Sunday, April 26, 2009

American Perspectives Video

Finally! Nearly a year and a half after my return, I've finally finished my "American Perspectives" video. I asked a series of three questions to many of the people I met during my travels in order to compare and contrast the thoughts, worries and aspirations of people across the nation. The finished video of these efforts can be viewed below:

Monday, June 16, 2008

From Roadtrips to Radios

As you may have noticed, the release of the highly anticipated "American Perspectives" documentary has been a bit delayed... four months or so. While I'm sure it will eventually find it's way into the light, a more pressing project has been laying claim to my time.

I'm part of a team that launched Right Channel Radios, a CB radio and CB antenna online store. Born out of a desire to escape the traditional confines of cubicle life, our research led us to select the CB market as one that had strong demand relative to the number of existing competitors.

During the entire process, I've learned a great deal. I've become somewhat of an expert in CB radios and antennas, their installation, troubleshooting and selection. I've learned how to start a legal business, build relationships with wholesale suppliers, build e-commerce websites, manage customers and resolve their problems. I'm also learning a great deal about SEO (search engine optimization), market research, keyword research, traffic conversion and many other facets of internet business. We're already planning our next e-commerce entry and are eager to apply many of the lessons and skills to the next venture.

(Warning: Shameless Commercial Promotion Ahead)

If you happen to be in the market for a CB radio or antenna, swing on by the site! If you're looking to buy a Cobra CB Radio, we have a number to choose from. Thinking about a Wilson CB antenna purchase? We carry every major antenna Wilson makes. If you're really not sure if this CB radio thing is for you, why not enroll in our complimentary CB Training school? We'll walk you though selecting, installing and troubleshooting radios and antennas via a personalized email course - what could be better?

I hope you're having a glorious summer and throughly enjoying yourself. Hopefully I'll find time to finish and publish American Perspectives sometime in the next six months.........

Thursday, January 17, 2008

One Last Journey

I must offer an apology to my readers. Despite sincere intentions to keep the blog updated from the road, I failed. The lack of my laptop, scarcity of internet cafes and the weakness of my resolve all contributed to my outdated blog. With my apology (hopefully) accepted, I can now detail the trip.

The trip to Mexico was fairly uneventful apart from our brief stop in Las Vegas where we spent a few hours playing Blackjack and soaking up the lights of Sin City. We alternated drivers and made good time, arriving quickly in Southern California. It was late by the time we had stocked up with supplies at Wal-Mart, and not wanting to enter Tijuana at night, we camped in San Diego.

I’ve never been to Mexico and it’s a surreal feeling crossing over into Tijuana. As you near the border on the interstate, you can clearly distinguish an entirely different world in the distance. The primitive buildings along the hillsides of Mexico contrast strongly with San Diego’s upscale homes. There were no checkpoints or inspection stations and we sped freely into Mexico. We miraculously navigated the labyrinth of roads and turns in Tijuana and ended up successfully heading South on Mexico Highway 1.

The highway began with four-lanes but quickly changed into a narrow and windy two-lane road. Driving Highway 1 is an experience unto itself. There is no shoulder and the road drops off less than six inches from the white line ends along the right hand side. Guardrails, when they exist on precipitous corners, are usually damaged and sections often hang in mid-air over the expanse. Every passing car seems to come perilously close as drivers are forced to thread the needle between other drivers and the non-existent shoulder. Drifting even slightly out of your lane can be deadly and it’s good we had three people to share in the driving responsibilities.

During the next week, we traveled throughout Baja, experiencing as much as possible. We camped on deserted beaches overlooking the ocean and watched glorious sunsets over the Pacific. We ate at modest family-owned cafes and tried our best to communicate through our poor Spanish, hand signals and smiles. We hired a local fisherman to take us out for a day and caught wild looking fish which we happily fried up and devoured. We spent three nights at a quaint beach-side hotel run by Americans along the Sea of Cortez and smoked cheap cigars on our private balcony while discussing life. We intercepted a school of dolphins and came within 20 yards of them in our small, self-propelled boats. Jesse accidentally ordered and ate cow intestines. We also managed to snap a few pictures along the way:

Beachside Sunset on the Pacific

Our Private Deck Overlooking the Ocean

A Wildman and the Sea of Cortez

One Very Kissable (and edible) Fish

View From Our Room at 6:30am

When Dogs and Seals Have Babies

Storms and Cactus

Camping in an Oasis

Silhouettes at Sunset

Our Gypsy Camp

Capturing the Sun

After a week, we finally returned to the U.S. and were successful in smuggling Luke, who had forgot his passport, through customs. We had traveled nearly two-thirds of the way down the Baja peninsula and had managed to avoid death on the highways, theft, banditos, and so far, Montazuma’s Revenge. It was a bittersweet moment when our trip came to a close as my traveling companions left me in Salt Lake. It not only marked the end of the Baja trip, but of my extended travels as well. Annie, sensing my impending melancholy, made some unbelievable tasty steak sandwiches which helped to smooth over both my stomach and the mood.

Despite the end of my traveling adventures, I’m really excited about life. I’ll be living in Salt Lake City striving to learn as much as I can about freelance photography, web design, and the financial markets. I’ll also be living (finally!) in the same city as my wonderful girlfriend, Annie, as well as a number of other good friends. The blog, unfortunately, faces a grim future as this vagabond has set down some temporary roots. As I’m not as narcissistic to think that you, dear reader, desire to be constantly informed as to my current emotional status and recent food intake, this will be my last large entry. I will be posting my finished American Perspectives documentary to the site in mid-February so please stop by then to check it out.

To all my readers - thank you! It’s been great reading your comments and I appreciate you taking the time to follow my adventures. If you’re considering traveling and/or taking an extended trip, I’d highly recommend it. While traveling gives you a better perspective of the surrounding world, it also helps you really appreciate the people and place you’ve temporarily left behind.

Until the travels begin anew I faithfully remain your ex-vagabond.......


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

South of the Border

Happy New Year! I'm headed for Baja with my good friends Luke and Jesse DeVoe and we're currently taking a brief pit-stop at the library in San Bernardino, CA. While I originally planned on bringing my laptop and camera in order to write a detailed blog of the trip's events, further consideration convinced me to leave my tech toys at home. We'll be spending the majority of the time camping on beaches in the Mexican wilderness and while wireless internet is becoming more and more ubiquitous, I doubt I'll be able to get online while lounging in white sands 60 miles from civilization. The many warnings and stories of robberies in Mexico also contributed to my decision to leave my precious toys behind. Stripped of my laptop and image capabilities, I'll be forced to write the very occasional update from internet cafes we may happen to come across. In any event, I'll write a full update of the trip upon my return.

The weather is turning warm and we'll soon be crossing the border. I hope to have stories of white sandy beaches, crazy roads and beautiful desolation when I'm next able to post....

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Homeward Bound

We spent most of Thursday driving from Socorro to the Grand Canyon with a brief stop in Flagstaff, AZ. We had plans to camp in the park and finally found a suitable campsite, albeit with snow on the ground. After setting up Chris’ tent, we hunkered down for a bitterly cold night that brought a few inches of snow and temperatures in the single digits; whoever thought camping at 7,000 feet in December would be that frigid? The sun finally freed us from our icy prison and we set out for first views of the Grand Canyon. While some national monuments and attractions are over-hyped, the Grand Canyon doesn’t disappoint - it’s one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen. The beauty and enormity of the place are really impressive and not done justice by pictures. This, however, didn’t stop me from snapping a few shots:

Panorama From the South Rim (Click for Full Size)

Me and the Grand

Observation Station

Chris Against the Void

Our Freezing Camping Spot

After our morning tour we drove toward Salt Lake City, our destination for the evening. It’s surprising how quickly the landscape can change in the American Southwest. One minute you’ll be dwarfed by massive red cliffs and the next you’ll be half-way up a mountainous slope with snow and evergreens. The last few minutes of fading daylight illuminated this skyline which I stopped to capture much to Chris’ annoyance:

Twilight (Click for Full Size)

We arrived in Salt Lake late around 9:30 that evening. While Annie had already left for Montana to spend Christmas with her family, she let us stay at her home and made us two extremely happy travelers when we discovered sandwiches she’d left us. Arriving so late after a long day, we spent the evening relaxing before calling it a early night.

After a quick bite at my favorite Salt Lake City breakfast cafe, Chris and I were on the road. The 200 miles slipped quickly away and before I knew it I was back home, and the trip at an end. It was bittersweet pulling into the driveway where my car and I had begun only a month earlier.

A few stats from the Great U.S. Roadtrip Extravaganza of 2007:

- 7,751 miles, doorstep to doorstep
- 27 days on the road
- 15 cities / campsites
- 34 tanks of gas costing $903.34
- Lodging:
Couchsurfing 7 nights
Hostels / Camping 6 nights
Friends / Family 13 nights

This trip has been an incredible journey and I feel amazingly lucky to have experienced our country in such a manner. Driving across the country gives you a perspective of America that, I believe, is unattainable jetting from city-to-city via air. Additionally, Couchsurfing and staying in hostels allows you to form friendships and gain insights you’d never get staying in hotels (as well as saving you a bundle!).

I get to spend the next week with family and friends over Christmas before hitting the road once again, this time for Mexico. I’d like to thank everyone who spent time reading and commenting on the blog, as well as for people’s thoughts and prayers as I traveled. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and please check-in after the holiday for continued postings as I head South.........

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Texas Livin'

We spent some time visiting St. Bernard’s parish, an area particularly hard-hit by Katrina, the morning before leaving New Orleans. While some rebuilding has occurred, signs of the storm remain everywhere. The rebuilding was sporadic and in no way uniform. Reconstructed buildings were often interspersed among damaged houses which had been gutted with massive piles of rubble lay alongside the buildings. Even on the main streets, the damage was blatantly obvious. Numerous commercial establishments have been abandoned.

We stopped at the local community center and I struck up a conversation with Steve, a middle-aged man who had lost his home and, eventually his wife, to the storm. Talking for more than an hour, he conveyed his account of the storm and it’s lingering effects on the community. Steve discussed a number of things including how frighteningly quickly the house had filled with water, being evacuated along with his wheelchair-bound wife, the people who still remain homeless and face eviction from their FEMA issued trailers, and, with overwhelming appreciation, the army of volunteers that have helped rebuild New Orleans. Steve’s wife died shortly after Katrina due to a heart conditioned exacerbated by the storm and he’s creating a charitable organization in her honor to support reconstructive efforts. It was quite an experience talking with him. Seeing the effects of Katrina on both an individual and the community was extremely sobering and one of the most moving events of the trip.

Flooded Homes in New Orleans

After an eight-hour drive across Louisiana and Texas, we arrived in Austin. We stayed at a fantastic hostel along the river that lacked the musty smell and drunk old men that the New Orleans hostel had boasted. Chris spent the day learning how to drive a stick-shift and, after Houston rush hour traffic, was exhausted upon arriving in Austin. Subsequently, I ventured out solo to explore the famous night-life and music Austin is lauded for.

I was directed to The Continental, a small honky-tonk bar in one of Austin’s upscale neighborhoods. After entering the bar, it only took a few minutes for me to draw one conclusion; old men in Austin have it made. An army of good-ol-boys’ no younger than sixty dominated the dance floor pausing only briefly between songs to share a quick laugh and sip their drink before selecting a new partner usually forty years their junior. I can only hope that I’ll have the energy, gusto and fire when I’m that old to head out on a Monday evening to dance until the wee hours of the morning.......

Before long, I had met a group of locals my age - Danny, Danyelle and Cassandra. Danny worked in business management and Danyelle and Cassandra were both ex go-go dancers! They were all awesome, friendly people and we closed down the bar giving the old men some competition on the dance floor.

The next morning, Chris and I arose and spent a leisurely day tooling around Austin and the University of Texas. The gorgeous sixty degree weather awakened yearnings for summer and made the fact that Christmas was less then a week away seem bizarre.

Our River View from the Hostel

Chris Napping Along the River

Chris and I shared a great taco dinner and then met up with the Austin crew from the night before. After touring an enormous Christmas light display, we headed downtown to a local club. We were soon all dancing away (even Chris!) and having a merry ol’ time when Cassandra pushed the girl off the bar.

Cassandra, who I mentioned had some prior dancing experience, at one point climbed up on an unused part of the bar. A few other girls jumped up to join her, and in the scramble to get up, knocked over one of our drinks. Cassandra saw this and insisted that the girl buy us a replacement. As we danced below unaware of any problems, an argument developed which ended as Cassandra shoved the offending drink-spiller into the inky abyss. A full-on brawl nearly ensued between the two girls and Cassandra was promptly escorted out. I know, I know..... Wow.

In her defense, my version is fairly cursory and the bar staff that escorted her out apologized profusely. Apparently, they knew the offending girl and she happened to be one with an obnoxious mouth who had caused trouble in the past. Not to be deterred, we ended up at a local karaoke bar singing quality numbers from the Top Gun soundtrack and The Beatles before retiring for the evening. All in all, an exciting night in Texas’ capital.

We left this morning headed for a glamorous destination - Socorro, New Mexico And as I sit typing in our $35 a night hotel in this town of 8,789, I can honestly say it’s everything I dreamed it would be. The sheets are clean, the local diner was tasty and I have wireless internet - life is good. Tomorrow we head for Flagstaff en route to the Grand Canyon. I’ll be in touch............

Sprawling Texas Skies

Sunday, December 16, 2007

After The Storm

I endured torrential rains during the majority of my drive to New Orleans along the Gulf Coast, a far cry from my visions to sail along with the sun beating on my face and the wind whipping through my hair. I was fortunate to have a collection of Kurt Vonnegut short stories, Welcome to the Monkey House, on CD. I’ve never read any of his work and the stories are funny, well written and unorthodox - I highly recommended the collection.

Driving into New Orleans was both interesting and surreal. During the final five miles, I drove on floating interstate to cross Lake Pontchartrain and enter the city. It’s odd to visit a place where a massive tragedy occurred and see it through your own eyes. Chris captured my thoughts well when he said experiencing New Orleans for yourself made the world seem smaller. This isn’t just a place far away that exists only amid the world of network news and newspaper headlines; it’s a tangible place I can actually drive to.

As I headed towards downtown residual storm damage was apparent on a number of residences along the interstate. However, once I entered the downtown business district and French Quarter, signs of Katrina disappeared. We’ve primarily stayed and explored the more traditional city venues which are in good shape. Before we leave tomorrow, I’d love to visit some of the more hard-hit areas of the city, assuming they’re safe, to get a feel for the storm’s impact.

I picked up Chris (my younger brother with a 5” height advantage) at the airport on Saturday night. He’s done with school for the semester and will be joining me for the remainder of the trip. Spending the last four days without power due to ice storms, he was thrilled to leave the frigid confines of Kansas and escape to the South. We stopped at the hostel to check-in before hoping on a streetcar and heading downtown.

Bourbon Street is the craziest place I’ve been on my trip so far, and perhaps, during my life. I originally had a naive impression of the place as an old-fashioned street brimming with classy restaurants, bars and blues musicians; this view was was quickly dispelled. Located in the heart of the French Quarter, Bourbon Street makes Vegas look nearly as benign as a nursing home bingo evening. Free adult clubs line the streets with outdoor advertisements that would send your grandmother into cardiac arrest. While a few venues have blues musicians, the majority host grungy rock bands and R&B dance floors. With no open container laws, people are free to roam the streets gulping massive beverages and hopping from bar to bar.

Chris and I had a great night amid the mayhem. We sat down for a real cajun dinner at a local restaurant off Bourbon Street and enjoyed crocodile sausage and blackened catfish. We talked well after finishing and it was past midnight when we finally started exploring. We visited a number of bars including one which advertised free jazz music but instead hosted the most obnoxious rock band we’d ever seen. The singer seemed to be reading from the following script for musicians lacking any semblance of stage presence or charisma:

Step 1: Yell - “If you’re from New Orleans, make some noise!”
Step 2: Yell - “If you’re from out of town, make some noise!”
Step 3: Yell - “If you don’t give a #$%@#$, make some noise!”
Step 4: Proceed to yell garbled, unintelligible lyrics
Step 5: Return to Step 1 and repeat until both the dance floor and establishment are empty

We soon changed venues and managed to listen to see a few respectable musical acts before retiring to our hostel shortly after two.

This morning we hit up local coffee shop for a quick breakfast before heading out to explore on foot. We spent a busy day touring the Garden District, visiting a local art gallery, taking a ferry across the Mississippi and chatting with a street evangelist downtown.

Lucky Tenants

A Traditional New Orleans Balcony

After Crossing the Mississippi

"No! I ordered PINK underwear and you sent me white!"

Shadows and Light

Tomorrow we head for Austin and it will be the first time I’ll have a companion on the trip. We’ll see how much of a road hermit I’ve become over the last 4,000 miles.....