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Honeymoon Recap 7: Manic Manila

February 25th, 2011 No comments

The touchdown of Zest Airways flight Z2-171 into Manila marked the beginning of the end to our wanderings in the Philippines.  Darcy’s driver picked the five of us up and made the rounds though the bewilderingly dense traffic to drop us all off at our respective destinations about town.

Tracy and I were plopped right in front of the Somerset Millenium Makati, which Darcy was good enough to recommend and have his staff make us a reservation.  We checked in and quickly got settled into the relative luxury of our room with its stellar 18th floor view of the city, and foraged out to the nearby swanky mall complex known as Greenbelt 1 through 5 for a nice sushi dinner.

Back at our room Tracy was spent and so passed on our invitation to join Darcy and his peeps out at a bar he owned nearby, Heckle & Jeckle’s.  In the interest of camaraderie and raising a beer to the man whose resort and hospitality made such a difference for us the last 3 days, I set out myself into the warm Manila night.

There’s something I absolutely love about wandering about in an active city by myself at night.  The lights, the flow of people and the architecture all have a certain vibrancy that calls to be observed in an unhurried way that you just can’t do as well in daylight or with others around wondering why you’re smiling at everything with maw agape like some enchanted 6-year-old.  Conditions are perfect to wander aimlessly and be distract-able by shiny.  I found myself in a triangle-shaped park nestled among sky rises, faced on one edge by a slew of open fronted eateries with hoards of happy people enjoying things like late night ice cream, and throughout with bushes and trees strewn with elaborate strings of lights that put the typical Christmas yard decoration to shame.  Add in the summer evening perfume of the abounding plant life and you’ve got a faint sensation of magic in the air.

Eventually I made my winding way to Darcy’s bar.  It was a bustling joint with pool games being played, darts being thrown, and three Filipino women joining vocal forces to do a pretty darn good set of Alanis Morrisette covers.  I ordered a trusty Red Horse (by this time my well-established local brew of choice), and found Darcy in short order.

“Red Horse, eh?  That’s the beer of the poor people!”  For real?  I thought all along it was the good stuff… it was more expensive back in Boracay!  “Yeah, it’s a cheaper way to get drunk because it comes in those bigger bottles and is a higher percent alcohol.”  Ahhh… yeah, that makes sense: I started to notice the tendency for it to come in these jumbo-sized bottles of liquid fun back in Sagada.  It reckon the whole scenario was like some hapless Brit coming to the US proudly drinking Budweiser, the King of beers, presuming that we Americans somehow held fast to a reverence of monarchs.  Whatever, it tasted alright and facilitated a talented dance exhibition to Lady Gaga.

It was now at this point that I was invited to the strip club as referenced in the preface to this whole saga.  It was the next stop of the night for Darcy and his crew, and since we were all getting along so swimmingly I was a welcome tag-along.  At this point I did indeed have presence of mind enough to remind my new chums the vague inappropriateness that this would be, what with this being my honeymoon and my new wife back at the hotel sound asleep.  “Right on,” I was assured: “this one will be pretty mild, so it’ll be fine.  Now, the second one we go to, that’s gonna be inappropriate for a man on his honeymoon.  You should probably skip the second one.”

“Oh, and if the DJ announces he’d like to welcome back Darcy and his friends when we get there, he’s talking about some other Darcy.”

Fair enough.  In the interest of having experiences that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to confess to either my wife or the world, I happily joined the gang as they hopped into the Range Rover of fun bound for our next destination.

There the crowded smokiness to the cheesy choreography reaffirmed for me that, yep, strip clubs even in this part of the world aren’t really my thing for anything above, say, 20 minute doses of novelty (even if the men’s bathroom was bemusingly wallpapered with naughty cartoons).  That, and contrary to the observable taste in about 60% of the older white men we’d seen during our trip, I don’t really have a thing for Filipino girls.

With my confidence again bolstered about my recent decision to take a wife of pasty-white European descent, I finished my beer, called it a night, and gave thanks to my new friends for having me along and the fun times.

Darcy walked me out and awesomely summoned his driver to give me a ride back to the Somerset, further cementing his role in my memory as a bad-ass host.  Despite my earlier ramblings about loving to walk city streets at night, by this time it was after midnight and the tropical rains were falling in force.  Back at the hotel I stripped out of my smokey t-shirt and gave the report of my evening’s activities to a sleepy Tracy, who just chuckled.

My wife is so awesome.

Soon to sleep, for tomorrow we travel.

 

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Honeymoon Recap 6: Surfin’ San Juan

February 22nd, 2011 No comments

(For pictures of this leg of our journey, visit Tracy’s blog here.)

We met the surfing district of the Philippines late at night after a long day of busing about, and were a bit weary for it.  It was on this night that we sat beside the South China Sea, three stories up, contemplating the recommend-ability of our current country.  Despite the starlit beauty of that night on the balcony the jury was still out on the matter.

The next morning presented us with a challenge: Tracy had fallen ill and so I tasked myself with finding a suitable detox center for her condition.  This is a place known for its beach-side surf resorts, so I took a jeepney ride up the coast line to their place of concentration in my quest for recovery luxury.  The first place I tried after being dropped off was full, so I scouted further on foot.  It was then that I happened upon a place unbeknownst to my trusty Lonely Planet, a swank and rather new place of sharp looking cabanas called the Kahuna Resort.  And they had an infinity pool that looked over the surfer-laden sea.  Score.  With just a swipe of the credit card and a drop off my backpack we had a new home base.

Proudly I returned to the hotel we were at, peeled my ailing-yet-lovely new wife off the bed, and proudly took to chaperoning my marital cargo to our shiny new digs.  This was a place to recover in, and good thing, too.  For whether it was an matter of solidarity or my having imbibed the same cause of ailment, I too proceeded to fall ill in exactly the same way.  For the utility of my forage for such paradise accommodations, I am grateful that my illness came those precious three hours later.

What a pair we were, taking turns in the bathroom while watching 80’s movies on our in-cabana flat screen TV.  I refer to this as the “Honeymoonal Celebration of Intimacy and Closeness,” for it was a wonderful testament to our love and acceptance of one another to have that love endure with us both in such a sorry state.

All things do pass, in time.

(I of course mean here the sickness, not the love.)  By the next day our appetites were reasonably restored, and we were content to enjoy our surroundings for more than their “nice place to detox”-ness.  While bobbing about merrily in the infinity pool the afternoon after our second night there, a fellow the western persuasion did a cannonball some 15 feet from me, and after he surfaced we exchanged brief glances: the sort of smiling, mutual acknowledgment that yes, it is nice to be in the pool.  And that’s how I met Darcy.

Darcy is the second delightfully influential Canadian to grace our trip.  With his hearty accent, penchant for playing hockey, and fondness for The Kids in the Hall he also lent fuel to my baser self to presume that I do indeed know all there is to know about Canada (I’m not committed to this presumption, by the way).  Turns out Darcy owned the place, too.  This was useful for a number of reasons.  One of which was that, by this point, I’d been wanting someone on staff I could make known the fact that the perhaps yet under-trained staff (this was still a new resort, after all) seemed apt to gracelessly interrupt naked time with their schedule of delivering 2 measly bottles of water to each cabana in the early evening, and not go away when you tell them to do as much in presumably muffled words through the door.  Strategic rantings aside he was all kinds of enjoyable to talk with, from topics of local culture, doing business all around Asia, and what it’s like to live swankily in slightly cesspool-ish Manila.

Later that night I joined Darcy and his business contemporaries for a bite.  My order of food arrived on two plates: on one a big heaping slice of chocolate cake, and on the other a sad little scoop of rice.  For this not exactly being the model of balanced nutrition, I fetched some odd looks from the gang.  In a striking example of how the universe is not, in fact, necessarily fair, I explained how the former was for me while the latter was for my wife, who in a state of still diminished appetite remained on a strict BRAT diet (Bananas, Rice, Apple juice and Toast).  In a gesture of good husbanding I did however bring some cake back to our room, a few bites of which Tracy was able to enjoy as punctuation to her otherwise bland starch.

In the morning Darcy’s hospitality really shined.  It was time to head back to Manila in preparation for our next-day flight home, and while Tracy and I were planning on another marathon bus ride to do so, Darcy had the good sense to suggest we take a flight back–from this relatively remote region there are only 3 such flights per week, and today was one of those lucky days.  (And luckier still, he and his associates were also heading back and could give us a ride both to and from the airports.)  At $35 a seat the deal couldn’t be beat.

His staff set everything up and that afternoon, with a car ready and waiting to take us to the airport, we were on our way.  Crestfallen though we were to not do any of the surfing we’d set out to do, our time in San Jaun was about the nicest way I can fathom to spend getting through a rough 24-hour bug together as husband and wife.  Such romance!  …did I mention the blaze-orange sunsets?

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Honeymoon Recap 5: Serene Sagada

February 16th, 2011 No comments

(For pictures of this leg of our journey, visit Tracy’s blog here.)

From bumpin’ Baguio we took a 7 hour bus ride to remote Sagada through the winding, mountainous regions of North Luzon.  Unlike our relatively cushy ride from Manila to Baguio, this one took some courage and concentration.  Courage to not think to hard about the winding roads and how far there would be to fall were our bus to find itself but 2 feet to the left of it’s current position, and concentration on said winding roads to avoid motion sickness from all the bumps and turns.  (I tried to neglect the latter, but a mere 10 minutes of watching Penn and Teller’s Bullshit on the iPod-of-fun had me distinctly nauseous.)

So there was a balancing act to be done.  And really, once you wrapped your mind around having faith in the driver as truly an expert in his navigating his native terrain, the views were quite breathtaking.  It was a rainy day with lots of fog and clouds rolling through the hills and valleys, and a look down from the bus into a nebulous gray mass gave a certain awe and reverence for nature, not unlike the Cliffs of Insanity.  Also etched into the hills everywhere were step-like terraces for farming such uneven land.  These weren’t necessarily the ancient Ifuego rice terraces, but never the less a treat for the eyes and a remarkable display of ingenuity.

During our bus ride there were two stops in little villages for snacks and restroom breaks.  At the first of these was where met Peter, a friendly fellow from Canada who was exploring the country with his girlfriend Kate from Korea.  It’s great how fast you can make a friend while comparing how the flan in little plastic cups which you both just bought tastes (it tasted good, by the way–a nice remedy to iPod-induced wooziness).  A good thing, too: Peter and Kate would turn out to be instrumental in making our time in Sagada awesome.

When the bus arrived after nightfall in Sagada us back-packer types all dispersed to find lodging, with an agreement to meet Peter and Kate for dinner.  After a nice dinner at the Log Cabin (during which Peter reinforced Canadian stereotypes by tending to the un-staffed fireplace like a pro–he also admitted to indeed keeping an ax in the back of his truck), our foursome went back to their room for what was perhaps the greatest throwback to collegiate days that I can remember.  In their dorm-like room (you know the style: you enter and there’s a bed on the left, a bed on the right, and not much more) we partook of the bounties that Peter had so wisely procured in one of the small bus-break villages: a bottle of reconstituted brandy from Spain, and a loaf of freshly baked banana bread.  I assure you that the latter well complimented the former between shots as we passed the bottle: there’s nothing quite like cheap booze and minimal furniture to foster good times and camaraderie.

In our inspired state caused by bread and brandy we plotted to the next morning all do the 4 hour cave tour, because why not?  Seems cooler than the 2 hour version, and apparently part of it calls for swim trunks.

We were rewarded for our outstretched curiosity: what we got ourselves into we probably wouldn’t have done with full knowledge of it up front, and we are more hardcore and experienced for it.  This was serious climbing around and through some big rocks and slippery formations, with ample opportunities to misstep and fall a good 20 feet.  The whole experience was probably nothing you could ever get away with in a litigious society, and I’m glad we were where we were so as to enjoy it.

Our guides were nothing short of bad-ass.  While we were at times crab walking along with butts touching down every foot or so for stability, they were walking along casually in flip flops while brandishing the large kerosene torches which provided our only light, and carrying our backpacks to lighten our load.

For this, and other feats pertaining to expertly having our lives in their hands, we tipped them well and eagerly so.

After 4 hours of climbing through crevices, balancing on boulders, wading through water, and finagling footholds we were finally greeted by sunlight at the cave’s other entrance some 2 miles from where we initially descended.  We were sore, tired, a little damp and a lot muddy, but all the better for it and feeling triumphant.

Rest and recovery sums up the remainder of our time in Sagada, which suited.  There’s a certain stillness of the tiny, remote mountain town that is hard to describe yet easy to recall.  Within 48 hours of our underworld adventure we were on the bus back to Baguio, and on to the surf district of San Juan.

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Honeymoon Recap 2: Beautiful Boracay

January 6th, 2011 No comments

(For pictures of this leg of our journey, visit Tracy’s blog here.)

You may recall my mention earlier of the Philippines being a little too rugged and not touristy enough.  Well, I apologize for sloppy storytelling when it comes to continuity because Boracay, the first major stop of our trip, was an exception to all that.  The small island only 7 miles long and as narrow as one mile wide in the middle is sublimely gorgeous, your true-to-form typical beachy paradise with white sand and warm, clear turquoise waters.

In fact it’s so typically paradisey that I’m actually going to skip over describing most of it.  It’s the sort of stuff that if you’ve already been, you know pretty well what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, well, who wants to hear the ramblings of some dude’s time on a beach when you’ve been rockin’ the non-beach thing all along?  So instead I’m going to opt for telling the weird stories.

Two of the three mornings in Boracay I found myself waking up around 3am, bright eyed and ready for adventure (jet lag can be fun if you embrace such early morning shenanigans).  The rooftop of our resort offered choice views of the partially clouded night, painted purple and yellow by the low hanging, jumbo-sized moon.  It was the kind of serenity you hope for if you’ve ever yelled out “serenity now”, and made a fine occasion for doing a few Sun Salutations (though in fairness to the sun, I was totally saluting the moon instead).  The sandy beach below at 4am, I found, makes a great time to sit on your butt and read Heinlein by the beach-facing floodlights of Fridays’ Resort while giving out respect nods to the occasional jogger who passes by.

One morning (after enjoying beach-side ninja training of a run plus bonus cove abs) I took to exploring more the beach with a single-minded mantra of “keep going”.  I just wanted to see how far I could take it to find what I would find.  Rocky ledge to shimmy around?  Keep going.  Some stairway through dense foliage with a couple dudes standing on it in my way?  Keep going.  Looks like I’m trespassing on someone’s private property?  Keep going.  Obscure, narrow, winding path with many steps leading upwards?  Keep going.  Resort security checkpoint?  Play it cool, like you belong there.  Actually I just let ’em know straight away that I was wandering about, checking out other cool beach-side places to stay.  I was welcomed right in, which gave me rights to strut about the property with impunity.

And what a find!  What I’d stumbled upon was this Ewok village-like formation of cabins and foliage strewn about a dense maze work of stairs and narrow paths, which opened into a system of interconnected sea-facing terraces with many nooks of cabanas and lounge chairs at varying elevations, all with spectacular views.  The place seemed deserted, which perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise since there were about 4 occasions during my journey to it that I thought I should turn back because I didn’t belong.  (In fairness, it is also quite new and “Secluded luxury” is one of their marketing tag lines.).

While staring transfixed by the view the nice lady appeared and handed me a rate card for the rooms on property.  At $20 less a night I was a little crestfallen that we’d already prepaid our 3 nights at the Two Seasons.  We did get to experience at least some of the awesomeness when we returned the next night for sunset drinks.

A now a tale from the Poor Planning Diaries.

Just minutes before we took to the beach bound for the nearest SCUBA dive shop, I realized I forgot my contact lenses (oh I had the case, it was just empty).  My vision is poor enough to make the natural splendor of tropical coral reefs look like boring blobs, so even when you discount the whole “safety” thing my lack of lenses might’ve rendered any diving opportunities this trip completely moot (and I do love me some diving).

I opted that we head for the dive shop anyway, reckoning that I’d “think of something”.  Along the way [confronted with the possibility that surfing would also be ruined for me] we contemplated zany schemes for damage control, like having our house-sitter ship ’em to Manila and we’d somehow pick ’em up there (terrible idea for its complexity).  Hey, what if I could just, you know, buy some contacts here?  On this tiny island?

I had my doubts given my state-side experience, which teaches me that no “respectable” optometrist will sell you contacts unless you present a prescription given during a complete eye exam within the last year (it’s been 3 for me).  But hey, we were in a new world here, presumably a little less sue-happy and perhaps a little less stringent in their dispensary of prescribables,  and I happen to remember my magic prescription number (-5.5)… so why not find out!  I had an hour or two to do it while Tracy got schooled in the PADI basics for her first dive.

Now then, on the beach of Boracay there exists a reckless abundance of people brandishing little cards featuring small pictures of activities with large, inflated prices just beneath, so many so that “Water sports today?” may be confused by the untrained eye to be a traditional island greeting.  With such eagerness to help me get onto a sail boat for only 5000P (about $125 US) I figured I’d reply in earnest what I did need.  “Water sports today?” said the next such fellow along my sandy path  (how do they know I’m a tourist?  Ah, right: I have been judged [accurately] by the color of my skin!).  Instead of the “No thanks” that I was getting good and polished at saying,  I stopped in my tracks, looked him square in the eyes, and replied: “Right now, no, but what I am looking for is some contact lenses, can you help me with that?”

As eager to be helpful as any good salesman is, my new friend Dwayne offered to wander along and help me on my quest to and through D’Mall in search of my odd need.  We talked as we walked of hobbies we enjoyed, he when not hustling activities, me when not saying no to them, and found common ground in dance and bemusement that I suck at basketball.  He was a cool guy.  The second shop we tried at had just what I needed.  The friendly woman who tended the counter asked only for my prescription number in answer to my question (as opposed to demanding to see my papers like in the US, which now seems kinda fascist by comparison), and then wandered over to the display case to pluck out a small box.  900P and a quick use of the backroom with a sink and I was set.  Perfect vision.  No wacky postal pickup in Manila required.  Dwayne you’re the man, and a gentleman for making me work to convince you to take my 200 gratitude pesos.

Ah, and the diving was most beautiful and laden with 20/20 visual goodness.

I’d like to end my recount of Boracay with a tale of how even in splendorous paradise the simple joys never go out of style, and that simple joy is a happy hour bucket of beers.  During a beach walk when things were not yet happening at the tender hour of only 9pm, one of the hustlers at a club bar smoothly offered and got us situated at a cheap plastic table whose legs were planted in the sand just 10 feet from the rising midnight-tide.  200P (about $5 US) for six bottles of cold beer is a bargain at your local friendly dive bar, and seems triply so on the beach in Boracay.  We partook of a local brew called Red Horse while staring out at the sea.

By the time we finished the first bucket and started on our second, the bar scene behind us had filled out with a great mix of both locals and tourists, and the DJ was cranking out some bumpin’ tunes.  A Lady Gaga came on and, perhaps thanks to the graces of moderately consumed alcohol, Tracy was game to rock it out with me (yeah I like to dance to Lady Gaga, so what?).  We gave it our Red Horse best in our center, solo spot on the dance floor, and for it entertained locals and gringos alike.  I know this because they were both clapping and cheering at song’s end.  (That now makes 2 countries abroad in which I have been applauded for dance prowess, sweet!)

The night was rounded out in perfection when we happened upon a beach-side food vendor, serving up some tasty meat thing between 2 weird pieces of bread toasted nicely on his little grill of hot coals.  Ah, the simple joys.

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Unlikely Yoda

September 7th, 2010 No comments

Yesterday I drank beer with homeless people.

It’s not what I intended to do when I stepped out into the neighborhood streets that temperate and sunny Labor Day afternoon.  I was headed to the capital square for some peaceful people watching to enjoy the lazy day, so my detour wasn’t a total misfit.

How I happened to while away 2 hours on the sidewalk of Pennsylvania Avenue was one of those precious offshoots of my tendency to engage anyone in conversation when given the opening.  Two older fellows were settled about the sidewalk when I strolled by with my characteristic goofy grin (which a walk in warm weather often causes), and one of them was interested enough to ask me how it was going.  I answered in earnest, returned the question in kind, and before long I said “Well heck, you guys mind if I just take a seat and hang with you a while?”

And that’s how I met Bruce, a self-described “slightly-used-up hippie”, and Gary, a fellow in a wheelchair who had less to say than Bruce.  For my choice to accept the graciously offered 24-ounce can of Natural Ice from the brown paper bag (still kinda cold!), I was rewarded with a slice of life far removed from my ordinary and a dose of new perspective.

I think enough Natty Ice on a sidewalk will make a philosopher out of anyone, and sure enough rich conversation ensued.  Depending on your state of mind and willingness/ability to assign useful meaning, the platitudes spoken forth by my new, slightly-used-up hippie friend were either pointless drivel or priceless nuggets of wisdom.  I took to panning for gold while he spoke of the freedom of sleeping by the river while not owing or being owed anything to or by anyone, never believing people in this world who will try to tell you that some things are less important than others, and the marvel and celebration of how I’m willing to get up everyday and do things that no one else is willing to do (I’m still not sure whether or not those statements were referring to any activity in particular).

Whatever was said, I took to listening constantly for the gold coming from one who had lived a life very different from my own, because why not?  I figured worst case I’d shrug it off after enjoying a beer and company on a nice afternoon.  So we waxed philosophical and I did my best to grasp the words of my sometimes seemingly contradictory host.  Along the way there was even a jam session, featuring a fellow named Luis Small who stopped by with a steel drum, Bruce rockin’ the harmonica, and generous offers of a swig of brandy and a hit off a spliff.

This was way more fun than I was gonna have at the capital square, even if I did pass on the brandy and spliff.

It was my bladder that eventually had me be on my way.  “Hey Bruce, I totally gotta pee.   Thanks for the beer, do you mind walking with me to the liquor store on Colfax so that I may return the favor?”  After assuring him I knew I didn’t owe him anything (he wanted me to be super clear about that), it was my pleasure to take a 2 block stroll, wander in, and wonder out with a replacement king can Natural Ice plus 2 more.  I like to think of it as repaying my karmic beer debt, with interest.  With a hearty handshake and a hug I was off.

So Bruce was my Yoda for a day: the mere act of trying to figure out what he was saying gave me useful perspective on my life.  This morning during abs in the 6:30 Yoga Sculpt class I envisioned him in the cliched, starry background in the corner of my mind’s eye, telling me in prophetic tones how I get up in the morning and do things that know one else is willing to do.

It made me push just a little bit harder.

The Hotness Game

July 19th, 2010 No comments

This past Saturday Tracy and I made a day trip of visiting Bolder. Amid a wealth of other to-dos and activities, we, while sitting outdoors enjoying pizza and beer while watching the crowds go by on the highly-trafficked Pearl Street, invented and played what we call “The Hotness Game”

The Hotness Game is a people-watching game defined simply as follows: while with your significant other, you and she/he take turns trying to pick out people walking by that one thinks the other would be attracted to, and name why.  In other words, guess by image alone who appears to be datable in the eyes of your beloved.  You get a point for every person you successfully name.

There are a couple of things about The Hotness Game that are worth sharing.

The Hotness Game probably requires being in a stable and secure relationship in order to play without calamity, and to play it otherwise is probably asking for trouble.  Here again makes another reason to be delighted by the relationship Tracy and I have created.  You can imagine a watered down version of this game wherein both players pretend their datable people are limited to near-carbon copies of the other.  This was NOT the case in our playing, and we had way more fun because of it.

Physical image by itself is a DELIGHTFULLY shallow criteria for attraction, and the more you dabble in that being the end-all-be-all criteria (as one must while making snap judgments upon passers by while playing The Hotness Game), the more you appreciate the wealth of substance that lies in elsewhere in things like personality, passion, believes, and so forth.  There were a couple of smokin’ hotties that Tracy [correctly] named as being my type for which my baser brain was content to muse upon “trading up”, which was then simply met by the sober realization “yeah, but I’d probably have to talk to her, too”.  An ever-so-slightly expanded appreciation for my Tracy quickly followed each time.

I think, in our yet still slightly homophobic culture, that a guy playing The Hotness Game has to be secure enough in his sexuality to be able to recognize and point to other male hotness.  While trying my best to name ’em for Tracy I got into more than one disagreement that ended in my saying “Really?  Huh, I think he’s a pretty good lookin’ dude.”

The final takeaway from my experience of playing The Hotness Game is as follows: dang, y’all girls got it ROUGH. Seriously: you remember the point system I mentioned above?  Tracy CRUSHED me on the scoreboard, and it wasn’t because she had that much of a leg up in knowing what I find attractive, nor a reluctance on my part to identify male hotness.

No, whether it’s a matter of disparity in effort among the sexes, or the natural order of things, there appears to be an absolute dearth of datable guys relative to datable women when you go on looks alone.  While doing my darndest to spot a guy that my love would judge datable, I had to weed through loads of slouched postures, agape maws, unkempt hair, partially tucked in shirts, and aimless eyes.  The ladies overall have their stuff WAY MORE together, and god bless ’em for it; I had no idea us fellas were generally such a sorry lot.

Now that I think of it: my final final takeaway from the experience is this.  If you’re a nice guy who can never seem to land a nice girl, grab a platonic girl friend and go sit out on a busy pedestrian mall and play The Hotness Game together.  While walking in a woman’s shoes, trying to spot datable guys, you’re apt to gain some pointers of what’s working and what’s not for you, and, if nothing else, you may get a dose of perspective concerning how truly datable you really are.

Come to think of it, I could have used this advice about a decade ago.

Reflections on Visiting My Old Town

June 18th, 2010 No comments

St. LouisLast week Tracy and I spent a week visiting St. Louis, her to shoot a whopping 7 portrait sessions from among the adoring hoard of clients she left behind, and I to visit and catch up with as many fantastic people as I could pack in.

I was struck by how much I love St. Louis.

To wit, merely walking Melbrook lane (a stretch of road connecting the Wash U campus with the vibrant street known affectionately to locals as the Delmar Loop) evoked all kinds of grad school-era memories, which lumped together as on big ball of bittersweet, fond reminiscence.  The smell of the old neighborhood trees and other nature in the heat of St. Louis summer took me back to everything from feeling high and proud walking home after giving my first summer school lecture on programming, to hopeless romantic melancholy of pining over whichever girl I was smitten with at the time (I was so cute back then, my strategy for dating and relationships would’ve been just precious if it hadn’t been so completely ineffective!).   The years of memories unlocked by sights and smells endeared my old stomping grounds to me in the most delightful way.

Add in connections to friends and communities (I was fondly greeted with surprise as though back from the dead by at least a dozen people when out swing dancing), reference for favorite places (here’s looking at you, MoBot) and my body’s strange preference for the 100% humidity and high heat (it’s like a sauna, and the atmosphere is so delightfully full of oxygen!) and there’s little doubt that I’ll hold the ‘Lou as a sacred and special place for a long time.

Now then, this all might be a problem given my current state as a Denver resident and settling in as such via matrimonial ties: there’s probably no better way to discount the merits of where you are by clinging tightly to the merits of where you were.  But rather it has me inspired: if I was able to fall so deeply in love with one town out of living there for 8 years, how quickly can I fall in love with another?

And so I have a quest: to swiftly collect memories, experiences and favorites among the new people, places and events that are here in Denver.  I figure two new disciplines are in order to speed this process along: the first is to be a “yes” to any and all opportunities to be social/get out/experience life, and the second to forgo more often the sweet, sweet comfort zone of hanging out with my kick-butt fiancee in favor of other people.  (The latter is the tougher, but I celebrate that as a healthy sign of our sustained fondness for one another.)  This quest is along lines similar to the Gems of Denver (which is coming along nicely by the by: few clear winners but many worthy candidates), but more profound, I think.  This is more about building meaningful friendships with people, which I suspect will do much more to give a happy anchoring to this town than a really kick-ass restaurant.

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Anti-Holidays: A Festivus for the Rest of Us

May 5th, 2010 2 comments

I went back to visit family in Wisconsin this past weekend, and it was the best visit I’ve had in a long time.  In retrospect it is quite clear why.

I left my hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin now nearly thirteen years ago, first to Madison for college, then to St. Louis for grad school, and most recently to Denver for the next chapter of the created life (ah, love!).  As my distance from home has grown, so too has the likelihood that any given trip back was for the purpose of enjoying a holiday with family.

But this time the reason was different: it was my niece’s First Communion.  Her mom (my sister) Nancy made a great go of having us 6 other siblings feel all of invited, welcomed, and wanted for the occasion.  It turns out there’s something surprisingly powerful and compelling about the email/phone call/snail mail card trifecta–good one, Nancy!

So on Saturday we converged, I from Denver, Julie from Atlanta, Susie from Chicago, and Kevin, Mary and Mike from their nooks about the greater Milwaukee area.  The rare occasion of seven of us in the same room.  We’re a great group of folks in general, but when you strip out the hectic travel, the usual to-dos, and the low-to-moderate drama of who’s staying where which characteristically plague holiday gatherings, what remains is a fantastic, lively and engaged group of adults with way more to say than apologies of how they have to go soon to be with the in-laws.

The whole experience has me thinking the counter-intuitive notion that the holidays are a terrible time to be with family: there’s just too much going on.  Better to have it be some other day: that’s when you really get to enjoy quality time.  I call it the anti-holiday.  Nancy I think stumbled upon something great to get us all together on a calendar day that has no presence on Hallmark’s revenue radar.  I think it would be great for my family to have our own moving target of a holiday that could change from year to year, such that this one doesn’t just go down as a fluke.

Our own, dynamic Festivus.  We can even skip the Airing of Grievances.

Viva the Runner’s Nod

April 18th, 2010 1 comment

Yesterday I went for a three mile run, the first in several months (on a related note, I’m delighted to finally be experiencing warmer temperatures here in my new hometown: it makes the idea of exploring neighborhoods so much more inviting).

While rounding the mile long loop about Cheesman park, I crossed paths with another runner going the opposite direction, and we exchanged the runner’s nod.  You know the one: that quick bout of eye contact and the nod that follows when you get about 4 feet away.  That mutual, oft simultaneous gesture that in an instant conveys a mutual respect for the other’s physical prowess and hardness of core.

It’s damn near an act of solidarity.  One that says in an instant “hey, I know we could be both be sitting at home watching Family Guy reruns on Hulu right now like so many in our fair city currently are, but we, we are up to something greater.  The whole thing would be smug if it were spoken, but remains in check as a shared, silent gesture.

It’s  the eye-contact equivalent to giving another the respect knuckles, which you would, but doing so would necessarily mess up your stride.  It’s a celebration of human achievement.

At least that’s what I make it mean.

I love the runner’s nod.

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Panama in Review 4: Surf’s Up

March 16th, 2010 1 comment

It was our last day on the island.  At 4:45pm we would hop a plane back to Panama City, stay another night at the Hotel California, and wake early for our all day adventure back to Denver.

There was unfinished business.  Surfing.

But we weren’t sure if we’d fit it in.  Who knew when and if we could get a surfing excursion that included a beginner’s lesson in time, and besides, that morning we thought we’d do 9am yoga.  I like to think that fate kicked in when we arrived 2 minutes late to what was, in my experience, the first and only yoga venue not laid back enough to admit such barely-late stragglers.

So we wandered the main drag in search of surfing opportunities instead.  Ricardo, the rad proprietor of La Buga dive and surf shop, had a deal for us.  (Ricardo is rad for a number of reasons: wall full of PADI certifications, friendly manner of speaking English with his kickin’ Panamanian accent with which he can always convincingly tell you it’s a great day for diving, and Tracy and I were both pleased and unsurprised to see him doing well for himself romantically, apparently dating the smokin’ hottie who fixed Tracy’s smoothie that morning).  His deal: another person was going for an excursion at 10am and we could get in for $49 a piece, including a lesson, and back on land by 1pm.  Sold.  Pardon us while we run back to our room to change.

The lesson was a quick 20 minutes in a few forms, balance, and a fun test of whether you ride normal or goofy foot (i.e. with your left or right foot forward: the test is to push you from behind and seeing which foot instinctively leaps forward to prevent your imminent face plant).  Our lesson was held on the back porch/dock, and was punctuated once or twice by Ricardo stopping by to briefly and nonchalantly pump some serious iron at the weight station 6 feet away.  (Ricardo, you’re such a bad-ass.)

And then it was off to a nice patch of wavy water just off the beach we’d visited the day before.  We jumped into the water with our boards tethered to us by our ankle leash, and our instructor positioned himself with fins and snorkel in the middle of the bobbing water, ready to guide us to hang ten glory.

The premise of surfing, I now know, is simple: hang out in one spot, bob up and down as you wait for a good wave to come your way.  When it does, paddle like hell away from it so that you have speed enough to ride the wave once it does catch you.

How did I do?  I attained the goal I’d set for myself during our lesson: I managed to stand up and ride a wave for a good 8 or 10 seconds.  That was the last of maybe a dozen good waves I’d caught: on the path to said competence I’d had one good salty gulp of the sea, nearly ran over Tracy once, and appreciated the heck out of the aforementioned ankle leash about 4 times (when you fall off the board, the board keeps going: the ankle leash is pretty much the only thing that puts a cap on how far it goes).

In just two hours out I gained two unexpected things: a sudden and profound appreciation for the scattered bits of surfer talk I’ve heard all my life (ahhh… turns out that “catching some killer waves” is worth getting excited about!), and a wicked sun burn on the back of my legs (I neglected to mention the other side of the surfing equation: after riding a wave, you spend a lot of time lying face down on the board, peddling with your arms back up to where you started–it’s a fantastic shoulder workout).