Friday, August 8, 2014

Beantown and the Big Apple: Days 5,6,7

            Well, I’m on my way home. Yes, yes, I know, I didn’t post anything about New York, but here’s the thing: I didn’t have any internet for the whole time. I wasn’t about to bring my laptop into the city just to spend my vacation time looking at a wifi signal. So, I’m waiting until now, riding back to Boston on the same train that brought me to NY.
            New York is possibly the most famous city in the world, and as such, has been written about countless times, by people much better than me. So I won’t spell out all my feelings on the city, and I’m going to combine all the days into one entry, mostly because I have cool titles for them.

            Day 4: Escape to New York

            So we left Boston on a train pointed directly into the heart of New York’s rail system, Penn Station. Then, we proceeded to keep going. It turns out that, in addition to literally everything else, hotels in New York are extremely expensive. So, instead of putting off the trip for another year to store up the necessary funds to get a hotel, my girlfriend contacted her great uncle who lives in New Jersey that she hasn’t seen in 7 years to ask if we could stay with them. Graciously, they accepted, and made plans to pick us up from a station in Newark.
            Quick sidenote: There’s no way that they didn’t name Newark so close to New York to try and confuse people. Newark is like the New York that your grandmother buys for your birthday from a bargain bin and you have to smile and thank her anyway.
            Anyway, we start down the escalator that will take us to the people picking us up, and only then do I think to ask my GF if she remembers what our hosts look like. “Well, kinda, I think,” she replies, and a piece of me dies. But it worked out, because a woman did one of those “Are you waving at me or the person behind me?” waves, and when we replied, it all worked out.
            We piled into their car and taken through what they described as a “twenty-five cent” tour of the city, which meant driving on major roads, pointing out but not stopping at things we may have heard of. We did get dropped off half an hour in so we could buy hotdogs while Uncle drove around the block. So, less than 45 minutes into my trip, I’d already had quality organic ingredients. MSG is organic, right? I’m not complaining, by that time in the day, I was starving.
            We weren’t very talkative to these two people that had the thickest accent I’d ever heard, mostly because our jaws were too far open to communicate effectively. Tall buildings, you guys. I don’t know what it is about tall buildings, but they’re a crowd pleaser.
            After the tour, we were taken to their house, a beautiful place in Glen Rock, NJ. Three of their grandchildren came over for dinner and somehow had thicker accents than their grandparents- “Can I getchya sumthin’ to duh-rink or will you just have wuhtah?” The kids were all our age, and after a trip to Wikipedia, we learned the difference between second cousins and cousins once removed and all that. They are second cousins, and it works like this. If you share a relative one generation up, parents, you’re siblings. Two generations up, grandparents, you’re cousins. Three generations up, great-grandparents, then you’re second cousins. Easy!
            Later, the three “cousins” and the two of us went to a trivia night in a nearby suburb. We did not go to New York that day, and I’m pretty okay with it, because the cousins were all boss as hell.

Day 5 and 6: I Would Walk 500 Miles

            So, now that we were settled in to New Jersey, we figured it was time to get to the heart of the matter and see some Big Apple, nah mean? So, rising early, we caught trains into the city. It’s amazing to think that you can see the New York skyline from the suburb we were staying at, but the time it takes to get into the city is the time it takes me to get from Cedar Falls to Ames. Big city livin’, folks.
            I don’t know how acquainted ya’ll are with NY geography, because I wasn’t at all. So I’m posting this map of Manhattan so you have an idea of what I’m talking about. I’m not trying to be “Oh, you poor uncultured swine have never been to the city,” I’m just trying to help. Just love me.
           

            So, we got into Penn Station, and decided that the first day, we’d go north, because that way lies Central Park, The Natural History Museum, and madness. I don’t know if you know this about maps, but everything is drawn very small. I don’t know why, they should just draw things life size so you know what you’re getting into, because it was a 40 minute walk to Central Park. Luckily, my GF had thrown fashion under the bus and wore running shoes, or I’d have carried her home.
            Central Park is pretty, the history museum is awesome. You should go there. I don’t have much to say, again, that hasn’t already been said by poets and whatever the world over. So I’ll skip that stuff.
            From the museum, we stopped in the Park again to do the rowboats because we were total tourists. Then, off to the U.N. building, also known as another hour of walking. The U.N. building wasn’t very exciting, because it’s just a building with flags outside of it. I don’t know what I expected, I’ll admit.
            You may be noticing that we aren’t taking New York’s famed subway in these stories. It’s because we have more time than money, and figured that subway tunnels are the same all over. In Boston, the trip was a much more obvious distance, because the city wasn’t so damn uniform. In NY, blocks on a map meld together to the point where they’re more suggestions than distance. So we walked.
            From the U.N. building, we decided to try to get to the top of the Empire State building. It was a three hour wait. We decided to go home.
            Waiting for us back at Glen Rock was a barbeque of my GF’s very-extended family. It sounds awful, but was actually very fun, because east coasters are amazing at keeping a conversation going. Like, a Midwestern gathering would lapse into awkward silence every once and awhile, but these east coasters always had a relevant comment or were able to twist the subject to one they did.
            After dinner, we went drinking with the cousins again. They know how to treat guests.
            The next day, we did the same train thing, and we should be commended for our expertise when we had to do it hungover. This time, from Penn Station, we went south to Freedom Tower and the 9/11 memorials. It was an hour and a half walk down. I’m not going to say much about the memorials, other than to say they were very beautiful and somber. Though I’m not much of a sacred subject kind of guy, I was still pretty mad at people taking pictures of themselves at the memorial. Whatever. On to Battery Park.
            Oh, first, on our way down south, we passed through NYU and saw the Washington Square Arch. It’s a really pretty park, arch, and fountain. Lots of people, as always. One person was playing the saxophone somewhere, and the music drifted everywhere. I felt like I was smack dab in When Harry Met Sally.
            Battery Park, the southern tip of Manhattan, gives you a small but still clear view of the Statue of Liberty. It’s about a twenty minute walk from the memorial. Needless to say, we went through a lot of America feelings pretty fast.
            At this point, we decided we’d seen enough of New York’s neighborhood system, having walked through midtown, the Villiage, Noho, Soho, Flatiron, a touch of Little Italy, Tribeca, and now the financial district in that day alone. So, we descended into that marvel of stinky engineering, the NY subway system.
            On the subway, we traveled to a neat little idea called the High Line, which is an old elevated rail track that the city has turned into a park. When the foliage is mature and casts shade, it’ll be great, but we’ll settle for good right now. The skinny, long park turned mostly into a single path so it felt like you were walking down any sidewalk in the city, but with plants next to you.
            We were exhausted by this point, naturally, but had made dinner plans with an acquaintance that had moved to the city earlier in the summer. So out to Brooklyn we went, to Park Slope, which I wanted to see when we were planning the trip, but had cooled on as I realized how friggin’ tired I was. We managed to stay awake until she arrived, when we had two drinks, then went back into Manhattan to head home. I can at least say I didn’t spend the entire time in one borough.
            The day was 14 hours long, most of it walking. There was no time spent with the cousins that night.

Day 7: It’s What’s Happening Now

            So, we’re up to date. I usually wait until the day is over to post about it, so as to get the full course of events under my belt and set in my head, but I’m doing this now, on the train back to Boston. Why? Because when we get to Boston, we’re buying the cheapest fast food we can find, and not doing anything.
            Look, I love travelling, I love seeing new people (seriously, the cousins were awesome) and places (Washington Square Park was beautiful). But holy crap I am ready to stop moving. I’m training for a marathon, as I am fond of saying, and my feet were sorer over the last two days than the last three months, combined. So, nothing will be happening after I get off of this train.
            In fact, this is the last part of the last entry. Tomorrow starts at 4:15am. We have to get a taxi to the airport because the public transit system doesn’t start that early. Then it’s the three hour flight back to Chicago, then the five hour drive home, and then it’s a year and a half of getting my bank account back into shape. So, needless to say, I’ll be crashing a little bit.
            So in that spirit, I’m going to try and add a conclusion to this rambling. When I went to Seattle and Portland, I compared the two cities, and even then it wasn’t exactly fair. Now, it would be downright insane to directly compare Boston and New York, but here I go.
            I think it’s great that both Boston and New York know exactly what they want to be. Boston clings to history as much as it can: the buildings are made of brick, historical sites are preserved as much as possible to the point that they are rented out in order to keep the exteriors, and one of their most major tourism attractions is dedicated to their city’s role in the revolution. It’s not annoying, it’s endearing, and I love it. The city also prioritizes green space to an almost obscene degree. Just about every block had one kind of park or another. It was beautiful.
            New York is also beautiful in a different way. Soaring glass and steel skyscrapers made the kid from Iowa gawk with his mouth open. The amount of different types of people coexisting is simply inspiring. One thing I noticed was the amount of people just chillin’, talking to some dude from their neighborhood. I thought that was really cool, that in such an unfathomably large place, people can still be friends. While Boston went for historical, NY put all its chips firmly into modernity, which is an equally valid track. Construction crews were omnipresent, constantly updating or repairing infrastructure. In our first trip to Central Park, half of one intersection was coned off for these repairs, and on our visit the next day, everything was completed. I was impressed.
           
            In closing, we all learned a lot from this trip. #1: Simply existing on vacation is super expensive. Bottles of water are key. #2: Public bathrooms need to be planned around. #3: A hotel next to public transit is worth the extra money. #4: Take a little time, if travelling with another person, to not be with that person. Stuff gets a little too close. #5: Oh my god guys everything is so pretty and awesome in planes, even if it’s going to be 6:30am. #5a: Coffee.


            I can’t thank my hosts in NY enough, they were amazing in helping feed us and pat us on the butt while we figured out train schedules, not to mention letting us sleep for free. Thank you for reading all of this, and if I can leave you with one thought, it’s that honking doesn’t actually accomplish anything. Thank you.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Beantown and the Big Apple Day 3: I Walk the (Freedom) Line

            Our last day in Boston. My, how the time flies. Actually, each day seemed incredibly long, like Day 1 and Day 2. This day seemed even longer, though I’m not complaining, because today was almost exclusively walking. That’s right em effers—FREEDOM TRAIL.
            The Freedom Trail, not to be confused with the Freedom Trial (which is what Barack Hussein Obummer has turned this country into) is a five-or-six mile long path through downtown Boston highlighting important historical landmarks, most to do with the Revolutionary War. Hence the “Freedom” part. In case you’ve never ever read this blog before, let me explain something: Holy crap history you guys.
            Seriously. I’m not much of a “place” history buff as much as a slow, sweeping cultural trend history buff. Or maybe a person history buff. Or maybe a place history buff. But NOT a communist. I thought the Freedom Trail would be specially catered to the place history buffs, but I was wrong. Even though things like the site of the Boston Massacre were mostly just “Wow, I’m standing where this happened,” which, don’t get me wrong, is really cool, there were plenty of other places to be excited about other types of history.
            Like the graveyards. Seriously. Not because I was standing at the headstone of Ben Franklin’s parents, which, kinda yawn, but because you could look at the different graves and see so many things about history between the lines. For example, the number of childhood graves, or women buried with their babies because both died in labor tell you a lot about what it was like for families back in the day. In addition, the multiple spellings of everything remind you that language is a fluid thing, even if you use Fs in place of Ss and capitalize random things. The graves in Boston were old enough that you could see a progression towards modernity, starting with spelling it “lies” instead of “lyes” and dropping the English U.
            I’m not going to take you step by step, I promise, but one more thing I do want to mention about the Trail is I appreciated some sites’ frank attitudes about the ugliness of American History. King’s Church was a little bit more forgiving and positive about the whole “We totally owned people as property in this city for awhile” thing, listing how blacks could become members of churches and baptized, which certainly made them look better in the eyes of their ahem masters.
                However, Old South Church was very pleasantly honest about the whole thing. It juxtaposed the ideals of liberty and freedom that the Founders carried with the names of notable slaves. The Old South also functioned as a meeting hall long after the War of Independence, and the site had history up to World War One. So there were a lot of exhibits about how the Founders had fought for free speech and then immediately tried suppressing opinions they didn’t share.
Presented without comment
            This is all well and good, but agreeing with places isn’t interesting. Let’s see some conflict.
            I’ve developed a couple gripes with historical writing that tries to be politically correct. Now, don’t get me wrong, you don’t need to use the same words that slaveholders used to describe their slaves because that’d be racist as all get out. But when talking about how slaves were treated, please don’t call them African-Americans. The country decided pretty awfully but firmly that slaves were anything BUT Americans. I’m not saying it’s right that they weren’t- I’m saying don’t try and fix it. Call them slaves, or Africans, or even blacks, but goodness gracious not African-Americans.
            Okay, moving past racially-charged talk, which I almost always try and avoid, let’s talk about why I hate Paul Revere. We all know he was famous for riding through the countryside exclaiming “The British are coming! The British are coming!” and what-not. That makes for a great American hero! EXCEPT HE DIDN’T DO THAT. Don’t get me wrong, he tried, but was arrested almost immediately after getting out of Boston. His two associates, Dr. Joseph Warren and William Dawes, escaped from the British and continued riding. He, on the other hand, did not, and returned to his house. Also, nobody would say “The British” were coming. They’d shout “The Royalists!” or something like it. Because, let’s remember, there’s no real country of America to belong to yet. Paul Revere and his compatriots wouldn’t consider themselves Americans, but Colonists.
            Look, I don’t hate the man Paul Revere. He gave it his all, got arrested for a cause he believed in, and continued fighting for that cause after. What I hate is the culture of worship around this dude when he was the LEAST SUCCESSFUL out of the three that did his same job.
            D’ya know why he’s revered (ha)? Because Henry Wadsworth Longfellow decided to write a poem about the event in 1860, which you might recognize as “Way The Hell After”, and decided that Revere rhymes a lot easier than Warren and Dawes.
            The first stanza reveals why it was a terrible, terrible idea to start writing history books about the poem like it was historical fact.
           
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year

            HARDLY A MAN IS NOW ALIVE. “Everyone who knows what happened is dead, so listen to me, a man whose Wikipedia page has no major scandals for Mick to harp on.” Writing about a historical event almost one hundred years after it’s happened is a recipe for disaster, and there’s no question that’s what’s happened here. But does anyone in pop history really care? Nope! Check these out:
 
Paul Revere, seen here pleading with the
British not to arrest him

Top: Guy that failed but has a easy-to-rhyme last name
Bottom: Guy who did his job.

            Ugh.
            So anyway, after a long grueling walk through history, which I might as well call this blog, we took the train back to our hotel. It was our last day in Boston, and it was well spent, even if we walked an hour to get to a restaurant that finally serves clam chowder. Not our finest moment.
            Boston, from what I’ve learned, is a pretty great city. The thing that stands out to me is how they mix history and modernity efficiently, if a little jarringly at first. The old Boston City Hall is now a steak restaurant and office building, because leasing the interior out allows the exterior to remain a historical landmark.
            I think that’s why I never really felt comfortable in the Back Bay where we stayed. Walking to the wharf or to the North End, everything felt lived in, every shop felt like a Boston institution, like it had always been there and always will be. Everything in the Back Bay felt kind of sterile and constructed. I finally get why people complain about gentrification, because while the twisting and intimate streets of Little Italy may be confusing or dirty, they actually feel like neighborhood, while the wide, clean streets of Back Bay feel like a group of apartments built next to each other.
            We’re off to New York on a train, which should be a pretty fantastic adventure. I just hope I get a chance to run; I haven’t exercised in almost a week. Training for a marathon doesn’t go very well without running, especially when you drink almost no water in place of beer, wine, and coffee. Oops. But, I hear tell that if I run around Central Park, I’ll have circumnavigated the equivalent of Vatican City, which is pretty neat.

            In closing, Paul Revere sucks, and you can quote me on that.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Beantown and The Big Apple: Day 2: Cloth Napkins and Train Tables

            Yesterday, I posted the story of my first day in Boston here. You could read that, if you haven’t, to get a bearing on where I am, and to a certain extent, why. I could also tell you now: I’m in Boston, because I want to be. It’s not rocket science, folks.
            So while yesterday dealt with plane rides and willy-nilly exploration, today was a well-planned adventure, like the first trip to the North Pole, or the top of Everest, except that most of my party didn’t die. We actually sat down in the morning, decided what we wanted to see, figured out how to get there, and then we went and did those things perfectly.
            First was a trip to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, located at the train stop “Museum of Fine Arts.” This place is hella beautiful. If there was a museum of museums, this one would be a premier exhibit. The architecture alone was breathtaking, not to mention the giant rotunda artwork. People in the northeast friggin’ love their rotundas, man, and I can see why.
            In addition to that, we got to see the Magna Carta in all its scribbled Latin glory. I don’t think I was impressed as you would expect from a history nut. I mean, I was more interested in the broadsheet copies and manuscripts of the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution. The Magna Carta was a big deal—For nobles of England. That’s who that document protects. The famous “Clause 61,” which details how nobles can overrule the will of the king if they so choose, was pretty much thrown right back out when all the nobles left what we’ll call “killing distance” of the king. And yes, I know that the Magna Carta is a huge step in the gradual process of constitutionalism, which it’s why it’s pretty interesting. But it is only a step, which is why it’s only PRETTY interesting.
            There were also tons of other awesome crap. Like these things.
Pottery can be cool too

Two stories of colored glass? Sign me up!

See child for accurate scale of giant picture


Russian WWI Propaganda

Ah, propaganda. You're the greatest.


Bad news for your united Czechoslovakia in thirty years, guys

This painting was so giant that this is the FRAME.

            After the museum, we went to Harvard, the school. That was located on the Harvard train stop. You might recognize a trend in Boston; the train stops are located pleasantly near major things to see, and are named accordingly.
            It was weird to see Harvard, this internationally prestigious institution of education that’s been around since the seventeenth century, and know that some people actually go to school there. Like, in a couple weeks, there will be a freshman that will have to face seeing tourists every day after getting a C on a test. If you looked into the great ivy-covered brick halls of Harvard, you can see the box fans that people use to stay cool. Like my omnipresent but not omnipotent god, you know all about the dorm life of college students, but have a really hard time applying that to what you know about Harvard.

            My only regret is because the whole thing is a tourist attraction, the buildings all need an ID to enter, so I didn’t get to poop anywhere on campus. I settled for cropdusting the people taking a picture with the statues.
            Then, after a fancy and delicious lunch that brought my girlfriend back from the point of tears for how hungry she was, we were off to the science museum. We only had a shortish amount of time; dinner reservations at 7, and it was around 2. After switching train lines a couple times, we made it to Science Park station.
            Also, quick interjection. We’re awesome at public transit. Pat and I may have used trolleys or even buses in Seattle, but my girlfriend and I were using subways like we’d always grown up in towns almost more populous than our state. I know that it’s really easy to read the chart once you know how to do it, but come on, let us have this. We’re also magically adept at getting to the station right as the train we need pulls up. Now we just need to work on being right next to the doors when it finally stops.
            So we only have around three hours of museum time before we need to haul back to get ready for dinner, and we discover that the tickets are $23. We had paid that much for the MFA, but $23 is a little steep for threeish hours. So back to the train line we went! Yay!
            A quick rest later, and we were all dressed up for dinner at Antico Forno, an Italian restaurant in the Little Italy-ish North End. That meal was delicious, and in true “You’re in a fancy restaurant” fashion, took forever. Oh well.
            The oddest thing about the Little Italy trip, though, was the celebration of St. Agrippina, a Sicilian martyr. The neighborhood hosts a feast in her honor every year, and apparently this was the hundredth year of the tradition. We walked up to the restaurant and were greeted with one of those most surreal sights I’d ever seen. A dozen young men in matching polos were carrying a litter with the statue of St. Agrippina. They would dance back and forth, march forward and backward, but the whole time a tiny little marching band was playing. The bass drummer had a cigarette in his mouth. The statue was loaded with single and five dollar bills, so much so that I couldn’t see what the actual color of the statue was. One man climbed up onto the litter and hung another wreath made of single dollar bills on the statue, and everyone cheered. What the money went to, I don’t know. I just know that I saw something SUPER Italian happen, and it was pretty great.
            Little Italy was fun in itself. The streets are tiny and winding, everything feeling more like an alley than a street, especially with the bumper-to-bumper parking on the sides of the street. It felt very intimate instead of intimidating, colorful instead of garish. As opposed to the Back Bay area, where our hotel is, which feels so ultra-rich as to be foreboding. The North End neighborhood we were in felt actually lived in instead of visited, alive in the way that the Back Bay feels sterile and cut off.
            But hey, I’m not making any new observations that Jack on the Titanic hadn’t.

            Tomorrow is our last full day in Boston, and it’s the Freedom Trail. Aw hecka yuh. History blastin’ at ya.  

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Beantown and the Big Apple: Days -1 and 1

Just a warning: I forgot to take pictures on my phone of these events, so this is a big ol' wall of text.

            You may remember that a year and some months ago, I went to Seattle with my hetero life partner Pat. I wrote about it, causing the blog to actually eclipse 10 posts on the year. (yaaaay). BUT. I haven’t done a travelogue since then and that’s mostly because I haven’t travelled anywhere notable or new or even fun to hear about. Sorry Backbone State Park, Iowa.
            Now, though, I’m currently with my girlfriend in Boston, Massachusetts, home of the Celtics and Hard To Spell Statehoods. It’s pretty great, but we’ve got to start from the beginning, or else this whole thing is messed up. I didn’t wake up in Boston, of course, I woke up in Chicago. But of course, I’m not from Chicago. I’m from Iowa, which, instead of the Celtics and Other Thing I Said, is home to Pablo’s Burritos and [INSERT LOCAL REFERENCE HERE].
            Yesterday, I woke up at the bright eyed time of 10:00am and drove to the bright lights big city of Chicago. It was a fun, full drive. It had everything; twisting roads, cute little towns, and GIANT RAINSTORMS THAT COME OUT OF NOWHERE AND BLIND YOU. Seriously, these rainstorms, folks. I was driving and would think “Oh, maybe I should turn the wipers on” and suddenly I can’t see. My wipers on the car have three speeds; Okay, So We’re Going; What, It’s Actually Raining?; and Oh My Goodness, It’s Quite A Spell Out There!  Turns out that third speed isn’t fast enough for the rainstorms that decided to visit the Chicagoland Freeway. I would turn from the first to the third and not see anything more except the bright lights of cars slamming on their brakes in front of me.
            I’m so, so, so freaking glad I have a newish car with even newisher brakes to handle stopping correctly because I’m pretty sure my old one would have plowed through many an abrupt stop in the same way it did the gentle stop of an icy four way intersection. Because, though Chicago drivers may think that they’re the Bee’s Knees and/or Cat’s Pajamas, they really don’t know how to drive in heavy rain. Though, to be fair, being blinded by water from On High really throws us all for a loop.
            Speaking of Loop, here’s my story.
            Speaking of story, back to the story.
            I made it to Chicago and didn’t make an entry then because that entry would have consisted of under five hundred words which is just silly. What am I, Buzzfeed? Or Ernest Hemmingway? So instead I drank expensive beer at the cost of my brother, ate expensive pork chops at the cost of me, and went to sleep at the cost of my mental health because holy crap guys, weird travelling dreams.
            Then I woke up at 5:30, and got ready for the day. That’s right, the same time that old people get to McDonalds, I arrived on the scene of consciousness. It was all because of a flight from Midway Airport, a flight that I and my girlfriend arrived at fashionably and comfortably early. Responsibility is the most attractive of attributes.
            Even when we went through the security, we were still early. I say that as having a TSA agent yell at me because I misunderstood what “back up” means, taking it to mean “step away from that thing you were doing” when in reality it apparently means “step back towards that thing you were doing”. To add insult to injury, I forgot that a giant can of aerosol shaving cream actually does count as aerosol, so I had to have that same tired-of-this-bullshit agent yell at me while she threw that away. But we were still early.
            Like, so early, that we both took turns peeing, I got McDonalds, and drank most of my coffee before we started boarding. That’s called responsibility. Until I threw my coffee in what I now realize was a boarding pass recycling can. That’s called staining the future.
            But you didn’t come here for Chicago antics, you came for Boston antics.
            WELL TOO BAD BECAUSE THERE’S A SHORT LAYOVER, BITCHES.
            Yeah, that’s right, I went to Kansas City first. You may realize this as the opposite direction of Boston from Chicago, and you’re right. Airlines don’t make any sense, just ask [INSERT LOCAL REFERENCE HERE]. We went to KC, and as everyone, save 5 of us, got off at that stop, I remained on the plane. Then, with the knowledge that the gate we were stored at was the Starbucks slash actual bathroom gate, the other four on the plane left me, including my girlfriend. So, I was the only person on that plane. I thought about running up and down the aisle, recording my silliness for all to see, but instead I looked at Twitter. Thanks, Obama.
            Then, it was on to Boston.
            Guys, remember how plane rides make me super poetic and overdramatic? Well, those rides I wrote about were at night, which certainly heighten the “Let’s quote F. Scott Fitzgerald” quality of air travel. But instead, I felt something else poetic.
            Instead of the Green Light on East Egg of the previous flight, I felt something else. In the light of day, you can see all the roads beneath you as you pass over them as quickly as a thought.
            Basically, it’s like this to me; It’s like being a God that’s omnipresent but not omnipotent. You can see a cloud and its shadow and know that somewhere in that shadow, a man stands, wiping his brow, thankful for the sudden relief from the heat, but you’ll never know his name or what he was doing. You can see innumerable high school football fields and know that they’re full of thousands of first kisses each, or hands held underneath blankets while their breath steams in front of them, but you’ll never know either partner, nor will you even know the teams that played that night.
            Planes give you this great observation level, able to see all that passes in front of you, but also create just as great of an obstruction to learning. You’ll never learn a lesson from flying in plane, unless that lesson is how North Eastern states have a Metes and Bounds system instead of the rectangular Public Land Survey System of the Northwest Ordinance. You’ll instead learn that life is the same everywhere, even if you’ll never know that life or that lesson.
            We landed quickly after that, of course, my mind full of racing pseudo-philosophical thoughts. Boston, we’ve learned, has an easily traversed public transit system. The subway we took from the airport station to the transfer station had many people on it, and none of them were speaking English. Isn’t that awesome? Like, even after we transferred to a more Boston-specific line, there was no discussed English to be heard. There’s so many different cultures in Boston that its public transport is multi-cultural. This may seem a no-brainer to the two readers I have outside of Iowa, but that blows my mind.
            Once we got here, though, we immediately set off for Things To Do. You may recognize this pattern as the one we employed in Seattle, but this was a little more controlled. Namely, that we promised each other not to do what I’d done in Seattle.
            The biggest things I’ve learned about Boston are this;
            1. Boston is a city of monuments. Every corner has some significance of one sort or another. The Boston Gardens (beautiful, by the way) are rich with statues dedicated to all sorts of people. Artists, abolitionists, Founding Fathers--- Boston is crazy about these folks. I was especially surprised at the Civil War monuments, seeing as you never really think about Massachusetts having a huge impact on the war. There’s many things to tell you you’re wrong about that, sometimes in a negative way. One includes a monument dedicated to the white officers and the black regiments they lead. Because it was put up immediately after the war, the monument celebrates mainly the white men that helped the poor slaves along the way. In addition, one statue celebrates a man as “The Friend of the Slave”. Sometimes we forget that putting something in stone isn’t only an honor, but also an invitation to the future to take a mild amount of offense to our wording.
            2. Boston is a city of confusion. Never expect streets in Boston to make any sense whatsoever. This town grew organically, which may be a bonus to some and a warning to others. Only the loosest grid system can be said to exist, with stops consisting of two one-way streets, or normal intersections where all the walk signs are on at once without warning. If you walk along a Boston street, each block will be vastly different. This is exciting for an urban explorer, but very intimidating for an urban returner, coming back from a simple walking trip.
            3. I don’t have a third, but lists are supposed to have third, so I’ll include my next point here. The place I’m staying, Back Bay? It was supposedly just plain gross water until Boston decided to fill the whole thing in, and now it’s one of the most central and expensive districts in all of Boston. You can tell because the whole place is brownstone. If the Cosby family lived in Boston instead, they’d live in this neighborhood.
            I’m not trying to brag. In fact, let me complain for a little bit, because every single thing I order or buy costs more than five dollars. You know how people want to get rid of the penny? I’m wouldn't be surprised if Bostonians want to get rid of the single dollar bill. Stuff’s expensive everywhere, man.
            That being said, my girlfriend and I made it a point to walk as much as possible today. Boston Commons is beautiful, of course. Full of green, overlong grass that you’re not allowed to step on, swan boats, and wedding parties getting their picture taken directly in the way of traffic.
            Still, we made it out from that mess, and found a bar we enjoyed. Beantown Pub, it read, in full ‘look, drink here’ fashion. I had two beers, and a third. I differentiate the third because it was worth $6.50 on its own and was maybe the only beer I’ve ever known to be worth that much. Holy god, guys. Wow. Harpoon IPA Citrus Victorious- I’ll be your advertising spokesman. I read the classification of the beer and was put off- citrus and IPA don’t seem to go together very well. But apparently they’re the peanut butter and jelly of beer.
            So, we finished that beer and went back to our hotel, the sun fully set. We pee, put on real shoes, and take a dip down to the hotel bar slash restaurant slash hotel. Drinks abound and I realize something: Boston is such an old man town. I don’t see anyone at this hotel but old men, talking to each other.
            It isn’t until my girlfriend talks to an apparent regular that I found out that this bar is a gay bar, and suddenly everything clicks into place, and it’s awesome. I’ve always wanted to go to a gay bar, and apparently they’re much cleaner, quieter, and friendlier. Dudes know how to have a night life. Fun times ahead in that timeline. Even if my girlfriend ordered two shots and got the equivalent of five shots of rum. Guess who ended up drinking four shots worth of rum? This guy.

            So! Tomorrow is another day as everyone but you says. Goodbye. I may have been literally falling asleep as I wrote this.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Silent Generation

            Hello, everyone. I’m not going to apologize for the long break in between entries, because instead of writing here, I’ve been trying to finish a longer piece of fiction I’ve been working on. Remember that “short story” I posted a couple parts of? Yeah, it’s over 115 pages now. You can read it here, if you’d like. I think you’d like.
            So anyway, if I’m supposed to be doing that, why has this popped up? Well, to be honest, 115 pages of writing the same dude necessitates a break every once and awhile. But more to the point, I came across a review for a game called Valiant Hearts, a stylish PS4 puzzler based during the First World War. It looked good and whatnot, but $60 is a bit much for a puzzle game, especially when I don’t own a PS4. Mostly the second one.
            However, the review coalesced with other thoughts that have been streaming through my head. I’ve been mentioning for awhile that this year is the 100th anniversary of WWI, and until 2018, there’s going to be all sorts of interesting, smaller anniversaries. I really want to make it to Europe at some point during the interval to see what they’re all up to over there. If Russia doesn’t have some sort of tongue-in-cheek “Oh hopefully we don’t have a huge Bolshevik Revolt and have to pull out!” commentary on the 2018 World Cup they’re going to host, I’ll be very disappointed.
            Only two days ago (6/28) was the anniversary of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand being assassinated by Gavrilo Princip. I’ve been following the @RealTimeWWII and was pleasantly surprised to find they’ve got a sister account in @RealTimeWWI. I’m going to start teaching (hopefully) before the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, and I plan on having a “What was going on in Europe 100 years ago today?” board. Spoiler alert: WAR.
            I’ve already written on World War One before, here, and I must say, damn good reporting, Dickinson. Such use of mnemonics I’ve never seen. I covered the beginning of the war and how it was a pretty great comedy of errors using MAINS and high school drama.
            The video game review back there, I feel, missed a pretty big opportunity to expand upon their subject material. Sure, it describes if the game is good or not (answered with a resounding “meh”), but it ignores the game’s timely release and specific historical relevance. The review mentions that very few games are made about WWI, but moves quickly on.
            I’ve been recently spoiled by excellent medium-form writing about things, mostly sports, like Matt Ufford’s amazing piece on why you should cheer for the USMNT. He takes an exciting, timely event in the World Cup and expands upon it with pride and interesting writing. I wish that this review could have done something similar. Take the game, review it; its mechanics, its graphics, the plot, whatever. But I wish IGN had used the review as a jumping off point. There aren’t many video games about WWI. In fact, there aren’t many anythings about World War I. Few movies, few museums, few History Channel documentaries, and no patriotic pining.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Social Media and Social Accountability

            I'm taking a class this semester that my university calls a "capstone." It's supposed to combine everything you've learned in the liberal arts classes in order to give your college experience a nice climax. Or something, I'm not really sure, since most of my liberal arts classes applied to my simply humongous major. I do really like the class I'm taking, though, as it focuses on aspects of critical thinking and modern social issues. As an exercise, the professor asked us to give up any electronic device for 24 hours, and write a paper on our experience. I went a little above the requirements, so I'm going to share it here.

            In my own personal experience, the fast was only difficult in times of silence. The morning, especially, before I was ready to go about my day. I did my 24 hour period from 10am Friday (when I don’t have any classes) to 10am Saturday. In the morning, I ate breakfast and realized that I didn’t know where I was supposed to be looking. Without my phone or computer, I just stared lamely at the kitchen table. We don’t subscribe to a newspaper, and the books I'm reading are on my Kindle.
            Going about my day, I listen to a lot of music. When I’m cooking, or shaving, or folding laundry, I’m usually playing iTunes on my laptop. So without any electronics, these tasks became unusually silent, and even a little disconcerting. I wrote 12 handwritten pages of creative fiction since I didn’t have Microsoft Word, and it took me over an hour to transcribe everything back into the computer.
            The oddest feeling in the whole day was that I never knew what time it was. I don’t have a clock anywhere in my room, so I would have to walk to the kitchen in order to see the microwave clock. Time seemed very elastic since I wasn’t always checking my phone.
            Once the day got going, though, things got easier. Working out (although I had to do it without my iPod and hear my stupid labored breathing) and running errands are a good use of time that doesn't necessitate an electronic device. I just wish that the weather was warm out. Spending a day outside seems like a good companion exercise to a 24 hour electronic dry spell. Unfortunately, it's still freezing cold.
            The most revealing aspect of the fast was not my experience, but from others' reactions. I’m in a sociology class right now, Social Inequity. The class itself seems more like a graduate-level class, with very cut-and-dried readings from theses and other extremely academic sources. My professor has to explain just about every major point that the readings convey, because the students really don’t get any information from their own reading. This is all to introduce a topic that I did understand my first time around and have begun to notice all around me; social accountability nets.
            Social accountability nets are basically the process that keeps us “doing” our identity. For example, it’s what keeps girls girly, and men masculine. It would show up if a previously manly man ever wore a dress, because all of his friends would bother him about it and peer pressure him into acting more “manly” again. They try to force him back into his identity.
            I found the same interactions happening the day I did my e-media fast. Trying to tell people that I would be unreachable for the next 24 hours or that I didn’t see that thing on the internet always drew confused looks. Everyone asked why, and most even went as far as to get mad at me for giving up electronics for only a day. I realized that part of my identity as a 21st century college student was to always be available and always be online. When I stepped out of those pieces, I was shedding the entire identity, and the people around me tried to put me back in.
            I’ve seen it more so lately because I gave up alcohol for the month of February. Nothing problematic, just a nice exercise I’ve begun doing to give up something I like every month. January was video games, and March might be social media. But my identity as a college student demands that I drink alcohol at some point. Watching people struggle with the idea that I willingly am not drinking for a month, just because, is an odd experience.
            The E-media fast reinforced many things that I already knew deep down. I listen to a lot of music, I’m never without contact, and that I’m probably on my phone too much. But the most revealing thing I learned is that millennial college student is an identity that comes with many rules. Always be available for contact, always be online, and above all else, drink. I don’t begrudge the people who make up my accountability net, they’re not doing this maliciously. They’re so wrapped up in their own identities that the thought of shedding one or two pieces of it seems foreign.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Like Losing A Piece

So, that thing I was writing is going to end up a lot longer than I originally planned. A LOT longer, as in "Too friggin' long to keep posting 1,500 words at a time". So instead, here's a self-contained short story, to apologize for the loss of the other one.

            Claire walked through the door, slamming it behind her. Sam was there, waiting for her, legs hanging off of her sink. The dorm room was small, like all dorm rooms, and covered in old carpet remnants. To the left of the door was Claire’s roommate’s futon, and she sat down heavily with an angsty sigh. Just as quickly, she hopped back up, and began to walk around the room. From window back to the door, she paced. Luckily, her roommate was out, so they had the room to themselves. Sam watched her pace with a growing look of frustration on his face. Finally, he rolled his eyes and slid off of the sink.
            “You’re going to say something, so say it already,” he said, crossing his arms.
            “It’s not fair!” Claire yelled immediately after he finished, almost cutting off his last word. She threw her hands in the air and continued to pace. “It’s- they can’t- who…”
            Sam smiled his wry smile, saying “I agree completely.”
            She glared at him, her overly mad face that she only put on when she needed to make a point. After a beat, her features softened, and her eyes welled up. “I don’t want them to take you away,” she said.
            Immediately, his smile disappeared, and he wrapped her up in a massive hug. She didn’t cry, but still buried her face into his neck. She felt his arms squeeze tight, two or three times. She didn’t pull away, and Sam began running a hand up and down her back, like she had always liked.
            “But I need to go,” Sam said, finally pulling away far enough to look into her eyes. Claire just shook her head, without saying anything. “It’s past time, and you know it.”