Roots and Reunions

I got nervous on the drive to the hotel. It was the kind of nervous you feel when a friend you’ve never heard sing is about to take the stage to belt out a ballad. You hope with all your heart they do well but more than that, you suspect they are horrible. You were excited during the planning but now that the curtain is moving, your mistake is realized too late. “Is the DJ going to play Snoop Dog or Depeche Mode?” my wife asked. “I have no idea. Actually, I have no idea if Matt even hired a DJ. Wow. What if he didn’t hire a DJ?” Imagining a large room full of people with no music, forced to make conversation with each other, suddenly terrified me. I hadn’t talked to most of these people in twenty years. Some of them I had never talked to. Imagining all the horrible possibilities made me feel sixteen all over again, which was appropriate, because I was on my way to my twenty year high school reunion.1smoothmebw

I graduated from a suburban public school outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. Going to high school in suburban Utah is just like going to school in any other suburb except that it’s maybe just a bit whiter and a lot more Mormon. There was plenty of homework, zits, football, sex, beer, bad hair, bad taste, and good times. Not all of us had all of those things, but they were all there. There were geeks and jocks, band nerds and burn outs, somebodies and nobodies. I was never quite sure which of all those I was, and I think part of my nervousness pulling into the parking lot was that I might find out. This was very much a homecoming. Not just in that I grew up in this place and been gone for most of my adult life, but because most of the people that would be there, I not only graduated with, but grew up with. I had known them since elementary school. I lived in the same house from birth through high school, and so had almost everyone else. Both that place and those people are and were my roots. We grew in the same soil at the same time and we were all going to be together again tonight. Nostalgia does not always square well with truth and some truth is hard to face. Really, the truth rarely squares with Facebook or Instagram either. This was part of why I wanted to go to the reunion in the first place. I am aware that liking posts on Facebook is not the same as friendship. Looking at online pictures of someone’s kids or latest night on the town is not the same as hanging out. I wanted to hang out. I wanted to see if we were still friends in the real world. I wanted to be real world friends with those I now chatted with online despite never speaking to in high school. I wanted them to be friends with me. I wanted to see if the folks who defriended me around election time would still shake my hand. What if they did shake my hand but still harbored hard feelings? What if it is weird? What if we all just stand around awkwardly nodding at each other? My insides began twisting into a knot but I had driven hundreds of miles back to a place I had long since abandoned and drug my wife along for the ride. I couldn’t back out. I took a deep breath, held it for just a moment, then pushed open the car door.1georgehug

I walked slowly as my wife did her one footed hop, trying to strap on heels and walk across a parking lot at the same time. As I paused to wait, a black SUV pulled to a stop in front of me. “Daaaaaaaalyn!” they yelled as the windows rolled down. We grownups rarely get such a greeting and I was happy to see that we weren’t all going to be grownups tonight. Nanners, Nat, Dixie and Gina; I hadn’t seen those four women since they were girls and we were friends. Exchanging awkward hugs through rolled down windows gave me hope that our dormant relationships still lived and that tonight’s party wouldn’t be dead. A bit surprised at how surreal it was to see those faces after all these years I told them to go park and we would meet inside. It was awkward just as I feared. Awkward, exciting, and happy.1lisahug

Trevor was in the lobby. From fifty yards away I could tell it was him and I was scared. We were real friends, the kind that hung out after the convenience of school had expired. But I had moved away chasing my own future and we hadn’t spoken since. What if this was my fault and he knew it? We shouted each other’s names and when we got close enough to hug his smile looked real. We stepped back to stare at the creases at the corners of our eyes, and realized they were in fact the same old eyes, then hugged again. I didn’t care anymore who else’s smiles might be real because now mine was. I didn’t care anymore. I had stepped onto that stage and hit the first note pitch perfect. The fear was gone. As my wife and I turned the corner we saw the crowd spilling out of the conference room doors. There was Leavitt, Tina, Dan, and wow; is that Steve? I stepped into the crowd and slipped into a sort of sensory overload. Everywhere I looked were foggy versions of my past all smushed together into right now. I didn’t know what to say or who to talk to. I just hugged everything that crossed my path and kept smiling. Smiling and smiling and smiling.1usguys

My wife was a great sport throughout this whole thing. She had originally declined my request that she come along. “Why in the world would I drive ten hours to go hang around a bunch of people I have never met in a place I don’t really want to visit?” It was a fantastic question to which I had no immediate answer. “Uhhh, cuz I wanna hang out with you?” was all I had. With our intentions firmly settled I sadly made solo plans. I thought about this as I buzzed around the room shaking hands and reading name tags. She smiled and encouraged me to pose for a picture with everyone I met. She floated over to the table of old letter sweaters and memorabilia taking photos, reading the memorials to those of our class who passed too early; she was more than a good sport. She finally agreed to come when an old friend of hers, not mine, called and begged her to come sleep in their guest room. This invitation moved her from “no way” up onto the fence. Her mother offering free babysitting for the weekend shoved her over onto my side, and once on my side she went all in. She smiled and acted excited to see people she had never met. She read name tags and laughed at everyone’s jokes including mine. She did it so well I was convinced her smile was real. She did it so well that within a few minutes she convinced herself as well. We had done our homework before the trip. I thumbed through my old yearbooks, she fell asleep half way through Can’t Buy Me Love, refused to sit through License to Drive, but together we watched every episode of Freaks and Geeks. This combination of preparation, and her natural charm, made her an instant hit, and by extension, I felt like a hit as well.1fab5

There was a DJ. I’m not sure what he played because I was too busy catching up with old friends. There were some prizes given out to the senior superlatives, including the couple voted most likely to be together forever. They were both there and they were still together. The two voted biggest class clowns were still clowns, though one of said clowns is now, strangely enough, a principal. Most likely to be president- wasn’t. Matt, the one who organized the whole thing, said some words, but not too many. It was perfect.1splitmatt

It was around this time, or perhaps a little bit earlier, that the bar on the other side of the hotel, and the 12 pack stashed under a table, started to show their influence. No one got stupid like they always do in the movies, but they got happy, slow, and shallow. People I was excited to see would hug me tightly and while staring hard at my forehead say things like, “Living the dream man. Ya know, just doing my thing. Isn’t that great?” or maybe, “You have always meant the world to me. You are the whole reason I came,” said just a little too slow and in response to the question, “Do you have any children?” Such conversations put me in a strange place. I would stand in front of a person I was profoundly happy to see, someone I had anticipated spending time with, and there they were, but only a slightly glossed façade of a person. It was still good to see such a friend, but it was much more like watching a movie than living one in that you could see them, but they were really somewhere else.1splitjake

In a way this was the most real experience of the night. Real because one night of catching up is not enough to connect with the whole of a person. We were mostly too happy, too excited, or for some- too drunk. Reality is happy and excited, but it is also sad and hard. There are affairs and divorces, lost jobs and lost children. We knew each other when we were young and full of dreams. Most dreams either evaporate or die violently. New dreams, often better ones can take their place, but staring into the liquor happy eyes of a once very close friend, I felt the loss that comes with reality. I wanted to know everything I had missed over the years. I wanted to pay a happy visit to days past. I wanted to be close again. What I got was a good strong hug, sincere exchange of smiles, and a good look into a pair of eyes that let me know we wouldn’t be going much deeper that night. It was like Facebook in real life.1onthe table

As I sat back and enjoyed watching everyone, even the empty eyed ones, enjoy themselves, I wondered if is possible to tell the type of a tree just by looking at its roots. Looking around the room I could see my roots. This place, these people, are what I grew from. Looking around I could see it, remember it, feel it-roots. But while looking and feeling I wondered what kinds of trees or plants we really were, or rather are. I can’t tell. This was a room full of people with the same roots but we were oaks and aspens, orange trees and grape vines. I am not confident I know what everyone has grown into and I’m sure most others really don’t know me. Maybe that is because in my mind I am not sure what kind of tree I am either. I’m not done growing. How high school of me.  I am unsure of what I have really grown into, some of those I grew up with drink to avoid knowing, and most of us just post pictures of our blossoms.1splitguys

But I loved it. I loved it because what I do know is that I still have roots. I have a base from which to grow no matter in what soil I am planted. Roots feel good. In that room hugging those people, smiling a very real smile, wishing we could talk deeper than we did- I was happy.

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Hollywoodland: Because no one calls it that anymore

The sign used to say Hollywoodland and one of the major reasons movie companies moved there back in the day was to avoid being sued by Thomas Edison. Neither of those little details really matter to anyone today, which makes them just like all of Hollywood in the mind of this author. IMG_7083That isn’t really true, the part about me not thinking Hollywood matters. I love movies. I also hate movies. It all depends on the movie. But for the most part, movies are imaginary, and by extension most of the reasons to admire actors are equally fictitious. Except for maybe Indiana Jones. Dr. Jones, who was also Han Solo, is just a little too admirable in my imagination to be squashed by reality. I refuse to think that Indiana Jones does not in some place or in some time, exist.IMG_7089

What surely exists is the industry that has grown up around moving pictures and the very real dollars produced thereby. Lots of dollars. Billions of dollars. Lots of billions.

But Hollywood has also created art. Art and money each wield influence inn the world. Together they can move the societal needle, forward or back, left or right, true influence.IMG_7085

Moved to tears, moved to the streets, moved to the penthouse, or maybe movements in the outhouse. Hollywood has done all of those things. No matter how you feel about the place or what it produces, it is above all else, a spectacle.IMG_7088

Spectacle is what it is. It isn’t necessarily good or bad. It can be either. It just is. I have opinions… but really, I’m fine just spectating.IMG_7084

 

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Where Your Fortune is Created:Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory.

It wasn’t till after we left that it occurred to me that for a couple bucks they probably would have let me write my own fortune to have stuffed inside a cookie. Tip to anyone considering a proposal of marriage; visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory located in a tiny alley in San Francisco’s Chinatown.IMG_5998

In Ross alley is a little shop about the size of my living room, where dreams are created. Well, maybe not dreams, but rather the little cookies you get with your sweet and sour chicken. I had never considered how these little treats are made, just as I have never really considered how my iPhone or a kazoo are constructed, but when confronted with an opportunity, why not?IMG_5991

There ya go. That’s pretty much it. A circular conveyor belt with a hundred Forman Grill like hot plates spins around spitting out hot pancakes that are peeled off the press and the folded around a slip of pre printed paper  into the shape of a croissant. You walk in, go “huh.” Then buy a bulk bag of cookies and go on your way. That is my style of learning.IMG_5736Going there is worth the trip and being there is even better. I find it incredibly American. American in that it is very much IN America, but in a place where a large number of people have come from somewhere else in hope of a better life. That is American.IMG_5990

What is also very American is gawking at the the culture of others without any real back story or true cultural understanding. That was my part in the whole visit. I played my part well and I am through and through American. Below I present exhibit A:IMG_5993

I appreciate drying your laundry the cheapest way possible and I don’t mind dried fish, but combining the two displeases me. I would guess that were it otherwise I would displease most of the people who might sit next to me on a bus.

But that is my opinion and this is America where we are each entitled to our own opinions… and smells.IMG_5997

 

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How Can You Look at Stars When the Building is So Cool? Griffith Observatory

Just a note, don’t go when it is even close to convenient, you are in a hurry, don’t want to walk a million miles, or don’t want to be with other people, because this place is popular. It is also worth it.IMG_6869

The observatory is built on Mt. Hollywood, the same one that has the big Hollywood sign, in 1935. From its inception it was open to the public for free. It was meant to make astronomy approachable and accessible to the masses and the masses show up en masse.IMG_6873

The copper domes really do house legit telescopes that aid real-life science (see what I did there?). Smart people doing smart things that I don’t understand, work there. I didn’t work there, I just looked there.IMG_6878The city, the sky, and the building. The art deco scalloped smooth lined solid colored building, the pastel fading multicolored shapeless sky, and the staccato jumbled lit up city.

You can only go there when you have some time.IMG_6870

Only go there when all those crowds and lack of parking and walking don’t matter. Because despite all that, you have to go.IMG_6875

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MILK: and Macarons…. Oooooooh Macarons

I’ve been to MILK twice, once on a weekday, the other a weekend, and on both occasions the line stretched out the door. I haven’t been to Disneyland but I hear they have the same problem over there. I also hear that just as at MILK, the waiting is worth it.IMG_7076

They make Nutella ice cream. How can you argue with that? They make and sell all sorts of baked goods, sandwiches, cupcakes, and pretty much whatever it is that you hadn’t thought existed but once you do know- you need it.IMG_7074

For instance, macarons. I have heard of macarons. What I had not considered was making ice cream sandwiches out of macarons. what I had also not considered was a lime hibiscus and  clove soda. I now love both of those things.IMG_7062

Going to MILK every day is not an option for me, and not recommended for anyone. Not recommended in the same way that gluttony, overindulgence, and food abstinence are not recommended.

Of course taking recommendations is not recommended… unless it involves macaron ice cream sandwiches and lime, hibiscus, and clove soda.IMG_7079

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That Place Looks Crazy: Walt Disney Concert Hall

Imagine a soda can with no label, no colors, just metallic silver. Now imagine you took this chromey can and smashed it, bent and twisted it all up. Then… imagine that metal mess was about five stories tall. If you cannot imagine such a think don’t worry, I know where you can see one; and it is awesome.IMG_7255

The place opened in 2003, was designed by a famous guy (Frank Gehry), and is the home of the LA Philharmonic. all of those things are true, and perhaps relevant, but what is important, is that it is a wonder to look at.IMG_7248

I want to write about it, tell you stuff, but its all blah, blah, blah, when what is important, is what you see.IMG_7252

 

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Credit Where Credit is Due: Pop ‘n Sweets

I have not been know to look for nice things to say about Provo Utah. Not wanting to be a generally negative person I have often kept my mouth shout when wanting to say bad things about the place. I find myself now in a position where I have no choice… I must praise the place. Or at least I must praise one place that is in that place.

Pop ‘n Sweets.IMG_6344

They have nice story about how they came to be and who owns the place but that doesn’t mater much in this case. This candy and soda shop could have been founded by the devil and it would still be worth the visit (incidentally the devil has been outlawed in Provo so it couldn’t have been founded by him).IMG_6304

Long story short, they have soda. All kinds of soda. Soda on tap, Soda from Austria, Soda that’s funny, soda that is sophisticated, a lot of soda. I like that. They have candy too but I’m not so much into wasting calories on that when there is a red capped Blenheim ginger ale to be had.IMG_6339

Or perhaps a mate mojito? A birch beer maybe? Whatever your flavor grab one and have a seat at the counter or in a booth.IMG_6318

This place was good enough that I wanted to hang around… in Provo. I want to go again… to Provo. I can’t believe I ‘m typing this. I’m being forced to shift my fundamental belief system. My foundation is crumbling.

Crumbling into a sweet, fizzy, bubbly, wonderful pool of soda.IMG_6320

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