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Delta, Delta, Delta

It is a grave disservice to a human being, this whole daylight savings time, especially since this particular human does not work in agriculture, and deprived of an hour’s sleep, has considerable trouble envisioning how the indirect benefit of farmers’ labor applies to him. But the usual strain of shifting forward one hour has just been exacerbated by the supreme offense of the delayed flight/missed connection combination that only modern air travel affords on a regular basis. It’s one thing to be in a later time zone for 78 minutes during an afternoon layover; it is an entirely different thing to have to wake up at what feels like 4:15AM to catch a final leg home. And when one has not planned for that extra pair of fresh underwear. Such injustice in the developed world. Read More…

Driving Miss Dodo

The DC BeltwayOne of my favorite statistics about Washington, DC, is the number of lawyers working in the city: 50,000. That’s one lawyer for every 10 residents. Do these people directly benefit those residents? No, not really. Perhaps some of them do, or must, just by the laws of chance and probability. But certainly, many of those J.D.-carrying folks are members of an elite squad known as the lobbyists. They represent everyone from chemical producers to apple farmers to county-level employees. They’re not concerned about the people in the city so much they are getting into the city. And that is exactly where the residents made their stand. Read More…

California Cupcakes

In the middle of vacation, but here are some photos of the fun we’re having. . . and cupcakes.

Yummy Cupcakes from LA

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Moose in the City

In all of the traveling I’ve done since moving to the Pacific Northwest—a journey through Glacier National Park, driving through the Rockies and Bighorn National Forest more than once, exploring Yellowstone, walking through the unbelievably tall mountains in Alaska—I have not seen a single moose. I’ve even driven up next to a lumbering bison, which by the way, didn’t smell all that good, but which was still amazing. I’ve stood 50 yards away from a brown bear lolling around on the soft carpet of moss. Black bears make my list of eyewitnessed nature, too, as I’ve taken in a newly independent cub feasting on fresh salmon in a glacier-fed river as close to the Arctic Circle as I’ve ever come. Yes, I really want to explore the Yukon now. Read More…

Trajectories of Death

Just call the iPad the gift that keeps on giving…for a price. My latest little obsession is Angry Birds, a deceptively simple game that features a slingshot and birds on one side, and evil green pigs on the other. I played this game for the entire first leg of my flights to Arkansas, where I am now, baking cookies for the holidays with my mother. (Keep your jokes to yourselves.) It all becomes about aspect and pitch and when to time that explosion, as my brain decided, delirious with giddiness at the comical nature of the app. But the game was fortunate because I’m sure I avoided a painful conversation with the man in the middle seat, who had a terrible case of halitosis. Life Note #29: Always travel with mints, not always for oneself. Read More…

Oxygen thrives in the rainforest

I’d heard, along with the other people who live in the U.S., about the influx of whole-body scanners to our airports. More than one’s average bear, those of transgender heritage disdain these things because well, it goes against our whole mantra of “I’m not just what I am in my pants/skirt.” In this narrow chamber, we are. Thinking about these things abstractly and then coming face to face with one, as I did last Wednesday, I discovered, are two different animals. The disgust after reading a newspaper article pales in comparison to stepping into one of these scanners. Read More…

I’ve got to concentrate, concentrate, concentrate

We’re leaving on a jet plane for Denver in a few hours, and I’m excited in part because Denver is a city I’ve only seen once, a long time ago, but also because I love writing from hotel rooms. Nice TV on in the background, bed at easy access for naps or when I need to ruminate, broad desk and lovely view of somewhere else for quality pondering time. I can get some take out and type away over lunch. There’s something appealing to my creative side about writing from Somewhere Else, which is what we had in mind when we made the short-term move to Seattle. So a trip out of town is now a kind of hop to Somewhere Else’s Somewhere Else. And I quite enjoy that. Read More…

Hanging with Theobroma

While we’re living in a city again, we thought we should try to explore not just city life, but life particular to Seattle. There are the touristy attractions, to be sure, like the 7-block long Monorail and the iconic Space Needle, which has its own Web cam, by the way. But around the corner from a lesser known peculiarity of town, the Fremont Troll, is a chocolate factory. There was no way I would miss a chance to play in Wonka’s workplace. Read More…

Kitschy but good

Someone on my Twitter list mentioned yesterday that she would soon be embarking on a trip to Alaska, and I immediately thought of the train ride Susanne and I took over in Skagway. At least four people told us to make sure we rode up and back on the old gold mining trail, so we booked our tickets well in advance of our cruise, and then we climbed on.

It was nothing short of amazing. The White Pass & Yukon Route train was a bit too modern to have jumped out of a steampunk novel, but it belched and groaned like a steam engine all the same, as it dragged us up 3,000 feet into the Canadian Yukon. We sat for much of the trip on the way up, but at the end the conductors moved the engine around, and our front car became the caboose. We didn’t miss the chance to stand on the end, marveling at the mountain ledges, miles and miles of the tallest evergreens I’ve seen in my life, and the detritus those thousands of Klondike miners left behind.

So it occurs to me that there are, in the quadrillions of tourist trap options available in the US, a few very choice gems that should get some fair due. They may be popular, they may be hyped, but they’re worth, say, wearing bright blue plastic ponchos. Here are a few favorites I want to mention:

The Maid of the MistNiagara Falls sounds like a great tourist destination, if it’s 1952. There are a lot of depressing buildings screaming out for fresh paint, and filled with plastic-wrapped souvenirs, but just follow the signs to this boat ride. I think the Maid of the Mist is more fun if you’ve gone to look at the falls from the top first, to help with a sense of perspective. It’s true that the Canadian side of the falls are more majestic; the US side is taller, but our neighbors to the north have the “horseshoe falls,” which I captured from the boat. No matter whether one takes the boat ride from the US or Canadian side, it will still travel into the heart of the falls. I couldn’t believe I was surrounded by hammering, plummeting water. As tall as the falls are around the Maid of the Mist, that’s how much water she’s sitting on—170 feet on both counts. You better wear the silly blue poncho.

Old Faithful at Yellowstone National ParkIt can be argued that my entire generation first learned about this geyser from Yogi Bear and Jellystone National Park. I’m happy that Susanne didn’t rend me limb from limb as I repeated my Yogi Bear impression as we wandered around the wilderness. It might not be the prettiest geyser there, it’s far from the most colorful, like the “paint pots” were, but it was shocking to witness, the smooth vapor all at once belching and hurrying out of the way of boiling white liquid. This is 3rd grade science fair to the 20th power. Once it’s done with its 5-minute show, take a walk on the rest of the geyser platform, and by the time that’s done, Old Faithful will be just about ready to have another conniption.

The Baltimore AquariumLess kitschy and more just plain overcrowded, the Baltimore Aquarium is organized by ecosystems, very accessible, and proportioned well. I don’t feel like I’m in a tiny building with smelly fish, and I don’t feel like there’s a lot of wasted space (I’m looking at you, new MoMA). Plus it has puffins, the globe’s friendliest, funniest bird species, in my humble opinion. There are dolphin shows, it’s true, but at least they’ve gone to some trouble to unpack how the animals are treated, and they have a fairly prestigious breeding program for bottlenose. That said, it is expensive, so try to get your hands on some coupons or group deals, because at more than $30 a ticket, the cost adds up fast. But the sharks and manta rays, inches away from the homo sapiens, are really not to be missed.

Have any kitschy touristy fun? Pipe up and add your own in the comments!

Cycles of adventure

In the midst of my wild summer plans, family visits, and national park exploration, I learned that my friend, Jamie Moorby, had cycled across the US for charity, raising money for the DC Area Books to Prisons Project, which has a two-part mission: donate reading material to prisoners and educate the public about prisoner literacy. They aim to bring in reading material because many prisons do not have libraries, and the ones that do often have limited access or selection of materials. This cross-country bike ride was something Jamie and several other people participated in, ending in Oregon last month. I asked Jamie a few questions to talk about her experience.

What inspired you to cycle your way across the US, and how long have you been a long-distance cyclist?

I have dreamed of going on a long bike trip since I was a kid, but never pursued it I until this spring a friend asked me if I’d ride with her from New Orleans to the SXSW music festival in Austin Texas. I was quitting my job at a worker-owned/operated food coop in the DC area and moving to VT this summer anyway, so I said sure. Towards the end of that 10 day trip, another friend called me up and said “since you don’t have a job right now, why don’t you bike across the country with me?” I didn’t have any good reasons not to, so I agreed. Less than a month after finishing my 620 mile ride across Louisiana and Texas, we left Yorktown, VA for a 10 state, 3 month, 4,500 mile ride to Astoria, Oregon. Read More…

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