Harvard

I have a friend who recently started business school in Boston. But she isn't going to just any business school; she is going to the business school. Harvard Business School, the home of the academic elite, where people wear repp ties and discuss the Orwellian implications of a free market economy under a cap and trade system.

Or something like that.

Now, I went to a state school where I was a straight B student. I didn't break any academic records. And my experience with people from Harvard had been limited. Maybe I had met a graduate or two on several occasions. I had never spent my time in a room full of them. I imagined I would stick out like a Prius at a tractor pull. And I got my chance to see what that was like, when I visited.

My friend comes from a non-traditional background, which is to say not from a world of high finance and economics. She comes from publishing. So students like herself had to come in a few weeks early for some extra schooling before the rest of the students with more traditional backgrounds arrived. This is a program which Harvard calls, "Analytics."

They are not called, as I was referring to them, "The Deficients."

The first night my friend and I went to dinner and then met up with her new friends at a house party for her classmate's birthday. When we got there, the party had been going on for a while.

My preconceived notions firmly in place, I fully anticipated walking into a house with passed hors d'oeuvres, a string quartet, and people with names like Muffy discussing the retched state of the proletariat.

I certainly did not expect to hear Jay-Z blasting through the front door.

In fact, I wasn't sure this was the right place. I even suggested my friend call to make sure. But my friend, more brazen than I, pushed right into the house.

What I saw was the complete opposite of what I expected.

The party music was indeed blasting, and people were dancing in the living room. There were a mess of cups around, alcohols, and foodstuffs, and a stack of Kraft cheese slices in the kitchen. There was also a conspicuous couple lurking in a dark bedroom. All in all about 50 people socializing and just having a good time.

Granted they had been drinking for 6 hours when we got there, so that might have helped to loosen the mood.

Sure there was Absolute Vodka instead of some fake Russian crap in a plastic bottle. And people had actually brought edible things instead of Taquitos from the gas station, but it still looked like a typical college party.

And aside from the fact that everybody looked a little bit older, and there were perhaps a couple more dress shirts and a few less flip flops than there would have been 10 years ago, it could have been a freshman party in a house off campus in any town, USA.

It distinctly reminded me of walking into parties my first couples years of college back before I drank alcohol. Everyone would hold those red solo cups full of keg beer or jungle juice, and I would just stand there, with my arms akimbo, orbiting my body like I was in an anti gravity chamber, as they searched for a comfortable position to rest in that didn't scream, "I AM 18 AND VERY INSECURE."

Even though that was many years ago, I still had a flash of that feeling and quickly went to find a cup.

But what made this party different was people did not pretend I didn't exist. They would introduce themselves to me and shake my hand, ask me if I was in the program with them.

The first couple of times that happened I laughed, because, well, even though I consider myself a bright individual, this was still Harvard Business School. And I could even make it through sophomore year of my Bachelors in business. Let's just say I didn't take Calculus twice because I wanted to.

But if I hadn't known in advance that all of these kids were going to Harvard, I probably wouldn't have guessed it after meeting them. Everyone just seemed like a normal human being, which kind of made me wonder why I thought there would be such a bizarre difference to begin with, but still.

And when I met these people, it was Friday night. There were no mandatory study groups, there were no tests of reviews or projects or otherwise. They were going to party like it was their first year of undergrad, and that is how it felt.

They weren't pretentious. Most of them seemed almost kind of scared of what was to come. But I almost felt like I fit in. I know that couldn't be right, and yet, there was something beautiful about these people who had finished college, and worked for several years, embracing this decision to go back to school.

And even though it is Harvard Business School, there is still something decidedly post pubescent about shunning work to be a full time student. As competitive and grueling as a program might be, there is a youthful mentality that goes along with the decision to just not work.

Even if that does mean performing regression analysis for foreign currency markets.

Either way it was such a refreshing thing to be partying with a bunch of "kids" who were still kind of buzzing on the fact they had been admitted to Harvard to begin with.

They weren't condescending or elitist. Heck, maybe that would come in time, but for now, they were just kids on the eve of their first real week in college.

Which kind of makes me think that we are never that far away from the people we once were. All that separates us is time, and a few experiences. But it is amazing how easily we can slide back into the mantle of our youth.

Perhaps it is the comfort of a time without consequence, or a memory of a sunset whose colors burn brighter in our memory than they could have ever been in real life, but there is a satisfaction that comes from looking back, and reliving the emotions of our past that we can never hope to replicate in the future.

Airports Part 2 - Depression

My favorite thing about visiting my parents at “the resort” is the fact that I have an entire wardrobe and nearly all my necessary toiletries down there, so I don’t need to pack much to go. I just grab a backpack and I’m off.

I though this would simplify the entire process thereby eliminating things that could go wrong during travel.

Incorrect.

My 6 am flight from Savannah was due to arrive in New York at 8 am. But due to inclement weather we were forced into a holding pattern.

After 30 minutes of essentially flying in circles the pilot came on the speaker and basically said, “We’re about to run out of fuel so we’re going to go ahead and land in Baltimore.”

This began my 12 hour delay.

On this particular flight there was an especially annoying individual wearing a Bluetooth headset the whole time. I will refer to this gentleman as a WMD or Weapon of Mega Dooshdum.

I’m almost sure he would have been sitting in first class had our plane been larger than a hot pocket.

After we landed in Baltimore, everyone was worried about whether or not would be taking off in this plane again or getting on a new plane. This is when the WMD spoke up and said, “I just got off the phone with the platinum desk, this plane isn’t going anywhere.”

Ooo you got off the phone with the platinum desk? Everyone come and listen, Ezekiel is back with tales from the Platinum desk!

What else did the platinum desk tell you? How to solve the sub prime lending crisis? The name of the next American Idol? When Jesus would return?

I would have continued to focus my hate on him but of course, the woman sitting behind me was screaming in Spanish into her phone. The plane was completely still, no engine noise, there was no crisis and no need for yelling. But she apparently felt her speaking voice Spanish was not appropriate and instead was using her tornado warning Spanish.

I then realized what I don’t like about flying.

It’s the people. They are everywhere. Being weird. Being abnormal. Being creepy. I would not be bothered by flying as much if I got to do it, say, in my own plane, by myself.

I hung out in the airport for a couple of hours while angry passengers yelled at unsuspecting gate agents who were doing their damndest to help them. One woman was yelling at this particular gate agent about how this was the 3rd time this happened to her and blah blah blah.

She kept yapping until I said;

“SHUT THE HELL UP AND GO LAY ON THE TARMAC!”

Well not quite but I did tell her to leave the poor gate agent alone. I am so very brave.

If you take a look around an airport you realize this is no longer the golden age of travel. People don’t travel in suits and elegant leisurewear. They travel in whatever they found on the floor when they woke up that morning. I saw a man in a purple t-shirt whose belly was so big I thought he was wearing a prosthetic.

Perhaps he had some sort of silicone belly implant? There was no way one belly could stick out so far. It was only for the fact that his shirt stuck out so far I could see his bare flesh exposed underneath it that I realized this was no prosthetic. It was like a belly penthouse.

Beautiful.

I found out I had 7 hours until my new flight to New York, so I decided to take a shuttle bus to a train into D.C. to go see the Cherry Blossoms. I figured this would get me away from the crazies and the hideousity.

Incorrect.

In the fully packed Amtrak waiting room I came across another prized individual.

This gentleman sat across from me (also with a belly penthouse), directly in front of a brightly lit vending machine. He sat there cross eyed and absolutely transfixed by the colorful offerings available inside that magical glass box. I thought he was going to try and make a withdrawal from one of the many shelves when he made another decision.

You know how sometimes you cough up a little bit of phlegm, but you just deal with it because you are not in a place where you can get rid of it?

The gentleman sitting not 4 feet across from me in the Amtrak station waiting room did not think this was one of those places. So I watched him, cough, gag, and then let loose a horrific dribble of phlegm that fell like an autumn leaf and landed between his feet on the floor.

Beautiful.

He didn’t even try to hide it. His basic philosophy appeared to be, “I’m gross, everybody watch.”
So I took the train into Union Station in D.C. and in an effort to save money (I’m becoming cheaper by the day) I walked 45 minutes to the Tidal Basin to see the cherry blossoms, and the sun came out and it was beautiful. I sat strolled and took pictures such as this one.




And then it started to pour on me. I didn’t have an umbrella. So I walked the 45 minutes back to Union Station where I bought an Amtrak ticket back to Baltimore, which I then immediately dropped on the floor and didn’t realize until I heard over the loud speaker;

“Would Mr…. Bo-em-key please pick up his ticket at the information desk.”

Damn it.

Back on the train to the shuttle bus to the airport where I checked in for my 6 o’clock flight, and went through security. I sat down in the waiting area for a while, and was walking to my gate when a woman ran up to me and said, “Sir! You dropped this!”

It was my plane ticket.

Double damn it.

I was starting to think maybe someone or something was trying to stop me from going home. But 14 hours later I made it. Which means it took me an hour LONGER to fly home than it would have to drive.

Forget airplanes. Forget travel. Next time I’m just going to stay home and grow a belly penthouse.

Airports Part 1 - Regression

Flying is getting progressively more horrendous. It never ceases to amaze me how normal, seemingly rational adults, turn into lying, rule breaking, little 7 year olds, when making the decision to travel by airplane.

Case and point: I traveled down to South Carolina this past weekend to visit my parents at, what I like to refer to as, “The Resort.” (They actually live in a normal house, but they pick me up from the airport, feed me, take me to do fun activities, and I don’t have to pay for any of it, so yea it’s pretty much a resort.)

First of all, this flight was chock a block with old people. You know those planes that go to places like Cancun or Miami during spring break that are packed with hot co-eds?

This was not one of those planes. My flight looked like a field trip to the Del Boca Vista Phase II retirement community. This was an elderly plane. The process does not move quickly with a gaggle of fogies.

In addition to this gaggle, there was a man on my flight with a foot cast. But instead of getting around on crutches like most people would, this guy had his knee propped up on a 3 wheeled push scooter complete with handlebars called the TLC; Turning Leg Caddy.

He was a lot like the kid in school who bumped his elbow on a desk but came into school the next day with his arm in a sling. Everyone knows it’s a sympathy ploy, but all the teachers go out of their way to accommodate him anyway.

Hey needy guy, instead of pissing off every one on the airplane, why not get yourself a pair of crutches and give your scooter to a 10 year old girl who actually needs it.

Boarding the airplane is a lot like getting ready to go outside for recess. When the attendant announces that “We are now boarding,” people start circling the gate like vultures.

And even though everyone has a ticket, and will get on the plane, people still push and shove towards the gate entrance like they are trying to buy the last mango in Pakistan.

Then the teacher has to get angry and say that only the good students who wait in the line can get through.

My particular flight I was flying direct from New York to Savannah (yes I know that’s in Georgia hot shot). The great/awful thing about this direct flight is that the plane is always pretty small so there is no first class.

Now I don’t really give a crap about first class because I can’t afford it. I can barely afford coach. In fact, the next time I visit my parents I’m pretty sure I’m just going to ship myself down there in a UPS box addressed to “Mommy.”

But the fact that there is no first class means that all of the upper crust of our society, the social elite, the captains of industry… have to sit with my sorry butt in a tiny ass plane that looks like an Airstream trailer with wings.

We are all equals now. Everyone is equally pathetic. Nobody is getting any special treatment. We are all in detention. Welcome to Air Detention.

Once the airline finally lets everybody on the plane it becomes a series of minor rule infractions, people trying desperately to hide their insubordination from the flight attendants.

But people really get indignant when they are told to turn off their cell phones.

“What? Me? Turn off my cellphone? You must be mad! I am awaiting a very important call from Prince Ali of Akrabah!”

I understand important calls need to be made, business transactions must occur, information must be exchanged. But just because you are in the middle of writing a text, that does not make you special.

On the trip down, the flight attendant made the announcement to turn off all electronic devices and then proceeded to walk down the aisle to make sure all of the students were abiding by the rules.

I then watched the man sitting next to me, the man with a wife and 2 kids at home with the flu (I was reading his texts) hide his cellphone under his leg mid-text as the attendant passed by, and then pull it back out to finish his message.

Really middle aged guy? You are an adult! You are not hiding Pixy Stix and Pez from the Nuns. You are a grown up. Act like it. You are texting about how your wife is pissed at you.

The only acceptable text would have been;

“IT’S THE GREEN WIRE! CUT THE GREEN WIRE!”

Texting during takeoff does not make you a rebel. You are not Cool Hand Luke. Put your cell phone away and mindlessly page through the Sky Mall magazine like the rest of us.

Eventually the plane landed and the dismissal bell rang causing everyone to flood the aisle and push and shove to get off the very plane they pushed and shoved to get onto.

And as I’d find out on my return trip, I should have shipped myself home UPS.

To be continued…

Hostel Environment

Hostels, for those of you who may not know, are budget accommodations whereby travelers stay in dorm bedrooms of anywhere from 2 to 12 beds that come with either an en suite bathroom, or 1 for the entire floor. Some Hostels provide many amenities, some do not. And you pay a fraction of the price for a hotel or private lodging.

The first time I stayed in a hostel I was 20 years old. It was one of my first times traveling completely alone in a foreign country, in a new city where I didn’t know a soul. I was amazed at how easy it was to meet new people. The whole experience was exciting and I went on to stay at a dozen more throughout Western Europe. I had discovered a great way to see the world.

But three backpacking trips and somewhere over 30 hostels later, my views have started to evolve. I still agree that it is the cheapest and most unique way to see the world, meet people, and have adventures.

But I am 25 now and I’ve started to realize that it does require a certain mentality and spirit to stay in hostels. I’m not an elitist, I don’t think I am better than the other people staying in hostels, but I wonder if my mentality has changed. I wonder if the sun is setting on my time on this type of travel.

You meet a lot of people in hostels, people from all over the world. Mostly you meet other Americas, Canadians, Australians, Germans and people from the UK. This is not a bad thing per say but they just tend to be the people who travel most. People from Europe seem to stay in hostels well into their 40s and even beyond, but the Americans you meet in hostels tend to fall in the 18 to 23 age bracket. And I really noticed that more on this trip than any other

Perhaps it is because I am 25 now, in my 4th year out of college, that I became so aware on this trip. Generally the Americans you meet have just finished college, or are on a break, or taking a year off etc. Sure I meet people like myself taking 2 weeks off of work to see as much of the world as possible, but with each trip I take they are fewer and further between.

I am pretty comfortable with the whole hostel experience; I know the routine of checking in/out and how to go about making friends. But staying in a hostel is an exercise in tolerance. It is absolutely exhausting. The quality of a hostel itself is measured up against your desire to see that city on a dime. The more you want to see a place, the more you’re willing to put up with to see it.

You’ll put up with things like, bunk beds crafted by incompetent masochists that upon first glance, appear to be made of broken shards of used IKEA furniture. Or living out of the same backpack for days on end without doing laundry so that the smallest article of stinky clothing infiltrates the entire bag to create tour de force in revulsion any time you open your bag.

You begin to get very comfortable with yourself as you don’t really have a choice. When you don’t have a private place to change, being in a room full of strangers all in their underwear seems as natural as though you have been doing it your whole life. (Maybe you have, I’m not trying to judge)

I’ve already mentioned the snoring before, but oh god. It is a wonder any of these people will ever get married considering the sounds, moans, grunts, whistles, and wheezing that escapes them during sleep. Some nights I would open my eyes expecting to see a room full of baboons, or hyenas around me. But no, these were in fact human beings.

Walking into the bathrooms in hostels is always a hold your breath experience.

You hold your breath because you’re not sure how bad the bathroom is going to be once you get in it.
You hold your breath because it is either going to smell like the inside of a septic tank or some unfathomable assortment of chemicals used to kill the sense that you are inside of a septic tank.

And the bathroom is wet. Not just damp, but wet. The floor is soaked like the last 20 people to take a shower in there had pointed the nozzle straight up at the ceiling instead of towards the drain. Like the bathroom had JUST finished filming a raunchy Britney Spears video before I showed up.

I realized I had kind of hit a turning point with hostels on my last trip with the hostel in Uruguay where I spent 2 nights. I walk in and immediately the men’s bathroom smells like a severed foot left in a moldy locker full of expired hummus. There is water dripping everywhere of course, but despite all this I strip and get into the shower.

I am in there for about 3 minutes before I notice what appears to be a large piece of gauze stuck to the wall. I decide not to get a closer look. So I turned my head to the left to avoid looking at it, and I noticed what appeared to be a soaking wet pair of used blue briefs hanging on a pipe sticking out of the wall.

Awesome.

It was at that moment that I realized I might be done with hostels.

It’s not that that I don’t love traveling. I do. It’s very much a part of who I am and I value every trip I’ve taken. The opportunities that hostels provide are incredible. I have seen more of the world staying at hostels than I would have staying at any other hotel or budget accommodation.

Plus as an individual traveler it has allowed me to meet people that create unique experiences and incredible adventures that I wouldn’t otherwise just sitting on my bunk reading the complete Lord of the Rings Trilogy or an Ayn Rand novel.

But as I cross the hump from my early 20s into my late 20s, I find myself wanting more. It’s not just wanting to stay in nicer places where I can have a guaranteed good nights rest instead of playing Russian Sleep Roulette. It’s more how I experience these places that I crave more out of.

When I first started staying in hostels I felt like I had been let in on some incredible community of travelers. And I have enjoyed being a part of that community.

But a different need has surfaced within me, a desire to travel with a friend or group of friends close to me. I have always said that I traveled by myself because I got to see whatever I wanted whenever I wanted and I had no one to rely on but myself. And I loved that. There is so much to see though, and sharing it with someone changes the experience.

My sister and I still talk about the trip we took to the south of France for a week, and the funny things that happened, and how I thought I won 400 dollars at the slot machine when I had actually only won 40, and the markets, and the hilarious fish dinner. That’s what I love! I love being able to paint a canvas of memories with my loved ones that we can always go back to and relive.

Currently many of my travel memories are wrapped up written stories and in the memories of people whose names I can’t remember and will never see again. And that is all well and good because I have always loved the independence I felt while traipsing the globe on my own. But I have proved to myself I can do it. I know I am capable of such things. I crave more.

What I seek now is to continue to experience the world and laugh and drink and be amazed with someone close to me. So that we can relive it at my Wedding, at my 50th birthday party, wherever.

If nothing else, if one day I am traveling in some far-off country with a friend and I find myself in the shower staring a pair of underwear… at least I’ll know whose it is.

The Airport and the Painting

I fell in love with this painting at the San Telmo market in Buenos Aires. It was fantastic, very much for me, and I was delighted I was able to talk the guy down from 500 to 400 pesos. My only concern was that I would have some challenges getting it home.
Challenges turned out to be an understatement.
The tough thing about backpacking in a foreign country, or anywhere for that manner, is carrying 40 pounds of your own stuff on your back wherever you go. I am lucky enough to have a pretty nice backpack so getting around isn’t too cumbersome. But it has a lot of straps and attachments that hang off.
So I have an oversized duffle bag with a shoulder strap that I stuff it in before I check it in when I am getting on planes. It helps keeps the bag protected and in good shape.
When I was leaving Buenos Aires for the last time I had scheduled a cab to the airport so I figured I would put it in the duffle ahead of time as I would just be going from the curb to check in.
I lost count of how many miscalculations I made on this trip.
I get to the airport and at curbside check in there is a machine that wraps your suitcase in cellophane a bunch of times to ensure it stays sealed under the plane and no one has gone into it. They charge about 10 dollars for this.
I figured this would be a great way to protect my painting. I ask the man to wrap my painting, and while this was probably the first time this man had ever done such a task, or possibly used his arms (he looked like a Double Dare contestant in the middle of some sort of awful physical challenge) we manage to bundle up my painting nicely.
I go inside and get on a very short line to check in. I am excited about this. All I have is my bag to check in, my small backpack to carry on, and my painting which is about 20 by 30 inches. I was somewhat concerned about it fitting in the overhead compartment.
So I checked with one of the airline reps who once again (all together now) did not speak English. So I am trying to ask him if it will fit on the plane, but this has brought a whole new line of questioning about.
He wants to know if I have a receipt for the painting. Of course I don’t because I bought it at a market. He says I can’t get on the plane without a special something or other from an office at the very end of check in. I calmly accept it and with my 40 pound duffle bag slung over my shoulder and my painting delicately in hand, walk down to where I thought he pointed.

After 10 minutes on the wrong line the gentleman at this particular window is very accommodating ands starts giving me people’s names to contact and office doors to knock on. I decide to just go back to my guy at check in, plead ignorance and frustration and try my chances.
Poor decision.
I schlep my 40 pound bag back to the check in desk where the guy insists I get the documentation I need. My previously unflappable cool has given way to a very obvious frustration which I am sure doesn’t bother him because he doesn’t really speak English which shouldn’t even bother me because I am in ArgenFrigginTina.
Finally he learns that he needs to tell me to go to the police depot, which is located 1000 yards past the wrong place I went to last time, in baggage claim inside of a suitcase, under a bridge, guarded by a fleet of magical unicorn-riding trolls.
Well, it might as well have been anyway.
So back I go carrying pack over my shoulder like I’m a lost mortician hauling a dead body to the incinerator.
I finally find a man who asks me if I have a painting, I tell him yes. He gives me an acknowledging nod and shows me into a room. When I get into that room 4 men in uniforms (with no guns or any other type of official thing on them) tell me I am in the wrong room.
So I walk out and the same man who told me to go in sees me, walks me back in, tells the 4 guys in uniform what I am doing. They nod their heads that I am, in fact, in the correct room.
So another non-English speaking man comes out and asks me where I bought my painting. I tell him. He asks for my receipt, I tell him I don’t have one. He then says I can’t take the painting on the plane.
As though this guy was the last line of defense against art thieves in Argentina. Surely no thief would try to get on a plane without a receipt for his stolen painting! In hindsight I am pretty sure I could have written “Rich bought this…no seriously, he did” on a piece of paper and it would have sufficed.
The guy insists I can not leave the country with my painting.
He was acting like I was standing there with a dead Alpaca full of exotic birds and needle drugs. It was a damn painting. I bought it at the market. How does this not suffice?!
Finally he brings in an English speaking woman who knows I am about to start kicking people, and calmly explains that if I undo the 10 dollar wrapping job I have on my painting and show it to the man, AS A FAVOR (they really emphasized that) they will let me take it with me.
But they really wanted me to know that this was only a favor.
A favor really? Ok well I’ll make sure the next time this turd waffle is trying to leave America with something he rightfully owns, I’ll do him the favor and let him. What the hell?
He hands me a box cutter so I can undo the protective wrapping on my painting. Immediately I realize these employees are not cut of the finest cloth because they know I am visibly pissed, yet they still decided to hand me a weapon.
So it takes me 5 minutes to undo the green cellophane around my painting and when I finally show it to them, I swear to you, and I can’t prove that they said this;
“Oh yea that is nice.”
”Yea it’s beautiful.”
But I can’t prove that.
They say it’s ok that I can rewrap it and the man will walk me over to check in to vouch for me, because apparently we are now BFFs.
So I rewrap it, which is kind of like trying to rewrap your Christmas presents after you’ve already torn off the paper. In fact when I finish trying to put it back together, it looks like it was wrapped by a 5 year old.
I walk all the way back to check in desk and walk to the front of the line, because I am NOT about to wait on that crap again. And if somebody had challenged me about it, it would have been sad, but I would jammed my painting in their eye.
My new friend says my painting is NOT in fact stolen, and belongs to me.
As though if I had shown him Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and pinky promised I had bought it at the market, he would have cleared this as well.
Idiots.
I eventually made it through security but I was so frazzled I wanted to just sit down on the floor of duty free and crack open a bottle of Blue Label. But I didn’t. I came home, and so did my painting, undamaged, and in tact.
It now hangs happily above my bar. Which is appropriate, because I need a drink every time I think of what it took to get that painting home.



The Iceland Cometh

One of the things Buenos Aires also had to offer was a man from Iceland named Ragna. When I met Ragna the first night he was nice enough for about 40 minutes. Then he started talking more... a lot more. So much more that I took to staring straight up into the sky to avoid participating in the conversation.
One hopes to meet cool interesting friendly travelers on the roof of a hostel, not people who lecture about how great Obama is and the quality of Bush's decisions and the world economy and the Icelandic sunset schedule and life in Oregon and how to bargain and blah blah blah.
I came close to leaping off the roof, but instead 4 of us, including Ragna went to dinner. Thank god I had somebody else to talk to.
The next night we are all sitting on the roof drinking chatting and eating empanadas at midnight when we decide its time to go out, because people don’t leave until after midnight. So a couple of Americans, Ragna from Iceland, a Polish chick, and an Israeli dude head out for some drinks. We are enjoying ourselves when Ragna starts getting a little strange.
He orders a Cubra Libra (because apparently its 1988) and then sends it back. He orders another and then sends that one back. I say something like, ¨Man I guess they make bad drinks here huh? ¨
What Ragna must have heard was,
¨I HATE YOUR COUNTRY AND BJORK AND ALL ELSE IT PRODUCES! ¨
Ragna starts saying to me, ¨Do you have a problem with that? Do you? Do you have a problem with me?¨
I do a double take with another American to see if Ragna is kidding but we are both not sure. It happens again and I kind of joke it off because I’m not sure what is going on.
We finally get our bill and he asks me if I want to pay for his drinks as a sign of friendship. I'm not sure what kind of crazy America-Iceland treaty exists in his world but the last thing I want to buy for this maniac is a drink. I attempt to politely decline which seems to put him off.
He then casually says, ¨Oh its nothing, I’m on coke.¨
WHAT?
Now my knowledge of drugs is equal to my knowledge of Spanish but ít didn’t look like he was on coke. Or so I thought. As it turns out, apparently as we were sitting at our table drinking Ragna had been not so discreetly giving me the finger the whole time, which I didn’t notice. So we all leave to go to another bar, and the other American and I hang back and just let Ragna and crew keep walking off into the night.
Peace out.
So the 4 of us are at a bar now where Poland and Israel are working on their international relations and the other American who speaks Spanish is sitting in a director’s type chair talking to some Argentinean women. I sit down next to him and since I don’t speak Spanish I just sit there like I’m Regis Philbin´s crappy fill in co-host.
We got home at 6 in the morning.

Fast forward to my last morning in Uruguay. I flee on another grey morning. I go through customs where the nice people ask me questions that go like this.
"Habla Espanol?"
"No"
"None?"
I'm not sure if they were expecting me to burst into Spanish here and say something like, "AHH Just kidding. I love messing around with South American customs officials. I really got you guys huh?"
I take the 3 hour boat back to Buenos Aires and check back into the same hostel. It is amazing how some hostels become these ever evolving families of people coming and going. I slide right back into the sway of things. Right away I make sure I book tickets to 2 events.
The first event is a Tango show. Tango has its roots in Buenos Aires when it was first danced by the immigrants, and there being not enough women it was danced man on man. (Can you imagine how different Dancing with the Stars would be if THAT didn't change.)
I go with a bunch of other folks from the hostel to a very dodgy neighborhood called Boca. The show is very Disney, there are characters that walk around, and even a town drunk. Though considering the show went on for close to 3 hours I began to wonder if he was in fact "acting."
We have a decent dinner where a tango couple come around and take pictures with people. One of the guys at my table refuses to take a picture with the tango woman. I can understand though. I too find it offensive when strange exotically dressed women who don't speak my language ask to take a picture with me while throwing their leg around me like a sash. Yea, what a turn off.
There is something about me folks. At large group gatherings there is something about me that makes the players in these events search the crowd, find my goofy face and pull me out to play along. It happened with the Big Foot show in Orlando, the Hula Dancers in Hawaii, and of course the Tango Show in Bs As.
So I get pulled out onto the floor to dance tango with this woman who keeps screaming "PASSION" at me and while she is leading I am trying desperately to keep up. She then jumps into my arms and has me spin her around while screaming, “DO YOU WANT TO BE MY BOYFRIEND?”
I was pretty sure I was going to get dizzy and fall down or accidentally drop her. Luckily I survived and so did she.
The next day I went to a traditional Gaucho ranch. These were the original lonely cowboys of Argentina. The place has horse rides, a huge Asado and a little show.
I had been really interested to go to this and kept asking the people at my hostel front desk to look up shows for me. But I kept mixing up the word for Gaucho Ranch with the word for Parking Lot. So I kept saying to the desk
"Can you book me a reservation for the parking lot? I really want to ride horses around the parking lot."
You can imagine the look they gave me. This happened at least 4 times.
So I go to the Estancia and ride horse. My horse is friendly and doesn't really follow directions. There is a photographer walking around taking pictures of us on the horses. My horse refuses to pose and walks away so this woman is screaming at me.
"STOP STOP, STAY RIGHT THERE!"
Are you kidding me? I am not a centaur. Contrary to what you may think, this horse is not just an extension of me, it is its own animal and I do not speak horse. He just ignores her. I do too.
I also quickly realize why nobody wears shorts while riding a horse. If I could pick any word to describe riding a horse in shorts that word would be Chafe.

We have a massive lunch where I eat blood sausage. It tastes exactly how it sounds.

So we finally get out of there and head back to the hostel. I change my clothes and head to a 9 course tasting dinner with another American.

We had some ceviche, some goat cheese foam, some caramel apple and lots of other things but there are 2 that really kind of stuck out in my head.

The first was the lamb. It was 2 small pieces. I have only had lamb a handful of times. But this lamb was unlike any I had ever had. It was tender, and the texture was incredible. The taste was outrageously good. I was in love with it.

I tell the waiter it was my favorite. And he asks me if I know what part of the lamb it was, which I don' t. So he tells me.

It was tongue. Lamb tongue. And it was goooood.

The other dish that figured prominently in the meal was the octopus with tomato air. The tomato air was essentially bubbles that tasted not so awesome and the octopus well... I am not a squid or octopus fan.

And this octopus isn't even deep fried. I don't so much look at it I just pop a large pink piece into my mouth and start to chew... and chew... and chew. And then I look down in my bowl to actually examine my meal. And I see the suction cups. And I realize why I don't like it.

It tastes like I am eating a rubber bathtub mat. I feel like one should not eat anything found in a bathroom.
Luckily my last 2 meals in Buenos Aires were steak, and lots of it. Seeing as I am back in New York now I am already going through withdrawal. I crave to feel the feelings I felt in Buenos Aires.
Maybe I will go out and buy a steak... or maybe I'll just go chew on my bathtub mat.

You're A Gray

So my last night in Buenos Aires there was this big rumor about some drum show that was going on. I didn't know much about it except that everyone was talking about it like Jesus had risen from the dead, and taken up the bongo.

JESUS ON THE BONGO, ONE NIGHT ONLY.

So myself and the other 15 or so kids from my hostel leave like a heard of cattle and go to this drum show near... I don't know what. We wait on line for about an hour before we enter this outdoor arena with a huge orange iron staircase. We stand outside drinking over sized beers and waiting for the fun to start. Finally around 8 a group of 20 or so drummers come out stage and fire up the music.

It was awesome, bongos, and all manner of percussion being banged and hit on, heavy thumping beats, dancing, and laughing. Culture gyrating and mixing like a drum smoothie. It was awesome. We then went out to dinner afterwards where I waited an hour to get a plate of uncooked ham and cheese and salami. It was salty but tasty.

I did wake up in the middle of the night thinking that I REALLY wanted to return all of the food I purchased. However, I was able to hold on to my purchases.

The next morning I wake up and pack up my crap to get a cab to the port to take a boat to Uruguay. So I get up to the counter at the port and the man says, "Do you have your passport."

I literally scream, "FUCK!"

Counter guy then says to me, "You can't leave the country without your passport."

Oh really Columbus? Thanks for the hot tip, I was hoping I could get into Uruguay with a package of Duty Free Mentos and my charming smile, but I'll go back and get my passport.

Jerk.

It's 10 am and I'm trying to catch and 11:30 am boat. So I shlep my shit and hop back in a cab driven by an old white haired dude with awesome posture. Immediately this guy punches the gas and we are off and flying. He pauses at a red light to offer me a cough drop. I figure why not, so I take his mentholly goodness.

Light turns green and my driver starts weaving through Buenos Aires like a Geriatric Steve McQueen. It is awesome, he's honking, shifting, cutting people all off, and still able to say the rosary and kiss his beads as we pass the churches. He never loses his cool, he never changes his perfect posture. He even offers me a cigarette. Perhaps he thought maybe his driving might cause me to crave a nicotine addiction at this point in my life.

So we hit the hostel, I grab my passport from the safe, and make it back to the boat with plenty of time to spare.

I take the one hour boat to Uruguay. Go through customs, which is basically a guy who shrugs when I show him my passport. I try and store my bag at the bus station but nobody speaks English so I end up paying this woman at the cafeteria 3 dollars to keep it behind the counter.

I walk around Colonia which is a UNESCO world heritage site. To be honest I really don't know what that means, but I'm starting to think that just means that a place is really old with no other tourist options. I spend a couple hours, snap some pictures, have some pizza and Uruguayan wine which tastes like grape ocean water.

Mmm grape ocean water.

I take a 3 hour bus ride to Montevideo. Another white knuckler since I don't know how to convey that I don't know where we are going. All I can say is,

"At what time... Montevideo?"

So I get to the... I don't want to say 1 horse town, because I saw at least 12 different horse drawn carriages on the street in the 36 hours I spent there. So I go to dinner. I go to bed.

I try to sleep but between the Israeli kid who snores, and our bedroom door which doesn't... what's the word... close. Our balcony door doesn't close either. And because its a windy night the wind makes our bedroom door slam close like an angry pubescent teenager leaving the house on a friday night.

There is nothing more awesome than being woken up at 2 am by a slamming door to realize you have slat marks in your side from the worlds awfullest bunk bed and now you can't fall back asleep because of the snoring Israeli and you lost 3 of your earplugs so all you can do is jam one earplug so far into your head that whats left of your brain starts squeezing out the other side.

I wake up, go for a walk on a cloudy day, get a sunburn. Have lunch, eat ice cream. Finish a book, sit in a hammock, have a giant asado (grill) where I eat like 6 different kinds of meat... twice.

I hang out with an Irishman and a tool bag 20 year old from Washington. The Irishman buys a round of drinks, I buy a round of drinks. and then I realize why I never buy drinks for 20 year olds... they don't return the favor.

Toolbag.

I would like to tell you more but I am really not sure what happened to my one earplug so I must go and make sure I actually took it out... 2 days ago.

McGruff Goes to Argentina

Welcome to sunny Buenos Aires, where the culture is rich and the sidewalk is a frigging minefield. In all honesty it looks like the city suffered an anvil storm about 3 years ago because every 20 feet there is a MASSIVE hole in the sidewalk. They are not repaired so much as they are just kind of filled in with rocks, or not filled in at all. I trip every 8th step. I have twisted each ankle so many times I´m surprised my feet haven´t started facing different directions.

So I got into Bs As (that is how you abbreviate it) and caught a shuttle into town. Going through customs was a lot easier and I didn´t have to pay the 135 dollars I had to pay to get into Chile. I´m still not sure why they charge people that. It´s like they said, ¨Hey we don´t have too much cool stuff here how do we get more people to come? Charge them!¨

So I clear customs behind a man who when he was asked if he was from the United States he shivered like he had just put his thumb in a socket. Turns out he was from France. Yea I wouldn´t like it if somebody screwed it up for me either.

So I check into my hostel and go out for a stroll. I want a slice of Pizza and since Bs As has a tremendous amount of Italian culture (half the people here have at least 1 Italian relative) I find myself a place to have a slice. Good, tasty, delicious. I walk for a while and decide I want another. So I go to another place, and seeing as my Spanish is what it is... I accidentally order a whole pizza.

Now I watched the guy put it in the oven, but I couldn´t very well stop him at that point because all I would have been able to say was

¨No no, one pizza, ONE pizza.¨ So I just paid for it and ate most of the damn thing.

Bs As is beautiful and old and diverse and a little dirty. There are so many unique neighborhoods and places to eat and the shopping is incredible. So many neat and different stores. It is still probably 90 degrees out but I love it. I don´t know what the temperature is in New York and I don´t want to know.

So my second day I take a gorgeous stroll along their revamped Puerta Madero area which converted all of these old shipping building into trendy lofts and restaurants with a beautiful promenade.

I was needing a snack so I went and got an empanada. I couldn't really understand the menu, but they had something called Bife Suave, which I interpreted to mean Slow Beef... or Handsome Beef. Either way it sounded tasty. So I ordered my Handsome Beef Empanada and it was good.

I then went and found an ice cream place and ordered a cone. For you Spanish speakers out there you might know that the word for ice cream cone and the word cucaracha are damn close. I am just glad I got what I intended.


The woman then proceeded to scoop and pry a pile of ice cream the size of a bean bag chair out of the freezer. I worried that perhaps I had accidentally ordered 10 ice cream cones. It took her no less than 5 minutes to get the chair sized scoop out, but I did not complain.

I then took a 4 hour bike ride around the older parts of the city really getting a feel for the city, the immigrant neighborhoods, the new yuppy buildings etc. The city has a lot to offer.

This is where I was about to tell you a story about something that happened over 2 days but for safety reasons I will jump ahead in my story and skip this part for now. You will understand later.

The next morning I go to the San Telmo market which is full of antiques and art and local creations, lots of locals, lots of tourists, lots of walking really close to people. Places like that always make me a little concerned.


I´m always very cautious, I wear a money belt, don´t carry a wallet and keep my head on the swivel. So I´m walking enjoying soaking it up when I feel a woman walk uncomfortably close to me, and my spider sense starts tingling. I keep my eye on her and she just looks shifty. She´s too tan to be a tourist, her backpack is conspicuously empty, also meaning she´s not a tourist, and she wasn´t with friends.

So I don´t think of it until I see her again, 5 feet away from me, standing next to some German couple and she is definitely eyeing his wallet. She moves in close behind him and turns to look around. That´s when I hit her with the crook eye and she froze and tried to play it cool.


But I just kept staring at her. She stood there looking uncomfortable. I warned the German couple but realized I couldn´t just follow this chick all day. I´m not batman, I´m not polizia. And I can´t report her for being sketchy. I don´t know how to say that in Spanish. Hell if people went to jail for being sketchy I´d be serving a life sentence right now.

So I just walked away knowing that chick was probably going to get someones wallet, but like Smokey the Bear says, ¨Only YOU can prevent creepy locals from picking pockets in the markets of Argentina while you´re on vacation.¨


I was wearing my Tampa Bay Devil Rays hat this day (Thanks Grandpa) and it had provoked a couple of conversations. While at the market, a woman approached me and asked me if I spoke English (which I do) and then asked me if I was from Tampa.

Long story short she takes a picture of me and her husband and says;

¨Tell your grandpa that you met someone in Argentina who works for the Devil Rays... my husband´s the General Manager.¨

Unbelievable.

So I walked around a bunch more, bought some things, and looked over more stuff as the San Telmo market devolved into stinky hippies selling stuff they made and burning incense. I walked over to the wealthy Recoletta neighborhood and another market.

At this point I was starving so I sat down at an outdoor cafe to have lunch at like 5pm. Every meal I have had I have either been way too early or way too late for, as much as I try to blend in with the locals I cant eat dinner at midnight, go to bed at 2, and be ready for lunch at noon.

So I sit down and in my fake Spanish order something I thought looked good. My waiter, a dead ringer for Daddy Warbucks, comes over and when I tell him what I want says a bunch of stuff in Spanish and turns to a different page in the menu.

I guess he didn´t want me to have what I ordered.

So I look on the page he turned to and point to something fairly priced that says Especial in front of it. Especial? Well that must be good! He seems delighted by my choice. He brings me my half bottle of wine (which is something very prevalent down here, its way better than just one glass) and gets my setting all put together.

Then I understand why he smiled.

He brings me out what appears to be a fully grown adult cow. And I realize, I ordered the steak for 2. It doesn´t even come on a plate, its comes on a miniature grill because they want to keep it warm as I eat my 437 ounces of beef. Well, when in Buenos Aires...

I am no longer capable of burping, I try to burp but all I can do is... well... Moo.

I saw the Cemetaria Recoletta which is home to the richest families in Buenos Aires. These massive mausoleums are unreal. It is like a tiny walled-in city, but instead of every one living in massive homes, they live in these massive stone closets, and instead of living, they are dead.

Its kind of weird to catch yourself leaning against one and then go, OH MY GOD I AM LEANING ON A DEAD PERSONS HOUSE.

I saw Evita's grave. Didn´t take a picture because it seemed too creepy.


The next day I went to the Zoo, did shopping in SoHo (they have one too) and had another salad to combat my beef-itis.

There is much more to tell but I am tired, I have to prepare myself for a big day of fighting crime and ordering 2 meals at a time. Ciao Ciao.

Foosbeach

One of the problems with not knowing Spanish in a Spanish speaking country is transportation. Riding the metro is easy enough. Especially when its as beautiful as it is in Santiago. Taking a three hour bus ride to the coast however, is another story.

I was on my way to Quintero for a couple days at the ocean. I went to the bus station and bought a ticket for what was called the ´Direto¨. I thought that meant it would go directly to the beach and I could just get out there.
No, apparently direto means that the bus will pick up every single person on the highway with their thumb out, and make tons of stops in random towns. The whole trip was a white knuckle adventure for me because I didn´t know what the destination looked like and more and more people were getting off the bus. Finally at the last stop there were just 3 people left when we pulled up to a dirt field where people were riding horses, luckily my stop was the next one.

So I get out, take a taxi to the beach. The taxi, like every single taxi I have been in since I started my trip, was of course a Toyota Yaris. (You could start a clever side business Sophie) I get to the beach and am greeted by a lovely German girl who works at the hostel which is just a cute pair of houses steps from the beach.
So I drop my stuff, slather on a ton of sun tan lotion and go for a stroll along a dark sanded beach. Of course I put the lotion on myself so I couldn´t reach every spot. So there is a very red bat-shaped rhombus in the middle of my back now. Perhaps I should have gone against my instincts and said to Angie ¨Hey we´ve just met, but hows about you rub some lotion all over me?¨ Yea perhaps so.

The first night a bunch of people from all over checked in and we had a pirate party. Most of you know I do not need a reason to act ridiculous. Drinking in itself is enough of a reason. So as you can imagine, dressing as a pirate while drinking the local favorite Pisco, did nothing to subdue me. If anything it added to the nonsense because I was able to buy an eye patch in town. This was only kind of cool, because while I got to end every sentence with ¨ARRRR¨ I also kept walking into shit.

So by the time 1 am came, and we´d had some drinks, and I was trying to shoot pool, while wearing an eye patch... well, let´s just say we never finished that game.

The next morning I tried surfing in an ocean with an extremely powerful undertow. Our surf instructor was face down on the beach when we met him. He also didn´t speak English. He was very friendly though and I had a Mexican friend with me who helped translate. That however did not enable me to do any real surfing.
I did a lot of paddling, a bit of flailing, and some partial drowning. And then my cord broke and my surf board floated away. So I watched as the locals on the beach laughed at the skinny pale kid trying to run after his surf board which was moving way faster than him. It was around this point that I stepped on a sharp sea creature... or a steak knife... it really could have been either one. So I pretty much lost at surfing

We then went into town, got some groceries so our Mexican friend could cook us a feast. When we got back we played paddle ball and volleyball. I lost at volleyball as well. So I had pretty much lost at every activity I had played. So for that nights Mexican feast (we all dressed as banditos) we headed down to the bar and I tried to redeem myself at pool. Once again I lost.
All of a sudden someone from the hostel comes up to me and tells me these two Chilenos want to play me in Foosball or what they call, ¨TAKKA TAKKA¨ (say it out loud, its fun).

I honestly thought I was about to get hustled. Like this was some sort of a scam. Hey, get the gringo with the bat-shaped rhombus on his back to play Foosball, we´ll take him for every peso he has. I was even more skeptical when before I event agreed to play these kids are betting. They wanted me and the Australian kid who I´d been paired up with to bet them beers. So I said OK.

It is at this point that I must reference my senior year in college when we had a Foosball table in our house. This is one activity I do not suck at. Those Chilenos bought us some beers after a rousing game which we won 5 to 1, then they won the second game, but the third game we claimed in the name of of the pale folk! They had raised the stakes at this point so we were playing for empanadas! We felt bad taking their money though, so we just kept their pride. It felt good.
I woke up the next morning with a considerable amount of mosquito bites on my feet and hands and arms. There is one on my finger so big that it looks like I am wearing a flesh colored engagement ring.
Not cool.
Hopefully I don´t get yellow fever, but there´s really no guarantees in life.
I jumped into town around noon to go back to Santiago and got right on a bus which said ¨Direto¨ and this bus stopped at every street for about an hour. I was nervous I would never make it back to Santiago. Also when I got on the bus the driver handed me a tiny key which I said wasn´t mine, then he said something which I pretended meant it was for the bathroom. So I kept it.
As you can imagine my Spanish is still nonexistent. I only know 2 phrases, and ¨Please don´t molest me¨ has turned out to be only slightly more useful than ¨My wife is an engineer.¨
So I get back to Santiago, crash for the night, go to the airport the next morning and fly to Buenos Aires super early. I will tell you about Buenos Aires as soon as my rhombus heals.

JFK to Nowhere

Normally when someone goes on an exotic international adventure they start with some crazy tale of how they almost didn´t make it.

My tale will be no different.

My flight left on Friday at 10 am from JFK airport... or so I thought. Turns out I was leaving from LaGuardia... which I didn´t realize until I was already at JFK. So clad in my beachwear I ran outside (where the temperature was 8) to wait for a bus that didn´t come, got in a taxi, and while suffering the worst case of hypertension of my life, made it to LaGuardia airport to catch my flight to Atlanta, where I hung out for 2 hours before catching my flight to Peru, which left late, leaving me 15 minutes to get to my gate to catch my flight to Santiago.
As we are getting off the plane the flight attendant gets on and goes, ¨There are 2 people going to Santiago Chile, Joe shmo and Richard...¨

Dramatic pause

¨Boomka.¨
Hey that´s me! So me and my special attendant SPRINT through the Lima airport to catch my plane... and sit on it for 45 minutes before it took off... without my luggage.
Yea my bag didn´t make it until about 12 hours after I did. Oh well.

So I have spent the last 3 days in sunny Santiago (where it is about 90). It is somewhat blended city of no real skyline and an atrocious poo colored reservoir that runs through the middle. As well as an ungodly amount of large, depressing looking dogs who just lay in the middle of the sidewalk like they just got laid off. And don´t say awww because most of them look like they got the mange.

But despite all this I was excited to get out into the city and hone my Spanish skills.
I probably should have ACQUIRED some Spanish skills first because nobody in this city speaks English. My communication has been reduced to a series of awkward shrugs, confused pointing, and caveman like grunting. It´s actually kind of embarrassing that I can´t communicate better. This is by far the least English speaking country I have ever come across. I wouldn´t say this is a beautiful city necessarily but it is interesting.

My first night the hostel had an all meat barbq on the roof and I ate so much meat I expect to pass a fully formed cheesesteak at some point in the near future. I met some Aussies and some Brits and we went out and drank some Cristal. Not the champagne mind you, but the local beer. That and Escudo, both very drinkable. We got home from our dance party at around 3 am and I slept til almost noon, which is fine, because nothing really happens in this city until then.
I spent the next day at the city´s museums. I went to a Chilean History museum which essentially said this on every exhibit;

¨The indigenous people did this. Isn´t it interesting? Yea we don´t know why they did that.¨ 

Apparently early Chileans snorted a lot of drugs but nobody knows how they got them.

I checked out the modern art museum which had an entire floor dedicated to Chilean Comics... since I don´t really speak Spanish the whole thing was pretty much wasted on me. I also checked out the home of poet Pablo Neruda, where my guide was like a pint size version of the latter half of Cheech and Chong. His moustache was not to be reckoned with but he was by far one of the coolest people I have ever encountered and the tour was all the more awesome because of him.

I had a great lunch of Salad (I figured I could use the roughage after my all meat binge) and a glass of fresh strawberry juice. Delightful. I have so far avoided the local custom of a Hot Dog loaded with Mustard, Ketchup, and Avocado.

Oh my god I almost threw up just typing that.

Anyway today myself and some good kids from MIT went wine tasting at 2 different vineyards. It was way out of the way, and thank god I was with them because the power of 5 people not knowing Spanish was way better than my own incompetence. We squeezed 5 people into a cab several times, including on the way to a restaurant our cab driver did not recognize so he kept stopping and asking strangers on the street where it was eliciting the exact same reaction every time. They would extend their arm all the way as though they were pointing to the moon and presumably tell him to just keep going.

It ended up being worth it because my bacon wrapped steak, which was roughly the size of a duffel bag, was awesome. The vineyards were beautiful, decent wines, but I didn´t find any I wanted to take with.

Tomorrow morning I will abandon this city for the coast, 2 and a half days at Quintero to just chill and read and do squat. I cannot wait.

But before I go, my first horrible experience of the trip.

I did not sleep very well last night. Well I did from about 12:30 until 3:30 when I awoke with a shock to the awful sound of a family of sea lions being slaughtered. No no, no sea lions in my room. It was just the chubby German in the bunk across from mine wheezing and snoring like he was running some kind of comatose marathon.

At first I thought he had managed to accidentally slip his closed fist into his mouth and was trying to breathe around it. Then I was almost positive his entire arm had become lodged in his esophagus. This was excessive sleep apnea. Every snore got louder and louder until I was sure he was either going to wake up, or choke.

I have to admit I was sitting there praying for choke. But nothing happened it just got louder and louder. I wanted to throw something at him, or roll him over... or beat him to death, regretfully I did nothing. And so I spent a considerable amount of time listening to what evolved into him breathing through a mouthful of wet spaghetti. Hands down the most awful snoring I have ever heard. God help him if he is still there tonight.

To the Beach!

Taking Shots

How much would you pay somebody to stab you?
Probably nothing right? If anything you would probably ask to be compensated for being stabbed. And you most certainly would not go out of your way to be stabbed. You’d probably avoid it at all costs.
Normally I would be like you. But I recently paid 290 dollars to be stabbed. Not once, but FOUR times. Twice in each arm, by my doctor. It was almost a deal at 75 bucks a stab.
I leave this Friday for South America. I’m taking a two week vacation to Chile, Argentina, and possibly Uruguay. Apparently South America has diseases and stuff that I need to be protected against. Of all the countries I’ve visited before, these are the only ones I’ve been vaccinated for prior to traveling.
I think it was probably a good idea considering there was a 4 year stretch of my life where I got Mononucleosis, Strep, and Shingles in rapid succession… and that was just in college! If you add my time in Spain, Turkey, and Australia to the list you can include Bed Bugs, Salmonella, and some kind of weird rash.
So I’m pretty determined to ward off disease on this trip.
I went to my appointment with my nice, but slightly socially awkward doctor. He asks me where I’m going and types the names of the countries into his computer database.
“Ok Hepatitis A, you’ll need. And Hepatitis B. And let’s see here, Tetanus booster. And Yellow Fever. You’re going to Buenos Aires and where else? You’re not going to any of the…” and he rattles off the names of like 5 different regions of Argentina. And because I haven’t done as much research as I should have, I haven’t ever heard of any of them. I half lie and half guess that I won’t be going to those regions.
“Oh yea, umm, no just going to hang out around Buenos Aires,” I say, completely lying to my doctor.
Then doctor says “And here’s the good news…”
At this point he chuckles but then kind of catches himself realizing he might have said the wrong thing.
“Well not really good news, but, um, none of these are covered by insurance.”
Of course not. (Smooth delivery on the joke by the way Doc) Why the hell would yellow fever be covered by insurance? I suppose if insurance were around during the renaissance period, insurance companies would have been like, “Oh yea the Black Death, oooo we don’t cover that. Not deadly enough.”
How much do they cost Doc?
“Their all around 100 dollars each.”
My butt cheeks instantly clench and my heart rate goes into over drive. Shit. I’m going to go broke before I even get to South America.
“What was that third country you are going to?”
Now I’m in full on panic mode. I can’t afford any more shots! I’m being inoculated against half the diseases in South America, could I really need any more? Do I want any more?
“Oh,” I say, “it’s Uruguay, but I wasn’t even really set on going there, I was just going to go for a day and if I need more shots I’ll just skip it,” once again straight up lying to my doctor.
My heart is out of control and I contemplate the consequences. I made it through 10 days of Montezuma’s revenge in the Mediterranean, how bad can Typhoid fever be? I mean really, do I even know anybody who has ever had Typhoid? I’m sure if it was something to worry about I would have heard more stories.
If I go to Uruguay or anywhere else, I just won’t eat or touch anything. I’ll Purel the hell out of everything before I touch it. I won’t eat any fruit, and I promise not to hold or lick any frogs.
But luckily I don’t need anymore shots. So we go into the stabbing room and I take off my shirt, and doctor comes in with 4 different viles.
Really doctor? You can’t mix a couple of those together like a Hepatitis smoothie or something? Do you really have to shove 4 different needles in my arms? He picks up one vile looks at it and says, “Oh this ones not right.” And he leaves to go get the correct bottle.
My heart, again, goes wild.
He comes back in with the correct vile, “It was on the wrong shelf, they had it on the wrong shelf.”
Well it’s a good thing you read the label doctor because if you had injected me with Avian Chicken Mutaba and I had died I don’t think the “Wrong Shelf Defense” would have worked in a court of law.
Then he asks me which arm I want to hurt more?
Oh this one doctor, please, give me pain here! I opt for 2 in each arm, so I have my pain equally distributed and won’t have to walk around the office like Quasimodo with one arm hanging dead at my side.
He gives me that awkward laugh again before saying, “Um, ha-ha, you’re going to be in pain tomorrow.”
I hate you. Do you know that doctor?
So he stabs me once, twice, puts a band aid on. Walks around to the other side, stabs me once, twice, and puts a band aid on. He then gives me a yellow card with some epileptic scribbling on it and tells me not to lose it otherwise, “They won’t let you back into the country.”
Thanks doctor. Good piece of info there. You’d think that would have been included in a pamphlet he gave me, and not just a side note like, “don’t forget your vitamins.”
The rest of the evening the pain in my arms starts to come on, the soreness is setting in. I go to sleep and hope for the best.
By the time I wake up the next morning it feels like a gang of monkeys had been pounding on my arms throughout the night and I had somehow managed to sleep through it.
The pain is numbing. If I don’t move my arms it’s almost bearable. But if I try to move my elbows even close to parallel the pain in my arms almost bring tears to my eyes. I considered wearing the same outfit for three days straight just so I wouldn’t have to lift my arms above my head to take off my sweater.
The pain feels like somebody is trying to pull my arm bones out through my shoulders without making an incision.
Sitting, standing, leaning, and walking are all painful. The only position that seems appealing to me is “crumpled heap.”
I consider drugs, but don’t want to numb myself so that I accidentally cause more damage. I just want the pain to go away as soon as possible.
The knowledge that I did this to myself doesn’t really make it any better, nor does thinking about what would have happened had I forgotten to go to the doctor before I left.
Really I won’t know if these shots were worth it until I come back to America disease free. But if I come back with Typhoid, I’ll be sure to let you know if it was worth it.

The Wedding

Now I could easily write about how a destination wedding on the coast of California was like a vacation from responsibility and all things remotely adult-like. I could write the ridiculous specifics about how nobody went to bed until after 1 am for four nights in a row, or how we as a group probably set records for alcohol sales in the state of California.

That would be fine and good, and I could probably make you laugh in the process. And before I left for this wedding, I was pretty sure that would be the story I would be writing now.

But I started noticing things over the course of the weekend. And those things were hard to ignore. Sure the wedding was a raging romp full of laughter and hilarity, but sitting in the airport waiting for my flight home I was noticing some thoughts I hadn’t really processed before.

Upon closer inspection of my particular experience in California, I realized that weddings are more than just alcohol fueled dance parties. Weddings are more like lenses. They are mirrors that reflect the aspects of our lives that might be harder to see had we not gathered all of our loved ones in the same place at the same time.
You see the childhood best friend, the parents, brothers, sisters, and grandparents who were there for the formative years of the happy couple, and the people they choose to surround themselves with currently. All of it is a reflection of where they’ve been, and where they are going.

It need not be said that you don’t get to choose your families, but you do get to choose your friends. And just as children say a lot about the kind of people their parents are, the friends you choose aren’t just the people you enjoy, but also representations of the characteristics and traits that you yourself value.

I quickly realized that these people from Washington, Arizona, Indiana, and beyond were more than just guests. They were the actual fabric of the wedding. They were what I was most interested in. All those details that get so much attention before the wedding happens, well they are fine and dandy but they are just the icing on the wedding cake.

I’ll admit that having a wedding in one of the most magnificent parts of the country sets you up for an incredible affair. However, location can only add so much to your wedding. People are always looking at what they think are the important things at weddings. How is the food? Is the bar stocked with choice booze? Is this ceremony going to last longer than an episode of Seinfeld?

Those details that the bride and groom spend hours agonizing over end up being more about how the wedding looks, but they can’t change how the wedding feels. No, the feeling and the emotions of the wedding, those come from the people. And no prime rib, open bar, or seaside view can compensate for that.

Weddings help us view the parts of our lives that we love the most and those that we don’t understand. And destination weddings, those rare events where people come from all across the country, or around the world, are truly unique occurrences. It may sound corny to say, but rarely, if ever, will the bride and groom see all of those people at the same time again.

So every moment you spend with your guests takes on so much more significance. You try to squeeze every possible second out of your time with everyone. You realize that those stereotypical weddings with the electric slide and the drunken toast given by the best man are more theater than celebration.

It is far more moving to watch the brother of the groom struggle through his speech because he’s never had the opportunity to verbalize what his brother means to him. It’s far more emotional to hear a little sister discuss how she can finally pass on her title of “protector” because her big sister is in the hands of a man who will do the job for her.
Watching that emotion push its way out of us is so strangely cathartic.
Regardless of whether or not you cry at weddings, there is something so significant about hearing people crystallize their feelings for each other. Our lives are filled with nods of approval and half-assed hugs. And these feelings of affection live deep beneath the depths of our souls, often growing and swelling without ever having the opportunity to surface.

So when it comes time to look your loved ones in the eye and tell them there is no one like them, that the love you feel for them is something unequaled for any person on the planet, well, it’s no wonder people cry at weddings.

You can fake a lot of things in this life. You can talk all you want about who you think you are and things you are going to be. We can fake strangers into thinking we are doctors, lawyers, or the next American Idol. But it is wonderfully refreshing to see people just being themselves because they know they couldn’t hide it if they tried.

And that’s what weddings should be, a chance for you and the love of your life to invite those that mean most to you on the planet to come together if for only once, to share in an event that is both reunion and rebirth.
Throughout my time in college whenever I would talk to my grandfather he would tell me to study hard and make good marks. Then on the day I graduated college when there was no more studying to be done, and every time I’ve seen him since, he has said “Choose your friends wisely.”

As I barrel through my 20s, it is this advice that I hold closest to my heart. As more of my friends continue theirs paths into adulthood, getting engaged and then married, I’m sure there will be more weddings I will have the opportunity to attend. I’m sure all of them will be beautifully different in one way or another.

So in some regards, this wedding was epic. We laughed so hard we fell out of chairs, and we talked so much we were hoarse for days. But even more than that, seeing up close what it is like when a wedding trades in its spectacle and drama for laughter and love makes me hopeful that one day my friends and family will feel the way I did at Marissa and Josh’s wedding. Indeed, I believe it is all any of us can hope for.

Signs of the Times

As a New Yorker, I have grown quite accustomed to signs throughout the city telling me what to do and how to live my life. Some of them are very important (Trains do not stop at this track) some of them are just plain confusing (No Standing) but they all carry some bit of value.
I realize it is important to read these signs. I read all of the signs that I see. It is because of this that I know that subway litter causes track fires. I always mind the gap, and I typically wait for the little white man to appear before I cross the street. I believe if someone took the effort to craft a sign to educate me about something, it is my duty to abide by it.
That is, until I went to visit my mother in South Carolina.
I was looking forward to a couple of days down south, a little golf, a little southern cooking, and a whole lot of relaxation. I fully expected to be seduced by the slower pace of life, and the southern drawl that infuses every word. And I was, but what I did NOT expect, was to be completely baffled by the signage. I guess when life moves that slow you can both dwell on insignificant details, and completely miss the important ones.
There are actually 2 signs in particular that can pretty much sum up my entire time in the swamps of South Carolina.
My first encounter was at a gated community of my parents’ friends. There is a small fenced-in pool for residents and their guests to use. It was a nice little facility that was quite empty when my mother and I rolled up for a swim. I am always curious how late things are open so I walked over to the pool rules to see what the last swim time was. Imagine my surprise when I saw rule number 6:
Persons with diarrheal illness or nausea should not enter the pool.
For me, if I have either of those things I typically don’t stray far from my favorite toilet. But I could understand their worries about small children leaving deposits in the pool. I guess nothing should be taken for granted. However rule 7 kicked it up a notch:
Persons with skin, eye, ear, or nasal infections should not enter the pool.
Isn’t this common sense? I know how painful it is when you get chlorine in your eyes, or water stuck in your ear. I can only imagine how it would feel if you had an infection. But the one that took the cake was rule number 8:
Persons with open lesions or wounds should not enter the pool.
Open lesions or wounds? OPEN LESIONS OR WOUNDS? Is this a housing development or a leper colony? Who the hell is walking around with an open lesion thinking to themselves, “Hmm, you know what would feel good right now is the incredible burning sensation of some pool chlorine in my exposed flesh.”
Come on. I am not sure if the pool manager once managed a pool for an amputee hospital or an STD clinic, but I did not feel some of his rules were needed.
I fully expected rule number 9 to say:
Persons with gout, scarlet fever, or the Black Death should also not enter the pool.
But it didn’t.
The other sign that had me wondering was a lot more cut and dry. It was on a local highway from Savannah back to Hilton Head, on a road that had more than a few creepy broken down trailers along its side. And then I saw it. On a big piece of white wood maybe 4 feet in width, written in black spray paint:
FRESH SHIMP
Really? That is your sign? Your entire business is comprised of people seeing your sign and then driving down a dirt road to your apparent “Shimp” stand. Don’t you think you would have taken at least a second glance at it? To be honest, at that point, it really doesn’t matter how amazing your product is, you could have “Magical Talking Shimp” if you cannot even spell the name of your product, it is going to put a serious dent in your drive by customer traffic.
It is not even the spelling mistake that gets me, because we have all stopped something in the middle, walked away from it, and then come back to finish it while forgetting a letter or a word. That is fine. But this did not appear to be a new sign. This sign had been hanging for a while. Literally thousands of people had seen it. The owner had to have seen it every single day.
He must have thought, “Well gosh, I spent 3 minutes spray painting it, and another 2 minutes nailing it to that tree… I couldn’t possibly spend 9 seconds drawing an R into there. No, I will just leave it and hope for the best.”
Hey, if it works for him it works for me. Just don’t expect me to stop my car to support the local economy. Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to check myself for open wounds and lesions.