Category Archives: Uncategorized

Pros & Cons of Community College

I’ve thought about writing this post for years now. Ever since I started community college, I knew I wanted to weigh the pros and cons of community college versus four year institutions. I thought by graduation, I’d have answer as to which way is “the” way to go. But it turns out all I can say is that as my college life is officially over (I received my degree yesterday) that all these experiences make up my weird college life that brought the inconsistent blog ramblings of a late-teen/early-twenties girl just trying to find stability and tranquil in a difficult time.

So after my senior year of high school ended, I believed I was going to a four year institution, Suffolk University. This expectation stemmed from the fact that all of my sisters went to whatever schools they wanted to, on top of the support from my mother, speechlessly expressing that I could do anything I wanted to if I put my mind to it. But as the complication of family life, money problems, and school insecurities from my mother all boiled from one pot, I volunteered to go to community college. Instantly my mom was relieved and I could tell how much this meant to her. I felt that I was forced to, and that suddenly my entire life’s expectations crumbled into that one, pathetic moment of changing plans in front of everyone on social media. But it didn’t seem all that bad because a lot of my close friends were also going to the same community college.

I had higher expectations for myself in terms of an education and an experience, but the truth is that I got an experience that students at higher institutions could never experience. Nearly all the students I interacted with at Brookdale Community College had full time jobs–or close to it. And while students in other schools had jobs, it never compared to the work-workload (rather than school-workload) that these CC students worked. Most of the students who attended Brookdale had to work for their education per semester, compared to others who immediately got loans and often got financial help from parents. But when you live at home, your parents expect you to be the adult you need to be post-college. So here were all of these students working as hard as they would post-college, but while in college. And while the coursework was honestly easier than my coursework at Syracuse, it gave most of my friends a better work ethic and more drive. It helped me to deal with budgeting, scheduling (though I’m a very good planner to begin with), and balancing life. All while living from home. Which is never easy, despite the possibility of free rent.

But the coursework didn’t prepare me for how difficult Syracuse would be.

Especially since because all of my general education core requirement courses were all knocked out within my first two years at Brookdale, that meant that I only had room to take all of my majors and harder classes all at once for the remaining two years at Syracuse.

So I do feel that although my first two years were “easy” in terms of school work, I do feel strongly when I say that my two years at Syracuse were much harder than most of the other juniors and seniors I was classmates with. Trying to cram all of my requirements into four semesters proved to be difficult, but again, I’m good with planning.

So the question is, is community college worth it?

I absolutely loved every semester at Syracuse, no matter how hard it got. I loved the people I met. The activities and clubs that my school offered. I loved what I learned in most of my classes. I felt like I could have even practiced more and gotten better internships and opportunities had I attended Syracuse all four years. I would have made more friends and been closer with them had I had that my freshman year.

All of those things that I got from SU and wish I had more time with doesn’t negate my money saved and lessons learned from community college, though. Additionally, obtaining my Associates from Brookdale actually helped my transfer process into Syracuse. ALL of my credits were accepted from Brookdale at Syracuse and the Associates degree actually waived me of other SU requirements such as more science classes (my weakest subject). So not only did I get away with getting a Syracuse degree with only two years to show for it, but I also got away with only taking one lab science course and two math courses, and I spent less money getting all that.

So while I brag, I’m also pensive and slightly melancholic over those who got to attend schools such as Syracuse for all four years. The bonds I could have made with others would be stronger and over a longer period of time. The internships I could have had would show more of my worth and experience (and thus making me more hireable). The knowledge I would have gained from a variety of choice electives would have given me more liberty to explore. But I didn’t have any wiggle room aside from required skill classes since all of my general ed courses/electives were filled from Brookdale.

But I don’t resent the fact that I went to Brookdale. My whole college career was a journey–including the year and a half that I spent not in college. I gained that work ethic. I practiced “true” adulthood*. I am where I am because of where I was and I saved money in the meantime doing so.

So, again, the question was is community college worth it?

My answer comes down to a matter of privilege. If you have the opportunity and the expenditures for a four year institution, by all means, go. Get the “real” college experience. Make those friends, join those clubs, get those internships, create those bonds, cry those coursework-related stress tears.

But if you’re not so fortunate, community college is honestly a fine option. The counselors won’t work out your schedule for you. Know how to finish in 2 years. Get that good GPA to move forward. Know how to get out and explore on your own. Don’t get stuck. After that, you’re set. It’s a stepping stone. It’s independence. It’s still college. It’s still an accomplishment. And it’s still worth it since it gets you somewhere else next. Also–join. those. clubs.

I may not have a job 2 months after graduation, but I still made it because it was hard and I learned how to do (and pay) for it all on my own**. It’s still something I’m proud of even if I never get a job…..But please hire me.

 

*This morning I went out for breakfast and stacked coffee creamers into a pyramid because apparently I’m still 4 years old.

**with help.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under School, Uncategorized

Studying Abroad in Madrid

13417425_10208325371364156_6674648044918318039_n

As independent and courageous studying abroad can make you feel, there’s a flip side to that, in which you find your moments of childish nature coming to play. Just before your turn to order a meal in a language in which you only grasp basics, those outgrown emotions of fear, helplessness, and anxiety come to play. Of course these are feelings that are natural in growth and help push us to adulthood and help us live and learn in cultural society and significance. It might sound like gibberish, but I mean to say that our acts and moments of insecurity lead us from concerned tourists to well-lived/experienced travelers. We are a society and culture, whether we stay in those moments of fear or gravitate towards independence.

We are nurtured by the school and our host families. For the first time since I was 9, I don’t have to do my own laundry. Someone is cooking my meals every night. I don’t get a choice in what I want to eat for dinner. There is a cleaning lady every Wednesday. I don’t even wash my own dishes when I finish a meal. It’s a lifestyle of luxury and–although a little strange that I don’t get to pitch in at all– admittedly satisfying.

12991108_10208325375524260_2519651214695608957_n

Lost in Valencia with some new friends.

I’m trying to pick up on things as a culture, trying to absorb and understand or differentiate social cues. Part of me thinks that Spain isn’t really too different after all. And another part of me notes the contrasts as a little tally in my mind. I honestly feel like a childish adult, constantly looking around me to see and pick up norms. The only part of me that makes me feel like an adult is the actual loneliness (not used in a negative or bitter sense though) in taking the metro to class…

 

 

I originally had a comma after the word “class,” but I honestly came up with nothing. I’m not working here in Spain, so there’s no sense of adulthood in spending my saved money from previous hours of work in the US. Any side trips or excursions thus far have been completely planned by someone else. And yeah, I’m not necessarily doing any work myself.

I went to see Paul McCartney by myself and even then, I felt myself people watching and tip-toeing throughout the show, because my section never stood up for any songs, hardly sang along, and not to mention, the ruptured ear drum and hearing loss in one ear made singing by myself at a very large concert VERY uncomfortable.

These moments in which you feel helpless or lost though doesn’t mean that you are. I think it just means that you’re learning as long as you’re aware of your surroundings. It might sound obvious, but when you sink into a new culture–even if its one that’s not terribly different from your own*–I think those feelings of confusion and social excitement, and perhaps a tad bit of anxiety, only means that you’re doing things differently and it’s like growing up all over again. Rarely do we get those moments once you’re on your own, because you’re forced to just thrust yourself into whatever routine you need to do in your home country, even if you like that routine and lifestyle. And no matter how good at adapting you are, such as myself, I believe this struggle is bound to happen–as it should. And this isn’t to negate your home life nor to say “TRAVEL MORE TO BROADEN YOUR MINDS.” 13418907_10208325398804842_5343032056785349519_n

It’s purely observational that these fresh-minded, clean-slated, child-like ignorant moments only come in a fashion of memory and nostalgia. Unless you’re studying abroad and doing the best you can.  Typically a 23-year-old usually learns by building blocks on top of a city you/he/she have/has already created. Because you’re building on top of social norms, politics, cultural rules, routines, etc. that you’ve already come to understand and experience. Studying abroad is a new city, literally and figuratively. You have to start nearly completely fresh. Sure you might know how to communicate, plus there’s body language, and universal signs and cues in which most can dictate and decipher and get through easily.

But that first day of meeting your host parents for the next 6 weeks (or in some cases 4 months or longer) is just one of those moments where you take a breath and crawl.

13269292_10208325442965946_718469695138384832_n.jpg

*Although I will say that the requirement to wear shoes around the house AND to only eat food in JUST the kitchen still weirds me out.

Leave a comment

Filed under travel, Uncategorized

LA: Now versus Then

 

If you couldn’t decipher my not-so pent-up aggression toward L.A., you might be too caught up in loving it so much.

Ugh, I sound like such a prick.

I’m sorry I hate L.A. so much. I don’t have to live there, I don’t know why I can’t just get over it. As much as I’m allowed to dislike the city, you’re also welcome to love it–and for some reason that bothers me. I’m not like this with any other place or thing. But maybe it’s because I wasn’t always like this with L.A., either…

Over three years ago, I used to crave the West. I was desperate to explore L.A. and all of its sunny magic. After months or years of talk, I booked my ticket during my birthday month as a ‘treat yo self’ gift. And it was such a great gift to myself!

IMG_0061

Joel McHale is really nice.

In my one week spent at Mely’s house in L.A., I fell in love. We took the metro system everywhere we needed, and it was cheap in comparison with NYC’s subway fares. I got to see and meet Joel McHale in the taping of The Soup. We saw Conan live. The view from the Gryffith Observatory amazed me. I loved that you could hike around there. Kodak Theater. How chill Kat Von D’s tattoo and boutique shops were. Overall how chill the whole vibe was. People were generally friendly. The shopping. There was so much to see and none of it was too touristy, even when it was a tourist attraction.

The weather that week was actually chilly, so I didn’t get to fall in love with the warm weather, but I visited my first Disney park then and there and had a blast. This was the first time I had ever been to an amusement park outside of summer. Options seemed endless.

Not to mention I had saved up money to specifically spend in L.A.

IMG_0067

Santa Monica Pier ft. Malibu in the distance to the right

A few days after my return, my sister Jodi called me to wish me a Happy Birthday and asked me how I liked L.A. I told her I loved it. I thought everything was accessible and exciting and that L.A. offered so much.

“Oh! Well I’m glad to hear it..,” Jodi started. She sounded like she was lying. Here’s why. “You know, Tob,” she continued, “I actually waited to tell you this because I didn’t want to ruin your expectations or your trip or anything, but I hated L.A.” My jaw probably dropped. “No, it’s actually really good that you liked it,” she said, this time sounding more sincere. “I just thought the city was too spread out.” Mom had said the same thing before my trip, but so what? I’m used to driving most places in New Jersey. “The transportation system sucked, but maybe it’s improved since I was there.” Maybe. Or she just didn’t know it well like native LA-er, Mely. “It was just frustrating.”

3 years later, we’ve switched roles….

I find myself saying how the city is far too spread out, some neighborhoods completely inaccessible by Metro. EVERYTHING appeared to be some sort of chain or franchise. I thought back to when Mely first came to Belmar, pointing out all the “mom & pop shops.” I thought nothing of it at the time because Belmar is very local-oriented, but I found none of that LA. People ended up being more snooty–but in a passive-aggressive way.

When comparing LA to NYC in attitude, honestly, I do view L.A. to be very fake about approaching matters, while NYC just honks at you if you fucked up and you get over it. I don’t know quite how to describe it. But that Hollywood Cinema lifestyle they exaggerate in shows actually seemed to be reality!

IMG_0046

What a view! ft. smog. View from the Gryffith Observatory.

And it’s not like LA is the only perpetrator of thinking they’re hot shit. You’ll find that ANYWHERE. But in LA too many seemed to take on this role of environmentally-conscious, vegan hipster, while wasting hundreds of gallons of water on washing their driveways and not really knowing what they’re talking about.

Again, this can be found anywhere. But I don’t know, in LA I couldn’t escape it. I couldn’t escape the weather when every day felt like the same, sunny day, yet so much of my life felt like a waste of time. One day to feel different would have been a blessing.

Let me explain.

I had only expected to be in L.A. for a max of 7 days. I was in L.A. a whole month. I was waiting for mine and Mely’s road trip to begin and it kept getting pushed back due to our transportation issues. I tried secluding myself to Mely’s house in order to avoid spending any kind of money so I could save it for the road trip.

I felt so completely stuck and because L.A. was so spread out, I couldn’t even escape this feeling for a minute. Friends kept suggesting I take a walk around the block, but the hot sun only pissed me off more. There was nothing but houses to see in Mely’s walking radius.

I went to Santa Monica for a weekend with Ali for her Frisbee tournament and got thrown some SERIOUS Santa Monica shade. Very rude people. I couldn’t believe it.

Ali, who was working at a coffee shop at the time, constantly felt like shit because she didn’t have a “real” job. I understand that frustration, but in L.A. I noticed with more than just her, that if you’re not in some sort of impressive industry, then you’re worthless. I can’t even give you an example of when or how I saw this, but I saw this attitude a lot in L.A. People were hardly friendly anymore.

Everything seemed fake.

So clearly in just two years*, my situations and reasons were completely reversed. And it might not all be L.A.’s fault. But ever since my second time there, I have a new rule: Visit a city at least twice before you move there, because once you get the exciting tourist stuff out of the way, it might not be what you think it is.

IMG_0121

Western sunset on Sunset Blvd.

Three years after our LA conversation on my birthday, Jodi now lives in Venice. After living in Maine and New Hampshire for over a decade, I can understand her exhaustion and frustration with snow and winter. Her endless texts and snaps of LA weather does not make me jealous,  no matter how hard she tries. And she’s had to adjust to driving everywhere. I’m almost waiting for her to grow tired of L.A.–especially since her dog has a lot of thick fur and loves the snow. But maybe I’ll change my mind again…or maybe she will. Either way, I just think it’s funny how a city is not always what you think it is, even after visiting.

Meanwhile, I’m still completely enamored with New York City. I love its seasons. I love how accessible and compact everything is. I love the hustle. I love the diversity. Its lights. Its size. Its sights. It doesn’t have everything I love–like mountains–but I’m still searching for my perfect city. And you know what, even after potentially years of searching I have ahead of me, I might just find that NYC is just the place for me after all.

 

*If there’s any confusion: it’s been 3 years since I first visited L.A., but it WAS only 2 years when I visited the second time. I have not been back since. And my aggression has not lightened in the year I’ve spent away from LA. Sorry.

+All pictures were from my first visit in L.A. and I still like them! So not all my emotions toward LA is hatred.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under travel, Uncategorized

Days Traveled, Unraveled: Home?

IMG_5628

After the best, most exciting time in Las Vegas, there was only one thing in my sight: “home.” But our next destination was Mely’s home: LA. We’d done it. Whatever you define “it” as. We saw 35+ states in two months. We made it back to LA.
I actually ended up back in Nevada just a few days later to drive Mely to a concert, which I was really ticked about, but ultimately had agreed to, so there was no room for my bitching. Although I wanted to bitch a lot. I was cranky and exhausted. I can’t emphasize that enough. Not to mention, I was getting texts from Julian every few days asking me about how I was or what I was doing. I knew he cared, I just didn’t feel like he did. Which isn’t the first person I’ve experienced this with. I was prodding him with annoying questions just trying to get him to feel something: anger, love, anything. Talking with him, while once comforting, became painful and pointless. We’d argued while Mely was at her concert and I was left alone in the shitty hotel in Las Vegas. I was begging him to tell me the truth about anything: new girlfriend, if he was out with someone, etc. He wouldn’t agree to it and kept asking why it mattered. I remember at the time being able to relate it to a Gilmore Girls episode–my best skill ever.

(See Season 4, Episode 11 “In the Clamor and the Clangor” when Luke & Lorelai are breaking the bells or just read a copy of the text here)

Luke: You know, none of this is any of your business.
Lorelai: It’s absolutely my business!
Luke: How?
Lorelai: Because! I wasted a week of my life adjusting to the idea that you had moved only to find out that you haven’t moved.
Luke: How much adjusting did you have to do? Nothing’s changed! I still see you everyday, I still cook your food, I still serve your coffee. What do you care?
Lorelai: I care.
Luke: Why?
Lorelai: Because I don’t want you to move.
Luke: Why? Why don’t you want me to move? (Lorelai stares at Luke and they are both interrupted when the Reverend walks in)

After that night, I finally decided that I had to stop talking to Julian. Being friends with him now was doing more bad than good–whereas in the beginning of our break-up, I needed him. I’m so happy he was able to still be there for me at the time. However I wanted to have one last good phone conversation with Julian before I ended it. His schedule was so busy, especially in comparison to the time zone difference in my schedule. So I told him I wanted to talk to him and we arranged that April 20 morning, we would. I had slept over Ali’s house the night before, and she wasn’t having a great night either. While I was actually looking forward to cutting myself off from Julian in hopes of freedom or severance or something, who knows, I also was very self-absorbed and couldn’t give Ali the attention she needed. So April 20 came around and I called him and told him I couldn’t talk to him anymore. He just simply asked, “why?” and I told him. I think he said he didn’t quite understand why now, but he said he’d respect my decisions or something. The goodbye was a little awkward.

15 minutes I called him back. In that 15 minutes, I had felt so shitty. I was expecting to feel liberated and relieved. Instead I just felt like I was broken up with all over again, even though this was my decision and I knew it was for the best. I hated feeling this way. I asked him how he felt about the situation–Are you upset that I’m cutting it off? What are you fucking feeling? I didn’t get anything from you in our last conversation. And his complacency and lack of answers just finished it off for me. Goodbye.

The rest of my “4/20” in California was a little weird. Mixed feelings about Julian. Trying an edible. Staying inside with Ali most of the day. It wasn’t anything cathartic nor miserable. It was a weird purgatory position and displacement of feelings.

But the next day I was going HOME. Back to New Jersey. I was too excited. To the point where it’s kind of sad. I never felt THAT strong of a connection to Belmar in terms of believing it to be the one place I’ll ever want to live. And I had lived in 3 different houses throughout Belmar, so it wasn’t anything nostalgic for me. I was oddly looking forward to having my job and that stability. I was looking forward to having my bed, despite how shitty my mattress was. I was looking forward to hanging out with my friends. But these things could also be found elsewhere–not just Belmar–so I shouldn’t have been that excited to go home. But I’m sorry to say that I was.

As I’ve stated before, I never want to give off the impression that I was unappreciative of my trip and the opportunities and experiences it has given me. It was exhausting and that alone was very consuming. Not to mention the break up, and the ONLY ONE friend traveling with me the entire time.

Now, almost a year later, I look back at my roadtrip with a complete romanticized version of it; I remember feeling shitty in certain places at certain times, but now I think I see it with rose-colored glasses. Which, I admit, is kind of weird. I crave the travel life again.

So when I actually got to the dumb, small town that I call home, I actually texted Julian. I told him I didn’t know why I felt the need to tell him that I was home, but I just wanted to tell him that really badly. I think part of me hoped it would change something in him. And I can’t remember how we ended our very brief conversation, but it was on good terms.

A month later, I was suddenly on not so good terms. I happened to discover that he had a girlfriend. I blew up on him very aggressively, saying that he lied to me that night we argued while I was in Las Vegas. He said he didn’t and that they had only just started dating. After long back-and-forth, we ended on good terms, with me joking that I wasn’t crazy. And that was the last time I ever talked to him.

So why do I mention Julian so much throughout these travel posts? And more importantly, why am I bringing him up in my final post when everything is over and it doesn’t really matter or affect my homecoming? Well, one, the point of ALL of these posts was to show my daily living in diary-like entries. To mark what actually happened on my trip. But two, I think I’m realizing now:

In the beginning of my travels, even when I was stuck in LA, no matter how frazzled, or messy, or all-over-the-place I felt, no matter what state I was in or how long I was traveling, Julian was my stability. That constant communication that we had grounded me, securing me with love, and comfort of knowing I was loved, and feeling loved. And on my birthday in Orlando, I missed Jess, Bobby, and my family the most, because they were my stability and love and support on my birthday each year in my past. And after Julian broke up with me, what stability did I have? That’s why my Northeast posts are all so upsetting and sad: I was with new faces nearly each night, no matter how well I knew them or not, it wasn’t consistent. And that’s why he wasn’t talked about much in my posts after that All-American Rejects concert in Indiana. The music became my stability between them, Circa Survive, and OK Go. After that, I just got cranky and anxious to get home.

And once I was home, I was settled again. I had that stability.

And it’s not that I can’t handle the inconsistencies of travel-life. It’s not that the grass is always greener. It’s not that I need stability of jobs, bed, home, etc. It’s just that you need to have those real, solid connections. Whether with friends, music, or to the city itself, you need to actually be able to immerse yourself in the thick of it. Why the hell would  Ohio be one of my more fun states? Because I had such good friends there properly showing me the Columbus or Cleveland way. I never expected St. Louis to be so fantastic, but we explored it in ways we couldn’t have imagined without weird resources on the back burner.

IMG_5150

So if you’re gonna take a trip–any trip–remind yourself: quality, not quantity. So I didn’t see the transcontinental 48 states, pshh. I can guarantee you, that when I finish up my remaining states (whenever that may be): it’s gonna be done really well. It’s not necessarily that organization is key. It’s the ability for connection and immersion. Within you, and without you.

Leave a comment

Filed under travel, Uncategorized

Days Traveled, Unraveled: Colorado

IMG_5461

Wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park (we got even closer)

Colorado was a long-awaited state for me, not only because it meant that I was closer to finishing this trip, but because I would get to see a long-time family friend, Alex. Outside of my immediate family, my extended family isn’t very big in numbers. And I even feel like my immediate family was too big, too busy, and too stretched out in ages, grades, sports, activities, over the country (sometimes world) to even have many family friends. We each had our own friends, but it was nearly impossible to have friends that 1. Knew each of my family member’s names 2. See them consistently enough. All of my oldest sister’s friends tell me the last time they saw me was when I was in a stroller. All of my friends didn’t even know I had many or any siblings other than Garth, because they were that much older than me. And any of my parents’ friends just weren’t really that close, except for select few. And Alex was one of those few.

Sure I hadn’t seen her in years, and our time together is always few and far between each other, but her mom and my mom had been friends since the 7th grade, so there was no doubt about reaching out to her, despite how crazy different we were.

The moment we arrived in Colorado, mountains appeared in the distance. It reminded Mely and I of when we desperately searched for a hotel near the Four Corners, and the closest one we could find was 40 miles out in Colorado. In the dark of that 40 miles, Mely looked to her right and noted how exceptionally dark it was in her window…until she realized it was the silhouette of mountains in pitch black. When we left Colorado that morning, we actually got to see the beautiful mountains. And that’s something that Colorado has better than any continental state in America. It’s gorgeous and proud.

Though the drive took a while, we still got to Alex’s apartment before she did. So her boyfriend let us in. We had never met. It was awkward. Not to mention, anybody could tell the large differences between our general interests. Here Mely and I were, clad in black, “alternative(?)” clothing, typically listening to indie, rock, and a dash of hardcore edge music. Here. In this apartment decked with hookahs, rapper posters, graffiti-printed cups, and other knick knacks that would never exist in Mely’s or my taste. So we kinda just hung back quietly to ourselves in the corner of their dining area, while he did his thing, too.

Alex came back, and she was very excited to catch up. We exchanged stories of our lives, and it turned out the last time Alex came to New Jersey, Mely was there too. They had briefly met, though Alex and I didn’t remember at all, but Mely only faintly did. It’s just really strange to me how it all connected to each other, somehow. Even though it’s clear why, it still is just funny to me for some reason. We asked Alex what Mely and I should do the next morning and she told us of Rocky Mountain National Park. Great! And here I sat, thinking that this girl and I had nothing in common, when really we both enjoyed hiking/camping. Neither of us did it a lot, but it’s what we grew up on. And although I was very involved with my music-loving, laptop-hugging, 21st century life, and she her very own seemingly rebellious life, we both could easily be extremely laid back hippies in a way. (Not just because we like camping/hiking, but we know what it’s like to rough it out, and can very easily manage without much of a care). You’d never be able to peg us for that, but it’s really neat that this was our bond.

IMG_5442So the next morning, Mely and I made our way. Like any National Park, it was gorgeous with sights and wildlife. We did very short, beginner trails around a little lake called Sprague Lake. I sat on a bench and took a good minute for myself just staring at the lake, the mountains, and the sky. The air was fresh. It felt good. It was brisk, but not too cold. Sounds corny, but nature always sounds like transcendental-hippie crap in writing until you do it yourself. Or at least in my experience.IMG_5451

 

We traveled up the mountains to find plenty of snow. We followed what we thought was a trail–and still was–but only just since the path and the nature didn’t differ much due to all the snow. The “trail” was more compacted and worn, but still feet high in snow. Mely and I danced around the ice as we walked with much needed walking sticks (branches that other nearby naturists had happily shared with us) .01 miles probably, to the lake. Which was also covered in snow. Had it not been for the inch of sign left (AKA uncovered by snow), and for the wide open space with no trees, we would have had no idea that a frozen lake sat beneath us. Happy snowmen greeted hikers from the lake, so naturally we took photos with our new nature buddy.

IMG_5445IMG_5446

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_5453

We traveled further up the mountain where I found a very tall rock to sightsee some other mountains. I had Mely take my picture because it seemed impressive. But probably what impressed me most, apart from how high up I fearlessly was, was that alone: I was fearless. The fresh air loved my face, and the short climb up felt like real, solid work. Cathartic in a way. Rock climbing is a lot more brain activity than you would think, It’s a real mind game. And it felt good to practice best/easiest ways up and down with my head and my body. So it was me and nature, and the happy near-end of the trip, and the memories of rock climbing at Mohonk in New York with Alex, and the powerful, although lonely, fearless me.

I think a lot of people picture road tripping as an exploration of land, but also discovery of self. So much time with your own thoughts and with close ones can be very expansive, but in my case, I had a lot of other trips like that. This day with Rocky Mountain National Park made me realize that for a break–road tripping your own country isn’t always the best. You can (doesn’t mean you will) find yourself feeling just as stuck in your own head, no matter how many other distractions and new sights surround you. Road tripping is more than just gorgeous sights and exploration and culture. It’s work. And me climbing that rock–even though it took 2 minutes–was work. Me driving 10,000+ miles was just as much exhausting as it was work, but the exhaust took away from the pride. It’s like when you make something on your own; there’s a lot of pride in that. And I somehow found a lot of pride in some dumb rock (no Lion King reference/pun intended).

IMG_5475

Before we knew it, we were losing daylight. It was still the beginning of April, and though no other land beneath the high altitudes of the mountains didn’t have snow, we still were basically in Winter modes. Which is half of what made Nevada so much damn fun. But that is for another blog.

We headed back early since Alex didn’t live terribly close to RMNP. And we enjoyed some Buffalo Wild Wings in her town. We only slept one more night before we prepped for an early trip out. But what’s Colorado without Denver? I guess I mostly have a sense of that answer, since I hardly visited Denver…except for some claimed best authentic Native American fry bread place called Tocabe. The dessert fry bread, drizzled with honey and powdered sugar was a good breakfast for me before we headed out for Salt Lake City, Utah.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under travel, Uncategorized

Days Traveled, Unraveled: Arkansas and Oklahoma

After a couple of surprisingly exciting days in Missouri, there was only one reach of hope nearby: some quidditch kids in Arkansas. Without them, we probably would have spent our next few days lost and extra-broke, or in Louisiana yet again out of desperation in need of a place to stay.

Thankfully I’m good at making internet friends, because the year prior, this kid from an Arkansas quidditch team posted on Syracuse’s quidditch team’s Facebook saying we were really nice at the World Cup and wanted to befriend us. Although I had not been in school that semester, I messaged him back saying that I wasn’t in school nor at the World Cup, but if he ever found himself in New Jersey, I could always help him out, and that I’d still like to be Facebook friends. So when I messaged him in desperation of shelter, I was relieved to hear he and his girlfriend say yes.

This was the only drive apart from Mississppi where I needed to pull over and sleep. Maybe Missouri had me riled up too much. Maybe I was just still anxious and tired from everything going on in my life. Or maybe that drive to Arkansas was boring and long. But towards the end of the drive with a sunset to our left of the winding valley roads, Arkansas proved to be a little prettier than I expected a hick-state to be.

And even without having any friendship history apart from the occasional facebook status read, Justin and Mandi served us greatly with casual Southern hospitality. If they were bothered by us freeloaders for a couple of nights, I will never know it, because they were friendly and warm and had pets for Mely and I to focus on and talk about. Not to mention we all had a love of Harry Potter. It always pleases me most to see fictional or distant worlds coming together in a loving way. And that’s what Arkansas represented to us.

They bought us a pizza and soda, we watched some TV, and fell asleep. We planned on using our next day to do some Arkansas touristy explorin’, even if it were some goofy town like Belmar, NJ, but even the Arkansans didn’t have any recommendations. Again, Mely and I realized that even the locals in these Midwestern states didn’t have anything to show.

They admitted there was nothing to do in the hick states, but rent was cheap. Living was cheaper than any other state we’d seen, but it was clear why. I tried deciphering if I would ever move out to the middle of nowhere, just for cheaper living; I would not. But I gave them props. And it’s probably one of the main reasons they joined quidditch to begin with!

So with no plans or attractions for Arkansas, we decided to have ourselves another rest day. The laziness in me was consuming. I couldn’t figure out if it was depression or laziness since these are my worst attributes, but hardly recognizable until it’s too late. Justin and Mandi still had much to do and they carried on with their lives while Mely and I tried figuring out how to go about our next few days. We didn’t even have a place to stay after Arkansas, but Justin said he’d try to help us out with some of his Stillwater, OK quidditch friends–just no guarantees.

I did have a “friend” in Stillwater that I “met” online through The All-American Rejects, but she was not getting back to me at all. Under the assumption she did not want to house us, I eventually dropped it–though it would have been cool. So instead, Justin’s friend Amy offered us an extra room at her place. Thank goodness!

So early the next morning, we said our goodbyes to our new Arkansan friends, and headed west for a new Oklahoman friend. It might be surprising to a lot that Stillwater, OK was already a city I had visited, purely to visit the hometown of The All-American Rejects. Their first DVD, Too Bad For Hell, featured them breaking into their old high school, a trip to Sonic, and home visits. So when 14-year-old me got the chance to drive through Oklahoma, I asked my mom to find the high school and a Sonic.

But this time, Mely and I weren’t there to relive some band’s memories. Apparently, we were there to eat at an Olive Garden, since it had been a topic of “fancy meal” discussion so often on our road trip. To eat at this Olive Garden was to treat ourselves–we had made it this far on our road trip and almost finished. It was feeling long, now. Being so close to LA just gave us a new goal. Just finish. Just a few more states. We knew we had a week or so left. Mely had a concert on April 17 in Vegas and then home. It might have been my day in Arkansas when I bought my plane ticket home from LA for the 21st.

So after our filling meal of Olive Garden, Amy still wasn’t ready for us. Mely and I got some work done at a Panera since the entirety of Stillwater seemed to be packed into a tiny Starbucks location. And eventually we made it Amy’s. Amy had actually been originally from New Jersey. And really liked Sailor Moon like Mely. And she had a cat for us to play with. So we were immediately comfortable even though we knew less about her than we did Justin and Mandi. Amy had an extra room for us, so we spent the night inside watching Sailor Moon and eating Olive Garden leftovers.

Next thing we knew, we were just one day closer to home. And this is how we began to see the remainder of our roadtrip: a countdown. Just like how I used to count down before the road trip. And although we were both excited to find a stable place, we were also surprised the end was near. It had gone just as slow as it had gone fast. Which I know makes no sense, but traveling can be a weird time-warp, especially when changing time zones.

Though we kept talking about our road trip’s end, the last week was probably the most dragged out. And I wasn’t getting homesick, I was just getting sick of being on the road with ONE person at all times. Though we had new sights every day, and as exhausting as it was to constantly be on the move, I needed a change of scene with a change of buddy now. I was getting snippier and anxious.

But we still had Colorado next.

Leave a comment

Filed under travel, Uncategorized

Days Traveled, Unraveled: Iowa and Missouri

The day was new, but I don’t know if I felt that refreshed. Especially with the long haul through Iowa (which is longer than you would think) and most of Missouri, the day felt just as tiring as a many other days of travel. Since Iowa was filled with cow garden decor and barrels, it’s safe to say we didn’t miss much. Other typical expectations of Iowa surfaced throughout the lag: farms, barns (and I thought I had seen a lot in my lifetime in Vermont), the occasional field of windmills, and even a sign for “Iowa’s Largest Frying Pan” at exit 49 off I-380. None of these things were even slightly memorable, so let’s be thankful I wrote a note on my phone describing my Iowa experience…yeah…thanks, me, for also including a bullet that says “dry farm.” I don’t know where my minds were going with that one, but that’s my Iowa summed up from a note into a paragraph. And what difference does my mind have from transiting from Iowa to Missouri? None. It all is forgotten. Until we got to St. Louis.

Initially, we were going to stay at my late brother’s ex-girlfriend’s place since her hometown was St. Louis, but since it was Easter weekend, she had other plans. I begged her for any inkling of a place to crash, and she described this hippie house, Bolo Zone, that houses artists and travelers. She told me to google it since it was a free-for-all and her friend stayed there the previous summer. Google searches found me an article from 2007 that led to clues of it being stopped by The Man that year, and some 2010 photos. But thankfully the article had an address. So it was with a leap of faith and trust in others that we could crash at 3309 Illinois Ave.

Arriving just at sunset, we were able to see the light just shine from behind the crooked, broken-windowed house on the overgrown grass, busted brick walkway, and stoic dog on the porch. A sign on property said “Beware of Dog” and Mely and I were unsure of whether or not to take it seriously. After all, usually travelers and artists were happy, loving, and soulful people. We carefully walked up, waiting for the dog to growl or pounce, but he just stood there with raised eyebrows. That’s right, raised eyebrows since they were drawn on with black Sharpie.

IMG_5279

You’re Gonna Just Tolerate This Home!

I slowly walked onto the porch and the dog ran inside the open front door.

“Excuse me?” I said, nervously. A group of eclectic 20-something-year-olds looked up from their intricate stick game that built upwards. Dreadlocks, colored hair, nail-polished boys, grunge-inspired fashion. I felt so out of place with these free spirits. My road trip seemed like nothing now. “Um hi. My name is Tobi and I’m sorry to just walk in. But my friend and I are on a roadtrip, and we had heard that we could crash here during our travels…is that true?”

A woman in her mid-20s finally spoke, “Who told you that?”

“Um my brother’s ex-girlfriend, Martha,” I said. They all mumbled amongst each other with shrugs.

“So we don’t really have a bed for you to crash. Actually this weekend we’re getting a lot of friends coming to stay. The whole winter, no one shows, but now everyone’s coming this weekend. So you’re welcome, but we don’t have space.”

I forget if I mentioned sleeping on the floor or if someone else offered, but that was our arrangement. We played a few rounds of the connecting sticks game, that is like Jenga, for fear of letting it all drop due to weight shifts, and made introductions, but we still felt out of place. We asked for neat things to do and they recommended City Museum and the free zoo. A kind man stood up and offered a tour, showing us the dilapidated house. The floors not only creaked, but the wooden panels would shift. The bathroom was all the way in the basement. Its toilet was dirty looking and the flush handle was replaced with a gross, skinny string. The shower draped a clear construction mat that typically would separate walls under repair. The roof was essentially another room with furniture hanging out. Holes were busted in the walls to make passage ways. Half of the windows were broken. Dirt, dust, and hair accrued in not only corners, but everywhere. I’m not a germ-o-phob, but I wished I had hand sanitizer.

And I wasn’t looking down on these “outcasts,” “delinquents,” or however else you would describe the folk with a disregard for common housing and hygiene upkeep. I admired their carelessness and unique way of living. I half-wished I were as much of a hippie with them, living in a house of art, graffiti, and welcome, and away from norms or rules. No doubt does their lifestyle get hard with money issues and a large collection of people/personalities, but I wish society could take a lesson from these guys. Don’t take life too seriously. However, how the fuck did they break so many windows? How careless are they getting? While a part of me wanted to take that lifestyle for my own, the other part of me was scared, since there seemed to be a lack of responsibility (and potentially care for others’ well-being and safety.)

IMG_5277

Open Mouth Resting Face. Hard at work at Foam.

So Mely and I asked for the nearest Starbucks. They all just looked at each other. We mentioned it didn’t have to be Starbucks, we just wanted WiFi. They mentioned this café/bar called Foam just a few blocks away. We got there just in time: minutes before a band started setting up equipment for a show they were going to charge for admission. Foam was a roomy cafe since it tripled as bar and venue. Framed photos lined the entire brick wall. Just when you thought the ramp was going to end behind the bar for bathrooms/employees only, it extended to additional laxed seating. Mely and I grabbed the tall table by an outlet, and I finally got to my writing work, which had been stressing me out. The vibe and scene was perfect: a little rustic-looking with light wooden tables and chairs, some couches seated by people with hipster hats (whether it be straw hats or beanies). We ended up at Foam for hours, just getting our respective things done. I’d go back again, easy.

We arrived back to Bolo Zone to a house FULL of people. Drunks were in every room and peeing on the front lawn. I grabbed my hard cider that I had stocked in the car, opened a Woodchuck, and let the rest sit for others as they pleased. I drove well over 550 miles; I finished my article and finally I rewarded myself with a cider (cold from the outside temps). This was my first one since Columbus, OH, but this one felt so much better. For I was better.

Then I finished that ONE cider and realized just how damn tired I was. What a long day. And it was only around 10PM. I asked Mely, who’s known to be a night-owl, if she was ready for bed and she said sure. We grabbed our sleeping bags and slept on the hardwood floor upstairs. But the night wasn’t over since everyone else was still up and parading through all of the rooms. Lights turned on frequently. Steps and talks were loud. It was cold since there was no heat nor anything to block the windows. Mely and I shifted uncomfortably all night. I had to pee so badly but hated the idea of getting up and then walking down 3 flights to get there. In the cold. Finally I couldn’t hold it in anymore. Mostly because I knew biologically, you’re warmer once you relieve yourself. I don’t know what time it was, but most of the party cleared out. Couches were free of people. Unsure if the remaining people called dibs, I peed in the weird, busted bathroom, and went back to bed–I mean floor.

(To be continued)  IMG_5280

Leave a comment

Filed under travel, Uncategorized