Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Day One in the Pacific Northwest.

Last night we here at the hostel had a community dinner together. I sat with a friendly couple from Long Beach, Brenda and Alee, and we had a great discussion about traveling, Alee's home in Iran, Seattle, religion, politics in America...very unexpected way to spend my evening.

But then it got even better. The hostel had a group field trip to a place called the Comet Tavern, which was a grunge/punk/ska music venue featuring four different bands. The first band--I think their name was The Super Cutes, but not positive--was one of the best. I initially saw a man playing the tambourine and I had to laugh--until I watched him. Then I quickly learned he was kind of amazing. (I never knew the tambourine could be that difficult. I was wrong though.)

I met some lovely ladies from England who have been traveling across the United States for almost three months! They have been absolutely everywhere--Boston, New York, Nashville, Austin, Las Vegas, LA, Chicago...these ladies were so inspiring! I can say they have been to more American cities than a large majority of Americans (which is frankly pathetic, if you really consider the statement).

After the concert a group of us (Jasper from Australia, Matthew from Chicago, myself and the Brits) went to a downstairs Mexican bar that was solidly red throughout. It was seriously the only lighting in the bar. We each had a beer, decided we were tired, and then on our way out a fight broke out. Which was more amusing than intimidating, to be honest.

Although that was my evening, my day was spent schlepping all over Seattle. I went to the Space Needle. Saw the city from Queen Anne. Checked out downtown. Went shopping (seemed necessary). Walked along the pier. Went to the SAM (Seattle Art Museum). It was a fantastic day and if my big adventure continues to be like yesterday, I am surely in for the time of my life.

Call me a freak, but from here on out I'm hooked on hostels. It's the absolute best way to travel.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Journey Thus Far.

Well, I can finally check something off my bucket list--staying in a hostel. Besides walking into my room and being welcomed to the sounds of a man masturbating (there is simply no way that a man could sound that happy when he was taking a nap), the trip has been just lovely. I've met and made friends from Germany, Alaska, Oregon and Illinois, and almost every person surrounding me has some story--running away from home, backpacking across the coast, just getting by, going on an epic journey...I can certainly say this is a very, very unique place.

You sleep in a room with 5 other people. There are three sets of bunk beds, and beneath the bottom bunk is a locked case for you to store your belongings. Surrounding your bed are curtains so that you can sleep with a little privacy (although in terms of my jerking off bunk buddy, it simply does not provide complete privacy). There are private showers on each floor which are first come, first serve. So far no trouble.

As I write this I am staring out the window at the iconic Public Market Center. This hostel is right in the center of it all. They provide breakfast, which was a welcome surprise, but there is a catch--you have to cook it. They provide the bread, the eggs, the pancake mix...but from there you are on your own.

Some of the renters work here to live here. They cannot afford to pay the cost of the stay, so instead they help out with odds and ends in order to make the rent. They cleanup the bathrooms, prepare the breakfast area, clean the different was a very peculiar addition to this hostel experience I had not expected. Essentially, because of the ample amounts of free food they provide, you could theoretically continue to work here just to sleep here for one more day. It's like a modern day form of indentured slavery, or at worst high-end, glorified poverty.

They provide daily activities--today is a tour of all the famous dead musicians graves--and they do everything they can to create a fun and friendly atmosphere. The spin is that you can embrace this and make new friends from all over the world, or you can stay to your lonesome self and not say a word. It is entirely up to you.

I'm reminded that I am in a global city because of the computer I am on. They are courteous enough to provide free internet and even free computers, but even here there is a catch--it's a French keypad. If you go through this blog update, every single apostrophe (') has been cut and pasted into this document. I have no idea how to locate it on this keyboard, and frankly I just gave up looking!

The journey thus far has been fun, exciting, challenging and filled with the unexpected. I'll be sure to continue with the updates as the myriad stories find their way to filter in.

Monday, August 24, 2009

My Big Summer Adventure!

In just a few hours I begin my big summer adventure! Four days in Seattle, three days in Vancouver (!), a day in Tacoma, Washington and another day in's going to be great! I'm utterly stunned at the audacious journey. I'll be staying in hostels, meeting up with an co-intern I have never met, hanging out with a long-time blog buddy from LA that happens to be in Seattle, taking the AMTRAK up-and-down the's going to be so frickin' cool!

So I searched for a fun map to share with you. Nothing too cool came up. So, instead, I found a part of Seattle that has a ton of art galleries--and I thought I'd let you enjoy that instead. So here you go!

Oh, with art galleries galore like this...I think I am going to enjoy the Pacific Northwest. AND, to make it better, I checked the weather and for once luck is running in my favor--it looks like the entire week will be rain-free! Does that ever happen in Seattle or Vancouver? Regardless, I'm not complaining ;-).

So I'll leave you with a few photos. I hope you enjoy and I'll try my best to update along the way!

Seattle is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest. However, the entire metropolitan population size is almost identical to Minneapolis/St. Paul--something no one wants to admit!

Although a Peninsula, and not an Island, Vancouver maintains a level of density surrounding the Central Business District that only has one mirror in North America: New York City.

Vancouver is an anomaly of a city in that it balances dense city life with natural greenery and epic scenery that can be enjoyed by as a if you were in a serene field or in the center of Times Square.

So pretty! So dazzling! So great! Can't wait!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Abandoned 8.

Abandonment is a universal fear that permeates across humanity. The fear of abandonment puts troubled individuals through years of counseling, ruins relationships, tests families, forces companies to never fully trust their employees...and it also is the biggest fear for a city that wants to remain vibrant.

Ohio is not isolated from abandonment. Flocks of people are abandoning Cleveland, Youngstown, Dayton and Zanesville (to name a few), only to leave empty streets and dilapidated structures. Nothing destroys a town more than collective abandon--and these 8 cities are the paradigm of this urban planning nightmare.

This photo comes from the icon of a failing city--Detroit, Michigan. Once a glorious triumph of the American spirit, Detroit now stands as a beacon of failure and demise. The Michigan Central Station, in the picture above, was the world's tallest train station when it operated. It was designed by the same men who crafted New York's Grand Central Station, and it embraced that same essence. Now, it is bound to sit in desolation and wait for its doom.

The article link above features the other cities, including cities in Germany, China and Italy. It's interesting to know that abandonment is not just an American problem.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


The number of days I have left here in Columbus!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Scary Mary--Trailer.

It's like 3 years old, but I still love it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cars, Density and Public Transportation.

Ugh. This article right here is the reason why I'm so pressed on leaving this country.
It's hard to appreciate how truly pitiful our public transportation system is until you spend some time with a system that works.
Oh, there's more to that article--but just go read it. It'll certainly begin to get your blood boiled.

The first half of the article circles around the devastating truth about this nation--the reality that public transportation will almost never be universally accessible. We love our cars, and we're too damn fat to consider taking a hike to work instead of driving our gas-guzzling vehicles to our fat office chairs.

I have preached it for years, and no one likes it. But it's the truth. If we ever want to get Americans out of their cars, we need to raise the entire cost of owning a car. And that begins with raising gas taxes, toll prices, parking fees...raise them all! Few reasonable people drive in a place like Manhattan, and that's because it's frankly faster to use the subway than to try to bother with driving. If we want that same Manhattan-connectedness throughout this country, it'll have to start with making it supremely inconvenient to drive.

Why am I so obsessed with public transportation? For one, it's far more economical. And I don't mean financially--I mean the supply-and-demand of land! Ever consider how much space highways, roads, parking garages and cars take up? My lord it's a huge waste of space. Having people commute to work, social functions, etc., via a collective effort is simply better for the development of cities. It's long-term sustainability.

It is also, clearly, the healthier route to pursue. New Yorkers walk around 5-miles a day, while the average American doesn't even make it to a single mile. And you know what? Americans are freaking huge, they could surely use a 5-mile walk.

Efficiency about public transporation may be in question, because there are many systems in this country that do not run efficiently (COTA bus would be one great example). But as more people ride the transportation systems, the easier they are to become more convenient. The difficulty lies in getting people to push the system to a point where they must expand.

The first bit of the article focuses on the dim future for public transportation in The United States (::angry face::) and the second part reviews American's hatred for high-density neighborhoods (::really angry face::).
David Boyce, an adjunct professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northwestern University, said another key piece of the puzzle is land use. Americans prefer low-density communities and large lots for their homes.

This may be swell from a quality-of-life perspective, but it's an enormous challenge for public transportation, which requires relatively large numbers of people moving from point A to point B on a daily basis to be profitable.


I hate to be cynical, but I simply can't imagine political leaders at the local, state or federal level telling voters that they support a big increase in gas taxes, sky-high parking fees and high-density neighborhoods.

So don't hold your breath for a public transportation system that rivals what our friends abroad enjoy. It's not going to happen -- at least not until a majority of us agree that we're prepared to accept the trade-offs necessary to bring about such a wholesale change in how we live and travel.
Baby Jesus on a cross, do you see why I am love with this article? It's like I wrote it myself! Words right from my own lips!

No one is going to find me holding my breathe for these kinds of developments, and I'm frankly just not committed to this country enough to be part of the movement towards this ideal. This country won't let me serve in our armed forces, won't let me marry the love of my life, won't even give me legal recognition in the majority of the where's the incentive to stay? It's certainly not the crazy gun laws or the lack of access to health care! It's not our impressive education system or the upcoming generation of idiots that this nation is brewing up right now! Hell, I can't even give blood in this friggin' as a clearly unequal citizen of The US, I honestly, from my viewpoint, find almost no reason at all to stay here.

There is plenty wrong with this country and I'll be the first to point it out. But at the same time, I will be here for at least 1-2 more years at the minimum; 5-7 years at the most. So although it's fun and easy to write up a quick rant about the atrocities of this country...perhaps I should make the best of my time? Instead of whining and complaining as the next few years go by, why don't I do my own small part to make things better? That's a far better approach than to relentlessly bitch about how awful it is here.

Sigh...the only problem is it's easier said than done.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Thoughts On The Outside.

Someone was asking me the other day specifically why I think suburbs are the downfall and ruin of this country. Their defense was that technology has provided people with the ability to own both worlds--the world of the city and the world of their own. Interesting argument, because I personally believe the opposite.

First off, suburbs are simply a reflection of our auto-dependent lifestyle. His point about technology paving the way for these type of developments is spot on. However, what he fails to realize is the sustainability of these types of structures. No one likes to admit it, but there is a simple supply-and-demand equation when it comes to oil. Demand will continue to rise as our nation continues to grow. (Projected to be 450 million Americans by 2050). However, the supply of oil is a very specific amount, a number that is pretty difficult for us to predict. Nevertheless, when that peak hits and oil production slows down, what will we be left with? An immobile country, that's what.

Gas right now is at a comfortable $2.60 a gallon (in Ohio). But what happens in five or so years when we will be paying $8 or $9 per gallon? Will we still be able to drive 30 or 40 miles to work? Will big box industries still be able to sweep all of their transportation costs under the carpet? Will travel still be as easy and affordable? The answer is a quite obvious NO to all of these questions. And if we continue to plan and develop suburbs that circle the center city, we are planning for our own destruction.

So, to get back to the topic at hand, I believe suburbs are the ruin of this country because they will not be able to exist forever. On top of their future bleak outlook, as they stand today they are horrendous for the development of real communities. Notice how there are rarely sidewalks? It's because the developers want you to drive everywhere. And if you're isolated in your car instead of walking the streets, you're alone. And, to follow the cycle, if you're alone you're not making friends. You aren't establishing relationships. There is no community when you park in the garage and never step foot towards your neighbors house.

As a note, I have no problem with neighborhoodss that are outside of the center city. I myself don't live downtown, and it would be a ridiculous assertion to say that everyone must live in a skyscraper. That's not my point here. What I am getting at is the typical type of development that American cities are seeing 20, 30 or even up to 50 miles outside of where people work. This type of development is just plain awful, and it goes beyond just the lack of community and the dependence on the automobile. Why maintain ten mini-cities with tax dollars when, if the city was denser, you could support just one? This one point alone is enough to make me cringe.

Columbusites spend millions of dollars maintaining Westerville, Lancaster, Marysville, Polaris, Grove City...all of these large areas 20 or so miles outside of downtown, and it just doesn't make any sense. We wouldn't need 15 different fire departments or police stations if we just moved the people closer together. Think of all the roads that must be maintained, or the schools, or the streets, or the stoplights, etc. etc. If we didn't have a land of suburbs we wouldn't need to pay for these things over and over again--and thus our city could function far better.

But people argue that they enjoy having their own space. And that's understandable--but it's just not practical. One of the very basic tenants of good urban planning is Jane Jacobs' idea of "Eyes on the Street". Our sidewalks and streets are the fundamental building blocks of our cities. They are what make people feel safe--and this simple feeling is the determinant of a successful city or a failing one.

So how does one create safe streets? Well, simple--eyes on the street. Have coffee shops with big patios, get runners, parents with their kids, people walking their dogs...activity is where it's at! But this activity goes vis-a-vis with that safety factor, and its by no means an easy equation. But it's an imperative one. Suburbs by nature cannot create this vibrancy or this level of activity. Their low-density and exclusionary practices keep a homogeneous group of citizens and an inactive feel to them.

Let's make a recap--suburbs cannot be maintained because of their dependence of the soon-to-be-costly automobile. Suburbs to a fault destroy the ability to create communities. Suburbs guzzle tax-dollars because of their low-density yet high-maintenance requirements. Suburbs do not create the kind of activity that favors low-crime and high-likability.

But wait, there's more!

The actual planning of suburbs is just atrocious. It's bad enough that they just turn into a sea of cookie-cutter homes, but do the planners really have to design the roads so disgustingly? I mean, who actually likes driving out in the burbs? Planners just seem to hate grids in suburbs, but grids are frequently what is most efficient. Sure, grid style developments leads to cars cutting through side-streets, but I'd rather have that than the ugly and uninspired crap that planners shit out these days.

That's my case. I fully believe that one cannot attain a high-quality of life when they're commuting 30 miles to work or school everyday. I do not believe in any capacity that the American suburbs are sustainable developments which will continue to be well-maintained in the far future. At the same time, if you personally enjoy the suburbs, who am I to point and tell you to move? If you're happy, then ignore this whole post. My only concern is for the collective future of this country, and I truly question what kind of place it will be when the central cities continue to fail and then the suburbs go down with them.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

They Even Rob Their Education!

I used to have this manager. Whenever someone would do something wrong or quirky or rude, he'd bark out this particular way of saying "unbelievable". He'd hold out the 'un' really long, and then quickly blurt out the 'believable'. "That was unnnnn......believeable." It was his distinct phrase, something everyone at my job would say at really any opportune time.

Right now, in my head, I am hearing his voice say it over and over again. Unnnn...believeable! Unnn....believeable!

Why am I in such a state of disbelief? Because I came across some of the "rigorous" requirements of a certain bible college's classes. What are these awfully difficult class reqs? Well, for a Ph.D level course, 20% of a certain grade comes down to planning a Sunday School lesson. Another, for a Master's course, gives 20% of a students final grade for leaving comments on websites. They even have one unabashedly biased course--"Intelligent Design or Unintelligent Evolution."

What a flagrant perversion of education! What a flippant abandon of the pursuit of truth! Schools like this are just sick, because they are raking in thousands upon thousands of dollars from students, and in return they so horrendously rob them of their education. They hand out unaccredited pieces of paper that are supposed to represent a Bachelor's Degree, but with class selections like this, how can one learn?

I have sat through my fair share of Women's Studies and Sociology classes. Been through my biology, physics and chemistry. Knocked out four classes of Calculus. I have never had a grade handout in college. It has never been easy. But it has rounded me out and opened my eyes to new perspectives and ways of thinking. But if my college degree was based upon the foundation that everyone around me thinks the same way I do, what type of development could I claim? How could I have grown at all?

Specifically one of my professors comes to mind. He was a stout man with a tiny head and huge body. He wore Big Dogs hoodies to lecture. He frequently flirted with the ladies. But his outlook on life was so peculiar and so precise that it forever changed how I read books, how I watch movies and really how I take in anything in life.

I got an A in his class, but it didn't come easy. I read 9 novels, wrote 7 papers (all over 2,000 words), turned in a 20-page thesis paper and didn't miss a single class. There was no extra credit, there weren't take-home exams...and it was a basic GEC! The fact that I have been pushed by my Professors is what has encouraged me to continue to pursue education in every direction I take.

So that is why I am so outraged at this pathetic "institution". (I won't even call it a college or seminary). Writing comments on blogs should never be credit in any college course, much less worth 20% at a Master's level! It is such a disservice to themselves, their students, their institution and even to education itself. I feel horrible for these students. When they graduate they will be no better when they started.

How Would You Go?

So if you were gonna kill yourself, how would you do it? Shoot yourself in the head? Swallow a bottle of gin and bottle of pills? Jump off a bridge?

It's an absurd question, one that I have never really wanted to ponder. But, it's worth at least considering--if you wanted to take control of reality and really off yourself, what would be the best way?

Well, by its popularity, it seems the best way is quite easy--jump off The Golden Gate Bridge! More than 1200 people have taken that long plunge, and this ridiculous map right here lays out the history of suicides:

(Click to embiggen)

I think if I were to pull the carpet on my life, I'd want something absolutely unheard of. I'd wanna make the news. Unless I was jet-skiing with an infant driving the boat or going out in a bunny costume in front school children, I just wouldn't be satisfied. But I think that's just how I live my life. Pretty ridiculous.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

After What We Destroyed.

So you know what really grinds my gears? I was thinking about this the other day, and the irony burns. Ever notice that those stupid suburban developments that look like Playdough Cities are always named after what was destroyed in order to build them? Think about it. Their names are always like "Green Meadows" or "Forever Pastures". They thought up those names because of what had to be leveled in order to throw up their cookie cutter houses! Why would we want nature or beauty when we could have an identical copy of all of our neighbors' homes?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

America's Healthiest Cities.

"Healthy". That's generally the one-word definition of my dream city. Not necessarily as in fit or active, but overall healthy--culturally active, economically vibrant, bustling city-folk, high-quality of life, etc. That's why I'm obsessed with Minneapolis (and recently Seattle), since they both seem to be consummate examples of the kind of city I want to live in.

Well, Outside Magazine seems to agree with me. They've put together their annual list of the "Best Healthy Towns in 2009", and my favorite cities all seemed to make the list: Charlotte, Seattle, Minneapolis and even Cincinnati! (Don't mock me. I love it there.)

First, we started with the 100 most populated cities in America, using public data to rank them on factors like cost of living, unemployment, nightlife, commute time and access to green space. Then we took the 28 candidates with the highest overall averages and put them through a second round of number crunching, comparing things like the percentage of the population with college degrees, income level in relation to home prices, and weather. The wild card? Our own multisport factor, which rated each of our finalists on a scale of 1 to 5 for quality and proximity to biking, running, paddling, hiking, and skiing. After adding it all up, we had our top ten.

10. Charlotte, North Carolina
9. Cincinnati, Ohio
8. Minneapolis, Minnesota
7. Portland, Oregon
6. Albuquerque, New Mexico
5. Boston, Massachusetts
4. Austin, Texas
3. Atlanta, Georgia
2. Seattle, Washington
1. Colorado Springs, Colorado