Saturday, December 6, 2008

Super Malignant Cancer of the Leg-Knee

I've been having some chronic pain in my right knee for about 3 months now. When I say "chronic" I don't mean the stickiest of icky that Snoop Dog rolls up gratuitously every time MTV Cribs shows up. What I'm talking about is chronic as in "always present" or "without cessation" or "christ my fuckin' knee will not stop hurting and I may have to start beating bums with a crowbar to take my mind off the constant pain," type chronic.

It all started in September during the Blue Ridge Relay (BRR). The BRR is 208 miles of running awesomeness through the Blue Ridge mountains. When you're healthy it's barrels of fun. When your knee is killing you and you still have a third run of seven miles up the mountain at 3:00 AM it's about as fun as a night in prison during an anal herpes outbreak.

I was in pretty good shape going into the race, I've never really had knee problems before, and I took ample time off after this injury in an attempt to fully recover. Because of all this coupled with the fact that this problem still persisted after time off, I embarked on what I did not realize at the time would be a Lord of the Rings type quest to find a doctor that could fix me up.

This is a summary of my doctor experiences so far:

1. Sports Medicine Doctor
This guy was worthless. I'm 100% sure that all he did was google "runner knee pain" before he saw me and then proceed to give me a laundry list of runners tips on how to avoid overtraining injuries. Maybe it's my fault for not marking down on one of 34 forms that I was not clinically retarded but I really don't remember seeing a box for that. Whatever online degree factory churned out this guy's medical license should be raided, pillaged, and burned to the ground. Yes, I realize that the headquarters for this place is probably some 27 year old's Albuquerque apartment. That's fine; torch it. And while you're at it, torch his '98 Toyota Camery. It wasn't a total loss, however, because evidently his nurse was trained in some sort of exotic muscle therapy called "stretching" and she showed me pretty radical moves like bending over at the waist and trying to touch your toes. All doctors are not created equal.

2. Orthopedic Specialist
This one was a lesson for me that looks can be deceiving. This guy was about 164 years old and at one glance I was convinced he was nothing but an old cumber-crust who was going to waste my time and over-charge me for x-rays. Much to my surprise he had studied this exact problem with Olympic caliber runner back in the day and diagnosed me with a misaligned pelvis. I was encouraged. He gave me an adjustment but said it probably wouldn't hold and referred me to a physical therapist.

3. Physical Therapist
I want to get one thing out of the way here first, and that is that this physical therapist girl was smokin' hot. I'm talking four alarm fire, make you smack your mama hot. This is also a good time to add that when a girl like this is probing your pelvis and nether regions, you had better be able to focus like a mother fucker on some baseball. I give sole credit to old, grainy Babe Ruth clips to helping me avoid what could have been a very uncomfortable situation for everyone involved. Turned out, however, that what this girl had in sexual irresistability, she made up for with a complete lack of medical capability. I paid for 4 useless sessions. She was totally jazzed that another 4 sessions would do the trick. I was less enthusiastic. She took our parting kinda hard but she's a sweet girl, I'm sure she'll find someone else to make really uncomfortable and provide sub-par medical care to.

4. Chiropractor
Yes, I know they're quacks. Yes, I always said there was no way I would ever go to one of these whack-jobs even if it meant an end to world infant-hunger and seal poaching. But, this guy is a triathlete, an ex-pro-cyclist, and a marathoner, and he was highly recommended by another triathlete friend of mine, so I let him go to town. This guy adjusted the bejesus out of me - back, pelvis, neck; you name it, he cracked it. Supposedly he fixed my misalignment. I guess we'll see.

So where do I stand now? Well, I'm still in pain. I've pretty much exhausted all medical avenues, and I've started super-over-analyzing all my own physiology and running history. I've formed some theories, of course, the front-runner being that jesus is punishing me for my unpure thoughts. I've also become somewhat addicted to bio-freeze, which is basically a Ben Gay for people under 90 years old. It rocks.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Leave the jesus. Take the cannoli.

I met up with some friends tonight for dinner and an autograph/Q&A session with Olympic marathoner Brian Sell at one of the local running stores. This was the first of what I hope and can only assume will be many "dinner and an Olympian" events I will be able to attend in my lifetime.

The meeting session with Brian Sell was pretty much awesome. Not only is it cool to get to meet and talk to such a successful runner and national treasure, it's also kind of fun to watch them shuffle around uncomfortably in front of a crowd of admirers who all murmer and whisper to each other every time he scratches his face or takes a drink of water. "See, Brian Sell is so REAL. He's not like all those other pretentious Olympians whose faces don't itch." It also seems like nobody at these things ever really asks questions they want to know the answer to, they only ask questions they think will make them sound cool, like "Have you ever had a problem with being way faster than everyone you know, and if so how did you handle it?" or "Can you give me some advice on what to do with all the finish line tape and first place medals that are starting to pile up around my house?" What a bunch of douche-waters. If you don't have anything legitimate to ask, for chrissakes please just stand there and grin awkwardly like the rest of us.

Anyway, after the Brian Sell thing four of us went down the street to a little hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant called Campisi's. I had never been there before and it was totally rad. Campisi's is the type of place with great food, low ceilings, about 3,000 square feet of autographed celebrity photos on the walls, and all the mafia-connection rumors you'd care to ignore while nodding politely (I mean really, the Dallas mafia? Come on). If you ask me, it's not a bad place to drink a Peroni and say "That's-a-spicy-meat-a-balla" over and over until people try to choke you with paper napkins.

To make things interesting, there was a documentary film crew and director there who were in the process of filming a "human interest piece" about none other than our waiter, Captain Smooth-Chair (this was not actually his real name, but as we sat down one of the girls that was with us remarked to him that he was hands down the best ever at the little chair pull out/push in just as a girl is sitting down move). Evidently Captain Smooth Chair is training to be a chef of some sort and is sort of a big deal in an Emeril Lagassi meets Dave Coulier kind of way. Anyway, it was really cool to have two cameras swoop in for a close-up right as I was stuffing my face-hole with garlic bread. Needless to say there were plenty of laughs and we had a good time of it.

In a normal cosmopolitan city - maybe a Chicago or a Portland - the story would probably stop here. Good food, good times, and everyone goes home happy with their autographed Brian Sell Olympic photograph, which will of course seem slightly more gay than they had anticpated as soon as they magnet-slap that son of a gun to the fridge. But Dallas is about as normal as Franzia wine at a SoHo gallery crawl, and it doesn't even offer the luxury of a pour spout. In Dallas, religion is the drink of choice. My atheism goes over here about as well as Bill O-Reilly at a No-Assholes convention.

So naturally about an hour into dinner the conversation starts veering dangerously close to the topic of religion. I tried a few times to guide us all back into the clear as to avoid being forced to fashion a make-shift rope out of left-over spaghetti noodles and choking everyone at the table, but John Wayne himself could not have steered this stagecoach back to safety.

It started with some chatter between the two girls about what one girl's father (who is of course a pastor) would think if she dated someone of a different faith. The girls were in a bit of a disagreement with one of them having a bit of an open mind, and the other convinced that anyone who was not a Christian would be unacceptable on the grounds that they would surely be morally barren. At this point my blood was starting to boil, but I had decided not to throw my hat into this ring unless absolutely neccessary. I instead resorted to distracting myself by repeatedly stabbing my right thigh with my fork underneath the table. I was yanked from my sanctuary of self-inflicted pain, however, when one of girls turned to me and aked, "So what do you think?"

I thought you would never ask

Me: Well, are you saying that an individual's morality is totally dependent on their faith?
Religious Girl (RG): I think the Holy Spirit should guide everyone's life and that's what makes them a good person.
Me: What do you mean by the Holy Spirit?
RG: I mean I just know what's right and wrong because Jesus Christ who is born of a virgin and lives in the clouds and simultaneously hears millions of people's murmerings tells me. And the ten commandments too.
Me: (Ignoring the jesus thing) But one could argue that the ten commandments aren't exactly a good moral guide, what with the first 5 or so only pertaining to ways in which one should honor and appease a jealous god (his words, not mine), and the rest containing references to coveting slaves and such. Yes, there are references to not murdering folks and not stealing crap, but it kinda seems that we might have figured that stuff out on our own.
RG: I just know that the lord is my personal savior (this is an exact quote)
Me: How do you know that? (this is also an exact quote)

And so it went for about 15 minutes or so, getting more and more heated, until we were bailed out by a visit by the documentary producer or something. It was probably for the better, as I'm sure I had already offended everyone at the table several times over with my hedonistic audacity and common sense questions about the cornerstones of their faith. These are the ideas that they structure their entire lives around, but never think to question the legitimacy of. They are, in fact, too scared to even consider these questions. In their defense, the sin of doubt is (conveniently) the one and only unforgivible sin that man can commit according to their bible. I guess the first question that they might want to ask themselves is whether the declaration of such reasonable doubt as unforgivible would really be the action of an all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present deity.

In my opinion, the dominos begin to fall from here, each one resonating louder than the last until one finally finds him or herself living free of superstition and truly enjoying life for every fleeting, sun-drenched moment that it offers instead of just biding their time until the "next life". But I guess that's just my demons and lack of values talking.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


I saw Oliver Stone's new movie, W., last weekend with a friend of mine. While reactions to this film will obviously be mixed based on your particular political leanings and opinion of our current president (he's still in office, right? It's just that I haven't really seen him lately...), I think that overall it was pretty well done, and I must admit it left me thinking a lot about the man himself, as well as some broader issues.

First let’s cover some points about the movie in general. Because most period pieces are typically done well after the actual time in focus, the director and casting folks usually benefit from the poor historical memory of the masses ("Did JFK really look just like Collin Ferrell? Oh well, close enough.") Because Stone had the stones (sorry, had to do it...) to do this movie while all the integral characters of this administration are still very much alive and kickin', he didn't benefit from this selective American amnesia. The result is that if you're not focused you find yourself terribly preoccupied with judging the characters on how convincing they are with their roles and if their hair is right, as opposed to following the plot and narrative of the movie. Fortunately, this is a luxury you as the viewer can pretty easily afford because the story is a familiar one.

Having said all that, I will say that Josh Brolin gave a spot-on performance as George W. Bush. As far as "impersonations" go, appearance is definitely important, and for that I'm sure most of the credit goes to make-up, costume, lighting people, etc. Most of the time I was reasonably convinced that I was watching W himself in action. I've always thought, though, that when an actor tries to assume the persona of someone else that body language, mannerisms, inflection and tone are what really make or break a performance. On these, Brolin again delivered like an overzealous UPS carrier. Other remarkable performances were Richard Dreyfuss as “Shotgun” Dick Cheney and Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush. Thandie Newton as Conoleezza Rice was by far the worst, and was literally painful to watch. My friend and I both agreed that she should have been dragged off the set and thrown down the nearest flight of concrete stairs.

So that's pretty much my critique of the movie itself. However, a topic such as this paints with such a broad geo-political brush, that there are sure to be strong reactions of all sorts. Sitting in the theater it was very clear that there was a very strong anti-Bush undercurrent (surprise, surprise). I should probably mention that the film, while done objectively, was not overly gentle with our 43rd president. It was fairly clear where writer/director Oliver Stone stood with regards to his personal opinion on Bush’s intelligence and ability. I will say though that I didn’t feel W was portrayed as the evil, draconian empiricist that so many like to believe he is.

However, surrounded by my fellow movie-goers I couldn't help but notice that the audience seemed to me like a pack of hyenas, poised to strike and tear at the next morsel of raw beef that was thrown to them in the form of a Bush grammatical misstep or his use of a non-word such as "mis-imperception". The laughter I was hearing wasn't the normal, light-hearted cinema laughter that you might expect to hear from contented weekenders with buckets of warm popcorn nestled in their laps. The tone in this theater was one of malice. People are angry with George W. Bush. They want to see him fall and skin his knees. They get the same kind of enjoyment out of it that one might get from seeing a rival coworker get scolded by the boss, or maybe witnessing a rude, ornery cashier get reprimanded by his or her manager. It's the type of satisfaction that comes with vindication.

But is George W. Bush really such a bad guy? Is the man really deserving of such burning hatred? Sure, he’s not going to win any Toastmaster competitions, and I think we all agree that he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. I imagine he’s probably just about exactly as arrogant and pompous as he appears to be when you see him slouched over the presidential podium or landing on an Air Force carrier. As a proud American, I’ll be the first to admit that his presidency has been frustrating to watch.

With all these strikes against him and with the pent-up animosity and resentment that many of us feel towards this man, it’s easy to view George W. as some sort of evil tyrant: One man on a mission from his own personal Almighty to single-handedly submerge this country’s reputation, financial system, and economy to the same depths to which he sank his approval ratings. But what if, as the tone of Stone’s W. suggests, this perception of the man is not quite right?

George W. Bush was born with a silver spoon, there’s no denying that. He was given every opportunity, the majority of which he either squandered or mucked up. The one thing he strived for his entire life was the one thing that always evaded him: the recognition and pride of his father. It’s obvious he felt that following in his father’s footsteps would provide him this acceptance. In a country where we’re all raised to believe that “you can be anything you want to be, as long as you put your mind to it,” one certainly can’t fault the man for applying some good old fashioned ambition towards his goal of becoming President. The fact of the matter is that this is a guy who simply bit off “more‘n he could chew.” And hasn’t each of us found ourselves in situations where we had to admit that we were in way over our heads? What was your reaction, to throw your hands in the air, sling your MacBook across Starbucks and declare that the rough draft of your first Pulitzer Prize-destined novel was nothing but a crap sandwich? No. As Americans, this is not how we have been raised. We have a certain stick-to-it-ness that is a source not only of individual pride, but of envy to all countries around the globe (no matter what they may want you to think). We will finish said novel even if it means churning out some low grade, unimaginative waste of paper and time. I mean it works for Tom Clancy, right?

The point is that if we’re unhappy with the man’s presidency, maybe we should take a look at the system that allows a man like this to rise to these ranks within our government. We live in a world of political sound-bytes and simpleton-speak. The voting public expects to be spoon-fed all the key points which will allow them to vote to their liking. Our election process has morphed into something very passive and repugnant. Gone are the days when people made an effort to understand each candidate’s position with regards to economic issues, foreign policy, voting records, etc. Americans now expect to be able to catch 15 minutes of CNN Headline News election coverage or the highlights of one or two presidential debates and then have all the information they’ll need when they step into that ballot box on Election Day. Any additional time spent researching the issues would cut into our Dancing with the Stars time.

The problem with this is that Presidential elections – especially very monumental ones – are complicated. The candidates are very well aware that the vast majority of voters out there are voting more on gut perception than on actual knowledge. Why do you think they put so much time and energy into stump speeches and debates as opposed to any type of written literature outlining their particular “presidential” goals? Raise your hand if you’ve laid eyes on a written outline of administration plans and policies for either of our current candidates. No? Why? Because these campaigns are not about knowledge and facts. They’re about emotion. I’m not going to drift any further down the tributary of our current election, suffice to say that it’s not all that much different than either of the two elections which George W. Bush won. He was folksy and down-home and people responded to that. It wasn’t until he was truly tested that we all began to question whether or not he possessed the necessary equipment for the job.

As Americans living in one of the wealthiest countries to ever exist on our planet, we simply have no excuse for not being informed enough to make an EDUCATED decision when it comes to casting our vote for the leader of the free world. The internet makes it easier than ever to find out anything you could possibly want to know about anything you can possibly think of. I’m sitting at my computer right now. I guarantee you that within two minutes I could find details of not only both our current candidates health care policies, but also an outline of the Geneva Convention, blueprints to the building I’m sitting in right now, and a top-ten list of German scat porn websites. Information is literally the most valuable resource in the world, and we are literally swimming in it every time we grab a mouse and start clicking.

I truly believe that if every American made an honest effort to educate him or herself, it would elevate the knowledge base of our current voter pool to a level that would have to be addressed by the candidates. No longer would it suffice to spout empty buzz-words like “change” and “hope”, regardless of what sort of elegant speech was wrapped around them. And maybe future candidates would think twice before selecting an absurdly unqualified, unsophisticated running mate on the sole basis that they will appeal to the small-town hockey moms out there in middle-America. If you think for a minute that these actions by both parties are not a blatant insult to the intelligence of Americans en masse, you are wrong.

I guess to summarize, I agree with Oliver Stone’s interpretation of George W. Bush as that of a man who has done the best job he knows how to do. Through it all, his main objective has always been to preserve the well-being and success of this great nation. Although you may disagree with his policies, procedures, and stance on presidential slouching, I think it’s wrong to demonize the man simply for trying to do what he thinks is right. Don’t hate the playa’, hate the game, ya’ll.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Peace Corps

Wow, there's so much going on right now I don't even know where to start. There's the election, the financial crisis, the proposed government bailout of the finanicial crisis, bank mergers, my GMAT studies, Russia going totally cold-war style on us, dogs sleeping with cats, full moons sleeping with half moons (those trampy half moons...), and basically just widespread panic (not the band) and chaos.

So I have to ask: What better time to join the Peace Corps? No seriously, I'm applying to the Peace Corps. Not because of all the turmoil, but because I've always wanted to do something like this and I realized that if I don't do it now, I'll never do it. Yes, I realize that I didn't go to Berkeley. Yes, I'm aware that I don't have 9 bumper stickers on my car consisting of Obama, DMB, some clever left-leaning slogan, and no less than four totally obscure bands that make me totally cooler than all those people that blindly listen to mainstream music. Yes, I work for a very large bank. Yes, I believe in capitalism and free markets (except.. ahem.. in times of financial crisis.. BAIL US OUT, MAN! I'm not even kidding!). No, I don't think civilizations should all revert to times of less innovation when we all ate with sticks, slept on rocks, cured seizures by bleeding people out, and died at age 23 of some very curable illness.

Sticker I will never own:

Unlike most of the left-wing liberals that join Peace Corps for lack of anything better to do, I think the experience I have could actually benefit young, fledgling economies that just need a little direction. And in the process, I get the opportunity to experience a totally different culture and make a difference in the world. It's a pretty good deal, and it sure beats grinding out the next 2 years in a cubicle.

So I'm applying to begin service next summer, which means I have a little less than one year to sell all my furniture, wrap up my position at work (and train someone new, no doubt), and generally just prepare for 2 years in what will probably be a third world country. I can't wait.

It's funny, when I look at my own personal timeline all layed out it all makes sense. I don't believe in fate, mind you, but the circumstances have come together nicely for this adventure. The main piece was my move to Dallas, which I think I have hated so much that it drove me to explore some pretty extreme options; options I probably wouldn't have considered in the comfort of Charlotte, North Carolina.

So preparations, applications, and essays are underway and I will update along the way.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"One ticket out of shit-head town please."

I've decided that not only is Dallas ugly, flat, materialistic, and hotter than satan's asshole, it is also completely overflowing with douche-necks. To make matters worse, many of these may be disguised as normal people who you thought you might be able to talk to without pushing them down and then jumping out of a 42nd story window.

I must confess that I've become mostly immune to the douchebaggery of Dallas folks. It's like anything, I guess, you just get used to it after awhile. Like if you lived in an 8' X 8' cage with chimpanzees, you would soon become accumstomed to having feces flung at your face-holes upwards towards a dozen times a day. I mean, you probably would never grow to actually enjoy it, but most likely after 9 months or so you would just wipe it off with a discarded organic banana peel and go right back to trying to convince that damn monkey cage zoo keeper guy to let you out of the cage. I mean seriously, why are you in a frickin monkey cage in the first place?

I say "mostly immune" because sometimes things happen to mentally bring me back to reality. It could be something simple like spotting yet another group of mid-20s skid marks wearing those trendy, hard-core ultimate fighter/skater/ass-neck t-shirts with the old english lettering on them and "distressed" neck holes. Are these guys serious with their effeminate gucci shades, paint-splashed jeans, and randomly anonomous tatoos? How far will some people go to blindly follow fashion trends? I'm forced to wonder.

I try to stretch my immagination to come up with something that might be even too outlandish for even the most devout Maxim reader to get behind. I picture a group of four of them all gathered around a glass coffee table - all with the same pommade faux-hawk haircut and tribal armband tatoos - staring blankly in GQ at the latest bloody chicken feather shorts trend that is sweeping Hollywood. They will all waffle around spinelessly, not wanting to commit one way or the other until the boldest of the group decides that, yes, this trend is sure to catch on and it's far better to be on board and safe than to be left out in the cold wearing last years cargo shorts.

Anyhow, I digress.

Sometimes it's a much more significant event that makes me want to throw whatever will fit into the trunk of my Jetta and burn $4.00 gas as fast as my accelerator peddle can pump it till I'm clear of this state. I had one of these events last weekend.

I went out last Saturday night to grab a beer with a buddy of mine. It was kinda late and I was a little tired from spending the day with my friend Brianne and her family, in from Charlotte for the weekend (not to mention running 12 miles and swimming 2000 meters). I decided to meet him out because I'm trying to build some friendships here in D and he's always seemed like a pretty stand-up guy. We ran the OKC marathon together, he works long hours at a highly-respeced Dallas hedge fund, etc.

Anyway, somehow the conversation switched from the uber-hottie in yellow that we were both commenting on that was sitting across bar to, of all things, religion. I may have made some sort of less than favorable comment (this is most likely) about christianity like how they would eat their babies if jesus made a holiday for it, to which he half-heartedly agreed, but then followed up with the ubiquitous, "But I mean, you're not an atheist or anything, are you?"


But not really, because I've gotten used to this. Having lived as an atheist in the south and now in Texas, you get challenged to say the least. Responses range from mild discomfort to out-and-out rage; the latter being my favorite because at least it's real emotion, and by far the more comical.

First of all, I just have to say that's it's always baffled me the way people will flippantly throw this question out there. "You're not an atheist are you!?!?!?!?" It's as if they were saying something like "You don't masterbate to photos of school bus fire victims do you?!" You know, something totally incomprehensible instead of something completely rational like the idea that maybe your life is not controlled by some bearded, mythical figure that lives in the skies and whose presence is only collaborated by a book that was supposedly written over a thousand years ago and which can be completely dissected and disproved any which way you would like. Unbelievable for sure, but I'm not even to the good part yet.

"Yes," I said, "I'm an atheist." This was followed by a few basically ignorant questions from him like, "Well, what do you believe in then?" and something about a "temple" or something that some group of atheists he had supposedly known had supposedly had that they "worshipped" in. I tried to answer his questions with as much patience as I could muster, finally realizing what it's like to be a preschool teacher when your smartest kid says something like, "Why is clay made out of clay?"

He must have been sensing my utter contempt and disdain for his position and his questions, because he decided to bust out what I can only assume that to him were the big guns: "Well, what about all those people you hear about who decided they were going to be atheist and then all this bad stuff happened to them and their families and stuff. Like really bad, horrible things. Doesn't that scare you?"

Even now I have to wonder what he thought as I stared at him, completely slack-jawed and in total disbelief of what I had just heard, eyes glossed over as my mind ran rampant with 3 hours worth of responses I could lay out at the feet of this simpleton like so many gift-wrapped mice brought home by the family cat.

In the end, my response was a very simple, "No, I've never heard of that." At this point we changed the subject and went back to being two agreeable chaps in a Dallas sports bar, drinking a couple cold beers and enjoying the scenery. One more building block of a new friendship had been added, and we have yet to see if all the blocks will stack up or not. Some of the good blocks may be our mutual love of running or maybe a few really good jokes that totally land with both of us - you know, the kind that envoke that deep down laughter that you get maybe a few times a year - and those blocks are solid. Other blocks, like religion, can be wild cards. Sometimes the thrill of the debate can bring you closer together, at least for awhile. Sometimes though, it can be an insurmountable barrier, never to be overcome.

Basically, no matter how hard you try, though, you cannot use rationality to debate irrationality. It just doesn't work.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

I have seen the promised land, and it is good.

Where to begin? I guess I should start by informing you that this promises to be a very, very long post. But there's really nothing I can do about that. I was in New Zealand for two unbelievable weeks filled with skydiving, glacier climbing, cave river-rafting, hiking, trail running, exploring, bungee jumping, and driving on the wrong side of the road (by our standards anyway). So step off, because I've got stories to tell.

I guess I'll start with my flight across the pond from San Fran to Sydney. I overnighted in my ol' stompin' ground of Charlotte before setting out on my journey so let it be known that I had quite a famous time boozing and catching up with some of my old QC amigos the night before I flew out. This worked out in my favor though, as I was so dehydrated from the night of cold beers and merriment that I think I only had to pee about 2 times in the next 30 flight hours. Seriously, comments were made upon landing by the people sitting next to me. "Did you even get up once during the flight?" the fat-neck, red-nosed, boring guy sitting next to me asked. "We were beginning to think that you don't have any normal bodily fuctions." (this is a direct quote). I had actually gotten up once, when they were both out of their seats no doubt rifling through the other passengers' carry ons or feeling up flight attendants in the lavatory. I didn't feel they needed to know this, so I told them that I actually hadn't peed since I was 4 years old and I was flying to Sydney to see a world-renowned pee specialist and thank you very much for brining it up and making me all self-conscious and stuff about it. As I had hoped, that was the last time I had to talk to them.

I had a 12 hour layover in Sydney so I decided that, instead of getting hammered in the airport bar and spending 8 hours naming the ceiling tiles, I would catch the train into the Circular Quey and see some sights. I bought a day pass for the train from a very attractive but quite smug Aussie girl who may or may not have ripped me off as A.) She thought I was a really stupid American, and B.) Being, in fact, a stupid American, I hadn't really had time to cement the whole exchange rate thing thing yet. Is 13,000 Australian dollars about right for a train ticket? Oh well, it doesn't matter now.

This part of the journey worked out quite well, as the Circular Quey (pronounced "key") has pretty much all the marquee Sydney sights like the Sydney Opera House, Royal Botanical Gardens, and Sydney Harbor Bridge. As luck would have it, they were actually hosting an open water swim competition on the day I was touring, so I of course watched a bit of that. An open water swim in the Sydney Harbor? Are you kidding - is there a better place anywhere?? Anyway, pictures:

So anyway, out of Sydney and on to Wellington, New Zealand where my good buddy Scott lives - working in a blood bank, playing in a band, and basically just loving the shit out of life since he moved there about 2 years ago.

Wellington is a pretty cool city. It's nestled in the hills of the lower north island and it's the cultural center of the country. It somehow manages to be very modern and hip and totally laid back at the same time. Let me explain a little bit about the culture and lifestyle in New Zealand. First of all, houses and cars are not all brand new and shiny. People live in nice places and they take care of their shit, but nobody is trying to have a super fancy 3,000 square foot house and two lexus SUVs. The cars on the road are, for the most part, a little bit older and fairly small. Almost as if - gasp! - they're used for transportation instead of status symbols. People have jobs and careers, but there is really no judgement placed on what a person does or how much scratch they bring home. You could talk to a Wellington native for hours on end, and they might not once even ask you "what kind of work" you're in. All in all, it's probably not a bad place to call home.

This is the city, along with the view of the bay from Scott's patio:

Not bad.

We went on a hike through the hills and mountains one day and got some pretty spectacular views.

After a couple fun-filled days in Wellington it was off to Queenstown, a city in the South Island that is billed as the adventure capital of the world. More on that later, but I must also say that Queenstown has some of the most breathtaking scenery and views I have ever seen in my life. It's sort of hard to explain, but everything is so stunningly beautiful that's it's almost frustrating. You look out at the picturesque mountains and bluer-than-blue lakes and I think a part of you knows that there's no way to convey this sight to others, and that even your own memory will probably not do it justice over time. Anyway, for what it's worth, here's some of the better shots:

Now as I mentioned, if it's adventure you crave, Queenstown has everything you could want just short of live human hunting expeditions. My first foree into this smorgasborg of excitement and sensory overwhelment was the Nevis Highwire bungee jump ( ). This is the 3rd highest bungee jump in the world. At 134 meters (439 feet for the lay-person), you get an 8.5 second freefall before the cord even begins to break your fall and you can stop crying like a 7-year old girl.

The routine goes like this: They put you on a bus and take you up a very narrow, winding mountain road on the edge of a cliff that the bus may or may not topple off of, depending on the driving skill and current level of sobriety of Nash, your long-haired, hippie burn-out bus driver. When/if you make it to the top, you're shipped via cable car to a steel room haning over the middle of a gorge above the Nevis River. It looks a little something like this:

Once you're "safely" in the hanging room platform thingy, they begin tossing people into the canyon. There are glass sections of the floor so you can spend most of your waiting time looking down at the bottom of this canyon, just in case you hadn't already shat your pants in fear. When it's your turn to be hurled off the edge, they strap your feet to the cord, walk you to the edge of a 2 foot square platform and tell that they are going to count down from 4. At 1, you are to dive into the canyon, headfirst, completely defying every self-preservation instinct you have ever had.


Okay, this post has been sitting unfinished in my "draft" section for just a shade over four score. I'm not going to finish it. The trip was unbelievable from beginning to end, and this was about the middle of it. I decided I would either delete it or post it, so here it is.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

New Zealand, Bitches.

I'm preparing for the biggest trip of my life. Well, thusfar anyway.

I'm leaving for New Zealand in just over a month, and while I'm fairly resolute that it's only the first of many adventur-tastic journies, it's certainly the longest and largest and most badassedest trip I've been on to date, and there is a certain amount of planning involved in a trip of this magnatude. In fact, I've done some rough, back of the envelope calcuations, and the amount of planning falls somewhere between the amount of time Britney Spears spends thinking of ways to not totally embarrass herself (zero minutes) and the amount of time that Fox news spends presenting fair and balanced views of how John McCain is more qualified, less black, and less womanly than all of the democratic primary candidates combined (23,569 minutes to date).

To be perfectly honest, the trip is a little intimidating. There is so much unbelievable scenery in New Zealand, and so many thrilling activities that I'm concerned I won't plan right and will end up blowing the whole thing by doing something like spending 2 weeks getting boozed up at a pub in Auckland with a group of Irish tourists. Well... maybe this wouldn't be that bad. Are they mostly chicks? Hot chicks? Like maybe an Irish cheerleading squad who are all mad at their boyfrieds, vulnerable, and bi-curious? I'm just sayin', there are worse ways to spend a vacation..

Whatever, I digress. Whenever I start to get these worries, I pull up a picture like the one below, and I know that if I spend just one hour of the entire trip gazing blank-eyed like special-ed kid in AP Calculus at this type of scenery, that it will be worth all the scratch I spend to get over there.

Yes, I know, it's pretty unbelievable.

So anyhow, planning is in full swing. I've bought an 80 liter backpack to allow me to carry all my junkage around on my back, of all places(!!) and to "tramp" at will. (that's New Zealish for "hike" - those crazy kiwis sure do have some silly words!) I've bought a 2 gig memory card for my trusty camera, which if I understand correctly should allow me to take approximately 3,000,000 high-resolution pictures before I even need to worry about memory space. This is good because I've been known to be quite the shutter-bug at Irish cheerleader orgies. I bought a Lonely Planet guide to NZ that will tell me the best spots to rest my frame and get my grubbage on. I have not found the red lights district chapter yet, but I'm guessing it's just indexed weird so I'm not really worried yet.

There are still things left that I need to pin down in detail like my skydiving, bungi jumping, glacier climbing, spelunking, and hiking tour up the west coast of the south island, but it's all underway. I've also got to get some sort of rough game plan for my smash-and-grab tour of Sidney, Australia on my 12-hour layover there. I'll be good-goddammed if I'm going to spend that in an airport bar drinking stale Rolling Rock and listening to some Finnish douche-bags discuss the rise and fall of Portugese soccer.

In case it's not obvious, I can't wait!