Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The hills of Los Angeles are burning...

There is something incredibly comforting about Los Angeles. It is everything you would expect and dream of...and little more.

Having seen it portrayed over and over in film, television, interpretative dance, stage, painting and gramophone recordings, it hardly seems surprising. New York, however, portrayed in similar fashion holds surprises. LA did not seem so.

Bridget and the Beast were terrific, as was dear Johnna. We had a very nice time seeing the sites and taking in the bluster. My only celebrity sightings were while dining with the fabulous and successful Leanne Williams...yes...we saw Emma and Manny from Canadian Teen Drama Degrassi: The Next Generation.

Overall, LA was a bit superficial, but I kindof dug it. Just like this post.

Back to my private balcony overlooking the Riverwalk. New Orleans tomorrow!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

for those who come to san francisco, summertime will be a love-in there

Terribly sorry to the 4 people who read this for the delay in posting. It has been quite a busy couple of weeks, but I will backtrack and attempt to capture a LOT of amazing stuff...

Days 16-20 San Francisco via the Oregon and NorCal coasts

In 1967, John Phillips of The Mamas & The Papas fame wrote "San Francisco" for Scott McKenzie. The song quickly became the anthem for the Summer of Love, in which over 100,000 crazy hippies descended on the Haight section of San Francisco, creating an international cultural and political upheaval. Their message was simple: love and common understanding could cure the ills of a world at war.

Fastforward 42 years. It's true. San Francisco is perhaps the most expensive city in America. It is certainly high-style, high-fashion and high-powered. The traditional homeless population (more than I have ever seen in any city in my life) outnumbers filthy hippies wandering the streets.

But at it's core, San Francisco still belongs to the counterculture. Regardless of how expensive the homes in Cow Hollow, the lower Haight and North Beach get, San Francisco to the core still belongs to people searching for a more ideal society where peace exists across borders, cultures and peoples.

At the corner of Haight and Ashbury, the epicenter of hippiedom...of flower power...of free love...of the Summer of Love in 1969, still sit tens of young people who have travelled tens, hundreds or thousands of miles to be at the center of a revolution over four decades in the making. Though prodigal hipsters own the streets (and scared Zach to death) this neighborhood still exists as a haven to young people who see it as a symbol of mutual understanding and love for each other, not the overpriced vintage boutiques and record shops that rule the streets.

Follow Haight down the hill, east from Ashbury, and it meets Castro. Turn right and follow Castro several blocks and notice that every house and business is emblazoned with the rainbow flag, welcoming you to a neighborhood founded in a similar time for a similar reason: a common understanding and the promotion of love. The Castro is the gayest neighborhood in the world and it is truly as fabulous as it thinks it is. Some claim it is watered down with tourists, but that is perhaps the beauty. It seemed as though everybody walking the streets had a companion, and the couples were of every sexual orientation, age, color, shape and size. Everybody was just happy to be there, to be in love, and to understand that everyone else was there to love someone. It was something hard to put into words, and something that should not be shocking or unusual. It was a better way of life. Every person is in love with another person, every person is in love with every person. Really spectacular.

Otherwise, San Francisco was entirely pleasant. I enjoyed an Anchor Steam beer and a grilled cheese at Boudin on Fishermans Wharf my first night. Met up with my dear Billy for lunch on Saturday, drinks with Daniel and his friend on Saturday night, and a grand tour featuring barbeque and reading in the park on Sunday, followed by a drive through the highlands to Stinson Beach. San Francisco is amazing...hilly...kindof dirty...really amazing. I recommend that everyone goes to San Francisco, with a flower in their hair, prepared to show some love for the hippies...for the gays...for the students...for the business people...for the hipsters... for homeless...and for the man who jumps out of bushes just to get a jump and a smile from passerbys.

It is a city that breathes the breath of the counterculture that put it on the map. The counterculture that perhaps should be the major culture. Though these people have come to sometimes use self-righteousness as a crutch against oppression, they have good things to say, and good things to believe in. Go and believe it.

As for now, my bed in fabulous Las Cruces, NM looks quite lovely. More on LA, the southwest and CO tomorrow from San Antonio. Perhaps I will finally catch up.

Love to all. See you soon.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

portland, oregon and sloe gin fizz, if that ain't love then tell me what is, uh huh...

Days 12-15, Portland, Oregon

I really cannot say enough good things about Portland. As I've told many people, it is probably a combination of Portland's amazingness and the amazingness of my hosts.

I arrived (more than a little exhausted) on Sunday afternoon to the greetings of my cousin Jamie and her wee l'il (18 months old) daughter Leah. Thusly ensuing was an immensely relaxing, terribly pleasant and wholly invigorating 4 days in an amazing city with some amazing family.

It's the funny thing about family. I have met my cousin perhaps 10 times in my life, her husband twice (once being the wedding). But it is something about blood (especially having really cool blood) that just makes being with family feel like being at home.

We did some outdoor concerts (one in the calderra of a volcano!) and a day hike and some cooking and wandering. It was a killer week and I feel ready to conquer the rest of my trip.

Anywho, some BU is about to show up at my exceedingly sketchy little motel in San Francisco and I must be off for the evening. More on SF tomorrow.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

take control of the atmosphere

Days 10-11: Yellowstone-Grand Teton-Jackson, WY-Across Idaho

It was like love at first sight...physiologically speaking. 0-60 degrees, lightening rolls through the clouds from left to right, stray bolts making contact with the ground. 60 degrees on, fireworks burst in the sky at random intervals, 6 or more different shows. Blasts of red, purple, green and white.

This is what love at first sight would look like if you could watch it happen in the body and in the air. From the eyes the nerves fire throughout the body and fireworks explode around the body, some invisible, others visible in tremors, stutters or that thing that happens to my eye sometimes where it flutters slightly when I am overwhelmed. It seemed a suitable way to spend the 4th of July, along the Snake River at the Idaho-Oregon border. A 4th of July I get to celebrate for 25 hours...because I have made it to the Pacific Time Zone.

Though yesterday was a loss to a cold that I am fairly certain may have nearly claimed my life, I woke up this morning feeling so unusually invigorated and refreshed, I was almost positive I was dreaming.

I got an early start and did a brief whirling dervish through Yellowstone which is a pretty astounding place. Unlike Mount Rushmore, you could kill a week or two at Yellowstone. I followed with a ride south through Grand Teton NP which is...similarly astounding. Well not's totally different. Verdant green fields and a crystal blue lake...exactly what you would expect and then...BAM! A sheer wall of rock rips up at 90 degrees from the softness of the flatland below. Really surreal.

I keep thinking about the pioneers traveling across a largely uncharted continent. What possibly could have gone through their minds when they encountered such a sight as the Tetons? Or Yellowstone's crazy geothermal nonsense? Or Devil's Tower? It really is a crazy, unpredictable, breathtaking landscape out there.

So Happy Birthday, America. I started the day bummed that I wouldn't be celebrating it over free barbeque with my peeps in the StuVy penthouse, but I have since realized that this has been the best way I could have ever spent the 4th...traveling across the continent for the first time, coming across landscapes that I never before imagined existing, with a disease resembling cholera. Just like the pioneers if they had a Mazda and a Visa!

Mazel Tov, US. You really are the bees knees.

Friday, July 3, 2009

out in the middle of nowhere knowin i'm in trouble if these wheels stop rollin

For some reason, I decided it would be a good idea to borrow Less than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis from Brandes in Milwaukee. I read it in two sittings. For those of you who don't know Ellis, he is also the writer of such beastly novels as American Psycho and The Rules of Attraction (which I started today at lunch).

Brandes put it best...he's like the Tarentino of writers.

At the Center of Less than Zero is Clay, who returns home to LA after his freshman year at a New England Liberal Arts College (Camden College...also in Rules of Attraction). He struggles with the reality of wealthy youth in LA in the early Eighties...indiscriminate sex, drugs and alcohol, absentee parents, and unbridled privilege. Clay plays along, but quickly realizes how shallow it all is, how empty a reality it is. All of his friends think he is crazy, broken, sick...that he shouldn't go back east. He doesn't refute them, but he knows that in reality they are the broken ones. They have disappeared into the haze that privilege has bought them.

Disappear here. Clay sees it on a billboard...probably for a resort. But it trips him out.

I cannot inherently relate to all of this. I hardly grew up with privilege, and the moronic things that we did at youth rarely crossed the line into gay-for-pay prostitution, recreational heroin and total disillusionment. But I left and came back...periodically. People leave places and they go back to them. People disappear into the places they know and the places that feel comfortable. Into the lives they have always known and the only realities they have ever known.

So as I travel now, I look into the eyes of strangers (a terrible habit I have always had...usually terribly awkward, although in this part of the world people just smile and say "hello"...a tad different then the look of disgust, confusion, skepticism or suspicion that I would normally get in Boston) and as I look...I wonder what their reality is...where they came from...where they are going...if they are different people now then they were last month, last year or five years ago. Have they disappeared into their reality? Can they extract themselves and do something different?

Am I disappearing? Is it even a bad thing to disappear into something that I find extremely comfortable and fitting for my own interests, aptitudes and lifestyle?

This is why I sleep so poorly, sometimes. Perhaps existential wanderings in this application are merely a result of the flat tire I got about 100 miles into South Dakota. Either way, it really is all very interesting, if altogether troubling.

2800 miles down. I took a personal day in Bozeman, Montana today. I shamelessly watched a little too much food network (surprise!) but also got in some pavement time downtown. It is an extremely pleasant little city. I ate lunch alone at a restaurant and didn't have an anxiety attack, which was great news. My waitress seemed mildly concerned that I was alone, so I may or may not have put my camera and some books on the table to make myself look particularly hipster, just a little pretentious, and more than a little legit.

I arrived to Bozeman at 1 this morning after spending a few hours over frosties and a Target run with Mr. Jacob Thielen in his natural habitat (Montana). Exceedingly great kid. It feels weird that he is going to be a Senior...and that I think that is weird. Teacher moment. He's grown a lot. I'm proud.

The day yesterday was spent driving from Rapid City to Billings...starting with 2 hours at a Borders while my tire was replaced ($160 later, I have mismatched tires on my brand new car...womp womp) and a trip to Mt. Rushmore in a hailstorm. I'm glad I can say that I have seen I never have to see it again.

Tuesday? Tuesday was a 10 hour drive across Southern Minnesota and South Dakota, 5 of which were at 55 miles an hour on my space-saver spare tire. All part of the adventure. If I never have to drive across the great plains again (trip home, excluded) it will be too soon.

I've been rather sick...probably allergies to something that doesn't exist back east. I got some meds today and feel much much better. Here's hoping it sticks.

Biggest epiphany (beyond literary-induced existential mini-meltdown) is that this would be more fun with company. Next time, I will bring people. It's just a lot to handle, and travel really is more fun with friends. Who knew? I've never really traveled before...good lesson to learn.

I will say I had to try this alone, though. I don't at all regret the decision. As I look at most of my peers from the BU, I realize that I am probably the least traveled...and I think I will be better traveler in the future for this experience. Maybe I'll even be ready to go abroad, finally....with friends.

I have had to cut Glacier National Park and Seattle from the itinerary for the sake of my sanity. This is a future vacation in the making. Instead, I'll hit Yellowstone for the next couple of days, and then press on to Portland a day early. Plans made. Plans broken. Just how I like it.

I had this fantasy that I would want to disappear into the American West. I haven't found that place, yet. But I'm only just getting started. I have a feeling I will be much more comfortable heading down the West Coast.

It's all good. So good.