I had a whole day to myself before the conference started. It was a brilliantly sunshiney day and I wanted to spend it outside eating and seeing the city.
I signed up for an Architecture boat cruise. And it wasn’t until about an hour before the cruise that I realize… I haven’t brought any sun block.
When I started playing basketball in high school, weight lifting became a mandatory aspect of our training and practices.
We’d meet in the weight room after school and pair up with a partner of similar strength (which for me meant some other weakling) and take turns lifting and spotting each other. It is amazing how going from never lifting weights to simply lifting weights can make you think you are so much stronger than you were a week ago. When really, you probably are not stronger at all.
And of course when I say “you” I mean me.
I spent a lot of time in the weight room after school as well as during summer break. But for as much time as I spent in the weight room, it seems all I did was wait for my muscles to come.
But in my mind, I was jacked, huge, a veritable Adonis. And because I was an Adonis I would try to do things I saw football players do, like… squat with other human beings on their shoulders.
Yes I know my teenage years were not my brightest.
I would pick up my really skinny female friends and throw them over my shoulders and do a couple of half squats with them to show off how buff I was getting. While people probably thought it was funny, I’m not sure anybody truly believed I was strong. Frankly it was a miracle I never dropped any of them.
During this time in my life I took a trip to Louisiana, a state I’d never been to before nor had never given much consideration to.
The fact that I was in Louisiana didn’t really matter as much as the fact that I was thousands of miles from home without my parents hanging out with a dozen kids a year older than me that I was simultaneously in love with and trying to impress.
There were a couple of advisors too.
I was serving on the International Board of this leadership organization I was a part of. It was quite an honor and everybody on the board was smarter, more confident, more talented, or at least taller than I was.
In typical high school fashion (though I’m not sure I’ve stopped doing this) I compensated for my insecurities by making lots of jokes, being extremely loud, and doing ridiculous things.
For the most part it worked out OK, but not always.
We were wrapping up the weekend, checking out of the hotel and getting ready to load up into the 15-passenger van that would drive us all to the airport.
It was about this time that I was saying goodbye to a female friend of mine who just happened to be the tiniest teenage person I’d ever met. She was a few inches shy of 5 feet, and adorable at that. We had a very affectionate relationship, and would regularly hug each other or sit in each other’s lap.
Well, she would sit in my lap; I wouldn’t sit in hers because ya know… I’d crush her.
So we are hugging and I think I started joking about how I was going to take my little friend home with me. So I threw her over my shoulder, which wasn’t that hard to do considering how tiny she was.
But then I started to run.
I want to pause here to let you know that even though it is now 12 years later my stomach is still in knots while I write this. Also, I feel a little nauseous. If that’s not foreshadowing I don’t know what is.
So I start to run and I get about 20 or 30 feet before I start to feel myself leaning forward ever so slightly.
And if you are running with a person on your shoulder, by the time you feel yourself start to lean, it’s already to late.
My hands let go of my friend and go out in front of me as we both start to fall, which doesn’t really help her because she isn’t prepared to fall off the shoulder of the idiot 16 year old who picked her up and started running with her without her permission in the first place.
I don’t remember my exact thoughts as we fell but I’m pretty sure it was something along the lines of:
We both hit the pavement. I am OK though my friend’s knees immediately start to bleed and she starts to cry. And I shrink to 1/8th my size and feel incredibly embarrassed as everybody, including our advisors come running over to help.
Saying I feel awful is an understatement. I feel so stupid, and embarrassed and disconnected from the group. None of who would ever think it a good idea to RUN WITH ANOTHER PERSON ON THEIR SHOULDER!
I got to hear later on what it looked like as I ran. People told me that they knew it was bad when we fell because when I dropped my friend they saw her bounce.
Humans should not bounce off of pavement.
The ride to the airport consists of me apologizing, my friend forgiving me, and then me apologizing again.
Apologize, forgive, repeat.
I get back to New York and I send her a basket of fruit? Teddy Bears? Something that says “Hey I’m sorry I threw you on the ground like a bag of trash”
Since then I cannot so much as think about the story without feeling my stomach tie itself into a handful of knots. I’m not sure I will ever feel good telling the story, not that I should.
But I definitely learned my lesson.
I quit basketball the following year.
What do you think of Chicago?
They asked me as though embarrassed or ashamed, anticipating that I was going to say it disappointed me or paled in comparison to my far larger and more impressive city. This really surprised me because I am in love with Chicago and have been for some time now.
I fell in love with Chicago the way 12 year old girls fall in love with teenage pop stars. I gush about it. I am effusive to the point of obnoxious. I shout out "I LOVE THIS @#$@IN CITY" while cool breezes tousle my short brown locks as I stand on the bank overlooking the river.
I love the layout, and the restaurants, but most of all I love the architecture. I also love the perspective and space between streets and buildings which allows me to appreciate the architecture. I'm not going to argue that New York or Chicago has better architecture than the other. For arguments sakes let's say New York did. You wouldn't be able to appreciate it as much because the buildings in New York are so close together that it is challenging to fully absorb their presence and their footprint.
It's like seeing a person in profile only. You don't get the full picture of what they really look like.
Chicago gives you perspective, you have space and room to look and absorb and ingest and love.
The other thing I love about the Chicago architecture is something I found out on the boat tour I took from the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The buildings of Chicago are not insular as so many of them pay tribute to each other in one way or another. By referencing elements from the buildings next to them or mimicking a similar element or just stopping at the same height. The buildings aren't just independent individuals, they are a part of a community. It sounds silly to say that about inanimate structures. But it is true. The buildings don't compete for your attention. They reflect, and feed off, and truly support each other.
I went to Chicago for this summit not quite sure what to expect. I was excited that I was a panel moderator, but outside of my sole duty from 2:15 to 3:15 pm on Sunday afternoon, I wasn't quite sure what else to would come my way. I didn't know anybody, I had never really interacted with any of these people before, and this would be my first blog conference.
When I arrived the first night for the cocktail party (a situation which I thrive in) I was caught a bit off guard that so many of the bloggers seemed to know each other already, had been to conferences together, or fostered relationships before meeting in person. There weren't a tremendous amount of people there, perhaps less than 100, but yet I couldn't help but feel a bit like an outsider.
An outsider with a Fancy Pocket square mind you, but still, an outsider.
The next day brought sessions, speakers, forums, and a tremendous sharing of knowledge and experience. While I do (still somewhat reticently) refer to myself as a blogger, I really had no idea or concept of people in the same space. You see blogging is a lot like dancing alone in your bedroom in your underwear. You might do it every day, you might tell people about it , but it's very easy to think that you are the only one who does it, and CERTAINLY the only one who does it the way you do.
By the time it came for sessions I fully expected to be listening to speakers with hundreds of thousands of followers who would tell me just how backwards and misguided my approach to blogging was. But instead what I found, were men and women who I had far more in common with than I could have imagined.
They weren't talking about numbers, and in fact, numbers rarely came up. They talked about love, they talked about passion, and they talked about sharing who they are.
That first day, I actually showed up to the first session without a pen and paper, not really expecting to take notes. My half assed brain apparently thought that if I really needed to take notes I could just write them on my phone.
But I immediately regretted my decision to fore-go a pen. I found myself grabbing my phone every couple of minutes, writing down jewels and gems that I just wasn't quite expecting to hear, but was fully committed to remembering.
And as the weekend went on and one session turned into two and then six, every speaker used different words but essentially said the same thing.
Do what you love to do. Find a way to do it more often. Open yourself to the people who love what you love and you will see a windfall of the unexpected.
Speakers constantly referenced other speakers, and then eventually when it came my turn to speak, I did the same. What everybody had said was true. Maybe these positive inspiring quotes and stories were brand new. Maybe I had already heard them in some form before. Or maybe they were things I had already believed in my heart of hearts. But hearing those things out loud from somebody who had found success, reaffirmed those beliefs in a way that might have never come naturally.
On my best days, I tend to think nobody else does what I do, the way I do it. On my worst days, my thinking is far more self destructive. Leading up to the summit I kind of expected there to be an air of competition.
Oh what platform do you use to blog?
How many followers do you have?
Etc. These were all things that I had never concerned myself with before I started blogging but had somehow regularly obsessed over since.
But there was none of that in Chicago. There was talk of a whole lot of social media, mentions of tools I had never heard of, and tweeting beyond what is probably healthy. But there was a genuine interest in furthering and helping not just selves, but others. I left every session having learned something, even if it wasn't something I was going to pursue. Even if it wasn't something I necessarily was interested in learning more about, it still helped frame, contextualize and and support the beliefs and ideas I was building and developing.
People rarely asked about what I did for a living, they asked what my blog was about. They asked how I ended up there. They asked me questions I rarely get asked in my daily life. Questions that felt kind of refreshing.
And that's when I realized that the 20SB Summit was a perfect fit for the city of Chicago. Just as the buildings paid tribute to, reflected, and supported each other, so did the bloggers of this conference. Whether you were there to talk or learn, whether you cared about photography or monetizing, there was an interconnectivity you could not deny.
I was inspired by the things other bloggers were doing, but also humbled by their warmth and their openness toward each other. At times it made me feel like a self centered narcissistic coot, somebody who wasn't nearly as open or supportive as he claimed to be. And yet by the time I actually had to physically walk away from the last remaining group at the conference, I felt sadness. Sure there had been awkward, frustrating, or uncomfortable moments, but when searching for adjective, incredible was the only one that felt appropriate.
There are millions of bloggers that can exist in this same space and not compete. Nobody needed to defend Chicago just as nobody needed to defend being a blogger. This particular weekend in Chicago, everything was working together rather than trying to outdo.
There's no limit to the amount of words a blogger can use, nor the amount of bloggers that can exist in the world. Indeed, there is enough love, passion, and support to keep everybody loving and blogging for a very long time.
And the crowd goes wiiiilllld.
No seriously there will be a crowd, or at least a gaggle. There will definitely be a gaggle. Why? Because I am going to moderate a panel at the first 20 Something Blogger Summit in Chicago.
I know what you’re thinking, a summit? Yes it’s THAT important. It’s kind of like the economic summit at Davos, but instead of captains of business from the most important countries, we have captains of content from the most important platforms, I.E. YouTube, Twitter, Blogger etc.
And also there will be few to none very old white haired dudes at this Summit.
I mean I’m going grey a little early but it’s not something I really want to talk about right now.
Any way, this conference is for bloggers in their 20s of all variety. If there’s a 20 something out there bemoaning their existence or making others giggle, you can be sure they will be finding their way to this conference.
So what does moderating a panel involve? Well there are many panels with many different moderators but here is what my panel is sure to involve:
- High Leg Kicks (technically most people would file this under shenanigans but I take my leg kicks very seriously)
But Rich, that’s just 45 minutes of a very full weekend in one of the greatest cities in the world. Is there anything else involved or will it just be a bunch of nerd types nerding out about their nerdery?
Surely not brave soul, in fact, I anticipate it being quite the outrageous affair.
Think about it, I am going to Chicago to hang out with roughly 200 people I do not know and have never met before, and I could not be more excited about it. Because unlike some people, I love strangers. LOVE THEM! I love them so much it’s scary.
Here is why:
Strangers are a blank canvas. Nobody knows anything about each other, so the bonding often has to be accelerated, and you're really just looking to see the cool parts of each other. Wait, not like, I didn't mean those parts, I mean...
When a bunch of people who don’t know each other get together somewhere very cool, it can be extremely awkward or it can be extremely awesome. Sometimes, it’s both.
But this is Chicago… in the summer… and we are in our 20s! This is the prime of our lives (at least, I tell myself that). And this isn’t like the annual accounting retreat. This is something a large majority of us don’t get paid to do. We do it out of love, and when you love to do something you love to share that with other people.
So how do we further/capture the crazy ‘nanigans that will ensue?
Well, based on my experience at Hotel Thrillist last year in Miami, a series of progressively more awkward social interactions since then, and a batch of poor ideas I have had recently, I have created a list:
1. Those of you that remember my time in Miami last year might recall that my white pants made their debut. It was an epic debut filled with thunderstorms, late night pool parties, and a whole lot of a liquid called Torched Cherry.
I am proud to say that as soon as I can find them, I will be packing my white pants for Chicago too! This will surely cue up the good times.
2. I am bringing my video camera. There’s nothing I like more than editing a weekend of video content into a sexy short music vid put to a song I don’t own the rights too. Hopefully I can get people to say silly things, do silly things, or hold the camera while I do both.
3. The weekend of the summit is the same weekend as the Air and Water Show in Chicago. And if there are two things I love, it is air and water. The city will have an adrenaline injected energy that will infuse everybody in the city. Especially the bloggers. Don’t underestimate our adrenaline!
4. Two people who I sit next to at work, who are not related, nor connected in any way except for our job, will be going to Chicago of their own separate volitions for the very same weekend! What are the odds? Now I know this doesn’t affect anybody else, but it’s just really cool.
In fact for a while, I was considering having the two of them crash the Summit as my personal security team. But when I told my one coworker I would refer to him as my 'manservant' he seemed less than enthused and the idea quickly died.
But more than anything this is the first of something. Everybody always wants to be there for the first time something happens. It is what charts the course for the future of the event. It is when traditions are started, when expectations are met, or surpassed, and when that which is unscripted gets recorded.
Plus if you go to the first Summit and keep coming back year after year you can say things like, “oh you should have been here for the first one!”
See? Doesn’t that seem like something that would be cool to say?
So I will be in Chicago, living it up, tweeting, maybe blogging, and definitely filming. It is going to be an incredible weekend.
Even if I can’t bring my manservant.
The TSA will not support you in your decision.
It wasn’t a gigantic knife like one of those bowie knives you can buy off the TV at 2 am for six easy payments of 19.95. This was a collapsible Buck knife; something I use exclusively for cutting tags off newly purchased items and removing stray threads from clothing.
I didn't even know I had it in my backpack.
So I go through security. They put my bag through the scanner. They stare at the television screen for a minute. Then they say they are going to scan it again. Then they call somebody else over to stare at the screen, and then somebody else. So now there are 3 different people looking at the contents of my tiny backpack on a small television.
Finally they tell me they are going to check my bag by hand. I readily agree having no idea what is so confounding to these experts in safety. After 4 seconds the agent finds what she’s looking for, excuses herself and walks back over to her team with her hand still in the bag like she had to keep it a secret.
Then an old bald TSA agent with a look on his face I can only describe as "assholeish" sauntered, and I mean that, sauntered over to me holding the knife. He then repeatedly tried to open the knife like he was a Jet or a Shark.
I suppose it didn't help that after watching him try this multiple times I said:
That’s not how it works.
I don't think he liked that. After measuring the length of the blade with his fingers, which is apparently the international way for determining danger, he just looked up and stared me in the eyes. As if to say;
Where is the criminal in there?
This guy, this safety “expert”, who just 5 minutes before I heard telling his coworker he couldn't figure out how to use his Blackberry didn't like the cut of my jib, or maybe he didn't like my jib at all.
And then he said:
Alright friend, it's a lost item.
Not, “you can go back and check it”, or “we have to confiscate this because you can't bring a KNIFE on a PLANE”.
I pretty much knew it was gone as soon as he pulled it out of my bag. I was done owning it.
And then I walked away scot-free and was allowed to board my plane. Though as soon as I landed in London and went through customs I was afraid they were going to take one look at me and scream, "KNIFE!" and then tackle me like I was in a rugby match.
But then I got angry because I realized that twice in the last 4 days I had brought that same backpack through security with that knife in my bag. That means I twice traversed airport security without them once noticing that knife.
#2 Do not pack one light colored suit for several days of meetings and do not eat really drippy dark colored fruit for breakfast.
I mean it’s pretty simple. I am apparently a man-child and I can’t have nice things because I can’t eat my food without also simultaneously wearing it.
So there I am eating my proper British breakfast, pot of tea, eggs, bacon, mixed berries. I’m exercising care to make sure that everything I do makes me look like an official businessman in London doing important business man things.
Until I look down and see the red splotch on my thigh.
Now I have no options here so I wet my napkin and start furiously blotting my pant leg using so much water that by the time I stand up 20 minutes later to head to my first meeting, it looks like I was hit by a water balloon. But the good news is the stain came out.
#3 Do not lay underneath a train
As I mentioned recently, in New York, there are a bunch of cryptic messages that come across on the loudspeaker while you are commuting. But in London they are a bit more direct.
While walking through a tube station on my way to the exit, I heard an announcement from a beautiful British female voice that said:
Due to a person underneath a train, there are delays on the Jubilee line.
UNDERNEATH A TRAIN? Are you kidding me? So seeing as trains sit on tracks, if somebody is underneath a train, they are also probably not alive. But of course, in that proper British lilt, it really makes it sound like not something that bad at all.
In New York, that just would have been:
Due to an earlier incident, trains are running at slower speeds.
The Brits don’t mince words.
#4 Do not drink all the tea they give you
I like to immerse myself in the local culture. In England, that means having a cup of tea whenever one is presented to you. Now when you stay in a hotel in the U.S. you have tea in your hotel room, but I never drink it. Maybe I will if I’m feeling zippy.
But in England it’s like a siren call. I feel the need to have a cup whenever I can. If somebody asks me if I want tea I am always saying yes. And they don't give you a cup, they give you an entire pot.
Which explains why I was running to the loo every 90 minutes.
#5 Do not sleep on a single bed
I have to be honest, even though in college I slept in a double bed (which was too small for me having had a queen bed my whole life, yes I know, spoiled) I had no knowledge that there was such a thing as a single bed.
It wasn’t until I walked into my room and sat down on my single bed (which was on wheels by the way) just how tiny such a thing is.
I couldn’t sit up in bed without the bed rolling away from the wall like I was at the starting line of a box car derby.
And lying in bed felt like I was trying to sleep on top of a Twinkie. If my legs had any distance between them, they would immediately start sliding off the edges of the bed so that I was straddling it like I was doing a horse trick.
So I spent my nights with all my appendages pressed together like I was about to be shot into space, which consequently I will probably never be allowed to visit because I would be the only idiot inadvertently trying to bring a knife on the spaceship.
Which is for the best, I’d probably just end up getting space fruit on my uniform anyway.
But instead of just coveting their accents like a normal crazy person, I replicate them. Not just a generic British accent (I prefer a cockney accent myself) but the specific type of accent they have.
I don’t do this to mock them, I do it because it’s like test driving a life. It’s fun, it doesn’t cost me anything, and I get to see what it feels like.
I fake a British accent all the time. Not to confuse people, people I talk to seem confused enough by my existence already, but because I love the sound of it. I’ll speak to my coworkers like a London tour guide when trying to spice up a spreadsheet. Or I’ll do an accent for my friends when explaining something I know nothing about.
It’s not just British accents either, all accents. Irish, Australian, French, and Italian are my personal favorites and appear the most frequently. But when I’m around people who actually have accents? Forget it. It’s like everybody is walking around with a tray of free cupcakes and I’m not supposed to take one, but I know I really can if I want.
So there I am on my flight and my flight attendant asks me if I want something to drink. And I answer but she doesn’t understand me and asks me to repeat my self. So naturally this time I say “water” with a British accent.
I tried. I really did. But I made it about 45 minutes. But I did it strictly out of a need to be understood. Because I have found in my clinical scientific studies (and by clinical I mean “beer fueled” and by scientific I mean “in bars”) that if I speak to somebody from another part of the world if I use their accent, it makes the words I’m saying easier to understand.
I think it’s because our ears become so attuned to the sound of not just our own language, but the tone and way that it is spoken. So to say even the same words, with a different tone or inflection, can seem tricky.
Really, what I’m saying here, is that I am doing the world a favor.
A perfect example of this is the usage of words pairs between different cultures. Like when my stewardess approached me and asked:
Would you like a muffin or a Danish?
I chose the muffin. And even though it was dark in my aisle I could still see that she was about to hand me something that looked like a disk more than a muffin. I took it from her, held it under the light and saw what it was.
Ah yes, a muffin top.
Now while this mythical foodstuff was glorified by Seinfeld, this was not really a muffin top. If anything it looked more like a muffin middle. I chose not to say anything, I just smiled and said thank you.
It also means something else that is entirely inedible. I will spare my own creative explanation for one that has been pre-approved by thousands of Internet denizens.
We finally arrive in London, meet our driver, and are immediately carted off to our presentation where we are scheduled to speak as soon as we get there.
Now I’m in a professional business setting listening to a room full of British accents. I feel like it has already been infused into my blood.
And I am about to make a presentation to a room full of European clients, including some British, and I find myself talking to my boss in a fake British accent when he stops me abruptly and says:
Rich, you can’t do that here!
Oh crap, right. These people know I’m from New York. Faking a British accent here will just make them think I am an ass or idiot… or both. And I don’t know these people. I still have a chance to make them think I’m bright and stuff.
Lucky for me, I made it through my presentation without faking the British, Spanish, Portuguese, Irish OR Scottish accents in the room. I didn’t anticipate so many accents. It was like a buffet of wonderful voices. I just wanted to sample all of them.
We finished our presentation and hustled out of there before I could do any damage. I arrived back at my hotel, dropped my stuff and tried to make the most of the 30 hours I had left. So naturally I took a long walk, had a beer, and a Nutella filled crepe.
I contemplated ordering both an accent, after all I didn’t stick out. I was in the one English speaking country on the planet with an entire population of people just as pasty white as I. But I opted against it and stuck to my normal speech.
And for the rest of my time in London I managed to keep myself in check, though I would occasionally find myself mouthing along with somebody else while they were speaking, like I was trying to learn the words to a song. Really I was just memorizing aspects that I could use when I got back home and was free to fake an accent again.
And I arrived back in my home country, got off the plane and into a cab with a driver who had an accent. But it didn’t excite me in the same way. It had been a long 36 hours, and I was just to tired to fake it…
I stumble into the airport where I am greeted by a beautiful attendant from Virgin Atlantic. What service I think to myself.
Can I help you?
I go to respond but then I see my boss standing on my left.
No thank you. I’m meeting him.
I walk over, still nauseous and tell him how glad I am to not be in a cab. He says:
Don’t get too comfortable; you’re about to get back into one. Our flight has been cancelled.
No! It can’t be! This is my first business trip! The first time I was going to be sent to a place other than the Bronx on the company dime! London! LONDON! Sure it was only going to be for 2 days but still! I love London!
The morning had started out so perfect too. My car service had been right on time. Which, if you order a cab to pick you up at 4:45 in the morning, you’d hope he didn’t have something else to do.
And even though the roads were clear, my cab driver’s GPS seemed to insist he take local roads from my house to the airport. And by the time he finally did get on the highway every exit meant slowly alternate pumping the brakes and the gas.
I slouched down in my seat and tried to focus on the horizon because I don’t do well in cabs to begin with.
So by the time my boss told me I was about to get back in a cab I just about puked right then and there. Apparently our plane had never left London the night before.
What were we going to do? We were only to London for 2 days to begin with. Was it worth it to go? Luckily the airline gives us a 10-dollar breakfast voucher so we can mull over this important decision at 6 am with a muffin and a bagel respectively.
We decide, this trip is too important, we must venture on! We tell this to one of the lovely Brits who does her best to rebook us and assure us we should have plenty of room on the flight out. Thus we were promptly rebooked on the 9 pm flight, again out of Newark, which is still in New Jersey.
She then asks us if we have a place to stay until our flight.
Now, had I been thinking clearly I would have said no, and gotten some sort of a voucher to stay at an airport hotel nearby where I could nap and then just head back to the airport easily without worrying about traffic or cab nausea.
But I was operating on 4 hours of sleep and wasn’t at my mental best, so I said “oh I’m fine I live in the city.” Never mind that it would mean another cab ride across 2 rivers to get there… in morning rush hour traffic.
So she writes me a voucher for a cab. This is a local cab with no meter and no GPS. Though very kind he has no idea where I live. I ask him if he knows where LaGuardia airport in Queens is, he says yes. Perfect. That’s where I live. Wake me when we get there.
So I close my eyes for a little snooze but I am quickly punched in the eyeball by a fat ray of sunshine that will stay stabbed through my retinas the entire trip home, which will take an hour and a half.
So I wrap my scarf around my head like some kind of nap swami and pray for sleep. And praying was quite fortuitous because my driver listened to the Bible radio station the entire trip.
Now while that is not my normal auditory choice, it actually worked out well. I found the children’s chorus harmonically spelling out B-I-B-L-E after each commercial break to be quite soothing. And I passed out.
And I slept somewhat pleasantly. That is of course until my cab driver woke me up with a frantic:
Sir SIR! We are at LaGaurdia!
Oh ok… keep driving, it’s a little bit further.
Oh OK, I thought we passed it because you said you live near the airport.
So polite my cab driver was.
So he drops me off at my apartment. I take a nap. I watch a movie. I call another cab which picks me up about 7 hours after my last cab drive.
It is now 5 pm. And while I am excited to get on an airplane, I am not excited to be in a cab. In the heart of evening rush hour traffic. To once again drive to Newark, which is still in New Jersey.
My third cab driver of the day once again attempts to take local roads most of the way before getting onto and off highways so frequently I have no choice but to close my eyes and pray to not vomit.
I miss my bible radio.
But the eyes closed method would have worked had my cab driver not subscribed to the “OH SHIT” method of using his brakes. Several times I wondered if I would make it to the airport at all.
Luckily I had 90 minutes to contemplate this, especially the 30 minutes I spent at a stoplight in lower Manhattan because my cab driver thought the fastest way across town was on a one-lane cobblestone street.
But finally, 11 hours after I first arrived at the airport, after 4 hours of cab rides, not enough sleep, and one outfit change… I am back at the airport.
I check in, go to the gate and have a seat.
But now I had a new problem to deal with: My propensity for feigning a British accent… to people who actually have British accents.
To be continued…
It feels weird not having a passport. I have had one since shortly after I got my license, and oddly enough, they get about the same amount of use these days.
For the last decade I have been able to go wherever I wanted, whenever I pleased. Not that the opportunity to do so arose that frequently. But still if I wanted to leave the country on a whim I could. It was possibility and capability. It meant that there was nowhere in the world that wasn't open to me. It wasn't a feeling I consciously pursued or even realized until after it was gone.
I actually probably spent more time concentrating on my passport as a marker of where I had been. I prided myself in that, in those things that I had seen. In those sites I had seen and who I’d been when I’d seen them.
Visas and stamps, customs and midnight border crossings. All seasoned with the sweat that came from keeping it strapped so closely to my body in the fear that I would lose it. I would turn those pages remembering when and where I got certain stamps, and trying to decipher those I couldn’t remember.
But as soon as that expiration date came it me quite quickly: I was land locked. Trapped. A flightless bird.
To get a new passport I had to get my original birth certificate from my parents. It was a routine exercise. I told my mother I needed it. I thought she’d send it, I’d bring it to the post office and that would be that.
It arrived in an envelope along with a couple of other documents my mother thought I had should have. I sat on my couch, opened the envelope, put down the other documents and unfolded the 27-year-old piece of weathered paper I had requested. And immediately I was overwhelmed.
The rush of emotion surprised me. As usual I seem to be completely oblivious to the things that will make me cry until the tears are actually in my eyes.
It was like a movie I had been waiting forever to see. I saw a movie of my past.
I saw images of my parents I had never seen. I saw my mother holding me in her arms. I saw my father leaning over her in the hospital bed, looking at their baby boy. I saw grainy images of the final piece of a family coming into place. Never before had a piece of paper made me feel so, well, loved.
It was not the first time I had seen it. I know I had seen this years ago but I guess the context wasn’t the same for me. And to be honest I’m not sure why it was so heavy for me now, after all these years. I didn’t quite understand why I felt these things.
But whereas holding my passport makes me think of all the things I want, holding my own birth certificate I felt a surge of emotion for all the things I should be grateful for. I see all the people I love and all the people I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by. I see what I have unbelievably been able to do.
And while I know my parents wanted the best for me but I can't imagine that they would have imagined all of the incredible things our family would experience and all the amazing opportunities I would have.
It was the complete opposite of holding my passport. While this simple piece of paper with my parents’ names and mine embossed with a seal showed where I was from, my passport symbolizes all the possibilities that lay before me and all the places I can go.
My birth certificate was my passport into this life, a grant to be able travel anywhere any do anything that my rapidly growing heart would soon learn to pursue.
It was my founding, the announcement of me. The very first official documentation would ever have. It is the one piece of identification that will always work. It is always me.
There is no picture on my birth certificate. It is strictly memory there. Whereas my passport will have a new image every 10 years.
The picture in my last passport was one I took around the corner from my house at the drugstore when I was 17 and about to go to Jamaica. I wore an orange t-shirt under a black leather jacket I only just recently donated to charity. That boy had an eight-dollar haircut and barely half a clue. But he had a license and a passport so he was worldly.
I had a new passport picture taken at a drugstore around the corner from my job. This new boy in the passport is different. Older. His face more defined, not harder mind you, maybe just less soft. No longer a peach canvas of innocence and naïveté. This new boy wears a tie and a vest and has stubble that rarely leaves his face. His hair is a style. He looks serious but not as clueless, friendly but not as afraid. There is much about him that has changed in ten years, but in some ways he has come full circle.
Because he will always be somewhere between what he’s grateful for and what he desires. Just a boy between two symbolic pieces of paper that will never be able to tell half the story of what he is, merely hint at it.
That is why packing my suitcase to visit an island on the other side of the earth entailed me filling my suitcase with the following items.
That is 2 bottles of SPF 50, 2 bottles of Bug Spray, a bottle of Aloe, a bottle of Pepto, a jar of gummy vitamins, travel toilet seat covers and toilet paper, individual Neosporin packets, and a box of Anti Diarrhea medicine.
Me. The answer is me.
After an amazing first stop in Los Angeles for a day, Lauren and I hopped on an overnight flight to Fiji. We landed at 5 am and hopped a bus to our boat, which would take us to our first resort.
Here’s a tip for all you folks out there. Some things are good in chewable form Dramamine is NOT one of them.
So anyway we travelled away from the mainland up past an island group called the Mamanucas up to the Yasawas. There were tiny islands everywhere you looked.
Some islands were only big enough to hold a palm tree; some were big enough to hold a mountain. And there were some that were just big enough to hold a hotel. It was like a perfect fit.
Now there are a lot of things I can tell you about Fiji. I can tell you how perfect it was. I can tell you that that the sun, sand, and ocean were so perfect I would regularly scream out curse words from my beach chair because it was so amazing. I can tell you that travelling by ferry between the dozens of islands of all shapes and sizes made me feel like a pirate explorer at sea, except for the fact that I didn’t have a peg leg, a parrot, or scurvy.
But after a while that would just get annoying. And plus the goal of this is not just to make you jealous (cough cough).
I would rather tell you about how my favorite part of the trip was getting to indulge in things I never get the opportunity to living in New York. Things like…
When we first got there, we met an older gentleman named Jim who was semi retired. He told us that he spent half his year working in the states and half his year living in Fiji.
Internally I judged him. Wondering, how could somebody spend all his or her time doing nothing?
Well, I figured it out pretty quickly.
Every day we woke up when the sun came in our room, threw on our bathing suits and went down to an amazing breakfast of fresh fruit and omelets. Then we went down to the beach. When we heard the conch shell blow that meant it was time for lunch. We’d eat lunch, then go back and nap in our beach chairs. Or swim. Or just lay in the ocean and float. (Not me personally, because apparently I can’t float) Or just sit in the sand.
When cake suddenly appeared on the bar, that meant it was 5 o’clock. When the sun went down, that meant it was time for dinner. And when mosquitoes bit you, which meant it was time for bed.
That was pretty much the schedule every single day. I was so disgustingly happy the entire time.
Some places you look at and think, oh wow, that place almost looks fake it’s so surreal. Fiji was the complete opposite. It was like I was a part of the landscape (and I honestly moved so little I pretty much was). But everything was so vivid, so real, to just incredibly beautiful. It was like being a part of the most beautiful painting.
But even though we were docile and relaxed the local wildlife was not. Like one night when Lauren was out on balcony of our hotel room and turned to me and said:
Are there monkeys in Fiji?
I felt a slight panic, as at the time both of our doors were wide open. And knowing monkeys’ penchant for leaping on to things, I fully expected to be drop kicked as a chimp came flying through our room.
But alas know it was just a gigantic bird the size of a monkey weighing down a branch. And I would have given no further though to it, had I not woken up in the middle of the night to birds screaming at each other over money they owed each other.
I’m guessing. I can’t imagine what else would require birds to scream like that at 2 in the morning.
The most terrifying experience though happened our first night in the second hotel. Listening to the breeze is a great way to fall asleep but in the dead of night I heard a sound that I immediately thought was the earth trying to swallow a cheetah.
It sounded like this first 10 seconds of this video.
I sat up in bed terrified. “What was that?” I asked. Lauren barely stirred, turned over and said:
Of course now that I was up, I had to go to the bathroom but was so freaked out from the Sea Cat that I thought one of our suitcases was a cat and almost peed myself.
But not all of the critters were terrifying, some were just hilarious, like the hermit crabs.
I had never seen so many in my life. They were everywhere, always moving, always with someplace to go.
On our last night at the Octopus Resort, we participated in International Crab Racing. Basically what happens is the staff collects 100 hermit crabs from the beach into a bucket, and then dumps that bucket out in the sand. Guests can then pick crabs to enter into the race. It costs like 3 bucks to enter a crab into the race.
Having known about this race the whole time we were there we studied many of the crabs on the beach. We even followed some of the quicker ones and considered training them to enter the race. But we quickly realized we’d have nowhere to keep said crab until the race started. So we just picked our crabs when everyone else did.
However, I made sure I got one of the quicker crabs out of the bucket. In fact, I got 2. They were quick sleek little crabs, and I liked their style. Lauren picked 1.
There are 3 heats. If your crab isn’t in the top group to make it through to the next round you can yell out bribe afterward, and for 3 more bucks you can send them into the next round.
The first heat happened and my 2 guys made it through, but Lauren’s didn’t.
The second heat happened and again, both of my guys made it through. Lauren’s didn’t.
Then it was the final round and in a nail biting finish my crab finished second place which meant we got 2 free drinks. Woohoo!
And that night was the peak of my physical excitement, exertion, and bliss. I’ve never been so excited to retire!
For a complete recap, check out this video!
And it's funny, we all got these bracelets that got us in to all of the events. They say I "thrillist logo" Miami. And it's kind of ironic because a chunk of the "I" on mine is missing.
But on Rollerblades, a getaway is not as easy.
While we are very different people we also have very similar interests. Be it food and restaurants (though I will never forgive my sister for deciding to start liking ketchup. I can’t believe she abandoned me on that one) music, or just a unique activity, there are so many things that we both enjoy.
And more often than not they just get added to a rapidly growing list of ideas that never get used. Seeing as that document is now approaching 12 pages, this is my best effort to purge myself of these baby rants.
In the south you come across a lot of signs that say "homemade." I don't know how this became the go-to marketing ploy of restaurants. To me it seems very similar to slapping the word "eco-friendly" on a product. But even if eco-friendly is a lie, it still implies something good. "Homemade" doesn't necessarily means something is good.
Do you know how many homemade things come out awful? Half the shit I "home make" tastes disgusting. Homemade means, "not made by professionals." Would you ever get on an airplane that said "homemade" on the side?" Would you use aspirin if it said "homemade"on the label?
If you have an idea for a vanity license plate you should have to submit it to a panel of judges at the Department of Motor Vehicles. And if that panel can't guess what it means within 5 seconds, you are not allowed to have that vanity plate. It is not fair for you to have a secret joke that I don't get on your license plate.
It will piss me off while I am driving. And then I will all of my time tailgating you to see if I can decode your plate. You might as well have a magic eye poster on your bumper.
Concert Encores and Side to Side Hand Waving
I understand there are some songs where some side to side hand waving seems appropriate or even matches up with the beat. But it has gotten out of hand. How did hand waving become the pinnacle of fun? "Oh my god here it comes. We are about to start waving our hands side to side, I am so excited."
Pretending I am a wind wiggler does not make me feel good. If I am really enjoying a movie or a good steak, I don't throw my arms into the air and start waving them around. I like to have most of my fun with my hands at my sides thank you very much.
And concert encores have gotten so predictable. Who doesn't know when an encore is coming? "Oh look the band stopped playing. Jeez, I sure do wonder if they are going to play an encore. Why are all the lights still off? I wonder if... oh my god the band is back on stage it's a MIRACLE!"
Just once I would like to see somebody come on stage and say, "Hey, I'm going to stand up here and rock your face off for 2 hours and give you the best concert I can. Screw the encore." That would be something I could get behind.
I understand that I am easy to make fun of. Seriously. Spend any amount of time with me and you will not be at a loss for material. But if you drink light beer you are no longer allowed to challenge MY masculinity. You know what light beer is? Diet soda for alcoholics.
Beer fills you up for a reason. It means you're done. And if you are full but not drunk, you shouldn't be drinking anymore. Drinking copious amounts of light beer while condescending to me does not make you tough. It makes you fat AND rude. Grab a real beer and leave the light beer to 10th graders and people who hate beer.
Speaking of 10th graders, it is really easy to hate teenagers.
That's it. Just wanted to mention it.
Every time somebody says "Have a good flight" to me, I always respond by saying thanks. But what else am I supposed to say? "Thank you, I'll try?" I know its just people being polite but my brain always wants to say "Oh yea, good point. I'm actually co-pilot for this one so I will be extra careful." Being on an airplane is one of those scenarios where you have absolutely NO control over the quality of your journey.
You don't get to pick the route, the plane, the pilot, where you sit, who sits next to you, how many people you travel with, etc. The only thing you are given the option of is whether you want the chicken or the pasta and even that doesn't matter because they microwave the hope out of everything so it all ends up tasting the same thing anyway.
How come in old movies when the phone rings and there is nobody on the other end of the line or they get disconnected, the person always hits the hang up button 3 or 4 times? Is there something in their mind that says hanging up on the person will make them reappear? Has this ever worked to get the caller back on the line? What is the logic progression that led to this? When you open the door and there's nobody there, do you close it and open it 3 more times just to make sure?
When a film starts in a movie theater it is always, "MGM is PROUD TO PRESENT."
Well who is going to go see a film that starts out, "MGM IS SLIGHTLY ASHAMED AND RELATIVELY EMBARRASSED TO PRESENT:______?"
I must I admit I am a little bit behind the times because I don't have cable but for some reason I get The Food Network. I been watching this channel a lot lately and holy crap I am addicted! Has anybody else seen this channel? Right, I'm sure you probably all have. But this channel is my crack!
I find it so inspiring. I go into my kitchen after watching some amazing concoction on TV feeling all ambitious and ready to create a masterpiece but all I have in there is peanut butter, spaghetti, and garlic salt. Here's an idea Food Network, instead of giving me recipes based on your suggested ingredients, why not base a show around the ingredients I have in my kitchen? You could call it something new every week. The first show would be called Peanut Butter, Spaghetti and Garlic Salt.
And the dish would be good. It has to be.
It's home made.
I actually have an idea to speed it up though. I propose we have a security check in for nudists. I know, I know. Multiple posts on this very blog have seen me detailing my issues with those who feel it necessary to take off their clothes at every possible moment.
But when it comes to airport security, they already rifle through your toiletries, make you take off your clothes, and practically cop a feel on you as you try and get past them. So it really can't get much worse than it already is.
So let's set up a lane for people who don't mind walking through a metal detector naked. Nothing will beep. And you are free to go. Hurray. I feel like we could scan a lot more people at a much quicker pace.
If you feel comfortable enough to do it, more power to you. You would have to continue to go through the metal detector just to make sure you weren't hiding things in your... mouth.
Overall, I kind of doubt the effectiveness of the security check in. Mainly because to get into a bar in New York City the bouncer has to run my ID through an electronic validation scanner. But to get on an airplane they just... look at it.
The reason I enjoy the security line is because it takes people way out of their comfort zone. Everybody is in a rush and everybody is stressing. And that is hilarious to watch.
Shoes come off, laptops come out, coats, keys, and of course liquids all get removed. Everything gets its own bin. And passengers run back and forth along the the table trying to make sure everything gets into the scanner. It looks like that episode of I Love Lucy at the assembly line of the chocolate factory, hurrying to beat the pace of the rapidly running conveyor belt.
By the time you actually get to the other side of security it looks like a scene out of a 1st grade classroom at cleanup time. Everybody's stuff is all over the floor, nobody is wearing shoes, and nobody has a belt to hold their pants up.
After a recent trip where I only had 1 piece of carry on luggage, I was able to compile a list of things that won't arise suspicion with airport security in New York, but WILL in Denver.
1. Big plastic sword
2. Kenneth Cole Signature cologne
3. Hair Taffy
When the TSA woman in Denver asked to do a manual check of my bag I readily complied. I figured the pirate sword might raise some eyebrows, but I did not expect her to spend a full minute checking the "blade" and handle of the sword like it was a container for smuggling drugs.
Like I was Pablo Escobar trying to smuggle my cocaine out of Denver which everyone knows is the cocaine capital of Colorado.
Even if I was trying to smuggle drugs, do you really think a plastic pirate sword is the best option? I mean shouldn't it be something that doesn't look suspicious?
I would like to point out at this point that I do not regularly travel with a plastic sword. While I consider it to be a fantastic accessory to any outfit, I was traveling with it on this particular occasion because it was part of my Halloween costume that weekend.
When she gave up hope of finding contraband in my swashbuckling accessory, she put it down, gave me a sly smile and said, "Let's just put that here, we don't want to the police over here do we?"
Well, I mean, no. But why would the police come over? You realize the sword is not real right?
First of all, you already have x-rayed my sword (I never imagined writing that sentence) so why are you examining it by hand? Unless of course you don't trust the x-ray machine, and you yourself have a type of incredible vision that can see through plastic.
When I fly out of New York I don't do the plastic bag thing for my liquids because most of the time they don't care. It's when I am in the smaller cities that I find myself having to explain the things in my dopp kit.
Then as she checked out the bottom of my cologne and discovered it was the appropriate ounce amount, she put it down, with a "Let's put that away, it looks expensive."
And then she came to my hair taffy. I feel the need to explain that I do not purposely search out and purchase hair taffy. I used to work for a magazine that sold off all their reviewed cosmetics at the end of the year for a dollar each. The male products were few and far between so I snagged what I could.
It just so happened there was some expensive hair taffy ($44 bucks, what a deal!) which I came across, and it smells good!
So she picks it up, looks at it, reads the label aloud and follows with, "Taffy? I've never even heard of that."
Alright lady, no need to make feel like an outcast in your city.
While I have loved every visit I have had to the Denver airport and will probably return many times, I question the excitement level where the most exciting thing seen by 3 pm in the airport is a plastic pirate sword.
I know this was the most exciting thing the TSA woman has seen all day because she told me so.
She then proceeded to explain the process for putting liquids into a plastic bag. And then she demonstrated by putting liquids into a plastic bag. I nodded along emphatically because in all fairness I broke the rules, and she was so dang nice. It was kind of sweet.
In fact she made my experience so pleasant that I almost feel bad writing about it now. Maybe I should send her a gift as a thank you.
I wonder if she'd like some hair taffy?
It's not because we don't want compliments. Quite the contrary actually. We really want them.
It seems we spend most of our lives chasing compliments, wanting people to tell us how good we are, how pretty we look, or what a wonderful job we've done. The funny thing is, once we actually do get those compliments, the compliments we've thirsted for like water in the desert, we dismiss them as though they are no big deal.
"Don't be silly" we say, or "It was nothing." We do this because the actual act of receiving an honest compliment is way more difficult than any of us are willing to admit.
I think the hardest part about a compliment is the eye contact. Having to look someone deep in the eye while they express to you how they feel about you and the work that you did without looking away... wow. I mean many of us can't do that with the people closest to us, but even strangers? That can be intense.
It is certainly something most of us are not used to. Nor do we actually know how to react. It is incredibly disconcerting. That connection is strange. But if you can find a way to embrace it, it really is electric. It will make you feel unlike any way you've ever felt before.
Or if you are like me... you will cry.
Not little sissy tears either. Nope. Big, huge, waterworks, man baby tears that don't stop.
The plays I had been working on for the past 3 months finally went up last week. Thursday and Friday night saw the end result of weeks and weeks of intense preparation. Everything that had been an idea, a possibility, or a thought since July became a reality twice over the course of 48 hours.
And shortly thereafter, it was merely a memory.
After the lights went out the first night, I felt kind of strange. The shows has been great and everything had gone off without a hitch. And yet, I did not feel like I expected to feel.
I did feel good about what had just transpired. I felt proud, and slightly accomplished. But I didn't feel an overwhelming rush crash over me like the wave of joy I had hoped for. One moment the shows were about to start, and slowly but surely they slipped away from me, like sand through my fingers.
Friday however, was different. The air in the room even felt different before the shows started. People seemed more excited than they did the night before. There was an energy in the room that added something to the performances that I could not have planned for.
And when the lights went out on the final scene of Friday's show I felt excited, I felt slightly relieved, but I was energized. And I was lucky enough to have many of my friends and loved ones come up to me and congratulate me and say such wonderful things.
I did my best not to dismiss the compliments. I, my cast, and my crew (Andrea) had worked hard for this. And if people had good things to say, I really wanted to appreciate the fruits of our labor. I wanted to take in their compliments, digest them, and squeeze every last drop of goodness from them.
Wishing my actors good luck before they went on I got a little teary, and the same when saying some personal thank yous to my friends after. But I was pretty much able to keep my emotions at bay. The tears sat patiently locked up in their cages behind my eyes.
The after party happened, many hugs occurred, and eventually the night came to a close. I went home and went to sleep.
The next morning when I woke up I was feeling pretty great. Exhausted from everything, and a little surprised that I hadn't had a complete emotional breakdown immediately following the applause.
The catalyst that triggered my breakdown actually would come in the form of a compliment from a person I didn't even know.
You see I had a good friend fly in from California on Friday just to see my shows and hang out in the city for a short weekend. She came with a friend of hers whom I had never met. But I was anticipating liking her since she was flying 3,000 miles to see my $12 dollar show.
We all got together for brunch on Saturday and spent the day having drinks and walking around the neighborhoods. We ended our day with a fabulous dinner at a great restaurant, a lovely place with low lighting and delicious food.
And sometime after dinner, in the middle of a low lit dining room, in the west village in Manhattan this stranger told me what she thought of my plays... and I cried like a little kid lost in the woods.
Not big whaling cries with sobbing and huff huff huffing. No it was just a very wet, can't turn off the faucets kind of cry.
We so often take for granted the support we get from our loved ones. And that is not a good thing, but yet it still happens. Yet there is still something so heavy about the compliments given to you by the people you do not know. You realize they may not be as concerned with protecting and nurturing you, they don't owe you anything, and when they say it, well, you have no choice but to pay attention.
Perhaps there was more involved. Maybe it had something to do with having had a full day to process what had actually occurred the night before. Or maybe it was the 2 bottles of wine we had with dinner. I mean that probably helped.
But who knows if I would have cried like this had this fine human not said what she said to me. Maybe my emotional connection to my work would have faded with each passing day. And maybe I would have found myself bawling in my bed one night as the exhaustion got the better of me.
But I am glad it happened when it did, because it felt right. It put a definitive end on my emotional connection to my work. It signified completion. It put a soggy exclamation point on an incredible mini journey.
And I wouldn't have had it any other way.