Blue Sky, Hard Road

Image

Since I learned to drive,

I loved to watch the land fly by,

Learned to drive from Dad,

Jerking forward, halting abruptly,

Someday I would drive,

Drive as far as wheels could fly.

 

 

The vast Pacific,

The vast moment,

Beautiful, elusive horizon,

Destiny before my eyes.

 

 

Leaving quiet desperation,

A secure path,

An unexamined life.

 

 

I casually waved,

Like I was nothing,

 

 

I cried,

Cried at years wasted,

Years wasted on a life not my own,

Tears over road-weary words,

Words of demons, nightmares,

Words of chasing dreams,

And the life I chose.

 

 

Sunlight gleamed off the windshield,

Blue sky, hard road

Blue sky, hard road.

 

 

Crumbling Hartford,

What will winter be like?

Factories gone,

Dusty buildings, soot and blight.

 

 

Friends, family a phone call away,

No Sunday Cowboys games,

No comfort, no familiarity remains.

 

 

Hartford,

Just as cold,

Just as dreary,

In bed, aching lonely.

 

 

So I climbed a mountain,

Wrote until my voice was bold,

Walked until my feet grew cold,

Drove until my story told

Image

Advertisements

Montreal Day 1- Today I Was Violated

11-9-13 Montreal, Quebec

I woke up at 5:45 and packed rather lightly, cramming my goods into a small, olive green Jansport.

I made an unsuccessful foray into a National Park, only to realize that it was just the site of a few Revolutionary War battles.  Battlegrounds bore me.  Places set aside in order to make sure that nothing significant occurs there again.  If the event was truly significant, should we really be worried about modern developments overshadowing it?

Did I just make an ignorant blanket argument against all forms of historical preservation?  Yes, yes I did and I am not ashamed to admit that it stems from fatigue and malnourishment.  An intermittent night of sleep, Dunkin Donuts, coffee, gummy bears, a banana, and another cup of coffee are all that bolsters my shallow argument.

Let’s talk about the US-Canadian border for a bit.  Being a Texan, you would think I had seen the full spectrum of power-drunk assholes but the Canadian border was remarkable.

Maybe it was the unkempt beard, the Texas license plates, and my short-term employment in Connecticut, but I was interrogated and searched like some sort of devious miscreant.

The short, squatty French bureaucrats questioned me as if I was trying to enter with WMDs.  “Turn your ignition off.  Step out of the car.  Pop the trunk and unlock all doors.”  All doors, as if I had some magical fifth door on my Accord and if they asked sternly enough I would open it for them, uncovering a wealth of contraband and clandestine documents.

“What is your occupation?”  “Where do you teach?”  Did you leave today?  What time did you leave?  Do you have hotel reservations?”  With each additional question, I became convinced of my duplicity.  All of this coming from a country where the mayor of the largest city readily admits to smoking crack cocaine!

“What are you going to do here?  Can I see your reservations?”  I showed him a confirmation email on my grotesquely cracked i-phone screen.  He took the liberty of scrolling through my phone as if I had some “detonate Canada” quick app.

It is funny and pathetic that I became so worked up over this triviality.  My friend and former teammate Darsh Singh, a Sikh, routinely received this treatment just traveling domestically.  All because he looked different.  Can you imagine going through this every time you traveled?

It was offensive to have someone search your car and belongings, thinking they would find something.  That’s the difference between a check and a search.  So, in short, I am a spoiled white male who infrequently feels violated but today I was unexpectedly violated by a couple of Canadians.

Burlington, Vermont- Part 1

An Afternoon Marred by Expectation

Why Burlington?  I hadn’t an inkling as to why I chose this place.  Maybe passing references to the Burlington Coat Factory in my youth had long ago etched a subconscious interest in this obscure Vermont town.  A place so far North that they have coat factories does seem radically different than the year-round Gulf Coast sauna that I grew up in.

Never mind this post-rationalizing drivel, I got in my car to fall back in love with adventure.  To fall back in love with writing.  For the last 6 weeks, I’ve immersed myself in the highs and lows of teaching.  Writing and traveling have fallen by the wayside.  An experimental jaunt 4 hours North seemed a fitting cure.

Image

Burlington, Why Not?

I envisioned being blown away by the tranquil water of Lake Champlain and enthralled by the flurry of activity in the hippie mecca that spawned the likes of Phish and Ben & Jerry’s.  The problem with it all is that I came with the idea that this experience would somehow eclipse my prior travel experiences.  I was staring straight through the muddled lens of prior knowledge.

There’s a scene in Wall Street 2, where a financial professional asks a senior colleague what amount of salary would prompt him to finally exit the rat race.  The executive replied, “It’s simple, more.”  Even on a spontaneous road trip, this spirit of wanting more for the sake of more predominated my thoughts.

Oblivious to the dazzling yellow and orange leaves of a New England fall, I stared at Lake Champlain.  The fiery sun glistened off the cool, easy waves and I couldn’t help but compare it to Auckland, New Zealand’s peaceful harbor.  I stared down the vibrant Church Street marketplace and immediately noticed the absence of the cobble-stone pavement of Portland, Maine that I had enjoyed a month earlier.

Image

How could I have missed this the first time?

Ri-Ra an Irish Pub

 Our vow is recorded,

our banner unfurled,

in the name of Vermont,

we defy all the world.

Without a damn clue what the practical meaning of the green scarf above the bar meant, I settled into a tight spot next to a 30-something man wearing a greasy backwards Michigan hat.  My first impression was that this was a washed-up frat boy clinging to a past life through desperate support of his alma mater.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  After a few Traveler’s (a pumpkin ale that I would highly recommend), conversation turned to careers and life choices.  Mike was visiting friends while on furlough, a temporary government shut-down casualty.  It just so happened that Mike was a highly motivated trade advisor to the Obama administration.

This relative level of prestige briefly impressed me but what left a deeper impression was how he got there.  Mike, like myself, spent years in his twenties having bits and pieces of his soul sucked up by the professional services world, albeit in the more glamorous mergers and acquisitions area.  One day, Mike sent his resume to a friend working in Washington, D.C.  The next day Mike’s friend went for a brisk jog along the Potomac River with a close friend who worked for the Democratic Party.  By the following day, Mike’s resume was on the top of a stack of close to 1,000 resumes.  Mike got the job.  Mike loves his job.  When opportunity comes knocking, open the door.

Image

The sun never sets on a day of travel without learning something new

 

The Portland of the East

Writers Note:  This is the sixth part and final part in a multi-part series detailing a 3 day trip to Mt. Washington, Acadia National Park, and Portland, Maine.  If you want the rest, here’s Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

Slow, steady rain.  The kind that evokes no emotion or panic, it’s just there.  A well-worn pooch naps peacefully on the porch as the calm, beaten down crow of Bog Seger’s “Down on Main Street” completes the grey, somber scene.  Draped in dirty hiking pants and ensconced in an unmistakable post-camping stench, I wander into Gilbert’s Chowder House hoping to get a taste of the revered chowder and quickly hit the road.

Image

Bob Seger puts me to sleep too

I wait, still a bit on the impatient side for this sleepy section of the Coast, and eventually am greeted by a haggard, old waitress.  “What can I get for you, honey?”.  She insists on hovering close to my smelly beard and face, even slightly brushing my hand.  I scramble to pick something, the pressure mounts.  Her close physical proximity and labored breathing is not entirely unlike those inquisitive animals sniffing my tent the night before.  I settle on a clam chowder bread bowl.  Not the most original choice but a litmus test for seafood quality, no doubt.

Image

A nap would be kind of nice right about now

My appetite grows.  I take a quick panoramic view.  Weathered, old wooden buildings on my left.  To my center, a sleepy harbor, the source of boat horns periodically piercing the damp, coastal fog.  To my right, two short-haired lesbians casually chat as their attentive terrier stares longingly at their juicy, fried platter.  All of this complemented by the distinctive aroma of seaweed and salt emanating from the bay.

Image

The mural says it all

Finally, the moment arrives.  A steaming pool of clam chowder wrapped in a soft, sourdough bread bowl.  The food is no disappointment.  I eagerly devour the soup and most of the bread bowl, ready to get back on the road.  I pay and head out the swinging doors, fully intending to get in my car and drive south to Hartford.

To my right, I spot rusting railroad tracks leading through a cluster of industrial, red-brick buildings.  Wanderlust takes hold, even still I promise myself that I will walk for a few minutes then turn back.

Image

We’ll just walk for a few minutes, right?

A few minutes turns into a few hours as I stumble upon an eclectic yet predictable cluster of shops and restaurants.  Hipster vibes abound as I walk through shops with everything from wood-carved Buddha statues to organic hemp sweaters.  Indian food, Mexi-Cali food.  Everything so uniformly different.  Grey-bearded old men and tattooed young free-spirits dot the cobble-stoned streets.  I leave entirely confused.  Portland, Maine has every bit as many hippies per capita1as Portland, Oregon.  Add to the mix that Portland, Oregon was actually named for Portland, Maine and we now have a legitimate debate.  Who should carry the flag of righteous separation from societal conventions, man?

Image

There’s no Waldo but I do spot a “Freak Street Smoke Shop”

1  Every blogger has to include at least one completely unsubstantiated statistic, right?

Part 1: Mount Washington

Writers note:  This is the first part of a multi-part series detailing a 3 day trip to Mt. Washington, Acadia National Park, and Portland, Maine.

The Drive

With ambitions of scaling the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, I woke up at 3:45 AM and headed for Mt. Washington, New Hampshire.  Once darkness passed, I was greeted with a pleasant New Hampshire sunrise.  Eventually, I took a back road for about 15 minutes in search of a gas station.  The hunt was well worth it.  I ended up in the picturesque town of Milton, NH.  The service station was sitting alongside a quiet lake.  A mist was visibly rising from the water.  I spotted a lone fisherman, undoubtedly enjoying the quiet of morning just as I was.

Image

Just enjoying the good life

I continued through to the White Mountains.  It was one of those drives where you have to resist the urge to stop at every scenic vantage point.  Most likely your destination will be just as beautiful, if not more beautiful, as these stops along the way.  The small towns of New Hampshire appeared just as I’d imagined the Northeast.  Old cottages, bed and breakfast inns, beautifully adorned brick facades beckoning you to stay.  Out my windows I was surrounded by rolling hills with periodic views of the rugged White Mountains, the northern section of the more well-known Appalachian Mountains.

Image

Even still, I couldn’t resist

The Climb

I arrived for what I thought would be a relatively easy 9 mile roundtrip hike to the summit and back down.  Everything started as expected with a well-formed, albeit a bit rocky, path.  Verdant low-lands, the sound of water rushing down through glistening streams.  This easier portion of the climb allowed me to take in more cultural aspects of the park.  I heard a number of foreign languages.  German, French, Chinese.  I haven’t yet decided if the propensity to see so many foreigners in national parks is an indicator of nature’s power as a great unifier or a sign that foreigners spend entirely more time outside than the notoriously sedentary American population.

Image

The gentle rush of flowing water

The luscious low-lands transitioned into a steeper climb, made much more difficult by rocks covered in wet moss.  Thankfully the path was equipped with wooden ladders to aid with some of the more impassable terrain.  I kept moving and eventually eclipsed the tree-line, catching a glimpse of what was ahead.  I stared up at a quarter mile of a highly inclined jumble of rocks with no clearly marked path.  This daunting task conjured up a scene from the movie “300”, where Leonidas meets Ephors.  An unrealistic and greatly exaggerated analogy that made complete sense at the time.  For a refresher, take a look at the clip through the 1 minute mark.

IMG_0719

What up clouds?

After scaling infinite rocks and successfully conquering Ephors, I made it to the summit.  At the summit, the weather was flipped upon its head.  The temperature was in the low 40s with a rippling wind of around 30 miles per hour.  The entire area was quite literally in the clouds and visibility was reduced to almost nothing.  I hid behind a sturdy rock and devoured my gourmet lunch of PB&J, trail mix, and water.  The stifling clouds combined with the strong winds created an eerie celestial atmosphere.   Kind of like if you got to heaven and there was no God or any visible change in lifestyle.  Just a hang-out spot draped in a white cloud.

It was windy, here's proof.

It was windy, here’s proof.

 The Descent

After a few more hours of hiking, I made it down around 4 pm.  The 7 hour hike had me exhausted so I decided to make some progress towards the ultimate prize, Acadia National Park in Maine.  I drove for a few hours and settled on resting my head for the night in Augusta, ME.  For dinner, I chose gluttony and devoured a whole pizza in my hotel room, passing out before 9 pm.

Photo Gallery: The Best of the Rest

IMG_0745

IMG_0740

IMG_0741