Tag Archives: CouchSurfing

Young Man Went West #41: Jump Cuts 2 – Return of the Lazy Blogger

I’ve missed my last few blog post deadlines. This is due in part by 1) the lack of an obvious and easy story to tell, and 2) the fear of having to live up to the length and/or poignancy of my previous blog posts. But a writer’s gotta write, right? So, instead of failing to turn in an awe-inspiring post, I’ll instead successfully turn in. . . words.

Here they are.

  • Two Sundays ago, I spent the entire day with my girlfriend’s dad. He asked me to help him record the audio of his Filipino organization’s bamboo band. It was just me and him on a mini-roadtrip to Waipahu, eating Filipino food all day, and playing around with a lot of expensive recording equipment. He seemed more at ease with me, and in turn, so was I around him. We ended that day by going out to dinner with the rest of his family.
  • My transfer to the Times Square Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. in New York is pretty much set. It turns out, my manager had trained the person who is now manager at that location. He shot her an e-mail about me, giving me full stamp of approval. She said I just had to walk in and ask for her. Immediate income will be nice to have for the big move.
  • The last Sunday, I spent the morning with Mr. Bautista again. We finished covering the rest of his roof with reflective coating. Not only did the job flow more easily since we were seasoned pros and well-equipped (I bought a paint roller), but our conversation flowed more easily as well. I was less concerned with trying to impress him, and he seemed more comfortable around me. Even Mrs. Bautista seemed a lot less awkward talking to me. We ate out for lunch at a dim sum place, just me, Mr. and Mrs. Bautista, and Sam. Jenn was still at work, so she missed out on the deliciousness.
  • Now that it’s May, I have to focus on how to deal with all the stuff I’ve accumulated in Hawaii. I have to either pack it, sell it, or give it away. I really don’t have too much junk to deal with, it’s just that most of it is too insignificant to deal with in the first place. What am I going to do with my collection of cool beer bottles, for instance, or my worn out shoes? Eh, I guess I’ll be forced to figure it out eventually.
  • As a server trainer, I get to know almost every new person that starts working at Bubba’s. Lately, most of them have been really cool, and I’m a little sad that I won’t be spending much longer working side-by-side with them. It is somewhat rewarding turning newbies into fellow coworkers. Pretty soon, I’ll be the newbie.
  • Right now, my buddy Ian is crashing on my couch. This is the same Ian that roadtripped around the US with me last summer. I guess he wasn’t done couchsurfing in other states. It’ll be fun playing host and tour guide one last time; I’ll get to re-explore this place before I leave.
  • Bullet points are easy ways to convey ideas without needing to organize them.

My Future Workplace

And there you have my latest blog. Don’t worry, these will get more interesting when I move.

Until next time, Internet people!

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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 #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 #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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Young Man On The Road #8: A Hell of a Place to Make Your Fortune

Mount Rushmore and Deadwood, SOUTH DAKOTA 

June 29-30

Ian and I had planned on camping some time during the first stretch of our trip.  I mean, we were passing a whole bunch of world-renowned national parks in the northwestern part of the U.S.  However, seeing as we were really just interested in cities, the national parks fell by the wayside.  South Dakota was our one of our last chances to use the tent we brought along before hitting a slew of big cities from the Midwest to down the East Coast.  So, as it stood, our plan was to leave Colorado, see Mount Rushmore, explore Deadwood, and then camp in the Badlands.

Of course, you know that didn’t happen.

It was about five hours from Denver to Mount Rushmore, one hour from there to Deadwood, then two more from there to the Badlands.  If we wanted to set up camp before dark, all we had to do was leave before 10 AM.

We didn’t.

We also really wanted to stop in Fort Collins along the way. . .

Oh, and somewhere in South Dakota, we pulled to the side of the road to let a herd of wild bison cross.  Yeah, that happened.

So we rolled up to Mount Rushmore between 4 and 5 PM.  We knew we weren’t on schedule, but neither of us cared.  The monument was kinda really awesome.  I mean, I knew what it looked like and it wasn’t any bigger than I imagined it to be, but there was just something purely majestic about seeing a well-known icon in person.  Plus, the displays in the museum portion showed how the artist sculpted the heads out of dynamite.  That blew my mind, no pun intended.

(I lied, it was totally intended).

If we really wanted to camp that night, the wisest move would have been to drive directly to the Badlands, but I couldn’t NOT go to Deadwood.  You see, I’m a big fan of most things HBO and I’m currently in the middle of the now-canceled series Deadwood, a fictionalized account of the settlement of a mining town in the Black Hills during the 1870s.  Deadwood was the home to several real Wild West historical figures, such as Seth Bullock and Calamity Jane.  It is also the final resting place of Wild Bill Hickock.  As a history nerd and an HBO fan, I was geeking out on our drive into this historic town and setting of a great show.

Of course the town didn’t look like it does on the show.  In the show, Deadwood was a hodgepodge of run-down, wooden buildings divided by roads of knee-deep mud.  Today, Deadwood has neon signs, paved roads, and many, many slot machines.  Still, the little tourist town completely embraces their Wild West roots.

When we got there, we stumbled upon a recreation of a historical event: the capture of Jack McCall, the coward who shot Wild Bill Hickok dead.  Men in cowboy outfits shooting prop guns apprehended the Jack McCall actor and lead him up to the courthouse for another historical event: the trial of Jack McCall.  I was super psyched to be in the midst of what, in my head, was the set of the HBO show.  With much enthusiasm, I, with a cadre of fat American visitors, followed the actors to the courthouse, ready to watch Act Two.  However, they wanted $5 for entrance.  I snapped out of my trance, admitted I wasn’t on an HBO set, and turned around to explore the rest of the town.  For free.

I was still elated to see restaurants and hotels named after the main characters—I mean, historical figures—of Deadwood.  Bullock!  Hickok!  Charlie Utter!  I was so excited I almost bought a cowboy hat.

By the time we had seen all of Deadwood (which isn’t hard considering it hasn’t expanded since the 1870s), it was near dark.  Ian and I both knew we weren’t going all the way to the Badlands.  It wasn’t worth it, anyway, since we would have just left as soon as we woke up to make it to Minnesota, neglecting to take in the famous park.  So, we drove around in the dark trying to find a nearby free campground, “free” being the operative word. . . as well as the defeating factor.  No campground in the area was free.

About an hour later, a lightbulb went off in Ian’s head: “Why don’t we spring for a motel tonight with free wi-fi?  We don’t have a place to stay in the next three cities; we can use tonight to be productive about couchsurfing.”

And productive we were.  We had set up shop in a Deadwood Super 8, each of us on our laptop and the TV on in the background (We paid for that TV and, by golly, we were gonna use it!).  Ian sent several messages through CouchSurfing.com while I spammed Reddit.com and Facebook.  By the time we woke up the next morning, we had places to stay in Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Chicago.

Productive we were.


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