pressure to “do something” every day.  We walked around aimlessly and revisited many of the same spots.  As a result, the week just blurred together in one experience—as opposed to a series of events—leading me to organize this post as. . .

Lessons from Canada!

The CN Tower

Lesson #1: Phones are extremely helpful, but not completely necessary.

My first significant memory in Canada was searching for my phone around and beneath the driver’s seat in the parking lot of a Tim Horton’s—Canada’s version of Starbucks with a pinch of fast food.  I have a vague memory from an hour before of setting my phone on the roof of the car while at a gas station.  I don’t, however, have a vague memory of returning that phone to my pocket.  Oh well, the out-of-country fees were going to be outlandish, anyway.

I thought that traveling without my phone for a week was going to be either really liberating or really frustrating.  It was neither.  My lack of phone was nothing more than a slight annoyance whenever I wanted to check the time, or keep myself occupied on the subway.  Sure, it would have been helpful to have the Maps app when we got off the subway five stops too early, or to have the camera feature when the batteries in my point-and-shoot died at Niagara Falls, but I got around all those problems, proving my phone unnecessary.  I came to realize that I rarely used it to send important calls or texts and mostly used it to update my Facebook status.  Since Canada charges 18 cents a minute and $16 a MB—a hefty sum in either currancy—it was nice to have that temptation removed.

There was one day, however, that a phone would have made a difference.  My college friend and former floormate Rebecca was living in Toronto and when she saw one of my Facebook statuses, she immediately contacted me.  We planned to meet up the next day.  However, I couldn’t find her number before we left, so Ian and I spent the day in Toronto looking for Wi-Fi so we could use his phone to log onto my Facebook to see if she messaged me.  No word from her by the end of the day, so we ended up heading back to Mississauga.  We eventually met up with her the next day to tour the Steamwhistle Brewery, but if I had had my phone from the start, we would have spent a lot less time hunting down a signal.

We finally met up with Rebecca at the Steamwhistle Brewery, a small, progressive, green company that makes an tasty pilsner.

Lesson #2: Fill up on free food.

When you’re on a long trip, hoard and devour any food that comes for free.  I mean, be grateful and polite, but don’t turn it down.  One of the first things we did on our first full day was stop by the office of Ian’s aunt/Jason’s mom.  She couldn’t believe the trip we were taking and—when Ian passively mentioned missing Filipino food—wanted nothing more than to cook us a Filipino feast.  At her house in Brampton the following evening, we ate kare-kare, chicken adobo, and plenty of steamed rice.  She then packed up all the leftovers and a huge bowl of marinated pork chops to take back to Mississauga.  We ate well that week.  No, scratch that, we ate a lot.  “Well” conveys healthy and what we ate in addition to his aunt’s dishes was anything but.

Lesson #3: Though some food is free, you can’t pass up local fare.

What do you get when you drench greasy fries in gravy and top it off with cheese curds?  You get poutine, a Canadian national dish and artery-clogger.  This concoction of delicious fat on fat is a Canadian staple and, therefore, a must have for us.  Food, after all, is the gateway to immersing yourself in a different culture, no matter how calorie-ridden that gateway be.  The first poutine we tried was at Smoke’s Poutinerie in Queen Street West.  Ian and I got the limited time “O! Canada” special, which added peameal bacon (known to the rest of the world as Canadian bacon), smoked bacon, and sautéed mushrooms.  Jason got one with pulled pork on top.  Both Ian and I liked the “O! Canada “poutine well enough, but regretted not getting the version with ground beef, grilled onions, and mushrooms.  Because, ya know, ours clearly didn’t have enough fat.

The "O! Canada" Special

I vowed that that was the last poutine I would eat during our week-long stay.  Several days later, at a Mississauga diner at 2 o’clock in the morning, we each got another.  And it was just as regrettably delicious.

This stuff is like Canadian crack. Everybody's eating it in the streets late at night around the bars.

Lesson #4: Knock out the big touristy things first.

Toronto is a major city with endless things to explore.  And just like the other major cities we’ve visited, there were a couple iconic places we had to see, whether we wanted to or not.  In Seattle, it was the Space Needle.  In Chicago, it was Willis (Sears) Tower.  In Toronto, it was the CN Tower.

The CN Tower has the distinction of being the tallest freestanding structure in North America.  But what about the Sears Tower in the good ol’ US of A, you say?  No worries, that still holds the record of being the tallest building in North America.  So while the CN Tower reaches above the Chicago icon’s apex, it doesn’t qualify as a building.  Plus, I’m pretty sure the observation deck in Willis (Sears) Tower is higher than the one in the CN Tower.

We shelled out more for this elevator ride than we did in Seattle or Chicago, and I’m not sure if it was worth it.  The CN tower did have glass floors, but the Willis (Sears) Tower had SkyLedge!  The CN tower had a rotating restaurant on top, but so did the Space Needle.  But I guess it was all worth it to find this guy in the lobby:

The other giant touristy place we wanted and had to visit was Niagara Falls, which was only an hour outside of Toronto.  Two things about the trip shocked me: 1) the admission price for the Maid of the Mist boat tour “into” the falls was cheaper than any of the elevator rides we took; and 2) the surrounding neighborhood (sorry, “neighbourhood”) of Clifton Hill was a tacky, spectacle-ridden tourist trap a la Reno, Nevada.  There were giant monster structures, kitschy restaurants, and several wax museums.  Needless to say, we didn’t stick around much in Clifton Hill.  We just beelined through all the brightly lit signs on the way to and from a very worthy Maid of the Mist tour (the falls weren’t as tall as I’d imagined, but the sheer amount of water that came crashing down was incredible!).

See the Tim Horton's in the distance? They're everywhere!

Lesson #5: Family’s first, even if it ain’t yours.

This experience would not have been possible without Ian’s family, and I don’t just mean on an accommodation scale.  More than just cooking us food and shelter, his family hung out with us, brought some friends along, and played tour guide to the city.

Our first night in, Jason took Ian and I out to some local spots with his friends.  He then spent the whole next day walking with us around Toronto.  He showed us all the different neighborhoods, introduced us to poutine, and ascended the CN Tower with us.  A city is always more interesting when you have a local drive you around and point things out.

Ian and his cousin Jason at the CN Tower. Not the best observation deck. . .

The next day, Jason’s sister Jennifer drove us out to Niagara Falls.  She had never done the Maid of the Mist boat ride and was glad to join us on our touristy adventure.   Afterwards, Jennifer drove us out to Brampton for that Filipino dinner at her mom’s house.

Ian and his cousin Jen on the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls.

For our last dinner in Ontario, Ian’s whole Canadian family—his aunt and uncle, Jennifer, Jason, and Jason’s girlfriend—treated us to an all-you-can-eat buffet.  Nothing says love like unlimited food.  I am so glad to have met Ian’s family and thank them for making me feel like part of it.

Conclusion

Toronto seemed as big as Chicago, as friendly as Minneapolis, and as progressive as Portland.  Plus, it has the added distinction of being the most diverse city in the world.  After having rejected the idea of moving to Seattle, I started to give serious thought about moving to Toronto.  No final decisions, of course—I still had places like Boston and New York to explore—but how awesome would it be to have dual citizenship?

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Young Man On The Road Says. . .

Sorry for the delay!

I just wanted to send a quick message to those who follow my blog.  Thank you for doing so and sorry for not keeping up with it.  I’m in New York right now and there’s too much to do and not enough time in which to do it.  As soon as we’re back at our New York hosts’ place, we crash.  So, sometime in the near future, I’ll have the New York post up.

. . . After I write the Massachusetts one.

. . . As soon as I finish the Ontario one.

On a good note, though, I’m all caught up on my photo albums on Facebook!  Yup, everything’s there up to Massachusetts.  Feel free to add me as a friend on Facebook if we aren’t yet, even if we’ve never met.  Just accompany the friend request with a message so I know you’re human.

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Young Man On The Road #12: This One Time, At Band Camp. . .

Ann Arbor and Detroit, MICHIGAN

July 6-7

I fell in love with Ann Arbor as soon as we got there.  Yeah, the University of Michigan is a pretty campus, blah blah blah, but the surrounding town?  Awesome!  And why?  Because it reminded me so much of my beloved Berkeley.  It’s the measuring stick I use to judge other college towns.

The college merchandise shops and local food joints along South University and State Street mirrored those on Telegraph Avenue, while a few blocks away were the slightly nicer restaurants and trendy stores that lined Main Street, Ann Arbor’s answer to Berkeley’s University Avenue.  Frequenting these main arteries were familiar clientele:  young professionals, old professors, and college kids of all kinds, from hippies to hipsters, Greeks to geeks.  In Ann Arbor, as in Berkeley, the local community formed a symbiotic relationship with the collegiate atmosphere, forming the quintessential progressive college town I love.

I might be talking it up too much, but it left a good impression on me.

Ann Arbor Summer Festival on campus

Our couchsurfing host was a laid back Asian guy named Ken who was actually born and raised in Honolulu.  He lived in San Diego for a bit before roadtripping around the country, eventually stopping in Ann Arbor when he got broke.  He found a career and settled in.  We, of course, had a lot to talk about.  Graciously, he took us to a late-night burger place and we continued the conversation over a pitcher of local beer.  And he paid for that beer.  Our hosts are awesome.

Ken had work in the morning, so we didn’t see him at all the next day when we woke up at the crack of 11 AM.  We got ready, ate pricey but worthy Reuben sandwiches at everyone’s favorite deli, Zingerman’s (recommended by three different people), and left for Detroit.

Of course, to get in the mood, I blasted Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP.

That’s why we don’t call it Detroit, we call it Amityville/
You can get capped after just havin’ a cavity filled/
Ahahahaha, that’s why we’re crowned the murder capital still/
This ain’t Detroit, this is motherf***in Hamburger Hill!

-Eminem (Detroit-based rapper), “Amityville”

Oh, Detroit.  I can sum up our initial reactions by quoting part of a conversation we had with a very nice and helpful homeless woman named Linda:

“Where do y’all come from?”

“California.”

“Why the hell did you come here?!”

We wondered the same thing on the drive in.  The skies grew overcast, throwing an ominous shadow over the littered highway.  In the distance we saw an apartment building missing an entire wall, revealing a cross-section of abandoned floors.  It looked like France during World War II.  I guess I take it for granted that a city would have the resources to repair such a mess.  Ian and I both wondered if we should just keep driving through to Canada, though we each were unaware of the other’s similar thought until later.

The first parking lot we saw was only $5 for all day, so we took it right away because we had no idea where in Detroit we were or where to go.  It happened to be in Greektown, one of Ken’s suggested locations.  However, still full from the Zingerman’s Reubens, we had no interest in trying any Greek food, and therefore had no interest in staying in Greektown.  We walked somewhat aimlessly, veering whenever we saw fountains and plazas.  It was in one of these concrete clearings that we met Linda.  She saw me looking at a map, asked me if we knew where we were going, then suggested we check out Hart Plaza.  She walked with us for a block or two, asking us about our trip with legitimate interest and motherly concern.  Only after whole-heartedly warning us to be careful, Linda very politely and hesitantly asked if we could spare any money.  Ian did.  I only had fives, but I would have, too.

Linda was right; Hart Plaza was refreshingly nice.  The open concrete space featured several abstract sculptures and a giant fountain.  The most amazing sight, however, was just across the Detroit River: my first view of Canada!  Windsor, Canada, to be exact, and it tripped me out because we were actually looking towards the south at it.

Hart Plaza, with Canada in the background!

Ian and I strolled a bit further, eventually rounding the Tigers’ baseball stadium and—just across the street—the Lions’ football field.  Save for a few well-kept plazas we saw along the way, the city seemed way past its prime.  Grand old buildings that go unused, empty storefronts lining the sidewalks; it was all a bit depressing.

Our last stop, however, surely cheered me up.

I’ve got sunshine/
On a cloudy day/
When it’s cold outside/
I’ve got the month of May.

-The Temptations (Motown vocal group), “My Girl”

We drove past 8 Mile Road (yes, I’m an Eminem fan, but I didn’t want to detour in Detroit to snap a picture of a sign) to an even more legendary street: West Grand Boulevard, location of the Motown Museum.  The museum is connected to the actual house where they recorded all the classic Motown acts in the basement studio!  The ten-dollar tour was surprisingly entertaining.  Our guide was humorous, interactive, and impressively knowledgeable about all things Motown.  He spouted out names, song titles, and dates without a moment’s hesitation.  I don’t think I can recall any field of information with such certainty.  The tour concluded in the basement, Studio A, where all the original equipment and instruments still remain.  Our guide taught us some choreography and then had us perform.  The women danced to the Supremes’ “Stop! In The Name Of Love” while all the men did the Temptation Walk to “My Girl.”  Let me repeat: I sang and danced to “My Girl” in Studio A where the actual Temptations sang and danced to “My Girl”!  It was surreal.

Berry Gordy's house (center) and Motown Museum entrance (right)

I, of course, blasted my Temptations Ultimate Collection CD on the way out of the parking lot, turning it down momentarily when I realized a funeral home was next door.  But believe you me, I was belting out with the Motown legends all the way to the Canadian border.

I don’t wanna wast my time/
become another casualty of society/
I’ll never fall in line/
become another victim of your conformity

-Sum 41 (Canadian pop punk band), “Fat Lip”

 

The wait from the bridge to the border crossing was surprisingly long.  Where were we going, Mexico?  We got through about 20 minutes of Tina Fey’s Bossypants audiobook by the time we reached the booth.  I thought it was going to be simple: passport, smile, welcome to our country, eh.  Instead, I was caught off guard by the Spanish Inquisition.  “How do you two know each other?”  “Where are you going?”  “What are you doing there?”  “Do you have jobs?”  “How are you funding the trip?”

The one part that truly annoyed me, however, was his response to our road trip.  “So, this is like your last hurrah before joining the real world?”  Hey!  Screw you, guy!  I’m the one seeing the real world!  How’s your view from your tiny booth, working man?  Peer down at me from your elevated stool, why don’t you!

What actually came out of my mouth wasn’t as fiery.  I looked at him and said with conviction, “It’s one of many ‘last hurrahs.’”

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Young Man On The Road #11: And All That Jazz!

Chicago, ILLINOIS 

July 3-6

For the year leading up to this summer, the friends, acquaintances, and Bubba Gump patrons to whom I told about my upcoming adventure often offered advice on places to go.  “Are you going to Boston?”  We sure are!  “You should hit up New Orleans!” I can’t wait!  ”You’re going to New York, right?” Are you kidding?  That’s our number one destination!

A number of people, however, suggested more outdoorsy destinations: Yellowstone, Glacier National Park, the Badlands.  These were all great suggestions, and—as a self-proclaimed outdoorsy type—I seriously considered the options.  However, our goal was to see the countless subcultures of this gigantic country, found in the major cities and college towns across the land.  It was more about the people than the places, and you don’t meet too many locals cooped up in a tent.  So, while I nodded along with sincere interest to the suggestions of campgrounds and hiking trails, a tiny voice in the back of my head kept repeating, “It’s skyscrapers or bust!”

On the third of July, Ian and I descended upon Chicago.

Chicago was our first major city since Seattle, and although we came to dearly love the cities in between, we could not wait to hit up this iconic locale.  It’s the namesake of a band, a musical, and a Frank Sinatra song.  This was big league, baby!

(And you’d better believe I was singing that Sinatra song on the way in. . . )

I knew one person in Chicago.  My college roommate Lawrence attended graduate school at Northwestern, and while he had already moved back to Cali, his friend Connor still lived in town.  I hadn’t talked to Connor since our first and only meeting in SoCal six months prior (which you can read about here:  Young Man Went West #29-B), so I was surprised when he responded to my request for a place to crash.  He had to work during our whole stay, but his cozy studio apartment was right next to Lincoln Park and a short walk to the public rail system (hereafter referred to as “the El”).  Still, Connor played tour guide that first night, showing us how to take the El downtown, taking us to Salsa Night at a bar across from Wrigley Field, and introducing us to his Salsa dancing classmates.

Ian and I had all day to explore the city before catching the Independence Day fireworks show off the Navy Pier.  Good thing Chicago is filled with many requisite destinations, our first being Willis Tower, formerly known as Sears Tower.  Not only was admission to the top of Willis Tower a dollar cheaper than to the top of the Seattle Space Needle, but the tour began with a screening of a very well-made documentary about the history of Chicago and the Tower.  As we made our way through the interactive displays that connected the theater to the elevators, we both declared to like Willis Tower more than the Space Needle. . . and he hadn’t even reached the top!

Continuing in their array of entertaining displays, a monitor in the elevator noted every time we passed the heights of well-known structures around the world.  We finally reach the top and the sliding doors opened up to. . . a gift shop!  Of course.  Still, that desperate capitalistic push did not deter us from the breath-taking sight of city blocks disappearing in the horizon.  There was no outside observation deck, but windows lined the walls the entire way around.  Even more impressive than the endless city was seeing a lake so big that it could fade into infinity.  The largest lake I’d seen before coming to the Midwest was Lake Tahoe, and you can clearly see the other side with a naked eye.

I didn’t spend too much time at the windows, for my main points of interest were the Skyledges.  These all-glass encasements jutted out the side of the building like oversized box windows.   Even the floor—aproximately 10’ x 4’—was completely made of glass.  I couldn’t wait to hop in!  (Actually, by the time I got in, I literally hopped up and down.)

It was in line for the Skyledge that I met a friendly, young couple from Tampa.  We bonded over making fun of the guy ahead in line who fixed his hair before taking a picture of himself in the Skyledge.  Nothing says “instant friendship” like a mutual target of mean-spirited humor.  Whitney and Sam were, of course, curious about our trip and asked many questions, but they also related similar trips they’ve done in the past.  When it was my turn in the box, Sam offered to take my picture.  I would have done the same, but both of their cameras broke right before they got to the top of the Tower.  I offered to wait in line with them again so I could take their picture with my camera and then e-mail it to them later.  They were quite grateful, though it seemed like Sam would have been fine not stepping onto the Skyledge.

Whitney and Sam in the Skyledge

In the gift shop downstairs (of course, there was another one), we ran into Sam and Whitney again and they repaid me by suggesting a must-eat food item: the Italian beef sandwich from Portillo’s.  Ian and I put that on our list, but we had reserved space in our stomaches for a more pressing meal: an original Chicago deep-dish pizza from Pizzeria Uno.

Pizzeria Uno invented the deep-dish pizza in 1943.  The original location is as much of a Chicago landmark as Willis Tower.  The line was long, so we walked to its second location—called Pizzeria Due—just a block away.  No wait for a table, but it took almost an hour for the coveted pie to arrive.  An hour was nothing, I’d had been longing for that succulent pizza since we planned the trip!

That hour gave Ian and me a chance to continue a conversation that started in Madison: basically, my plan after this trip was to go back to Hawaii, save money until December, then move to Seattle.  However, after having traveled through so many intriguingly different cities with the majority of them still ahead, I started to wonder if Seattle should be my next big move.  The point of my living in different cities throughout my twenties was to experience different types of America, to meet other kinds of Americans and learn about their subculture.  Honolulu was definitely an eye-opening first move, but I feel like Seattle won’t be much of a shock.  It exists in the same vein as other West Coast cities I already know and love.  I feel like I’d fit in right away.  What, then, was the point?  We figured I should wait until the end of the trip to decide anything, though I did have my sights set on Boston, and Chicago was great so far.  When our medium deep-dish pizza arrived, my mouth instantaneously switched from talking mode to eating mode and I slipped into gustatory bliss in silence.

I ate half of that pie!

The fireworks show that night was only notable by our cattle-like, hour-long attempt to exit Navy Pier.  The thousands of tourists that gathered on the end of the Pier to watch explosions light up the well-known Chicago skyline got a long lesson in the physics of a funnel as recreated by the fried food stands that lined the path to the main street.  Still, the fireworks show wasn’t a mistake; the skyline was gorgeous.

We crossed off the rest of our “must-see” list on Day Two.  Lincoln Park Zoo?  Check (free admission = awesome).  Italian beef sandwich from Portillo’s?  Check (and thank you, Whitney and Sam!).  Millennium Park?  Check (don’t call the statue “the Bean”; the reality-bending themes behind “Cloud Gate” are really interesting, look it up).  Chicago Dog?  Check (and disgusting!).  We capped off the day with local beer at a bar with Connor.  It was his birthday that day and the least we could do for him was bring him a chocolate eclair cake from Portillo’s and pay for his tab at the bar.  And although we crowded his studio apartment for three days and played keep-away with his house key, I believe Connor did enjoy our company a bit.  At least, I think he did.

Good bye, Chi-town.  I hope you’re as awesome in the winter as you are in the summer; you could be my next home.

"Baby, do you remember when/ Fireworks at Lake Michigan"

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Young Man On The Road #10: Schlemeel, Schlemazel, Hasenfeffer Incorporated!

Madison and Milwaukee, WISCONSIN 

July 2-3

The best part about getting to the other side of the continent are the shorter driving times between our destinations.  As we approached Madison, I not only saw a sign for our college town destination, but also for our following two destinations after that: Milwaukee and Chicago.  I got excited over the aspect of more exploring and less driving!

Though the weather wasn’t as bad as in Minnesota, it was hot and humid nonetheless, so it came as a relief to discover that the University of Wisconsin campus was set on the shore of a giant lake.  How great it was, we thought, that after a tough day at school, these students could just hop in the lake and cool off.  In the parking lot on the edge of campus, I changed into my board shorts with the intent of doing just that.  But first, the requisite tour.

The sun beat down on us during our walkabout through a quite impressive campus and all Ian and I could talk about was how lucky these kids were with their giant lake.  If it weren’t for the snow, I could easily see myself attending Wisconsin.  The lively State Street directly links the main entrance of campus and the state capitol building.  It is lined the entire way with a very Telegraph-like vibe (think local shops and cheap eateries).   We explored most of State Street, then veered through the frat houses in search of the lake shore, reveling the entire way about how “college town” it felt.  If being a college student was a life-long career, Ian and I would be its prime candidates.

Finally!  We reached the park on the edge of Lake Mendota!  I almost ran to the lake shore, ready to wash off an afternoon’s worth of sweat, but then. . .

What was this?!  Sludge on the brown mud-sand!  Green waves!  I quickly learned the difference between a giant lake shore and an ocean beach.  California and Hawaii have spoiled me.  Wisconsin can have their sludge waters and snowy winters, I’ll save my swimming for elsewhere.

We hopped back into the car and took off for Milwaukee.

Our arrival in Milwaukee coincided with Summerfest, the world’s largest musical festival.  People of all ages flock to the festival park for almost two weeks of musical performances on eleven different stages.  This was where we were going to meet our host for the night, Mike.  Having no idea what we were going to do in Milwaukee otherwise, Ian and I were eager to partake in the festivities.

I don’t think either of us expected the vast amounts of people at this show.  The band that Mike was watching wasn’t hard to find, but pinpointing our host among the thousands of fans was.  The crowd was pretty packed and almost impossible to navigate, so we gave up on the search and enjoyed the groovy stylings of Fitz and the Tantrums.

Sidenote: check this band out!  Awesomely soulful and upbeat.  Mike is justifiably a big fan.

When the band was done, they moved to a side table for autograph signing while Maroon 5 took the stage.  It was in line for the signing that we met Mike and fellow couchsurfer Alissa from Minnesota.  Not only was it easier to find Mike because of the more specific location, but also he was Filipino.  Probably the only one in Wisconsin.  What were the chances?

We liked Mike and Alissa right away.  They were both entertaining, lively folks eager to share their lives and to learn about ours.  Mike had been playing tour guide to Alissa for three days, so he was excited to show off his city to new pairs of eyes.  We left Summerfest and rejoined our host at our first of many destinations that night.

Our first stop was a hookah bar and Middle Eastern restaurant, which was totally what I expected in Milwaukee (please note the sarcasm).  Ian and I scarfed down hummus, pita, and the biggest falafels I’d ever seen while Mike derided the “LA-like clientele” of the restaurant.  The young crowd was definitely more dressed up than I expected anyone in Wisconsin to be, and they were totally digging the club music blasting through the speakers.  The four of us were quite like-minded and, though we all enjoyed the food, decided to move on before it got too Jersey Shore.

Our next stop was the coolest bar I’d ever entered.  It’s called the Safe House, but you wouldn’t know that by the outside, which was just an unmarked doorway on the side of an alleyway.  Mike went in first and quickly disappeared, leaving Ian, Alissa, and me outside and confused.  After checking our IDs, the hostesses asked us if we knew the password.  None of us did, so we were told to act like rabbits, holding up “ears” with our fingers, hopping around, and shaking our rumps.  Only after the embarrassing charade did the bookcase open up, revealing a spy-themed bar.

Spy paraphernalia cluttered the walls of the maze-like hallways that linked the many rooms in Safe House.  There were moving wall puzzles and false doors (a brick wall stood behind one door marked “Men”).  Every now and then, lights and sirens would go off.  Mike informed us that the infamous picture of Burt Reynolds hung in the women’s bathroom with a flap covering his package.  If someone lifted said flap, it set off a bar-wide alarm.  The biggest feature, however, were live feed TVs on which patrons can watch newbies perform the embarrassing acts for admission.

We sat at a table for a while discussing the racial make-up of Milwaukee, or the lack thereof.  Save for the black workers in the back, we were the only non-white people in the establishment.  Mike also discussed his disregard for the townies of the surrounding suburbs, who saw Milwaukee as a big, scary city that they usually avoided.  Driving twenty minutes into town was a daily habit of Mike, but a once-in-a-blue-moon adventure for his neighbors.  It must be all them liberal, colored folks crowding their bars!

Our last stop of the night was an ale house with a back patio on the Milwaukee River.  We made it just before last call.  This was my favorite stop of the night because we got to meet a few more people: Mike’s friend Dan a.k.a. Bone, and Dan’s friend Sarah, who had the thickest Wisconsin accent I’ve heard yet.  Both were equally interesting, well-traveled people who are also part of the CouchSurfing community.  That site attracts the coolest people.  We all talked story for a while before finally calling it a night and heading to Mike’s giant house in the suburbs.

The next morning, after a breakfast of kimchi and fried eggs (again, totally expecting that from Wisconsin), we said good-bye to Alissawho was done with her trip and heading back to Minnesota.  Mike took us on a little tour of downtown Milwaukee, which included brats at a German beer hall, a stroll along the river, and—of course—the Bronze Fonz!

The city seemed a bit empty until we drove by the lakefront.  Huge crowds of families gathered in the park for that evening’s fireworks show. . . on the Third of July.  Apparently, they love this holiday enough to celebrate it twice.  Ian and I didn’t stay for Milwaukee show, we had plans to watch fireworks over Lake Michigan in Chicago.

We were definitely excited about Chicago, since that marked the beginning of our string of big cities destinations that continued down the East Coast.  Most places between Seattle and Chicago were considered necessary stops and not desired destinations, but, as it turned out, all of those place have pleasantly surprised us.  Boise, Salt Lake City, the Twin Cities, Milwaukee. . . we rolled into these places looking down our nose, only to leave staring up at them in admiration.  We owe huge thanks people like Mike and Allison to show us that cool hangouts and awesome people exist in what I once considered fly-over states.

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Young Man On The Road #9: Gee Golly, Bobby, Dontcha Know?

Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul), MINNESOTA 

June 30 – July 2

Before we could leave Deadwood, South Dakota, Ian wanted to get an oil change.  He’s one of the few people I know who pays attention to those little dashboard lights.  Although, seeing as this is one hell of a trip, maybe he’s just taking more precaution than usual.  The whole thing thankfully took only twenty minutes, which was good since we had one of our longest drives ahead of us.

Fast forward through a ten-hour drive that featured: me sleeping in the passenger seat, conversation about being Filipino, and listening to Chuck Klosterman’s audiobook Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. . .

Despite the evening hour, Minneapolis was hot and humid by the time we rolled in.  And despite our somewhat late arrival, our Minneapolis couchsurfing host, Matt, was just chilling on his stoop with a few buddies and some beer.  He approached as we were parking around the corner and I could tell right away from his demeanor and his barefootedness that he was going to be a laid-back, friendly host.

Matt helped us into his comfortably cluttered apartment—a bachelor pad immediately reminiscent of many I’d seen in Berkeley—handed us some PBR, and introduced us to his friends downstairs.  If there’s one thing I could say about Minnesotans based on my brief encounter with them, it’s that they all try their best to make you feel welcome.  Matt, his roommate Joel, and their neighbors immediately included us in their conversation while also asking about our back stories and our trip so far.  It was a comfortable, casual dialogue rather than the “20 Questions” interrogations we’re used to answering.

After another round of PBR, Matt and Joel took us to Brit’s Pub, an awesome bar with a rooftop patio featuring a huge, grassy area for lawn bowling.  It was still humid out, but the local brews helped cool us down.  Another one of their friends, Brian, showed up.  Brian was also welcoming and friendly, even suggesting a friend with whom we could crash in Philly.  Good job, Minnesota, you raised your kids well.

In a sporadic burst of heat-busting awesome, we climbed around in a fountain sculpture for a good while before walking back to Matt’s place.  We ordered some sandwiches from a late-night deli delivery place, played with his two cats Asterisk and Ampersand, and finally crashed in the early morning.  Matt had gone to work by the time Ian and I woke up.

Despite the nice cross-breeze from the open windows and the ceiling fan, we woke up sweating.  The shower was a brief reprieve from the humidity, but by the time we were out of the apartment and exploring Minneapolis, it was almost a distant memory.  We walked down 3rd Avenue through the hot, stiff air to the Metro, which—for a beautifully low flat rate—took us all the way to the air-conditioned behemoth known as the Mall of America.

I remember Matt and his friends reacting to our mention of the Mall of America with a bit of disdain, and I could see why.  For a mall, it was sort of spectacular, what, with its indoor amusement park and all.  But for a national landmark, is that the best Minnesota could do?  Our hosts didn’t hate the mall itself too much, but they surely didn’t like that it was all Minnesota was known for.  Ian and I only spent an hour or two in the over-sized shopping center, leaving with the same level of confusion about its fame.  After all the bells and whistles, it was just a mall.

We took the Metro to Minnehaha Falls where I felt as though I sweated out as much water as the falls produced during our visit.  Not far downstream from the bottom of the falls, everybody was walking around in the river.  I waded out until the water was knee-deep, but had I been wearing my board shorts, I would have dove all the way in.  I did take pride in my calloused Hawaiian feet as I casually strode out over the rocks while everybody else seemed to be walking on eggshells.

A metro ride and bus transfer later, Ian and I were at the University of Minnesota campus and damn was it pretty!  Castle towers somehow mixed well with the more modern architecture and the wide spaces  in between featured vast grassy areas and curvy bridges.  The student union was memorable even if only for its interactive, touchscreen maps and the water fountains that encouraged you to refill a water bottle.  I kept on thinking that I could easily attend the school, but then I remembered it snowed there.  Hard to imagine as we walked through a wall of hot air.

We got back into Downtown dreading the walk down 3rd Avenue, only to remember that Minneapolis had the most awesome urban development I never knew existed: the skyway!  A series of air-conditioned sky bridges linked buildings all across Downtown.  The skyway was developed for the unbearably snowy days, but worked just as well for the unbearably humid ones, too.  Ian and I were able to navigate the ten or so blocks from the Metro station to the Convention Center near Matt’s house without having to step outside!

By the time late afternoon rolled around, it was time to meet Brad, our second Minnesotan host.  Matt had to go out of town for the weekend, so we found a new place to crash through another online community, Reddit.  Brad was a UM Law student and, as such, invited us to a house party his classmates were throwing.  If the precedent for welcoming Minnesotans was set with Matt’s friends, it was proven exponentially by Brad’s collegues.  Ian and I never felt like outsiders, and never needed to stick together to have someone to talk to.  Hell, I didn’t even see Brad for a few straight hours.  Every time I turned around, I met another smiling stranger with whom I fell into conversation.  Thank you to Jill, Andrew, Brent, Josh, Julia, and the many other folks we got to know well in one awesome night.

It was crazy to think that we—complete foreigners to Minnesota—were readily welcomed to crash in two people’s apartments and hang with their friends.  Online communities such as CouchSurfing and Reddit have done much to prove that there are still a lot of decent, trustworthy human beings in the world.  And many of them can be found in Minnesota.

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