Saturday, October 30, 2010

Complexities of consciousness

Life is complex. Decisions are complex. The truth is complex. Relationships are complex. Laws are complex.

It seems to me that the people and things of life don't fit neatly into little boxes, even though we try to make them. Nature has no prejudice. Nature inherently allows for mutation, for change, for adaptation, and for variety. In the natural world, everything is at a level playing field - trying to survive. Humans create categories. Categorization creates prejudice. 

We are all part of life on Earth. Isn't that all that really matters? 

So, do well. Be kind. Prioritize equality. Practice respect. Think Green. Ask questions. Never compromise.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Just puttin' this out there...

I feel like I've been hearing a lot from friends and family, or friends who are like family, or family that are friends, that they're concerned about the state of humankind. People all over have told me their so-called "friends" are becoming less reliable, or unreliable altogether, untrustworthy, dishonest, or are flat-out disappearing from their lives. These situations always get me to thinking about change: how it comes about, and how we either accept it, fight it, or ignore it.

Does ignoring it actually accomplish anything? Is fighting it actually worth it? Is accepting it just admitting defeat?

Well, I guess that all depends on what kind of change it is and what each of us wants in relation to that change.

It seems to me that more often than not, fighting change and ignoring change are not effective ways of dealing with change. If the control is not within your means, chances are, things are going to change, whether you like it or not. Fighting it will just drain, frustrate. Ignoring it will just leave you out-of-the-loop, uninformed, ignorant. So, is the only way of dealing with change to simply accept it? And, is acceptance of change a good thing or a bad thing?

I guess it all depends on the situation.

Maybe, if one disagrees with the change, one needs to fight the change first. Determine if it's able to be saved, or reverted, or changed further still, for the better. Once one realizes one way or the other: either the situation has been modified for the better according to that individuals perspective, or the person accepts that they don't have the power to change the situation and then accepts it. And if two people or groups are involved in the change, both of which have opposing perspectives, which one "wins"?

But, how does one know when a situation is beyond ones control? When do you give up? On change. On a situation. On someone who means so much to you. How do you identify the moment that allows you to decide whether to battle onward, or throw in the towel? Where is your battle Sargent when you need him or her? How do you make the call? Who knows when to wave the white flag and retreat? What will your next move be?

I guess when it comes down to it, every situation is going to be different, and we all deal with change differently.

But, at a point, one has to ask oneself why they are reacting to the change in their particular way. If your reasons can be traced back to something selfish (read: "because I don't want to pay more taxes", "because I think only I/we deserve that right", "because I need that person", "because I want to spend more time doing x/seeing x") then perhaps it's time to take a look at the bigger picture and take the other parties interests and well-being into consideration. If your reasons are for equality/the greater good/humanity/etc. (read: "because I want a cleaner world for my grandkids", "because I believe in equality for all", "because so-and-so is being destructive to themselves or others"), then I think it's definitely worth the fight.

But, in the end, you need to decide for yourself. And you need to do so with conviction.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Little Rockin'

So, after a long and arduous journey from Newark to Charlotte to Dallas to Little Rock, I arrived at the Arkansas State Fair Complex. I would be calling the RV site my home for the next 11 days.

You can take the girl out of Nova Scotia...
The set up of the area was like this: at the front were the entry gates, the fair grounds, an arena and the hall of industry; in the middle were stables, equestrian arenas, and some other barns and stuff for smaller animals like goats and bunnies and sheep; at the back was where the RV park and overflow parking was located.

Now that you've got the area visualized, consider this: I'm sleeping in a tent about 500 feet away from the stables. This means every night, without fail,  I'm lulled to sleep by the poor, desperate cries of one or more belligerent cows.

See my tent squished in between the two trailers? Go me!
But between being the sounding board for said bovine(s), there was a lot to be done, learned, seen and experienced. As I mentioned before, I came down to the south to meet up with my dear ol' Dad and step-mom, Lorraine, and to help them around the trailer and at the trade shows, in return for my room and board.

So, I arrive at the RV park and everything is already set up because they arrived a day earlier. Win! The next day is training day, though, so that means learning all that I can about liquid glycerin filled insoles, and learning the ropes when it comes to sales and fittings of the insoles, since I've never had a retail job in my life. I think I caught on pretty quickly, and by the third day or so I was wranglin' them in and slingin' insoles like it was high-noon in Orthopediville!

When I wasn't at the booth, which was more often than not, I managed to pass the time talking with Lorraine and Dad, running errands, cooking and tidying around the trailer, strolling around the fairgrounds, taking pictures, and trying to plan the next couple of weeks on the road. I got to check out the William J. Clinton Presidential Library, which was a lot cooler than it sounds and definitely made me realize, despite the misstep in his private life, that Billy boy was actually a pretty stellar President and a totally good human being - the latter of which is harder to come by in world leaders these days. After checkin' out all of Billy's relics, my Dad and I headed down to River Market (similar to Halifax's Spring Garden/waterfront, or Edmonton's Whyte Ave). We grabbed a coffee and some Louisiana Gumbo (which I recommend independently, but not as part of a team), and strolled across this really amazing pedestrian bridge that was made from an old elevating train bridge (to let boats underneath). When the bridge rusted in its up position, they just decided to add an elevator, paint it, and turn it into a cool pedestrian bridge instead!

Pedestrian bridge in Little Rock
Slingin' insoles isn't exactly my passion, but the hours I clocked at the booth and on the road let me see just how hard my Dad and step-mom work to make ends meet. The average two-week period goes something like this:

Day 1: drive to next location
Day 2: set up booth
Day 3 to 13: work 6 to 12 hour days taking off peoples' shoes and fitting them for massaging insoles.
Day 14: take down booth.

This might not seem that exhausting to most people my age, and not to nix my Dad and Lorraine's age, but it's a lot harder once you've entered, your... well, more mature years... and the long days, far drives, and little rest can begin to take their toll. I also never thought I would want to work alongside my partner/spouse, so I've got mad respect for them both for taking on the challenge of a bad situation (the real estate market crash in Florida) and making the most of it, when ever possible, even if the current situation only exists out of necessity.

Whether by choice or necessity, spending the time at the booth with my Dad and Lorraine has taught me a lot, and not just about liquid glycerin filled insoles. I don't think I've reflected enough on it to even be able to tell you how, or what lessons I've learned; at least not in any succinct, understandable terms, so I'll have to get back to you on that, but I think I'm becoming more of a whole person. If that makes any sense to anyone but me.

But, I can definitely conclude that I've come to have a greater understanding of the southern folk whom we so seldom see north of the border. The people of Arkansas did feed into a lot of the stereotypes we see on television: the drawl, the lack of dental hygiene, the love of the Lord and of guns. Fortunately though, just like I was hoping, I also was reminded that there is a common thread among us all and that's our common humanity (so graciously pointed out to me during my visit to the Presidential Library, in the State of the Union address made by former President Bill Clinton). The rest that we see is just poppycock, superficial, unimportant. What really matters is having respect for each other, regardless of dialect, dentistry, or religious disposition (or any variety of other things). Everyone out there is just trying to find their happy, myself included, and how each of them are getting there is of no place for my judgement or prejudice. In the wise words of the Grateful Dead, "That path is for your steps alone."

Sunset at the RV Park near the Mississippi
All in all, despite the belligerent cows, toothless wonders, and coming to the realization that the real epidemic in America is poor foot-hygiene, Little Rock State Fair and the Arkansas area in general were charming little spots, with super friendly folk, lush foliage, and a sweet southern drawl.

And the rest of the south that I got to experience wasn't any different really. Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama. The scenery was picturesque: from run-down shanties and barns crawling with vines, to fields of raw cotton, to the mighty Mississippi River, to the Mobile, Alabama skyline.

The most beautiful, and most depressing things of my trip so far were both witnessed in the exact same place near Wilmer, Alabama, in the exact same RV park, on the exact same river bank.

Beautiful, white sand beach.

Dirty, iridescent oil slick.

With the Gulf of Mexico oil spill out of the news it's easy to forget what a catastrophe it was (is). Now, in the US, election news is more important than the Gulf disaster (so last spring, duh!), and since the majority of the oil in visible places (read: tourist areas) have been cleaned up, the majority of people probably believe, or would like to believe, that everything is in its right place, all is well in the world (okay - that's the taking it a bit far, but you get the idea).

Well, on this beautiful little white-sand river in Alabama, which was not even a few feet deep in the middle, there were oil smears in the sand. The depth of the river, or lack thereof, makes it irrational and illogical for the oil to be from boating or any other recreational activity involving gas-powered water-anything.

There's only one answer.

And there you have it folks. Months later. Miles upstream. Away from prying eyes and the media and the electoral campaign. Oil. It was a sad realization for me. My heart hurts for all of the unseen rivers and streams and animals that were too far away from capitalist ventures to receive any attention or sympathy. Another one bites the dust.

Yet, as much as my heart hurt I was reminded of the strength of nature and the beauty still that can exist, even after such a catastrophe. And I'm reminded that the same can come of people, too. I hope for the best for the future of the human race, perhaps out of naivety, or because that little voice deep down that knows that there are still good people out there, and if we could just get together and remind everyone else why it's good to be good, maybe, just maybe, we'd see a change for the better.

Then I see what's on TV and I immediately lose hope again. It's a constant battle and all I can do is my best in this life. The only thing I can count on is me, doing my part, to promote equality and respect and kindness. So I'll go out into the world and acknowledge it, whether or not I agree with it, and try to see the beauty and potential in everyone and everything. It might not be much, but it's all there really is. The world is an amazing place and strange things can happen, if we let them.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Columbsgiving Day

Happy belated Thanksgiving to all my Canucks and a happy Columbus Day to all my Yankee doodles! (I should note I started writing this before October 11th, but it took me so long that I only just finished today.)

Firstly, since my nationality is Canadian, I'd like to address my turkey gobblers to the north. I'd also like to address the holiday of Thanksgiving first because the art of appreciation has become such a major influence in my life over the past several months, and I'm just thankful to be able to recognize the things I can be grateful for.

Warning: due to the lack of time/Internet I'm catching up on all my blogging. This is a long-ass entry! Proceed with caution.

Over the past month (to the day), between flying and driving, I've travelled an odd 14,000 kilometers (yes, that's not a typo, fourteen thousand). From west to east to central to east again and then finally south. To say it's been an adventure is an understatement. The impact the travels have had on me I'm sure aren't even fully realized. In the spirit of discovery, I reflect and cherish the memories I've made. In the spirit of Thanksgiving and gratitude, I appreciate each moment, and each person who so generously gave to me their time, their company, their conversation and their hospitality. Nevermore have I become aware of the goodness of people than I have since I've become transient.

I've successfully managed to couch-surf in 4 provinces, and 4 states in the past 4 months. Huh. That's gotta mean something. Anyway, the point I was trying to reach was that people, some complete strangers, are still open-hearted, still there to help, still are generous enough to share their time and their home with me, sometimes a complete stranger. I hope they feel as enriched through their generosity as I do. Special thanks to all those who hosted my sometimes not-so-familiar self and sometimes my not-so-familiar accompanist. Without the futons and beds and meals and assistance in transportation and suggestions for eating and drinking and listening to music the trip couldn't have been everything that it was.

My time in Nova Scotia was filled with the familiar - something I needed badly. It had been 15 months since I had last been home to see my family, friends and acquaintances, and seeing everyone, both intentionally and not, felt good for that squishy intangible thing we like to refer to as a soul. Seeing friends whom I haven't seen in years was refreshing and comforting, knowing that we can still carry on like we just saw each other yesterday, even when it's been years since our last encounter. Seeing my bestie was just as it always is: as comforting as whatever-simile-you-find-most-comforting. And seeing my family was, as usual, a calamity of emotions, all positive of course, and usually involving some variations of insanity (I'm looking at you, Mom, brother and Uncle!). I'm so thankful for my friends and family in Nova Scotia. I'm thankful for those who made an effort to get together (even if in the end it was a failed attempt), and for those who hosted me by either meal or shelter, and for those who I shared a story (or several), a laugh (or many), or a hug (or two) with.

What amazes me most, is that this trend of good-doing, of sharing, and of overall pleasantry didn't stop in Nova Scotia; it continued to New York where my mostly online friend (since graduation anyway) Lisa, came to meet me and a bunch of strangers at a folk show at an art museum in Manhattan. Thank goodness for those good-bye champagnes during work hours because she was already revved up for a night of socializing with complete strangers. God bless! And what a night it was. In the nick of time, the show was a success, the post-show Irish pub and pub food were delicious, Lisa was a hit, and the crown goes wild! And we never spoke of poutine the same.

After a brief stint to the Big Apple and an overnight in New Jersey I was on the road again to the Great White North. Five-thirty am (EST) came too soon - especially since my phone was set to Atlantic time so my alarm woke me up an hour too soon. But sixty more minutes of sleep wasn't nearly enough. Regardless, we hit the pavement on time and woke up somewhere in New Hampshire. After a quick stop for some caffeinated beverages, we were back on the road, with the pedal to the metal (but, not speeding if any cops or parents are reading this). A few roadside stops later and we were in northern Maine, with nothing but the trees and mountains to either side. The views were spectacular. But, we had a deadline: we needed to get to Halifax by the evening so we could go out on the town (without doing this, surely, something horrible would be of consequence). Going through border security, the customs agent asks of my pilot, "This is your first time to Canada? And you're how old?". We've got no time for this nonsense so we both laugh and carry on our merry way (what we didn't know was that this was the beginning of a trend that would follow us all the way back to the US). After a double-double and a gas-up we were ready for the home-stretch. We reached Halifax at 9:45 pm (AST) - fourteen hours after we first hit the pavement out of New Jersey and two hours earlier than Google maps had predicted. Game: blouses.

Halifax started off with a bang, as I expected, after getting ourselves together at my aunts place, on 3 hours of sleep, and after 14 hours of driving, we headed straight to Spring Garden and then Barrington for a little 86 reunion with my tiniest of 86ers: Miss Berringer and Miss Kelly. We all, of course, cordially met up and the night transpired to many a watering hole, and I ran into folks, and I missed out on folks, but the everyone was where they were supposed to be and the night ended with a walk on the waterfront and a trip to pizza corner, which will be the bumpin'-est spot in Halifax until the Earth gives up on us and all there is left are cockroaches, and even then it'll be the hippest spot for the 'roaches because who doesn't love 6 month old donair meat and sauces when you're a grubby little bug like that. The weekend continued to be filled with brews of all kinds and friends of all shapes and sizes and foods that clog the arteries and make you feel like absolute garbage and make you afraid to break wind, including an “East Coast Thanksgiving” that included donairs, a Hero pizza, poutine, donair poutine, and mozza sticks, and I wouldn't want it any other way. Thanks, Halifax (especially Hero Pizza, John's Lunch and Cora's).

Next on the agenda was sweet home Pictou County, where my bedroom was turned into a scrap booking room (it's OK, Mom - I'm not home often enough to complain, but just often enough to joke!). Thankfully, out of the kindness and dedication of my Ma's sweet, endlessly loving heart, she cleared out enough of her paper and stamps and glue sticks and doo-daddies to fit a double bed mattress and some floor space was still available too! Praise Ja! New Glasgow was, again filled with massive amounts of eats, some embarrassing stories, and some adventures, too.

My soon-to-be-Canadianized American came with me to where my Dad's childhood home once stood in Boat Harbour before they were expropriated by the government due to the pollution (and that's an understatement) that was dumped recklessly there by a corporation once called Scott Paper (Kimberley Clark, Neenah Paper.. who cares?). There's nothing wrong with the land. It's got apple trees and oak trees and grape vines and all sorts of other foliage that decorate the landscape, and a path that leads right to the harbour, where you'll find a nice cobble stone beach and waters that wash up like coffee and smell something like rotting sausage McMuffins mixed with manure. Sounds nice, doesn't it? That was over 30 years ago that Scott Paper decided to use the Earth as their waste can (like we all do I guess, but  dumping toxic waste from a pulp mill into the waters where people are swimming and growing up and eating and playing is a little different than neatly tying your clear garbage bag for pick-up by your weekly waste management employee). Anyway, I digress. The area is still beautiful and one day, once the big-wigs in this world decide to give a damn, the water will get cleaned up and people will be able to swim and grow and eat and play there again. Hopefully. After being accosted by some police who were concerned that we were from New Jersey (we said we both were just for fun) we decided to head back, take one more look for the foundation of the home where my Dad spent his early adolescence among the grasses as tall as me (I know I'm not that tall, but give me a break here), and head back into town for what I view as proof of the existence of a higher power: Acropole Pizza. Sweet, delicious, spicy, triangular, calorie-filled heaven. If that isn't nice, then I don't know what is. A delicious meal was then carefully crafted by one of my favourite chefs (and newly favourite apprentice) Emma and Dan. And it was muchly enjoyed by all parties involved. We then finished off the night with a hearty gathering of meaningful folks at a pub across town which followed me home. I wouldn't want it any other way.

The next morning, after considerably more sleep than our first departure, but considerably less than we probably should have gotten, we hit the road once again for Montréal - my second-favourite city in Canada. We decided to take the scenic Sunrise Trail as far as Oxford, because we wanted to go see the giant blueberry, and then continued to Moncton where we stopped for Cora's once more before leaving the Maritime provinces, and enjoyed Matt being embarrassed by the waitress for one reason or another. Taking the logging trails through northern New Brunswick may not have been the most logical choice, considering our recent sleeping habits and the presence of only one driver, but the drive was beautiful and solitudous (I don't think that's a word, but that's how it feel and it's 1:26 am).

(Written The Next Day)

We arrived in St-Lambert, across the river from Montréal, around 10 pm (EST),which was considerably good timing considering our stop at Cora’s in Moncton and our travels through the logging roads. After catching up with a sick Nikki and meeting her wonderful and hospitable other-half, Mark, we headed out for some grub. Unfortunately, we were both disappointed with our meals, but we were so ready for bed we didn’t really care. This is sad for me because food is one of my passions, along with music. Thankfully, our musical expeditions later in the weekend would compensate.

Friday, we spent the day at the Museum of Fine Arts in downtown Montréal, which was beautiful, and in the spirit of le Français, we stopped for a café and chocolate croissant on a terrace on de Maisonneuve. We went to an Irish pub on Crescent for some ribs and a beer, then headed off to the Bell Centre for a great pre-season game of the Habs v. the Sens! It’s the first period and already there have been two fights, which deems the game a success in my opinion. Two periods later and the score is 4-2 for the Habs. Habs win! We then moseyed on over the Brewsters (one of my favourite spots on Crescent for it’s variety of micro-brews) where we met up with fellow NGer, Julien, and listened to a cute little band whose name escapes me and whose lead guitarist annoyed the hell out of me with his stupid little stage antics. The music was good enough, but I don’t expect them to be making an appearance at the Grammy’s any time soon. The presence of the Beatles began this night with the bar seemingly playing their albums for 90 minutes between the bands 30 minute sets, then finally with the band actually covering a song in their final set. The Beatles would stalk us for the rest of the road trip, almost to the point of frustration. We waited and waited for the band to come on for one last 30 minute set, but got fed up and left.

Saturday was spent cruising around Old Port, waiting too long for lunch, hitting up a museum for an Easter Island exhibit (the museum clearly did not pay attention to their maximum capacity, as the space was shoulder-to-shoulder the whole time), the piece de resistance of the evening was the Tallest Man on Earth show at Le Nationale. Prior to the show, we went with Julien to the best smoked meat shop in Montréal: Schwartz’s, where the line runs out the door, and you’re seated with strangers because the restaurant is at capacity constantly. After mentioning that I wanted the “regular” cut of meat to my health-conscious companion, the waiter leans close to me, looks right into my eyes, and almost threateningly says, “Don’t order the lean cut”. Pardon me, but I am a lover of food, as I mentioned before, and would never consider skimping on the full-flavor of smoked meat by asking for the “lean” cut. Food profiling – whodathunkit. We then went to see his sister, Gabrielle Papillon, perform at Burritoville’s 2-year anniversary. The spot was cozy and perfect for the folksy stylings of the performers.

We met back up with Nikki in the “gaybourhood” for a pre-show double-double and then headed into Le Nationale for the gig. Needless to say, the show was incredible and even more than I expected. The not-so-tall, Tallest Man entered stage right, surrounded by smoke and dim-backlighting that was reminiscent of some sort of extraterrestrial abduction, then slowly grabbed his guitar and stepped into the spotlight to reveal himself as a charming, handsome, young gentleman, with such accurate throw-backs to James Dean that most straight guys probably got a little hot and heavy. He played all every song I wanted to hear, except The Drying of the Lawns, and finished off with a four-song encore. That’s what I call a performer. Not surprisingly, I left the venue feeling happy, fulfilled, and with way more respect for this one-man-band than I entered with. We made an attempt at going to a bar in Old Port after the show, but the top-40s mash-ups and ratio of dudes and chicks with too much cologne and too many spray tans was about 10:1, so we left Nikki with her friends whom she was meeting up with and headed back to the car to enjoy some peanutbutter on banana bread and head home.

Sunday was slow to get going, but was all-in-all a large success on both the Montréal and Ottawa fronts. We began the day by grabbing our last café and chocolate croissant from our favorite spot, then walked downtown and grabbed some Thai food, before swinging by Papineau to pick up Julien and heading to Ottawa. We made it in near record time, but of course, didn’t speed. My complete lack of directional sense made itself apparent at various times throughout the trip, but was nevermore clear than it was when I attempted to direct us to my friend Ashley’s place where everyone was waiting for me. I walked us in the wrong direction, not once, but twice, causing us to take twice as long to get there as it should have. Thank goodness for people with patience and understanding for my apparent disability. Everyone figured I had gotten lost. Some things never change. Once we finally arrived at Ashley’s I was psyched to see all of my favorite flavors there to spend some time together. It was so amazing that everyone was able to get together at the same time since my time in Ottawa was so brief. I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in a long time, than I did on Sunday and Monday nights with the NG crew. And not just because of the “performers” at karaoke night.

Monday began with a trip to Tim’s, of course, where I realized a great divide: those who like mayonnaise, and those who don’t. I’m not going to go into detail, but this preference makes sharing a sandwich utterly impossible. Then we picked up Ashley and headed to the Museum of Civilization to get the American all educated on his Canadian history. After a few hours seeing everything from the history of horse domestication, to a really cool recreation of Canadian settler towns and industries, to the postal museum, to the pre-history of Canada, we were spent. We settled for a café and biscotti at a nice little fair trade café where we attempted to recreate the terrace in Montréal with little success. I’m not going to go into detail, but I saw a bums’ bum. You’d never see that in Montréal because even the homeless in Montréal still know style (one complimented me on my tights!). The night came to a close with most of the crew re-uniting for some Mexican food, then Julien, Natalie, Thaddeus and us hitting up a pub for some live “music” in the Market. When we saw the singer come out I immediately said, “He looks like he’s going to sound like Meatloaf.” And he did. A couple of pitchers later and it didn’t matter anymore. Prior to leaving for Toronto, we stopped at a diner for some breakfast, where Matt was again criticized by the serving staff, then carried on to our second-to-last Canadian destination: Toronto.

We arrived in Toronto to the always wonderful, Emma (not the same Emma as in New Glasgow), who greeted us at the door and immediately offered us wine (gotta love French households). After we caught up for a while, the rest of the family got home and we got to enjoy a delicious meal of homemade vegetarian lasagna. Despite filling up on lasagna and garlic bread and salad, we still decided to order the most epic nachos I’ve ever seen when we went out in downtown Toronto later in the evening. We saw it go by our table and had to have it. It was like a fortress of tortilla and nacho-ey goodness. I would consider wearing it as a crown. And all the food-lovers would bow down to me. Okay, maybe not, but if everyone was as passionate about food as I am, that wouldn’t be such a stretch.

On the agenda for Wednesday was a trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame (for the boys), Kensington Market, our first encounter with Ethiopian food (amazing!), 6 out of 9 innings of a Jays game, and a show at Lee’s Palace (made famous by the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels). The HHoF was a lot more fun than I anticipated, including goalie, slap-shot, and announcer simulators. Kensington Market was just as I remembered it: the chillest place in Toronto with op-shops and smokeshops galore. Although we waited longer than we would have liked for get the Ethiopian food, the wait was definitely worth it and it has now become one of my favorite foods! We got a variety vegetarian and variety meats plate for four and essentially devoured as much as we could. The ambience was spot-on and the owner and chef (an adorable husband and wife team) were unbelievably hospitable, finishing off our meal with traditional Ethiopian coffee and a free, specially made desert, free of charge. Next time I’m in Toronto, there’s no way I’m missing out on some more of that. The night was concluded with a pretty decent game of America’s favorite pastime, despite the most annoying fans on the face of the planet, and a Liars show at Lee’s Palace. Liars were a band I hadn’t really listened to, but was interested in checking out live, and I was glad I did, because their sound really only comes across fully and completely at a live venue and just doesn’t have the same sound and feel through a set of computer, car, or stereo speakers. All-in-all, we were satisfied with our time in Toronto and were ready to depart the next morning for our border-stop, Niagara Falls.

I’ll begin by saying Niagara Falls is a beautiful place with a lot of attractions for tourists, like tours, shopping, gambling, and restaurants like the Hard Rock Café. I’ll finish by saying I would not want to spend more than an afternoon in Niagara Falls. We did a Maid of the Mist tour of the falls, tossed our complimentary souvenir garbage bag ponchos, and headed for the Canada-USA border, and eventually Syracuse, NY, where we got some great Mediterranean food, and caught another great one-man-band whose last name escapes me, but whose first name was Joe and he did a ton of looping and it was pretty stellar. He did a lot of hip hop and that kind of thing, which was kind of funny, because he performed in an Irish pub. Anyway, Syracuse was another success, despite not knowing anyone there, and the next day we left for Burlington after going to a sketchy little diner that was absolutely delicious, and where Matt was again accosted by the serving staff. Like I said, it was a theme that followed us from the border and back again.

Along the way to Burlinton, we stopped in Lake George in Upstate New York, which was beautiful and scenic and is the epitome of why rich people like Upstate New York. The leaves were mid-color-change and the entire drive was stunning and breath-taking and made me feel alive inside where my little voice lives.

We arrived in Burlington, Vermont in just enough time to drop our stuff, find a parking spot (an almost impossible task because it was “parents’ weekend”), and walk downtown for some of the best “fast food” burrito’s on the face of the planet from a little place called Boloco. And let me tell you, I’m loco for Boloco. Anyway, after we filled our bellies having realized we hadn’t eaten since our brunch in Syracuse, we hit up Nectar’s for a little live music. Turned out the band that was playing, Cats Under the Stars, covered all Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia songs, so we were pleased to say the least. We headed back to Matt’s friend Alex’s for a solid nights’ sleep, due to an impending hike the next day. And what a hike it was. Originally, way back in the 17- or 1800s, the hiking trail was a horse-and-carriage path, leading to a hotel on top of the mountain. How amazing would that have been? Since then, the hotel has bee torn down, but the trail, and the foundation of the hotel still remain. I would consider it a beginner trail, but the payoff is like you should have hiked an advanced trail. The look-off, where the hotel used to be, was one of the most majestic and awe-inspiring views I’ve ever seen. The mountains in Vermont and those in Upstate New York, the Adirondacks (from which the chair takes its name), have an aura that is different from those of their younger siblings to the West, the Rockies. It’s as if they have some hidden wisdom, secrets, mystery. Even though the Rockies are considerably larger, the mountains on Vermont have a way of making you feel small and insignificant, yet wonderful. I’ve gotta go back.

That day, since two of the eight room mates at the place we were staying were having birthdays, we joined for a celebratory potluck, even though we had already filled up on the most phenomenal sandwich ever created: the Red Onion sandwich by the sandwich shop by the same name. Roasted red pepper mayonnaise, apple slices, smoked turkey, bacon, lettuce, and I can’t even remember what else because I think I blacked out due to the heavenly enjoyment I experienced. Anyway. After a few glasses of wine, we headed back to Nectars for this funk band, whose name I of course forget right now. The night started off decent enough, but after enough drunk university students piled in, the quality ratio took a nosedive. The night ended with me getting a glass dropped on my foot from about 9 feet above the ground, and with some weird dude talking to us about how these Mexicans were going to jump him. Sure. We decided to cut our losses and head back to the house and just go to sleep. Sunday was sure to be better since we had some big plans!

And it was! We started of the day with a breakfast at Magnolia, which was delicious, then drove about 45 minutes out of town to the Ben and Jerry’s Factory!! I wasn’t at all excited. The tour was cute, we got to sample some of their mint chocolate chip ice cream, then we went out into the courtyard where you can order your own ice cream (I chose Bonnaroo Buzz, obviously, but I really wanted Americone Dream – Stephen Colbert’s flavour). There was lots of cute cow stuff there and even though I couldn’t finish my ice cream, I was fully satisfied and ready for our next adventure. We went straight from the Ben and Jerry’s tour to the Magic Hat Brewery tour, which I don’t recommend for the tour itself, but mostly for the free samples you get in the main lobby area. Even though the beer wasn’t that good, it was free, and free is good. So, if A+B=C… well, you get the idea. After that, we headed for a stroll on Lake Champlain and went for one last round of Boloco before meeting up with our friend Sammy for the Built to Spill show at the Higher Ground. The show was incredible. Built to Spill was even better than I remembered, then after the show we stuck around to chat and when I reminded them about the Stone Pony show we were at they at least pretended to remember me! So nice of them. I can’t blame them if they were pretending (which I guess I’ll never know), because they meet so many fans and they’ve been touring pretty much consistently since then. Anyway, we went back to another friends’ place in town afterward to see another Bonnaroo alumnus, Hobbit, before heading back to Alex’s and going to sleep one last time in Burlington. I've gotta say, the folks I met there were some of the most ground, chill, respectful, generous folks I've had the pleasure of meeting and I'll consider myself really lucky if I get to go back again.

Monday morning rolled around and we waited for Alex and then went to Magnolia again for a little breakfast before hitting the road for Paramus, New Jersey to see my great uncle and aunt, Tom and Carol Ann. We got a bit of a late start, and coupling that with taking a wrong road, getting stuck behind a school bus dropping off children, and periodic downpours, we, needless to say, arrived later than we expected. When we did arrive at Tom and Carol Ann’s, there was a feast of all feasts awaiting us. Early Thanksgiving, they said, because they were so thankful we came to visit. Tom and Carol have been together for 40 years and give me hope in romance, relationships, and humanity. They’re still giving each other that eye, still going out of their way for each other, and still want to encourage youthfulness, and growth, and kindness, and everything good that we all should be and do. Thanksgiving, indeed. After a hearty meal, coffee, and desserts, we all retired. Upon waking, we were greeted with more coffee, orange juice, heart-shaped eggs, toast and crumpets. We chatted a while longer, shared our thanks again, and said our “see ya laters” and off we went to get ready for a day in New York City, and another night with Built to Spill. After scouring Chinatown for a cell phone case, finding some delicious Ethiopian food (even though it didn’t compare to the experience in Toronto), and driving to Williamsburg, we wandered the streets, got a gyro so we could use the customer bathrooms, only to find out they were out of order, grabbed a coffee, checked out the venue, walked some more, then finally went in to check out another night of Built to Spill. After playing all the usual suspects, including a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple,” and a two or three song encore, we left, without checking out Doug Martsch’s DJ set, to head back to New Jersey for one last sleep before I fly south for winter.

Then, the unspeakable happened. I missed my flight. The first flight out of umpteen flights that I’ve taken in my life. I missed it. I couldn’t believe it. I never do this! And of course, because I booked through Expedia, I had to rectify the situation with not one, but TWO different airlines. After two hours of lugging my expedition pack from one counter to another trying to get on a new flight without paying $600 extra, I managed to work out a later departure, with a 30 minute connection in Dallas, arriving in Arkansas at 9:45 pm. If I can make this work, anything is possible! Luckily for me, Matt was understanding and kind (as usual) and generously agreed to come back to the airport and take me for lunch at our favorite diner, Tops. A bowl of motzaball soup, a tuna melt, some sweet potato fries, and some chocolate mousse cake later, and we were back to the airport for my departure, take two. I ended up having to excuse myself ahead in the line-up for security because apparently being late for my flight once wasn’t enough, and successfully made it to my gate for departure to Charlotte, North Carolina. I’ve never seen an airport that needed an upgrade, until I’d been to Charlotte. I’m fairly certain they hadn’t changed the décor in at least 20 years, and a power outlet was about as rare as a pink elephant. In the hour I had between flights I had enough time to update my iPod, check in on Facebook, and chat for a bit, then it was on to Dallas. We landed in Dallas at 7:45 pm (CST). I got off the plane at 8:07 pm (CST). My flight was boarding at 8:05 pm, at the complete opposite terminal than I was at, which was two walks and a sky train away, and was departing at 8:30 pm (CST).  Needless to say, I ran from the Gate E27 to the sky train between Gate E32 and E34, rode the sky train until Terminal B and then ran to Gate B8. I made it, just in time. And off I went to Little Rock, Arkansas. Also known as, Bizarro World. But, that’s a whole other blog entry.