Month: March 2013

Live a Life Worth Telling.

I always thought I knew who the winners were.

The businessmen and the lawyers; they were the ones who had it right. Ever since I was little, they were the ones who had it all, with their big, happy families in their cozy mansions with a golden retriever who had a bandanna around their necks. In my head, they came home at 6:00 everyday to a beautiful homemade meal on the table and they spent their weekends on their yachts and drinking cocktails on the porch with their neighbors by moonlight.

Being a middle schooler who unlocked their own door everyday and begged for rides home from track practice, this was the dream. This is what I thought about when I was studying and figuring out how I was gonna pay for school one day; that one day, it would all be worth it.

However, now I’m 22. And I’m not going to med school and I’m not going to law school. Hell, my major is Communication and I spend most of my time palling around in this office and drinking free coffee and trying to figure out which break I can go run at. I may not have a full-time job yet. I may not have a family or a golden retriever and I may drive an ’02 Ford Focus. But I don’t think the businessmen and the lawyers are the winners anymore.

When I was abroad, I met some of the happiest people I have ever known who barely held what you would consider a full-time job. You know what they did? They picked potatos in Ireland. When the season was over, they would take the money they made and then they would go to England and they would bartend in Camden Lock. When it got too cold out, they would fly to Turkey and live in cheap hostels in Istanbul. They always had a backpack on and barely ever wore shoes. They told the most interesting, exciting, and wonderful stories I have ever heard. This is winning.

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Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.

Getting older, little by little, it is this quote that has much more merit, for me at least, than an endless doctor’s shift or 80 hours workweeks at a law office. One day, some of you will (if you have the time) go to parties and you will say, “I’m a doctor at the local hospital.” Or you will say, “I make $150,000 a year as a lawyer.” And you know what? This is great. But truth be told, for some of us, these figures will never bring happiness. Spending all our daylight hours in little rooms and being tired and hungry and overworked and missing our friends and our families will never, ever, be enough for that beautiful mansion or that red convertible. It’s just not.

Those people, those wealthy, suited, briefcased people are the ones who cheat on their wives, whose children go to therapy because they were always alone. Those are the ones who can count the number of vacations they have been on on one hand because there simply wasn’t time for anyone else.

For some, this will be worth it and they will leave a contented life and maybe make themselves feel like they did something of value for making someone else money. They will not mind that they spent 50 years selling insurance for a faceless corporation. But for me, and many others, we need more. We need substance. We need a life, a story, we need to see a sequence of adventures when the time comes for that white light, not just a series of numbers on a lit-up screen. We need to travel, to see the world, to meet people who are interesting and exciting and to do things that other dream about when they say One day, when I retire. And for this, I don’t mind sleeping late, wearing jeans, and wondering how the hell I will pay for lunch today.

It will always be worth living a life worth telling.

 

Where to Nest

When you’ve lived in pretty much the same place for your entire life, a funny thing happens… you really start to absolutely, positively loathe it.

And, at the same time, every place I basically have gone ever I have wanted to move to, which I do not hesitate to tell my mother about. Her eyes get glossy for a second before she realizes that I’m probably full of shit, when then she says, “Well that’s nice, honey” before going back to finishing her dinner and I’m stuck there feeling like a little kid who says they want to be an astronaut when they grow up.

However, by no means is New Jersey an unpleasant place, despite the things you have heard me say and the rumors you have undoubtedly heard. (If you want the truth, the reason we make fun of Jersey is because we want everyone else to stay the hell out). In actuality, it is the garden state (shocker) and is full of green forests, beautiful beaches, bustling towns, and life.

Driving down Ocean Avenue to work is always a pleasant reminder of this. Yes, to me, New Jersey may be a little overdone, and I wouldn’t mind eventually finding a new place to set up camp and move on to bigger and better things. At the same time, I try to look at these beautiful beaches as an outsider and that’s when I remember…

This is the most beautiful place in the world. Long Branch

Sharing the Wealth

Travel is a funny thing. Like a dashing book or an eloquent play, it is rarely the entire story that gets you; the combination of the drama and the passion, or the comedy strewn in with the intricately woven characters. Instead, it’s often a single line that found its way inside you and has no plans of abandonment.

Sometimes (most of the time) I feel like kind of an idiot when people say, “How did you like Italy?” or “Where was your favorite place to go?” and I can only sputter as I try to string together an answer that can somehow sum up the endless amount of thoughts churning in my head. I feel like I talk so much that people just want me to shut up- which is a rare feat considering I’m talking about- subjectively- one of the most breathtaking countries in the world. 

However, once in a while some of my words actually hit a chord, undetected from me until I’m told. I can’t see it in their face and I can’t hear it in their voice, but sometimes, a person will say to me, I went there because of you. And, in turn, this hits a chord of mine more than seeing any photograph or reading any blog post ever would.

Today, my 50-or-so mousy and giddy mother called me to tell me that in November, she will be going to Italy. While there, she will visit the Amalfi Coast (and within it in particular, Sorrento and Capri), Naples (Pompeii), and Rome. Her old college is planning a trip for alumni for an unreasonably good price for a nine-day-trip.

Let me clarify here- my mother doesn’t have a passport. She doesn’t even drive at night. Living alone at her house in the forest, she locks her bedroom door at night, as well as exterior doors. But she told me that when she got the email offer for the trip, she could only think I have to. I have to see what Jenna saw. 

It is words like this that makes me believe that all of my ranting, my photographs, and my endless blog posts are all worth it. If one person out there listens, even it’s just my own mother, it becomes so unbelievably worth it that it feels like a steal.

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Whatever Happened to Predictability?

Yesterday when we embarked for our third and final day of exploring of San Francisco, we nervously looked up at the sky and saw the ominous dark clouds overhead, pitting the city into a field of fog. However, this is just another typical San Francisco move— looming black clouds threatening rain with no follow through. Thank God.

We hopped on a bus and headed to Haight-Ashbury, a neighborhood in west San Francisco that borders the Golden Gate Park which boasts the center of the 1960’s counterculture movement, complete with skateboarders, dreadlocks, colorful murals, deadheads, and the odd scent of a certain herbal substance.

Haight-Ashbury

I was skeptical about what this neighborhood would really have to offer—would it just be a series of cheap vintage shops, where tourists gathered to buy Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and California themed bongs? Actually, no.

Haight-Ashbury, named for where Haight and Ashbury streets meet, is a real-deal neighborhood, equipped with colorful Victorians, hippies painting children’s faces, men holding hands, and long-haired kids in their windows waving and laughing. This isn’t just another tourist destination; it’s a real little Narnia that houses the same people it did back in the 1960’s, with the same people who wished they were living in vans like their parents did.

Unfortunately, my handy guidebook really didn’t specify any specific locales in the neighborhood, so we just wandered a little, missing some big spots like Jerry Garcia’s house (but we did get ice cream…obviously). And since we were nearby anyway, we walked a few blocks north to Alamo Square, where the Painted Ladies reside.

The Painted Ladies are that row of colorful Victorians you have seen on postcards; which is the biggest hub of the 19th century homes in the city. It’s worth it to climb the massive hill of the square to have the greatest view of the homes, which unfortunately do not include the Victorian in Full House, although the hill is the same one that the Tanners picnic on in the opening scene. My life is a lie.

The Painted Ladies

After Alamo Square, we had these great tour-quality expectations of walking to the bike shop at the start of Golden Gate Park to the east to ride to the Golden Gate Bridge a few miles away, but this may have been slightly optimistic since half the group couldn’t ride a bike, it was freezing cold, and it was 5:00 pm. Whatever, I tried. Instead, we took the inconvenient route of bus 71 to bus 28, the only line which goes from Golden Gate Park to the Golden Gate Bridge.

During this long, smelly, and crowded public transportation ride (#firstworldprobs) we were all seriously wondering if this was really gonna be worth it. Screw the bridge. I hate this bridge. I can’t bike to it and it’s friggin cold and the Bay Bridge looks kind of similar anyway, right?

Wrong.

Seeing the Golden Gate Bridge reminds you of where you really are. Haight-Ashbury, cable cars, Chinatown, Pier 39, and Fisherman’s Wharf really are, yes, real San Francisco. But who can resist such a famous trademark such as that of the Golden Gate Bridge? It may just be a really big red manmade structure at first glance, but really, it’s more than that. It’s the final mark of a great city, one that has flourished for years, one that has been the epicenter of life, change, and revolution. It’s the last capische on an Italian dish in North Beach, the soy sauce on Chinatown lo mein, the last hump when the cable car hits Lombard Street. The Golden Gate Bridge might as well be the cherry on the whimsical sundae that is San Francisco; always saving the best for last.

Golden Gate Bridge

The City by the Bay.

After rendezvousing through Chinatown, we hiked down Market Street once again to the corner of Powell street, where the cable car, the only National Historic Center icon that is mobile, picks up its passengers to take them up the famous hills and to the Bay, where Alcatraz and Fisherman’s Wharf lie. Apparently, the reason San Fran loves cable cars is because back in the day when horses would pull people up the hills, some of those poor ponies toppled down the hill with the carts and people attached. Ever since, cable cars have been the go-to mode of transportation around here.

San Franciscans seem to treat the cable cars like their own cheap taxis, and to them, it’s no big deal to hold on and hang off the side as the cable car winds up the hill like a teetering roller coaster for only six bucks a pop. For the rest of us tourists, we were left sliding back on the benches, holding on to our cameras for dear life.

When the cable car stopped, we got off at Lombard Street, known as the crookedest street in the world. So crooked that it has to zigzag across the hill, which is dressed up with pretty mansions and manicured flowers. After trying to navigate down the street hillside, we wandered down past the old Victorians and followed the Bay in the distance to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Lombard Street

Fisherman’s Wharf is like a more old-school and genuine version of Point Pleasant, New Jersey, minus the dumb carnival games and unenthusiastic teenagers selling air brush tattoos. The beginning of the Wharf is lined with seafood shops, where you can get fresh shrimp sandwiches for five bucks from a stand and you can walk along the water and by the five-or-so piers that dot the water. At the edge, you can see Alcatraz Island and the Golden Gate Bridge, lit up when night comes along.

Alcatraz Island

We also stopped at Musee Mechanique, a classic game arcade with games as old as from the 1800’s. The games feature machines where you put in a quarter and see puppets dance or carnivals light up and move and “x-rated movies,” where a man puts his arm around a woman. Ah, the days.

Down Pier 39, we spotted the sea lions all laying about like sleepy dogs, barking at each other and enjoying the warm weather as they sunbathed on the rocks. Wandering into the middle of the pier, you can ride the carousel, see puppet shows, and literally eat the best salt water taffy of your life.

Pier 39

Unlike many other “famous” cities, this place doesn’t reek of tourism in the slightest. Instead, to me, it has the scent of locals making their living selling freshly caught fish and people kissing in front of the Golden Gate before strolling to Pier 39 for candy. Not a bad life.

The Town Within the Town.

Yesterday, I took my study-abroad self-touring skills to the test and, equipped with a map and a 2011 Frommer’s guidebook I got for four bucks on eBay, I somehow convinced everyone to trust me enough to let them allow me to lead them around this wondrous little city.

First, we all headed off to Union Square, or what we thought to be Union Square. Union Square in itself, was, or so I thought, little more than a commercial hub where stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Juicy Couture, and Coach were gathered about for rich citygoers and tourist moms to stop by when they got bored of sightseeing. However, today I quickly realized that in actuality, Union Square is a physical green square, as it appeared on my map, where a few restaurants line the grass and artists gather to showcase their abstract works.

Anyway, quickly bored of Union Square, we walked the few blocks up Grant Avenue to San Francisco’s Chinatown, where one of the largest Chinese populations outside of Asia harbor. After walking through the touristy Chinese gate right on Grant, we walked down the avenue and in and out of the many clothing stores, kite shops, and tea stores. Around the streets, even on structures such as the Bank of America building (ironically enough) you can see all sorts of Chinese architecture trademarks such as gold dragons and peaked tops. It’s kind of cool too that it’s clearly not just a tourist attraction- Chinese people are all over the place; walking with their children, playing music, manning their shops, eating their lunches in the park.

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Once again, being shocked that anyone chooses to listen to me, I followed my guidebook in bringing everyone down a sketchy alley to the Fortune Cookie Company, so Frommer’s instructed me. The alley smelled like dead animals and flies swarmed the place where most of the shops were barred up. Even still, it gave me some hope that although no tourists were around, Chinese people were still walking up and down the alley like it was common traffic.

The tiny sign that read Fortune Cookie Co. was just as little as the shop itself, which felt pretty full with the machinery lining the floors and three little woman sitting in a corner, folding fortune cookies and placing fortunes inside.

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After we escaped the alley, we strolled down Stockton Street, which is supposed to the main food market full of things like armadillos, frogs, and other not-so-appetizing creatures. However, this seemed to be pretty empty to me, mostly just stuffed with more tourist shops.

Even still, Chinatown seems to be its very own locale, located within San Francisco even if only by name. The few streets it takes up seem to have residents that have no reason to leave. Why bother when everyone you need is already in picturesque San Francisco?

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Look, it’s the Golden Gate!

….oh wait. JK.

So before we were all positive that we saw the Golden Gate Bridge, we joined together as our group of 13 and hiked down Market Street, the main hub street of San Fran, to the Ferry Building and the Ferry Building Marketplace, which lies at the foot of the bay. This is probably one of my favorite parts about San Fran– you have this bustling city, joined together with only a few blocks in between to a laid-back and salty water.

In the Ferry Building Marketplace, there are tons of little shops filled with wines, gourmet cheeses, ice cream, and obviously… seafood. Most of these humble seafood stands have lines running out the door, with people already crowding the bar and loading up on happy hour oysters and Anchor Steam beers. Most of them still have their suits out, fresh out of their 9-5 jobs, never bothering to waste their time staying late than so many of us force ourselves to over in the tri-state area. When you walk through the Marketplace and stand out on the boardwalk next to the water, the salty winds kind of getcha for a moment before you spot the Bay Bridge hidden behind the countless ferries and people that are loading up for Oakland across the water.

The Bay Bridge

The Bay Bridge looks kind of similar to the Golden Gate Bridge from afar (well, as far as I can tell as of now) and lights up at night with lights made to look like waves, lighthouses, and gulls flying across. From our sketchy Asian seafood joint on the water, this was a welcome surprise as I enjoyed my red snapper dinner.

Red Snapper

Nobody was lying to you when they said that the weather in this city literally changes at the drop of a hat. During the day, as you walk around, you’re wishing you brought flip-flops but as soon as you walk a few feet closer to the water you’re wondering why you didn’t bring your North Face jacket.

I don’t know what it is about this city that makes it so uniquely American; whether it’s the salty sea air, the happy little ferries, or the fact that it’s the birthplace of many important American moments. It’s also distinctly different from the warped land we live in back near New York City— here, it’s like time has stopped, where people still enjoy their boardwalks and their families and having a nice run down the water, where the only thing anyone is every in a rush to do to get some of that fresh seafood that floods the place. Whatever it is, it easily gives you a new appreciation for the country you live in. The East Coast doesn’t have a damn thing on this place.

The Guy Next to Me Smells Kind of Funny.

I could sit here all day long and tell you why I think it’s cool to get involved in school activities. I could tell you about how there are lots of unexpected perks, like meeting hot boys or networking with distinguished administrators or going to shows or getting free food. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that the very best way to convey how friggin sick school activities are is to tell you that right now, I am on an airplane to San Francisco, California with 12 of my best friends and the only money I’ll be fronting all weekend will be the dollar postcard I send to my mom.

Here’s the deal- the University newspaper that I work for, The Outlook, makes money through advertising within the paper, so as long as our advisor approves it, we all get to go to the Associated Collegiate Press (ACP) conference each year. Lucky for us, they always pick pretty sweet cities to go to; we have gone to Phoenix, Arizona; Los Angeles, California; Seattle, Washington; and today, we are going to San Fran. Hell. Yes.

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Family travel goes kind of like this: Mom and Dad buy the kids tickets. Mom bothers you to pack enough underwear and she makes you soggy sandwiches because airport food is pricey and then you have to share the room with these three other people whom you don’t really like very much and you usually end up having to pose for a lot of unflattering pictures, one of which will, undoubtedly, end up on your Christmas card.

However, student travel goes a little more along these lines: I sit in Business Law class till 12:45, wondering why the hell I haven’t packed yet when I have to be back at school to roll out at 3:30. I excitedly tell the girl next to me who I don’t really know very well that in a few hours, I’ll be in the City by the Bay. When I get home, I throw my stuff in a bag and I don’t have to listen to my mom telling me I really don’t need that many clothes (um, shut up mom) and then I run rampant with these 12 other nutjobs until we finally get on the plane, where my friend Nick comes up to my row and says, “Dude, the guy next to me… he smells sort of funny.”

One of the coolest parts of student travel is this—you’re not with a bunch of washed-out adults who jadedly see every super-cool city as been-there, done-that. Instead, you’re with a bunch of other kids, just like you, who seriously cannot believe they got so lucky to be here right now and with as excited as you all are, you could be going to damn Narnia. This is the joy of being young- to see everything as an adventure, because everything is.

I’ll only be here for four-and-a-half days, including travel time. But when you’re a kid with a backpack, equipped with plenty of underwear and lots of other people who are just as interested in finding the dollar oysters, taking a picture in front of the old Victorian in Full House, riding a cable car, and getting scared silly at Alcatraz (or is it Azkaban?) these 108 hours seem like the perfect amount of time to stay away for.