Big Sur: mancation IV

It is easy to find- hit the west coast somewhere around Los Angeles, then go north. Sand and palm trees will eventually turn into cliffs covered in succulents. That is Big Sur.img_1495There aren’t many people there, at least not by California standards. There are camp grounds, small resorts, and the coast. Mostly, almost completely, there is the coast.

That is why people go there.

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I went there because I had never been and I needed to go somewhere.

It is the right kind of place for that. It is unincorporated, protected, and gorgeous.I am happily none of those things. Mostly I am hungry and just a touch bored.

Big Sur is also the right kind of place for that.

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More specifically, the Maiden Publick House, a pub right behind the River Inn is the kind of place where you can go pretend like you are in Brooklyn in 2008… which is pretending to be Appalachia in 1920. But just like believing and clapping makes Tinker Bell real, being a talented musician who is giving it your all, makes this music great.

I snickered a little when the bearded man wearing Carhart overalls finished his drink at the bar and joined the band. It was like someone had watched too many Lumineers videos, or maybe the Avett Brothers-but they were good. I liked it. A lot. img_1459

I am sure there is some sort of line that when crossed, things like authenticity or performance become the same, but I don’t know where that is so I just try to enjoy stuff. img_1477

Stuff like elephant seals.

These giant things without legs flop around and make an incredibly loud noise when they tip their head back letting this big trunk like nose drop down inside their throat. img_1409

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Mancation IV: a bromantic getaway

We selfied our way up the California coast.img_1304

It has taken me some years to accept the selfie as a photographic genre. Normally I prefer the standard ask a stranger to push the button, or perhaps a staged self timer on a tripod method of putting one’s self in the image. But in the spirit of true manliness and adulthood, I have relented.img_1344

Sometimes I kid myself it is strictly a visual form of journaling, more akin to record keeping than vanity. But really, it is just me refusing to act like a dignified grow-up. Or as some would say, a “man”.img_1506

What better way to record and commemorate Mancation 4 (or IV because as the Super Bowl tells us, Roman numerals are manlier) than to take self portraits via a method made famous by pre-teen girls and the Kardashians?img_1646

3 dudes on the PCH, one of America’s most romantic byways? Selfie. 3 hetero guys buying cream puffs at a bakery in Solvang? Selfie. 3 bearded fools in San Francisco? You got it; selfie.img_1704

Okay, two bearded fools and a scruffy guy. Feel free to confiscate my cool card- I don’t think I ever had one. But my man card holds firm. Come and pry it from my Charlton Heston hands.img_1952

We took 3 1/2 days, a rental car, and a complete disregard for planning and hit the road.img_2132

Mancation IV is in the books.

Mancation I

Mancation II

Mancation III

The Coolest Possible Answer to the Question, “What Do You Do?”

What is the coolest possible answer to the question, “What do you do?”

Fighter pilot. Hands down winner. Race care driver and rock star will always be the best answer at a bar, unless someone else chimes in with “fighter pilot”.

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I would go on to argue that this is the coolest possible answer NOT because of the movie Top Gun, but rather Top Gun exists as a movie only because fighter pilot was already the coolest possible thing anyone could be.

Now the coolest jet to ever take flight, is the SR-71 Blackbird. Again, no contest.

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Not only has this plane flown higher and faster than any other plane ever built, but it looks like something right out of the Dark Knight Batman movies… only scarier.

Make note that I said the coolest jet. I did so because the coolest plane is up for debate. My vote has always gone for the P-38 Lightning.

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Something silly was going on over at Lockheed (the company that designed both the SR-71 and the P-38) back in the day and they produced a series of planes that look more at home on the pages of comic books than at an air port.

Which is where I saw them.

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March Field Air Museum is the kind of place where the 12 year old me gets very angry at the current me, for never becoming a fighter pilot. I am now much older than 12. The adult me no longer cares for cartoons, doesn’t really get into make believe, but I still very much want to fly in a fighter plane.

Soooo badly want to fly in a fighter plane..

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There was this old TV show called Amazing Stories  where I watched a tale of a gunner trapped in the a ball turret of bomber whose landing gear was stuck. I loved that show. It aired in 1985 and touching this turret brought it right back like yesterday.

That show was awesome.

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I have never been a big fan of death. Wait, maybe death isn’t my real issue but more so killing. Death is inevitable, killing is almost always avoidable and bad. But if looping, spinning, great graphics or design, and even explosions (missiles and bombs, not planes) could all be in play without the actual killing… I’d die for that job.

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And also- I touched a MIG.

Eat your heart out Maverick. I touched a MIG.

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Emigration Longboards

Somehow I found myself at the summit of Emigration Canyon at 9pm, prepared to ride a skateboard down a lightless winter road. I had planned to spend the evening watching TV but there I was with sweaty palms and shaky knees, all because I didn’t know the guys who invited me up there well enough to say no. Brooks and Daniel had knocked on the door of my dorm room and said “hey, we need a third. Wanna come?” I had no idea what they meant by a “third” so of course I said yes.longboard

Riding in their Volkswagen bus up the canyon they explained to me that the idea is that two of us would ride the longboards down the canyon road, and the third would drive the van behind the skaters, to both give them light as well as block the way of any traffic that may be coming down the road. I assumed I was to be the driver. “Naw man. You can drive the next run. You are doing us a favor so you should get to go first. Besides, Sophia gets kinda nervous without me in the car.” Sophia was the two year old girl smiling at us from her car seat. This was Utah after all and it is not uncommon for an undergrad to be married with a two year old named Sophia.

“Uh. Cool. Thanks. Uh… I have never ridden a longboard before. Maybe I shouldn’t go first.”

“What? No way! Don’t worry bro, we have never ridden the canyon before either so we are like even. No worries bro.”

I was a very good student so this made perfect sense.

It was explained to me that longboarding is nearly the same as snowboarding, which I had plenty of experience with, except for the whole stopping business. Since you can’t really stop a longboard they told me that the key is in checking your speed with weaving turns, and when that doesn’t slow you down enough, you simply jump off the board before you get going too fast. I asked how fast is too fast and they just chuckled and responded that it would depend on how fast you can run as you jump off onto your feet. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with that concept but I was already in the car. It was too late.bowboardtreescopy

So there I was. The headlights of the van cast our shadows down in front of us and Daniel just smiled and said, “Here we go,” and pushed off. He was a good ten yards out ahead when I did the same. I could feel the rumble of rough pavement travel through the wheels, past my feet, and into my knees. I made a couple of awkward turns and leapt off the board landing on my feet. The board just rumbled into a snowbank. Daniel had done the same up ahead and looking back shouted “This ain’t so bad is it?” We both pushed off again. As we made our way down the dark canyon road I started to get the hang of it. I was cautious at first, jumping off at the slightest hint of discomfort, but I began to sprout some courage. Perhaps it wasn’t real courage but more a mix of adrenaline and embarrassment. I started pushing myself a little more than before.skater

I started leaning into the turns and holding on instead of bailing. I shifted my weight to the front foot and with my back foot I slid the tail of the board out making turn after turn. I felt fear slip away replaced by fun. I started to like it. I liked the winter wind biting my face, the blur of the yellow dashes as they sped past my feet, and the rhythmic sway of carving turns down the road. Yes. I liked this. But then a shaky turn snapped me out of it. My wheels caught just a little and as I regained my balance I regained my senses. I was going just a little too fast. Daniel was behind me now and the headlights were behind even more. I was right at the edge of controlling the board, but unfortunately going much faster than I could run. I turned by leaning back on my heels- an awkward angle from which to jump. I tuned the other way leaning on my toes- not as awkward but twice as fast. Stuck. Stuck riding a plank projectile. I began eying the snowbanks on the side of the road, planning, or timing, my last hope of escape. Not that one, there is a ditch between me and the bank. Not this one, I’m not quite ready. Too afraid. Going faster. It has to be the next one. I have to hit the next snow bank. I prepare to eject.

And as I leaned into the turn aiming at the snowbank, the glow of the snow disappeared, replaced by the dull grey of a guardrail.

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Time stood still in my mind as I floated in air above the pavement. I moved my legs as if to run, hoping that when my feet finally touched down I might, somehow, stay upright. I did not. My legs were moving at the speed of me and the ground was moving at the speed of light. When feet hit ground they slowed, but torso head and arms did not. I tucked my head as I rolled bottom over top and put my arms out in front before I did tumble number two. The board clanked off the rail and ricochet back into a ditch on the other side of the road. I, having caught myself in push-up position, stood upright and stared at nothing. “Duuuuuuuuuude!” Daniel shouted as he came bounding up beside me. Startled back out of my slow motion daze I grinned and sauntered off to reclaim the board. “You cool?” Daniel asked. “Yeah. That scared the crap out of me. We are almost to the bottom, let’s finish up.” “Hecks yeah,” he agreed.

I tried to push off but couldn’t stand on the board. My legs had obtained this uncontrollable wobble that I didn’t notice till I tried to stand on the board. Two legs were fine, but when I lifted one foot up to stand on the board I was all Jell-o from the waist down. I was done. I expressed my unfortunate failure to Daniel and he compassionately replied, “Well broham, looks you got the wheel for the rest of the night.”

Back up at the top of the canyon Brooks stepped on the emergency brake and hopped out. I jumped over into the driver seat, smiled back at the kid in the car seat, and tried to grab the wheel. It wasn’t till I gripped the wheel that I realized that where I once had palms, I now had a mixture of flesh, gravel, and gore. Hamburger is great on a grill but gross on your hands and I figured the polite thing to do would be to simply drive with my finger tips.

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When I got back to married student housing my wife was sitting on the couch. I said “Hey babe,” nonchalantly and she mumbled “hey,” staring at the television. I went right to the bathroom, normal behavior, but once inside I didn’t pee but rather flushed the toilet with my foot as my hands were in the sink trying to rinse away gravel and blood. I walked back into the other room and flopped onto the open end of the couch.

“What’s on?”

“Scrubs. Where ya been?”

“So funny thing. Brooks and Daniel came by and invited me to go longboarding with them.  I had never been before. It was cool.”

She looked at me sideways in the way she always did when I talk about, or do things, that she did not understand or have any desire to understand; which was normal and often.

“”Oh. Cool.” Was all she said. It was at about this point, the two of us quietly looking at the screen, when she instinctively reached over to hold my hand. Her fingers brushed my palm and my hand involuntarily jerked away. It startled her. She looked at me. Looked at my hand. She looked at me. Then without a word she just shook her head and turned back to the television.

On my next birthday she bought me a longboard of my own.

Venice Beach: exactly what you expect

There are in fact canals through the neighborhoods of Venice California, just like in that other place in Italy, but I’m pretty sure that is where the similarities end. I’ve never been to Italy so I could be wrong, but I’m going to guess the other Venice doesn’t feature a nearly nude bearded man on roller skates selling what he ensures everyone is a “medicinal” plant.freak showI didn’t take a picture of captain roller hair, I did not want that image captured, but that doesn’t mean I don’t advocate for the venue. Quite the opposite. You really should go there.

Just know what to expect.Every city has its place where the odd-balls go to commune. Portland makes the argument that they are that place for the whole United States, but Venice Beach is a little bit more. you see, there are places where “weird people” go to be with each other, and then there is Venice where people go to BE weird in hopes of being seen.IMG_5384

I mean, this is LA. Everyone is trying to get discovered, why would society’s outskirts be different?

drum circleSo, as you head to the promenade be ready for:
Your general knick-knack vendors, medical marijuana card vendors, crowds, people who are crazy, people who are high, people pretending to be high or crazy, drum circles, people riding beach cruisers, good street music, muscly folks working out at Muscle Beach, almost homeless artists selling art, homeless people selling almost art, pick-up basketball games on the outdoor courts ala “He Got Game”, street performers break dancing, street performers snake charming, street performers being a human statue, teenagers acting like this is Vegas, trash in the sand at the beach, a great skate park, beautiful sunsets, funnel cakes, hot dogs, beach houses too expensive to afford, signs advertising the world’s smallest front yard, a sign advertising the world’s laziest dog, cops looking uninterested, cops looking interested, and sometimes, you will see me.mewalkinvenice

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Missionary Misadventures: Olympics

The ’96 Olympics in Atlanta brought out crowds like we had never seen and we had to capitalize. We called our display “Big True”, an 8 foot tall display of Arnold Friberg’s illustrations of the Book of Mormon. We set up this wall of images and used it to strike up conversations with the crowds of revelers. We thought it a great tool.IMG_5937

A Black man wearing a tunic and kufi walked by, paused, and then began looking closely at each individual image. He stood back a moment, then turned and looked me in the eyes.

“Excuse me, but where are all the Black people? How do you have images of hundreds of biblical people and not one Black person?”

Every one of the other missionaries took a big step backwards. They all looked down at their feet. No one was prepared, nor wanted, to field this question or deal with this man. A crowd of Judases.

He was looking right at me. He wasn’t smiling. Why me? Judases.IMG_6011

“Um… Well… You see these are images from the book of Mormon which happened thousands of years ago in the ancient Americas. It’s the story of two groups of people, one brown and one white. The two groups found it hard to get along. Eventually the brown folks killed off all the white ones, because the white people were wicked, leaving only the ancestors of the American Indians. The Black people didn’t show up till a couple thousand years later when the Europeans brought them over against their will.”

My companions looked at me in terror. The man looked at me, back at the images, then smiled and asked, “How much to buy one of those books?”

The other missionaries told me it was the worst answer they had ever heard.
I’m not convinced it wasn’t the best answer I had ever given.

Keeping Portland Weird: just eating doughnuts

I’ve only watched a couple episodes of Portlandia. I saw some bit about putting a bird on everything, a mayor kayaking to work, and farm to table lunacy.  I didn’t see any of that in person, but after having been to Portland, it wouldn’t have surprised me.KeepPortlandWeird

Let me state my reservations right up front. Any place that markets itself as weird makes me worry that they are going to be trying a little too hard. Weirdness seems to me something that you are or are not in any given situation. If you find yourself trying, it is an act. Hollywood is where one goes to act weird.voodooinside

So with this healthy skepticism we got in line at Voodoo Doughnuts. The line was long and I am willing to bet that no one standing in it was a local. Add extra skepticism. We eventually got to the intentionally gaudy and kitschy interior and ordered an apple fritter, some other thing that looked to be mostly chocolate, and another that was mostly chocolate plus Nutella. You cannot go wrong adding Nutella to anything so judging by that doughnut would be unfair, but my wife ate the fritter. My wife, who spends approximately 95% of her mind share thinking about dessert, said the fritter was the best she ever had. Keep in mind this is the same woman who just last week sent an egg back to the cook because the yolk wasn’t runny enough on her sunny-side-up order.

Voodoo for the win.alleyway

The street market downtown is long and crowded, as a street market should be, and we stopped by a florist that sold a large custom bouquets out of unadorned plastic five gallon buckets  for around $10. As it should be. There were booths and booths of nick knacks, snacks, and hand made whatevers that made me feel like my laptop had opened up and spilled Etsy out all over the street.diaperNow while Etsy is not in and of itself my thing, un-pretensious flower vendor, plus live Etsy… plus harp lady, equals my endorsement.

harpOne good thing about being hosted in a new location as opposed to independent exploration, is that you may catch things you would have otherwise skipped. Like what looks like a big-box bookstore.

Powell’s is more than a big box. (props to Dr. Chadwick)bigbook

In addition to rows and rows of new and used books, upstairs they have a rare books collection. Now while going in to a glass encased rare books selection lacks the adventure of a dusty corner shop in Providence, or the prestige of a Boston library, but what it does have is a giant book of Annie Liebowitz’s life work with David Byrne on the cover.

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To top that off they had a first edition of one of my all time favorite books, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, right next to a second printing of Twelve Years a Slave.

Forget you Boston.usreading

Rifles, Guns, and Muskets

When I was 12 years old I won a dutch oven by beating a grown man in a “mountain man run”. Technically we tied in the run but I broke the tie by shooting a gong that was placed 300 yards up on the side of a mountain.dalynflintdownrange2I won with a flinch. The first time I pulled the trigger the hammer just snapped back to half-cock and I flinched so hard I almost fell over. When I reset the hammer I was shaking so bad I should never have hit anything. But I did. The gong made its noise and despite the groaning and laughing of everyone involved, I was crowned the victor.

That was the last mountain man run I ever entered.

pistolsMy Uncle Tommy was never really my uncle but my step-great grandfather. My great grandma went through multiple husbands and he was the one that lasted the longest. He was a giant man whose shoulders appeared to attach right to his ears with hands like bloated catchers mitts. He who would sit in a chair at my house and just talk at whoever crossed his path.triggerguards

He would talk about things like how he was the direct descendant of an Old West outlaw called Kid Curry that used to run with Butch Cassidy, about how he used to cook for the mob in Vegas, and how he once choked a man to death when he was in the army. That last one always kind of freaked me out because his victim was a fellow American soldier. It only sorta freaked me out because like most everything Uncle Tommy said, we didn’t believe him.pistolpointUncle Tommy owned more than a dozen hand guns, most of which he kept in velvet Crown Royal bags. My Dad tells a story of how one day he had heard enough of Tommy’s tall tales and that it was impossible for this ogre of a man to be as good a marksman as he claimed.

Tommy arranged for the two of them to go out to the desert with a Smith & Wesson revolver and a bag full of pre-school building blocks. You know, the multi colored wood blocks that have letters on their sides.

marcelfireDad would throw a hand full of blocks up in the air and while they were flying Dad would yell out a letter. Tommy would raise his pistol and shoot that letter out of the sky before the lot of them hit the ground.

He did it again and again to make sure all doubts were put to rest.dalynonehandUncle Tommy passed away before I got a chance to see this trick first hand. I could just trust my dad but he has a trophy on his shelf that is shaped like a bull. He won it for telling stories.

 

 

Sitting Around: travelling without destination

Sometimes grown-ups make excuses in an attempt to justify childish decisions. Take for example my parents’ ATVs. We never had such things when I was a kid. Once they moved out to the middle of nowhere they suddenly “needed” them.havenammon

ATVs, all-terrain-vehicles, are mobile, fast, and can go anywhere over any terrain. Hence the name. My parents use them to haul wood, retrieve hunted animals, and to tow a large scale lawn mowing machine. Ya know, they use it to “work”.lineup

As a generally irresponsible grown-up myself, I am calling their bluff. I recognize my own kind. These are absolutely toys.kaysunburst

I know people who own tractors, real life tractors, and those people rarely, if ever, hop on the tractor to go for a joy ride. How often do construction workers say, “Hey, its Friday night, why don’t we go cruise around on my bulldozer.”momgrasstrail

My mother offered to give her grand daughter a ride and they let me follow along. First bit of childish evidence is that there was no reason to go that fast other than fun. We had no schedule, we were in no hurry, and that little old lady with the kid on back were going fast.woodshedatvSecond bit of evidence; she was able to go so fast because she knew exactly where she was going and had obviously done this before.I would guess she has done it quite a bit. This is not work.

This is not work in the most true and scientific way possible. In 11th grade my physics teacher handed me a bowling ball and instructed me to carry it up the stairs to the 3rd floor, then go down to the basement, and finally bring it back to the classroom. Upon my sweaty and tired return he lectured the class on the definition of work and how I had accomplished nothing. Though energy had been expended I had returned to my original point of departure. Not work.

I tasted clouds of dust, heard a screaming engine, felt branches and bushes whack me as I passed but at the end of that ride, and every one thereafter, we ended right back where we started.

That is not work.

There are Other Fish in the Sea:or the lake

I have a confession. It is a hard thing to admit because though I have done nothing wrong, it still feels like a sin.

I don’t really like to fish.fishinggear

I get bored.

I think I have always known, yet it has taken me nearly my whole life to admit. I want to like fishing. Perhaps I keep giving it a chance in hopes that I have simply been doing it wrong this whole time. Maybe I have just never hooked the big one and if I do, I will be hooked too.boatlake

In the fictional story of my youth, the one I have always told myself, I loved going fishing with my Dad. We used to go semi-regularly and I always wanted to go. In retrospect, as I look close enough to sweep the fairy dust away, I realize I never really went fishing all those times.  I went exploring.elibored

Dad would fish in rivers and streams. I would cast my line a couple times, snag the spinner on a rock or branch, then look around and find the highest visible outcropping of rock and shout, “Hey Dad, can I go up there?” He would say yes and I would scramble off.

I have since realized that this is not fishing.perchsage

It took trying to teach my kids to fish to learn this lesson. When you are teaching someone else, you can’t scamper off. You are trapped. And then you just sit there staring at a bobber trying to guess if that was a wave or a bite and so you reel it in to find the fluorescent cheese is gone from your hook so you bait it again and cast out the line. Again. For hours.catchThis admission hurts my own feelings. I shouldn’t feel ashamed but I am. It feels like I have rejected my father and my youth and how I was raised. I would say it is almost a rejection of my religion, but we already have an actual religion so saying that would feel sacrilegious.

 

But then again… Mom never went fishing with us and Dad still likes her. She always stayed home and read books. I should probably get her a Kindle for Christmas.