The Road Trippin Beatnik

Driving in through the Arizona desert in a 50’s Chevrolet while Buddy Holly’s voice echoing through the rugged terrain. Dressed in all black with cigarette smoke drifting into the bright blue skies. Destination: New York City. The penance for taking such a trip is driving through endless scenery of great boredom. Pressing on, means I’ll soon be trading in the desert, cornfields & waffle houses for Greenwich Village.

This is how a road trip fantasy plays out in my head. It’s a bohemian expedition, which exposes one to fly over state America also known as those on the fringe of New York & San Francisco culture. Sure, it’s a fantasy of mine to see those unexpectedly on the fringe places. Jack Kerouac’s ” On the Road” & Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas” are two of my favorite books. Though some language is outdated, the stories haven’t lost what makes them interesting.

I love the beat movement in literature. Sure, it could be translated as the hipsters of the late 50’s/early 60’s. Unlike hipsters, the movement gave way to boat loads of wonderful modern literature.

I’m no beatnik. However, the idea of driving across country has always tickled my fancy. Honestly, driving is not one of my favorite forms of transportation. That’s why I loved living in New York. I could take the subway, read my paper & listen to the iPOD sans the stress of looking for a parking spot or sitting in gridlock.

In California, I’m no stranger to the car culture. As a youngster, my family & I took magnificent trips up the Central coast. We visited such charming places as Solvang, a Danish inspired town close to Santa Barbara. Cambria is the most memorable destination for our family. I haven’t been in seventeen years, but remember it well.

The pebbles on the beach, chicken fried steak with mash potatoes for lunch & the struggle to find cassette tapes that weren’t Country music still make me smile. After Cambria, we didn’t road trip much. I learned to drive, but hated it even feared it for a while.

When I moved back from New York, the moment of truth presented itself. I had to drive a car again. At first it was quite terrifying after being a subway & bus kind of guy. Back on the East Coast, my road trips revolved around the Chinatown bus, which took me from Manhattan to D.C., which were fun, but long.

To my surprise, I picked up driving again rather quickly. I drove my car from home to office without an issue. My various trips to such exotic destinations as Riverside & Palm Springs felt bohemian thanks to my very coffee house friendly iPod playlists. My favorite for road trips to Palm Springs include music by Suzanne Vega, Tori Amos, Simon & Garfunkel, Rufus Wainwright, just to name a few.

If it’s an early morning trip back to the city, I love new wave 80’s music, which wakes me up like black coffee. I like to make my driving experience euphoric. Finding street parking, getting tail gated & sitting in gridlock are pitfalls of living in car centric California.

I wouldn’t call myself a beatnik, although being around the East Village during that time seems fascinating. I do love wearing black & especially interested in our country’s collage of different cultures. Driving is a fear, I’ve overcome thanks to making it a creative experience. Listening to cool tunes, reading the funny billboards & admiring architecture + nature along the way make it a Polaroid photo for my eyes.

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Politico

Crowds cheered, “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow” blared from the sound systems as relatively famous people gathered on stage. It was a rally gathering up support for then Arkansas governor, Bill Clinton’s presidential race in 1992. For being very young at the time, it certainly made an impression.

The rally tickled my curiosity for politics. I still remember my first time going with my father to the election poles. My mother (those of knew mom would be shocked) insisted he vote for Bill Clinton. Being a wonderful husband, he agreed to my mom’s demand. However, he ended up voting for George Bush. I told my mom. She didn’t love his choice.

The next morning, I watched the news & found out Bill Clinton was now our president. I still remember the excitement, I felt. As the years went by I traded in political science books for film theory.

Life took another interesting twist in New York City. Like any proper twenty-something, I lived on a tight budget. My life took many art forms. I learned the art of fitting a week’s worth of groceries in one brown Trader Joes bag. Eating out meant saving half of dinner for lunch the next day. Needless to say extra cash was crucial. I answered an ad to work on a political campaign & got the job on the spot.

My first position was canvassing Manhattan with a small yet culturally diverse group, which eventually grew. We traveled throughout the grand island of Manhattan, meeting voters. Utilizing the campaign tools I learned in Indiana, I headed into the opinionated land of NYC. We canvassed Stuy town, the projects in Harlem + large apartment developments in Chelsea & the Lower East Side. I met New Yorkers from all walks of life. Education was of top concern. Jobs & living costs were also prominent on voters’ minds. The lack of trans fats & keeping parks, a smoker’s paradise were on the quirkier side of concerned issues.

What I remember most vividly are the folks I met along the way. There were so many fascinating stories. New York is known as a tough town, but most everyone I met was very receptive to my spiel. Beyond canvassing, I also petitioned to have our candidate on the ballot, officially. I ventured to the Upper West Side, Union Square & Washington Square Park & had to ask for people’s signature. Of course, it was intimidating at first, but I eventually got the gist of it.

Toward the end of the campaign, I was promoted to canvassing group leader. However, I went beyond canvassing. I visited college campuses in the city, recruiting perspective canvassers. I also volunteered on our candidate’s LGBT outreach. Throughout the campaign, the same excitement remained. Getting on the subway with my group, going to our location & being like a performer on stage, trying to convince them to get out & vote for our candidate.

After a successful, but challenging get out the vote attempt, our candidate won his campaign. Myself & everyone else on the campaign felt overjoyed. Months of hard work & we won. We celebrated with a big victory party at a hotel.

Riding the subway, working & volunteering in politics has opened my mind to what’s going on in the world. It has also demonstrated the importance of voting & having one’s voice being heard.

Flying Buttons

My shirt button swayed back & forth like a boat docked in a harbor. Fourth of July BBQs are big with my very colorful family. This year we enjoyed deviled eggs, empanadas, burgers, hot dogs & a smorgasbord of pies all served a la mode.  Unfortunately, my shirt felt tight. The button looked like it was about to fly out. Had to inhale & slowly exhale to keep the button from jet setting out into the galaxy.

This is not a unique experience. I’m a foodie. However, there were the dark ages. Yes, the times, I went to dinner & uttered those notorious words ” I’m just gonna have a salad.” Ironic, since so many of my most wonderful memories revolve around eating. Many wonderful trips have turned into foodie expeditions.

Tokyo noodle bars are simple & delicious. The slurping sounds were like jazz music to my ears. While, noodles satisfied my savory tooth, the kitschy crepe stands satisfied my sweet tooth. I can still taste the Nutella, strawberries & whip cream in that warm crepe.

While in Buenos Aires, dinners with my dad were very memorable. The delicious steaks, Italian fare & all the dulce de leche gave me an appreciation for Argentinian cooking. Some of my other most memorable eating experiences include pizza for breakfast everyday in Rome. I had escargot for the first time in Paris. London has given me many memorable food experiences from amazing Paella to magnificent Indian food.

With this wealth of food love, one would think I would open myself to the world beyond salad. Back in New York, I decided that there were too many wonderful food options to stick to leaves with a little dressing. So, I indulged. I ventured into so many wonderful restaurants. I love the soup dumplings from Joe’s Shanghai; pastrami sandwiches from Katz’s deli & the bagels from Brooklyn Bagel are the best I’ve ever had.

Now, on the West Coast, everything is a bit more health conscious & it would’ve been easy to eat overly healthy. Especially in Santa Monica (where I live close to), there is even a fear of food. Once, I went to this delicious diner. Everyone was ordering the salmon, raw vegetables & some salads that were steaming. I ordered the burger & people just stared at me eating this big slab of meat on bread. However, I just munched away, having a blast rebelling against the norm.

The food scene here is different from New York. However, I’ve found wonderful Korean BBQ, Jewish delis & of course, Mexican food. I’m also avid fan of the taco truck, that most California of traditions.

That being said, I enjoy real food. However, my shirt buttons don’t really enjoy bagels & pizza the way I do. Did my shirt & I survive the family reunion? Yes, somehow we both survived. Not only do I still have my darling button down shirt, but also hold wonderful memories of enjoying a meal with the family.

Wallflower On The Dance Floor

As a young lad nothing gave me the freights more than a conga line. My eyes grew wide at the flowery dresses and men in suits who were shaking their conga to Gloria Estefan. Literally, as the procession grew, more unsuspecting victims were picked up along the way. I looked like Edvard Munch’s “Scream” painting as I pulled a Californian, ducking under the table at whatever event I was at.

The thumping of feet had passed me. I peeked my head to survey the damage & smiled, no conga line for me. However, I did feel a certain amount of sympathy for the conga line victims. I blossomed into the most highly regarded of flowers, the wallflower.

Us, wallflowers decorate nightclubs, bridal parties & family reunions from New York to Timbuktu. I have danced a couple times in my lifetime. I shook two hips in Sydney with the Aussie boys. At various graduation, office & birthday parties, I’ve bopped my head back n’ forth. However, the ultimate in cool was line dancing at the Catholic Church’s old people’s party. I must’ve been a cowboy in another life, since I had a swell two step.

These days, I’d rather just hang out with a glass of wine/my signature Jameson on the rocks and watch people. I don’t wanna go on the dance floor. A few weeks ago, something earth shattering came over me.

I love music, and have it blasting while I write & walk. It’s always a must. Walking & listening to groovy tunes always clears up my head & makes me walk faster. However, when I came home from one of my many walks, it happened. This really fun Squeeze song came on “another nail in my heart.” It has this fun uber 80’s beat to it, which makes it quite danceable.

Surprise, I came out of the wallflower closet. Soon, my arms were in full swing and hips were moving. Oh no, I am dancing. There goes my wallflower card, oh well.

Certainly, I won’t be mastering the art of flamenco or the tango. I do allow myself a good dance. Dancing is about letting loose. Even if one is not Fred Astaire of Ginger Rogers, it’s still an art form. The conga line, that’s not an art form. However, to someone out there, the conga line is what tickles the fancy & that’s okay.

My Life As An Indie Film

The VHS of my life as a teen would look like a cross between a hip looking Sophia Coppola film with the quirk of Wes Anderson. Cool cinematography, quirky but lovable characters & some stupid assholes make up the color & pageantry in “Mr. Alas’ teenage angst.”

In the grand tradition of social outcasts in suburbia, I grew up in a conservative sandwich. Catholic school, Christian church & lots of leftist political views made up the meat. My mom & I were emotionally similar, but politically & socially different. I was obviously a liberal & she, a conservative. There were many strict rules in the house. Madonna, hip-hop & inappropriate films went out the window.

Of course, I had a secret stash of gay literature, inappropriate music & leftist newspapers to keep me in the rebellious side of life. Surprisingly, my mom secretly yearned to leave her very conservative bubble. Rescuing her from the close-minded bubble became the challenge of my youth.

“London looks just like Charles Dickens novel,” she said this while glaring out the window, while driving from Heathrow to Central London. She pictured London like Disneyland, everything colorful & newly developed. Well yes, if newly developed means built during the Tudor era, then it is brand spanking new. Like many new & foreign concepts, it took her a while to warm up. However, after a few days in the city that she dismissed as old & dirty, she fell in love with London. We had a wonderful time going to museums, the Tower of London & the theatre.

After we came back from the States, she found a new church with very conservative views. Especially being gay, they’re anti-gay messages didn’t sit well with me. Instead of conforming to the church’s narrow views, I stayed true to my gay old self. She didn’t love it. I always knew she respected it.

The musical Rent represented many segments of urban life. AIDS, cross dressing, homosexuality were elements of the musicals, all things my mom’s church turned their backs on. However, I took a chance & invited her to see “Rent” on stage. Surprisingly, she accepted my invite.

We sat top balcony & I glanced over at mom. She didn’t fold her arms in disgust. Instead she sang along a bit with the songs & even shed a couple tears toward the end. Overall, neither one of us were musical fans, but we had a remarkably beautiful experience.

Unfortunately, my mom died in 2004. Of course, we disagreed on plenty of subjects. However, the maternal bond stayed strong. It’s not ever easy to deal with a parent’s death. I still miss her. I don’t like to look bad sadly. I take a more positive spin. I was a quirky guy who loved his blue blazer, hated social norms & adored indie films. As an adult, I wear more, black, hate social norms & love indie films, especially documentaries.

Pea Coat Wonderland

Pea coat season, also known as “soup season” is the only season that makes me want to moon walk for joy. Technically, it’s winter, but chilly days also occur in the autumn. During this most lovely time period, peacoats come out to play. Whether it’s the tube in London, New York’s Madison Square Park or Tokyo’s neon playground, the peacoat is synonymous with the cold & staying chic.

Of course, observing the different variations is what I adore. Thanks to the art of people watching, I can see the same grey pea coats look bohemian on one person & business like on another. People watching is both a skill & leisure activity. It’s more entertaining than an opera. The characters are more enticing than a book & it rarely gets boring.

I have many fond memories of just enjoying a bench or sidewalk cafe, while being immersed in people watching. I also take much inspiration from this activity. Seeing how other socialize & studying mannerisms sculpts my thinking & perception of the world. Here are some of my favorite memories & places when people watching seemed more interesting than ever.

Madrid’s La Zarzuela is Spain’s very old comedy opera. It’s performed in the lovely Teatro de La Zarzuela. In the Spanish capital, it’s freezing in the wintertime. Outside the opera house, it’s a sea of fur coats. In Madrid, fur coats are not only very fashionable, but highly desired especially for the winter. Castilian accents accentuate the Madrid fashion staple outside the opera house. Also, it’s lovely seeing all the young people intermingling with the old people. Everyone there has a common goal, to see a Spanish operatic tradition.

In New York, I adore taking the 86th street/crosstown during the day. The old people taking the bus are adorable, all dressed up, going to the market & lunch. It’s amazing & shows people can be stylish regardless of age. I love Tompskins Square Park in Alphabet city with its mix of homeless, wannabe hipsters & yuppies. There’s always a crowd gathered to watch a musician or a magician.

However, nothing beats the gay pier also known as Christopher Street pier in the spring. It’s a gathering place for gay guys. Everyone having a great time, lots of speedos & some kitsch added. The gay pier also feels like a small retreat in the middle of Downtown. Hanging out on the deck, watching the Hudson is euphoric. Seeing the New Jersey skyline reminds one that yeah this is nowhere near a vacation spot.

Paris’ cafes, it’s a French institution, which made people watching into an art form. Sure, the most cliché way to watch people is in a Parisian cafe. Even I’ve been guilty of watching people traffic from a cafe in the Champs Elysees (doesn’t say tourist at all). Le Marais, which is an eclectic mix of Jewish families, gays & tourists is my favorite place to people watch in the city.

Palm Springs, this is a special mention. Yes, I go to places, which aren’t covered in fog & clam chowder, sometimes. I love driving into Palm Springs with its very distinctive white windmills & mountains, which rise like skyscrapers from the ground up. Watching the world go by at the pool is entertaining. Poolside is not the catwalks of Paris or New York. It’s interesting to see the body art. Lots of tattoos, body types & loud music blaring, served with Jameson on the rocks & it’s wonderful free entertainment.

The Ginza district & Harajuku both in fashion forward Tokyo. Ginza is moneyed. All the Japanese ladies in their finest black designer outfits sip coffee. Some even stroll around in kimonos. While men in very expensive looking suits & ties play on smart phones.

Harajuku is the youthful funky, fun loving cousin to Ginza. Musically Ginza is Pavarotti, while Velvet Underground & Bowie symbolize Harajuku. Lots of crepe stands & everyone wants to rebel against the system in Harajuku, the fashion is more over the top than anywhere else. Grab a crepe & watch a different kind of neon parade go by.

People are like pea coats. Similar styles, sometimes matching colors, but regardless that exact look is different on people. Six continents & living in two coasts has been a blessing. I’ve been exposed to a social hotchpotch of cultures & best of all amazing opportunities to people watch.

Coffee & Electronic Cigarettes

Cigarettes are chic, arty & make one more interesting. Everything from French New Wave Cinema to indie films from the 90’s feature characters who love themselves a good ciggie. There is something aesthetically pleasing from observing someone smoking.

For example, French women love their Paris cafes. Their art of sipping a cafe au lait & then smoking a cigarette is surprisingly chic. Watching the air blow into the (almost) perpetually grey Paris sky is almost a work of art.

Not so glamorous, were my times smoking cigarettes behind the 7-11 in my school uniform. However, cigarettes were not so much about sophistication but rebellion. It was an escape from my right winged school atmosphere.

Fast forward into my adulthood, I was living in New York City & traveling. Cigarettes were expensive (still are). However, I found a way to budget them into my already tight budget. Some of my fondest memories were hanging out on the stoop with my neighbors. We’d smoke a couple cigarettes, talk & even put on a play or two.

There were plenty of perks with being a smoker. When I was in Tokyo, they still had smoking sections both outside & in restaurants + cafes. I loved the smoking sections in the coffee shops. It was nice & quiet. It enhanced the coffee tasting experience. The outdoors smoking section (the Japanese don’t want you to walk & smoke) was as much as a bonding experience as my stoop.

It’s an unexpected subculture for Tokyo. Tokyoites who ignore anti-smoking campaigns, love it. Businessmen, chic ladies who do lunch, Harajuku girls, punks & other Tokyo subcultures gather in that one spot with a common goal, which is to smoke an awesome cigarette. The smoking sections are set aside all over the Japanese capital (along busy sidewalks), distinguishing the smokers from the non-smokers.

On a trip to London, I bought a pack of Pall Malls. They sounded very English & proper. So, I smoked one while walking in Camden & yuck. It tasted rancid. Not even a gourmet coffee could diminish that flavor. Did I enjoy a few ciggies? duh. It was delightful having a drink at the pub & then going outside, feeling wide awake from the chilly London winter & smoking a ciggie.

Returning to the States, something odd happened. I began hating the taste of cigarettes. Every time I lit one, inhaled & blew the smoke out, the sensation remained, but I quickly wanted a mint. Two months after London, I stopped smoking. However, it didn’t take me long to start over again. My brain still loved the sensation. In June of last year, I decided to quit cold turkey. No patches, no gum, I just stopped.

Amazingly, I wasn’t craving it. Of course, I’ve snuck in a cigarette or two, since quitting. Also, every once in a while, I’ll get a craving. I tried smoking. However, this time I had difficulties inhaling the smoke. When I walk around, my fingers are still in cigarette smoking mode.

Recently, my friend Melinda introduced me to the electronic cigarette (some have nicotine, some do not). I took a couple puffs. It felt euphoric. Driving around, I could smoke my electronic cigarette in the car with the windows up. It could be smoked anywhere, which makes it great for not having to go out in shit weather.

Tokyo, New York & even the 7-11 back parking lot made for great cigarette smoking memories. London was my last hurrah when it came to chain smoking. Now, modern technology has revolutionized cigarettes quenching the craving sans the nicotine. As always, it still pairs up great with a big cup of coffee.

Street Culture

The most efficient form of transportation is my two feet. Put a swell pair of sneakers, some wonderful tunes & prepare for an endorphin kick. Back in New York, walking was a huge & very important part of my life. Of course, not just for going from apartment to subway to office & back again, but also leisurely speaking.

I loved taking the subway to 14th street/Union Square. I’d then walk to the East Village with the Ramones blasting on my iPOD. I loved admiring the mom n’ pop restaurants, which represented nations from Poland to India, the vintage shops & interesting people watching.

From Saint Mark’s Place, I’d walk to the West Village. I especially loved walking on Bank Street with it’s too pretty to be real brownstones. On Bleecker Street, I had a favorite bench across from the Magnolia bakery for a quick rest. I then proceeded to walk back Uptown. Walking the streets of the city always provided free entertainment & a wonderful opportunity for exercise.

I also plan on my holidays around feet friendly destinations. Here are some of my favorite walking memories from my many trips abroad.

-Walking Buenos Aires’ Avenida de Julio (the world’s widest street). The Obelisk, French architecture & the papers flying out of windows (was there around new years, they toss out paper work out of office buildings for good luck) made for a very cinematic experience.

-Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo. It’s the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing. You see everything from school kids to hip Tokyoites to businessmen not bumping into each other in the world’s most congested people traffic. Also the jumbo sized tv screens offer lots of nifty music videos & distinctive noise.

-London’s parks, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Green Park, they’re all very scenic. I especially love St. James Park with views of Buckingham Palace & lovely ponds with ducks quacking away at life.

Currently, I live in Southern California (again), where the walking concept is somewhat foreign. It’s a health nut/berries & leaves of the forest loving slice of the world. However, in order to walk here, you must drive to your destination. Giving into pre-requisites, I joined a gym & power walked on a treadmill. Three different cable news channels, sports & local networks dominated the television screens. However, it lacked the street culture I adore. Then I jogged & after fifteen minutes I grew awfully bored.

Therefore, like any good urbanite, I said to hell with the gym. I started walking on actual pavement, rather than a treadmill. The air was as clean as the language in a Quentin Tarantino film & the architecture as stimulating as watching cornfields sway in the wind.

However, I blasted some Blondie & made the best of my location. Sure, it wasn’t Paris, but I escaped into my imagination & came up with new story ideas without distractions. Sometimes, I even discovered a home with a distinct architecture (for the area) or a wonderful Korean BBQ in the middle of a strip mall.

Even with living in a car-centric culture, I find a way to walk places. Making the best of my surroundings. Whether cosmopolitan Paris or random Riverside, I keep my passion for walking alive. As long as I have a nifty pair of sneakers & cool tunes, the walking adventures are always stimulating.