Sunday, January 15, 2017

The South is not for Me

I was in small town Alabama for a week. I've never felt so far out of my element, stranded on a martian planet as I did in this small town.

There's this weird sense of pride everyone has here. Like, "We've managed to remain a small town and function, so screw you." But it's this weird, somewhat functioning, small scale social experiment. The one thing that everyone I talked to really wanted to drive home was, "we don't care about the people that don't live here."

Time and time again they complained about neighboring towns. They made fun of the north constantly. They loved calling my lead and I Yankees and sort of poking fun at the software guys. Most of these people had never left their small town except to go to some lake further in the middle of no where. To them, their town was the entire planet. They didn't care about Syria, globalization, the droughts in California, drug cartels in Mexico.

Their only cares were, how was Alabama doing in the championship and if that new Dollar General was going to put their home town grocery store out of business.

I'm jealous because they have this local grocery store that makes good enough food where half the town eats dinner there. Everyone knows each others name.

But then like a Dollar General and WalMart opened next to it. And the few people that have commented have been like, "It really sucks that Dollar General and WalMart are going to put our store out of business cause the Hampton family are great people and their grocery store has been around forever, but it's cheaper. So I go to WalMart."

Food is the other thing. My buddy and I got into town Monday night and drove around looking for just some local bar and grill.

We stopped at 3 places before we found a place that was clean enough for us to trust chicken wings from. We had 2 beers, watched the Alabama game with a bunch of locals, and went back to the hotel by 8.

The next day, when we were on site with our client, we asked them about where the best places to get a drink and some food were, scouting out for dinner, and their answers were Applebees, TGI Fridays, and Chilis. When we asked for something more local, they again said the TGI Fridays was the cleanest place in town, but then directed us to a BBQ and Sushi place.

We ended up eating lunch with them over two days which involved just massive amounts of burgers and fried food, every one of them being overweight, breathing hard, and complaining about how much work they have to do.

I can see why they are overweight though. After just being there for 4 days, I feel so bloated on salty food and meals built around meat that all I want is a salad. Side note, I ordered a salad at one point and got some browning iceburg lettuce with a couple tomatoes and ranch dressing.

And everyone we talked to drives an hour or more to work. They have what sound like massive complexes they live in, but don't have basic utilities I've come to under-appreciate like true plumbing and internet. And I don't know if they talk about this when the "Yanks" aren't there, but the often talked about how, "that's just the way I live my life, and if other people don't like it, tough shit."

It was just so weird to see how little they cared for anything outside of their little town. Several of the people we talked to had never left their town, even a couple hours away to Panama City or Huntsville or Montgomery.

And my hotel was mostly nice, but there were things about it that just felt terrible. Like the stairs were all warped in the middle of they sort of formed a "U" shape. There was an abandoned grocery store with roof tiles falling of it next door.

My lead was going to have to leave a day early because he had to rent a car and drive in from another airport. I looked at the weather, saw an ice storm was coming to St. Louis, and and immediately tried to find a way out quicker. I flipped through the cable channels, eventually only finding Alien vs Predator 2 as entertainment, and just started feeling really depressed with the idea of being in this town alone for a night and possible getting stuck in the airport for the weekend.

The town's airport had no flights on Thursdays, so after some planning, I changed my flight to go out of Panama City, had my lead drop me off at the airport, and spent the next 6 hours barely making all of my connections.

If this is what the apple pie, Americana life is like, I'm not meant for it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Winter Classic

I started writing this the day after the Winter Classic, but it was one of those events I needed to chew on a little longer.

I wanted to live in the moment as long as I could before I turned it into a memory.

We arrived and saw the giant pucks with Blues players and banners everywhere. It was raining, which was mildly irritating as I was looking fantastic in my Winter Classic jersey, but my giant poncho was covering it up.

Thousands of people were forcing their way into Ballpark Village to see the Nelly show. This was our original plans to, but as we neared Busch Stadium, the energy and excitement was too much to stay away from. Sal and I went in.

There was only a few thousand people in Busch at the time, which was great. We got to take in everything before it was overrun with 40,000 other people.

It was raining pretty hard, but it was still incredible to see the ice down in Busch.

The pictures and camera shots made the ice look so far away from the nosebleed seats. I expected to not really see the game and was prepared just to take in the energy. Actually, it was the best view I think I've ever had.

They managed to pipe in a blues band over the stadium PA and had some pop-folk band playing without issue, but the refs microphones still were not working. We were sitting in a Blackhawk heavy section, so anytime a penalty was called, the entire section sort of looked around at each other to see who was happy.

And after the Hawks scored on very muddy looking ice a minute into the game. There was this brief moment early on when I realized how much I spent and didn't consider that the Blues could get blown out. I would've felt terrible. Luckily, things went the right way.

The Blues scored 4 unanswered goals by Berglund, Tarasenko (2), and Steen.

Bring out the Zamboni, the Blues won the Winter Classic.

I lived in the moment. taking in the Winter Classic as much as I could. I knew this was a once in a life time event and it really lived up to it.

The fans were loud, excited, and willing to support their gritty hockey team in the rain, in January.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Mizzou I Knew

It's interesting hearing about Mizzou from people that didn't go there.

For the longest time, my post-college circle of friends was 90% Mizzou grads. We all had the same fuzzy memories of McNallys, Addisons, and Flatbranch, the house parties, the first time the cops came to our house, the second time the cops came to our house, concerts, Henry Rollins, Halloween, New Years, and good beers.

But now that my friend circle has expanded, I get to hear a lot of outside perspectives, mostly around the drop in enrollment at Mizzou and what caused it. Usually it starts with the sport teams not being able to recruit as well.

Depending on who you talk to it's either because of the Black Lives Matter people or the racism that exists all throughout mid-Missouri.I rarely hear people talk about how dismal the basketball team has been for a decade. They rarely talk about how Gary Pinkle apparently was one of the greatest coaches, punching way above his weight class in the SEC and now that he's gone the weaknesses of our football team are highlighted.

I've heard people say that the Black Lives Matter protests drove off students from wanting to deal with un-necessary drama. Fair enough, if protests scare you, you probably should go to your local community college. From what I remember, protests were constant at most the universities my friends went to, especially during the Bush era and war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I've heard people say that the racism that has existed in the area for centuries has finally started turning people off, especially athletes who tend to skew African American don't want to deal with the media portrayal of red necks and crooked cops in Missouri.

Honestly, I didn't see much of this while I was at Mizzou, but I also curated an incredibly diverse friend group. Honestly, if this was a card collecting game, I was only missing some sort of trans-gendered hologram card.

We had the Pakistani journalist, the Indian engineer, the gay teacher, the Jewish business major, the foreign exchange students from Britain, France, and Australia, all mixed with people from Hannibal, St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Louisville. We were a pretty diverse group and were ride of die.

I didn't get exposed to the darker side of Mizzou.

Both types of people will talk about it as if what they are saying is the total truth.

It's not, there's a lot of missteps done by the Mizzou board of governors. Mis-allocated money, alumni donations ear marked for the business school, rising salaries for the administrators while driving away young and determined professors. They thought they would keep adding students forever and direct result is apartment complexes dotting the downtown skyline like blemishes on skin. But now we have a crap football team, continue to have a crap basketball team, have too much empty housing, prices that have continued to go up, and non-stop construction on what could be a beautiful campus if not for all the bulldozers.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Updated Bucket List

In August of 2013, I was musing about the pursuit of happiness and what essentially boils down to my bucket list.

Most of what was holding me back from completing a lot of my bucket list was our dire financial situation at the time. I'm staring at the second (out of ten) student loan being paid off in a week and our car loan dropping below a major milestone.

Sal and I both have jobs that pay us much more than what we had in 2013 and the strain we carried around in our necks has loosened considerably.

It's had me thinking about the "bucket list" again. Things I want to do and pursue.

The original list still stands, with some things actually checked off.

  • Complete: See a top level football match in Europe. Saw Dortmund play in front of 78,000 people in 2015. It was like Harry Potter.
  • Eat steak tartar and drink a bottle of nice French wine in Paris - Sal is learning French now, so hopefully in the next few years. 
  • See the Blues win the Stanley Cup and subsequently kiss the cup.  - So close, yet so far.
  • Complete: Drink a Guinness from the brewery in Dublin. Drank the pint from the top of Guinness overlooking all of Dublin.
  • Learn to snowboard. Well... that whole knee thing has probably made this unobtainable. 
  • Get something published. I swear, I'm still working on this. 
  • Tip someone a ton of money on Christmas Eve. - Hmmm... maybe this year?
  • Tour Napa Valley without a plan. The plan is to do this for our 10th anniversary.
  • Have one of my beer creations commercially sold, even if just for one run. - Not a crazy thing to think.
  • Have a hop filled tour of the Pacific Northwest. - Again, maybe for our 10th anniversary.
  • See a major Canadian team NHL game: Canadiens or Maple Leafs - Sal and I are having a lot of talks about doing this in 2017. 
Not bad right? Completed 2 within 3 years. 

Well, some new things have popped onto the list. 

  • Go to Wrestlemania - With how much professional wrestling has become a part of my and most of my best friend's lives, this will definitely happen within the next couple years. Think of it as going to the largest circus on the planet. 
  • Play a game of PacMan at Twin Galaxies in Ottumwa Iowa, the video game capital of the world. 
  • Skate on a frozen pond
  • See Saturday Night Live ... live and as a side bonus, see the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Square
I'll check back in probably in 2 years and see how much progress I've made. Hoping to have 2-3 more of these checked off the list. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Burt or Maybe Bert...

I went on a long run today and as I was rounding the corner where Amsterdam Tavern is, the wind hit me just right and I remembered a character from our past.

Sal and I went exploring when we first moved to the city. This would've been like late 2008. We ate at Three Monkeys and then tried this bar that had just opened down the street.

So we see this dirty looking guy in this dimly lit bar that had a couple soccer scarves hanging on the walls. There's one guy at the bar drinking a beer and following it with whiskey, but soon he leaves.We thought we had found a dive bar we couldn't have imagined being open more than a few months.

Sal and I order. Amsterdam only had about 6-8 taps when they first opened, one of which was Guinness. At the time, it was a bold move to have a nitro stout on your tap. Most places were still heavily focused on Wheat beers and macro beers.

So I order a Guinness because you can't get it anywhere else. The bartender gets excited and starts talking about how there's nothing better than a properly poured Guinness on a cold afternoon. Sure enough, he pours the beer in the glass at a 45 degree angle until it's 3/4ths full, sets it back down, and let's it rest.

While the beers were resting, he handed Sal and I about $3 a piece in quarters and told us to go put some music on the jukebox.

We pick a couple of our favorites. Probably things like The Toadies, Wilco, Against Me!, David Bowie. I can tell the bartender is listening intently to each song, judging our musical taste.

And then he hears the opening riffs to Generation X's "Kiss Me Deadly."


He pulls out a couple of tumblers, pours very gracious pours of Powers Whiskey, slides them to us, and says, "Hi, my name is Bert, I punched Billy Idol in his stupid f*cking face in 1986 in a club in New York. He'd split Generation X up by then and had become a sell out piece of shit, and I was a punk... and I was drunk and probably on drugs. So I laid him out and then ran out of the club as fast as I could."

This is one of the first new people... actually... probably was the first new person we met after moving back from St. Louis. He was this like late 30's, sort of 1980's dirty white t-shirt wearing punk rock guy, who was one of the partial owners of the Amsterdam tavern. His name was Bert.

Bert handed us a business card with his cell number on there and regaled us with tales of his insane nomadic life spanning from California to Miami, involving some of the most famous concerts ever, and being held up at gun point.

Now Bert had some insane stories. If he had wrote them down and you just read them, you wouldn't believe the stories, but there was something about the sincerity with which he told them that you sort of believed it.

Bert was one of those guys you wouldn't trust watching your house while you were out of town, but if he were like, "Hey man, follow me down this dark alleyway, I have something to show you." You would go. You were drawn to him and the possibility of adventure.

We spend the next two or so years going to Amsterdam, eventually meeting about 4 of the 6 owners and becoming pretty good friends with them.

One random  late summer day, we went in and Bert said, "Hey Dan, would you want to come over and listen to some records this weekend? I'm off Saturday. Might be the last time we can hang out."

It was an unexpected qualifier on the end of the sentence. As far as we knew the bar was doing really well and Bert was really happy.

I said, "Sure man, that might be a good time, what's going on?"

"I don't really want to talk about it here, but I got into something and I'm moving to Argentina in 10 days."

We were invited to Bert's going away party at the Amsterdam. They set up a turntable in the corner of the bar, hooked it up to the PA system, and locked the door for anyone that wasn't on Bert's list. Bert brought in about 600 of his favorite 45's and asked everyone to bring their favorites.

It was a Tuesday night, Sal and I couldn't stay out too late since we had to work the next day, but for those two hours it was like we were in some sort of weird movie montage where a song played over people clanking glasses together in cheers, hugging Bert, just celebrating this weird guy that was in all of our lives.

I heard from Bert once when he moved to Argentina. He sent me and email saying he made it and that the weather was super nice, and he was going to the beach every day.

I don't know why today he popped in my head. I literally hadn't thought about Bert in six years, but something about the temperature, the time of day, the way the sun hit the Amsterdam sign just reminded me of Bert.

It's weird how someone can be in your life for such a short amount of time, but you have these incredible memories that sometimes you question if they actually came from a book you read.

If you look at Amsterdam now, it's grown five times the size it originally was, has about 400 new scarfs from soccer teams around the world, and if you look closely, there's one picture behind the bar of all the original owners. One of those guys is Bert and that picture is the only evidence of his life in St. Louis.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

It's the Sleep I Miss

I sort of joke that I haven't had a good night of sleep since Wells Fargo laid me off.

It's not necessarily an incorrect statement. Something broke in my mind where I'm in a constant state of survival mode. Always trying to pursue this relaxation that I'm beginning to think doesn't exist.

I mean, I probably sleep a good night 3-4 nights a week. It's usually when I've taken a Melatonin pill, or it's the weekend and I have nothing to wake up early for, or I've had a beer or two, or a really hard workout.

With the holidays though, I've not been working out. I've not had any weekends where I don't have to wake up and do something. I've had a ton of extra stress to think about.

Between 3-4 am every day, I wake up. Usually because I have to go to the bathroom, but sometimes I just sort of jolt awake.

I'll sort of re-position myself and try to go to sleep again. But for the rest of the night I'm thinking about work, or thinking about the errand I need to run. I toss and turn. I get up and walk around for a few minutes. Come back to bed, rollover.

And the morning sun, now coming up earlier and earlier it seems, shines directly at the window next to my side of the bed. It doesn't matter we have blinds and curtains, the light shines through like something from Poltergeist. I squeeze my eyes shut as hard as I can, pretending that the sun isn't there yet.

I used to go to the other room and sleep on the couch, but since the wall has been taking so long (another thing I often think about at 3 am) I can't sleep well in there because the litter box smell is too much for me.

So the only thing I can do, is sleep on my stomach and put a pillow on top of my head. It drowns out the sounds of Sal's fan, the humidifier, and shuts the light off.

This was the only way I could sleep when I had a broken leg. (I can't sleep on my back at all) But now, I can only sleep on my stomach for 20-30 minutes before my back and neck start hurting.

And I can't look at my watch. If I see what time it is, my brain does the math and constantly repeats, "GO TO SLEEP, ONLY 3 MORE HOURS TO SLEEP, GET AT IT."

And the next thing I know, it's 7 and I sleepily climb out of bed, ready to work.

I'm hoping this is just temporary while the holiday stress is hitting me. I don't like relying on Melatonin pills to get a good nights sleep.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Country That Doesn't Want You

I've been soaking in the reactions since the election. It's exhausting.

The mud throwing calling Trump supporters racist and misogynistic were covering my Facebook page the first two days. Many of these posts were reaching to find swastikas near pro-Trump messages on walls or a few idiots beating the shit out of Muslims and telling them to go home. It was damning people for voting for this orange asshole.

Now, the Trump supporters who are tired of being called racist have been fighting back in disgusting ways. I've seen people say things like, "The KKK hasn't been involved in a violent incident in 20 years. Black Lives Matter have been involved in violence this year." I've seen a lot of people saying, "stop crying pussies." Someone even told my wife that racism no longer exists and tried to quote the Civil Rights act of 1964 to her.

I've largely stayed out of the discussion because honestly, I'm tired and I don't want to respond with emotion.

But I've read. I've been sitting back and trying to figure out what the hell is going on with our country.

And I have no answers.

I do know however that my wife has gotten little sleep and wakes up depressed every day since the election.

I know my Pakistani friend has gone quiet on social media since the election.

I know my gay and lesbian friends have been starting fights on Facebook daily because they have gotten so close to having equal rights with everyone else only to have everything ripped away time and time again..

The black, Bosnian, and Asian members of my community all feel the need to arm themselves because they no longer believe in the police force that is supposed to protect them.

And even though I'll never understand fully, I understand. We will continue to be a divided nation for the next four years.

For everyone that has posted about the cry-baby libtards and said, "Welcome to how 2008 was for me" I don't think you are understanding what the Trump presidency actually means to these people. (Also, in 2008, Republicans still controlled many parts of the government)

My wife is constantly dealing with men talking down to her, assuming she knows nothing about men things like cars, assuming she is draped in pink dresses while she cooks dinner for her man. It happens constantly. In the grocery store, at work, and even our neighbor refuses to talk to her about anything and instead will give her messages to give to me.

My Pakistani friend is called terrorist weekly. He can't go out for a drink without someone making a terrible joke about how he is probably the one with a bomb strapped to him. He's working twice as hard to hold the same jobs that half as talented peers hold.

My gay friends fear bringing their long term, adult consenting, significant others around their families because of the off-hand comments about those "liberal faggots" from their uncles.

Most people that voted for Trump are not racist or misogynistic. But, Trump getting voted in is affirmation that they would rather this person who is absolutely racist and misogynistic be president, rather than Hillary Clinton, Gary Johnson, or Jill Stein.

These people I'm talking about essentially have seen half of their country say, "I care about getting rid of Obamacare more than I care about your equality." It's lonely, isolating, and depressing to wake up every day and feel like you country doesn't want you.

I try to envision Obama saying all white males are rapists and they should be registered and possibly deported back to Germany / Britain. And then envisioning people cheering him getting into office.

It would be very hard to get out of bed in the morning.

So I understand friends. I understand why you wake up pissed off daily. You've worked hard for the American dream and it was pulled farther away from you with this election.