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Young Man On The Road #22: Trip Stats

I know I mentioned that I was going to write about California, but eh, don’t feel like it. California wasn’t an adventure, it was a homecoming. It was full of reunions and revisits, not new discoveries. I will, however, briefly recap what I did in Cali:

I crashed at four different places: Ian’s family’s place in Covina, Olivia’s place in Santa Monica, Felicity & Taylor’s place in West Hollywood, and Leslie’s place in West Hollywood. I revisited the few places in LA I enjoy: Venice Beach, Santa Monica (Esplanade and Pier) and the Farmer’s Market. I watched the first game of the Golden Bears’ 2011 season at an unofficial Berkeley bar. I saw lots of friends and ate lots of food. It was awesome. Now you know.

Take a look back at my second “Young Man On The Road” post. You can see that right off the bat, we’d already strayed from our target cities list. A late start meant we spent our first night in Eugene, Oregon, instead of Portland. Let’s look at a condensed look at how our trip shaped up after that.

CITIES/PLACES (italics indicate a day trip city, a “>” indicated a day trip within the span of the previous stay)

  • Eugene, Oregon (6/20 – 6/21)
  • Portland, Oregon (6/21)
  • Mountlake Terrace and Seattle, Washington (6/21 – 6/24)
  • Boise, Idaho (6/24 – 6/25)
  • Salt Lake City, Utah (6/25 – 6/26)
  • Littleton, Boulder, and Denver, Colorado (6/26 – 6/29)
  • Fort Collins, Colorado (6/29)
  • Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota (6/29)
  • Deadwood, South Dakota (6/29 – 6/30)
  • Twin Cities, Minnesota (6/30 – 7/2)
  • Madison, Wisconsin (7/2)
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin (7/2 – 7/3)
  • Chicago, Illinois (7/3 – 7/6)
  • Ann Arbor, Michigan (7/6 – 7/7)
  • Detroit, Michigan (7/7)
  • Mississauga, Brampton, Toronto, Ontario, Canada (7/7 – 7/12)
  • >Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada (7/9)
  • Plainville and Boston, Massachusetts (7/12 – 7/16)
  • >Plymouth, Massachusetts (7/15)
  • New York, New York (7/16 – 7/24)
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (7/24 – 7/27)
  • Atlantic City, New Jersey (7/27)
  • Washington, DC (7/27 – 7/30)
  • >Baltimore, Maryland (7/29)
  • Charleston, South Carolina (7/30 – 8/2)
  • Columbia, South Carolina (8/2)
  • Atlanta, Georgia (8/2 – 8/5)
  • Savannah, Georgia (8/5)
  • Orlando, Florida (8/5 – 8/7)
  • Kennedy Space Center, Florida (8/7)
  • Miami, Florida (8/7 – 8/9)
  • Gainesville, Florida (8/9)
  • Tallahassee, Florida (8/9 -8/10)
  • New Orleans, Louisiana (8/10 -8/15)
  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana (8/15)
  • Houston, Texas (8/15 – 8/16)
  • Austin, Texas (8/16 – 8/20)
  • San Antonio, Texas (8/20)
  • Lubbock, Texas (8/20 – 8/23)
  • Santa Fe, New Mexico (8/23 – 8/24)
  • Flagstaff, Arizona (8/24 – 8/25)
  • Grand Canyon, Arizona (8/25)
  • San Diego, California (8/25 – 8/28)
  • Los Angeles, California (8/28 – 9/6)

BY THE NUMBERS

-Those 44 locations spanned 31 US states and one Canadian province. A “province” is the Canadian version of a state, just like “curling” is the Canadian version of a worthwhile pastime.

-Of those 31 states, we only spent the night in 22 of them. Of the remaining states, one was a day trip (New Jersey) and eight were drive-through states (Wyoming, Indiana, Connecticut, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi). You couldn’t pay me to spend the night in some of those places.

-Of those eight drive-through states, we only stepped out of the car in six of them for gas or food. No love for Indiana or Delaware.

I spent 80 days on the road. Ian spent 79. The difference is because I went up to Sacramento the day before we officially started (June 19th) and spent the night at my sister’s place. Ian picked me up the following day. Bottom line: I win.

-I brought with me around $3,400 on the trip. Of that paltry sum, $1,800 was put into a joint account that we used solely for gas and split meals. That, plus the $100 my gracious sister gave me in New Orleans, was all I spent for three months. Thank god for free housing!

-Speaking of free housing, I crashed in 39 different places. 22 of those places were with friends and family, 12 of those places were found through CouchSurfing.org, one of those places was found through Reddit (go figure), and one of those places was a room in the New Orleans Sheraton that my sister paid for. The remaining three places were motels that Ian and I gave in and paid for (Eugene, Deadwood, and Tallahassee). Why give in to paying for motels? No free Wi-Fi in Ian’s car.

-By the way, Ian’s car–a blue 2008 Honda Civic–was just the reliable steed we needed for our trip. We drove it over 13,000 miles and it didn’t break down once. Ian takes care of his car; he treated it to two oil changes. It was towed once, but at least it was never broken into or stolen. I think with the bug-covered exterior and all our blankets and food boxes in the back, it looked like bums were living in it.  Grade A security system!

PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM!  Live musical acts I saw on the road (click the links!)

Fitz and Tantrums @ Summerfest in Milwaukee, WI

Dangermuffin @ Surf Bar in Folly Beach, SC

Lee “pLink” Floyd @ Musical Legends Park in New Orleans, LA

Yojimbo @ Maison in New Orleans, LA

Los Lonely Boys @ Blues on the Green in Austin, TX

The Airborne Toxic Event @ Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in San Diego, CA

PHOTO OP LANDMARKS Sometimes, you just have to play the tourist.

Top of the Seattle Space Needle

-Mount Rushmore

-Top of Chicago’s Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower)

-Top of Toronto’s CN Tower

-Plymouth Rock

-The Statue of Liberty

-Top of New York’s Rockefeller Center (“Top of the Rock”)

-Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell

-Top of the Washington Monument. . . and pretty much everything else in DC

-The Alamo

-The Grand Canyon

EPIC LOG

I guess I should wrap up my last Young Man On The Road post with some sort of declaration about life-changing lessons and finding myself on the road. That’s how all big adventures end, right? But I still feel like the same guy who partook on this road trip in June. I may have a few less dollars, a few more friends, and mental images to associate with cities that were no more than names on a map before I left, but did it change me as a person? I don’t know, I don’t think so. It didn’t change my outlook on life. If anything, it reaffirmed how I’m living it.

It also narrowed my focus on what could be my next big adventure, but I’ll save that story for my next Young Man Went West post.

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Young Man On The Road #21: Far From The Lousy Headlines And The Deadlines In Between

I hadn’t been motivated to write throughout the entire month of September.  The trip’s over, I’m back in Hawaii, and I have just California to write about after this.  Let the freewriting begin!

August 23 – 25

Santa Fe, NEW MEXICO; Flagstaff, ARIZONA

With Texas behind us and our beloved California over the horizon, Ian and I were set on flying through the Southwest. We spent most of three days in parts of two states, couchsurfing a night in each one. Both our hosts were young college grads who introduced us to their friends, but that’s about where the similarities ended. On the spectrum of couchsurfing experiences, good to bad, we hit each extreme.

In New Mexico: Our soon-to-be-host Evan informed us that he wouldn’t get off of work until around 10 pm. No problem, we said, seeing as we’d arrive in Santa Fe shortly before that. We rolled in around 9 pm and passed the following hour chatting over dinner, a split five-dollar footlong at Subway.

Fast forward one day in the future. . .

In Arizona: Our soon-to-be-host Sammi informed us that she wouldn’t get off of work until around 6 pm. No problem, we said, seeing a Barnes & Nobel in the center of downtown Flagstaff as we rolled in during early afternoon. We passed a few hours browsing around the store. . . and running into the author of one of the hottest book and television series at the moment: George R. R. Martin!

I thought it was finally time to buy the book when I ran into the author.

(Note: It wasn’t an official book signing. GRRM was roadtripping in the exact opposite direction toward his hometown of Santa Fe. He just decided to stop in Flagstaff, stroll into this random B&N unannounced, and start signing copies of his A Song of Fire and Ice books. Only and handful of employees were gathered about him in nerd-struck awe, so it took a mere two minutes of lingering to get to him. The first thing I said was, “Man, I was gonna buy a copy of that book, but you defaced all of them!” He chuckled, found me a version of A Game of Thrones without Sean Bean on the cover (by request), and happily agreed to pose for a picture. That meeting alone made Flagstaff a more worthy experience than Santa Fe the day before, and I hadn’t even gotten to the good part yet!)

Rewind. . .

New Mexico: We finally got a call from Evan who told us to meet him at his friends’ place first. A bit curious, but we weren’t about to object. The man was letting us crash at his place for free after all. We left Subway then and followed Ian’s GPS device to Evan’s friends’ house.

I could see why Evan would want to chill with his friends after work, they were welcoming, laid-back folks. They also happened to be the epitome of hipsters. One guy sported an ironic mustache while the girl cooked some vegan meal in the kitchen. It looked like quinoa and smelled delicious. There were a few cats and plenty of random stringed instruments in the living room. Another guy plucked at a small, guitar-like instrument while sprawled over an armchair, bored and uninterested in his own musical pursuits. Evan’s friends were laughably stereotypical, but we dared not laugh, for they were first and foremost welcoming, and we were first and foremost grateful.

Arizona: Sammi called us promptly at 6 pm and gave us directions to her house. Tucked away at the end of a cul-de-sac in a nice neighborhood, Sammi’s two-story house was clean and bright. Artwork and band posters dressed the white walls of the living room, and in that living room was a long, comfortable couch and an extra bed, both topped with pillows and folded blankets. For a host without spare bedrooms, she sure raised the bar on hospitality.

Sammi told us she lives with two other girls, one of whom has a boyfriend that lives with them as well. They weren’t there at the moment, but she said we’d meet them at a house party we were invited to. The aforementioned boyfriend was moving to Colorado and the girls were throwing him a surprise farewell party. “Don’t worry,” our host reassured us, “it’s at another house.”

You’ll soon see what a relief those words were after our previous night in Santa Fe. . .

NM: Evan took us to the back patio of his friends’ house to chat for a bit. I played fetch with a disgustingly slobbery dog while Evan grabbed us some beers, then we traded couchsurfing experiences. We related our roadtrip journey so far, a story we’ve delved into countless time before but grows each time we tell it.  In turn, Evan told us about the few couchsurfers he’s hosted, most of whom came from Europe. “Yeah, I’m always hosting. I think my roommates are starting to get annoyed. I don’t let them know when I’m gonna host couchsurfers.”

Wait. . . what?

“Yeah, I live with this one guy and his crazy girlfriend. They’re both crazy, actually. I’m gonna move out soon, so I don’t care to tell them when I host. Don’t worry though, I don’t think the guy will be there tonight. He went to jail and I don’t think he’ll get out by tonight.

Um. . .

“Last night he threatened this other dude at Taco Bell because he thought the guy was staring at his girlfriend. He broke the guy’s windshield.”

Before we could process our host’s inconsiderate nature or his roommate’s dangerous nature, his phone rang. Little did we know, that call would raise the level of awkwardness even higher.

AZ: We had a few hours to kill before the house party, so Sammi and I played a bit of Mario Kart on her Wii before she took us to a popular local sandwich shop called the Cheba Hut (if that name sparks delightful curiosity, I implore you to Google the place). We told her our ever-growing couchsurfing tale, and she talked about how she just graduated from Northern Arizona University. I can’t recall what she majored in; the important thing was that those sandwiches were delicious.

Because the sun was setting as we finished our “toasted” subs, we bought some cheap beer and our gracious host drove us to the top of this hill where you could look out over the whole city. It wasn’t exactly a picture-worthy skyline, but to stare at the twinkling town lights with a beer in hand was quite calming.

NM: “Those were some buddies of mine,” Evan said, hanging up the phone, “They’re gonna come over to play poker for a little bit.”

He didn’t say, “Is it alright if they came over?” or “I hope you don’t mind if they come over.” It was, “They’re gonna come over.” Honestly, I didn’t mind, and I don’t believe Ian did either. But I kept thinking, If we were any other people looking for simple comfort or a good night’s rest, this would be a horrible situation. Luckily, we weren’t any other people. Ian and I had been able to do this trip the way we had because we are able to just go with the flow, even when the flow get’s this turbulent.

Ian and I bid farewell to our temporary hipster hosts and followed Evan through what looked like a tacky Mexican restaurant-themed suburb to his house a few minutes away. I found it funny and somewhat endearing that the houses were so stylized, as if Santa Fe was trying to simulate Indigenous-Mexican architecture instead of actually just having Indigenous-Mexican architecture. Our exploration of the town center in full daylight the following morning did little to dissuade my naive judgments, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The inside of his one-story house was dim and poorly furnished. There wasn’t much more than a dusty hardwood floor, a worn couch, and some apparently found furniture pieces. Though, being who I am, I was easily comfortable in this obvious bachelor’s pad. Evan pointed to the couch:

“There’s a pull-out bed in there for when you guys want to go to sleep. If you don’t feel like sharing, I think I might have a spare mattress in my room. Those guys are gonna come over in a little bit.”

Again, we were fortunate that our six-hour drive from Lubbock didn’t wear us out. It was about 11 o’clock at night and we were game to meet new people instead of crashing right then and there. . . as if we had a choice.

AZ: Ian and I entered the party a bit awkwardly, but not uncomfortably. Apparently, Sammi didn’t know all the people that were going to be there, either. We dropped our extra beer in the fridge, saving a few for ourselves, and stood around in the front room for a bit saying “hi” to people as they entered. Eventually, we made it out to the backyard where everybody gathered and started mingling, introducing ourselves to friendly faces and retelling abridged versions of our trip so far. When the guest of honor came through the house and out into the backyard, we yelled, “Surprise!” with everybody else. By then, I no longer felt out of place.

Sammi’s roommate’s boyfriend was really friendly and quite interested in our story. Actually, everyone we met was friendly, interesting, and interested. I got along just fine and didn’t even see Sammi for long stretches of time. Free-flowing was the beer, the conversation, and other things I need not mention. I don’t remember any of the names of my one-night friends. I don’t remember what we talked about. I do remember, however, needing to get some fresh air. Badly.

Me, Mary, Stephi, Sammi, and Ian

NM: The guys who came in to play poker were a lively bunch. They brought not only a poker set, but beer and cigarettes, too. They welcomed us to join, but seeing as we could not possibly afford to lose the little money we had left, we had to decline. They set up around the coffee table in the middle of the living room, commandeering mismatched chairs and our pull-out couch. Ian and I sat off to the side, watching, but not entirely engaged. I eventually found Banksy’s art book Wall and Piece and started leafing through.

No more than an hour passed when in through the door walked a tall, loud guy and a skinny girl. They seem shocked and annoyed. Well, the girl did more so. She immediately stormed into a nearby bedroom and shut the door. The guy, on the other hand, assessed the situation and joined the crowd. For a recently-released violent offender, he seemed pretty sociable and laid-back. He started chatting with everybody, recognizing some of the characters, but not all. Not us.

I forget his name, but he did introduce himself to me.  I’ll call him Bob for now.  When Bob introduced himself, I told him who I was and what I was doing there. Bob’s face dropped, but not his manners. He expressed that he was annoyed that Evan would keep hosting without letting him know beforehand, but assured us that we were welcome. He told us that most of the stuff in his living room was his and if we respected that, all should be good. I ended up talking to Bob more than I did to Evan, who, sometime before the arrival of his roommate, slinked off to bed and left his coterie in the living room drinking, smoking, and gambling the night away.

It was getting late, two, maybe three in the morning. The gamblers were nearing the end of the tournament, only three guys left. I had just finished reading/staring at every page of the Banksy book when the skinny girlfriend came out.  She sat next to Bob, visibly upset. Understanding, Bob slammed his fist on the coffee table and said in a mild tone, “Alright, the game is over. It’s late and it’s time for everybody to leave. Split the pot among those left.”

Without a word of contention, the gamblers respectfully and quickly divided the pot, packed up, and filtered out until only Ian and I were left in the room with the couple.

“Do you two have somewhere to go?” the girlfriend asked us. Before we could respond, Bob turned to her and explained that we were Evan’s couchsurfers.

“Again?!” was her response. She didn’t even look at us.

Bob and his girlfriend retired to their room, leaving me and Ian to move around the living room furniture in order to pull out the bed and settle in for the most situationally awkward night of our trip.

AZ: The Coors Brewery tour should have been a lesson to me about alcohol and altitude. I’d left the house, but the patio was spinning. Fresh air wasn’t enough, I needed to be mobile. Without a word of notice to anyone, I started walking around the block alone. Breathe in, breathe out, step, step, step. One lap wasn’t enough to clear my head, so I continued on for another go around. Feeling a bit better, I opened the front door. There were plenty of party-goers inside, but none that I recognized. I then realized that the inside of the house looked different, too.

“Are you lost, man?” one friendly stranger asked me.

“Yeah, I guess so,” I slowly replied, realizing my mistake but also my fortune that there were two house parties on the same street.

“Well, the house next door is having a party, too. Try that out.”

“A’ight. Shoots, brah!” I said as I waived the shaka. Before I moved to Hawaii, Spanglish used to pour through my inebriated lips. Now, it’s semi-forced Hawaiian Pidgin.

“Wait, are you from Hawaii?!” asked another party-goer in the most random displays of coincidence.

“Uh, yeah.”

“Brah, I used to live there!”

“Shoots! No way! Cool. Okay.” And with that, I stumbled out the door.

I was about to enter the correct house when I felt my stomach churning. I once again shot right by the house and snuck into the bushes around the corner. I didn’t think I was back there releasing my insides for more than ten minutes, but when I emerged, Ian said that they’d been looking for me for over half an hour. I felt too bad physically to feel bad emotionally. Sammi drove us back to her place and I passed out on top of the nicely folded blankets laid out in the living room bed.

NM: I woke up to an alarm the next morning and immediately started packing up. In a sleepy daze earlier, I saw Evan leave the house for work. I didn’t even attempt to say “bye.” As we were folding the couch back in, Bob came out to bid us farewell. We thanked him and apologized several times before heading out into the Santa Fe sun. In the car, Ian and I half-jokingly agreed that we’d have much rather slept in the car than in that living room.

For the next few hours, Ian and I explored downtown Santa Fe, a gorgeous and colorful city, but I couldn’t shake the thought that it was all a bit fake. Sure, there was a legitimate mixing of indigenous, Mexican, and American cultures in this area–and I’m sure plenty of the buildings were authentic–but a part of me could only believe that they were putting on airs for the tourists, not unlike how Waikiki lends itself to the tourists’ idea of what Hawaii should look like. Gorgeous, nonetheless.

‘Round about noon, we set out for Flagstaff, Arizona, apprehensively optimistic about our next and final couchsurfing experience. . .

Pretty, no? But is it real?

AZ: I woke up to the sight of a bottle of ibuprofen on my bedside. In a sleepy daze earlier, I saw Sammi and Mary leave the house for work. I think I tried my best to say “goodbye.” Stephi was still there, as was her boyfriend, who seemed to had had a rougher night than me. Stephi made us surprisingly tasty scrambled eggs–I never cared for them much before I tried hers–and we leisurely got ready for the day. There were folded fluffy towels in the bathroom for when we took showers. We thanked Stephi and her boyfriend profusely before heading out to the Grand Canyon.

For the next few hours, Ian and I stood in awe of the Grand Canyon. We’d both seen countless pictures and videos of the place growing up, but there’s an ineffable majesty that comes with standing before such a vast natural wonder. You can spend a day looking up appropriate adjectives in a thesaurus for this place but still come away sounding like a cheesy brochure. I apologize for my previous attempt.

Our experience in Flagstaff with Sammi and her roommates, and then at the Grand Canyon, capped our exploratory roadtrip in the most positive light. All we had ahead of us was a homecoming through California. That exciting thought may have been the only thing that could have pulled us away from the Grand Canyon so easily.

Just like my words, this picture does the place no justice.

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Young Man On The Road #20: Steers and Queers

I hadn’t been motivated to write throughout the entire month of September.  The trip’s over, I’m back in Hawaii, and I have three more states to write about.  Let the freewriting begin!

PS: As always, bonus points if you caught the title’s reference.

August 15 – 23

Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and Lubbock, TEXAS

Texas is big.  We spent a lot of time in a lot of places, making it impossible to concoct a single-themed story.  I decided, instead, to just pick and choose random memories from our time within the Lone Star State.

And so, I give you. . .

THE TOP TEN TAKEAWAYS FROM TEXAS

1) Spatially, Houston is a lot like Los Angeles.

Houston is a big city.  And not in a towering-skyscrapers-and-bustling-crowds kind of way, but in a damn-this-covers-a-lot-of-land kind of way.  Like Los Angeles, it’s spread out over a huge area with no real city center or notable downtown.  Unlike Los Angeles, however, it is actually just one city.  Everything was a car drive away, so we did a lot of nothing, which was fine by our CouchSurfing host, Brett, because he didn’t want to go out either.  We just lounged in his air conditioned house all day and played video games while his friends dropped in every now and then.  He was exactly the host we wanted at that moment.

2) Houston is home to the best breakfast diner, hands down.

The only time we went out during the day was to a breakfast place.  Wait, let me rephrase that: to THE breakfast place!  Brett introduced us to local hotspot and diners’ delight The Breakfast Club, whose towering and tasty breakfast dishes are outshined only by its impeccable service.  This was an order-at-the-counter type place.  All they had to do was have one person at the register to place my order and I’d have been satisfied.  Instead, there was a greeter at the door to manage the line outside, walk through the menu with the newcomers, and hug all the regulars.  There were several people behind the register to take your order, suggest meals if you’re still unsure, and start a little small talk.  A manager came around to every table to make sure everything was okay.  Even the food runners and bussers took care of you.  And they all did it with a genuine smile.  I’d have enjoyed the experience even if my food was mediocre.  Thankfully, it was a generous portion of taste bud euphoria.

How do you improve a chicken and waffles dish? By surrounding a perfectly-grilled Belgian waffle with six seasoned, tender chicken legs. Fist pump from our host, Brett.

3) Lone Star is Texas’ version of PBR.

Seeing as Houston was so spread out, it made sense that there would be a niche neighborhood for every type of person.  And seeing as our channel for meeting people was an international culture-sharing online community, it came as no surprise that we found the hipster pocket of Houston.  We spent our first night drinking cheap beer at an outdoor bar with guys in skinny jeans.  Believe it or not, Texas has hipsters, and hipster Texans have Lone Star beer.  Of course, you can still get Pabst Blue Ribbon in Texas, but you’d be remiss not to grab a 16 oz. tallboy of Lone Star for one dollar.

16 oz., 4.8% ABV, $1

And as we followed the trail from the hipster pocket of Houston to the hipster haven of Austin, so too did we follow the trail of that cheap, ironically popular beer.  We found Lone Star all along Sixth Street, and they were all still just one dollar.  It wasn’t bad tasting, per se, but I had about five before I was even the slightest bit tipsy.  I’d rather spend the same amount of money and save stomach room by buying one old fashioned and getting the same effect.  I guess I ain’t a hipster.

4) If you like being outdoors and hate spending money, Austin is the place for you!

I was low on money by the time we rolled into Texas, and though worth the price, my meal at The Breakfast Club in Houston hit the bank relatively hard.  So imagine how happy I was that my number one destination in Texas had much to offer in free, outdoor activities.  There’s a place called Barton Springs near a giant park close to the University where people can swim in natural, fresh water springs.  Of course, there’s also a sectioned-off portion that was made into a pool, but why pay the $3 entry free when you can gallivant in the same water for free?

Never have I seen such a seemingly literal division of classes. The free swimming area is in the foreground, and the fenced-off spring-fed pool is in the background.

That nearby giant park is called Zilker Park and is the location of Austin’s summer-long concert series Blues on the Green.  It’s a free, outdoor music festival that happens every Wednesday for six weeks of the summer.  We happened to catch the last night of the series, the headlining act being Los Lonely Boys.  It was surprising and soul-satisfying to see a city provide such a professional show for tens of thousands of people, free of charge.  Of course, the food vendors that lined each side of the park made bank off us, but it is easy to justify overpriced barbecue with free live music.

5) If you love movies but hate the typical movie-goer, Austin is the place for you!

The Alamo Drafthouse is a haven for movie buffs who are fed up with today’s plot-discussing, question-asking, not-so-subtly-texting, idiotic, movie-going crowd.  They aren’t only known for kicking people out of the theater for talking or texting, they pride themselves in doing so!  There’s a well-known ad they play before each movie of a real voicemail they received from an angry customer who felt unjustly victimized because she “didn’t know that she wasn’t allowed to text in a movie theater.”  (Idiot.)  She sarcastically thanked them for being assholes.  They’re response: “You’re welcome.”

I couldn’t wait to go!

My lovely friend and our gracious host, Sarah, with me on Sixth Street near Alamo Drafthouse.

Not only does the Alamo Drafthouse play major blockbusters as well as indie flicks, but they show a lot of old films, too, and usually with some sort of accompanying activity: sing-along, quote-along, live comedian commentaries, etc.  We chose the Action Pack Thursday showing of Starship Troopers (1997), one of my favorite cheesy sci-fi flicks.  Included with the price of admission was a live pyrotechnic show that coincided with the on-screen explosions and a toy cap gun we could use to shoot at the alien bugs (though most exhausted their ammo shooting at Denise Richards)!

On top of all that, the Alamo Drafthouse serves restaurant-level food and house-brewed beer to your seat in the theater!  Servers come around to take order while they play old movie trailers.  Why aren’t you already on a plane for Austin?!

6) “The Six Flags of Texas” is an interesting tidbit of information elsewhere, but an oft hammered-in history lesson in Texas.

While in a bar in Hawaii months before the start of my trip, I was quizzed by an older gentleman about the origin of the term “Six Flags,” as in the amusement park franchise.  He revealed that it started with a single amusement park called “Six Flags Over Texas” and stood for the six different countries that at one point in history ruled–and hence flew their flag over– what is now Texas.  I correctly guessed five of them (Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, and the United States of America), but failed to guess the sixth (the Confederate States of America).  I found it to be an interesting piece of trivia and fun conversation starter wherever you are. . . as long as it’s not Texas.  Texans love their own history and since the Six Flags are flown everywhere in the state, they wouldn’t find the question challenging.

As found in a children's coloring book in the Texas State History Museum.

SIDENOTE: Ian and I agree that if a Southerner wanted to represent their heritage, the First National Flag of the Confederate States of America (shown in the bottom left) would be a worthy banner, historically more accurate and definitely less controversial than the more well-known Confederate Battle Flag, a.k.a. the “rebel” or “Dixie” flag, which never officially represented the CSA as a nation.  All the pride of the South without the stigma of racial insensitivity.

7) The Alamo is, unexpectedly, in the heart of downtown San Antonio.

When I envisioned the Alamo–the last stand of slave-owning rebels who, actually, weren’t American–I saw in my mind a Spanish-style mission in the middle of a deserted Texas plain, somewhere on the outskirts of San Antonio.  We followed our GPS unit through downtown San Antonio until we realized. . . we weren’t going through downtown, we were stopping in it.  Our end destination was a bustling tourist street with chain restaurants and a Ripley’s Believe It or Not.  Across the street was a Spanish-style mission and the materialization of my disappointment in the tourism of historical sites.  The Alamo. . . THE Alamo, was but only one stop between the movie theater and the Five & Dime on a San Antonio tourists’ itinerary.  We entered the Alamo out of equal parts obligation and pity. . .

Five minutes later, we were done and hungry.  Place was boring.  Show a video!  Have historical reenactors!  A small-scale display and well-manicured garden doesn’t cut it.  The Alamo doesn’t stand a chance amongst all the modern day distractions.

We beelined it to San Antonio’s other tourist attraction: the Riverwalk.  Talk about a saving grace!  I really wanted to stay and eat along the river, but both time and money were running low, so we hightailed it to Lubbock.

The Riverwalk. We were in no position to pay for restaurant food at the time, but at least the view was free.

8 ) A friend of your aunt is your aunt, and she will spoil you, too.

Sometime near the beginning of the road trip–I think it was in Colorado–I got a message from a woman named Donna through this blog.  Turned out she was a friend of my aunt and a follower of my blog.  Donna saw that we were planning on stopping in Lubbock and offered us a couple rooms in her house.

Our response was an obvious yes.

As I posted blog entries and photo albums from around the country, Donna was there every step of the way with a comment, and sometimes a plug for Lubbock.  She seemed just as excited to host us as we were to crash there.  It would have been much harder to leave Austin if it weren’t for the promise of giant beds and home-cooked barbecue.  When we got there, those promises were just the tip of the iceberg.

Ian and I got our own rooms with the aforementioned giant beds, as well as our own televisions with digital cable.  The home-cooked meals were big and plentiful.  And free.  Our hosts were truly hospitable and eager to please.  Donna’s niece Rachelle even took us around town, playing tour guide to Texas Tech, the Buddy Holly statue, and the many bars and nightclubs she frequents.  Rachelle couldn’t understand why we didn’t drink that much; I don’t think anybody truly understood just how broke we were by that leg of the trip.  That fact just made us appreciate the comfort of Donna’s home even more.

Me and my Texas auntie.

It’s ironic: the city where I felt the most like a foreigner (see below) had a host that made me feel truly at home.

9) Never have I felt more like a foreigner in my own country than in West Texas.

Although I felt right at home at Donna’s place, we’d go out to one of Rachelle’s bars and I’d feel like a visitor in a foreign land.  The locals have their own dance, and they ALL know how to do it (Google “two-stepping”), they have their own songs, and they ALL know all the words (Google Kevin Fowler’s “Pound Sign”), and they carry themselves differently in a social setting (I have no idea what you should Google for that).  I felt like I was uncovering a new culture every step of the way. . . or should I say, every TWO-step of the way!

I already feel bad for that pun.

I’m not complaining, mind you.  I just found it all very interesting how citizens of the same country can belong to such vastly different cultures.  I don’t know how to describe it without sounding narrow-minded, biased, or suggestively cynical, so instead I implore you to go out and discover the foreign cultures in your own backyard, so to speak.  I mean, while it’s still in your own backyard. . .

10) Texas seems ready to secede as soon as they have a chance.

Despite Texas being a breeding ground for uber-patriotic Americans, I sensed this underlying feeling that Texans just want Texas to be its own country again.  In addition to having their own cultural nuances (see above), they fly their flag at the same height as the US flag (and more often), refer to themselves as Texans first (though I do the same as a Californian), and never let anyone forget about how they were once the Republic of Texas.  You know that stereotype about how New Yorkers don’t shut up about being from New York City?  You can see a statewide version of that pride everywhere in the state, from plaques with famous Texas quotes in every gift shop (“You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas!” – Davey Crockett), to state-shaped decals on every truck, to oversized Lone Star flags on every front porch.  Texas isn’t the West.  Texas isn’t the South.  Texas is Texas, period.

The only other state I’ve seen with that much pride and desire for sovereignty is Hawaii.

"The stars at night are big and bright, (clap clap clap clap) deep in the heaaart of Texas!"

I don’t know what it is about regional pride, but it makes me very happy.  Maybe to see people so in love with their state justifies–or excuses–my own pride in California.  The whole trip, but Texas especially, made me yearn to be back in the Golden State.

We just had to get through the Southwest first.

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Young Man On The Road #19: Who Dat?

 by Guest Blogger Melanie V. Ramil (Sister of “Young Man”)

I had the great pleasure of joining my brother along his continental adventure in the great city of New Orleans.  It was both an excuse to spend time with him and to explore a new city which I had yet to visit, and an opportunity for me (finally) to treat him to a vacation as his long overdue college graduation gift.  To recount his New Orleans leg, he has bestowed upon me the honor of guest blogger of entry #19 to share our days there together.  Enjoy! 

August 11 – 14

New Orleans, LOUISIANA (aka, NOLA, Crescent City, The Big Easy)

Some things never change.  My flight landed at MSY in New Orleans at 11pm, a surprising 30 minutes before our stated arrival time.  I had confirmed with my brother days beforehand that he could pick me up from the airport, and I made sure to send him my flight information so he knew exactly what time I would be arriving and on which airline.  Excited, I texted him, “Just landed!  Got here early.”

His response?  “I just paid cover at a bar and the band is still setting up.  Can I stay for a few songs?”

Whhhaaattt?!?!

Little brother strikes again.  For any and all birth order theories claiming that responsibility and organization belong to the first born, and that the carefree and laid back among us are the last born, my brother and I are their poster children.

It was my first night in NOLA and I had not seen my Bubs for awhile, so Ate (Tagalog word for “older sister” and term of endearment, so I assume, my brother used for me) was going to be nice.  I texted back and said he can listen to a few songs, but “please don’t leave me here all night.”

On his way to the airport, he gets lost following the wrong directions.  Once my little brother actually follows the correct directions and makes it to the airport, its 1am and I had been waiting at the airport for nearly 2 hours.

Empty airport

After we valet park like pros at our hotel, I laughed aloud as soon as I saw my brother.  He walked into our quasi-fancy hotel wearing a huge traveler backpack, lugging a ukulele in one hand a bag of dirty laundry in the other.  I feel like I had picked a hobo off the street and offered him a warm place to sleep for the evening.

Bubs holding his bags in hotel lobby

I love my little Bubs with all my heart, so I just had to laugh at all the scenarios that had played out during our first night together.  They seemed all too familiar from our 24 years together as brother-sister – I was convinced that some things just never change.

The next day we set out to explore the city, primarily as gastro tourists.  We started out with the muffuletta (a sandwich of salami, pepperoni, ham, provolone and a marinated olive salad) and then roamed the famed French Quarter and Bourbon Street.  During this walk, I concluded that Bourbon Street is best experienced at nighttime.  Large hurricane drinks from a sidewalk stand and girls in gold thongs may be part of the Bourbon Street allure, but only serve to bare their sadness during the day.

As we walked and ate Café du Monde beignets (of course), my brother shared with me his adventures over the last months – Kentuck Fried Chicken buffets, more-than-hospitable Couch Surfing hosts and the gems of cities small and large.  I was excited to listen to it all and even more proud that my little brother – the once seemingly mute baby boy that clung to my mother during family gatherings – was independent, adventurous, spontaneous, and even an inspiration to some.  Our little cousin Jordan shared with me that after college he wanted to travel like Anthony because “he was living life more than anyone he knew.”  I beamed at that statement and shared his sentiments with my Bubs as soon as I could.  I’m not sure I would have predicted someone saying that about my little Tony-Bones years ago…

Young bubs nestled in mom’s chest

Later that evening, we joined the masses and enjoyed fried alligator, crawfish po’boys and beer while taking in a pre-season Saints game.  I figured that, if there was anything NOLA-ish to do at this moment in time, it was to surround ourselves with proud Saints fan donned in black and gold shouting, “Who dat!  Who dat!”

As the hundreds of times before, we started debating something (topic irrelevant) and little brother got frustrated with me.  All of a sudden, we reverted 20 years and I was Older Sister Bully who had just told him he was adopted and made him cry (shamefully, I admit to such an act).  I felt bad of course, but also succumbed  to the role I knew in this dance, the stubborn one who was always right, and frustrated once again by his sensitivity.  I guess even our little sibling rivalry had remained, 24 years and going strong.

Like we do, we toned it down, brushed it off and enjoyed a fun evening out with his friends.  We celebrated his old college friend’s roommate’s girlfriend’s little sister’s 21st birthday (which was very different than the 30th birthdays I’ve been celebrating of late) with the famous/infamous New Orleans’ hurricane.  It is the equivalent of the “jungle juice” of my experiences, a sweet, juice-like drink that creeps up on you and which, I assume, causes many to do that of which “what happens in NOLA, stays in NOLA.”

The next day, we were overjoyed – we had found NOLA.  We found the spirit and soul of the city, and finally felt the essence of the place and all it had to offer: its music, Creole-inspired culinary treats, heart, history, pain and pride.  We started the day off with a walk to Treme and an awe-inspiring visit to the New Orleans African American Museum (did you know that Treme was the country’s first neighborhood of free people of color?!).  Our time in Treme was marked by a side of my brother I had always known and admired: his all-encompassing and wildly enthusiastic desire to learn every single detail, fact and anecdote about something of which he is passionate/intrigued/interested.  As he spouted details and dates of the historical markers we passed, most of which were learned from the HBO show “Treme” and then Wiki-researched later on, it reminded me of all the “loves” (obsessions?) of his life.  The time he spent transcribing Will Smith’s songs and reading his biography, the money he has spent collecting Stars Wars figures and buying books that detailed the history beyond what most Star Wars fans know, and the energy he has put into learning every theory, thought and historical detail about Mars and our ability (as humans, not as “my and my brother’s”) to exist there.

Later, his excitement exploded as we stumbled upon (figuratively, as we were just sitting, listening to a jazz band and eating gumbo at the time) a second line, an impromptu brass band parade and tradition that seems to be the thing that at once captures everything New Orleans.  He jumped into the parade, danced and earned his beads (no, he did not flash anyone).  Of course, before this trip, he had researched the tradition, knew the lingo and shared the historical context; it was his one wish for this trip and it had come true – it was a good moment with my brother, the passionate and excited Bubs I’ve always known.  We ended that wondrous day with a night on Bourbon Street, completely captivated, at times grossed out and overly-stimulated by everything going on around us.  We were stoked to have found a lively bar with a jammin’ jazz group and danced the night away…that is, until Ate headed back, worn and beat, and little brother stayed out with his buddies until the wee morning hours.

Bubs with beads from second-line

On our last day together, despite an empty wallet and full stomach of everything fried and Creole, I was sad to see the end of this trip with my brother.  As we enjoyed our last lunch together (jumbalaya and red beans and rice), we entered shaky territory as the sibling-rivalry debates heated up again.  This upset me being our last day together and I started to tear up.  I think this may have softened us up a bit because we started to share, for maybe the first time ever, those things we do to each other that just get under the other’s skin.  It was the type of conversation I routinely force my boyfriend to do, those ones about “feelings” so we openly communicate, blah blah blah.  Oddly enough, as I had thought in that embarrassing public display of emotion, I have never had this productive kind of dialogue with my brother.  We shared with each other why we get hurt or frustrated in those instances and then, unlike every time before, we both listened.  In rare fashion, instead of getting defensive, we strove to understand the other’s point of view and asked the other what we could do differently in the future.  It was touching and refreshing and wonderful and new (and yes, emblematic of the Nickelodeon after-school specials we used to watch together).  Maybe my brother and I were growing up, and maybe – some things do change.

We finally said goodbye – and after I slipped him some cash to help him make it to the end of his road trip (hey, baby steps people) – we parted ways.  Older sister was heading back to work and younger brother was on his way to the next destination along his once-in-a-lifetime, life-changing, post-college tour and exploration of self (so I assume).  I’ll never forget our trip together – not only our delicious and educational exploration of this beautiful and storied city, but of the time my brother and I grew up together in our own little rare and beautiful moment.

Only pic of me and bubs in NOLA

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Young Man On The Road #18: Recall

I hadn’t been motivated to write throughout the entire month of September.  The trip’s over, I’m back in Hawaii, and I have six more states to write about.  Let the freewriting begin!

PS: The title for this one actually has two meanings (and I don’t know if that was initially intended).  “Recall” not only reflects a major event in Florida’s contemporary history, but also marks the first blog entry about my roadtrip that wasn’t written while on the road.  These are the stories I’ll have to recall from recent memory.

August 5 – 10

Orlando, Cape Canaveral, Miami, Gainesville, and Tallahassee, FLORIDA

Florida is the site of some great memories, and some not-so-great memories.  I could go on and on about the best part–the Kennedy Space Center with its awe-inspiring shows, wonderfully-detailed exhibits, and the GREATEST TOWERING ACHIEVEMENT OF ALL MANKIND on display–but that’s my passion, not yours.

The Saturn V rocket is, to this day, the most powerful vehicle ever operated. I'm glad the shuttles are dead. We can get back to building things like this!

Instead, I’ll try to recount for you the balancing act of impressions this phallic state had placed upon me.

Good Florida: I stayed with some extended family I’d never met before.

Family is and will always be the most important thing to me, especially when they live in a place you happen to be roadtripping through.  My dad’s first cousin Auntie Tessie and her husband Uncle Gerry live lavishly in an Orlando condo and were gracious enough not only to share said condo with a couple vagabonds, but also to invite us to their Filipino mahjong club’s weekly dinner.  We didn’t play mahjong, but we sure as hell filled up on that homemade Filipino food.  Surprising it wasn’t the first time (remember Toronto?).

Me, Uncle Gerry, Auntie Tessie, their daughter Rachel, her boyfriend (Chris? John? I dunno), and Ian

Bad Florida: Unless you want to throw down hundreds for theme park tickets, their ain’t much to do in Orlando.

We completely immersed ourselves in the retirement mecca stereotype of Florida and just relaxed.  I just lounged around their condo all day, maybe writing a blog or two, but we didn’t and wouldn’t explore the Anaheim of the East.  We did leave once, though. . .

Good Florida: We saw Rise of the Planet of the Apes at Universal City Walk.  Best movie of the summer.  Go see it!

That has nothing to do with Florida.

Bad Florida: We had our first weird Couch Surfing experience.

After spending a day in the happiest place on earth (the Kennedy Space Center. . . what did you think I meant?), we hightailed it to Miami.  Ian found this lady named Ann on CouchSurfing.org who seemed pretty interesting: middle-aged hippie that played a guitar and was a masseuse.  She was definitely a hippie–at least her cluttered house seemed to prove so–but she must have “experimented” a bit too much in the day because she didn’t quite seem all there. . . and not in an interesting way.  She was just a horrible conversationalist.  She’d never ask us anything, but when we’d throw out questions, she’d stare at us for a beat and then answer in as few words as possible.  Talk about one of the most awkward breakfasts ever.  I resorted to discussing the price of milk in Hawaii!  She did not seem intrigued.

Good Florida: Our stay with Ann wasn’t all bad.

At least for me it wasn’t.  Ann and I shared a musical experience.  I brought in my ukulele and she, with her guitar, taught me how to play Jeff Buckley’s “Halelujah.”  We played together for maybe an hour, not saying much, just discussing the lyrics and chords.  I then showed her how to play Bruddah Iz’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and gave her a copy of the lyric/chord sheet I drew up while in DC.  While Ann may not have been able to communicate with words, we were able at least to connect through music.

Bad Florida: When it rains in Miami, all the glitz and glamour washes away, leaving a decrepit, sad city.

We had scheduled a full day in Miami: walking around the University of Miami campus, swimming in the ocean, checking out South Beach.  Considering our sleeping situation, we thought it best not to stay out and explore Miami’s infamous nightlife.  No worries, we had many other stereotypes to look forward to: Cuban music in the busy streets, exotic food places, and a beachful of bikini-clad models.

Except, that wasn’t the case.  Instead, this happened:

Someone dumped a bucket of "Suck it!" on the so-called "Sunshine State."

No random Cubanos in music-filled streets.  No barely-clad ladies on stretches of beach.  The rain washed all that away.  We still walked around the campus, we still swam in the ocean, we still explored South Beach, but we did so in an empty, gray city.  We saw Miami for what it was: a worn-down, second-rate beach town pretending to be a major city.  To be fair, we didn’t explore actual Downtown, so maybe there’s some good city there.  But this?  This is just sad.

Good Florida: The rain eventually let up and we found a few doses of decency.

By the time we had driven from The U to South Beach, that rain had turned into a drizzle and the drizzle into just overcast skies.  Although the beaches were void, the water was still there, so we dived right in.  The water was satisfyingly warm.  It lacked waves, but made up for that with a soft sand floor that stretched shallow a few hundred yards.

Because of the rain, humidity wasn’t as much of an issue as it was in the Mid-West and East Coast.  By that time on our roadtrip, if we weren’t sweating gallons through our t-shirts, the weather was good.

We stumbled upon a welcoming, plant-filled row of restaurants that looked like what I had envisioned.  Pedestrian roads, patio seating, colorful buildings.  The works.  Ian and I decided to return in a few hours for a Cuban sandwich place on the corner.

And the kicker?  Meeting Yoji from TLC’s Miami Ink.  I used to watch this documentary series about a South Beach tattoo shop every time I went home from college and abused my parents’ digital cable.  The talented artists became familiar characters, the clients’ stories became touching stories.  Yoji, at the time of the filming of the show, was an apprentice.  When I ran into him outside the easily-recognizable tattoo shop, he was one of the main artists.  I appreciated how kind and willing he was to pose with me.

Had I a few hundred dollars extra, I might have gotten another tattoo.

Bad Florida: We returned to the Cuban Sandwich shop and it was so not good eats.

We were hungry and the small, open-aired restaurant/bar was quite an inviting establishment.  The friendly waitstaff and manager welcomed us in with pleasant accents.  I started off with a decent mojito, nothing to brag about, but that didn’t matter; I was eagerly awaiting my first Miami Cuban sandwich.  And I got this:

That yellow stuff underneath was a confused pile of potato product, caught somewhere between shoestring French fries and Pik-Nik Chips

Talk about the driest chunks of meat ever stuffed within two tasteless slices of bread.  They got the basics of a sandwich–meat and bread–but seemed to leave out anything that would give it–what would you call it?–oh yeah, flavor.  I had to empty half a bottle of ketchup onto that thing to make it edible.

Good Florida: We made a stop in Gainesville for the afternoon and I got to feast on Chik-Fil-A for the second time in my life.

I’d heard about this chicken restaurant before–mainly because of the college football bowl game–but had never been near any to try it.  I knew they liked their chicken, but I was surprised to see that EVERY ITEM on the menu was chicken-based.  No hamburger options.  No fake fish.  My first experience with Chik-Fil-A was in Columbia, South Carolina, and I was immediately enamored.  When we came across another one in Gainesville, I couldn’t wait to feast again on juicy breast meat covered in perfectly seasoned and fried batter, resting thoughtfully between two fluffy buns.  I got the spicy chicken sandwich for the second time and my taste buds did a happy dance.  It wasn’t until I was near that last succulent bite that I was stricken with a thought: considering how family-oriented and religious this institution is, what is their official stance on the issue of gay marriage and homosexuality in general?  I know, I’m probably the only one who ponders political issues at a fast food restaurant.  Still, I was in a restaurant that is closed every Sunday, hosts family activities for the community, and trains all their young, white servers to walk around the restaurant and offer free refills.  I’d grown suspicious and forced Ian to run a quick Google search for “chik-fil-a gay.”

Bad Florida: Chik-Fil-A hates gays.

Okay, so this isn’t a “Florida” issue, but I discovered it in Gainesville, so there.  Ian’s Google search revealed that not only is Chik-Fil-A an opponent of gay marriage, but they openly support anti-gay groups “like Focus on the Family and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes” and have donated “more than $1.1 million to organizations that deliver anti-LGBT messages and promote egregious practices like reparative therapy that seek to “free” people of being gay. ” (Link)  One of the best fast food discoveries of my life was tainted by blatant hate.  So long, you delicious spicy chicken sandwich.  Hopefully, one day we’ll meet again, but only in a hate-free world.

Good Florida: Ian and I met up with our college buddy Francisco in Tallahassee.

After spending an afternoon in Gainesville exploring the University of Florida, we continued on to Tallahassee and the FSU campus.  It was there that we met up with an old acquaintance and UC Rally Committee alumnus Franco.  He wasn’t a super close friend, but we’d hang out at the many, many sporting events we attended in college.  Francisco is still a die-hard Golden Bear fan and it was funny and somewhat refreshing to hear him talk poorly about other schools in relation to Berkeley.  I am and will always be a loyal Cal alumnus, but I feel I’ve lost the gung-ho (read: blind) Cal Spirit that Francisco so clearly possesses.

Bad Florida: We had to pay for a third (and, thankfully, final) motel

Francisco felt really bad that he couldn’t offer a place for us to crash.  He really wanted to, but he was in between places the day we came, so he was actually couch surfing himself.  We didn’t mind too much.  After all, he made up for it. . .

Good Florida: Francisco gave us a tour of the Florida State University campus, including a stop at a new fast food chicken restaurant!

Not only did Francisco give us an insider’s tour of his new school, but he also introduced us to an alternate fast food chicken chain called Zaxby’s.  As far as I know, Zaxby’s is a secular institution (they are open on Sundays) and they don’t hate gays.  At least, not officially.  They are an apolitical institution with a tasty chicken menu.  Now, while the chicken itself wasn’t revolutionary in relation to Chik-Fil-A, their kicker was the bun: in place of a regular hamburger bun, several of their sandwich dishes had two Texas Toast slices!  That’s right, succulent chicken nestled between two buttery, toasty, thick slices of bread.  My fingers dripped with grease.

It was around this time I vowed to eat better once I returned to Hawaii.

After the delicious, hate-free chicken sandwich from Zaxby’s, we toured FSU’s hall of fame and discovered an awesome tidbit about their seemingly controversial mascot, the Seminoles:

FSU is one of the few schools that DOESN'T exploit their human mascot.

Florida State University is actually supported by the Seminole Tribe of Florida.  In return, FSU respects, teaches, and exhibits the culture and tradition of the Seminole people with help from the Seminole people.  An FSU alumna friend of mine told me all about their close ties.  You can learn about this special relationship here.

Bad Florida: The state is separated from Lousiana–and therefore New Orleans–by Alabama and Mississippi.

Not the two most welcoming states for a couple of young Filipinos from California.

Good Florida: The drive through Alabama and Mississippi was relatively short.

We made sure of it.

Up next: The New Orleans Post. . . as written by my Ate (older sister) Melanie!

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Young Man On The Road #17: And The Southern Girls With The Way They Talk, They Knock Me Out When I’m Down There

July 30-August 5

Folly Beach, Charleston, and Columbia, SOUTH CAROLINA; Atlanta and Savannah, GEORGIA

In an effort to get caught up to speed, I’m combining several destinations into a single post and driving the stories by photos.

Photo Mash-up No. 2: The South

Folly Beach and Charleston (July 30-August 2)

I was feeling less than ecstatic about our trip ever since leaving New York, and worried that the remaining month-and-a-half—that wasn’t going to be spent in New Orleans or California—would be a drag.  Ian felt the same.  Throughout the East Coast, we traded (mostly) joking remarks about calling it quits and flying back.  The Big Apple was just too sweet.

If we weren’t enthusiastic about the progressive big cities of the East, how would Ian and I–two minorities–feel about a region steeped in a history of prevalent racism?  I felt a tinge of paranoia about my driving speed as we crossed into South Carolina.  Didn’t want to see if stereotypes about racist Southern cops held up.

We stopped for gas at a dinky gas station somewhere in South Carolina after nightfall.  I was a bit wary of running into a shotgun-toting redneck with a distaste for brown folks, but I paid those prejudice thoughts no heed.  I had to go inside after filling up to get a receipt, and there I found an old, black gentleman congenially carrying a conversation with the counter boy, a meek-looking white high schooler.  The older man, if I recall, was informing the counter boy of the importance of higher education, and the young kid ended each response with, “sir.”  My wariness of prevalent racism relaxed.  When it was my turn at the counter, the young kid kept calling me “sir,” too.  Southern hospitality: not all stereotypes are negative.  It was comforting to know which ones I found to be true.

I made it a point to refer to every person thereafter as “sir” or “ma’am.”

We made it to Charleston in the dark of night. . . and then kept going, following the robot voice of our GPS unit over a bridge and to the island of Folly Beach.  I learned three things on that drive: 1) Charleston is on the coast of South Carolina, 2) there are many islands right off that coast, and 3) our island destination was a beach town with a drinking problem.  No, not problem.  That would suggest that drinking is detrimental to the town.  Folly Beach thrives on it.  It’s a beach town with a drinking infatuation.  We met up with my friend and former Bubba Gump coworker Kylene at her work.  Quite appropriately, she is a bartender at her dad’s restaurant Loggerhead’s Beach Grill.

When Kylene said she lived only two minutes away from her bar, she wasn’t exaggerating.  We found her at her bar and, after a few free drinks and socializing with some friendly strangers, followed Kylene to her place. . . about half a block away.  I found out the next morning that the beach—an actual beach!—was just behind the bar in the other direction.  I never considered myself much of a beach person.  Even though I live in Hawaii, I rarely felt inclined to take the ten-minute bike trek from my place to the ocean.  However, after a month of long drives and city-hopping, I was surprised by how much I missed the beach.  The waves were cloudy and brown, but nonetheless refreshing.

We couldn’t lounge around Folly Beach the whole time, however.  Despite Kylene’s relaxing porch, her air-conditioned house, and the nearby beach, we owed it to ourselves to drive back over the bridge and explore Charleston.  Visually, it was just as refreshing as the feel of the ocean.

The buildings were straight out of the French Quarter in Disneyland, gorgeous and grandiose.  A cobblestone path led us from the Battery into the heart of Downtown Charleston.  The huge, colorful houses with their balconies and porches were giving me a tease of what I knew I’d find in New Orleans.

South Carolina definitely looked like how I imagined the Old South.  But even more so, I felt a vibe of care and pride emanating from the city.  The smiles and friendly small talk we received from the locals was a welcome change from the tight lips and rolled eyes of the East.

We spent our last night in Downtown Charleston with Kylene and her coterie of friends.  I remember mircobrewed beer, delicious fried green tomatoes, and ping-pong in the back.  But more than that, I will not forget how welcoming Kylene’s friends were, how interested they were in our adventure and how willing they were to share their stories with us.  Folly Beach, and Charleston to an extent, may be removed from the “true South,” but Southern hospitality spread out far beyond those borders.

Columbia (August 2)

On the drive from Charleston to Atlanta, we stopped by Columbia, SC, to peak around the University of South Carolina, the other USC.  In the merchandise shop where I bought my obligatory keychain, the folks inside were quite engaging, expressing their interested remarks with the thickest Southern accents I’d yet heard.  They spent a while excitedly telling us where to eat and giving us directions.  My initial apprehension about the South had all but dissipated.

Atlanta (August 2-5)

I once heard of a girl who would tell people she was from the South.  When other Southerners asked where exactly, they scoffed when she said Atlanta.

Georgia is definitely a Southern state.  Atlanta, Georgia, on the other hand, is a widespread metropolitan city that has moved past its Southern roots to embrace modern city-planning and architecture.  In the vein of LA, there is no true center of the city; neighborhoods are spread out and linked by freeways.

Even our hosts for the first two nights were far from Southern.  Michael (from somewhere in Canada) and Halef (from somewhere in Asia) are a middle-aged gay couple that have hosted over two hundred Couch Surfers in an effort to expand their cultural understanding whenever they aren’t traveling themselves.  Needless to say, they were amazingly caring and interesting hosts.

We spent most of our time in the ENTERTAINMENT? District, home of the Centennial Olympic Park, the CNN Center, and—most notably—the World of Coke.  Ian and I seriously had a fantastic time in the World of Coke.

The building is divided into multiple rooms featuring interactive museum displays, theaters, and a tasting area where you can try 64 different sodas from around the world!

I might not be a soda-drinker, but the World of Coke is definitely worth the price of admission.

No one told us to go to the World of Coke, and we had a blast.  On the other hand, everybody told us to go to The Varsity, a fast food restaurant and staple of Atlanta.  Boy, were we disappointed.

I don’t know what I’m more confused about: how this disgusting excuse for a restaurant became so popular, or how their product passes for acceptable food in the minds of the locals.  The burger I ate doesn’t even pass for acceptable fast food.  White Castle tastes like gourmet deli cuisine compared to this pile of flavorless crap!

We were fortunate enough to be in Atlanta when my buddy Harry—another former Bubba Gump’s coworker—came back from his own adventure: a two-month trip around Europe.   Although he hadn’t been home for more than a couple of days, he was willing to show us other parts of Atlanta, a younger, hipper, more diverse neighborhood.  Basically, where all the college kids live.

We even got to stay with Harry in his childhood home on our third and final night.

It was a freakin’ huge house.

A trip to the Sweetwater Brewery and Mellow Mushroom pizzeria with Harry rounded out our trip to Atlanta.  We had a great time, but I felt like we barely tapped the South.  It was a good thing we stopped by Savannah, GA, on the way to Florida. . .

Savannah (August 5)

I will admit, the initial draw of Savannah was its place in cinematic history: the bus stop bench from Forrest Gump was set in Downtown Savannah.  Although the bench has been removed from Chippewa Square, I was hoping the setting itself would bring me into one of my favorite movies.

The secondary draw of Savannah was its purported beauty.  Whenever I’d mention how beautiful I found Charleston to be, the usual response was, “You should go to Savannah!”  Now, I’ve never called a city beautiful and literally meant it.  Rather, when I said San Francisco or New York were beautiful cities, I really meant that the idea of such exciting metropolitans was beautiful.  Savannah was, simply, aesthetically beautiful.  It were as though somebody stole the charm of Rainbow Row in Charleston and spread it out over an entire downtown area in Georgia.

Gallant statues stood proud in the centers of numerous squares that proliferated the town.

Colorful buildings lined streets older than the country itself.

People in the streets would excitedly exclaim, “Hi!  How are y’all doing today?” as though they were waiting all day for us to pass by.

The Riverwalk, with its cobblestone paths and centuries-old storefronts, brought me to a place and time as foreign to be as the cities I saw on the British Isles.

Savannah was truly a sight to behold, but honestly not much more than that.  A sight.  We were not spending the night and had no inclination to do so, but I was glad to have caught a glimpse of the old South.

Conclusion

I’m accutely aware that our destinations in the South might not have been exactly representative of “the South.”  Rather, Folly Beach and Atlanta live on the periphery of the culture that claims “will rise again.”  Florida is not a Southern state, and we would be hightailing it through Alabama and Mississippi to get to New Orleans, which has a subculture of its own.

At first, this seemed like a lost opportunity, a missed chance to spend quality time in the United States’ most distinct subculture.  And then I remember certain facts, like 46% of Mississippi Republicans believe interracial marriage should be banned, and feel content with the Southern spots we hit.

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Young Man On The Road #16: East Coast Girls Are Hip, I Really Dig Those Styles They Wear

July 24-30

Philadelphia, PENNSYLVANIA; Atlantic City, NEW JERSEY; Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, MARYLAND

It’s not news that I’ve gotten behind on these blogs.  As I write this, I’m in the car on the way to Houston and it’s mid-August.  I apologize for falling so far behind, but I do have my reasons (read: excuses).  It takes me a long time to write these things.  My style is less “stream of consciousness” and more “write a paragraph, reread, revise, Internet break, continue, reread, revise, food break, etc.”  It’s hard to settle down after a day of exploring and rack my brain for a few hours.  Honestly, I’d rather watch TV shows and fool around on Facebook until I fall asleep.

But I do like having a written account of this trip and, even more so, sharing it with all of you.  Furthermore, your responses make it all worthwhile.  What good is it to have an adventure if I can’t share it with the people I love?

So, in an effort to get caught up to speed, I’m combining several destinations into a single post and driving the stories by photos.  If all goes well, I should be up-to-date before I leave Texas.

I present to you. . .

Photoblog Mash-up No. 1: The East Coast

Philadelphia (July 24-27)

According to the Wikipedia article I read on the drive in, the city is filled with many historical sites, more public art than anywhere else, and a handful of local eats.  I was kind of excited for Philly, and that first full day did not disappoint.

We went to Independence Hall and learned about Congress and the birth of our nation from an amazingly entertaining guide.

Nothing he said was new to me, but he made it so interesting, it may as well have been.

We saw the Liberty Bell.  Apologies to fellow How I Met Your Mother fans, but we did not lick it.

Friggin' thing don't even ring!

We stood in awe of the many murals and public statues around the city.  This was a result of an initiative to reach out to street artists and turn their talent into benefits for the city.

We ate lunch in Reading Terminal Market.

Though there were many tantalizing sights and smells, I held off on the non-local fare and tried scrapple for the first time.

And I actually liked it.

We walked to the Philadelphia Art Museum and ran up the Rocky Steps.

We rewarded our spurt of athletic activity with a local sugary treat: waterice.  It’s like shave ice, but not at all.

After a long day of holding off, we finally got cheesesteaks from Philly’s two most prominent steak places: Pat’s and Geno’s.  I bought one “wit whiz” (that means “with onions and Cheese Whiz”) from Pat’s, Ian got his from Geno’s and we swapped halves and compared at the house.

Both were actually severely disappointing.  The meat was flavorless, the toppings were unimpressive, and the bread was sub-par.  I chose Geno’s over Pat’s because even though there was less meat, the bread wasn’t as chewy.  It’s sad that the “winner” was the one I disliked less.

We got the cheesesteaks super-late at night, and that less-than-stellar experience almost foreshadowed our eventual overall disappointment with  the city.

We trudged through the hot Philly sun to the U.S. Mint.  Even though it wasn’t as humid as New York, the heat still took a toll.  So, when I entered the building and discovered a giant fan cooling off the security guards, I tried to make small talk with one of the guards about how nice it was to be inside.  No response.  Then it dawned on me:  Philadelphians haven’t been that friendly.  Except for our hosts and the Independence Hall tour guide, locals dismissed our attempts at friendly interaction.  (I want to emphasize that our hosts were tremendously kind and caring, but even their awesomeness was overshadowed by our other interactions.)  The waitress/bartender and her patron friends at the place we ate dinner the night before ignored our efforts to socialize, electing to instead give us a dirty look and continue with their conversation.  The cashier at Pat’s acted like I wasted his time by asking what movie he and his buddies were watching on the TV behind them.  And now this guard couldn’t even acknowledge my observation that hot weather is hot!?  Ian and I discussed this revelation while walking through the most unimpressive tour we’ve yet encountered.  Even the U.S. Mint’s bland displays seemed to spew disdain at us.  The City of Brotherly Love seemed to come up short on exactly that.

Before we left, we tried one more cheesesteak place: Jim’s.

Eureka!

It was exactly what we expected from a Philly cheesesteak: high-quality meat surrounded in well-cooked toppings and stuffed into a soft roll.  It was delicious, but even Jim’s delightful sandwich didn’t assuage the bad taste left in my mouth from Philadelphia’s unwelcoming natives.

Atlantic City (July 27)

We took a day trip to AC “on the way” to Washington, D.C. (there was some backtracking involved).  Not to gamble, mind you, just to see the “East Coast Vegas.”

It wasn’t Vegas at all.  It was more like an amalgamation of Reno (with the limited size and spectacle of its casinos), Santa Cruz (with its brightly colored, amusement park-strewn boardwalk), and any suburban middle class shopping plaza you can think of (located meer blocks from the beach and casinos).

I liked the boardwalk the best.  Partly because I’m not a gambler and therefore hold no interest in casinos, but mostly because I’m a fan of most things HBO.  Apparently, so are they.

Ironically, it wasn’t until after we left Philly did we come across good waterice.  I mean, really good.  Better than, *gasp!* Hawaiian shave ice!  Before you get angry at my blaspheming, take a trip to the East Coast and try some.  It’s like an ice-based gelato.

Though we didn’t gamble, we nonetheless lost a small fortune in AC.  We spent upwards of $18 on toll booths alone going there and back.  The house still won.

Washington, D.C. (July 27-30)

Ten years ago, Ian and I went on our 8th grade class field trip to Washington, D.C.  I thought I’d have gained a greater appreciation of the historical significance of the sites in the span of a decade.  Truth is, ten years ago, I did understand and appreciate said significance.  This time around, they were just buildings I’d seen before, but now without the added entertainment of tour guides and classmates.  This trip didn’t expand my appreciation of the city.

Case in point: Ford’s Theater.

Ten years ago, we went inside the theater and an animated guide told the tragic tale of Lincoln’s assassination.  On this trip, we just grabbed breakfast at Lincoln’s Waffle Shop across the street.

We did go to the Washington Monument this time around, though.

And we got to go up, too.  For free.  Good thing it didn’t cost anything, because it was the worst observation deck I’ve been to.

At least you get a view of the Lincoln Memorial.  But wait. . .

. . . where did the Reflecting Pool go?

In an effort to compound the stifling effects of the heat, the humidity, and the lack of shade, the District of Columbia tore up its most refreshing-looking landmark just in time for our arrival.

The trip wasn’t a total let-down.  We did go to the National Air and Space Museum, something we didn’t do ten years ago.  I’m an Apollo nut, so I was completely geeking out over the Apollo spacecrafts.  Come to think about it, that would have been the only thing I’d be more excited to see now than ten years ago.

I don’t know what we were expecting to gain from Washington, D.C.  Once you take away the aura of seeing famous buildings and monuments for the first time, all that’s left is an oversized financial district with few restaurants and many pretentious locals.  Ian and I spent most of the time complaining about the humidity, searching for water, and reminiscing about our 8th grade trip.  We were ready to just keep moving on to the next city.  On our way out, however, we stopped by the Jefferson Memorial.

I knew I liked Jefferson–mainly based on his portrayal in the HBO series John Adams–but I never realized how forward-thinking and practical the man was.  

The quotes that graced the walls of his memorial were at the same time inspiring (he had rational views of the important issues of his day) and frustrating (those views are still relevant to many of today’s issues).  Like Jim’s cheesesteak in Philly, the Jefferson Memorial was an uplifting end to an otherwise disappointing destination.

Baltimore and College Park (July 29)

Baltimore isn’t too far from D.C., so we used one of our D.C. days to explore the city that set the stage for David Simon’s The Corner and The Wire.

But first, the University of Maryland in College Park:

It was too humid to explore much of the campus, so after a keychain and a quick stroll, we took off for the Inner Harbor of Baltimore.

I was surprised by how nice and clean and tourist-centric this part of “Bloody-More” was.  I guess you didn’t see too much of it in The Wire, aside from quick meetings with The Greek in Season 2.  The architecture was a sight to behold, especially how it formed around the harbor.

I made sure to eat some crab cakes and hush pups in the beautifully air conditioned indoor shopping center before taking off for West Baltimore.

I was surprised once again, this time by how close the slums of city is to the friendly Inner Harbor.  More than Deadwood and Atlantic City, West Baltimore seemed the spitting image of its respective HBO series.

Rowhouses everywhere, many empty and boarded up.

The car windows were up, the doors were locked, and I was as inconspicuous as I could be taking pictures.  While I was playing tourist in TV land, I had to keep reminding myself that this was a real place filled with dangerous people.

I was not about to hop out and take pictures with these real slingers. . .

"Git yo' red tops!"

. . . nor these real rollers.

It's Bobby Brown!

Conclusion

After the wonder that was New York City, every city that followed simply paled in comparison.  And, I know it’s not fair to compare a city to the mecca of Western culture, but the disappointing factors we found with each of the following East Cost locales would have still had a negative impact on our experience, even if New York had followed.  Philly would still have been the City Without Brotherly Love; Washington, D.C. would still have lacked shade and flavor; and both Atlantic City and Baltimore would still have too few attractions to keep us overnight.

Ian and I were just burnt out on cities.  No urban locale was going to compare with New York, and we didn’t want to keep pretending like they could.

Surprisingly, the South came to our rescue.

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