Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Sleepwalking in Ulaanbaatar

My Ger, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

I step off the bus, and Ulaanbaatar unfurls before me like a burning rug. It is late. All day the coal plants breath black on the horizon, and at night their discharge blots out the bright fabric of the city in the distance. The wind off the steppe breezes past naked earth. It is cold.

I am going home. My arms full of cookie moog, a gift for the children, I cut across the ruddy, washed out plain that separates the ger camp from the road and dip into Yarmag proper, a district on the outskirts of the city. We are far from Ulaanbaatar and yet still inside it. There is a nothing here like no nothing I have ever known. If I walk west I will keep walking and I will see no one and I will die tonight, but if I cross the ruddy plain I will be home. Ulaanbaatar does not end: it thins out into nothingness. We are near its edge.

Yarmeg from the Porch, Ulaanbaatar, MongoliaI am staying with Sabina, her husband, and their two sons. They are poor and live  poorly. Their lives are rough, they are moody, and they are concerned with me if I bring dinner and not concerned with me if I do not. I am on some wild adventure, two and a half weeks in Mongolia, beginning here in the city (if you can call it that), before taking a caravan west to Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur, the White Lake of Arkhangai aimag, and I feel constantly at the edge of safety and at odds with nature. For them, this is life.

I pass the school, two concrete stories holding three languages: traditional Mongolian script (unused in modern Mongolia, a trace of the pride of the brutal Genghis, the Conqueror, shaper of the Khanate. Here, his name is spelled Chinggis, and it is comically everywhere: the name of the airport, the namesake of statues, the brand of vodka most popular in a land where vodka flows freely), Cyrillic Mongolian (the national language, a trace of the brutal communist will of Soviet occupation, who forced an alphabet, an architecture, and so much more on Mongolia), and English (spoken by some, especially the younger generation, a trace of the hope of the future).

I pass the school and then the store, now closed for the evening. Inside: firewood, pasta, washing soap, chocolate, vodka. Outside: the pump, feeding water sold by the liter like gasoline, filling plastic drums which thirst every three days, more if there are guests, or the animals lie sick.

There is no indoor plumbing in the ger camp,  and I will take my turn filling the waist high plastic drums eventually. This far outside the city, near where the buses end, there is no heating, no television. There is a rock that rises a few feet off the skin of the earth, meaning: your bus stops here. There is a mountain in the distance that will kill you before you see it near, meaning: go home, save the night photography for another night.

Yarmeg Bus Stop, Ulaanbaatar, MongoliaThe wind is moving but static, in the same way that white noise ceases to be noise and becomes a constant. The wind is eternal, forever squalling along the steppe, forever above the rock that just barely breaks through the skin of the earth. It is I that am blowing past, disrupting life. Or so it feels.

I have never been somewhere where so much of existence is wrapped up in the simple process of surviving. Outside the city, it is not uncommon to travel for a day, whether by horse or by car, and see no signs of human life. Yet, more than a fourth of the population is nomadic, working a web of shared, state-owned land and relying on a sparse humanity that stretches across a vast country for information, commerce, and companionship.

I will hire a driver in a few days, Mishka, and he will take a group of us (two young, gorgeous Swedes, two conservative, friendly Finns, and me) across the countryside, driving across fields where there is no track, let alone road, seemingly navigating by some innate Mongolian sense. Mishka will drive straight across a field for hours, and suddenly take a sharp turn toward the hills, stopping at ger that will appear out of nowhere. He purchases airag, fermented mare’s milk, from people who are either dear friends or complete strangers, I could never tell which. The drink is sour and fizzy, but it is such a part of the culture here, the communal struggle to eke out an existence together and remain a people, descendents of Chinggis. To drink it is to share in the cycle of the seasons and the meager bounty the land provides.

Mongolian pleasantries are all based around this bounty, the concept of survival. “Are your sheep fattening well?” passes for hello among nomads. Upon entering a ger, Mongolians shout, “Nokhoi Khori!” (“Hold the dogs!”). If no one answers, you are allowed to enter, eat a fair amount of what is around, and leave. Imagine, a country where it is custom to walk into anyone’s home and take your fill? There are powerful forces conspiring against life here, and so much of the sense of community seems based around combating these forces together, one large, extended family stretched across the steppe.

~~~

Iron Fence, Ulaanbaatar, MongoliaIt is night, and the high walls of the ger sites block out the lights of the capitol in the distance. A little past the store, I am plunged into a strange darkness: a tunnel shaped void just taller than a man, walled on either side, with its ceiling the shining, impenetrable dome of the night sky. It is a glowing blue-black sky, cloudless and clear, except for its white mole moon.

The street lamps, a surprising luxury, work on the next gudamzj but not on mine. I lose my feet in the darkness, catching only occasional glimpses from light thrown through breaks in the slotted fences. Dogs seem to bark from everywhere, from behind walls and beneath the desiccated earth, and I ride their ululating crest down the road, trying to keep their voices behind me. Near running, passing another wave of sound from time to time, passing others? unseen but for the crunch of pebbles beneath their feet and the dog calls that follow them back from where I’ve just come.

I push back the bolt to the gate, its rime stinging my fingers, and walk toward the dimly lit house’s three rooms: a kitchen, a front room, and the family room, where the four sleep together, huddled for warmth. I am outside, in one of two ger.

Jimmy and Timmy, Ulaanbaatar, MongoliaAs I approach, the larger boy is fetching water from the cistern by the door, his red cheeks scuffed with dirt, his eyes bright, brown, and happy to see me. He runs off with a moog from my bag, and I scold him for eating cookies before finishing his supper: pasta with sour curds and freshly boiled horse meat. He tries to ply me with horse milk, owing to the same provenance as the meat, owing to a neighbor whose plow will now be pulled not so easily, or not at all.

There is an exchange rate in Mongolia that has been passed down unchanged through the generations: a camel is worth one and half horses, a horse is worth a little more than a well fattened cow, and a cow worth five to seven sheep or seven to ten goats. There is even a game, shagai, played with sheep ankle bones as dice, equal parts friendly pastime and powerful source of divination.

The boy looks at me, cookie crumbs freckling his cheeks. I put down my things and try again. We settle on him eating nothing and running around the small kitchen, all elbows. I try to help his mother figure out why the coal stove is smoking again.

The sallow moon: a speck of marbled fat, a tallow dot. It lights the walk from the house to my ger, and I sleep.


BONUS MEDIA:

This is a video of an incredibly stupid thing I did because I wanted see what Yarmeg looked like from above. I had been eying the decrepit concrete exhaust tower every day on my way home…it was calling me…

Overlooking Yarmeg, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

The view overlooking Yarmeg, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Man Holding Girl, Zaisan Memorial, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Man Holding Girl, Zaisan Memorial, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Coal Plant, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Coal Plant, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

If I Made Up A Town, I’d Call It Vacaville

Sign in Vacaville, CA

Location: Vacaville, California, 01/09
Randomly Appropriate Music: California Dreamer by Wolf Parade (and not just because of the title, that song is eery)

Yes, I’m fully aware that in my last post I promised a far more lurid tale about being excommunicated by the band that opened up for The Killers on their last tour. The thing is, today was a busy day at Omaha.net Central Command. I had some appointments scheduled, and let me be the first to tell you, this whole meeting face-to-face with people in the real world, très tiring! How do you people do it, day in, day out? If I don’t get a solid night’s sleep and my 12 hours in front of the computer, I’m simply not myself.

So, after a long session of list building on Twitter for @Omaha_NET (you can follow me @jordyclements), I just don’t have the time to do Wild Light the justice they deserve.

However, since @NorCal recently followed me, I’ve stayed in that California state of mind started by my last post. And I like the way the photograph sums up the way I was feeling while finally driving toward San Francisco, the goal destination that for months had kept me a hungry, quick moving traveler.

But I wasn’t there quite yet.

Vacaville. What a name.

While in Portland, OR I had found a ride on Craiglist Rideshare, a service I endorse and use frequently, despite the fact that’s it’s constantly getting me in ridiculous situations. This one was fairly tame on the ridiculous scale (unlike the polyandrous dominatrix I met, which rated 11 out of 10 on the, “Holy Crap Your Life Was So Much More Screwed Up Than Mine and You Scare Me but I Love You” ridiculous scale. Alas, another story for another time).

A man in his mid 40s driving a rented Toyota Prius offered to drive me from Stumptown to San Francisco. For any one who has seen it, that screen in the Prius’ dashboard is mesmerizing. Who knew that watching an animated video of the car tirelessly transferring energy down little flashing wires  into happy little battery packs could be so fun? And how come Sufjan Stevens never recorded a song called Hooray for Internal Combustion? Would have been great on that Michigan album.

Also along for the ride was a kid my age, a hippie type with a dumb accent who had an encyclopedic knowledge of hot springs and rocks and other useless hippie crap. He could point you to a spring anywhere in the West, and probably knew the location of some manna pools and heart chakras and geodesic flavor rods if you probed him.

He had been bouncing around for a while, knew every minor highway like the back of his hand. Called everyone he knew “nice kids” even when they were far older than he was.

The hippie had to make a stop in Asheville, CA, which is one of those leftist outposts that totally creeps up on you unexpectedly. It’s full of the same tidy yards and small town intersections I grew up in. Has the same 20,000 people inside its borders. And yet, people walk there, on the side of the road, going who knows where, totally incongruous to a place with no public transportation. They hang out, looking vagrant-y, and somehow support art galleries and bars where real bands play in the middle of nowhere.

The hippie said he had to pick up some money from a friend who owed him, which sounded fairly implausible at the time, and really became quite laughable as he explained how he didn’t trust banks, and never used them, preferring instead to transport relatively enormous sums of hard cash across our great nation.

As he told us about the rock and gem show he was to work at in Arizona, which is sorta the equivalent of a Muslim making it to Mecca or a Mormon making it to Salt Lake City for bat shit crazy feng shui hippies, we stopped at brown split level. He entered the home, into which we were not invited, and emerged a few minutes later with swollen backpack, and never said another word about it. The girl who answered the door had waist length dreadlocks dyed purple. The man next to her had many piercings. Her boyfriend/husband/father of her child, who ran in between their legs giggling and shirtless, did not come from where I came from. They gave us tasty brownies. They seemed like “nice kids.”

Soon, we continued on the road to San Francisco, the Pacific Northwest already a memory, gaining momentum as the magnet sucked us toward it. Well, at least in theory this was true, if not in practice. On the screen, the little wheels of the Prius spun, and the happy gas flowed into the engine, and flowed out as happy power to wheels going the same damn happy speed as before. But by and by, the animated movie told us that the wheels would spin no more. We needed gas.

And so we happened on Vacaville, clearly vying with Mt. Shasta in a game of cock-dongled one-upsmenship as to which place could have the sillier name.

But there was no fun in Vacaville. No silliness.

The internet would have you believe that Vacaville is a town of 96,735 people, but I know better. Vacaville is a gas stop in the early night. It is empty, and because I will never be back, it will always be raining, like it is always raining for me in Berlin.

The fog had rolled in, a blanket between the ground and the sky. The fog coated everything with wetness, caught the light, made the black glow white under the Big Top. Vacaville is a parking lot, nothing more. Maybe endless, it stretches out into the northern scrub, unbroken pavement clear to the horizon, dotted only by monuments to retail.

No one lives there but big box Bedouins, an oasis on the way back to the civilized world San Francisco represents. It is onyx. And just when you’ve wandered a little too far from the car, past a ghost town of international corporations selling food + gasoline + lumber + dirt but not selling it now, not in the night, and it glows everywhere with signs that are all the same, all saying buy, it is there and it is gone, like a animal biting your heal in a ocean of dark + wet.

It is…

Vacaville…Vacaville…Vacaaaaavillllllle!

Screeee! Slash! Blood! McDonalds! Chop! Horror! Scream! Best Buy! Rrrrrrr! Valero! Ahhhhhhhhhh!

(I totally wish it were easier to do sound effects in text)

Bonus happy shots for people worried that I might be suffering from seasonal depression (how sweet of an omen is this to start a trip with? Just across the Oregon border):

 

Rainbow Over Road 1Rainbow Over Road 2

 

Sour in San Francisco

Buxter Hoot'n in San Francisco

Location: San Francisco, California, 01/09
Randomly Appropriate Music: Buxter Hoot’n or The Cure

I’m in a sour mood, mostly related to Omaha.net. An obvious route would be to churn up some happy memories, blog about some better times, and swallow the panacea of choice on the way to bed: Tylenol PM or Vodka. The thing is, I don’t condone over the counter medication, and I’m in a really pick-axe-sized-thorn-in-my-side sour mood.

So, in honor of Mr. Dave Splash, our newest contributor at Omaha.net, a guy who by all accounts I like, I’m drudging up some foul memories.

You see, in order to get his column ready to publish, I had to find a music-related photo deep in the archives of the Jordyclements.com Photo Vault (it’s sort of like Fort Knox, only with the White House’s security…Zinger!). I don’t find myself photographing bands too often because it tends to take away from my enjoyment of the show. And they play in low light settings, which makes my lens frown. So, I really only had two potential photo locations to offer: some shots I took of my friend Jeremy’s band, Buxter Hoot’n, and some shots of a band I lied to, gained an interview with, and thoroughly pissed off the publicist of, Wild Light.

Let’s deal with Buxter Hoot’n first, shall we?

First question: why is this a sour memory? Good first question. The night of the concert, we were snarfing jelly beans and other goodies (non-candy), as we had been all afternoon, due to the beneficence of Jeremy’s other high paying gig, wedding band drummer. And the weather in San Francisco was gorgeous. He had played at some casino in the desert next to a Jelly Belly factory where they sell the mistake beans by the bag full. They call them Belly Flops. I still get a kick out of that.

Buxter Hoot’n took the gig on a whim. They play a raw, moonshine Americana rag at times, but they can rock, too, and they have some devoted fans. It makes for high comedy to see the audience intermingle, though, because only the Americana fans are die-hards. Their crowd made for a snippet of San Francisco that I won’t soon forget: a true melting pot city like few American places outside of New York.

The best fans, the most die-hard of the roots music lovers, were what I’ll call the Busker Boys. They hid somewhere in the back of the club, maybe in a time machine or something, and, as if on cue, exploded onto the dance floor the second the band came to life. Each one had a look, and that look was usually “1930s Depression Era beggar.” Tired leather shoes, suit vests, rolled sleeves, men’s hats, strange facial hair. Suspenders held between the the thumb and forefinger! Their boot stomping, floor board shaking, knee slapping dances were ridiculous.

It would have been kinda cool, I guess, upper bodies rigid, feet doing this crazy legs routine,  the occasional touch to the toe + heel + outsole perfectly on rhythm, like some DDR combo in black and white. Except I couldn’t shake the idea that it was all an act. The classiest possible incarnation of the indie-scenester, one sartorial step up from an emo kid with eyeliner. They were…silly.

I’ll admit, I was perhaps over-analyzing. I tend to lose the moment from time to time.

They stomped around, I drank PBRs and got progressively more annoyed, which, in a low light setting where I can’t keep my stupid brain busy with photography means writing notes on napkins for novellas that will never be written (and taking far too much pleasure in alliterating sentences to strangers who won’t pick up on it).

I eventually found a cute, stable-looking blond in a crowd of pan handlers/fans of the band. She was with work associates and had no idea there would be music that night. And, drunk as I was, and annoyed, I managed to get her number.

It was one of a few numbers I got after I had left my teaching job in South Korea and began the months long journey traveling back home. This isn’t meant to sound too impressive. Meeting new people every day, wondering if you’ve hardly ever left an impression: I hated hitting on girls, always knowing my story would get the conversation going, my foot always in anyone’s door who would say the magic words, “What brought you here?” I hated hitting on girls with the same old story, but I just did it to feel human again.

And each time it started, I knew I’d be gone tomorrow. Seriously, not in the Bob Segar/Allman Brothers whiskey blues way, but in the literally “I’m leaving tomorrow, and unless you want to go back and make love on the air mattress my friends lent me, I’ll never see you again” way.

I think I had 36 hours to kill by the time I met the blond, so I called the next day, hoped for somewhere interesting to meet for dinner, and got a perky, depressing voicemail message instead. She had given me her work line of all things. Was this perhaps a feeble escape route for someone too noble to lie? Perhaps. These are the things you think when you’re spending a lot of time alone.

I left her a ridiculous voicemail indicative of someone who knows very few people in a very large city and was highly unsurprised when she didn’t call back.

And yet, I had a GREAT time in San Francisco, probably a lot more than I can legally tell you here. But by the end, it was time to go, and when you get that feeling week after week, the “I’m just on the verge of wearing out my welcome” feeling, it tires you. So, no ill will toward a great Buxter show, but seeing this shot reminded me of a time when I was rootless and feeling alone among friends, tired of crashing people’s lives, attaching myself to place after place I had no real foothold in, learning the names of the people that made up a friend’s world, and having to explain my presence all over again.

And now I’m rooted again, sort of, feeling alone among far less friends, and giving a lot of energy to something that could fail quite easily unless we hold its brittle little hands through each step of a long growing process. I hope it works.

And somehow, this has turned into a Live Journal post.

We’ll just have to deal with Wild Light tomorrow. To set the stage, that one hurts a lot, LOT, more. They were a band I really got into at a very delicate time for my bruised ego, and they have a singer I could still drunk dial if I got off on some perverted form of minor celebrity stalking.  It’s a real shame their publicist hates me, and I’ll never stop feeling bad about why. Til then…

If anyone can relate, answer this question in the comments below please: is it easier to meet people when traveling alone (because you have to) or harder (because you have no social capitol and people think there’s a 35% chance you’re carrying scurvy)?

The Road to Omaha: Part 3

The red haired kid in his early 20s said he was from, “the City.” He pondered what that meant out here, next to a white picket farmhouse on a baseball diamond built in a cornfield, and corrected himself: “I’m from New York.” The three guys shagging balls in the outfield (one Dodgers jersey, one Cardinals, one Rockies) said they came from Queens. I was on the road to Omaha from New Jersey.

So it was that a handful of young people voluntarily drove into the middle of an Iowa cornfield, into the past, to play baseball with people they had never met before. In Dyersville, IA, off of US-20, we came to see the Field of Dreams, and I’m glad we did.

There is a certain quality of roadside stop that compels you to turn off as soon as you see it. It has that magical combination of quirky interest and easy accessibility. It is America, wrapped in cheese cloth and packaged in brown paper tied with string, and it is what I’ve sometimes missed those months I’ve lived outside the US and A.


You could say I "Still Got It"

You could say I "Still Got It"

Pretty sky, pretty stand

Pretty sky, pretty stand

Such sights are one of the reasons I eschewed the normal westbound stalwart, I-80, in favor of a smaller two lane highway, US-20, on my way across Iowa to Omaha, NE. My choice would be vindicated again a few miles down the road from Ray Cansella’s field (the site of a major motion picture for anyone that hasn’t caught on yet. Amazing, but true, Kevin Costner was a movie star!).

The sign said: Cedar Rock 7. Luckily, I quickly read Frank Lloyd Wright beneath this, and some dormant synapses fired just in time to make a hard right and dash off the exit onto a country road at fantastically dangerous speed.

It's so....Red....I wish I had one

It's so....Red....I wish I had one

Cedar Rock was awesome, and the recipient of a coveted Red Tile, which Frank elected not to give to any of his other Iowa designs. Basically, the Red Tile meant that the owners ceded total control to FLW. For his part, Frank went far over budget, methodically hand picked every item, from the flatware up, that went into the house, chastised the homeowners for moving a flower vase when he once stopped by unannounced, and mandated that the house be kept in its original form in perpetuity.

But it’s such a sweet house, built into the very earth of the hill it sits on. Flowers poke through dirt in the living room’s center where the floor tiles abut, forming a volunteer planter with a direct line to Iowa.

It was also obviously a raging swinger’s pad. The owners, Lowell and Agnes Walter, had no children, and everything about the house, from the many interconnected, low-slung, pieces of furniture, to the floor to ceiling windows pointing the way to the private boat house, screams, “Wife swap in…3, 2, 1…” There is wood and brick everywhere, and I loved it.

Look at those faces! Kinky freaks before their time

Look at those faces! Kinky freaks before their time

Unfortunately, due to the combined powers of Moonlight Graham and Austin Powers’ house, I had to forgo the Bridges of Madison County, my final intended movie-themed stop on my tour of Iowa. I also blinked and missed Des Moines. Literally. I saw the sign, sort of let my mind wander, waiting for a skyline, looking at the fuel gauge moving toward empty, and then felt really weird five minutes later when I couldn’t recall seeing anything. It was almost like I had slipped into a brief diabetic coma from all the Starburst and Blow Pops I’d been consuming. At least I made it to Omaha without incident.

My future apartment, in the delightful neighborhood of Benson, will allow me to finally realize my dream of living above a bar and regularly seeing bands I had never heard of before buying a ticket. If you think that future blog posts won’t be written from inside The Slow Down’s walls, then you simply don’t know me. Until then, I’m staying temporarily at my landlord’s girlfriend’s apartment. Fittingly, the place kind of looks like a motel, and comes equipped with cats, an organic garden, and the nicest homeowner, Beth, I could hope to meet.

To prepare for my first night, I stopped by the No Frills Mart to buy some food. From the neck tattoos to the lycra-stretching obesity, it was a half hour lecture on my new Midwestern home come to life. The woman ahead of me paid with foodstamps. If you think I’m judging, you don’t know how little they pay writers these days. I was jealous.

I bought some avocados that were seconds from going off for .67 cents each, a dozen possibly infected eggs for .96 cents, and two boxes of macaroni and cheese for .33 each, or .25 each if I had purchased a mere 10. Returning to Beth’s house, I raided the garden, finding fresh onions, tomatoes, and cilantro. I also found red chiles, and instantly burned my mouth and most of my face trying to taste them. Eventually, I got all the ingredients together with a golf ball of a lime, also purchased sans Frills, and managed to throw together a surprisingly good guacamole.

We sautéed some oil and tortilla into fresh chips, and opened a bottle of white wine, supposedly grown in our very own state of Nebraska. Mick, owner of my future dwelling and boyfriend to Beth, made a fire in the backyard pit. An avid hunter, he had brought over peppers stuffed with prong-horned antelope. I’m normally a fish eating vegetarian, but much as first experience with horse meat in Mongolia, I found the idea of devouring a rare and foreign animal too hard to pass up. The rule, as always: if I have no idea what an animal looks like or tastes like, I’ll absolutely eat it.

I sat and ate, as the fire burned and the sun set over the rim of the horizon. Wine glass in hand, I realized that I had finally made it to Omaha. The road was over.

Road's over! Time to take shmanly flower pics

Road's over! Time to take shmanly flower pics

You could say that there are many periods in a life. The people who usually keep track of them are called authors, and so we call these periods chapters. I am starting a new chapter, after a protracted period of aimlessness, in a new and surprisingly exciting destination.

As the sweet lime balanced the chile in my mouth. I sat recalling the taste of meat, never as unpleasant as I expect it to be after a long period away. When in a contemplative mood, it’s strangely possible to project the quality of your life well into the future. When you are young, these projections range from booooring (most summers) to can’t wait (freshman year of college). You can even do it as an adult. If you’re working a job you hate, you become complacent to the fact that life will probably verge on highly unpleasant for the next six months.

As you grow older, it actually becomes possible to have long stretches of time, years even, that don’t really work out as you plan. You protect their quality, and become strangely confused when it all goes horribly wrong.

I had a friend recently ask me, “When exactly did I lose control?” It’s hard to say for sure. It comes and goes. The sun set, the fire dying, in a new city with new friends doing a job where I set all my own rules, I find it hard to project my life for much more than a few hours at a time. But I’m fairly certain I’m entering one of those good periods, the kind you can see coming from a mile away (give or take 1500 miles). I’ll share it with you.

The Road to Omaha: Part 2

The majestic Inianapolis skyline, as seen from Mars

The majestic Indianapolis skyline, as seen from Mars;

I’d passed by Indianapolis just enough times to feel a strange compulsion, some might say a need, to stop.

Being on the road again early after the trip from New Jersey to Columbus, OH, I pulled into a city known only for dense Americana–i.e. football and Indy racing–around noon. It’s then that I begin to realize that not every US city is an ideal place to pass time with no friends, money, or destination.

Not knowing what to do for the afternoon, I was easily lured in by the museum’s promise: “Admission, Parking, Wi-Fi. Expression. All free.” The Indianapolis Art Museum had a surprisingly captivating entrance exhibit, a pleasant garden (though not on par with Kansas City’s…holy shuttle cock is that place cool), and a great museum space. And it was free.

But what to do next? I concocted a high brow/low brow mix of Weezer, K’naan, and The Hold Steady and whisked myself to Columbus, IN. I always remembered Columbus as having enslaved Hispaniola, but apparently he liked to leave his name in random cities across the Midwest, too. What a guy.

Columbus is billed as one of the architecture capitols of the country. Silly, Columbus, how many words shall I waste on describing you? In haiku:

If this is the best photo I got from a city know for architecture, you know we have problems

 

 

Big name architects

Build mildly impressive things

If this is the best photo I got from a city know for architecture, you know we have problems

Little town too proud


 

 

Or perhaps hyper-condensed: Cummins Diesel, unlikely benefactors, promotes architecture, hires famous dudes, receives middling modern design.

You above-average town, Columbus, cities laugh at your insignificance. I guess some things are just oversold. Nothing against the good people there.

Returning to Indy near dark, I caught a few wistful hours walking the canal downtown. Gouging a non-functional waterway down the main artery of your city seems all the rage with town planners these days. Indianapolis has had one for awhile. Seoul, SK has Cheonggyecheon, this goofy canal they claim is a “reclaimed river.” Omaha has the grand Gene Leahy Mall. I know I’ve see other ones recently. Really, I have. Faithful readers (all 3 of you), help me out here.

My unlikely next stop was a city that definitely does not have a central waterway. Or anything else, really. Gurnee, IL, is home to Melysa’s parents.

[Melysa is my traveling companion, car benefactor, and reluctant editor. She is currently on strike after being written out of the previous post (watch as I annoy her by continuing to use the first person singular in the following paragraphs).]

Not much to see in Gurnee unless you are doing a report on the evolving state of the strip mall. Although, it did provide a launching pad to Milwaukee, a city I’ve maintained a strange fascination with through the years.

See, see how fun Milwaukee is? Alright, I’ll admit that I have a strange fascination with incredibly inane, repetitive video. You might not agree, which is why this is probably the most boring thing ever filmed. Shush you! Behold, moving pictures and light!

Seriously, though, Brew City did not let me down. I began at Miller Valley, the amusing name bestowed upon the five city blocks and slight topographical depression that make up the mammoth Miller Brewery. Anyone in the area should go for the promotional video alone. It begins the tour, and makes frequent and enthusiastic use of the phrase, “It’s Miller Time!” It’s probably the most un-ironic thing ever made (with apologies to interviews of Val Kilmer and Spencer Pratt, most of Lorenzo Lamas’ career, and any Bruce Springsteen song with the word engines in it), and generally views like a 15 minute Viagra commercial. Overall, sweet tour.

And by the time I finished off three samples and two of my driver/editors, it was Miller time. So, because its Milwaukee, I headed to another brewery, intending to do another tour.

Then, Lakefront Brewery made my day.

For whatever reason, I ran into a lot of Wisconsinites during my year teaching in South Korea. It makes perfect sense if you don’t think about it. All the cheeseheads raved about “Friday Fish.”

Friday Fish is the tradition of town-wide fish fries in order to observe Lent, or clear stock for the weekend, or…something. I had attached to it as something I had to do in Winconsin, and had the good fortune of accidentally making my way to a brewery serving a heaping plate of fried shrimp, cod, bluegill, and perch. Life was good.

On to Miller Park, a buzz-sustainer of a ball field, and a fine close to an evening. The Brewers’ stadium is a good representation of what baseball still can be in America. By chance, I had been to the new Yankee Stadium just the week before. The Yanks are my team, but the new stadium is such an antiseptic monument to excess, it’s hard to like it. If I was super rich, it’d probably be great, but until then, give me the cheap tickets, easy parking, and family appeal of Miller Park. It’s an absolutely beautiful stadium, as well, not to mention the home of the infamous sausage races.

A gluttonous day in Milwaukee complete, it was soon time to head back to Gurnee, void the Civic’s bowels of the last of the unnecessary luggage, and mentally prepare for the journey across Iowa to Omaha. Being totally gay for Kevin Costner, I also can’t wait to see a certain baseball inspired cornfield. Soon, I’ll finally make it to my adopted Nebraska home. That’s a good thing.

Continue on to Part 3 of The Lord of the Omaha Trilogy…

The Road to Omaha: Part 1

The Road to Omaha statue outside of Rosenblatt

There is a famous statue called the Road to Omaha. It sits outside of Rosenblatt Stadium, the site of the College World Series, in timeless bronze, a monument to winning, losing, and baseball. I saw the statue on my last visit to Omaha. I’ll see it again on my next.

I first wrote about the statue while still living in New Jersey, as one of my earliest pieces for Omaha.net. As co-developer of the site, it was decided that I should live there, and thus I have begun my own Road to Omaha, in the form of a 2-3 month extended visit. As Thompson would say: I’m on a savage journey into the heart of America.

To be honest, though, I’m traveling Hunter S.-lite, replacing the case of uppers, downers, screamers, and laughers with a large, excessively-caffeinated iced coffee and a pouch of Red Man® Chewing Tobacco (America’s Best Chew®). No bat sightings so far, but the tips of my fingers are exhibiting a dull tingle.

To explain: I don’t smoke, and I don’t dip, and no one snuffs anymore (or even knows anyone that does), but I do chew. I consume one pouch per three years, on any extended road trip that passes through a state with cheap tobacco products. I do it because chewing reminds me of my friend Jon, the only chemist I know that wears a cowboy hat. Chewing takes me back to a dark stretch of Georgia highway, fields of Kentucky Bluegrass, the Jack Daniel’s distillery, and the nights of a reckless, Kerouac-aping roadtrip fueled on sleepless, youthful idealism. Whew.

Now Omaha bound, I loaded my iPod with Wavves, a band whose lyrical tropes (boredom, death) and sound quality (noise) seem most appropriate for the straight shot on 80-West through Pennsylvania. Their album would be a lot better if it was shorter. I think the same about my drive.

Interspersed with Wavves, Bon Iver, and Frightened Rabbit, is an audiobook, Free: The Future of a Radical Price, about restructuring prices through the marginal economics of the internet. Apropos for this blog and Omaha.net, the book outlines why people are increasingly giving things away to increase their profit margins.

As I pull into Columbus, OH to stay the night with a newly engaged friend, my mind is reeling with the possibilities of making a career for myself on the internet. Indianapolis is the next stop, with a detour to another Columbus, an Indiana suburb, and unlikely epicenter for modern architecture through the Aegis of the Cummins Diesel Company. Hopefully, I’ll figure out how to be a .com millionaire by then.

Continue on to Part 2 of The Lord of the Omaha Trilogy…