Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The right decision

Hilton Head Island is a fairly popular vacay destination for moneyed people, but my friend Adam, another AmeriCorps buddy, is actually from the area and has lived there most of his life. I was looking forward to hanging out with him, since he's one of the people I haven't seen since the program ended a few years ago. I got to his apartment and met his dog, who is unfortunately suffering from some kind of mite-caused skin disease that makes the skin all scaly and scabby. Basically it was kind of like a zombie dog, but its not contagious and the dog didn't seem to be in intense pain from the disease. And Adam was having it treated. It was something to do with stress and the dog had recently been moved around a bit, so that's probably what caused the outbreak. Otherwise it was a nice, well-behaved dog that responded well to commands and didn't try to lick me too much, so I was okay with it.

I got to the island a bit later in the day given my drive from Orlando, so Adam and I discussed our options and decided to head toward the mainland movie theatre to catch Hot Fuzz, from the same writer/director combo that made Shaun of the Dead, which was hilarious. Fuzz was no disappointment, either, and neither were the random people all gathered in the little plaza in front of the theatre who were line dance while a band played the electric slide. I felt like we had accidentally walked into someone's wedding reception. But I do love the E-slide, so I couldn't knock it too much. After the movie we headed to a local bar where Adam had once been a bouncer to have a drink. We had some good chatting time and eventually made our way to another bar where Adam's friend Zac was performing.

Now, Zac is a big guy, probably over 3 bills but he was fairly amazing. He was accompanied only by a bongo player and his looping machine. He would play a few riffs on his guitar and then start looping that, then do some beatboxing and loop that in too, and maybe some more rhythms on the guitar and once all that was going, then he'd start to play and sing the actual song. It sounded like a full band playing. He would even sometimes loop his voice and then do his own harmonizing, which was also really impressive to hear. It was pretty stellar to listen to. There was also this really cool oil on canvas painting on the subwoofers in front of the stage that I tried to buy, but Zac was reluctant to part with it without consulting the artist first. I told Adam to pursue it for me after I was gone, so we'll see if I have something to hang up in my apartment in Chicago.

While Zac performed some of Adam's friends came, Beth and Jarrod. Jarrod was a cute guy and we had an enjoyable time talking that night. ;) After Zac had played a bit more, the four of us headed over to another bar called Money Pennies, which wasn't really a bar but a club, of which I guess I must be a member. The benefit of being a club is that it didn't have to close at two with the regular bars. So we ended up staying there until something around 4-5 in the morning. We spent our time mostly playing a bowling arcade game. I won the best of three match, though by the end Adam was the only one still really trying and he was really close. I like to think that some of my mom's good bowler genes must've gotten transmitted down the line. At another point in the evening, a schwasted guy came out of the bathroom and came up behind me and proceeded to wrap his arms around me and pick me up and shake me. I kind of freaked out because it was totally unexpected and I was flailing about saying "Not happening!! Not something you're allowed to do!!" He put me down, but I was very nonplussed for a while. Then later I almost got into a fight with the bartender lady because she wouldn't let a guy go in the women's restroom, despite the fact that the men's toilet was clogged and on the verge of overflowing and spilling shit and piss all over the bathroom floor. They were single use bathrooms, one customer at a time. What's it matter if it's a guy or girl? Just let people pee!

We finally headed home and I laughed as I remembered I had told Adam that I didn't want to stay out really late because the next day's drive was fairly long, up to Hayes, VA and I was supposed to arrive by 5 to go sailing. I thought it would be a 7-8 hour drive, so I planned on leaving in the 8am range to make it by 5, with gas breaks and pit stops and the like. Obviously, that wasn't happening. I slept in a bit, but still got on the road around 10ish. It all turned out to be okay because when I called ahead to Candi to tell her I probably wasn't going to make it for the sailing, she told me that it was okay and the sailing had been cancelled anyway. So I knew that I had made the right decision to stay up drinking, and really, when faced with the options, when isn't the right decision to stay up drinking?

My Hero(es)!

My return trip to Orlando brought me to the University of Central Florida, where my friend Christina is doing an internship for the summer. She's a graduate assistant student at Ball State, studying res life, among other things. It's kind of like running all those things about a university that make it run but that aren't the academics. Just don't call her an RA!

I arrived in time for some dinner action at a local pizza shop where Christina was meeting with some college friends who now teach high school in the area and were getting ready for the graduation ceremony that evening. I was getting myself ready for a far more important step in the advancement of the world: the season finale of Heroes. I was stoked when Christina told me that there was actually a special program that night to watch the show in one of the lounges and get some free eats. In the between time, we drove my car to visitor's parking and then hiked the mile back to the dorm, passing by a disc golf course on the way that Christina hadn't known about. Hopefully she'll take advantage while she's down there. Disc golf is awesome, and that's coming from someone who loathes the actual game of golf.

We had some time before Heroes once we got back to the dorm, so I worked on French and she watched Sex and the City on DVD. When 9 rolled around, we made our way to the lounge and I blissed out to one of my new favorite shows. It was, of course, spectacular, and I'm so interested to see where they'll take it next season, who'll be the new bad guy/new good guys and what their powers'll be. I thought they were really creative this season, like Charlie, the girl who remembered everything and Isaac and his painting the future. I think Christina got a kick out of the fact that I was so happy to watch the show. Afterwards, we went to her office and she showed me some pics of the new boy she had just met and I did some surfing of my own. Like most people who have actual jobs, she had to get up in the morning and go to work, so she headed to bed while I finished up some French work. Before I left in the morning I stopped by her office to say toodles (it was just downstairs from the dorm room) and then I made the trek back to my car. Next stop was Hilton Head, SC, a nice little drive and a chance to get out of Florida.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Land of Panthers and Lesbians

Immokalee (two points if you knew to say im-AH-kuh-lee) is a bit inland of Naples down near the southern tip of Florida. Much of the land there is held in various federal preserves for the rich biodiversity and wetland protection. Much of the land is also being rapidly and extensively developed into retirement communities (average age in Florida: 65). My goal was the Florida Panther National Wildlife Reservation and my friend Eryn, a feisty redhead from my AmeriCorps days. Finding the reservation was a bit tough as it's completely unmarked and you just have to keep an eye out for a break in the fencing that indicates you're at the gate to the houses. The hard part is that you're driving around 70mph because otherwise the people behind you go zipping past, honking all the while. I missed the turn the first time, but the second I was better prepared, and I didn't care about the massive inconvenience I caused the woman behind me, what with the five seconds of her life she lost because I needed to slow down and turn. My bad.

The bunkhouse reminded me a bit of the one that my AmeriCorps team lived in while we were on fire duty in Crown King, Arizona, a little mountain town. This one only had three bedrooms, though, not ten, so it was a bit less crowded. I picked Eryn up, met some of the housemates, and we headed into town. This being a Saturday night and Eryn taking the day off on Sunday, we were planning on hitting the local gay bar. Of course, that would mean chillin' in town until 11 or so when the gays come out to play. So we strolled around, hung out with the hippies and their drum circle in the park for a bit, and got a bite to eat. Chatting with Eryn is always fun, not just because she's usually got some good drama in her life, but because she takes a good attitude about it. And she has a great laugh that trails into a chuckle that's just musical.

So we head to the gay bar, watch the drag performances and meet some of Eryn's friends. The drag performers for the evening include the girl who normally performs and a visiting queen, a big black girl who does the obligatory Tina Turner numbers (Private Dancer, Proud Mary) as well as the non-standard Mo'nique riff about "fat bitches". I love drag queens and I enjoy when they vary their performances from the traditional lip-synch/dance routine and branch out. The black drag queen was also aided by a very unshy lesbian who kept dancing and grinding on her during her songs. She was referred to as "white girl" throughout the course of the night. Between drag shows people danced on the stage, although at first it was only white girl and some older guy who I kind of felt sorry for because he was a) dancing by himself on a near-empty dance floor, b) wasn't overly attractive and c) had a really nice body, which I only saw because he gradually unbuttoned his shirt while dancing by himself. There was something about it all that just said "lonely and a little desperate". Eventually the dancing got really going and Eryn and I cut a rug for a bit before they closed us out and we headed back to the preserve.

Sunday was wonderfully lazy. We slept in, had some breakfast, tooled around, made our way into Naples, checked out the beach/pier, watched the fishermen and their mad attempts to either catch fish or injure pelicans, I saw a dolphin for a second, and we drive around looking at the gaudy and enormous houses in the area. Back at the bunkhouse we had some dinner (personal tortizzas - putting pizza sauce, cheese and whatever toppings you'd like onto a tortilla and either baking or microwaving - very tasty) and grabbed a movie from Eryn's roommate. Now, given that I'm a movie whore, there were only three movies out of maybe 100 that I hadn't seen, so that narrowed it down, and Eryn picked Failure to Launch, which ended up being rather cute. Plus Matthew McConaughey is shirtless a lot, so that was nice. Eryn had to go to bed after to movie because she had to get up in the morning, but I stayed up writing a French composition about globalization and then watch the season finale of Brothers and Sisters with her housemate. Spoiler alert!!! Don't read the rest of the paragraph if you haven't seen it yet!!! I'm so glad that Jason and Kevin finally turned their angry sparks into make-out sparks. That was hot.

The next morning Eryn had already gone, so I packed up and headed off back to Orlando, this time to see Christina at University of Central Florida.

A little Hotlanta love, and some Orlando magic

The drive from Louisville to Atlanta is a fun one, with a lot of up and down in the Tennessee hills that had my ears popping. Traffic in Atlanta itself was ridonculous and it took me an extra couple of hours just to make it to the apartment once I was already in the city. Originally, the Atlanta plan had been to stay with Lem, another Bryan House boy, but he ended up heading off to a wedding. Nicely enough, he arranged for me to stay at his girlfriend Laura's apartment, where Laura's roommate was off in Europe. I had hung out with Laura a bit for Halloween when the boys had headed down to Atlanta to see Lem, since he was the most distantly scattered person at the time (discounting, of course, Adam, who lives in Istanbul, Turkey). Laura had chosen a lovely costume as a fan of a rival college, and had made herself up appropriately, with bad makeup and Billy Bob teeth. It was nice.

Despite my delays, I got in just in time for the season finales of Ugly Betty and Grey's Anatomy, which I was very grateful to catch. Love those shows. I'll miss them this summer. It's going to be a little depressing next year when my grade suffer so that my TV watching doesn't have to. But what can you do? It's an addiction.

Laura headed off to her new CDC job the next morning and I loaded up for another long haul down to Orlando, Florida. A word of warning for anyone traveling to or in Florida by car: the insects are just crazy. Sometimes it sounded like it was raining, there were so many splats on my windshield in rapid succession. I washed my windshield regularly, and it was still horrible. The number of love bugs plastered to my front bumper was just phenomenal. But I made it through the plague and arrived at the house of Justin Greider, and old buddy from high school swimming and band. I had gone to Justin's wedding a few months before and had a great time with him and other high school superstars. Obviously, he was a little busy at the wedding itself, so it was a lot of fun to get to hang out with him one-on-one for a bit down there.

We toured the new neighborhood where he and his wife are building a house, I defended myself against his dogs (though not too much, they were pretty well-behaved), and enjoyed some pizza from a nice little place that's actually a part of the "downtown" of his neighborhood. It's a cool set up, designed to allow people to walk more and not need to drive all over the place to get their basic essentials. There's a grocery store and restaurants, and I would assume a pharmacy, too. It was a neat idea and I'd love to see more of it. But through all of this we chatted about our families, friends in common, old memories and the like. Justin had to pack that night as he was heading off the next day for a conference in Vegas of basically everyone who does anything with malls. He works for a real estate firm that is involved with various mall permutations and so was heading off with his co-workers for some desert fun. Then he would actually be heading back to Indy to see his family for Memorial Day weekend and the Indy 500. His parents are just wacky people that I love to death, so I'm sure he had a good time. Amidst all this Andrea, the wife, returned home from working at a trainer at a spring football game, an event that would have been illegal in Indiana. She was delighted to find left over pizza in the fridge. I call her "the wife" because that's quite literally what Justin calls her. He manages to infuse it with affection and consideration, but it's still a bit startling to hear him just say things like "Wife, did you look up those directions?" He says he has to watch himself in public sometimes because people will think he's being derogatory or disrespectful, but Andrea doesn't even notice and thinks nothing of it. I found the practice charming, almost like the old prairie-style of a husband who would address his wife as "Mother", more as a title of respect and position than a simple designation.

Once he'd finished packing, Justin and the wife headed to bed. Andrea would be gone by the time I woke up, but I got to take Justin to the airport and see him off to Vegas before continuing on my merry way down to Immolakee, near Naples, FL.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Fun, Southern style

The drive from Evansville to Louisville is a short one, only about two hours. However, one has to remember that Indiana went crazy last year and decided to join the whole Daylight Saving Bonanza, which means that while Evansville, IN is on Central time, Louisville is Eastern and an hour ahead. So when I called Carson to find out when would be good for him to meet for lunch, it turned out the best time would be an hour before I was going to arrive. But we made it work. His judge was out for a couple of hours, so it was all good.

Carson's a former housemate of mine from good ole IU. You can check out the zaniness of our lives at It doesn't get updated much anymore, but it's a good reminder of some fun times. Carson left IU to go to Harvard Law school (yeah, I've got smart friends) and is now back in his native city clerking for a federal judge and planning a move to NYC so that he can actually make some money in life. His gf, Maria, will also be heading to The City, so that's convenient. ;)

After lunch, Carson let me head back to his apartment so I could do some French homework and await his day's end. Once he got home, we headed off with Maria to do some shopping. She had some weddings to go to and all of her dresses were either white or black, so she needed something different to wear. Carson and I tooled around on our own and ended up getting Carson some new shirts at Express. They had a sale on pique polos, 3 for $60, so Carson loaded up. When we met back up with Maria, I was amazed to find that her shopping had taken her to the Black and White store, where, you guessed it, the clothes are black and white. Her new dress was gray though, so I guess it counts as new and different. We had dinner at an Irish pub-style place (vegetarian clue: a Welsh Rabbit is just a grilled cheese sandwich, no rabbits involved), and then headed back to Carson's place to watch Lost. I'm rather stoked for the season finale.

Maria headed home and Carson headed to bed. I settled in on the lovely Ashley Furniture couch and slept the night away. Carson headed off to work in the morning and I struggled to understand his shower, finally realizing that the four knobs were actually two sets of controls, one for the bath and one for the shower. I ended up taking a shower that left me standing a foot of water because I left the bath running the whole time. Yeah, I'm not smart.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Straight Trippin'

After a few days at home, I'm heading out again for a nice three week road trip, seeing friends along the way. My first destination was St. Louis, to visit Kerrie Boodt, a friend from Camp Miniwanca, a leadership camp in Michigan that I attend every summer. I didn't leave Indy until fairly late, about 5. My mom just couldn't really understand the idea of just going to someone's house to see them for a couple of hours, going to bed, and driving the next day to a whole new city to spend a few more hours with someone else. But I'm looking forward to it.

Kerrie is a little fireball and I've never been with her and not enjoyed it. She has a dog, Fry, who hates men, but he was staying with Grandma for a while, so I didn't get barked at all night. We headed off to dinner and ended up at a Vietnamese place because I had never had Vietnamese food before. The first two places we were going to go to were closed because it was Monday and I guess things close early on Monday's in the Loo. We talked about the general issues of life, including jobs, boys and futures. My line of the evening, describing the gay beach in Waikiki: Families, people in board shorts, Speedos. There's a hand gesture that goes along with it.

Kerrie might have to be deciding soon to stay in St. Louis or move to Chicago, and I was half-joking that we would make great roommates. Then at the end of the evening, she opens her fortune cookies and it says "You will soon make an important decision." No joke. We both laughed for a solid minute. The universe is funny when it wants to get your attention. And since we were on a destiny kick, when we went back to Kerrie's place, we used her numerology books to figure out my numbers. Turns out I'm a 6 in terms of destiny and a lot of 5s for other things. So far the most accurate astrological things I've ever read about myself have come from a feng shui book I read that told me I was a 1 Water Star, but the numerology was pretty good too. Unfortunately, it couldn't tell Kerrie to move to Chicago and be my roommate, so we went to bed and left it at that.

The following morning had me heading for Evansville, Indiana, after dropping Kerrie's housekey off while she was at lunch. I was supposed to be in Evansville for dinner and it's only about 2.5 hours, so I stopped at a rest area about 30 miles outside the city to relax and do some French homework. It was quite relaxing, really. My friends in Evansville were Laura and Mikey (aka Danger and MacGyver, and she really is and he really is, in case you were wondering). Laura and I met as freshman at IU during a pre-orientation rockclimbing trip. I had a really ugly goatee at the time, which I luckily shaved off before classes started. When I ran into Laura later in the week, she didn't recognize me and I had to convince her it was me.

Danger is definitely one of the most interesting people I know. She's my age, but has had 13 jobs, almost all involving dead or naked people (sometimes dead naked people), has black belt in tae kwon do and just planted berry bushes. Mikey, her husband, could literally build a house from the ground up given the materials. Sometimes I think about all my years of education and I realize that when the apocalypse comes, I will be worthless and Mikey will be the leader of a rag-tag band of survivors, hanging on to life and some semblance of humanity while the rest of us scrounge for scraps and slowly go feral.

We had a bit of pizza out on the town and I got to hear fun stories about Laura's social work clients and their...eccentricities (think peeing on sidewalks and "laser eyes"). When we got home, we discovered that Domino, one of their cats, was waiting for us outside the back door. Domino hadn't been seen since yesterday and some coyote scuffling sounds the night before had raised the Threat Level to Orange, but she was back, much to the delight of everyone, including Mr. Gonk, the other cat of the house. After some mild celebration, we settled in to watch Casino Royale, the newest Bond flick, with Craig Daniels as a blond Bond. It was a pretty rockin' movie and I especially enjoyed the parkour chase scene at the beginning. My brother Gerold had called me a few nights before to recommend watch it and a new movie that's just coming out called Waitress, starring Kerri Russell. So if you have the chance, see both. Gerold claims Waitress is Top 5 Movies, and his judgement is usually fairly solid on matters of taste.

The kids had to work in the morning, so they headed to bed while I had some popcorn and continued watching the first season of Desperate Housewives. I'm loving the show now that I can start at the beginning. Bree has some of the best one-liners. I totally aspire to give dinner parties like her. The morning would see me off to Louisville, Kentucky, and into the arms of my former housemate, Carson. ;)

History All Around

My last day in Hawai'i took me to Pearl Harbor. The museum and memorials there are just amazing, in a heavy, important way. First, the mueseum just has all kinds of interesting artifacts from WWII and the soldiers that were involved, along with a bunch of models and illustrations of everything that happened during the attack. The official tour consists of a 20 minute movie about the attack and then a boat that takes you out to the memorial for the USS Arizona. The Arizona sank in nine minutes when a Japanese bomb penetrated its armoring and exploded in the ammunition cache, literally blowing the ship apart. 1,177 men were lost when the ship went down, nearly half the total of all the people killed during the attack. The ship still rests on the sea floor, with nearly 1000 of the bodies still inside. It remains as a shrine and cemetary for all the men who died that day. Even today, men who survived the attack can be accorded a special honor on their death. Their ashes can be taken down and interred in the Arizona, if they want. Over the ship there is a large memorial building where visitors can look out and see the Arizona just a little bit below the surface of the water. Some parts even still protrude above the water, like the mounting for the rear gun turrett. There's also a wall inscribed with the names of all the men who died on the ship. The optional audio tour that I was listening to included an interview with a survivor of the attack, who described what it felt like to look at the wall and see the names of friends, people that he knew, to see faces in his mind that go along with the names. It was powerfully sad and moving.

After the memorial part, Jeremy and I went to Ford Island, in the middle of Pearl Harbor, and toured the USS Missouri, the last battleship to have been in active duty in the world. It was also the ship on which the Japanese offered their surrended to the Allied Forces. You can tour through the ship itself and see a plaque where the signing took place. The funniest part of the place is the fact that they have the signed surrender documents. There's a US copy and Japanese copy, with lines for signatures for representatives of Japan, the US and all the Allied forces. On the Japanese copy, the Canadian representative signed wrong line, and so all the representatives below him had to sign the wrong line and correct their designation underneath the line, until the representative of New Zealand was forced to sign the empty space below the pre-made lines and make his own. You'd think people signing the document to end the deadliest war the world has ever known could manage to get the right line. Jeremy showed me some other cool things about the ship. I highly recommend touring naval vessels with someone in the Navy. The insight is unequaled.

After my day of history, Jeremy took me to the airport and sent me off. I had the joy of an 8 hour flight from Honolulu to Chicago in seat 41J the last seat of the airplane, in front of the bathroom, and seated next a guy who decided that good airplane attire included a sleeveless hoodie. I don't care if you have nice arms (and this guy did, I'll give him that), but when you're going to be two inches from someone for eight hours continuously, that's not the time to be overly revealing with your clothes. I also disagree with wearing flip-flops on airplanes for similar reasons. I'm all for contact in appropriate circumstances, but airplanes are not among them. Seriously, people.