Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Hey, Beantown

I was stooping down to rinse a seashell in the ocean waters of Falmouth, at the southwestern tip of Cape Cod, and became struck with an awful sense of finality.  Eight weeks and two days prior, I woke up in my family's boat in Dana Point Harbor, splashed the Pacific for the last time in who knows how long and hit the road.  I had gone as far east as I could go and I was to sell my car - ending the road trip.

Trying to sell my car proved to be much more miserable than I had planned on.  Shopping it around Boston, I was never offered as much as half as my car's bluebook value, keeping money I needed out of reach.  On top of that, the camera I had bought for my road trip - which I had to send back to Sony's repair center who took the entirety of five weeks to repair it and send it back to Dana Point so it could be forwarded to me in Boston - came back to my hands more broken than I had sent it originally (and without the battery!).  Despite my shopping in D.C., Pittsburgh, Toronto, Montreal, and Boston, I couldn't find a wool-less coat that appealed to me, and I ended up having a lot more stuff in my car to manage than I realized.  All the while New York was drawing closer and the logistical stress was building in my stomach to the point I was sure I was going to vomit.

I solved all my problems by ignoring them.  I decided to keep my car for the time being - I found a great deal on a place to stash it in Long Island while I bummed around Brooklyn -, I went way over budget on an amazing coat, and I bought a micro 4/3rds camera that I have been coveting for some time now.  And all for much less than the price hit I'd have to swallow for trying to sell my car quickly.  Not ideal, but the stress was gone and my spirit had returned.


I spent my last night in Massachusetts at a friend's condo in Provincetown, a small city at the very tip of Cape Cod, once a settlement for the pilgrims (an earlier attempt than Plymouth Rock even), and now a mostly gay resort town with an annual population of around 3,000 that quintuples during the Summer months.  It was a good time and it was nice to see some sand and trees before my drive to New York.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

New England

I had made it back to the states just in time for Thanksgiving.  I arranged to join my friend Susan for the holiday at her brother and sister-in-law's in West Lebanon.  I was especially thankful to be in the company of vegetarians - and a terribly sweet dog named Chewie.

The days keep getting colder and I finally hit my first snow.  ...and I really mean first.  Up until I was looking up at the flurry in the sky and the Vermont and New Hampshire border, snow was always a noun and never a verb.  My friends described me as looking like a kid, and I know I felt like one.

I felt very taken care of and repeatedly enjoyed the flavors of Thanksgiving, maple syrup, and mulled wine.  We went to a Budweiser brewery in Vermont to look at the Clydesdales.  Inspecting options for a "mix-and-match six-pack:" Budweiser, Michelob, Natural Light, Busch, and Rolling Rock, I didn't realize just how many beers I didn't really care for lived in the same house.  Anheuser-Busch distributes for Stella Artois as well, and after learning this, a friend asked me, "is it bad that this makes me like it less?"

I've been in Boston for a few days now, but I've done and seen very little.  It's not the weather that's keeping me inside; I've become paralyzed with anxiety.  Most pressingly, I'm selling my car before I go to New York.  The emotional impact of this only hit me minutes ago.  I parked with the tank empty, knowing I'll be filling it once more - perhaps just a third tank or so.  Before stepping out, I studied the lines and textures of the steering wheel and the dashboard - the foreground to many of the beautiful and important things I've experienced in the last six years.  The combined logistics of trying to get a fair price for my car in such a brief amount of time, the management, transportation, and storage of all my stuff, and the steadfastly approaching thunderstorm of responsibility and adult decisions have been keeping me awfully tense.  The fibers of my arms and legs feel as if they are especially thin and quivering.  At this point I was hoping to be narrowing down candidates for new homes, and while I've been enchanted so many times over, nothing so far seems to ring of opportunity.

Never getting any closer to solutions, I've resolved to stop being such a sulky bitch for just a few more weeks and just enjoy whatever Boston and New York have for me.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pittsburgh and a Major Detour

The Pennsylvania fog was denser than I had ever seen and kept my car at a jogging pace.  My GPS did more to inform me of where I was going than the foot or two of road I could see.  I pulled over for a bit to marvel in the mist and wander briefly in a forest - the first I'd ever seen completely naked of leaves.  As I was returning to my car, I found someone from a nearby business had earlier seen me park and took after me to find out what I was up to.  I tried to explain that I'm from California and don't really ever get to enjoy weather.  He looked at me like I was insane.

Pittsburghers have a lot of pride for their city and seem to speak of it as if they are defending it from attack - or rather from fading in the American public's collective consciousness.  Back in the days of Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, Pittsburgh was undeniably great, but seems to have since dwindled in its cultural output in comparison to the other great cities.  Here, I stayed with my old friend Alan, whom I've spent time with in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Amsterdam, and now his new home in Pittsburgh.  I didn't stay long, but I did get to enjoy an architetural walking tour of the downtown area, enjoy an excellent view from Mount Washington south of Pittsburgh's three major rivers, view a now public collection of Frick's classical art and beautiful beautiful Rolls-Royce and Lincoln cars, and share dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant with Alan and another old friend, Sherwin, whom had also made his way to Pittsburgh.

Nearing the end of my road trip, I wanted to see the Niagra Falls, and I expected them to be an interesting counterpoint to my first stop in the Grand Canyon - important American natural wonders a whole country apart.  Yet, when finally there, I couldn't feel much more than, "well alright - there it is."  The falls were stunning certainly, but hardly had the same entrancing effect I experienced in Arizona.  They disappointed, perhaps because the canyon alone was filled with all the promise of undescribed adventure and intimacy a good backpacking trip can offer.  There were so many miles to walk and so much more to see.  The canyon was a challenge.  At the falls there was little else to do than gaze and take pictures until the parking meter was up.

The Niagra River bisects Ontario and New York state, and while viewing platforms are available on both sides, all of my on and offline literature boasted of the superiority of the view from the Canadian side.  Getting into Canada, however, was a terrible pain in the ass (and left me dreading the return crossing).  After a long wait on a toll bridge, I had to declare my pepper spray for confiscation (mace is illegal in Canada), and my car was then selected for searching.  It couldn't have helped that nearly every compartment in my car was occupied by blankets, gym bags, and grocery totes, and that I was young, unemployed, and didn't have a proper home address.  The officer searching my car turned a few degrees colder after he found my half empty flask in my messenger bag.  Oops.  When he pulled out my laptop, he turned it on - I assume to make sure it was a computer and not a bomb or something suspect as I they do at they airport - but as the minutes passed it seemed as though he spent more time on my computer than in my car.  He was repeatedly depressing the down key - I assume because he was sifting through my internet history.  Uncomfortable, I tried to see what he was up to, but he kept me back with a rough, "stay on the curb, sir!"

I had never originally planned on seeing Canada, but when I realized how close Toronto was to the falls, I had to find out if the young Canadian couple I met at a show in Paris last year would tolerate a hairy vagabond in their home for a few days.  They were hip to the idea and so to Toronto I went.  They tried to warn me that Toronto's a great city, but doesn't offer much to the tourist.  Admittedly, I knew little else about Toronto than what I gathered from reading the Scott Pilgrim comic books, but I was actually quite grateful to take a break from touring.  The day of my arrival, one of my hosts had begun work on a 40+ page thesis on alternative pornography - specifically a variety that didn't depict genitals but rather fixated only on the face of a performer as they reached climax (and at some point we debated the use of they as a non-gender singular pronoun (Cambridge says it's okay)).  Her professors gave her free access to a number of webpages and we helped her conduct some preliminary research.

I was lent a bicycle and let to explore Toronto's neighborhoods.  Little Italy, Greektown, Little Portugal (redundant, I know), Cabbagetown (for the Polish), Koreatown, and Chinatown should give you a good idea of how diverse Toronto is.  I really enjoyed cruising Kensington Market, a neighborhood next to Chinatown full of cafes with European style seating and vintage stores spilling out of old homes.  Kindly drug dealers wanted to make sure my marijuana needs were met as they passed me on the street, throwing their voices like puppeteers in a way that left me puzzled and very impressed.  It never takes long for me to forget how much I love bicycling and just getting around was a thing to be enjoyed (regardless of Toronto's unfriendly relationship with bikes: the new governor has expressed something to the effect of, "it's really too bad when someone gets killed on a bicycle, but, oh well, it's their fault").

Laura and Colin took enough time away from their busy schedules to see the new Harry Potter and host an epic board game night for nearly a dozen of their friends.  We learned a pretty great game called Werewolf: a clever role-playing game putting players in the roles of villagers, werewolves, and clairvoyant mystics, which pits the werewolves against the villagers in daily cycles that detail a series of murders and lynching until only villagers or werewolves are left.  The last two standing proved to be a painfully cute redhead and myself - both werewolves.

I had a hole in my calendar without places to stay that I hadn't anticipated, so my hosts insisted I check out Montreal.  My arm didn't need much twisting, and so I found another young Canadian couple to stay with, both well traveled vegetarians with an affinity for strange musical instruments, including an Arabian wind instrument, some homemade metal contraption with a spring, and the musical saw. I really had no prior impression of what Montreal would be like, and was increasingly bewildered by the sensation of being able to drive to what's pretty much a European city in North America.  Montreal and Toronto are worlds apart (I learned that twice now Montreal's province of Quebec has nearly seceded from Canada, both times with 49% in favor of secession). The cobblestone streets of Vieux-Montréal, the abundance of cafes and cathedrals (Samuel Clemmens once said, "this is the first time I was ever in a city where you couldn't throw a brick without breaking a church window"), a propensity for recycling and bicycles, and of course, the dominance of the French language was more akin to anything I've seen in Europe than anything I've seen in this continent.

I decided to skip the metro system altogether and walked no less than a bajillion kilometers in the two days I was in Montreal. I caught up on Canadian history in a museum built in an old fire station, and killed a few good hours in an art museum with a healthy helping of works from famous Impressionists and a section dedicated to Napoleonic history with personal affects of the old emperor. I cheated and was un-vegan long enough to sample a vegetarian version of the region's most famous contribution to cuisine.  Poutine is a platter of French fries drowned in gravy and topped with squeaky fresh cheese curd. I ended my visit with a brisk climb to the top of Montreal's "mountain," Mont Royal, a hill with a lovely view of the city. It was there I had my first ever proper conversation en francais outside of a restaurant or cafe. Halfway up, I sat near a middle aged woman and we chatted as we caught our breaths. Unlike all else I spoke to, she didn't switch to English after I explained that I was American and didn't really speak French. While this engaged my flight or fight response, I didn't want to be rude, and I managed to stay put long enough to talk about where I came from, the length and nature of my trip, the weather in Montreal and how it compares with California, and how beautiful it was on the mountain. Parting, I was shocked that I could not only understand her, but more that I was understood myself. As terribly plain the subject matter might have been, I was pretty emboldened by the conversation and left the country wishing I had been more courageous in my use of French. I'm eager to come back to Montreal one day when the weather is kinder and with more time to spend.

Level Up!  MATTHEW gains 15 points toward Cold Resistance

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It's the Nation's Capital

For the first time this trip, I've had more places to stay than my time would permit me to take advantage of.  I wish more of my stops were like that.

Quite different than when I was backpacking in Europe last Summer, here on the road in the United States I'm spending the majority of my time with people I am already friends with.  In fact, the route I took was based on a connecting of the dots between a country sized constellation of friends I already had.  I merely had to plug the gaps in between with camping, couch surfing, and occasionally sleeping in my car, and voila: I had my itinerary.  While making friends everywhere I went in Europe was wonderful, it did eventually become a great emotional strain to day after day invest myself into intense, albeit brief, single serving relationships.  While I'm making plenty of new friends now, it's been awfully rewarding getting to reunite with so many old friends - skipping introductions and just picking up where we left off.

Though, perhaps "single serving relationships," aren't always so doomed to expire.  The first person I stayed with in D.C. was someone I met backpacking in Florence, Italy.  The second, a girl I met at a concert in Chicago.  And a third, I made friends with while in D.C.  After a stay in Pittsburgh, I'll be in Toronto with a couple I met at an Animal Collective show in Paris.  It's strange; even if I've spent no more than an afternoon with someone I've met on the road, when seeing them again, I feel like we're so much closer than an afternoon of friendship should permit.  This, I guess, is due to Facebook.  Even if I'm not physically in someone's life, I do from time to time get to see their face, what they've been working on, and even what little things they find worthy to complain or get excited about enough to share with the internet.  A time-sink it may be, Facebook has been completely invaluable to me as a traveler in the States and abroad.

No, my beard doesn't grow that fast.  That's last year in Florence.

Driving in and around D.C. has more than its fair share of absurdities.  There are lanes that change direction depending on the time of the day, there's often no prior warning before you're thrust into a left or right turn only lane, poorly marked one-way streets make it easy to be staring down oncoming headlights, the secret service can relocate your car if they deem its location inconvenient (and it's up to you to find it afterwards), everyone's aggressive, and nothing's very consistent.  It's stressful driving, but fun at the same time - though usually I took to parking far away and relying on the metro to get around.

 I wasn't sure how I was going to fill my time in D.C., but I guess I didn't count on the Smithsonian Museums being free - they are world class and there are a lot of them - and I didn't count on having so much fun with the people I met (or spending as much as I did at bars (bars are a bad habit for the unemployed)).  I could have spent the whole stay at the museums in the mall and still not be finished there, but I did make time to visit Baltimore and Annapolis, see127 Hours in theater and Scott Pilgrim on DVD, help a friend with a photo shoot for his new business, sing along to Bon Jovi and Katy Perry in a Jewish/Irish bar, get lost in Arlington Cemetery, eat at a cafe serving only food available to Native Americans prior to colonization, dance to the beat of street performers, and simmer mulled wine with some lovely locals.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Two Carolinas and a Virginia

My time in the south has only been too brief.  For every place I stop, I learn of four more places I want to explore.  There's so much I had to drive by that I still want to see: Savannah in Georgia, Charleston in South Carolina, Salem in North Carolina, and Jamestown in Virginia - but limitations in time, places to stay, and dollars left me feeling cheated of a proper stay down south.  Oh well.  I did steal enough time to stretch my legs for a quick hike in Congaree Swamp just outside of Columbia - a much tamer swamp than the one I enjoyed outside of New Orleans, but mysterious and beautiful all the same.

I had to make a last minute Couch Surfing request and secured a place to stay with a middle aged magician in Charlotte.  He had fallen in love with a Blend-Tec blender and at times I felt like I had walked into an infomercial:  "You like that pineapple juice?  I blended it with the skin too.  Only way to get all the vitamins.  Completely pulverized!"

I resisted asking him to perform some magic and my patience was rewarded with some really great sleight of hand.  Despite my instense scrutiny, not once did he falter or let a reasonable assumption of how his tricks were accomplished and I was left repeatedly aghast at his easy dismissal of spacial causality and reason.

Continuing northward still, I spent a little time in Richmond, Virginia, trying to make up for lost southern history in the Museum of the Confederacy and then the church where Patrick Henry gave his "give me liberty or give me death" speech.  I pressed on to D.C. where I'm to spend a week between friends I made in Chicago and Florence, Italy.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Georgia on My Mind

John Cleese usually stays safely locked away in my glovebox.  When I need him - and I usually do when I'm driving - I lock him into the left and bottommost corner of my windshield and keep him plugged in so he doesn't run out of battery power.  Even driving coast to coast across the country, I rarely ever have to look at a map.  He tells me how to get to where I am going, which turns to take, where I can find gas when I need it, and how much time it will take me to reach my destination.  Most of the time he is spot on about his calculations and his delightful grumbles keep me company - but damn his eyes, it can be so frustrating when he is wrong.

Such was the case when I was on my way to meeting four lovely young Indians (Indian Americans not American Indians mind you), so that we could all together enjoy a Diwali celebration at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Atlanta: the largest Hindu temple of its kind outside of India.  While the Indians I was going to be staying with weren't affiliated with BAPS (they find the BAPS temples with all of their tons of hand carved Italian marble ostentatious (as do I, but I don't see that to be a bad thing)).  As per usual, I plugged in my destination, followed Cleese's directions, and when he finally stated in his typically rosy oratory, "in 400 yards you will have reached your destination, but I'm not going to help you carry your bags," I was in the dark of a parking lot before a furniture factory and far away from the place I needed to be.

After much running around, going back once, twice, thrice over the same road, and after much time on the phone - the cellular reception all the while making us sound like we were drifting at the bottom of the ocean - I did finally rendezvous with my new patient friends, all dressed in thier traditional kurtas and saris, and we made it to the temple just as the fireworks began to explode.

Even after celebrating Diwali myself, I ended up gathering very little about the holiday other than it is known as the festival of lights, originates from an Indian epic, and is today used as an excuse to eat, drink, and enjoy the company of friends - all among my favorite things in life (especially if the food in question is Indian).  While much of the conversation that evening was led by my desire to play catch-up with Indian customs and culture, as the evening progressed, topics naturally gravitated toward our contemporary common ground and interest of pop culture, a place where Radiohead, Harry Potter, and Jean-Luc Godard reign.

My first solo explorations of Atlanta took me to Martin Luther King Jr.'s final resting place and a series of museums dedicated to his legacy, including his birth home and the church in which he preached.  Retracing his story and that of the black civil rights movement moved me more deeply than I was prepared for.  When studying these events originally - in grade school I suppose - I doubt I ever so appreciated just how recent and just how close these events were to me.  There in Atlanta, I swelled with horror at an image of a little white girl barely suppressing smile looking upward at a lynched black man, and I shook with pride for the bravery of Rosa Parks, King, and all of the young people who took fists, bricks, and bombs for their peaceful marches and sit-ins.

The friend I made in New Orleans and drove to Atlanta - an Argentinian who would stop partying at the bars around whenever I would start waking the next day - let me crash at his place for two nights.  He showed me around the different parks and neighborhoods.  He pointed out that little five-points, full of hip coffee shops and thrift stores, would be the place for hippies like me (I later found he was right).  We wandered around Oakland Cemetery, a calm sprawl of dead Confederates, Federalists, Catholics, Jews, and Margaret Mitchell, the author of Gone With the Wind.

His sister had won free Sunday night tickets to a Janelle Monae and Of Montreal show on a local station, but sadly the friend she was taking bailed on her.  Being the chivalrous sort that I am, I selflessly offered up my company for that evening.  We got to the venue pretty early so I bought us some hazelnut lattes at a cafe next to the venue and briefly fell in love with the girl who painted leaves into our latte foam.  My friend's sister was too young to drive, but had smarts and musical tastes beyond her years.  She spoke of how she'd love to study in the liberal arts but wanted to actually have a career after university.  I wiped my lips clean with my film degree and we moseyed over to the venue.

Janelle Monae opened for Of Montreal, but I suspect it won't be long until they play shows the other way around.  Monae's new record is sure to find itself on many of the coming top-10 lists, and her sensibilities and presence, as well as an endorsement by Big Boi, give her the opportunity for broader and bigger audiences.  I can't think of another time I've seen an opener get an encore, but the audience was clearly not done with her when her set was over and she came back out for a few more songs.  Together, both bands played an amazing show and their theatricality was unmatched.  Monae and Kevin Barnes made appearances on each other's sets, survived attacks by zombies and ninjas, painted on stage while singing, engaged in simulated foreplay, tiptoed around backup dancers and police brutality, and the whole show ended in a Michael Jackson medley dance party.  All in all, the show and my stay in Atlanta, was a win. I had a great time and got to spend time and stay with some pretty great people.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Oh Katrina, why you gotta be mean?

I spent another restless night of attempted sleep in the back of my car -- this time in Lafayette, Louisiana --  rolling around in the back of my car like a hot dog on a 7-11 rotary grill.  My sleep debt was mounting and I naively thought I might have the chance to score some recovery sleep after arriving in New Orleans.  The next day was Halloween, and as a gorgeous old port city in the superstitious south with reputations for dark voodoo wizardry and parties that never stop, I was counting on New Orleans to be the ideal place to spend the holiday.

While instantly smitten with the many Creole cottages and the colors and wrought iron balconies of the old homes in the French quarter, I have to say my heart was a little broken when I fell upon famous Bourbon Street.  Overrun with overzealous bouncers, bad cover bands, obese tourists buying t-shirts in kitschy fluorescent gift shops sipping $9 novelty "hurricanes" and "hand grenades," Bourbon Street was an out-of-hand middle-aged frat party and everything I hate about Las Vegas.

My disillusionment couldn't last.  I met up with Shareen, an old coworker who moved to the crescent city only a month prior, who led me around the river side of the quarter.  We wandered Jackson Square, the heart of the city full of folk and jazz performers built around the oldest Cathedral in the states; and sipped on sweet tea in the French Market admiring the cheap jewelry and gator bites.  A second-line parade took off down Decatur street -- an tradition from old jazz funerals in which brass bands would play somber dirges as a body was being escorted to the graveyard and then celebratory tunes on the way out, the brighter exit performance being the second-line.

The city was also hosting a Saints game that evening -- a local holiday in its own right and even a cause of controversy (city planners were apparently considering rescheduling Halloween so that people home watching the game wouldn't have to be bothered by trick-or-treaters).  All the day, pedestrians were either in the black and gold of the Saints' uniform or decked in Halloween costume; all disciples of sports or pop culture.  The zeal for the game was intense, and under the interrogation of strangers, I felt I had to feign enthusiasm for the Saints just for my own safety.

Upon sunset we took Shareen's three year old nephews trick-or-treating.  They were twins and completely obsessed with Marvel Comics.  They dressed as Iron Man and War Machine and I was introduced to them as Peter Parker.  Adorably, they wouldn't leave me alone and we entered epic comic book battles with imaginary laser guns and lots of web slinging.  Though it was terribly fun, I don't have a lot of experience playing with kids and I had a tough time fighting the urge to pat them on the head and shake them by their scruff as if I were playing with dogs.

When the kids were put to sleep, I was led to Frenchman Street in the Marigny, a neighborhood immediately downriver from the French Quarter and the hip place for locals and musicians to get down.  I felt bad for anyone parked on those streets, as they were completely mobbed with costumed partiers, many hopping onto car hoods and truck beds for lack of room.  We were poured some cheap beer in a liquor store and joined the fray, thousands of ninja turtles, avatar aliens, pirates, and luchadores in a Brownian dance of drinking, dancing, and singing.  The ultimate highlight for me was grooving to a forty minute brass band jam on a cottage porch.  The crowd surged around the session and the love of the music was palpable.  It was too much fun and everything I wanted from my first night in New Orleans.

New Orleans seems to be a city much less concerned with distinctions.  Streets and sidewalks seem a free-for-all for cars, bicycles, and pedestrians; androgyny and drag queens and kings are common; and the lines between even business people and the homeless can be difficult to determine.  It was even tricky to discern whether someone was in costume for Halloween or if that's merely how they were -- something that become increasingly clear in the days following (as many of the costumes never came off).  The young bohemians adhere to a dress code: dark brown and tan tones, thick boots, facial tattoos, brightly colored hair, and costume hats.  Known as "grunge kids" or "gutter punks," they play music and panhandle, but I'd heard other locals complain that some of these kids live in nicer apartments than they do and even make sizable withdrawals at the ATM.  I guess being homeless is a lot easier when mommy and daddy are bankrolling the endeavor.

I wasn't going to leave Louisiana without exploring the swampland.  I learned of a series of trails a 40 minute drive south of New Orleans and made time to get there.  I don't think I got to sleep until 4 a.m. that morning, but I didn't want to waste the little time I had.  I walked maybe five or six miles of muddy paths and wooden platforms over bubbly swamplands, and it was surely the slowest walked hike I've ever been on.  This slowness wasn't for the difficulty of navigation, but merely for the dumbstruck awe I was continually suspended in.  I had never seen such a diversity and propensity of life outside of a zoo in such a short amount of time and space.  And what's more unnerving is all the evident life you don't see.  With each step taken, something splashes at you unseen from the bottom of the water, or creeps on the backside of trees never letting you see more than a flash of its silhouette, or bounds into a patch of grass or water too quickly to be seen.  Were it not for the clearly marked paths, I almost certainly would have stepped on an alligator, each holding so still phosphorescent plant life grow on the cracks of their backsides.  I would have sworn they were dead or even props were it not for that each time I looked away they would be subtly rearranged or even gone when my gaze returned.

Like wandering New Orleans at night, it was hard not to experience a profound appreciation for the beauty abound, as well as a sensation that you really aren't quite safe.  Before leaving (and in no time at all), I saw my full share of gators, dragonflies, frogs, green anoles and other lizards, deer, squirrels, water snakes, owls, Germans, hawks, egrets, and even a god damn armadillo.  The day's hiking was completely surreal and really sealed the deal on my impression that New Orleans and its environs felt more foreign to me than any foreign country I've been to.

New Orleans was completely wonderful and I can't wait to go back.  I left the city with a a piña colada from a drive-thru Daquiri store and a fella from Atlanta who was going to trade me a ride home for a place to stay.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

All my Exes Live in Texas

Forgive the brevity of this entry, but I'm about to dive into New Orleans and I have doubts that I'll ever get around to making a proper post for Austin if I don't just do it know - even if brevity wouldn't do my experience justice.  So, just to get it out there, here is my week in Texas.

I spent most of my time crashing with my high school Comedy Sportz Captain Laura's house in the South Austin neighborhood, a Texas-defying home to vegetarians, vintage shoppers, bicyclists, and a fine place to live if you ask me.  

By mere chance (as both our schedules were locked in before we ever discussed the possibility of meeting up), my dad was in town for nearly the exact same dates I was.  This afforded me the opportunity to spend some more time with him, and to make up for a debt I owed him, as I had broken his camera when I was in Colorado.

Some highlights from Austin and surrounding cities:

Broke my food budget with alcohol alone (not complaining)
Tasted the best hummus I've ever had in my twenty-three years of life 
(which was being eaten with a fork after the chips were gone)

Remembered the Alamo

Swung from ropes and slack-lined over a river full of fish, dogs, and turtles
Suffered (hold on let me count) - I don't know - dozens of bloody scratches for trying to love a cat

Attended the Austin premier of Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan over a month before it reaches wide release
Caulked and painted several rooms
Survived an Are You Afraid of the Dark? Halloween marathon 
(and ate way too much Swedish Fish and pumpkin bread in the process)

Took my shoes off and wandered the hand-carved marbled halls of a Hindu temple in Houston
Felt bad for Washington's monument by the size of the Texas monument

Woke up at 5am for two days in succession to drop people off at the airport

That last one reminds me... I've seen more sunrises in the last couple of weeks than the whole rest of my life combined.  There's something rather more dramatic about being led out of darkness than into it - especially when it never seems to take place in the same place twice.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Navajo Country

I spent two nights in Thoreau, New Mexico with my friend Erin and her fiancée Patrick.  Seeing as we both had the same kindergarten teacher, sweet old Mrs. Thurlow, I guess it would be fair to call Erin my oldest friend.  They live in a teacherage, a tiny community for the teachers that serve the area's public schools.  Thoreau (pronounced almost like "through," and not named after the poet) is a town of nearly 2000 on the southeast border of Navajo territory.  What few white people which reside there are usually either educators or missionaries from the approximately dozen churches established to convert those natives which remain savages (incredibly enough, some zealous bloggers still use the term).

I was invited to sit in during a lesson on Paul Revere's midnight ride, and was introduced as an expert on Paul Revere to explain my presence.  After the lesson and before the bell's ringing, Erin encouraged the students to teach me some Navajo.  I turned out to be a miserable student.  Most of the expressions I tried to mimic involved peculiar compound vowel sounds I had never heard or tried to make myself.  At least the kids found my efforts entertaining.

Erin and Patrick had adopted one of the countless stray dogs which hover around the streets of Thoreau looking for scraps, a handsome and energetic puppy they named Razz.  We took him for a hike in neighboring canyon, where he teased a rabbit out of a bush and left it nearly dead and panting wide-eyed.  I scurried to find a rock and put it out of its misery.

Navajo lore speaks of a sort of a boogie man they call a skin-walker: a shape-shifter usually taking form between a man and a coyote, cursed for past atrocities and with a disposition for causing random mischief during the moonlit hours.  This legend actually receives some fulfillment.  Evidently, certain drunks will spend days in the wilderness at a time, even wearing coyotes pelts and causing the exact kind of devilry normally attributed to skin-walkers.

The sale of liquor is illegal on reservations, but that doesn't keep a shady prohibition style underground economy from flourishing - nor empty bottles and cans off the sides of the roads.  Though the practice of using every part of a slaughtered sheep is still upheld, the same reverence for the environment sadly fails to show elsewhere, as garbage builds up just about anywhere people are.

Upon departing, I made time to explore a pretty extensive network of Anasazi ruins in Chaco Canyon: massive and numerous thousand year old settlements of sandstone, once an important trading hub for surrounding tribal communities.  Macaw skeletons and other goods from tropical Mexico have been excavated from the sites, helping describe the vastness of the trade network.

I was also able to visit Pueblo de Taos which, despite also being 1000 years old, has been continually inhabited by natives since.  I couldn't help but feel an intruder wandering around with my fancy clothes and a camera, but it became increasingly clear to me the community depends on tourism, with most of the buildings facing the main square converted to shops selling jewelry, leatherware, and baked goods to outsiders.  80% of the community have been baptized as Christians, but all maintain the ceremonies and traditions passed down from the centuries.

As is becoming more and more usual, I left New Mexico wishing I had more time to explore, and yet eager for what came next.  I spent 20 hours driving in less than 48 hours, in the middle of which I spent an evening sleeping in the cramped back of my car in Lubbock, Texas.  My ass is terribly sore.  

Now I'm in Austin, kicking it with my friend Laura and loving the sunshine.  

Matthew out.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Down in Denver (and Boulder and Fort Collins)

Kerouac's Denver was usually a place of reuniting with friends and getting kicks; a holy crossroads affording brief recovery between vagabond exploits.  I had finished On the Road only days before I was wandering red and dusty Denver myself, and I had an artificial sense of expectation that my Denver should somehow also be all those things.  But then, it wasn't always like that for Jack either.
"Down in Denver, down in Denver
All I did was die"
I felt goalless without wonder and alone without the usual sense of liberty that comes with solitude.  I floated around so many unhappy broken people walking on limps and on wheels.  I felt wretched.  Like a jerk with a stupid camera.  I was bored of taking pictures.  I was bored of capital buildings, and restaurants, and churches.  The darker motivations for my leaving California came to a boil in my stomach and left the rest of me empty.

Better or worse, moods are fickle things and my malaise wasn't to last.  Despite having already spent so many of my waking hours on the trail, I decided what I needed to lift myself was yet another hike, and I was right.  I drove to Boulder, grabbed a burrito next to the college campus - loving the campus community and damning my own university for being a commuter school - and crawled around the base of the Rockies just long enough to feel centered and eager for all the miles I have yet to cover.

My cousin Stephen and I spent a Sunday afternoon in Cheyenne, which was pretty dead given it was Sunday (though I have heard that's just how Cheyenne is).  There was enough frontier charm and history to make it worth the trip.  Remarkably, despite its intense conservatism, Cheyenne granted women suffrage about 50 years before it would come to pass for the rest of the country - a fact that made granting Wyoming its statehood controversial.

We were especially taken with the homes of the prosperous cattle ranchers, and we even got to step inside one converted into a bed and breakfast - which we both agreed would be lovely to live in if not for the fact that it was in Cheyenne.

I finished off my stay in Fort Collins with a tour of the New Belgium brewery and have since decided that I want work there for the rest of my life.  The facility generates its own electricity and processes its own water, even selling both back to the city.  Employees each receive a share of the company, a bicycle, free beer weekly, and paid holidays on Valentine's Day and Earth Day.  

And they make a damn tasty beer.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Now, if you're wondering how Arches National Park acquired it's name, I'll give you a hint:

...that's right.   It's so because the place was discovered by famed British explorer, Sir Alcott Montgomery Arches.

I chatted at length with a Frenchman who flew to Alaska with his wife five months ago and had been trekking southward on bicycle since.  They intend to keep pressing into Mexico and spend a few months there before finally heading home.  In awe, I said I wished I was doing something like that, which prompted the gentleman to remind me that I am indeed doing something like that.

I'm in Colorado now, kicking it at my cousin Stephen's house.  We celebrated being alive with drinks last night.  I was warned that I should pace myself, as the higher altitude of Fort Collins would increase any drink's potency.  I gave a manly laugh at the warning and then slowly spiraled down to my doom.

Up until today, I don't think a day has passed on my trip so far that I haven't hiked 3-14 miles.  I think I'm going going to sit this one out.