On My Way Home

Living on the Jersey Shore, surrounded by 24 hour diners, dark-haired greaseballs, and leopard print yoga pants, I couldn’t really be much further from Italy, where well-dressed people enjoy shots of expresso and kiss on street corners. I think nostalgically about my time in Italy daily, often wondering how I ended up back here surrounded by the congested parkway and the smog of the nearby city. Often, it feels like that was another world, another lifetime, and it becomes more and more difficult to remind myself that was me there and not a body double. However, during every afternoon run on the boardwalk, gazing out over the pink sky and quietly whispering winds, I sometimes forget that I’m here at all and instead, I’m taken back to being that carefree, kind-of-dirty kid one year ago.

The Jersey Shore beach doesn’t really look like any of the beaches I ever saw in Italy did. It doesn’t look like the spotted mountainside beach towns of Cinque Terre, nor does it possess the sunny winding roads of Sorrento or the wilderness-ridden cliffs of Capri. The air isn’t as light and clean here and the people aren’t as happy and slow-moving. Hell, even the water here doesn’t have the turquoise dreamy tides of the Mediterranean. However, seaside smells and salty air are the same no matter what town you’re in, and the little towns on the Shore are no different. Sometimes when running on the boardwalk, I almost want to close my eyes and, just for a second, remember my first weekend trip to Cinque Terre.

The more places that you go, the more that you realize how remarkably similar many of them are. Don’t get me wrong here – the world is a quirky place, reminiscent of a family of black sheep where each cousin is a little different from the next. There is no place in the world with the tres chic of Paris, the art splendor of Florence, or the loom of Budapest. However, they all have sister qualities within them nevertheless. New Orleans is the dirty, rogue sister of Savannah, San Francisco, the big-city hipster brother of Seattle. And when you happen to run into one of these unexpected family members, even in a place as unsexy as the Jersey Shore, it’s always a welcome reminder of the home that once was.

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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 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.