New Brunswick, NJ

Spent the night at Erin and Dave's place at Rutgers. Had quite a blast even though it was just us five there (me, Glenn, Chris, Erin, and Dave). Had a couple trips to some local eats, including Stuff Yer Face and Grease Trucks (which is basically 500 feet from the house).

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Protip: If you're ever near Rutgers, you must get yourself a fat sandwich at some point.

What's a fat sandwich? Think of all the greatest quick food (cheese steak, fries, mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers, etc...), put it in a sub bun, throw some sauce on it (marinara, mayo, or ketchup), and suddenly you've got yourself one of the most ridiculous and amazing foods on the planet. Even better are the eccentric names by which the sandwiches are referred to: ranging from the classics (Fat Knight, Fat Sam, Fat Cat, etc...) to the strange (Fat Beach) to the controversial (Fat Dyke, Fat Phillipino, and Fat Bitch). They taste better than they sound, I promise.

Something about the names of things and places, and something about the very food itself screams creativity to me. Screams college town. It's sure got soul.

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Quotable: Chris described SoCo & Lime shots by saying, "Imagine the smallest feather, tickling your ballsack." (Everybody else agreed that they aren't quite that good.)

Livingston, NJ

After nearly 1100 miles, the worst is over. Quick rundown in numbers: 27 hours total, with 20+ hours driving. 1100+ miles. 6 total stops between Columbia and Livingston. Damn, that was smooth.

Okay, so gas the entire rest of the way was cheaper than what it was in Illinois. In fact, one gas station here in Livingston had gas at $2.97/gal... which is cheaper than what it was in even St. Louis.

Never came across any snow, either, even though the forecast for my entire route looked poor. But Bailey was five hours behind me, back in Ohio (en route to D.C.), and told me that it had started snowing there a bit. I guess I outran it or something.

I want to say that I'll be updating with photos throughout the week, but I'm leaning closer and closer to just using film for the week, heh. We'll see.

Anonymous vs. Scientology, redux

Like last month, I went over to St. Louis to take in the protest against the Church of Scientology.

I don't have much to say this time, mainly because it was more of the same. The dogma and message are still the same and I honestly don't feel it's worth repeating. There are much better sources of information, anyway.

The weather was surprisingly dry (there was a projected 70+% chance of rain in the area) and warm (was in the upper 40's, was projected to be in the upper 30's). This helped as the crowd marched through the Delmar Loop, spreading fliers and information. By comparison, Delmar was a veritable ghost town last month, when the weather was in the 20's.

An "Anonymous global speech" was read out loud at least twice during the protest hours. We sang "Happy Birthday" to L. Ron Hubbard. (We sang "Never Gonna Give You Up" and "Still Alive" a couple times, too.)

I do feel that this one was more productive than last month's. I think that has to do with the weather and the fact that more average citizens were on the town. (As I said before, there was hardly an audience last time around.)

In any case, a bunch of my photos are up.

I've got more on some black and white film that I'll get developed sometime this coming week. A buddy of mine also took a bit of video, we'll see if we can get something out within the next couple days.

Update: B&W, yay. They're all mixed in with the gallery linked up above.
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Update: Videos are up.

Adventures in the 100 Acre Wood

This is a story about road trips, rally racing, and finding saints in the most surprising places. If you'd rather just see my photos, go here.

Flashback: Friday, February 22, 2008

I wake up late, so I take my time showering and eating breakfast. Last night, the weather was sleety like crazy and I decided to call off my trip to the 100 Acre Wood Rally. Started planning for the weekend. You know, giving up with the white flag flying and all.

But on a whim -- I think it's the leisurely morning I'm having -- I change my mind. I think to myself, why the hell not? I've been looking forward to it since last year's event.

I know: I'm the worst at being indecisive.

11:30am

After class, I make my way to Brady Commons because I need to print out the rally spectator guide... And finish my application to get into the 4802 Convergence Fundamentals course. (Due at 5pm, yeah, I'm a slacker.) I run into Caitlin on the way.

“Where are you off to?”

“Brady. Gonna print off some maps, check the weather, and skip town.”

“So you decided to go to the rally, huh? In this weather? You're insane.”

“Yep. This morning I woke up and I figured I didn't want to wait 'til next year.”

But she's right. I'm insane, since we just had an ice storm the past couple days. This is a problem because my car is a crappy little RWD Kia Sportage that loves to slip and slide when it's wintry out. (Believe me, I've gotten pretty damn good at controlling the power slides over snow and ice... It scares some people.)

But hell, I don't want to wait until next year. That's lame. That's what the Cubs always do, and it never gets them anywhere.

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2:16pm / Mile 0 / Columbia, MO

After hanging out at Brady for a couple hours, I turn in 4802 application (I finally got accepted, by the way), print out the spectator guide, and start down US-63.

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2:45pm / Mile 27 / Jefferson City, MO

Pass Jeff City, pulling off the highway to take some photos and grab a snack.

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3:00pm / Mile 40 / Jefferson City, MO

I definitely took the wrong way out of the city -- US-54 toward Lake of the Ozarks instead of US-63 to Rolla. Definitely dropped 15 minutes, oops. So here I am again.

I stop for gas, just in case this sort of thing happens again.

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3:40pm / Mile 68 / Freeburg, MO

Yeah, I'm taking photos while I'm driving. Absolutely safe, I know.

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4:00pm / Mile 82 / Vienna, MO

I stop for a snack and grab a bag of pizza-flavored Combos.

Just past town, I break off of US-63 and get onto a tiny little road, Route 68. 68 takes me away from Rolla and leads me toward Steelville, which is where I'm actually interested in going today.

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4:30pm / Mile 108 / St. James, MO

I've finished the bag of Combos already. Didn't realize I was that hungry...

I pass I-44, which was relieving: it's my route out of here. And it means I'm almost there.

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5:02pm / Mile 130 / Steelville, MO – Rally Service Area

I drive through town, not exactly sure how to find the city park -- the location of the service area.

But lo and behold: a long line of Subaru Imprezas, all clad in decals and mud, sitting in front of a large recreational area. Damn straight. I pull over somewhere across the street and wander into the service park, camera in tow.

I sort of saunter in, no questions asked, and I make a long loop around the entire service park.

I'm absolutely ecstatic when I come across the official Subaru Rally Team USA camp. At which point I take a ton of photos and get Travis Pastrana's autograph.


Believe me, I took a ton of photos.

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5:45pm / Mile 135 / Steelville, MO

On the way out, I end up following Travis Pastrana's car (I think he was the first car scheduled out of service) toward the special stage. Which basically makes me want to jump up and down like a little kid. (Okay, truth be told, I got into my car, noticed his car speed by, and then I sped off after him to catch up. Since they're under time control, trying to make precise times between points, they normally run under the speed limit. All the easier for me to follow, heh.)

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5:50pm / Mile 138 / Steelville, MO

I'm having trouble making it to the spectator area. The road's WAY too icy and I've already gone off road once.

The spectator area is just to the other side of a steep, iced-over hill. A hill that I can't scale.

I try to speed through it, but can't seem to make it more than 3/4 up.

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6:05pm / Mile 141 / Steelville, MO

I give up on the spectator area and head back.

To make matters worse, there's a much steeper hill back the way I came. Going back the way I came doesn't seem to work out.

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6:15pm / Mile 143 / Steelville, MO

It's getting dark. I'm getting worried. I'm absolutely stuck in a foreign place. I've tried both directions over and over and over...

I give up. I pull up to one of the houses on the road, one with the lights on and people mulling around inside. Walking up to the house, I mutter to myself “I can't believe I'm doing this.” You know, this is totally safe knocking on a random door in the middle of the woods in the middle of nowhere.

I knock on the door. A woman answers the door.

"Sorry to bother you, ma'am, but I can't seem to get out of this road."

"Well, come on in and let's see what we can do."

We enter the house. It's a nice place with a big entryway/living room/kitchen, with a few doors and hallways coming out of the main area -- and I almost want to describe it as a cabin, but it's not exactly that, either.

We walk up to the kitchen, where her husband is, and we go over my predicament.

The husband works for MODOT, apparently. He's been putting up with this weather all week.

"What do you think, hon?" she asks. "Think we should call a wrecker or what?"

He decides to give me a hand.

"Here's what we'll do. You, you'll follow me in your car and try to take my line up the hill. You gotta get all the way over to the right to get any traction going up there. I can't tow you up, but you'll probably get up there if you follow me."

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6:45pm / Mile 145 / Steelville, MO

That absolutely did not work. Going up the hill didn't work -- regardless of which path I tried to take. Making matters worse, I got stuck in a ditch trying to get back to the house. Like literally, across the road from the couple's house.

The stage had ended -- I know this because other spectators are starting to make their way up here.

The husband stays on the road to warn cars of the hill up ahead. I'm just mulling around my car, because I've got nothing better to do and I've got no way out.

The spectator area marshal drives by and, noticing my car off the road, stops to give me a hand.

"What's the matter here?"

"Well, I tried getting up that hill over there and I couldn't, so I came back here and my car ended up in this ditch here."

"I can't pull you up that hill, and I'm in a hurry because I've got to take care of the next area, but I'll pull you out of that hole."

He's visibly edgy. I can tell he's had a long day.

We chain my car to his truck and he pulls me into the couple's driveway. He rides off, leaving me high and dry.

---

Back inside the house, I have a drink with the couple and think of what to do next.

"Want to give it another shot?" the husband asks me.

I really would rather not. Especially after spending most of the past two hours trying to tackle these hills, something tells me I won't fare any better this time around -- if anything, it's even more icy and the darkness can't possibly help at all.

"I don't know. I think I've had enough. Maybe we should just call a wrecker." (A tow truck, for anyone who grew up away from the Midwestern countryside. Don't worry, I don't remember ever hearing it before that night, either, but that's what they all called it.)

So they help call one. They seem to know everyone in town and they call someone they know to see if they can bring a truck from their shop for me.

"I never caught your names, either."

"Krist," the wife says. "And he's Lonnie," she says, pointing over to her husband on the phone. "And you?"

"Mike."

Lonnie gets off the phone.

"Well, Mike. Go ahead and make yourself at home. Wrecker won't be here for at least another hour. And it'll set you back about 70 bucks, depending on how much trouble they have."

Fine by me, sure beats being stuck here.

---

Lonnie and Krist have a couple of guests over later, Lonnie's sister and her husband. The husband is a tall, muscular guy wearing denim overalls -- and as much as I hate applying stereotypes, he looks the part of a country handyman or farmer.

We chat and have some spinach dip that Krist made.

Both couples have sons that are in St. Louis at the moment, both guys on the verge of graduating from high school and moving away.

...Which reminds me to call my folks and let them know where I am and how I'm doing. I use their house phone because apparently, out here, my cell phone is useless.

And naturally, my folks aren't expecting me. Last they heard, I'd called the trip off. Oops. I tell them not to worry, I've got it under control, and I've got a tow coming. I'll still see them tonight.

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7:45pm / Mile 145 / Steelville, MO

There's a car parked in a driveway across the street and it's been there for a while.

I guess I'm not the only one stuck here.

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8:15pm / Mile 145 / Steelville, MO

The tow truck pulls in.

Apparently they took so long because they spent quite a bit of time clearing up that hill. Go figure.

Lonnie and Krist wish me the best and send me on my way. I really wish I could pay them more gratitude, but at this point all I can do is thank them a lot. (I'm honestly not sure I know many people that would take in a stranger and keep them comfortable for a couple hours.)

The two truck operators attach my car to the truck and we make our way.

As we crest the hill, the driver asks me, "feel any better now?"

"Hell yeah."

In lieu of a $70 check, turns out they can use my AAA card. (Lemme tell you, my AAA card has bailed me out of car trouble plenty of times.)

I must have the biggest smile on my face.

I'm home free.

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8:30pm / Mile 163 / Cuba, MO

My cell phone signal comes back to life. I let the folks know I'm back on the road and that I'm safe and sound.

I grab a hot dog from a gas station and get on the interstate toward St. Louis.

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I make it home by 11pm. I give my mom the biggest hug ever, tell them all the stories of the day, and show off my Travis Pastrana autographed poster.

I sleep comfortably, knowing that although I missed the creature comforts of Columbia (and Kevin's 21st birthday party), I've survived one of the most interesting days of my life. I met one of my idols, I took plenty of good photos, and I met some people that outwardly showed those increasingly rare traits of kindness, compassion, and honesty, in their actions.

And honestly, meeting Lonnie and Krist might have been the most important thing I did that weekend. For me, more and more losing my faith in the human race, it knocked a little bit of the pessimism out of me. I'm not the biggest fan of Kurt Vonnegut's work, but he summed it up in A Man Without A Country:

But I replied that what made being alive almost worthwhile for me, besides music, was all the saints I met, who could be anywhere. By saints I meant people who behaved decently in a strikingly indecent society.

I could use a few more adventures like this.

What lies ahead

In a couple hours, I'll have turned 21. And I can't say that it didn't sneak up on me: it's been the last thing on my mind lately.

To tell you the truth, I'll probably be sober tomorrow, too. (Minus an exception for a possible couple glasses of Framboise or Guinness.) I'd given it up -- not for Lent, but for the hell of it, on a whim, to see if I could do something so absurd. With the amount of consumption that goes on around me, I just wanted to see if I could do it and what I'd do if I got rid of that vice.

To tell you the truth, I gave up a lot of things at the end of January because I wanted to go above and beyond what other people do for Lent. People do it just to go through the motions for Lent. The past handful of years have bent my faith and honestly, I'm not sure what I believe, and nor do I regularly practice anymore. I decided -- on a whim -- to get rid of not just alcohol, but most vices I'd indulged in lately: energy drinks, espresso drinks, smoking (anything), and alcohol. You know, to see what I'd do if I got rid of those vices I'd used as a crutch.

I even disabled my Facebook account for three weeks to see what would happen if I got rid of that obsession. (Which, honestly, affected other people more than it affected me -- "Why am I not your friend anymore?" "You are, I just got rid of my Facebook.")

Why the whole straight-lacedness all of a sudden? (I wanted to say "Why so serious?", I really did.)

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People like to say that 19 and 20 years old don't mean anything -- you don't get any new rights or privileges, you're just kind of held back until 21. They couldn't be more wrong. 18 may give you a taste of adulthood, but in my mind 19 and 20 are there to remind you that you're still not ready for the real world. That couldn't have been more true over the last year of my life.

At this time last year, I was somewhere in the middle of a lazy free fall that culminated in me failing out of school. Which was the biggest wake up call I'd ever received in my life. The worst part is that I knew it was coming and didn't do anything about it until it was too late. After the semester ended, I knew what was going on and I knew I needed to get my shit together. I personally met with Brian Brooks, Dean of the Journalism School, and appealed before they had even sent out the dismissal letters.

(On the flip side, I was on the Journalism honor roll for last semester. I rolled my eyes at the ironic and impersonal correspondence they sent me for it.)

And since then, I like to think that I've been trying harder than ever. My roommates can probably attest to the fact that throughout the week I'm often gone at school or work, or locked up in my room, or I'm out on campus or downtown, hanging out or getting something done. I keep myself busy because that's how I keep myself sane and that's how I pass the time -- I fucked up once and I guess I don't really like wasting a minute now. (I'm not sure, I think I've got something against being home because loitering around downtown seems more "productive" or "interesting" to me than loitering around my house. It's one of those tendencies I have, I guess.)

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So back to the question of why so straight-laced?

I'm a huge baseball fan and I'm nostalgic about it. Nostalgic as in: I'm a lover of the old-school, tried and true traditions. Like superstitions. You know, you see those ball players that make sure they don't step on the first or third base line when they go to and from the dugout. You see the batters warming up with the same routine, same number of paces around the batter's box between pitches -- only part of this is for "rhythm" and the rest is "routine" or superstition. And of course, there's Tony La Russa who batted the pitcher in the eight spot most of last season (and is apparently going to do it next season, too).

Look, the lesson of baseball superstition is basically this: when things are going great, don't you even think of changing a damn thing.

The past couple months have been kind to me, and it may or may not be related to my hard work and it may or may not be related to me quitting my vices, but right now, I'm happy. Happier than caffeine, alcohol, or anything like that could have made me.

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Throughout the years, I've gotten interesting results from being mistaken for someone much older. And that's not a bad thing, I guess I just grew up and matured fast.

Over the past month, it's gotten really interesting with a bunch of new opportunities sitting ahead of me. Not only did I launch the Maneater project (after two years of failures) and finally get into J-4802, but I had prospects of full-time employment from a couple places, mainly because they weren't aware that I don't graduate this year. But it's good to know that I'm being noticed and that I have skills that are in demand. One of those prospects is, in my book, a very solid fallback in case all shit hits the fan; in case I have another year like last year. Another prospect... Well, I'm just hoping a few things fall in my favor and we'll see.

The thing about catching breaks is that you've got to actually open your hands, reach out, and catch. I guess (to make another baseball analogy) I'm here in the outfield, with my glove ready.

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I'll probably grab myself a glass of Framboise tonight and tomorrow, but I've been amusing myself with a thought: The closer I got to being 21, the less I seemed to care. About the number itself, about the privileges it provides me.

Like I said, it's been the last thing on my mind. (And good reason, with midterms, class registrations, work projects, internship applications...)

When I was 19 and 20 years old, I really was so apathetic toward everything and I guess that's why things fell apart around me so quickly. There were lessons there, in all of those failures and false starts. And I've tried my best to learn them and keep them close.

In early February, I joked about "finding myself" by quitting all these vices. I wasn't even completely serious about this reformation at that point yet (I didn't "officially" decide to quit those things until the middle of the month, retroactive to the last time I'd done any of it, which was January). And here comes the superstitious part of me, believing I'm actually finding a more specific direction in my life (career-wise and in general) than the previous conviction I had of let's just saunter out into the world and figure it out as we go.

Even if some of these breaks don't go my way, for once I'm actually happy and somewhat confident in the path I'm taking.

The road ahead of me is getting clearer, less treacherous seeming. Let's see where this goes.