Oregon: Welcome to Roseburg!

Oregon Coast (Bandon Beach)

For three years we've been living like nomads: Philadelphia, Dallas, Chicago, Fresno, Denver, Charleston, Anchorage. From the very beginning, the cities of Portland and Seattle have been at the top of our wish-list of places to live and now, we're here! Nearby anyway...

The closest we could get to Portland was Roseburg, OR; a small town of about 22,000 people along Interstate 5. From here it's about one hour to Eugene, two to Salem, three  to Portland, five to Seattle, and seven to Vancouver. We're planning to visit each of these cities for the first time. We'll also be able to spend time on the Oregon Coast, at Crater Lake National Park, and in the Columbia River Gorge.

Roseburg is one of the smallest and oldest populations I've ever live in. To give an idea, Clearwater has the oldest average age of any city in the state of Florida at 43.8 years. Roseburg's Average Median Age is 45.2! Sometimes it seems like there are more mobility scooters (many with sun shades!) in the crosswalks than people walking. Our apartment complex is bracketed by two retirement communities and a dozen medical complexes across the street.  I've started carrying my kindle with me to be prepared for the inevitable dispute over coupons and senior citizen discounts.. Not making fun. Just sharing the reality of the area.

Anchorage: Glaciers, reindeer, and hiking at midnight. The best and worst of our three month stay in Alaska.

Time to move on! Our stay, once stretching out before us as three whole long months of opportunity has flown into and through us, settling somewhere in our minds as disjointed memories of camping trips, grueling hikes, road-trips, and syrupy beverages from countless colorful coffee shacks between Homer and Denali.

I often get time shock at the end of our stays looking at how quickly the time has gone. It's not because we've run out of time and missed out on doing what we planned. It's because we do so much and the time flies. I'm ready to go. The days are already getting shorter. It's raining a lot. We kayaked and dog sledded and took a ride on the Alaskan railroad. We saw waterfalls, glaciers, and moose. We saw a whale in Seward, drove as far south as Homer on the Kenai Peninsula and as far north as Denali National Park. We biked the Tony Knowles Trail and scrambled over loose scree to O'Malley Peak. We hiked to a remote lake and canoed in the rain. There is a lifetime of exploration here, but I'm

Anchorage: First week of living in Alaska and the new apartment

We've only been in Alaska a few days and nothing too eventful has happened, but I want to write before the initial culture shock wears off. Despite being a part of the U.S., Alaska is different enough that it's a little like visiting another country for the first time. Here are some things we've noticed:

1) If you ever fly to Alaska, reserve a window seat. The plane took off from Chicago around sunset and chased the sun through and over pink clouds the entire six-hour flight to Anchorage where it finally got dark shortly after arrival. Much of the trip I looked down on clouds and the snowy peaks poking through them. Sometimes it was hard to tell what was a cloud and what was a mountain. Huge gorges full of ice and snow between mountains looked like rivers but ran to nowhere. I found out later some of these gorges run deeper than the grand canyon and many of these mountains are taller than any we'd seen in Colorado or California.

2) Anchorage is in the middle of nowhere. That nowhere is beautiful mountains and wilderness but it's so sparsely populated here that it's unnerving. Alaska makes up almost 18% of the U.S. land mass and hardly anyone lives on most of it. Anchorage contains 41% of the state's population (second in single city concentration to only NY) and even in Anchorage, it feels sparse!
     Alaska's 2nd and 3rd biggest cities, Fairbanks and Juneau, are over 6 and 21 hours away, respectively. The fourth biggest city in Alaska has only around 9,000 people. To put this in continental U.S. terms, imagine that you live in New York City and have to drive to Pittsburg PA or Savannah, GA through mountain and wilderness to get to the nearest decent sized cities and these cities are

Charleston: Sunrises and sunsets, hiking with alligators, and kayaking with dolphins

Charleston has been a beautiful place to live for three months! Our goal in coming here was to enjoy the beach in the off season and spend some time in Charleston's historic downtown. Goal accomplished! We were able to live a block from the ocean, spend quite a bit of time downtown, and find some other added bonuses in the between time. Here are some of the highlights:

Water sports and wildlife

Unlike much of the west coast and northeast where a well defined shore separates the ocean and land. The ocean around Charleston seeps and flows into and around the area creating all types of rivers, tidal creeks, marshes, inlets, black-water swamps, and harbors. Most of the driving in the area is done on bridges and elevated roads. This allows for many ways to enjoy and explore on the water, and beautiful views of the surrounding area.

We bought a second kayak and explored the harbor during low tide. We dragged our yaks down the trail at Palmetto County Park to explore the tidal creeks along the inter-coastal waterway. The amount of diverse birds we saw from storks and egrets to snipes, willets, sanderlings, and oystercatchers was stunning. The dolphins and alligators are

Charleston: My favorite thing about this city

Venice has an international reputation for being THE city of water. But there are others. As Charleston expands into the marsh and swamps of the surrounding areas, building more parks, connectors, piers, and walkable bridges; the more it also becomes a city built on, and over, water.

I realized while working on another post about Charleston that my favorite thing about the city is not its historical character or even its wildlife. These exist elsewhere, nearby. What makes Charleston such a beautiful place is the necessary elevated roads that allow for a frequent inward gaze at the wildlife, downtown, and islands. While other cities are flat, wooded, or obstructed by construction, there are so many viewpoints in the Charleston area from which to observe Charleston's historic and natural beauty from a contemplative distance.

Unlike bigger cities, Charleston never fully consumes you in its belly. There is always a view across the harbor of a lighthouse or island fortress. 

More sunsets are seen than missed.

While elsewhere it takes a special trip to see natural beauty or a conscious reminder to mentally revisit places you've enjoyed, Charleston gets in your face for attention. The longer we live here, the more meaningful daily views become as they're filled with associations and memories of lighthouse visits, palm-lined isthmus strolls, bike rides, and harbor walks. 

Despite the horrible South Carolinian drivers and the frustrations of overhearing boatloads of ignorance about politics and social issues, it's really hard to be unhappy here.

Why writers are often poor communicators

This graphic should probably be named something less definitive than The Types Of Intelligence since there are others. I wouldn't get carried away throwing just any skill or ability up here, though. Consider writing.

Writing can fall under "linguistic intelligence" but most writers are terrible at expressing their thoughts fluidly. This deficiency is why they write-- for the reward of seeing their thoughts expressed. Writers bang their head against a desk doing what people with a high linguistic intelligence do easily.

Its like a person drawn to the forest; not because they are a naturalist, but because they feel disconnected from nature.

Excerpt: Brideshead Revisited

Excerpts from Bridehead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh:

Sometimes, I feel the past and the future pressing so hard on either side that there's no room for the present at all.”

“The trouble with modern education is you never know how ignorant people are. With anyone over fifty you can be fairly confident what's been taught and what's been left out. But these young people have such an intelligent, knowledgeable surface, and then the crust suddenly breaks and you look down into depths of confusion you didn't know existed.” 

“We keep company in this world with a hoard of abstractions and reflections and counterfeits of ourselves - the sensual man, the economic man, the man of reason, the beast, the machine and the sleepwalker, and heaven knows what besides, all in our own image, indistinguishable from ourselves to the outside eye. We get borne along, out of sight in the press, unresisting, till we get the chance to drop behind unnoticed, or to dodge down a side street, pause, breathe freely and take our bearings, or to push ahead, outdistance our shadows, lead them a dance, so that when at length they catch up with us, they look at one another askance, knowing we have a secret we shall never share.”

Denver: Final post and rating

Anyone who has talked to us recently knows Denver has been our favorite city. But I've had trouble explaining why. Denver is so much more than the 16th Street Mall. More than beer, marijuana, and the Rocky Mountains. It's kind of like dating where it sometimes takes getting to know someone to really appreciate what you've found.

Conveying everything we've found and learned to like about Denver is too overwhelming . It amounts to hundreds of small high-quality realizations instead of a small number of sensational experiences. Even though it's great to visit, Denver is the kind of place that's even better to live in.

After living in each city, we've been giving it a personal rating to track our opinions and decide where we want to settle. Read this if you're unfamiliar with our ratings. Previous city ratings: Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, Fresno.


Culture: 8

Union Station
Denver has a vibrant art scene on par with much bigger cities. There are multiple art districts. Each district with its own character and collection of small working studios. The largest, Santa Fe Arts District has 100+ galleries.

The music scene is equally dense with more concerts and music venues than Austin. It wasn't uncommon to skip a great concert because there were so many other things going on. Red Rocks gets the fame, but there are a number of other great outdoors venues.

Street markets, festivals, dog bars, cat cafes, costumed bike rides, coffee houses, book signings, comedy, theater, independent theaters, local

Interesting links on what's for dinner. Learn you something!

...while there is a strong case for a serious discussion about whether or not we really need to eat, or should be eating, as much meat as we do, that is a discussion for another day. The reality is that the society we live in craves meat, on a massive scale. Where there is a demand there will be a supply, and finding out how that supply is met is something that all meat-eaters should be interested in....I find it difficult to tolerate those who love eating meat, but cannot bear to think about, or look at, the slaughter and death of that animal – it seems disrespectful towards the animal, and if I wanted to get really eggy about it, I’m not sure if such people should be allowed to eat meat at all.

Not a single day passes without some well-meaning reader leaving a comment like this one: “GMOs are perfectly safe. Farmers and gardeners have been cross-breeding seeds like this for thousands of years. Take off your tinfoil hats, people!”
     Um… no. Just no.
Farmers and gardeners have NOT been cross-breeding seeds like this for thousands of years. What those well-intentioned readers fail to understand is the fundamental difference between hybrid seeds and GMOs...

Doug Stanhope first introduced me to Marlort after knocking back a few shots at one of his shows in Chicago. A few weeks after the show I got around to trying it, myself. Awfully delicious! Since leaving Chicago I've seen it here and there. But this Florida made liquor remains a Chicago phenomena.

You know you're living too close to the highway...

Our apartment in Platte Park (south Denver)
...when you wake up and know the weather from the sound of traffic.

When we decided to extend beyond our initial three months in Denver, the owner of our first apartment decided she didn't want to renew. This apartment near the highway was the best that was available on short notice.

Living here was like being at the helm of a boat in a sea of traffic. When we opened the well-insulated doors and windows we would be blown back by an ocean of noise. Not only was one side of this corner apartment next to a highway, the other side also faced a busy intersection. Waking up on a raining day to the hiss and fizzle of wet tires on pavement was almost like waking up to the sound of ocean waves or a rushing river.

Elissa and Michal-ann battle it out at Washington Park
Despite its proximity to the highway it was in a great neighborhood. It was a few blocks from the excitement of Washington Park with its jogging trails, lakes, and paddle-board rentals. There was a train station right next to the apartment. It was a few blocks from South Pearl Street with its shady restaurants, coffee houses, weekend markets, and festivals. A few blocks further was Broadway and Antique Row.

After two interesting months we packed up and moved back downtown. Perfect neighborhood, wrong street.

Poetry: Mary Oliver


You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

2014 Reading List

Looking back on 2014, I read a couple great books (Germinal, Waiting for the Barbarians, Do Androids Dream...), but many more were tiresome (Possession, Emma, The Bell Jar, Notes from a Small Island).

The realization has led me to change my perspective towards reading. A change that mirrors my new approach to travel: check the boxes and finish the lists, then be more spontaneous and discerning in the experiences I sign up for.

I'm glad I've paid my dues by visiting the Eiffel Tower, the Egyptian Pyramids, the Coliseum, and the Parthenon. But, like books, my most memorable travel experiences have little to do with these well-known destinations. These places are over-photographed and analyzed to the point of abstraction while a more vibrant reality surrounds. I'm glad I've read as many classics as I have, but it's time to move on.

Like the chauffeur realizes in Ishiguro's Remains of the Day, sometimes a dedication to structure and
lists keeps us from something better. On to the list...

Goodbye Dever, Hello Charleston, SC!

Bailey enjoying the beach

Of all the places we lived recently (Philadelphia, Dallas, Chicago, Fresno, and Denver), it's Denver we liked best, Denver we lived in the longest, and Denver I wrote the least about! I still plan to write some catch-up posts but for right now, on to something new...

We're on the north side of the island under all those trees!
For a change of pace, scenery, and temperature we chose Charleston as our next city. Now that we've settled on Denver as our eventual home, we decided we can enjoy the beaches and warmth of a city we'll probably never live in permanently. No offense Charleston, you've got a unique character, but you're known as the "most mannerly city" and the "holy city" for good reasons (more on this later). Your main attractions are old buildings and forts. Accordingly, we chose a place away from the city on Isle of Palms a couple blocks from the beach where we can

Excerpt: Waiting for the Barbarians

Excerpts from Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee:
“Empire has located its existence not in the smooth recurrent spinning time of the cycle of the seasons but in the jagged time of rise and fall, of beginning and end, of catastrophe.”

“One thought alone preoccupies the submerged mind of Empire: how not to end, how not to die, how to prolong its era. By day it pursues its enemies. It is cunning and ruthless, it sends its bloodhounds everywhere. By night it feeds on images of disaster: the sack of cities, the rape of populations, pyramids of bones, acres of desolation.”

“The Empire does not require that its servants love each other, merely that they perform their duty.”

“To the last we have learned nothing. In all of us, deep down, there seems to be something granite and unteachable. No one truly believes, despite the hysteria in the streets that the world of tranquil certainties we were born into is about to be extinguished.” 

“The jackal rips out the hare's bowels, but the world rolls on.”

“I truly believe I am not afraid of death. What I shrink from, I believe, is the shame of dying as stupid and befuddled as I am.”

Music: Why Bastille's cover of "No Scrubs" is the best cover song ever

Instead of throwing a clever cross-genre spin on the original or brutalizing it to be funny, Bastille's cover of "No Scrubs" replaces the criticism of the original with empathy. By creating a second storyline to go along with the original, a third story about judgement and perspective emerges from the interplay.

For this to work, Bastille makes the assumption that the listener knows and identifies with the original. In case you're unfamiliar, "No Scrubs" is a classic for good reason. Both catchy and meaningful, the lyrics identify who "scrubs" are and why the singer isn't interested. The song's chastisement motivates men not to be scrubs and women not to settle for them.

A scrub is a guy who thinks he's fly
And is also known as a buster
Always talkin' about what he wants
And just sits on his broke ass...

If you don't have a car and you're walking
Oh yes son I'm talking to you
If you live at home wit' your momma
Oh yes son I'm talking to you...

Oh no I don't want no.....
No scrub

What Bastille does with the song, just by adding some clips and a little emotion, is humanize "the scrub", making us wonder at the psychology that makes him act as he does. Is there is a way for him to change? The song doesn't defend scrubs or directly criticize TLC for steering clear (the sound clips are, after all, from the movie Psycho), but it places the listener in a more enlightened place by mimicking the complexities of real life. It's like the Ender's Game Series by Orson Scott Card in which different books tell the same exact story from the perspective of different characters.

I'd like to hear more cover songs like this. Maybe someone should do a cover of the Offspring's "Bad Habit" about a road-rage situation between Dexter Holland and someone's grandmother, or a cover of Kanye West's "I am a God" from the perspective of a busy french waiter having a rough day, trying to get croissants to the table.

Denver: Four months in Colorado and going strong!

I've been procrastinating on another Denver post. Every time I sit down to write, I'm overwhelmed by what to share and how to do it in a reasonable space.

I'll use Denver's bike culture as an example:

If I want to tell anyone reading about Denver biking, I could write about the number of people that bike, the great trails, and the extensive short-term bike rental kiosks, but that wouldn't be enough! Chicago has all that; Philadelphia was working on it; Fresno has good bike trails.

In order to do justice to biking in Denver, I'd want to write a whole series of posts with pictures on trails that run right through downtown past wildlife, kayakers, through country-clubs, and past amusement parks. I'd have to describe how Denver is set up to bike almost anywhere and how the towns are connected by high-quality scenic trailways. I'd have to write about all the bikers we see in the mountains on their hundred mile loops and the monthly mass costumed bike gatherings; about the bike to work day and Tour de Fat. I'd have to write about the pedal taverns and the art tours by bike; about the 6-person bikes for rent in Washington Park and the bike shops everywhere.

After all that, anyone reading would be left with the impression that people here are bike fanatics, and they'd be right about some, but they'd be misunderstanding the overall culture. Most people here aren't bike fanatics anymore than people anywhere are car fanatics because they drive a lot-- It's just a result of an active and healthy culture.

We're thinking of living here permanently once we finish traveling-- and no, it's not just because of the beer and the mountains. Here is more of what we like without going into too much detail:

Fun: People here aren't afraid to let their personalities show in everything from their businesses to their houses. Lindsay and I enjoy walking through Denver's neighborhoods just admiring the creativity used in landscaping and decoration. Bars offer all types of entertaining events from connect-four tournaments to square pool tables and adult bingo. Like many other young cities, Denver's population is fit and active. What seems to be a little different about Denver, is how much this fitness is tied to play. The focus isn't as much on appearance or machismo, it's on being outside and rafting, kayaking, biking, hiking, climbing, skateboarding, and long-boarding.

Denver: Funny signs and notices from around Denver

Maybe it's the marijuana smoke in the air, the younger population, or just the atmosphere of fun and play, but if you have an eye for detail, there are quite a few amusements around Denver. Here are a couple I was able to snap pictures of:

Rock on Denver! Or maybe I love you random street-crosser? This could be a coincidence, but knowing Denver, it's probably not.

Ghost Bus: If you know about the mystique and eeriness surrounding the Denver International Airport, you know how creepy this ad really is. Just replace the A with an E and you have: The easiest way to DIE. We're ready to go when you are. Sign me up!

Denver: Home sweet home #5, bison on the loose, a redneck bus tour, and frisbee with the dead!

Third week in Denver and we're starting to get an idea of the city. Denver is similar to a scaled down Chicago in that all types of small, but vibrant, communities exist outside of the main downtown. We've done a lot of driving to decide where we want to spend time, but we keep learning about more areas. Then there are all the nearby cities-- Boulder, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins. All of Colorado's top 10 biggest cities are two hours away or less. Many are so close that it's hard to notice when Denver ends and another city begins.

Couple more notes to add to first impressions of Denver:

-- Austin, TX should keep the title "live music capital of the world" due to its public funding of artists and SXSW, but Denver actually has more music venues. Denver lacks the concentration of open-front bars and venues that makes places like Austin's 6th St so dramatic, but fans of live music won't be disappointed.

-- In California we experienced the spring transition months ago, but here we're back to winter. It isn't cold during the day, but a lot of the landscape is still brown and grey and many of the mountain attractions are still closed because of all the snow. Looking forward to full on spring!

-- I was disappointed with the limitation of the rail system until I found this map showing rail current projects. In a few years, the system will be much larger. It won't help while we're here this time, but it's good to have something to look forward to. The free 16th Street Mall Bus has been so successful they're adding more free downtown buses in a couple weeks. Need to go to the airport? Use one of the special bus stops downtown to take you there.

Some of what we've been up to:

Banjo Billy Tour! What better introduction to a new city than a Colorado style bus tour? From the bus's decorations and sound effects to the attractions and trivia, this tour was fun and helped us decide what we wanted to see more of. The bus showed us sites like Cheesman Park, Colorado Capital, Molly Brown House, Brown Palace, and the Botanic Gardens. Plus, it was on Groupon, so we got a good deal.

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge: We only had an hour, so we went into the museum/welcome center and drove the safari-like roads and dirt paths through the refuge. We definitely plan on heading back to do some hiking. Four or five bison were feeling itchy during our visit and decided to leave the fields to scratch themselves on road signs so we got quite the close-up.

Ghosts at Cheesman Park: Every city we've lived in has spun their data to create a park brag of some type. Denver brags about having the most parks within city limits. With over 200 parks, most Denver residents are close to a good park. Many of these parks have one or two lakes and

Images: 4 photo galleries that are more than just entertaining

I stumbled on these four collections within a couple weeks of one another and realized that, unlike, many on-line collection of cute animals or photobombs, each of these collections have larger implications-- mortality, commonality, ownership, and appearance. Oh, and they're entertaining too!

1. Children Around the World With Their Most Prized Possessions

2. Reflections: Portraits of the Elderly Seeing Their Younger Selves

3. Young people swap clothes with grandparents

4. Portraits of strangers who look alike

Denver: First impressions and why my mom might be right about The Mile High City.

Flickr - Robin Zembrowski
In my post on Los Angeles, I wrote about the stereotypes and rumors people nationwide have about cities they've never been to. Until recently, my mental file on Denver was fairly sparse. Like San Diego, everything I heard was ravingly positive, but there wasn't much in the information to hold on to. Denver doesn't have a Golden Gate Bridge; it's not known for its weirdness or proximity to Silicon Valley. It has the Rockies, but I lived beside the Appalachians for years.
Didn't take us long to find some good pizza!
My mom, having spent a lot of time here, has been a long-time proponent, but I always pushed the city to the background with visions of Austin, Portland, and San Francisco dancing around in my mind. Now that we're here, it seems Denver has so much happening that it's hard to determine where to start. My praise might be premature since we haven't been here a week, but so far we're impressed. What a great city!

As I type this, I'm in our apartment, facing a window. Below is a large park spread along the river with a massive skate park, kayaking chutes, and bike trails that run for miles. Looking east I can see downtown, Coors Field, and the new Union Station. A couple blocks away are free buses that can take us from one end of downtown to the other on the 16th street mall. There are all the typical attractions of any big city like museums, stadiums, and tours, but there are also a large number of smaller bars and attractions that we haven't seen elsewhere. There is a low-key vibe mixed with creativity that allows for downtown bowling, a Bark Bar (bar +dog park), and event filled microbreweries. Open an event paper and the number of options are staggering: sidewalk chalk-fest, comedy open-mics, festivals. The music scene is well rounded with old, new, obscure, mainstream, indie, and more.

On top of all this, it seems like Denver is still accessible. While downtown living in other cities like Chicago and San Diego can cost upwards of a million for something nice. From the little we've looked, it appears it's still possible to get a house for under 300K within walking distance of
We call this juice where we come from
downtown Denver and all the city has to offer. With the city growing like it is, this might be a good investment. New train stations, regional rails, and buildings are going up everywhere. Denver has a shortage of construction workers. It's like Dallas a few years ago or Miami a few years further than that.

Denver has an average of 300 sunny days a year (more than San Diego, even!). The thin, drier air leads to bluer skies and a more intense sun. In addition to drinking more water and wearing sunscreen, it's recommended that visitors watch their alcohol intake. Just like golf balls, alcohol goes further. High Altitude Tips here.

Pot is legal in Colorado and the market is booming. I don't smoke, but watching the market bloom is fascinating. Denver has a store that sells chocolate dipped marijuana and the "apple store" of marijuana downtown. I'll post more pictures of this part of Denver later in our stay.

The one thing we thought we were leaving behind in California was cheap produce, but fruits and vegetables in Denver appear to be reasonably priced.

Finally, Denver police aren't quite like I've seen anywhere else. After only a few days here, we noticed a number of police in different areas hiding behind telephone poles and low walls with radar guns. Once they get someone (low speed areas), they jump out from hiding in front of the car, hail the car to a stop, and give the driver a ticket. Maybe they're trying to make up the money they're losing on traffic cameras fines that aren't being paid?

We haven't made a specific list of things we want to do, but we're keeping our eyes open. I'll be sure to post more on what we find and some pictures of our latest apartment.

Until later, California! Good riddance, Fresno! Final evaluation...

San Francisco from Marin Headlands
Big Sur
California has been amazing! We did and saw so much, but it feels as if we only got a small taste of a much bigger meal. We saw California's deserts, sequoia forests, redwoods, vineyards, mountains, beaches, and rocky coasts. We did everything on our list from a lengthy road trip down Route 1 to a quick stop in Napa Valley for a wine tasting. We spent multiple weekends in San Francisco and got to see San Diego, L.A., Oakland, Alameda, Sausalito, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Big Sur, Monterey, Visalia, Exeter, Yosemite, and the Sequoia National Park. We bought bikes to participate in California's bike-friendly culture. We ate California produce like it was a limited time offer and downed quite a variety of craft beers. We saw harbor seals, sea lions, dolphins, coyotes, vultures, and elephant seals.

We did a lot, but I'd definitely like to go back for some longer backpacking trips or even long-term living in San Diego.

A big part of why we're traveling is to experience different cities/regions and eventually decide where we want to live permanently, so after living in each city, we've been giving it a personal rating.  Here is how our evaluations work. Here are previous city ratings: Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas.

Flickr Creative Commons -- Bryan Zera
Fresno Skyline -- Brian Zera
Fresno is the first city to fail our evaluation. With its poor economy, gangs, valley girls, sprawl, and smog, Fresno is great because of all the nearby things that got us out of Fresno; but we never want to live here.

Fresno has its interesting subcultures and attractions. I wrote about some of my favorites in previous

An observation on California's dogs and their owners

I want to be off-leash, too!
Something we notices while living in California that I didn't get a chance to write about until now, was how common and accepted it is to let dogs off-leash. No matter what California city, whether it was Golden Gate Park in San Francisco or a neighborhood park in Fresno, the majority of dogs are walking beside their owner and doing their own thing with no leash whatsoever. Most of these dogs are in parks where leashes are required by law, the owners just ignore the signs much like the speed limit is ignored elsewhere.

The first time I saw this, it bothered me. The signs clearly say all dogs must be on leashes. There is no fence on this park. Is that dog going to harass me and my dog? After living in California for three months and getting used to it without incident, I wondered why other cities and states aren't similar. I started to feel like a bad pet owner for keeping our dog leashed even though I had to because she's likely to dart after a squirrel or say hello to others who may not be in a social mood.

What are owner in California doing to train their dogs so well? Do they watch a lot of Dog Whisperer? Is this the evolution of human-to-dog relationships?

Los Angeles: Poo!

It's interesting how stereotypes and bits of information about places find their way into the minds of people who have never been to these places. Growing up on the East Coast, I was always interested in San Francisco. It wasn't that I really knew anything about the city, it was the icons (Golden Gate Bridge, steep streets, cable cars) and reputation (open-minded, progressive, tech communities) that made it seem special.

Los Angeles has similarly strong, yet simple, stereotypes and icons attached to it. Before visiting, my mental file included: movie industry, second largest city in the country, superficiality, beaches, gangs, happening nightlife, pollution, skid row, and traffic. Most of these aren't favorable, but we'd heard negative things about Chicago before living there and we really liked it.  Maybe Los Angeles is just as misrepresented?

One day itinerary for Los Angeles:
Beverly Hills (drive through)
Santa Monica

We planned our visit to avoid traffic and see as many attractions as possible before heading out in the evening for San Diego. As far as seeing a lot in a small amount of time in a city that's known for its car culture and traffic, our plans worked great.

First stop: Griffith Observatory.

It was right off the highway in our southward direction of travel and I'd read that it offers great views of the city and Hollywood sign. I'd first heard of the park when Kevin Bacon told a funny story about it on Conan; apparently Bacon lives nearby.

Griffith Observatory was indeed a beautiful building with expansive views, a planetarium, and interesting exhibits. The smog that filled the air didn't help the view of downtown, but there were plenty of photo
 opportunities with the The Sign. Still not

Fresno: Travel home number four

I don't want to disappoint family or anyone else by not sharing pictures of our apartment in Fresno since I did everywhere else so, here we go!

This apartment is hardly as interesting as the apartments in Philadelphia, Chicago, or Dallas, but it has its own personality.

My favorite thing about this complex is the landscaping. Despite the ugliness that is the average apartment complex; here, each set of four apartments has its own walkway that winds to the entry with trees, bushes, and flowers galore. The plants create shade, seclusion, and homes for animals. The forest-feel isn't something we had in any of the other downtown apartments.

Despite its low walk-score, there is a small park and walking trail a few steps from our doorway. There is also a coffee shop, brewery, grocery store, and some restaurants a little further. There is a large park and other restaurants within a couple miles, so no complaints here! 

Fresno: Rogue Festival, Shinzen Garden, local beer, and we're outta here!

Since we've spent a lot of our time in California weekend tripping to nearby other cities, I've only done one other post on Fresno. My opinion of the city has improved after seeing specific attractions and experiencing some of Fresno's subcultures, but [Spoiler alert] we still never want to live here. I'll share why, along with our final evaluation of the city next week. Meanwhile, here are some of the better things about Fresno.

Rogue Festival: Having never been to anything similar, we didn't know what to expect from this "fringe festival".=, but it was a riot! Each performer charges $5-$10 and there are a wide variety of acts to choose from: a mock self-help seminar; one-man plays; spoken word; two women fighting like hens; interpretive dance; and a woman standing on a cooler with a dustbuster, eating skittles before rubbing herself with raw steak.

Doesn't quite sound like your style? Lighten up and have some fun seeing something you haven't seen before! Every person living in Fresno should at least check out the teaser showcase that opens the festival. Artists already come from all over to perform, but the more support this festival gets from locals, the more interesting it will be. With a festival like Burning Man selling all of its 38,000 tickets in 45 minutes this year, similar fringe events, like the Rogue Festival, have a lot of potential.

Favorite Rogue Fest moment: Jason (The Voice) Bessard's poetry at the competitive slam. His poetic comparison between Fresno as it could be, and what it is, earned an immediate standing ovation. Not the kind of ovation where a few people stand and everyone else is guilted along; the genuine kind where an entire audience leaps to their feet unprompted.

Shinzen Japanese Garden: One of Lindsay's co-workers saw one of our pictures from this garden on Facebook and (because all our Cali pictures are in the same album) assumed it was a garden in San Diego. Nope! Fresnoians, you have a Japanese Garden worth bragging about! Not that comparisons matter, but I felt Shinzen is better than Chicago's Osaka Garden. Shinzen has four areas themed around each season with water pulled from adjacent Woodward Lake peacefully babbling in streams and down falls. $3 is more than worth the price.

Fresno Hang-Outs: Since returned to the Tower Dsitrict location and visited their other location in downtown Fresno. Teazer Tea Market is definitely worth a visit! With Starbucks quickly deteriorating into an overcrowded fast-food restaurant, most tea cafes still offer the environment Starbucks once provided:  a place to easily find a seat and work or relax. Teazer competes in environment and quality with big name cafes like Argo and Starbuck's Teavana. Not sure if it's as good as Billy Corgan's teahouse north of Chicago, since we never made it, but this is one of the best hang-outs in Fresno.

Every decent city needs a micro-brewery. It's debatable if Fresno is a decent city, but Tioga Sequoa is a great brewery. We recently went on a quest throughout Fresno to find Tioga's temporary release of Rush Hour-- a breakfast stout.  Oddly, their parent brewery, Sequoia Brewing didn't have it and

Louis C.K. on SNL: Atheism, Agnosticism, and let's bury "the wife-beater"

"[Comedy is] no longer... just an irreverent and humorous dismantling. As religious explanations fall further and further behind the evolution of society, comedians have stepped in to fill the gap. Comedians are the new preachers, comedy clubs are their churches, and the audience members that understands it are the frustrated moral progressives." -- a previous post on comedy (Read full here).

Whether I explicitly stated it in that post or not, I don't think comedians like Louis C.K. are intentionally trying to manipulate public opinion. They're being genuine. They're creating jokes that a majority of their audience will appreciate. It's why Louis C.K. gets away with misrepresenting atheists in the video below. He's preaching to the choir. The choir that matters to him, anyway. The average awareness level of most people is why his routine was a good thing and why most atheists, from what I've read, are happy with last week's performance. It pushed the status quo.

Since writing the above references post, I've been able to watch Bill Burr and Doug Stanhope live. These guys are even better in person than on their specials! Their personalities and beliefs show in side-comments and responses to hecklers that are edited out for video. It was a joy listening to Bill Burr and the hush that fell over the audience as he criticized an idiotic marine in the Chicago Theater. The point being not just comedy, but a critique of mindless reverence towards people who have served in the military-- a critique of "the military card". Anyway, here is Louis C.K. on SNL in case you missed it.

Links: Why experience > stuff and how to experience travel to the fullest

1. Being Present in Travel: 6 Reasons Why, 4 Ways How (Uncornered Market) 

"What if in our quest to create memories, we inadvertently sell the actual experience short or diminish its importance as it happens? That is, we forsake the experience for the metaphor. How can we be more present during our travels so as to savor those experiences for what they are in the moment while also deepening how we might recall and share the memory of them later?"

2. Buy Less, Do More: 5 Reasons Experiences Make Us Happier than Things (Alternet)

This is a longer article, but it gets particulaly good when Wallman starts listing specific reasons why experience is better than stuff about 3/4ths in. From reason two (it's hard to have a bad experience):

"Think about being on a long bus ride, and you’ve sat next to a person who’s sick – literally sick – all over you. And there are chickens on the bus, the windows won’t open or shut, you bang your head, the seat is really uncomfortable, and you break your coccyx and you’re just in agonizing pain, it’s supposed to be a one-hour journey and it takes three days. At the time, that’s a really horrible thing to be going through. But the more you tell it, the better it is, right? There’s that magic. The magic of a bad experience is that it’s almost like there’s no such thing as a bad experience. That’s probably my favorite reason."

San Diego: Wow!

We don't have much longer in California, so we've been taking advantage of each free day. During the last month we've visited and re-visted a number of California's cities and national parks. I'll do some catch-up posts on each trip before we head out.

Last weekend we went went to San Diego for the first time and were very impressed! Their slogan should be "San Diego: Wow!". The city was immaculately clean without being corporate. It felt safe even without heavy patrols and cameras. We found so many great restaurants, hangouts, and parks without even trying. And, traffic, despite spring break, was completely tolerable. It's hard to accurately judge a city from one weekend, but research proved that San Diego really is one of the safest, most-liked cities in the country. The major complaint from residents besides cost of living is....wait for it.... potholes! I can deal with potholes.

We started the weekend with an early morning kayak cave tour at La Jolla. La Jolla is a few minutes drive north of the city and home to a nice mix of cliffs and beaches, shopping and outdoor activities,  art and wildlife. The bay has been made into a protected underwater park with man-made reefs for animals, divers and snorklers. Instead of tacky stores, the waterfront is left to parks and trails.  The San Diego's Museum of Conteemporary Art is in La Jolla (with a satellite location downtown). Hoards of sea lions dot the cliffs.

Despite jokes about conflict and marital counseling, we decided to share a kayak. We watched nervously as couples capsized in the surf and were flipped by big ocean waves, but team Barnett held strong! We had a great time and managed to coordinate our paddling. Marriage was saved!

For lunch we headed to the less touristy North Park area. If you see a large cluster of vegetarian restaurants on a map, it usually means that area is pretty cool. This is how we stumbled upon North Park. Definitely worth checking out if you want to get away from the artifice of Old Town or the bustle of the Gas Lamp District. North Park is home to interesting shops, cafes and restaurants mixed with gyms and local hardware stores.

Productivity tips and routines

Lately, when it comes to writing and other creative projects, I've been setting daily work periods of a few hours instead of making "to do" lists. This routined approach avoids the letdown cycle of unrealized expectations, creates a better life balance, and leads to gradual improvement over time. It's an idea I got after reading the first article below.

Tips and tricks for productivity:

1. Rise and shine: the daily routines of history's most creative minds (The Guardian)

2. 25 Productivity Secrets from History's Greatest Thinkers (Mental Floss)

3. Social Connection Makes a Better Brain (The Atlantic)

I can't believe these videos only have 100,000 YouTube views!

These two videos are more than just beautiful. They tap into the spirit of the city like nothing I've seen before; the energy, the cultural juxtaposition, the divergences of millions of human perspectives. I've explored familiar cities like this as a mental exercise, to fall asleep, or to remember street names, but seeing it done this vividly gets me hyped up. It's as if we're taking the cities into our hands, tilting them this way and that, exploring from different angles.

Hollywood, take notice! Heavily incorporating this in a full-length IMAX or HD format would be stunning. Full-screen recommended.