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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:
Hollywood
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.




Fresno: Underground gardens and Time Cop III. Things to do if you find yourself in Fresno, CA

The top reason for living in Fresno seems to be the many things there are nearby to get someone out of Fresno. Talk to the locals about things to do here and they'll talk about Yosemite, wine country, and the coast. Ask about things to do in this city of half a million people and the answers are most often laced with negative. If something is suggested, it's most often the large generic shopping areas that cover mile after mile along the newly developed northern part of the city.

In Fresno's defense, it lacks a metro area. It took me some time to realize why a city this size could have so few options of interest. Other cities have suburbs that double and triple the size of the city. These larger populations add to the culture, economy, and chance for interesting sub-cultures. Fresno is surrounded by agriculture. The sparsely populated Sierras block visitors from the east, and to the west are coastal cities: San Fransisco, Oakland, LA. If you're looking for a fun time and live between Fresno and San Francisco-- which way are you going to drive?

Of course, Fresno's problems aren't this simple. Other cities across the country fight decentralized sprawl, loss of personality to incoming chains, and competition with other neighboring cities. I don't know enough to explain why so many Fresnoians seem happier packing into shopping malls and Starbucks while abandoning the more interesting districts; but it's definitely the norm.

But enough Fresno trashing! There is enough of that from the locals and elsewhere on-line. Here are some of the fun things we've found to do that we haven't seen elsewhere in our travels. These are things Fresno can be proud of.



Valley Animal Center: We've been to public and private dog parks across the country and, though I'm sure they exist, haven't seen anything this developed. This no-kill shelter with discounted care and immunizations offers this huge play park with multiple areas including a pool and agility course. Bailey loves playing here and the brief temperment test all dogs must pass adds to our comfort as owners.

Lindsay riding a Harley
OH WOW! Nickel Arcade: Unlike the penny arcade at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, the games at OH WOW! aren't quite antiques. For someone my age this means nostalgia galore. All versions of Time Cop, driving games, pinball machines, and 8-player X-men. At 5 cents a game, anyone can fulfill their childhood dream of playing Time Cop or X-men all the way through. It does get crowded with kids and there can be a wait for certain games, but it's open late-- go on a school night. Do note: If there are small kids around, save jokes about upside-down "OH WOW!" entry bracelets for later.

Mia Cuppa Cafe': Heralded as the city's main cultural area of interest, the Tower district has been a disappointment. Picture Philadelphia's South Street or Chicago's Logan Square at one thirtieth scale. The district still has some of the best in Fresno, though, and Mia Cuppa's is one of them. The wood booths in one of the four seating areas in this large cafe are a great place to cozy away for writing or conversation. Other Tower District shops worth checking out

Excerpt: Amsterdam

Taking a break from the BBC Top 100 Best Novel List to read some older McEwan and others that have been accumulating. 

http://rcm-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/cm?lt1=_blank&bc1=000000&IS2=1&bg1=FFFFFF&fc1=000000&lc1=0000FF&t=reluctchauff-20&o=1&p=8&l=as4&m=amazon&f=ifr&ref=ss_til&asins=B003DYGNQ0
"In his corner of West London, and in his self-preoccupied daily round, it was easy for Clive to think of civilization as the sum of all the arts, along with design, cuisine, good wine and the like. But now it appeared that this was what it really was — square miles of meager modern houses whose principle purpose was the support of TV aerials and dishes; factories producing worthless junk to be advertised on the televisions and, in dismal lots, lorries queuing up to distribute it; and everywhere else, roads and the tyranny of the traffic. It looked like a raucous dinner party the morning after. No one would have wished it this way, but no one has been asked. Nobody planned it, nobody wanted it, but most people had to live in it. To watch it mile after mile, who would have guessed that kindness or the imagination, that Purcell or Britten, Shakespeare or Milton, had ever existed." -- from Amsterdam by Ian McEwan:

Fireball Island and other nostalgic toys...

Image: Magisterrex Retro Games
Intelligent economy without foresight is a crapshoot, I think clicking "commit to buy" on Ebay. I traded Fireball Island away as a child for a large collection of baseball cards and was now buying it back for 5x the price!

At the time, the deal was was viewed so lopsidedly that the boy's parent's pulled rank and canceled part of it. Baseball cards were supposed to be saved for college money!  I was viewed as the predatory investor and the other boy, as being taken advantage of. Fireball Island stayed in the deal. As we know now, the baseball card market peaked in 91' and I'd sell the cards I'd gotten in the trade for next to nothing.

I've always marveled at the price tag of nostalgic goods. Aren't there better ways to spend money than re-creating childhood experiences? Probably. If something is enjoyable, though, why not spend some of your entertainment budget on it?

This interesting article about finding the right time to buy Fireball Island is reflective of buying any old toys. According to Harry, "Adults begin buying back their childhood games and toys around age 35.  Prices accelerate until they reach a peak around age 45." So, yes, I'm buying the game near its price peak, but considering the margins and diminishing copies, I'd rather just have the thing in hand. 

It's been a great buy so far. My wife and I have already played a dozen times. Here are some fun links  and a video for anyone who remembers this great game. Now I just need to secure a copy of Broadsides and Boarding Parties...

1. Fireball Island on Board Game Geek

2. Fan created expansion game: Inferno

3. Proposed board expansions (one can dream)


Fresno: The journey there and first impressions of the city


After an eventful month of traveling the east coast to spend time with friends and family, it's nice to be settled again (for a little while anyway!). Because San Francisco, a city near the top of our travel wishlist, wasn't available for assignment, we settled on Fresno. Fresno isn't San Fran, but it's three hours from not only San Francisco, but also Los Angeles. It's even closer than that to the beaches of Santa Cruz, Monterey, and Big Sur. It's also right on the doorstep of the Sierras with all of its parks and recreation areas like Kings Canyon, Yosemite, and The Sequoia National Forest.

Having never been in California, we're excited just to be in the state.

We based our decision to move to Fresno on its location in California without doing a lot of research. When we first got here, we were very disappointed. Partially because living in major cities like Chicago, Dallas, and Philadelphia had spoiled us, but also because we had unrealistic expectations. Fresno, despite being one of the largest cities in the state (5th) with around 506,000 people, isn't the sunny, healthy, progressive type environment many east coasters imagine while thinking of California. The air was so smoggy when we arrived it impacted our breathing. Much of the city is depressed and unsafe. The "nicer" part of town where we live is suburban sprawl with miles of every conceivable chain store, chain restaurant, and strip malls that all look the same whether containing a restaurant or a doctor's office. There are fewer vegetarian restaurants than anywhere we've lived during our travels and many of the restaurants don't even have vegetarian options.

Once I got over my initial disappointment, I started to see a few things that are great about the city. It's not pedestrian friendly, but there are bike lanes everywhere. The city has a Whole Foods, a Trader Joe's, and a Sprouts. The fruits and vegetables here are cheap and delicious. They have a number of farmer's markets. We found an amazing salad bar already (Sweet Tomatoes). This may actually be the first city we "fail" in our final evaluation, deciding that we won't ever live here permanently, but it's still in California and the city still has time to grow on us as every place we've been so far has. There is enough here to keep us busy for three months and we're more excited about seeing what's nearby.

Here are a few pictures and notes from our road-trip to Fresno. We started in northeast TN driving in long 12-14 hour segments, but took our time between legs, stopping in St Louis, Denver and Las Vegas for up to two nights each. We spread 40 hours driving time over 4 legs and 6 days.

Crazy Christmas Photos 2013!

We really liked the photos we got this year! Feel free to vote for your favorite(s) in the comment section below so the winner can at least brag about having the best photo.

Hope everyone has a great Christmas



1. Ours first since many of you have already seen it in this year's card. Hope no cavemen or cavewomen were offended.


 2. We are having a tree-iffic Christmas, thank-you! 

  
3. Make-up and all! The text in this photo references a fictitious movie (Angels With Even Dirtier Souls) that plays in Home Alone 2. The fictitious film set (Angels with Dirty Faces in Home Alone 1) was created for Home Alone as a parody of a 1938 gangster film Angels with Dirty Faces.


4. What better gift than the gift of family? This photo belongs in one of those photo caption contests. Reindeer hat is a nice touch!


5. Tim and Jessica follow up last year's victory with "Lumberjack Christmas". We like the matching outfits!


6. No ransom note or demands accompanied this, so I'm assuming it's a photo entry and not a legit elf kidnapping. Haven't seen Leland in a while though...



7. Finally,  don't vote for this one since it's ours again, but Bailey wanted an entry of her own. She calls it,"Oh, how I hate my people right now". Cover the left side of her face (your right) for the full impact.

See last year's photo's here: Crazy Christmas Photo Competition 2012: Final Pictures!!

Chicago: Final post and where we're going next

That's it for Chicago! What a great city. As with the others, we weren't quite ready to leave when the time came.

If you aren't familiar with our evaluation scale or why we've creating our own when so many are available, read this first! While in each city, I've been writing about what we like, don't like, and what we've found to experience. All posts on Chicago can be viewed by clicking the Chicago tag at the top of the page. 

Favorite posts on Chicago:

Chicago: Never a dull moment!
Chicago: Towering views, lively fountains, beaches for dogs, and boat-shaped restaurants
Quick Quotes 38: Chicago
Chicago: Big Nachos, Big Pizza, Navy Pier, and the Blackhawks! 

The Scoring
(1-10 with 5 as average)
 --------------------------------
Chicago
Culture: 9
Environment:  8
Vegetarian Restaurants: 8
Cost of Living:   4
Transportation/Infrastructure:
Climate: 6
People: 8
Pass/Fail: Pass


Notes: A lot of what made Chicago both good and bad was its size. Because of the number of people in Chicago there were more vegetarians and therefore more vegetarian restaurants. The city isn't necessarily more vegetarian than other cities, it's just bigger. Likewise, that many people leads to traffic a majority of the time. It's not that Chicago drivers are particularly bad (like in Dallas). 

What was unique to the city in comparison to the other places was how frequently photogenic, friendly, and nice-weathered the city was on a regular basis.

As with any visit to anywhere, our opinions are skewed by the season and where we lived in the city. We might like living outside of downtown and aren't sure if we would ever want to live there in winter, but for six-months it was a great experience. We'll be back and recommend it as a must-visit for anyone who is considering it.

On to California! 

Chicago: The bad stuff (a post on what I didn't like about the city)

Ruckus from our window
It's easy to be overwhelmed by the traffic, crime, and expense of any decent-sized city without realizing how much these big-city problems vary from a big-city to a really-big city, like Chicago. What I've disliked while living here are the same things people stereotypically dislike about big cities, but the reason I dislike them now and didn't in Philadelphia or Dallas is because of the high level they reach here. For example, if you're going on a trip, in a big city you plan to avoid rush hour, in Chicago you make plans for the few hours during the day when there might not be much highway traffic.

In case anyone doesn't read my blog regularly, I have greatly enjoyed each and every city we've lived in this year (Chicago included. It's a great city!). I do, however, write one post on each city about what I don't like.

Similar posts from previous cities:
Philadelphia: The rough and tumble
Dallas: The good, the bad, and the annoying 

On to Chicago...

Expense

Expensive: Our first night in Chicago, we ordered a pizza from the nearest place we could find and were surprised to pay $60 + tip when the pizza arrived. Come to find out, we had ordered from the legendary Giordano's, but still, the fact that a single Chicago pizza can cost this much reflects a lot.

Everything from street parking to beer is more expensive in Chicago, but it gets worse. Because demand for housing is so high,

Recipe: Autumn Couscous w/ Squash

I created this Israeli Couscous recipe for a Whole Foods recipe contest in Chicago, and won! It will be served for a limited time on the hot bar at Gold Coast Whole Foods during the next couple months.


Recipe: Autumn Couscous w/ Squash
Nut Free! Vegan!

Ingredients:
3 cups Israeli couscous (dried)

Chicago: Downtown kayaking, Chinatown, Bill Burr, Doug Stanhope, Field Museum, and more!


One more month in Chicago! Having stayed longer than planned and with cold weather rolling in, we're ready for what's next. At least two more posts on Chicago including one on what I didn't like about the city, and we'll be somewhere else.

Once again, here is what we've been doing recently for anyone who plans to visit the city, or is interested in what we're up to: 


Lincoln Park and Lincoln Park Zoo: While Millennium Park by the loop is more concentrated and filled with museums, art, and events; Lincoln Park with its larger area, trails, and lawns, feels more like Philly's Fairmont or many areas of NY's Central Park. This is the first zoo I've been to where the animals didn't seem depressed and miserable. The zoo is entirely free so it's just a matter of walking in from the other beautifully landscaped areas of the park. If you visit the zoo, be sure to leave the gates to the south for great views of the skyline from the south pond.

 

Field Museum: Museums like this become less worth my time as I get older. They're great for kids and field trips, but if I could learn more browsing the topic online, I'll pass. Glad we went once, but wouldn't recommend if you're short on time. Other museums like the Museum of Science and Industry, the Art Institute, and the Planetarium are nearby.


Downtown Kayaking: One of my favorite events so far! If you're in Chicago during warm weather and are somewhat active, the views of the buildings are stunning from the river. Paddling out of the way of large tour boats is less

A simple answer to the question, "What is love?"

I recently watched a Netflix documentary in which a journalist asks spiritual leaders from diverse backgrounds "the deeper questions". The answers were diverse, but each originated from a specific religious narrative. Even when a religious leader was trying to be bigger than their own religion by excluding specific doctrine, it still seemed that the most truthful answers were missed. It was as if these leaders couldn't see the obvious because their minds were so bogged down by religious narratives created from centuries of assumptions, fictions, and error tangents.

While the documentary was disappointing, it inspired me to answer a few of the questions myself. Here is a definition of the word "love" in answer to the question, "What is love?" for consideration:

It's a word. Like many words, it can mean different things to many people, different things to many situations, and different things to even just one person. The word, even in its deepest use refers to a cacophony of emotions, social responsibilities, and other psychological factors. This thing that the word "love" represents, is less concrete than what is communicated by words like "table" or "anger".

Combine instinctual attraction with respect, obligation, personal history, morals, lust, with knowing oneself, pheromones, selfishness, self-definition, opinions of relationships-- and a type of definition for the word evolves for each person. What the word describes exists in many different combinations and amounts based on education, experience, propensity, and the type of person, object, or behavior one "loves".

Because there are so many reasons and combinations of reasons to feel strongly positive about something or someone, it's easier just to use the word "love" than to analyze these reasons and figure out what's going on. It's a shortcut of sorts. The "magic" we feel surrounding love doesn't come from what it is, but from the fact that it isn't anything we can (or are willing to because of the difficulty) concretely identify. We submit to not knowing, and let it remain bigger than us.

Love is nothing, and there isn't anything wrong with this! Just because the emperor doesn't have any clothes doesn't mean we can't appreciate his natural form or that he isn't a functional leader we can respect. The things we are referring to when we use the word "love" as a shortcut, are what is important. Further, being "in love" and giving in to things we might not be able to completely understand is part of enjoying life. Just as our brains filter out stimuli to allow us to focus and keep from being overwhelmed, our language (sometimes) functions the same. When you whisper "I love you" to a significant other, it is a sweet nothing of sorts, but a sweet nothing that taps into our human attraction to the unknown, the spirit, and the empty.

More on this next post...

Update: Reluctant Chauffeur and onward...

Since I started posting to Reluctant Chauffeur over five years ago, I've used the site as a personal filing cabinet for a variety of found-online-content, as a travel journal, and as motivation for developing my own essays. The point was never high-traffic or profit, so I was pleasantly surprised when the site paid for itself through Adsense ads this year ($11 domain registration woo hoo!).

Going forward, I plan to use Reluctant Chauffeur as a news board for sizable projects-- two are being prioritizing. The first is music. My wife and I have wanted to write and play music together for some time (I will be posting updates about that here). The second is lengthier fiction. Though I don't feel my writing (like my guitar playing) is where it needs to be, life is only so long.

I will continue to post travel news here along with the various shorts that I write for my own thought process, but will get away from sharing as many external links and reposts. To receive notification of what I do post, subscribe above and/or friend the page on Facebook. If you get bored, you can also click the categories above and to the right to browse the hundreds of posts from the last couple years.

Thanks for reading!

Upcoming Posts:
Crazy Christmas Photo Competition 2013
What is love? A definition.
The last months in Chicago and where next?

--Tyler

Chicago: Segways, vegan pizza, Radiohead, and scary movies in old theaters

 

It's the first day of fall, but Chicago has been winding down for a couple weeks as temperatures cool, school starts, and the lowering sun is more likely to be blocked by the towers around us. The picture above was taken from Hyde Park on a particularly cold and windy day. It had to be taken with care between waves of spray and mist that threatened to obstruct the view and soak the camera and us.

Here is more of what we've been up to:
   
 

Hyde Park Segway Tour: I've always viewed Segways as a failed invention mainly because of the hype that accompanied their release. Bikes are greener. Segways are often ridden by overweight tourists. At the same time, I always wanted to try one out. Not a convert now, but this Hyde Park Tour from Bike and Roll was definitely worth the price (and shame). We saw so a number of things in a short amount of time and the reduced travel and ease of use meant more time at each stop. They were fun to ride. A couple of the places we stopped are shown below.







Rockefeller Memorial Chapel: One of Chicago's many beautiful cathedral/chapels. Located on the University of Chicago campus, it is unaffiliated with any any specific cult, remaining a place for anyone to come to meditate or pray.



Osaka Garden: This was another part of the Hyde Park Tour. Free, well maintained, strolling Japanese Garden that was originally built for the World's Fair of 1893. This part of Jackson Park was vandalized during WWII and had to be rebuilt. Rockefeller Chapel's outdoor counterpart for peaceful meditation.