Friday March 25th, 2011 12:40 vs. The World (Part Two)

Up late as usual, I popped over to Reddit, one of my usual sites. Reading some of the first news stories about of the earthquake, I assumed that everything would be back to normal by the time we would be arriving in Tokyo. Waking up the next morning, I began to read about how the earthquake caused a giant tsunami and that northern Japan was mess. At this point I began to worry. Mike and Alex figured that things would probably be fine by the time we get there.

It’s at this point where shit got real, real nuclear. The nail in the coffin came to me after listening to an interview with two Spanish tourists in Tokyo on NPR. They pretty much stated that the overpopulated city of Tokyo was like a ghost town. The question became “where do we go instead?” Due to cost alone, our options quickly narrowed themselves to Hong Kong or Taiwan. To add an additional feather in Taiwan’s cap, my friend John had been living in Taiwan for the last 5 years and I saw Taipei was ranked #2 in a list of the most underrated cities (behind Detroit). Hours of skype later, we ironed our plans out.

So here I am, sitting at O’Hare staring at this giant airplane that is going to take me to the other side of the planet. I have no idea what I’m in for when I land. Just that sweet sweet feeling of wonder/terror.

Oh and I thought I should mention that I’ve created an account for Mike to post here as well. So If you start reading something thoughtfully worded using the lexicon of a social sciences graduate student or an in-depth description of what a fish’s butt tastes like, they’re probably his words.

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Friday March 25th, 2011 02:05 vs. The World (Part One)

Coming home after a month on the road had me thinking a lot about travelling. Besides missing my friends, family and sweet, sweet fluffy bed, I was hungry for more. Prior to leaving for my trip last fall, I had invited a few close friends to tag along but both passed having previous commitments. One of these friends was Mike Sabbagh. Mike had been accepted to a graduate program in London and the “All You Can Jet” dates fell right on the time he’d need to move across the Atlantic and start classes. After finding out that his university gave him a month long spring break, we agreed that I’d come out to London and we’d go hosteling around eastern Europe. I realized this created an excellent opportunity. “tomayz vs Europe” was beginning to write itself, the only problem being it was months away. Deciding the beginning of the year would be an ideal time to plan for a vacation in April, we put off any further trip planning.

Months passed and 2010 was coming to a close. Mike called and well, I don’t recall his exact words but it was something along the lines of “I’m really sick and fucking tired of Europe, lets go elsewhere. How about Australia and New Zealand?” My brain lit up, oh the possibilities! Kangaroos, dingos, wallabies, platypi, poisonous snakes and scorpions, funny accents, Foster’s, Aussie rules football, “middle-earth” and the possibility of ending up on LOST island. It’s in another hemisphere, hell, it’s on the other side of the world! Plus, they speak English, making it a whole lot easier. I began making a list of places to go: Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Auckland and Wellington.

Another month or so passed and as I found myself a few weeks into 2011, I was reminded that it was trip planning time. Another conversation with Mike was under way and he said something like: “I’m already half way around the world. I was thinking we should go someplace crazier, something more once-in-a-lifetime. My friend Ron teaches English in Korea, we could visit him.” Once again my brain lit up: Korean internet/gaming culture, barbecue pork, Annyeong from Arrested Development, Bibimbap and the possibility of ending up on and island that is almost as rad as LOST island… Japan! anime, Akihabara, weird snacks like Cucumber Pepsi and Butter KitKats… Hell, I could go on for a while and I’m sure you get the idea. Everything was falling into place perfectly. I called my brother Alex to brag and his response really caught me off-guard. He asked me if he could join us. With the exception of family vacations as a child, I have never really traveled with my older brother. When else was I going to have to opportunity to go on a crazy Asian adventure with my own brother? Probably never, so the invitation was extended. Plane tickets were purchased as Australia was having one hell of a cyclone season. A week later an earthquake shook New Zealand up. Catastrophe averted, or so I thought…

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Thursday March 24th, 2011 01:46 Thanks a lot!

While looking through this blog as I was planning to update it for my future adventure, I realized that I had forgotten to do one very important thing. I’d like to thank the following people for going out of their way to help me on my trip:

Mike Sabbagh
Alex Ayzenberg
Dustin Turner
Brooke Travis
Adam Beer
Anne Baynes & Eli Robbins
Crystal Nassouri
Eric Ryder
Bobby Miller
Rob Balousek
Jason Merritt & Annie Gerow
Evan Hanusa

Thanks again guys!

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Thursday March 24th, 2011 00:17 Boston (The Missing Chapter)

Here I am, looking through the outline of my post for Boston. It’s been five months and well, I abandoned you… my poor “readers”. The weather in Boston that weekend (in comparison to the rest of the trip) was dismal. Grey, rainy and in the low 50s. I threw together an outline telling myself I’d tend to it later. Assuming it was the jet lag or the underwhelming experience I had, I never got around to it. In reality, I was burnt out. So I now present you with the “missing chapter”…

Arriving in Boston, I took a bus from the airport to the nearest T station. After a subway car and a transfer to streetcar, I had arrived. My hostel was in Back Bay neighborhood, disgusting close to the Berklee College of Music. It was late and I wanted to have a drink and relax. The hostel staff suggested I check out the “best” dive bar, which was just around the corner. TC’s Lounge was not exactly what I expected. Overpriced drinks, internet jukebox and newer arcade games? How was this a dive bar? Regardless, I watched some Monday Night Football and eventually made it back to the hostel where I met my three roommates. As it turns out, I was the only male in my co-ed room. One of my roommates was a Chinese girl who spoke no english, she was asleep by 9pm every night and was always gone in the morning. Kristy and Kelly were a couple of lawyers from Melbourne, Australia on a 6-month around-the-world trip. Instantly jealous, my month-long trip seeming pathetic in comparison. Laying in bed, I overheard the Aussies complained of the cold. It was a thousand degrees in that room and I remember getting no sleep because of it.

After a shower and a shitty continental breakfast, I took the street and walked along the Charles river basin as the rain gently, yet consistently came down from the slate-colored sky, slowly drenching me. Eventually making it to the Public Garden/Boston Common area, I wandered about snapping a few photos until I decided to do something “historic” and walk the freedom trail. Due to construction and erratic nature of the freedom trail, it is suggested you get map to guide you. The price of this map is $3, proving once again that freedom isn’t free. Deciding this $3 piece of paper would be a waste of my hard earned money, I did the next best thing and downloaded a free PDF version of the map on phone. After an hour on the trail, I found myself bored but most importantly soaked. I took shelter in the Newbury Comics store at Quincy Market. While walking the aisles, I had this sudden realization that this day had already defeated me and it was time to return to the hostel and piss the rest of the afternoon away on the internet.

My stomach rumbled, I wanted pizza and I knew where to get it. Recalling a sign reading “Pizza and Cold Beer” on the walk back to the hostel, I left the hostel and walked about 50 feet before turning to my right to find Crazy Dough’s Pizza. A nifty little dry erase board next to the menu read “PBR – $1 a glass, $5 a pitcher”. That night my dinner consisted of three slices of pizza and a pitcher of everyone’s favorite swill. When I walked back into the lobby of the hostel, I found my Aussie roommates along with a whole bunch of other hostelers. I had made it just in time to join a bar crawl lead by one of the staffers. Sadly, our first stop was TC’s Lounge. A drink a some awkward conversation later, our group couldn’t agree on the next bar to go to, so we split into two groups. Fortunately, my group’s next (and final) stop was Bukowski. Craft beer and a nice mellow atmosphere? Could it get any better? Indeed it did. It was thrilling to see that not only did they have a Founder’s beer on tap, but it was my favorite! The breakfast stout! The rest of the night I conversed with the group which was made up of some Brazilians, an Englishmen and an Irishmen. Getting back to the room before the Aussies allowed me to open the window and cool the room down to a normal temperature. I slept a lot better that second night.

Another shower and a shitty continental breakfast later, I was on my way back to the airport. JetBlue had been really great to me all this time and I was sad to be on that last flight, but after the plane landed as I fumbled through my wallet to find my CTA pass. I was truly excited to be back “Home” in Chicago. Home sweet home away from home?

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Tuesday October 26th, 2010 20:27 Vancouver

Stepping off the bus, I walked through the streets of Vancouver on the way to my hostel. As I checked in, I was offered the chance to get a private room just for that night. It was an extra $30 but I found myself to have more of surplus of spending money this late in the trip, so I decided to splurge. After checking into my room, I tried to see if I could find some of the other hostelgoers to see if they were interested in getting a drink. I couldn’t find anyone and decided to head out alone. I’m not sure what all of Canada’s contributions to the culinary arts are, but there if theres one thing I love, it’s a good poutine. Grabbing a poutine to go, I walked up and down Davie street (the street my hostel was closest to) looking for a bar to hang out in for a couple drinks before calling it a night. I walked up and down the street for blocks upon blocks. Looking in the windows of bar after bar after bar, I had a stark realization. Davie street was the center, err.. centre of gay Vancouver. Without a cellphone data plan, I did what any tech savvy tourist would do, I headed to the first coffee shop I could find to leech their free wifi on my phone and find a place to go. After doing my research, It looked like all the hip bars were a few kilometers east of me and I wasn’t quite in the mood for another long walk. Defeated, I walked back to my hostel and got to bed early.

Up early the next morning, I entered the kitchen and to my amazement, there were a TON of people in there. I put a plate together and sat down at the only empty seat I could find at a table of three girls. Politely introducing myself, I inquired where they were from. Toronto! That’s close to home. I mentioned that I was from Detroit and they were like instantly disinterested. I finished my meal, grabbed a quick shower and checked out of my private room and into my dorm room. The dorm room in Vancouver was a thousand times better than the dorm room in Philly! Before I saw it, I wasn’t looking forward to staying there even for just one night. The dorm room featured only four people per room, nice big lockers and comfortable beds. After locking my stuff up, I headed downstairs and rented a bike. Rolling onto the street, I headed off to my first destination, the seawall path up to Stanley Park.

Even though the morning started out a grey and cloudy, I instantly realized that Vancouver is the most beautiful city that I’ve seen with my own eyes. The few pictures included in this post really don’t do the place justice. The streets (especially the seawall area) were filled with different works of art. There were so many runners, rollerbladers and cyclists all about. Riding on the bike path going counter-clockwise surrounded by water with sights like Grouse Mountain and the Lions Gate Bridge left me mesmerized. I rode down the opposite side of the seawall and made my way to Canada Place where some giant cruise ships were docked. I stopped to snap a few pictures by the Olympic Cauldron before heading back towards my hostel. My stomach rumbled and I knew that while I was in the great nation of Canada, I had to indulge in some more poutine. I ‘d tried a place the previous night that was alright. According to the fine people of the internet, the place to go in the neighborhood was La Belle Patate. The fine people of the internet did me no wrong there.

After a well deserved break at my hostel, I hopped back on my rented wheels and headed to Granville Island. It was a neat ride over there especially since part of the island tucked underneath the Granville street bridge. The highlight of this spot is the public market. The Granville Island Public Market was essentially a nicer, cleaner version of Pike Place with about 70% less tourist crap trash for sale. That isn’t counting the numerous souvenir shops located right outside, but I think you get the point. Catching the tail end of a street performer show, I watched as the performer contorted himself through a squash racket, while standing on board balancing on a cylinder on a platform. Granville Island is also famous for a microbrewery. Eager to try another microbrew, I stopped into small restaurant with a “Granville Island Brewing on tap” sign for fish (it was salmon!) and chips with a nice craft pale ale. With the evening just beginning and a time restriction on my bike (sundown), I knew I had to make the most of the hour or so I had left. Slowly riding south east along the seawall and back, I parked myself on a bench on the beach by my hostel and watched the sunset.

I headed back to the hostel for another break. This time around, I took a quick shower as I uploaded some pictures to my Flickr account. I also got to meet my three roommates. One of the dudes was from Montreal and I remember being blown away by the fact that he was speaking in english and I could barely understand what in the hell he was saying. My second roommate wasn’t memorable enough to mention. However, the third roommate, Til was very cool. Til was 18 years old and had recently graduated from high school in his home country of Germany. Instead of being college-bound, Til decided that wasn’t for him yet and instead was sitting in Vancouver awaiting to hear from a few farms to start a WWOOF program. Til had no plans for the night, so I insisted that he tag along with me on my adventure to one of Vancouver’s hip bars. Little did either of us know, but we were in for one hell of an adventure.

Hastily reading Google map directions to my bar of choice, we jumped on a bus headed east. After a handful of stops, the bus driver made an awkward stop in the middle of nowhere to let a passenger out and said “I’m going to let you out here, it’s just not safe up there”. At this point I snickered. Safe? We’re in Canada! What are they going to do threaten us with apologies? Eventually, we made it to the Main street stop when I had this striking realization. Main street was east of where we were headed. I immediately tugged on the string and Til and I exited the bus. I walked to the nearest street corner to find my bearings, but it was in vain for we were lost. In order to appear untouristy, I snuck my pocket bike map out to find out where the hell we were only to notice that street with bike lanes and chevrons were the only streets labeled on the map. Shit! I pulled my phone out of my pocket, regrettable enabled my data plan ($10 a meg in Canada!) pulled a map up with our GPS location and started heading north. We walked through old Chinatown and it was absolutely dead at this time of night. With the exception of the neon glow, It was like walking through a ghost town. Eventually we made it up to Hastings street. Hastings street! That sounds familiar! I think the bar is on that street! So Til and I headed down Hastings street, after a block we noticed a few homeless people and some private security guards outside a building. I thought nothing of it and proceeded to march down the street. The further we headed the more and more populated the street became with the homeless and junkies. I pulled my hood up over my head, told Til “pull you hood up, don’t look at anyone, don’t talk to anyone, just keep walking” and we did. It was like walking through the set of a zombie film. Eventually we made our way near Canada Place. I remembered a microbrewery near there so we headed in for a taste flight. Nine 6 ounce sample of microbrew for $15 Canadian? Yes please! Til and I drank and laughed about the strange encounter we had just experienced.

A little after midnight, we started headed back towards the hostel but there was a problem. I was hungry and still a little thirsty! Upon seeing a sign that read “Slice and a Pint – $8″ I knew I had to have it! Goldies was my hunger savior. Sitting down at the bar, we were greeted by Mike the owner who takes our orders and then asks me where I’m from. “The Motor City is in the house alright! Detroit Rock City!” he responded. Soon after taking my order a couple of Afro-Latino dudes showed up and sat next to us. Mike greeted them with big hugs then poured them a round on the house then turned and said “This guys from Detroit!” “Detroit?! I know some cats from Detroit and those muthafuckas got some character!” said the dude in the bowler hat. We chatted about my travels, my recent trip through zombieland and some other random topics. “You are a well traveled man and a well traveled man has perspective, since he sees the good and the bad sides of where he visits” said bowler hat guy. I’m sure he was out of his mind at the time, but it was still awesome. Before I knew it,  more pizza and drinks kept coming and they were all on the house! The owner and his friends were off so we said out goodbyes and the time had come to cash out… $8 was my tab. I stared up at the TV and noticed that “SportsCentre” was playing on TSN and chuckled. As I was paying, the other bartender (an Arab-Canadian) mentions to me that his entire family lives in Southfield. Small world.

I don’t remember much of the walk back with the exception of the following events:

* Til personally apologizing for the holocaust

* Telling some english chick that the only good thing to come from Manchester was Morrissey

* Til waking up our other 2 roommates by turning on the lights and yelling “HEY GUYS!”

However, I don’t remember who took this photo of Til and I.

I slept in the next morning till just about check-out time. Showered, checked my bags at the front desk, swang by La Belle Patate for brunch (one cant deny the tastiness of poutine!) and headed to do what every red-blooded American should do on a Sunday: watch football. I was surprised to find a sports bar on Davie street so close to my hostel. I was not surprised to see the many sirens, mirror balls and rainbow flags inside. Oh Canada, you sure know how to queer up a sports bar. Hours and a few black labels later, I reclaimed my luggage and headed towards the bus stop. Curiously eyeing a pizza place called “Megabite”, I figured I could use a snack and also needed to get rid of the last of my Canadian money. The woman in line seemed to not know what the hell she wanted, but it didn’t really bother me at all. It came my turn and I ordered a couple slices of (canadian) bacon pizza and a Cplus (Canadian Sunkist) then headed out the door. Outside the woman from the line stopped me and in a stereotypically Canadian fashion, apologized for taking so long with her order.  Part of me wanted to say “I’m American and I don’t give a shit!” but instead I just smiled and told her it was not a big deal. Oh and if you are in Vancouver and want pizza, skip Megabite. It was pretty awful.

The bus ride back was fairly quick with the exception of the border stop. The border agent was particularly rude and wanted to know “what I was doing out west” since I was from Michigan. I then had to run my luggage through an airline security style baggage scanner before re-entering the bus. Later, I was dropped off in downtown Seattle and took city bus back to Evan’s house. Evan dropped me off at the airport the next morning and I managed to entertain myself for 5 hours by watching Bruce Willis’s great performance in “Live Free or Die Hard” and a whole lot of SportCenter via JetBlue’s free in-flight TV. I was not looking forward to the time zone change. My flight departed at 12:30PM PST and we landed in Boston at 8:45PM EST.

Oh and on a side note, the reason Hastings street sounded so familiar was based on not one but two people telling me to avoid that area like the plague.

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Tuesday October 5th, 2010 15:25 Seattle

As I stepped out of the train station, I found myself in front of Qwest Field before a Seattle Sounders Game. Waves of absurdly bright blue/green jerseys passed and vuvuzelas were heard here and there as the masses moved into the stadium. Not to knock the LA Galaxy, but these fans were nuts. The highlight of it all was a group of about 50 people all amassed walking down the street together as a big mobile block. The front row was carrying a banner that was probably 15 feet wide and all of them were singing and chanting.

Evan, Laura and their roommate Lizzy swang by the stadium to pick me up. Part of me wanted to buy some tickets from a scalper, but I was a guest and really didn’t feel like imposing my fair-weather fandom. More importantly, we were all starving! After politely asking the group to never address me as my online alias, but my given name, Evan drove us to Jai Thai for dinner. Our plan was to head to Brouwer’s, a bar with lots of tasty microbrews on tap. This would have been the case except there was a bit of an issue; Lizzy had a date there that evening and didn’t want her two roommates and their strange friend (thats me!) showing up and spoiling it for her. What goes around comes around in the world of cockblocking karma. Therefore, we instead went to Kate’s Pub, for some drinks and a few rounds of darts. Surprisingly, I managed to win a round of darts. I then realized it was getting close to midnight. It must have been birthday magic.

The next morning, we headed to Gas Works Park. Besides a spectacular view of downtown, the site of the park is an old gas refinery that has been shut down and essentially left for visitors to wander through in style that feels like a mix of  historical preservation and street art. Evan and I wandered the park and took a few pictures.

After Gas Works, we stopped by Paseo and picked up a couple Cuban Roast sandwiches to go and then headed to Kerry Park. Kerry Park is another great spot in the city to catch a glimpse of downtown and Mt. Rainier. With the weather on my side as usual, we sat on a park bench eating delicious sandwiches and staring off in the distance to see the city and Mt. Rainier behind it. I love the pacific northwest. Once again I was hit with the realization of absurdly flat the midwest is. I spent a minute daydreaming of hiking up the mountain until coming to the conclusion of how unprepared I currently was. I grabbed my camera, did my best to capture the mountain until calling it quits.

After finding some parking downtown, we walked over to Pike Place Market. Pike Place was cool to walk through and see. Most of the grocery-related vendors appeared to have good produce, meats and such. However, 80% of the vendors in there sold nothing but crap. Touristy bullshit like snowglobes every kind of ugly shirt that said Seattle or had an umbrella on it. My absolute favorite was what we found while exploring the shops downstairs. It was a basket of for sale goods that included: an open/half-empty box of q-tips and several bottles of partially used lotion. Nothing says commerce like some used lotion! We walked by the first Starbucks which was surrounded with people who gave so much of a shit about Starbucks, they wanted to go buy a cup of coffee from the first one. I instead went the stereotypical Russian route, and picked up a dessert pirozhok from a bakery called Piroshky Piroshky.

Exiting downtown, Evan took me on a mini-tour of the University of Washington on the way to the neighborhood grocery store. At the store, we picked up some much needed supplies; birthday hats and beer. We hung out at the house and had a few drinks before getting a ride to the bus stop from Lizzy as she was on her way to work. Taking the bus down to Ballard, we made our way to King’s Hardware. Happy hour pitcher specials and skeeball? This birthday was shaping up to be one of the better ones I’ve had in the last few years! We spent a while there chatting, skeeballing and terrifying the waitress (OK, that was mostly me). Hungry, we migrated down the street to La Carta de Oaxaca where way too much food was ordered. Bellies full, The Old Pequliar was the next stop on my little tour of the Ballard area. It was a nice little dive with fairly inexpensive PBR on tap. The only thing peculiar there were the patrons. Evan gave me the choice of taking the bus or walking home. “About a mile, but it’s uphill” is what Evan responded after asking how far the walk was. The walk it was! Our second to last stop was to the Safeway so each us could pick up a roadie and we walked and talked and walked and talked. After quickly popping into a gas station to pee and pick up some powerade(we had to power up!). We made it back to the house. Laura asked us what we had been up to that night. Shocked at the walk she said “You know thats like a 5 mile walk!” I googled it, It was only 3.8 but semi-impressive nonetheless. Exhausted, I retired for the night.

In the morning, Evan an I headed out to Blue Star for breakfast, bummed around online most of the day and then I was dropped off at the bus pickup zone. A few hours into the ride, we reached the US/Canada border. Being my first time taking a bus across the border, this was new to me. However, being harassed and searched countless times when I was a kid, I had some experience dealing with border agents. I had very little difficulty during the interview, but my two favorite lines were “You’re on vacation for a month?” and “What you mean you were in Canada last month… oh out east!” I re-boarded the bus and an hour later we had arrived. Hello Vancouver!

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Friday October 1st, 2010 21:05 Portland

Navigating my way through the airport, I made my way to the attached MAX light rail station. I bought a pass from their machine and headed over to board. As I looked down at my pass, I noticed there was no magnetic strip. Walking onto the train there was no one to show your ticket to. I thought, maybe they’re waiting for you when you get off. Yeah! That makes sense. Several stops later, I got off and looked around. Not a single TriMet employee. It appeared that I had just bought a ride on the honor system.

Crossing over the highway and walking a few blocks past one-two-three homeless dudes (one of which was navigating about while sitting in a wheelchair “rowing” himself along with a cane in each hand). “Interesting…” I thought as I turned the corner and made it down a few blocks to the only hotel I’d be staying at during this trip. All my friends have been incredible in providing me a place to stay for the night. But I was kind of excited at the idea of a nice quiet room with my own queen sized bed, towels I didn’t have to clean and of course not having to clean up after. The Thriftlodge wasn’t spectacular, but who’d expect a place called Thriftlodge to be?

My stomach rumbled and I wanted a meal but I didn’t give myself one. Instead, I made a dinner out of dessert. Stopping by a place that has earned a reputation for delicious treats and that place is Voodoo Donuts. A bacon maple bar, grape-ape and cup of coffee later, I was full. I won’t lie, I did feel disgusting after consuming all that sugar but hell, it was worth it.

When telling my friend Brian about my plans for this trip. He suggested since I didn’t know too many people in Portland, that I get together with his friend Jason while I was there. Jason was an Detroit ex-pat living in Portland with his girlfriend Annie. The two of them came and picked me up from my lovely hotel and we headed over to a couple bars for the evening. The first of which called the Lucky Labrador where we had a couple pints and talked about our friends in Detroit, the west coast vs. the midwest and things to do in the area. We then moved onto the Green Dragon, a brewpub with 49 taps. There was a trio at the bar playing Drinking Jenga, yelling and making a lot of noise. The people lover inside me couldn’t resist to yell back. A few minutes later one of the girls playing came over to me and said “yeah, were playing this game and since you were yelling back, I figured you could help me out.” She showed me the piece and written on it was “Give a stranger a titty twister.” I smiled and straighted the t-shirt I was wearing out. “I’ll be gentle!” she said. She wasn’t.

Being a Monday, Jason and Annie had to work the next morning so I had them drop me off at a bar that Carrie, another Detroiter (and Chex Mix queen) visiting Portland was at. Stepping into the doorway, the bouncer politely asked me for the $12 cover. I politely responded “fuck that” and walked back in the direction of my hotel.  I then stopped into the lovely establishment across from my hotel for a nightcap before heading to bed. Out 0f paranoia and a conversation had earlier that night, I scoured the room for bed bugs. Finding none, I eventually fell asleep.

The next morning, based on numerous recommendations, I had breakfast at Doug Fir then headed next door to the Jupiter Hotel to rent a bike. The bike was a heavy 3-speed cruiser, not my first choice, but it would do. I headed across the Burnside bridge and was greeted by the “Made in Oregon” sign. On the other side of the bridge was a long line of people. My first thought was they were obviously in line for something, perhaps concert tickets? Until I caught a whiff. This wasn’t a line for anything! It was like mecca for hobos. I started coming to some conclusions and started generating marketing material for the city’s tourism department. “Portland a city of hobos and hipsters”, I could see that on a billboard. I strolled through the quiet, city realizing that its kinda of small. I started hitting some hills and well, it wasn’t easy but I got to my destination, Washington Park.

Washington Park was gorgeous. I locked my bike up to a street post and wandered into the first entrance. After walking about half a mile, I accidentally stumbled across a Holocaust Memorial. I spent a few minutes there and kept moving onto the Rose Garden. The Rose Garden was gorgeous. There were rows and rows of differently kinds of rosebushes on a number of levels (going downhill) and a little amphitheater. I took a bunch of photos, including one of this awesome squirrel. I then made my way up to the Japanese Garden. The Japanese Garden was pretty spectacular. It is said to be the only authentic Japanese Garden outside of Japan. Awe-struck, I wandered the gardens with my camera in hand.

The previous night, Jason and Annie suggested that I check out the view from Council Crest Park. I suggested I would bike there and they kind of snickered at me. I figured it would be a little uphill, but I’m a champion! Google Maps informed me that it was 4 miles away. 4 miles? Thats nothing! Was I in for a treat. An hour, four painful miles and one sweat drenched shirt later, I managed to push that heavy ass bike up to the top. Nor did I regret it one bit! The view was incredible and I could clearly see Mount Hood. I snapped some photos, but they really didn’t capture what you could see from up there. The ride back was hilarious, I didn’t have to pedal even once. I was just coasting and braking until I got to downtown.

Being a fan of Rogue. I made it a point to pop into their brewpub, the Rogue Public House for an appetizer and a pint before dinner. I ordered my favorite beer which is their Hazelnut Brown Nectar and a bacon appetizer. The appetizer was just four strips of tasty, tasty bacon.  The beer however, Unbelievable! I had never had Hazelnut Brown Nectar on tap and it was so good it could make a grown man cry! I headed back to the block my hotel was on, dropped off my bike and then took a quick shower before heading to dinner. I wanted to treat myself to a gourmet meal for my (then) upcoming birthday and was told the place to do so was Le Pigeon. Le Pigeon is  a tiny place. It has a few tables which are reservation only and a bar of 10 seats for those without reservations. The best part of sitting at the bar is that behind the bar is their tiny kitchen, letting you watch as the chefs prepare everything! My meal consisted of a raddichio salad, fried cod with a puff pastry and piece of honey bacon apricot bread topped with maple ice cream. Easily the best $42 I’ve spent in a long time!

They day had really worn me out, I walked back to my hotel and took a nap for an hour. When I awoke, Jason and Annie came and picked me up and took me to Horse Brass Pub for a pint. In a discussion the previous night, I was talking about how excited I was to get some poutine in Vancouver. It turns out there is a street car food vendor in Portland that sold also had poutine! We made our way to a “pod” which was an empty parking lot until a bunch of street food trailers and picnic tables moved in permanently. There was a pizza place, a Mexican place, a creperie and last but not least, Potato Champion. We ordered a couple poutines and ate them as we listened to the creperie blast Ratatat throughout the pod. The poutine wasn’t that great but I was hungry and it hit the spot.

I awoke the next morning, packed my bags and walked down the street to Bunk Sandwiches for breakfast. Nothing like walking into a sandwich shop for breakfast at 10am to hear hip-hop blasting and seeing “Free Lil’Wayne! He’s only guilty of being great!” written on the chalkboard under the menu. Afterwards, I checked out of my hotel and then took a bus downtown, stopping into Backspace, which was a PC repair place/cybercafe to spend the next hour sipping coffee and working on my blog. With another hour or so to kill before I had to catch my train, I headed over to Ground Kontrol and blew a few bucks on some pinball machines. Eventually, I made my way over to Union Station to catch my train. The Amtrak Cascades train was way nicer than the shitty Amtrak Wolverine that I had grown accustomed to. After a pleasant ride, I had arrived in Seattle.

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Wednesday September 29th, 2010 16:46 San Francisco

I stepped out onto the arrivals/pickup loop of SFO and in a matter of minutes, my chariot had arrived. The car was practically full of my pals from Icrontic! Ryder behind the wheel, Bobby sitting shotgun, Dan and Charlotte in the back seat. After tossing my bag in the trunk and jumping in the back, we were off.

Our first destination was BevMo!, which is essentially a candy store for adults. With an ungodly selection of all forms of booze at stupidly cheap prices, I’m kind of amazed that BevMo hasn’t spread like wildfire across America. We made our way back to Bobby’s apartment in Sunnyvale when I realized my plans of making it to my friend Steph‘s birthday beach bonfire bash later in the night wasn’t going to happen unless I made a move and made it quick. I threw a daypack together as quickly as possible and got dropped off at the Sunnyvale Caltrain stop in just enough time to make the 8:14 train. An hour later, I arrived at 4th and King street.

My original plan was to take a cab to the beach, which was conveniently on the other side of SF. Rob, my old friend from high school decided to pick me up instead and we headed straight for the beach. We got to the beach after a 30 minute semi-scenic ride. That made me realize that Rob probably saved me from a $45 cab ride. The police were in the parking lot sending people who had parked alongside the beach home. The beachfront still had a few bonfire pits which were still lit up so we headed down. When we got closer to the nearest bonfire, Rob realized that our party had upped and left. I had missed out on the birthday beach bonfire bash… damn.

On another note, the night was still young and the party wasn’t gone. They had just moved to a bar. On the way way there, we made stop at Magnolia for a quick pint and for Rob to say hi to some friends. Magnolia was in the Haight-Ashbury area which was always talked up to be like the super awesome bohemian punk-rock neighborhood. Although brief, my observation is that there was nothing that special about it. Maybe all the mohawk magic faded away?

After spending way too much time trying to find a parking spot, I grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed to meet the remnants of the birthday party at The Page. With cheap Anchor Steam on tap and plenty of friends and strangers to annoy, I had a great time. After last call, we headed over to some dude’s apartment for a hot minute and then ended up at Rob’s apartment for the night.

The next morning we met up with Steph and her friends for brunch at Toast Eatery. After gorging on chicken fried steak a second morning in a row, Rob took me to Bernal Heights Park. Driving up absurd inclines we parked and walked up the steep red earth to the top. You could see the whole city from up there. With a huge grin on my face I snapped some photos:

The Sunday tradition in San Francisco is to get yourself a blanket, some beer and maybe some sunscreen (if you are a pasty white boy like myself) then head over to Dolores Park. The park is really a treat if you enjoy yourself some good people-watching. According to Rob, the park is further broken down into subsections like “gay plateau” and “hipster hill”. I’m sure none of you will find it shocking that we ended up on hipster hill. We joined Steph and friends along with some others who probably only remember me as ‘the guy who spilled beer all over us’. Whoops! Anyways, my plans differ per city, but I usually have a couple things on my agenda that I like to do. In San Francisco, it was to go to the Cartoon Art Museum and to go to the Golden Gate Bridge. From my position at the park, it would take me a significant amount of time and money to get to both. I was just having too much fun hanging out in the park and I realized that I’m on vacation, I don’t have any obligations except to have a good time. So we sat there for hours, napping, sunning, chatting, and daytime drinking. It was wonderful.

As the afternoon turned to evening, Bobby, Dan and Charlotte finally made their way up to the city. They joined us at the park for a while and I had the pleasure to be the person to give Bobby his first PBR. He was actually surprised when he realized it wasn’t awful but still far from amazing. Bobby suggested that we head uptown to The Buena Vista Cafe. We split off from the group and drove up to the marina district. The Buena Vista accredits themselves for bringing Irish Coffee to America. The four of us grabbed a table and ordered a round of Irish Coffees. My stomach was rumbling so I also ordered a children’s chicken tenders with fries meal. The coffees came and they were delicious! The ratio of coffee to whiskey was absolutely perfect! It was smooth yet strong. As we drank, Bobby regaled us with an epic tale of him chasing a girl. (Bobby, if you are reading this, I hate to say it but you’re probably permanently friend-zoned by now. At least you live in the bay area! I saw no shortage of cute girls there. Also, since you are freakishly tall, girls probably think… you know… roll with that!)

Afterwards, we headed down to the waterfront by Fort Mason. I looked across the water and there it was, the Golden Gate Bridge. I tinkered with my camera’s exposure settings for a while as I attempted to take a few photos. Sadly, none of them came out to be worth a damn. It was getting late and both Dan and Charlotte still had to get back to LA in time to be productive the next day, so we were off to Rob’s apartment. It was amusing to watch as Dan had one hell of a time throwing his car up some of San Francisco’s most treacherous hills. I made it back to Rob’s to catch the tail end of his dinner party and then I was off to bed.

The next morning, I packed my bags up, said my goodbyes and headed to the airport. Taking the BART to SFO was painless yet absurdly expensive ($8 for a one way public transit ride? really?). The flight back to LGB was quick and easy but when I got off the plane, I was in for a real treat. Los Angeles was experiencing a record high of 113 degrees! Getting off the plane and walking down the jetway under the direct sun in that heat was an experience. On top of that, as hard as they ran the A/C, the terminal was still at least 85 degrees inside (due to the airport’s silly indoor/outdoor nature). I boarded my second plane, kicked back in my ‘even more legroom’ seat and watched a ton of SportCenter then the first bit of Monday Night Football until we arrived in Portland.

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Monday September 27th, 2010 19:27 Los Angeles

The plane lands and a jetway is wheeled up to the airplane. I was a bit confused since every flight I’ve ever taken had landed at an airport with a jetway that was attached to the terminal. Regardless, I grabbed my bags, got off the plane and started my way down the jetway. Long Beach Airport is really something else. It was a bunch of smaller buildings connected to each other with outdoor walkways. At first I thought it was probably just started as a tiny airport that kept growing and turned into the abomination that it was. It took me a while to realized that I was in California and everything here was semi-outdoors.

After navigating a confusing gauntlet of exitways, I found the rental car lobby and picked up my reservation. It was a newer Ford Focus sedan. Not the most luxurious of automobiles, but I really wanted something compact for weaving through LA traffic and easy parallel parking.

Once I got on the road, I found the nearest In-n-Out Burger to the airport and headed straight there to see what everyone who lives on or has been to the west coast has been bragging about. Well, they were right! It was a damn tasty burger! However, I had been to Shake Shack and Kuma’s earlier but in fairness, those tasty morsels were in a league of their own. The fries however, tasted “like dirt” as Cheryl later described.

After participating in that piece of west coast Americana, I headed towards Crystal’s apartment near USC. On the drive there I noticed a ton of strip malls, which reminded me of home, those stretches of road off the highway didn’t seem to be anything uniquely LA. I just just seemed like everyday America.

I arrived at Crystal’s, and we soon headed off to Santa Monica. We parked and walked through the 3rd street promenade. The promenade was like Somerset Collection meets Downtown Birmingham with the exception of the street musicians were actually talented instead of a handful of rich high school douchebags playing Dave Matthews covers.

The pier was a lot cooler. I’m pretty sure it was mostly populated by tourists and people on dates but to my surprise there were a ton of fishermen on a Wednesday night. The amusement park was closed but they left the lights on to stand out in the night. We made out way down to the beachfront and there I was, staring at the Pacific Ocean. Since it was late, it just looked like a never-ending dark blue abyss.

The next morning Crystal and I rode bikes down to USC for breakfast and for Crystal to give me a mini tour of the campus before she headed to class. Afterwards, I cruised around the campus for a while before returning to her apartment and jumping into my rental car.

While on the bus to Philadelphia, I met an LA native who told me that since I enjoyed my hike in Connecticut so much, that I had to hike Runyon Canyon. The entrance to Runyon is in Hollywood, so I was excited to drive down Hollywood Boulevard on the way there. To my surprise, when I turned off the highway and onto Hollywood Boulevard, it was a dump! You’re presented with this image of how incredible this part of America is and boy was it far from it. The street was dead for the most part until I rolled into the tourist trap area where I spotted some city sightseeing buses and Guinness World Records Museum.

Arriving at the gate to Runyon, I have no idea what I was in store for. Lucky to find a parking spot right on front the entrance, I took it as a good sign. Grabbing my water bottle and camera, I was off. You can let your dog wander almost the entire park off its leash so there was a lot of dog owners and their dogs wandering the park. Wandering blindly onto a side path I made my way to a dead end, however I had also accidently discovered a neat spiral of rocks someone with the time and patience put together. Heading back to the main path, I realized I had no idea where the hell I was going and that it might be a good idea to ask. I approached a woman sitting on a bench with a black lab. Regrettably, I didn’t catch her name but we chatted a short bit about the park, my trip, what to do in LA. She gave me two pieces of advice, one I’m not so sure of and the other, well I’ll get to that later. The advice I’m not so sure of was “from someone who had lived in the Chicago/Midwest for most of her adult life”, is to move out to California ASAP. I thanked her and headed in the proper direction of the main trail. As I climbed, the view got more and more unbelievable. I could see downtown LA, the Hollywood sign, the Hollywood hills, all of it. The brush growing on the side of the mountain was also incredible and was in all different colors; red, silver, green and blue. I snapped some photos and moved on. Every twenty minutes, I got to a higher point, looked around in amazement, took photos, rinse and repeat. The trail looped itself back to the gate in which I entered.

The second piece of advice the woman I had met earlier was to make sure I went to The Getty Center before I left Los Angeles. Thus began my drive from Runyon and through Beverly Hills. The houses in Beverly Hills were large and beautiful, but it wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen living in Oakland County and biking through Bloomfield Hills. Arriving at The Getty, I parked in the parking structure and took an elevator up to the unknown and unexpected. Exiting the elevator I found myself at a tiny tram station, so I hopped on the tram and was on my way up the mountain.

The Getty Center is one of those places which makes me wish I had a broader vocabulary so I could really describe it. It is without a doubt the most beautiful place I have seen on this trip so far and perhaps even the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my whole life. The architecture of the complex itself is stunning and then you walk into it to find the works of art it holds are just as incredible. Inside-Out this is a must see place when in LA.

After the Getty, I headed back to Crystal’s apartment in south central. The time was about 4:30pm PST and I was about to get my first taste of LA’s traffic at it’s finest. Essentially, as a motorist who has driven only in the midwest I hated it. However, after driving in it for a few days I finally came to the conclusion that it sucks but its not much more terribly inefficient than driving around the midwest. Since everything is so spread out in the midwest, it takes a while to get there. Everything in the LA area is much closer yet takes a similar amount of it. That and there is nothing like the first time a motorcyclist splits a lane and blasts by you. I picked Crystal up and we headed over to Sunset Bouvelard. On Sunset, we ate at a Jitlada, a Thai restaurant then moved onto a build-your-own frozen yogurt place called Yogurtland and then grabbed a beer at the Blue Palm. The Blue Palm was on that dumpy strip of Hollywood Boulevard I had described earlier and I felt bad for Lucielle Ball and Gregory Peck for having their stars all the way out there. On the way back, I drove through downtown LA. It reminded me of driving through the Chicago Loop on a weekday night. It was a business district and was fairly empty with the occational gathering at a corner bar or outdoor event.

The next morning I set out to do something I had only daydreamed about. Parking just south of the Santa Monica Pier, I kicked off my shoes and began walking up the Pacific coast. On a side note, the weather has been on my side this entire trip. From the day I left Detroit, it has been sunny and warm with the exception of an hour or two of rain as I camped out in a brewpub in Baltimore. Back to the beach! An hour or so had passed and I had made it to the north end of Venice Beach, having walked a few miles up the coast, I walked the way back down the Venice Beach walkway. Venice Beach was ridiculous! Vendors selling all sorts of crap. It was like Coney Island on crack. The most hilarious part was I had to have passed at least five different “Doctor’s Offices”. Places where you could see a “doctor” to get a prescription for a medical marijuana card. Passing the Muscle Beach was weird because there was only one old dude working out. I kind of expected a ton of meatheads instead. Making back to my rental car right as my meter expired had a nice feeling, but I realized I only had 35 minutes to get to download LA if I wanted to catch the Kogi truck.

Trying to jet down the freeway, I was met with typical midday LA traffic. Nervously weaving through lanes, I managed to make it downtown in just enough time to see the truck still parked on the street. Quickly parking in one of those large “event parking” style of lots, I ran across the street and made it to the truck just as they were about to close. Kogi is a vietnamese/mexican fusion taco truck. I first heard about Kogi from my friend Sara who insisted if there was one thing I eat in LA, it had to be from the Kogi Truck. My order of one Spicy Pork taco and one Beef Short Rib taco was up in a few minutes and after a few squirts of Sriracha, I ran to my car to devour them. These tacos were so damn good, its been four days since I’ve was there and my mouth is watering at the very thought of it.

Later in the afternoon, I headed over to Carson to meet up with Bobby, Cheryl and Carlos. We sat down for a quick bite at Five Guys then made out way to the Home Depot Center to the LA Galaxy vs. New York Red Bulls game. The stadium was gorgeous and once again I was taken back by the whole “everything is outside” California experience. Yes, I know Comerica Park and Soldier Field and so on and so forth are outdoor stadiums, but when you run the concessions, they are indoors. Here everything was legitimately outdoors. The game was supposed to be a particularly exciting one for a few reasons. One, David Beckham was off the injured list and back on the field. Two, The LA Galaxy have the best record in the MLS. Three, The NY Red Bulls are one hell of a team so this was a great matchup. Sadly, the Galaxy lost 2 to 0. I did however snap a good shot or two. We then headed to Culver City for a late-nite snack at Tito’s Tacos on Carlos’ suggestion. Any place that has strawberry soda is alright with me.

Getting to back to Crystal’s I tried very hard to try and hold a conversation with Crystal, but was so exhausted I fell asleep mid converstation. In the morning, Crystal and I headed to one of her favorite breakfast places and walked through neighborhood flea marketing looking at well, junk. What else do they have at flea markets? :) Crystal and I said our goodbyes and I drove back to Long Beach airport making a quick stop at the same In-n-Out burger for a snack. After returning my car, I was given an early birthday wish by the ID/boarding pass checking girl before flying a very painless hour to San Francisco.

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Thursday September 23rd, 2010 00:28 Chicago, Part Deux

I arrived at my brother’s house and got started on my laundry as soon as possible just to get it out of the way. When I had gotten everything folded, I made my way to the Lincoln Park Whole Foods Market. For those who’ve never been here, its enormous! On top of a grocery store, it features two bars (one beer, one wine) and a couple restaurants! Jay and Erin awaited me at the beer bar with a cart full of groceries, apparently they’re making me dinner. Score! I had a Pale Ale and took my sweet time picking out a bottle of wine.

Monday Night Football was on and I found myself spending more time in front of the TV than in the kitchen watching as Jay and Erin cook. They made me a three course meal, starting with a yam and spinach salad with a ginger dressing, following by baked ziti with meat sauce and then followed up with a dutch apple cheesecake. I sure do like it when my friends spoil me. When I was finished with dinner, I was spent, so I made my way to the closest Brown Line station and strolled through and eerily quiet Chicago to my brother’s house.

The next morning, I decided to skip breakfast and go straight to lunch at a Chicago food destination I had yet to make it over to; Kuma’s Corner. I get this feeling like this trip is partially like my own personal travel channel show. Watch out Zimmern and Richman, here comes Ayzenberg! Anyways, I met Jay and Erin once again and we jetted down Belmont Street to Kuma’s. With hot tattooed girls and burgers name after (mostly) metal bands, I was definitely digging the atmosphere. The burger I had was called the Black Oak Arkansas which was a 10oz patty with aged white cheddar, homemade red wine barbecue sauce and fried shallots. The burger came with waffle fries and good god was this thing amazing.

During my lunchtime feast, I got a text message with some bad news. My friend Melissa was laid off today and was sitting at home upset. Hopping on two of the CTA’s finest buses, I eventually got to the Ukrainian Village neighborhood where Melissa lived. Melissa and I took a walk around the neighborhood and ended up at Stella’s, which was a pretty solid dive bar with a great jukebox and an even better Guns’N'Roses pinball machine. After several hours at Stella’s, We grabbed a slice of pizza then I walked Melissa home so she could take a much needed nap, I hung out for a moment and chatted with her roommate then headed back to my brother’s for the night.

I got up way too early the next morning, so I fell back asleep for a bit but it really didn’t have much of an effect. After a cup of coffee, I packed my bag up and began to waste time online. My brother proposed the idea of getting some lunch before I took off so we ended up at Green Tea Japanese Restaurant for some sushi. Afterwards, We went back to pick up my luggage and then he drove me over to the Blue Line and I was headed back to O’Hare.

The line to get through TSA was ridiculously long, but luckily I had gotten there early enough that it didn’t matter. I had forked over an extra $35 to be upgraded to JetBlue’s “Even More Legroom” seating which is essentially a slight upgrade of the already great coach seating. For that long of a flight it was nice to have the extra leg room. The highlight of the ride was listening to this old woman behind me tell the girl sitting next to her how dangerous Logan Square was/”still is” and that she still walks with her keys in her hand in dangerous neighborhoods because the only way to take a threatening man out is to stab him in the eye with a key!  :)

I peered out the window several times throughout the trip and although it was mostly cloudy, there were some incredible sights. Over Kansas, the land looked like a patchwork quilt of different flat terrain and farmland. Over the Rockies, you could all the chasm and canyons that had eroded over time. Over Arizona, there was this red color to the earth that really brilliant. Lastly, as we got ready to land at Long Beach Airport, you could see the entire LA area and it was a giant sea of lights.

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