Friday, July 31, 2009

Roughly One Year.

I just realized that it was about a year ago I started this lil' blog here. In the past year I have had 34,000 visits to this site. Sure, some blogs get that in a single day, but I still feel that's significant. It makes me feel like it's actually worth taking the time to write stories, thoughts and news about Urban Planning. Thank you blog readers :-)

Here's a map of you the today's visitors...

So thank you, all you blog readers, for coming to read my thoughts and stories. Hopefully the next year will be far more productive where I don't go missing for months at a time...ha!

Something Just Isn't Right...

Ouch! For more silly billboards, follow this link...

(Via Joe.My.God)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

How Little I Have in Common.

This country really gets to me. It really, really does.

It's one thing to not let gays get married. I'm still open to the conversation about defining it as "marriage". However, it adds insult to injury when citizens of The United States are working so actively to not even let gays and lesbians have equal rights under the law. I can put aside semantics--I cannot put aside injustice.

Then the government on top of this tells gays and lesbians they cannot serve their country in the military! We've thrown out 12,000 of our trained soldiers--many doctors, engineers, translators--all because of a preference. A fucking preference. How can this be the strongest military in the world?

Then I begin to think about the insane gun laws in this country. Or the abysmal outlook for our education system. From here I begin thinking about our putrid addiction to suburban sprawl or our awful urban planning practices and I just want to jump out a window!

But wait--there's more! Let's not forget the ridiculous devotion to a completely unproven scientific ideology known as Creationism. Oh, and religion in this country. (Don't even get me started on that one.) And, honestly, one of the worst things happening in our country--the epidemic that no one wants to admit: obesity! I'm sorry to say it, but fat people could very easily ruin this country.

So I behold this country of fat, stupid, science-denying, gun-clingin' religious nutjobs who can't even spell "calorie" and I want to throw my hands up in utter horror and disgust.

Or, just move to Canada.

I really think at some point in the next few years I will be leaving The United States for our colder, far-smarter Northern brothers. I've been saying it for years, but I've always been held back from pursuing the idea since I believed I had to go to grad school in the US. I was under the illusion that the best schools in the world were here, so if I got my degree from a US institution I'd be better fit for moving to another country.

Well I'm not buying it anymore. University of British Columbia is amazing. McGill is one of the finest institutions in the world. University of Toronto or Concordia make fine substitutions as well. And frankly, if I want a company in Canada to hire me, wouldn't it be better to study as an international student and try to make contacts while I have a student visa?

I wish the predicament this country is in wasn't so. But even with Obama in office I don't see this country's situation improving. It's too big (literally) to be fixed with 5, 10, or even 20 years. Of all the problems I mentioned--gays, guns, oil-dependent city systems, education, etc.--let's just focus on the one: obesity.

Did you know that being fat is far worse for you than smoking? Think about it. Someone can smoke for 40 or 50 years before they develop a fatal disease from it. Being overweight, however, can lead to a myriad of problems, most of which are fatal: heart failure, diabetes, tons of different forms of cancer, liver disease, heart disease...the list is ad nauseam.

And yet Americans don't care. It's not that they are ignorant or aren't aware--oh, believe me, they are quite aware of it. The weight-loss industry brings in more money than almost any other retail industry out there. But, you see, the American way of life is with patching things up and using quick-fix schemes. So instead of learning proper nutrition, readjusting their lifestyle to be more active or--gasp!--joining a gym, Americans go out and buy a magic stick hoping to quickly fix everything they’ve fucked up.

That magic stick was Dr. Atkins, the miracle diet where you can as much as you want. Disgusting.

So as our health care costs continue to soar, Americans turn to other magic-sticks, such as gastric bypass, ridiculous fad "I-only-eat-grapefruit" diets, exercise machines promising you'll lose 25 pounds a month on three minutes a's just sickening. This country thrives and survives on patching up wounds instead of fixing them.

We can't completely blame the fat people, to be honest. Our City Planners need to have plenty of vitriol thrown at them too. You see, our auto-dependent planners have been disgraceful by continuing to building cities farther and farther away from the central city, where everything is within a walking distance. Nope, instead most American cities have seen more growth 20-50 miles outside of the central business district then actually in the center city. What does this mean? More people driving instead of walking.

Now, I have to be honest. The reason why this is very important to me is because in High School I was quite on the larger side. It stemmed from being a closeted homosexual stuck in a Christian bubble terrified to come my response to my fear of my self was to eat. But once I came out, my outlook on life was so different--I didn't need to hide my problems in some quick-fix scheme. I was confident in who I was and where I was in life. And once that was attained, I was able to get myself to a place where I am quite comfortable and healthy. By this point in my life I have run three marathons and five half-marathons. It took years to get myself to that ability, but I only mention this because I want everyone to know it is possible to achieve health even if you've been unhealthy for years.

No matter how much I rant and rave Americans will still shovel in their McDonald's and not give a crap about the future of their lives, our society and this country. They’ll still bury their faces in sheetpans of Cinnabons until our health-care system cannot sustain the whirlwind of health problems. And that alone is enough reason for me to question my reasoning in staying in this country. But once you throw in the hatred of science, gays and atheists, and clump in the love of God, guns and cars...I just don't see the point. It only reminds how little I have in common with the people of this country.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mr. President Will Be Just Fine.

Have you ever heard someone say, “Everything happens for a reason”? Think about it for a second. What a blatantly vacuous and empty statement. Can you think of a grander non-sequitur? What an enormous effort to say absolutely nothing at all. The only emptier statement I have ever heard is, “It is what it is.” In both statements the orator is saying to essentially abdicate all rational thought and reaction to an event because one has no power over it. “It is what it is” essentially means to suck it up and stop thinking.

I’ll tell you something. Everything happens because you permit it to happen. It happens because you either make it happen or don’t allow it to happen. You get a job because you worked hard and have previous experience; you get a sweetheart because you went through the right channels to meet each other and you have the qualities that the other person is looking for you; you get in a car accident because you either weren’t paying attention or you were texting or you were driving too close or whatever the reason may be. However, all of these circumstances don’t just happen for some esoteric reason. They are the simply the product of existence.

So when I tell the story you’re about to read, the last thing I want to be told is that it happened for a reason. It did not. It happened because I refused to acknowledge the blatant red flags that waved in every direction. It happened because I wanted to believe I had hit the jackpot. In the end, it taught me to embrace the people I love and let them know how much I truly cherish their friendship. If that’s what I walked away with, that’s great. But the event did not occur simply for me to learn that. It happened because I allowed it to happen.

I was still living in Washington D.C. at the time. My friend Chris had just been hired to be the personal assistant of an executive at XM radio. His name was Zack Taylor, and he was the Director of Creative Media. Or something like that.

The three of us met up at JR’s, one of the bars along 17th street. Zack was not necessarily the most beautiful thing I had ever encountered, but he was charming and had a certain charisma about him that was appealing. He and I kept locking eyes, and there was a palpable attraction between the two of us.

Within a week we were dating.

It was fast, but he had shown such devotion to me. He had taken me to some of the finest restaurants in DC, which we had been escorted in a limo to every single one. He took considerable amount of liberty to fit me into his busy schedule. As an exec at XM, he was traveling all the time. Chris, his new personal assistant, and him were flying all over the country. They had been to New York, Miami, and Las Vegas yet I still felt as if I was the number one priority.

Our conversations weren’t always magical. He was somewhat awkward, pretty shy and very quiet about his family. But the life of dinner cruises and constant limousine service seemed to make me look over that.

He’d tell me about how he was planning a new radio show with Ellen. He’d share with me the stock information about his company. He’d let me sit on web conferences between him and the senior executive staff at XM. He’d get a phone call from Ryan Seacrest and this was a normal day. Sure, I didn’t really like him that much, but this kind of life sure beat every other guy I had dated.

It was a forgetful statement, but I had once mentioned to him that I had never been to Orlando Studios. Two days later we were there. He bought us first-class plane tickets and reserved the largest suite at the Portofino, a luxury hotel right beside the park. A 12-seat stretch hummer picked us up at the airport. Instead of driving to the Orlando Studios like commoners, we had a private boat take us through one of the canals. We dined at the best restaurants between riding roller coasters and playing games.

Strangely, even to this point there had been no intimacy between us. But as I thought about this, I just let the thought slip away as I sipped on Jordan Cabernet. It’s funny how much the mind can hide if you really want it to.

We returned to DC and it was my mother’s birthday. Zack wanted to come to dinner with the family. I was concerned since I didn’t like the idea of introducing my family to someone I had been seeing for maybe two weeks. But he insisted, and I allowed him to come along.

We ate at the Capital Grill, one of those swanky DC steakhouses. There were 12 of us. Zack shared his stories of dining with Madonna and flying to London to meet up with Elton John. He was entertaining, charismatic and he fit in with the family just fine. The bill came to $600 before gratuity. Zack stepped away to use the restroom, and moments later the waiter came to the table announcing that the bill had been taken care of. My mother was stunned and to this day she describes her 56th birthday as one of the most unforgettable dinners of her life.

The very next weekend he told me he wanted to take me somewhere. It was to be a surprise, but he told me to pack with summer clothes. We got to the airport and we suddenly were on our way to Miami. Everything was happening so fast and although there wasn’t an incredible connection between the two of us, I just let it keep going. Sitting under palm trees with someone you’re indifferent to seemed far better than laying next to a dumpster with someone you’re in love with.

We were picked up at the airport in a limo, as usual, but our driver greeted Zack as “Mr. President!”. Zack, who was hardly humble, thought he was called this because of his role with XM Radio. However, the man was referring to the 12th President of the United States, President Zachary Taylor.

I thought it was odd that a man with a name like that wouldn’t pick up the reference. In all of his 29 years of life he had never realized he had the same name as a former President?

By this time, I was beginning to question things. I was curious why in three weeks he was able to spend so much time with me. A day hadn’t gone by where we hadn’t seen each other. We had been to Florida twice and been to dinner probably 10 times. Zack blew through money like it wasn’t even his. But yet again I forced these thoughts to go away and I just tried to live in the moment.

Our limo driver took us to a restaurant in Miami called The Big Pink. Zack was talking about how the Grammy’s were coming up and how he wanted me to come along with him. He said we’d be sitting with either Pink or Christina Aguilera. But I wasn’t buying it. Although it was believable that Zack worked for XM, it was hard to fathom him actually being friends with celebrities. He looked like a paler, scrawnier, younger version of Steve Buscemi. All the money in the world couldn’t make him look good enough to sit at a table with two of the biggest names in music.

Zack was beginning to sense my disbelief. I hadn’t said anything, but it was just obvious that I did not believe we were going to the Grammy’s. So when our limo driver returned us to the hotel—the famous “W”, by the way—he told me he wanted to work in the business center of the hotel to show me the itinerary for the big awards show.

While he was down working on the computer, I was up in our hotel debating what to do. Suddenly my phone began to vibrate. It was my friend Chris, the personal assistant who introduced me to Zack. “Chris, what’s up?” I asked.
“Where are you?” He immediately asked me.
“I’m in Miami with Zack. Why?”
“You need to get out of there. Right now.”

I was silent.

“Zack Taylor is not who you think he is. I just stopped by one of XM’s office and they have no idea who he is. They have no record of my employment and there is no job title for Director of Creative Media.”

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to admit it, but I had my suspicions all along.
“Seriously, I have already talked to the police. There is absolutely nothing they can do for me. You need to get out of there, because you really don’t know who you’re dealing with.”

Suddenly Zack walked in the room. “I’ll call you back,” and then I hung up.
“Is everything ok?” He asked me. He stood by the door holding the papers confirming our trip to the Grammy’s.
“Yeah, everything is fine.” I said. I’m not a good liar, and he knew this.
“Who was that?”
“I just called my sister to say we checked in.” He didn’t buy it.
“Really? Didn’t you already call her?”
“Zack I have a question for you.”
“Umm, ok, what is it?”
I remembered he had once told me he had played piano for 15 years. Since I have played piano my whole life I knew exactly the right question to ask to see if he was telling the truth.
“What is the third note in an A-major scale?”
Zack just stared back at me dead-pan. “What kind of question is that?”
“It’s a simple question. What is the third note in an A-major scale?”
“Why are you asking me this?” He shot back.
“Why don’t you just answer it, Zack?”
“What a ridiculous question.”

I wasn’t going to let him off the hook.

“Fine. What are the three notes in a C chord?”
"Dude, you’re being absurd.”
“No, Zack, you are. How about you name ANY chord you’d like. I don’t care if it’s a major, minor, suspended, ninth, whatever. Just name three notes that make one chord. That’s all I want.”

He was silent.

“You don’t actually play piano, do you?”
“Of course I play piano, you’re—”
“You don’t work at XM Radio, do you?”
“What are you talking about?! That’s ridic—”
“You’re name isn’t even Zack Taylor, is it?” I yelled at him.

We both stood on opposite sides of the room staring right at each other’s eyes. It was completely silent. The tension was nearly scratching at our skin.

I reached for my luggage and began grabbing everything else I could. “Where are you going?” Zack demanded. “I’m leaving.”
“You can’t leave, this is our vacation!”
“Zack, I don’t even know who the hell you are.”
Zack looked back at me, searching within himself for any bit of believable compassion, and said, “Yes you do. You’re just confused. Everything I have told you is the truth. It just seems too good to be true, doesn’t it?”

I walked around him, and when I reached for the door I stopped to say one last thing to him. I turned around, my hand still on the door knob, and noticed I left a few crumpled dollars and some spare change on the nightstand. “You can keep that.” I said as I nodded towards the money. “For everything you’ve done for me.”

And with that I walked out the door, terrified to turn around and look over my shoulder. My heart was pounding against my chest in a way I have never experienced. I didn’t know if he was going to pull a gun on me or come chasing after me. He did neither.

I took the elevator down and found his chauffeur still out front. To a certain degree I didn’t even know whether to trust the limo driver. I hopped in and told him to take me to the airport. “Are you sure Mr. President is ok with this?” He asked me. “Oh, I’m sure Mr. President will be just fine with it.”

And then we pulled off. I sat alone in the back of 10-person limo contemplating the bizarre experience that the past three weeks had brought me. I rolled down one of the windows and had one of those serene indelible moments that will forever be imprinted in my memory. The sunny Miami evening sky rained down on my face and I just stared longingly at the buildings off in the distance. You could have been killed, went through my mind. He could have seriously done something to you. He knows where you live. He’s met your family.

We reached the airport. As the son of US Airways employee, I was able to fly free. It was only a few minutes before I was listed on the next flight headed towards DC. I made it through security and immediately pulled out my laptop to begin writing about everything that had happened. I wanted to ensure that this story never was forgotten.

Suddenly a man walked right up to me. It was Zack Taylor.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“Why are you doing this to me? I thought you and I had something real?” He said to me.
“REAL?” I distinctly said. I will never forget he had the audacity to say real to me after all the lies he had told me.
“You are going to try and say we had something REAL when everything you had ever told to me was a lie?”
“Stop being dramatic. You didn’t even let me show you our reservations at The Grammy’s. And how could everything have been a lie? I’ve taken you all over the country and you respond by calling me a liar? Wasn’t Orlando Studios real? Wasn’t our dinner cruise real? We’re even in Miami for Christ’s sake!”

I specifically remember the lady sitting next to me. She was the stereotypical Midwestern woman—overweight, 80s hair and an outfit that she found in a clearance bin at TJ Maxx. Boy was that awkward. I’m not sure whether it was more awkward for her or for me, but regardless this scene could have been in a comedy. She was sitting reading her People Magazine, and yet right in front of her was more drama than she had ever experienced in her life.

The next few seconds we just looked into each other’s eyes. Strangely, I felt nothing. No emotion in any direction. I wasn’t angry, sad, nor did I feel betrayed. Maybe it’s a human reaction in a place of fear to circumvent emotion. Maybe it’s just a survival instinct. But all I knew was that I had to get on that plane and I had to get away.

“Zack, it’s over. Chris knows. I know. Now just walk away before it gets worse. Walk away while you can.”

That was the last thing I had ever said to Zack Taylor. He took a breathe after I spoke, then he turned and walked away. To this day I don’t know if he made it on the plane or not. The suspense of that evening still terrifies me when I think of it.

Weeks later the police came back to Chris with the real story. His name was Stephen Dillinger and he was a con artist who had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraudulent credit card schemes. He had been all over the country, been through numerous court battles and even had a website for people to share there stories of how he had ruined them. I read account after account of both men and women that he had led into the same kind escapade with. Most of the stories were worse though—he had generally convinced his flings to sell them their car or join his “insurance plan”, from which he’d steal their identity and open tons of credit cards.

Somehow I had escaped that. I walked away from the ordeal with my credit untouched and only the three week memory of living the glamorous life. And you know what I learned? I learned that it takes ten seconds to get used to luxury, but it takes years to realize just how important friends and family are. I learned that riding in limousines and flying all over the country are such ephemeral experiences in the grand scheme of life. And, unfortunately, I also learned that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Things do not happen for a reason. This story was not crafted because some external observer was trying to use chicanery to teach me a valuable lesson. It simply was the product of my actions and decisions. Did good come from it? Of course. But it did not happen for a reason. It happened because I was too in love with materials and not in love with truth, value, reason or reality. And because of that, I walk away realizing the power of our decisions. Hopefully after reading this, you will too.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Thoughts at 4 AM.

Right now I'm listening to that new Black Eyed Peas song, "I Gotta Feeling." It's pretty much the most repetitive, monotonous, uninspired piece of music I have ever heard.

And I love it.

I'm not too sure why. Maybe it's because it is repetitive and monotonous. Maybe because I realize they're making millions off a song that probably didn't require too much thought. Regardless, it's making me smiling. And right now I could use that.

Going on with that theme of putting my life on hold, I'm thinking about the next 318 days. That's how long I have until I officially leave Columbus for once and for all. (Sorry Columbusites). I went through my schedule with my mother today, and I essentially have every week until I graduate planned out. Seriously. Weddings, Marathons, Trips to Seattle, Vancouver and San Francisco, classes, internship...I already have it all laid out until I leave in June.

This time needs to be maximized. I need to enjoy every last minute of my final days in Ohio. And yet all I do is stare at that enormous number and yearn for it to vanish. I just want to get the hell out of here. It's been that way for three years, and I know exactly what will happen when I finally peace-out and leave Ohio forever--I may actually miss it. I can honestly see myself in the future wishing that I had taken better advantage of this fine city here.

So the theme for the summer has been making the most of my time here. One day at a time. And a song like this really makes me think about that. (Probably the insistent "Tonight's gonna be a good night" might have something to do with it. I'm not sure.)

That's the plan. Tonight's gonna be a good night. I'm not thinking about 318 days from now or 5 months from now or next week. Just right now. In the moment. No matter what I do nor how much I complain, I'm here in Columbus for a bit more. So might as well make the most of it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Putting it on Hold.

Most people describe it as their time of blossoming, their four-years of self-discovery. I view college as putting my life on hold. Unfortunately I had no other option. In order to make something out of my life I had to go to college. The days when kids with just a high-school diploma could still make it are really gone by now. So I accepted this fact and at the age of 20 headed off to begin my college career.

To a certain degree I have viewed college as actually bad for me. I think three years ago I was more in love with life. I think I deeply cared for every individual I met. I valued the goodness in every person, whether or not they saw it. It's not that this viewpoint has been completely tarnished, it's just that over the years of monotony that college brings I have fallen away from that raw energy for simple existence. Even at Ohio State--the largest university in the country--there is such an emphasis on you. The college model really makes people think that everything is about them. By condensing the world into a few-acre campus, suddenly your presence is demanded at every event; your viewpoint at a college party is pivotal; your contribution to clubs and sports makes the difference. Suddenly you are the reason that things succeed or fail.

And life just isn't like that. Being that I took two years off before starting college, I knew this going in. But it was inevitable that I would change somehow along the collegiate journey. I just didn't expect it to be this hard. I'm not talking about the all-night study marathons or the difficulty of the class material--I'm talking about the temptation to make everything about me.

By no means have I ever trampled on people in my path or done anything malicious towards others. It's just that college has made me indifferent, a position that in my opinion is worse than good-or-bad, hot-or-cold. With either good or bad you can point to a determined person who knows their place in life; with indifference you don't even bother to try. Indifference is generally the last place I'd ever want to find myself, and that's where I believe college has led me. Maybe it's knowing that in some of my classes 60% of the students will fail or drop-out, and that's just a fact I have to accept. Maybe it's knowing that thousands of students every year abandon their studies and never return to school. Perhaps it's knowing that hundreds of thousands of students will receive rejection letters from graduate programs because the students just weren't good enough. It's these dreadful college statistics that makes me begin to turn cold and indifferent. I wasn't like this before, but now it's just a part of life.

So I'm re-reading my old journals (years before blogging existed!) trying to remember how I treated people. I'm trying to remind myself that my piece of the life puzzle is just a single one out of six billion. I'm doing my best to return to the days when mere existence was enough to overflow my cup. How did I fall away from this? Without shifting too much blame, I'm sure the busy-bee life of an over-committed college student had something to do with it. But as Anne Frank said, "Isn't it wonderful that none of us need wait a moment before starting to change the world?"

It's a good thing that I'm only starting with changing myself. If it only takes a single moment to the change the world, how easy can it be to change ourselves?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Really, Really Serious This Time.

Ok ok ok, I swear on my life and everything I own...I WILL RETURN TO BLOGGING.


Well, because I finally capitulated and bought a laptop cable.


Yes, you may be a little confused. The reason that I have not blogged often in the past 9 months is that I lost my laptop cable and I REFUSED to buy a new one on principle. The new cable was $70--and I wanted to learn my lesson. I lose things too often and then just buy them again. BUT NOT THIS TIME! This time I would learn. No more internet, no more computer--nothing!--because I left my laptop cable in Minnesota.

Well, today that changed. I think 9 months of traveling to the library and perpetual disconnect from Facebook is enough punishment to bring me back to the technology reality. So here I am! Back to blogging. Yay. :-)

Friday, July 3, 2009

An Unexpected Gem.

So I'm writing from the fine city of Charlotte, North Carolina, and I'm having an absolutely fantastic time.

But I gotta admit something.
Something that I thought I'd never say.
It really has nothing to do with Charlotte.
But I have to say it.

I went to Detroit, Michigian for the first time a few days ago. And you know what?
..Here it goes...
I actually liked it.

It was a fantastic trip. Yes, there were homeless people laying out half-naked in the streets. Yes, some vandal was walking around breaking glasses and screaming obscenities. Yes, I was accosted by no less than five people begging me to buy them lunch. It fits all the stereotypes, and the depression of the city is nearly palpable...but it wasn't nearly as awful as I thought it would be. In fact, I rather enjoyed it. I think its geographic location is striking, and its mirror city across the river is so candid and unique as well. I loved the physical layout of the city, and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the suburbs outside of the downtown area. (Birmingham was awesome!)

I spent some time in GM's Renaissance Center. I'm utterly perplexed by its conception and execution. It's strange that all the right elements exist to create a full, thriving city center...yet, it just does not succeed. In fact, its blatant failure stands as a beacon of pessimism for the city to continually behold.

The architecture is innovative and awe-inspiring, the location along the river is stunning, there is a central area full of room for cute shops, there is an enormous car show room...and yet it just does not come together. Truthfully it is heart-breaking. Here is one of the iconic structures of a great American city...and it lays on the brink of ruin.

Regardless, I certainly have a new opinion of both Michigan and Detroit. Yes, things are bad there. If they can pull themselves out of their insane dedication to the automobile industry than perhaps there is still hope for the city. The elements are there for a booming city--it just needs some kind of spark for it to boom once more.