Category: Travel

January 14th, 2014

Up until last April, I had never touched the ocean.

1.

I had been close to the ocean. I had travelled under the ocean. But I had never actually ventured out to it – never tried to take in its size, or let the salty remnants of millions of years of biological change wash over my feet. The ocean was a thing outside my realm. The ocean was as foreign as India or Japan.

Last April, I finally did it. I touched the ocean. The Pacific Ocean, scene of a million surf wipeouts and Instagrammed sunsets.

And now, here I was. Ready to do the same on the opposite coast. I got out of my car and walked toward the water.

2.

I used to dream of airports. Each was something new – a way to experience the thrills I had only encountered in a Choose Your Own Adventure. There was freedom in knowing that, given the right situation and the right funds, I could go anywhere. ANYWHERE. Any damned where I pleased, with just a few hundred dollars and the proper identification.

I still do dream of airports, but in a different way. Now, they’re weird nightmares, where I miss my flight or I show up too late to conduct a meeting.

At some point last year, travel became an occupational hazard; each ticket was a debt to my life, and though I enjoyed myself when I was supposed to enjoy myself, I had unwillingly traded my dreams for anxieties. I measured each new city by the number of days I had remaining – the number of days until I could return home. And I began to fear the consequences of enjoying travel too much, of getting too comfortable being on the road.

There’s no way to be peaceful with a new city if you’re rushing to do business and counting the days. There’s no more discovery: there’s only debt.

3.

When I was in grade school, I almost drowned at Wall Lake. I was floating on a neighbor’s inflatable pool lounger when, as I reached for a toy in the water, I fell off. The water was shallow enough to stand in, but the wake and action of thirty other swimmers forced the inflatable pool lounger away from shore.

As I chased it, the water became deeper. Each grasp pushed the lounger further away. Each step I took increased the panic, until, flailing around, my host for the day – our neighbor, who moonlighted as a lifeguard – saw me struggling. She dove in and saved me.

I had graduated from swimming lessons a few years before. I knew how to swim. I knew that I was in danger. But I still kept trying to make things right, to prevent loss, to be safe instead of smart, pushing myself just a little further into the water. In doing so I nearly lost everything.

I was still a kid. I never knew how much this would haunt me.

4.

I neglect to tell Sierra and Isaac about my work travel until the last possible moment. Sierra is riddled with the same anxieties I am: an irrational fear of natural disasters, a belief that when her loved ones leave they may never come back, a super-sensitivity to being embarrassed. Isaac carries those same concerns out of love for his sister; he’s concerned when she is, over-exaggerating each issue in the way a four-year-old does.

My kids become irrational when I’m ready to leave – clinging to me as if I was joining the foreign legion – and they become pills when I’m gone, pushing buttons on every issue. Each trip is a change to routine. Each trip is an added level of stress for Kerrie. Each trip forces the questions I never thought I’d ask.

Do I want to do this?

Do I want to travel?

Am I doing all I can to be a good father?

Of course I am. I never doubt my efforts for long. But that doesn’t mean the same thoughts don’t creep in every time I stand in a security line, one hand throwing my belt and shoes into a bucket, the other chancing upon a bracelet Sierra made, or a few coins I found hidden under Isaac’s rug. I collect these things as I toddle around the house, picking up after myself, but I always assume there’s a bigger reason they end up in that security bowl.

Then I shake it off and shove them back in my pocket as I walk to my gate.

5.

I parked a block away from the Atlantic Ocean, near a beach that shared my name. I stumbled through the sand, wondering how I would remember this moment. I felt proud. I was charged. I was going to surprise my kids by saying LOOK AT WHERE DAD ENDED UP! because I had already decided that the ocean was too much for this bummer of a weekend. I felt empowered by my sudden change of heart. I felt like the lead role in a Springsteen song.

Until I instinctively checked Foursquare.

If I hadn’t tried to check in, I’d have never known that I wasn’t at the ocean. I’d still think that Corey Beach is on the Atlantic and that I’d scored a completed pair. I’d never know that, despite that sudden change of heart, this wasn’t one of the fun Springsteen songs.

I did check. And the ocean was over there, in the distance, on the other side of the outer barrier across Patchouge Bay.

I got back in my car and stared at the beach.

6.

I was afraid of water until, one day, Kerrie forced me to buck up and jump in.

I was afraid to travel to a conference and speak until, one day, my boss told me to just go do it already.

I was afraid to leave home until, one day, I came home and my kids were cool with it all and excited to get presents.

But I still remember the time I pushed it too far. I’m still afraid of going too far past the buoy. I still stay up at night wondering when one step will be one too far, when my charge has slipped past my reach, when my energy has run out and all I can muster is a hand raised in the air as I slowly sink.

7.

When I was a kid, I took one trip a year. My family would pack up the car and we would head to Jackson. It would be stomach-turningly early when the lights came on to leave – a feeling I still encounter on the eve of a trip, where the excitement of discovery is mixed with the fear of the unknown, a queasy churning that’s only solved through a few cups of coffee and an hour of driving into the sunrise.

I knew what travel was, but my scope was limited. It included a car. It included going west. My destination was filled with loving family. It was safe, and it was comforting, and it was always beautiful.

My destination moved wherever my grandparents did, whether it was Wyoming or Kentucky or Minnesota. It was college before I knew what real travel was. I found myself in Paris, struggling with a new language. I found myself in London, seeing things I’d only seen in movies. I was in Seattle, taking mini-pilgrimages to the sites of my favorite bands. I was in Washington DC. I was in New Orleans. I was everywhere.

I wasn’t comfortable, but I was willing to learn. I was an anomaly, I think: my desire to keep moving overcame my fear of the unknown, so I just jumped on a plane and did it.

I want my kids to have a enjoy that kind of movement. I don’t want them to fear the unknown.

I want them to fall in love with countries I’ve never visited. I want them to go on trips that expose them to great friendships. I want them to wonder. I want them to understand that the Midwest is beautiful and perfect in nearly every way, but that they’ll never understand just how perfect it is until they’ve stepped outside its border.

I don’t want travel to be a fearful thing, despite the fact that I now dread traveling without them.

Because instead of enjoying the time I spend in a new city, I now fear the nights they crawl into bed and I’m not there. I fear the dinners when they ask when we’ll be a real family again. And I fear the point when I hate traveling by myself and, as an extension, hate what leads me to travel in the first place.

More than that, I fear that they will see that fear, and they will understand it as a part of traveling. I fear that I will affect their sense of adventure. I fear I will kill discovery before it starts.

8.

My heart sank.

This wasn’t the ocean. I drove here for nothing.

I saw that my short car ride had been for naught, that I had fooled myself in thinking that I was close, and I saw that my only real recourse was to head back to the hotel and watch Netflix and drink a beer and feel shitty and disappointed. It was Labor Day weekend, and I was working, and I thought I didn’t really care but suddenly I did.

But everywhere I looked I saw small people spending the holiday on the beach, making castles and diving into the waves and doing other cliche small people things as their parents looked on, exhausted from the wind but happy that they could sit back and look on. Those small people on the beach reminded me of my small people back home, which reminded me of everything back home, which reminded me that I would be doing my entire family a disservice to ditch this mission – to shake my head and give up, to admit failure. To let the pool lounger go.

So, for once, I refused to give up.

“Fuck it.”

“I’m going to the ocean.”

And I got in my car and drove south.

October 9th, 2013

I don’t have a lot of flying traditions. I ask for a Diet Coke. I play one game of Plants vs. Zombies. I look at the in-flight magazine long enough to realize that I already read it on my last flight, which coincidentally was the last time I felt the weight of being away from home, of being vulnerable, of suffering from the muddled emotions that come when pressurized at 10,000 feet over some midwest state.

BMOWP Classic Album

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel

At this height, the emotion of Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea becomes the equivalent of a hotel lobby bar, dark and distant and lonely. Aeroplane is my newest tradition, to the point that I no longer hear the story of Anne Frank; instead, I hear whatever emotion’s trapped in the airplane cabin. I hear a concept album roughly taped together like an ill-fitting puzzle. Songs that barely fit together meet in the middle as if participating in awkward diplomacy, every word telling a sad story that could be anyone’s sad story – mine, the guy in front of me, the flight attendant racing up the aisles.

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is the best 90s album I never heard until 2012, and I’m embarrassed to confide it took me so long.

No guitar should bring as much comfort as this guitar does; no lo-fi mic should add as much pain as this lo-fi mic does. No dream has pictured the weird normalcy the way this dream has played out, with pulleys and weights and ill-fated romance, somehow both poetic and stilted, insightful and weird.

Yeah, it’s a tired tradition to shine our sad times onto some tortured record. Of course it is. But listening to Aeroplane, we just can’t help ourselves.

And still, beneath all of that wrenched emotion and torture is a simple and beautiful record. Beneath the gritty acoustic guitar and messy rhythm section and that horn – every time, that fucking horn – lies simplicity at an Elliot Smith level.

(And that’s without bringing in the story we all identify as One Of The Saddest, a World War II angle that provides a story arc as tragic as The Antlers’ Hospice, trading howls and cancer for The Holocaust.)

For the past three weeks I’ve had a combination of hooks from each song stuck in my head. Think about that. An art album with hooks. An art album that gets stuck in your head. An art album about the Holocaust – THE HOLOCAUST! – that toes the balance between must-listen and emotional exhaustion, as if the only thing that can make us happier is remembering how hard everyone else has had it at one point in their lives.

There’s brilliance in creating an album that somehow walks the line between normal and slightly off-kilter. Because it’s not really normal. At times, the lyrics verge into @horse_ebooks territory (Ed: rest in peace, young horse), piecing together random metaphors that, through time, reveal themselves as not random at all. With the warbling inconfidence in Jeff Magnum’s voice and the vaugely Hawaiian guitars and the tortured sadness of the lyrics, Neutral Milk Hotel created something back in 1998 that they must have known they’d never do again. The characters. The endorsement of April Ludgate. THE HORNS. It’s a perfect storm of poetic awkwardness and earworm-ability that must make John Darnielle jealous.

In “Oh Comely,” Magnum writes, “Know all your enemies. We know who our enemies are.” Meanwhile, I write this post sitting miles above the ground, in an airplane over the Midwest. I miss my kids, and I’m in need of some sadness to crush my own. My enemies are exhaustion and insecurity, even among friends, and I accept Magnum’s story as comfort, knowing that everything in life is as awkward and tragic as the history we’ve made, and that by acknowledging that we can keep moving toward home safe knowing there’s no reason to grieve.

I don’t know who the King of Carrot Flowers is, but I know he pulls some of my strings.

Category: Music, Travel

October 29th, 2012

I feel like I’ve been gone for a month. Here are some lists.

Airports I Visited or Landed In During This Trip

  • Sioux Falls Regional Airport (FSD)
  • Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP)
  • Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD)
  • Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport (DKR)
  • OR Tambo International Airport (JNB)
  • Cape Town International Airport (CPT)

Films Watched On My Washington DC/Johannesburg Flights (In Order Of Enjoyability)

  • Brave
  • Moonrise Kingdom
  • Gosford Park
  • Quantum of Solace
  • Rock of Ages
  • Batman Begins (unfinished)
  • Men In Black 3
  • We Bought A Zoo (unfinished)
  • The Amazing Spider-man (unfinished)
  • American Wedding

Things I Did While In Stellenbosch, South Africa

Total Hours Travelled By Day (Central Time)

  • October 22, 2012 – 13:56 (9:56 by air, 4:00 by car)
  • October 23, 2012 – 12:10 (11:45 by air, 0:25 by car)
  • October 24, 2012 – 0:45 by bike
  • October 27, 2012 – 14:35 (14:10 by air, 0:25 by car)
  • October 28, 2012 – 12:11 (7:11 by air, 4:00 by car)

Animals I Touched

  • Cheetah

March 29th, 2012

It’s not the takeoff, or the flight itself. It’s not the fact that I’m sitting in a metal bird, flying at hundreds of miles per hour and weighing much more than any thing I’ve ever encountered, a feat of physics that, despite understanding I still struggle to comprehend. It’s the landing.

I still remember United Airlines Flight 232 – the failed-landing-turned-fireball at the Sioux City airport. I was 10 years old. I watched footage on the nightly news in Jackson, WY, where I was spending the summer with my grandparents. The connection to a place that was just an hour away was not lost on my young mind.

The crash had little to do with the landing – it had to do with a rear engine failure and loss of flight controls. Regardless, every time I’m in an airplane – just seconds from touching down – I remember that crash. I remember the fireball. I remember the death toll.

I hate this. Because I’m smart enough to understand that we’re all mortal, and that fear only keeps us from living, and that air travel is nowhere near as dangerous as car travel. Air travel is nowhere near as dangerous as real life, to tell you the truth. I love airports, and I love the flights. I love it all.

Still.

The thunk of the landing gear. The pull as the plane starts to slow down. The fear. The memories – that fireball, that death toll. I always close my eyes. Because I’m supposed to. But also because I’m suddenly – and predictably - scared shitless.

Seconds later, it’s done. I brush it off. I go into the airport, once again amazed that I sat in a metal bird and defied physics.

Category: Travel

March 27th, 2012

I spent this past weekend in New Orleans, attending the Information Architecture Summit. It’s a wonderful city – just as beautiful as I had remembered.

Kerrie and I spent our honeymoon in New Orleans. We were stationed in the French Quarter. This was in 2003 – before the term “pre-Katrina” had any meaning. We were young. We spent a lot of time in bars. We had no children – no house payment, even. We were as free as New Orleans would allow us to be.

Nine years later – and despite the conference hotel being a mile away – I found myself wandering toward the French Quarter whenever I had a chance. There was never any purpose – just aimless wandering, walking through memories. Much of the area is still identical – little has changed in the Quarter over the past decade. Sheltered from the hurricanes, it lives on as a testament to New Orleans’ perseverance.

I expected to be disappointed. I’d built New Orleans to unrealistic expectations. I assumed I’d have the place all wrong – that New Orleans could barely live up to the image it creates for itself, let alone my own memories.

But every day I’d wake up with this longing. I wanted to go back into the city. I wanted to wander some more. I’d come across poverty, and run down buildings, and wonder why this wonderful city couldn’t get its shit together, and I’d turn the corner and see the lattice balconies and smell the best food in the world and remember that it’s to be expected. The city’s been knocked down enough times. At least let it get up before the 10 count.

When we got back from our honeymoon in 2003, I wrote a little narrative about our trip. It wasn’t great, but I found it mirrored my experience this weekend. It’s touched with the same sense of longing – and the same feelings of disgust. An exerpt:

The next morning, after running a few errands, we found ourselves standing in Louis Armstrong Park, located on the north side of Rampart Street: the “wrong side of the tracks” and the thin line between tourism and poverty. I was in a definite “bleeding heart” sort of mood, saddened to see what once could have been a majestic park, a historic land mark for one of Louisiana’s own sons, so out of maintenance, with murky pools, cracking asphalt, and a general air of dirtiness. I was, at the time, sort of disgusted that things could have become so worn out, that New Orleans could let itself get so run down.

But now, writing this, I realize that this isn’t just a solitary event, one that could be stopped and reversed, like a botox injection onto the dotted line at Rampart. This is New Orleans. And this is how New Orleans deals with itself. It’s a city that celebrates and clings to its history by allowing it to age – by letting those cracks and that dirt show up to the tourists. I have heard many people tell me that New Orleans is so dirty – so “vile” – and that, because of this, they didn’t really care for the Big Easy.

You know what? Those people are right. New Orleans is dirty. New Orleans is vile. New Orleans is somewhat incredulously without care. New Orleans is a city that never makes excuses for itself. It lets everything hang out, all of the inspired debauchery, the uneven streets, the garbage on the ground, and even the smell.

Everything is done its own way, as if New Orleans itself was turning to the rest of the metros – looking New York City and Los Angeles in the face — and flipping them the bird with one hand while holding a fifth of Phillips Rum in the other; the cousin from Louisiana that everyone is both embarrassed by and fascinated with.

I know now its mystery, though I could never start to understand it. I try to accept its fallacies. I embrace its undying quest to be the drunkest town on earth. It isn’t hard to imagine getting sucked into the history and charade of New Orleans.

It’s everywhere you look, in every gated doorway, around every rustic street plaque, under every iron lattice balcony. It’s at the bottom of the beer you drink while swapping stories with a local land owner. It’s in the neon signs that line the French Quarter at night. Everyone gets sucked in. That’s the whole point of New Orleans.

What takes time to develop is an appreciation for the legend of New Orleans. An appreciation that, no matter how dirty, or unorthodox, or insanely confusing it gets, New Orleans is in control – and always has been. There’s nothing that has happened that she doesn’t know, and, thankfully for everyone who has experienced a few minutes of uninhibited Louisiana pleasure, she never tells a soul. Orleans never shares a secret.

And New Orleans has a lot of secrets.

My feelings haven’t changed a bit. I love that city, even if all I wanted to do after the first two days was come home. I love it in spite of itself.

Category: Travel, Vilhauer

March 6th, 2012

The now iconic Keep Calm and Carry On poster never used to be that iconic. It was never actually released for the public – a design left in the back room, ready to be launched in the event of invasion.

It was never released. But it was found – in a bookstore in Alnwick, England: Barter Books.

In the end, the poster was never officially issued, and it remained unseen by the public, until a copy turned up more than 50 years later. It was found in a second-hand bookshop called Barter Books in the northeast corner of England.

Barter books was begun in 1991 by a couple: Stuart and Mary Manley. They building used to be an old Victorian railway station. Huge rows of stacked shelves now stand in place where the tracks would have been, but the stations old tea rooms and waiting rooms are still there.

It was in 2000 that Stuart found the poster in a box of dusty old books that had been bought at auction. Mary liked it so much she had it framed and put it up near the shop till, and it proved so popular with the customers that a year later they began to sell copies.

I had the opportunity to visit Barter Books in 2000 while I was visiting Kerrie during her study abroad semester in Alnwick, England. When I envision the perfect bookstore, Barter Books is what comes to mind. To have this story connected to something I hold so dear – and, to be honest, something I still think of as my little secret – is wonderful.

Via Kottke.org.

October 3rd, 2011

Typography, like travel, presents common concepts in a way that is unique to the treatment. When you travel, you encounter buses and money and language, but in a way that’s different. In typography’s case, the same words are given a different design.

EF Education’s Live the Language campaign shows how learning the basics of foreign language helps enrich the spirit of travel through the pairing of typography and cinematography. It makes for a beautiful combination.

There are eight total. They are all fantastic.

Via: “The Beautiful Typography of Live the Language” at Drawar.

Category: Movies, Travel, Videos