Sunday, May 29, 2011

Day 23 Road Trip '11: Ft Benning, GA

Ten hours after leaving Jacksonville, I arrived here in Ft. Benning, GA, the endpoint of this epic journey across the country and through my own persona. It has been a truly life-changing experience, one that will define me for some time to come. It has been an intensely personal journey filled with epic adventures. I'm not sure that I will ever forget this trip as long as I live and beyond.

To recap:

The entire trip spanned 5,017 miles over 23 days, with about 72 hours worth of driving. I drove from Provo to Vegas, LA, the Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, Oklahoma City, Jefferson City, St. Louis, Lewisburg, NYC, DC, VA Beach, Jacksonville, and then to Ft. Benning. Just writing the name of each stop conjures up a slue of memories and lessons learned. There was something I found out about myself at each stop, and each city taught me something new about life in general. Many of those lessons you can find in my earlier posts, and some are just for me. It's been fun chronicling these adventures, and if you've been following along, I hope you've gotten a sense of how great life is and can be. You don't need to drive across the country though. You just have to live, wherever you are.

But now I begin the Infantry Basic Officer Course, something I expect to be no less defining and life-changing. I've already completed the first week of in-processing, and I have 15 more weeks to go until graduation. Three days after graduation comes Ranger School - a grueling two months of nonstop tests of endurance and willpower. Granted that I don't fail or get hurt, I will graduate Ranger School on 11-11-11. Sounds ominous. After that comes Airborne School, a three week training course for jumping out of perfectly good airplanes (been there, done that). Depending on which unit I am assigned to in Alaska (one is an airborne unit, the other a Stryker unit), I will have a couple other schools - some of my choosing, such as Air Assault. After 7-12 months from getting here to Ft. Benning, I will be off to my first duty station somewhere in Alaska. Shortly thereafter I expect to be deployed, as one unit is currently in Afghanistan and the other set to deploy within the year.

I have no doubt that this is supposed to be the next phase of my life. The next three years (at least) are supposed to be in this uniform doing this job. I'll do my turn, give back to my country, and then see what life has in store next for me.

Until then, I return you to your regularly scheduled programming of Linguistic Ju-Jitsu, random thoughts of randomness, and sudden bouts of inspiration. I plan to write more than I did pre-trip, and I plan to follow the upcoming election as closely as time permits. Maybe I can actually put a Political Science degree to good use.

We'll see about that.

And with that, friends, I bid you adieu.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Day 16-22 Road Trip '11: Jacksonville, NC

North Carolina was planned from the start as well. I knew that I would be seeing my brother Ben Gripp and his family this summer before I knew I was taking this trip. Although I usually don't write about people I know in a public forum like this, I'm pretty sure he wouldn't mind. I've been wrong before though.

When I first met Ben, I couldn't stand him. He was a jerk to everyone, and he was smart enough to get away with it. By smart I mean exactly that: he was and is very intelligent. From my perspective, he treated people like they were beneath him because they weren't as intelligent. Which they weren't. As intelligent, that is.

If memory serves, we met in a physics class with Mrs. K during my senior year. The hand of fate sat us next to each other, and we quickly found that we were both in the same intellectual league. I think that (partially) because of this, he didn't treat me the same way that I observed him treating others. Naturally, this was agreeable to me, and I seemed to forget about whatever biases I had previously held against him. And so, we quickly became a pair of philosophizing hooligans.

Whereas Ben crushed and rejected those of a lesser intellect, I more pitied and accepted them. Whereas he saw them as a drain and a waste, I saw them as unfulfilled potential. However different our approach, we both held this disdain for mediocrity and stupidity. Think Dumbledore and Grindewald. Or Magneto and Xavier, even. I can still see us, in my mind's eye, sitting apart from the rest of the class: as far to the edge of the body of the class and close to the door as possible, as if we would be infected by the class' aura if we were to surround ourselves by it.

And to be fair, we might have been, had we. Surrounded ourselves by them, that is. Public schools are the great equalizers, in more than one way, not all of them good.

But we didn't. No, in our obvious superiority, we began envisioning a world run right for a change. In this world, people would be given Rocket Points for acts of stupidity, lack of commons sense, gross offenses against humanity, and anything else we didn't like. Only a handful of people could give out Rocket Points, for once a person had accrued a certain number of points, they would be given the opportunity of a lifetime: to fly on a rocket to the sun! They would be so excited to take a trip on the Rocket, too, because that's the kind of people they were.

There was also the Grippettigan scale. Our dynamic duo became a Triumverate with the addition of Dave Nelligan, the other intellectual of our time in 618. I could write a whole other post about Dave and his interactions with us, but suffice to say that the three of us put our heads together and birthed the scale of scales, one that would definitively quantify a person's value to the new regime and to humanity in general. There were three categories: Gripps, Nelligans, and Petitts.

The Petitt scale was the simplest and easiest to measure: it was a simple ten-point scale that measured or described one's attractiveness. And to answer the first question that comes to your mind: yes, you can score higher than a ten on the Petitt scale - either an 11 or a 20. No one ever bothers with 12 to 19 anyway. Usually, an 11 was given to someone that you actually knew or had seen with your own eyes, while a 20 was basically celebrity/supermodel type beauty. Like Natalie Portman *drool.* And to be fair to the ladies - and also to show no bias - your Twilight hearthrobs. Quasi over there is a 1.

Nelligans described one's intelligence and common sense. The score was computed by adding one's IQ score to their common sense score. The average IQ is 100, and there is no highest score. Theoretically someone could have an IQ of 1000. To weight common sense (because we felt that it was more important than being "bright" or booksmart) we made it worth double your IQ. The average common sense score was therefore around 200. . So the average person should have 300 Nelligans. What we considered really worthwhile people would be around 400 Nelligans. For perspective, Einstein had 800+ Nelligans if I remember right.

Finally, Gripps described your overall level of awesomeness; that "it" factor; the XFactor; coolness in general. It was on a 1-100 scale, with 100 being theoretically possible but practically unattainable. If someone had 100 Gripps, it was like they were so cool that you would melt from pure awesomeness Kung Fu Panda style. It's easier for fictional characters to rate higher, considering that they are not restrained by the shortcomings of real people. James Dean is one of the top scorers of real people with around 80 Gripps. Master Chief has around 92. Han Solo would be up there as well.

The math gets a bit tricky from here, but basically you run your three scores through this formula to come up with how many Grippetigans you have. Grippetigan scores could influence the number of rocket points you received for an infraction, if you received them at all, or if you could even give them. Although, the only person I remember authorized to give me, Dave, or Ben rocket points was of course Mrs. Evans, our high school math teacher.

Yes, with our handy scale and means for meting out justice, we planned to eliminate a significant portion of the gene pool responsible for the degradation of the human race. We had such high hopes...

And then Ben and I both graduated and went our separatepastime among those with higher vision - we were able to interact on a daily basis for some periods. You would be amazed at how well you can keep up a relationship by playing online games with them. I read an article once that said that to keep a relationship healthy you must talk or otherwise interact with each other for at least 30 solid mins a day. How many people can you say you do that with?

Well, to make a long story short, Ben joined the Marines, was baptized, and got married all in the same summer. Talk about a life changing summer. My epic trip across the country was life-changing, but his summer beats mine in that category, I think. Not long after, he was a father. I had yet to meet his son Eli until this visit.

And to turn one week into one paragraph: it was like we had never been apart. We laughed at how every time we see each other after a long period of physical separation that it's just like high school again. As if it's like, "Oh yeah I just saw you yesterday, what's up?" More than that, we act and talk like we've been regularly hanging out, which I guess we have been, online. Again, you would be surprised at how effective the online gaming world is at keeping relationships alive.

The week was full of epic events, such as tweaks to our plans for world domination and conversations that extended into the middle of the next morning. And for all the benefits of online interaction, there is no substitute for physical proximity.

We ended the week with a three-day long gaming spree full of mountains of dew and plain(s) of pizza with some pepperonis. A fitting last hurrah before the rigors of Infantry school.

*Disclaimer: I feel obliged to mention that Kevin King is now the third member of the Triumverate, and the scale has been modified to the Grippettiking scale. Measurements and descriptors still apply. Also, a telling of the tale of our friendship is forthcoming in its entirety and glory, inthewhich, Kevin, you shall receive your due diligence. In addition, a musical theater rendition of the Triumverate is in the works, as well. All in due time. Tartar sauce.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Day 15 Road Trip '11: Virginia Beach

I've had this recurring nightmare ever since I was a little child. In it, I'm driving a car on an endless bridge over the water, presumably the ocean. Oh, and there are no railings on this bridge. Oh, and the bridge is JUST wide enough for my car. Oh, and sometimes there's people in the car, which only adds to the anxiety. The nightmare ends in a variety of different ways. Usually I reach the end of the bridge and wake up, or else I forget what happened. I'm pretty sure I never fall in (though I've been blown up and hit the ground in those "falling dreams" - twice).

I think as a result of these dreams, I developed a mild (self-diagnosed) gephyrophobia - an irrational fear of bridges that brings on anxiety when crossing one. I would close my eyes, look away, hold my breath, go to my happy place - anything to rid the thought of a collapsing bridge from my mind.

Now, I conquered that fear of bridges all by lonesome. I remember being like seven years old and forcing myself to keep my eyes open when we crossed bridges. I would think things like: "Look at these other cars: they aren't falling through the floor... maybe I wont either...?" Employing tactics like these, I crushed that phobia with the iron will of a seven-year-old... but I still get that twinge every now and then at the first bump signalling the junction of road and bridge...

And then quite suddenly, I knew where that fear orginiated. My mom was again suggesting that I go to Virginia and see the place where I was born. "Oh!" she added. "And you can drive across the Chessapeake Bay Bridge!" I instantly had a hunch that it was some nightmareishly long bridge over some never-ending water... and then instantly had a second hunch that the source of my greatest fear had been located at last. "Yeah," she continued, "It's this huge bridge..." I pulled out a (GPS) map, and saw THIS:

Ho. Ly. Crap. I about peed my pants just looking at the map.

Now, I didn't go to Virginia beach to face my fears - but that was definitely an added bonus. Truth is, I knew I was going to Virginia long before I knew I was taking this trip. I'm not sure why I wanted to, but I was very preoccupied with visiting the motherland. I've never had any particular attachment to Virginia; after all, I moved away from there when I was about two years old, so I don't really remember much. But I was surprised how much I learned about myself from visiting Hampton, Virginia.

Again, I can't say that I remember Virginia... but I know for a 100% fact that both my nightmare and my irrational fear of bridges came from the Chessapeake Bay Bridge and the other series of bridges in that area that seem just as long. When you're on these bridges, you can't see anything but bridge and ocean. The Bay Bridge itself is TWENTY MILES LONG. As I drove across the bridges, I had these... impressions. Not flashbacks; not memories. They were like imprints on my psyche. I could feel the familiarity of the situation, which was strking considering that I can't recall ever driving over such a series of bridges. And the Bay Bridge was THE bridge of my nightmare.

As I drove into Langley Air Force Base where I was born, I had another strange realization. Recall, if you will, this post I wrote about driving into California and seeing - no, feeling - the ocean.

"There's something about the Ocean... some primal connection I feel to it deep in my soul. If I had lived anytime pre-1800's, I would have been a sailor, no question. When I saw the ocean I just sighed and realized that if the trip ended now, it would have been worth it. Lucky for me it was just starting."

I wrote that weeks before I got to VA, and I've felt it for a long time. Now get this: Langely Air Force Base is literally on the water. You can see the ocean from the hostpital. The base is bordered by it. No wonder I feel such a connection to the water: the lull of the tides serenaded my newborn soul for two years. Add the numerous beaches of the area into the equation, and it's easy to see why my love of the beach is so ingrained.

And so, after touring Langely and the Hampton area, I turned in for the night.

In the morning, I conquered the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and then headed to Virginia Beach to relax the day away. And relax the day away I did, after touching the Atlantic Ocean - the culmination of my coast to coast odyssey.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Day 15 Road Trip '11: D.C.

I drove through the night of Day 14 and woke up in DC the next day at a friends house. She had plans for the day, so I was off to explore the city by myself. It turned out perfectly though.

I had originally planned to see as much of the city as I could in one day. Let me tell you: there's a lot to see in DC. You could spend a week there comfortably, filling your days with all kinds of crazy stuff. I don't know what I was thinking, trying to cram it all into a couple hours.

I started (and ultimately ended) at Arlington National Cemetary, and I'm glad I was alone. Arlington was a life changer. There is a profound respect and sacredness to Arlington that I have felt in very few places. People impressed me with the little things they would do to to honor and respect the place. For instance, people would run with their shirts off, it being a hot day in DC and all, but when they would approach the cemetary, they would put their shirts on out of respect. As soon as they would leave the area, they would take it back off. It's not that the area outside the cemetary was any less populated or anything like that. It was just out of respect, out of a sense of maintaining the dignity of the place.

I went straight to the Tomb of the Unkowns, hoping to catch the change of the guards. I was very moved by the proceedings. The site is so beautiful. You can see in the pictures that there is a stairwell behind the tomb. It's harder to see that there is an open view of the city behind it and beyond those stairs. The grounds are immaculate, and the wreaths from previous guard changings are strewn about the backside of the tomb. There is such reverence and respect during the entire thing.

Besides the grounds, the professionalism and dignity of the soldiers was overwhelming to me. I had trouble then, and am having that same trouble now, expressing what I felt. It was a profound sense of responsibility and awe. I remember hoping that I would live up to their sacrifice somehow. I remember hoping to be worthy of such remembrance and honor for my service.

There was a lot of emotion, a lot of introspection for me. I sat there for about an hour, watching and thinking. There was more than just the changing of the guard. There was also the wreath laying, and Taps. I cannot describe to you how much that song means to me now -- and I am only in training. I remember thinking that being worthy of Taps was all I could ask for in regards to my service. Being worthy of that song mattered to me. Every note was filled with such... reverance. And gratitude. It was palpable.

I left the tomb and took a walk through the grounds. Again, you just have to have been there to understand what you feel. It's a somber reminder of what has been given for the life we live.

I felt... recharged, somehow, after Arlington. I made my way across the bridge towards the National Mall, thinking that I would hit up all the sites. But something was telling me that my mission was done here. I had seen what I came to see, really. I remember thinking, "No way, I've only seen one thing - I'm not leaving." But even as I ate and walked past the Lincoln Memorial, I got the same feeling. I realized what it was, and decided to head out. I was able to see a few more things on the way to metro, too. The new WWII memorial is up and is very cool. Its a big pool of water. On either side is a large headstone; one says Atlantic, the other says Pacific. Forming a circle around the pool, and connecting the two headstones, are fifty other smaller headstones, each with the name of a state on it. I stopped to think some more, watching as people would go up their state's headstone and get pictures taken. There were some very epic quotes carved into the ground and walls and benches surrounding the pool.

Lucky for me I left when I did. I made it out of the city 30 minutes before a few major roadways were closed off, which would have stranded me in DC for another night. Lucky, right? More like, tricky, if you know what I mean. Thanks to the trickiness, I made it to Virginia Beach that night, and was able to revisit the stomping grounds.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Day 14 Road Trip '11: New York City, cont

At Convocations, the part of graduation where you walk across the stage and get your name called and get handed your (fake) diploma, there is a lot of down time. You stand in line for an hour, then you sit for three more, and then you walk for like ten minutes. Well, I looked for a couple of my closer friends to kill time with and found out that they were all skipping convocations for one reason or another. I ended up with my friend Julia, who I had taken two random classes with. One was this political philosophy class, the other was our capstone. We routinely cut up in our capstone with one of our other friends, and as we had yet to grow out of it, it continued throughout all of Convocations.

In an attempt to get our (fake) diploma and peace out as quickly as possible, we ended up sitting in the very front row. As we walked in, I saw this particularly cute blond girl on the stand that I swore I recognized. Turns out that she, Julia, and I had all been in that political philosophy class a year or so earlier. Julia reminded me that this blond girl had been a brunette at the time with a broken foot. She also (obviously) had a huge crush on me because we would argue over every single thing in that class. No matter what the issue was, if I said something, she would vehemently disagree, and I would do the same. Obviously this can only mean she had a crush on me. Julia remembered her name was Catherine.

So we made faces at Catherine throughout the whole ceremony. She was up on the stand because she was part of the special musical number.

Nearing the end of the ceremony, Julia started texting someone, and I had this feeling like it was someone on the stand. When I asked who she was texting, she told me it was one of her friends: some guy on the stand who was actually part of the special musical number as well. "Well ask him to get her number for me!" I insisted.

She laughed and texted him: "Hey, can you do me a favor and get that girl's number for my friend next to me?" He read the text, looked up at me, and mouthed: "Who?" He pointed to his right in question.

"No," I replied silently. I pointed as I mouthed, "Down, and right." I saw his eyes look at the person in front of him and then to the right. He suddenly looked back up at me, angry, and said/mouthed: "She's MINE!!"

We all started laughing so hard, right in the middle of the ceremony. He was joking but still, it was funny.

Well by this point Catherine was sure that we were laughing at her, after having had made all these faces throughout the ceremony and now with the unrestrained laughter. Just then, the ceremony ended and we all stood up. I could see Julia's friend talking to Catherine as we walked out. She looked at me as I left like, "What...?"

I laughed as I walked out and said goodbye to Juila. I walked around to the entire opposite side of the stadium to meet up with my parents. As we were walking away I decided to run back in and grab a program so I could figure out Catherine's last name and facebook her about what had happened. I ran back inside, found a stray program, and made my way back outside.

I looked through the program as I swam through the crowd of parents, family, professors, and students. The place was packed. There were a couple thousand people in this stadium, so I knew it would be like this till I could get outside.

And then the crowd literally parted. Suddenly there was just Catherine standing right in my way, no one else. Cinematic, right? We started talking as I explained what was going on, and then asked her what was next in life. She said she was going to NYU to study dance and that she would be in New York City in a week or so. I was like "no wai! I'll be there two weeks!" So we decided to do something when I got there.

Fast forward to Day 13 (the previous post) of this trip. I had texted her when I was on my way to Wicked to see what was up. After Wicked it ended up being pretty late, so we decided to meet up for lunch the next day. I tried to find another adventure for that night, but as soon as I had sat on my bed, I was unconscious.

What are the odds, right? Anyway, lunch was great, she was great (we didn't argue once!!), the city was great. After some tasty Thai food, we paid our respects to Ground Zero and just wandered around the city for a while before I took her back to her place.

We said our goodbyes and I went back to wandering the city, wondering why I hadn't asked her out in college. Then I felt old, because I was referring to my days "in college."

 I don't know Manhattan as well I as I do the rest of the city, so I just took it all in for a while. The Ground Zero site is coming along, by the way. They still have that cross of crossbeams on display, and it will be on display at the memorial site when it's all finished.

After a bit of exploring, I almost stayed another night. I wanted to see a few more things and a few more plays, but something was telling me that it was time to move on. So I picked up the MINI and headed off.

And was promptly delayed by the Lincoln Tunnel.





Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Day 13 Road Trip '11: NEW YORK CITY

I was in New York for one night and a day and it still managed to suck me in once again. I had a very hard time leaving, and not because of the ungodly midtown traffic. But let me back up.

In LA, someone had asked me about New York City. At the time, I was so enamored with the beach that I started talking smack about my beloved NYC. "Oh it's a great place to visit," I said, "but I would never live there."

I officially recant that statement forever.

I would live in NYC in a heartbeat. Granted, it costs like $1200 for a single person to live there. That's right, $1200 for a single-room apartment. That's averageish. You COULD live in Brooklyn and be one of the weird white people I always made fun of on my mission, but who wants to do that? In any case, I love that city.

About the time I realized that all my smack talk was crap was as I was driving through New Jersey and caught a glimpse of the NYC skyline. I got all choked up and started getting all antsy. I realized that I was in NYC again (or almost anyway) and shamelessly blasted "Empire State of Mind" at full volume with the windows and sunroof open.

There is magic in California, but there is another kind of magic in NYC. In California it's like all of your problems are rather abstract and theoretical, like they're not really real. They're just these ideas that always seem to work themselves out because it's so sunny. It's like nothing could go wrong.

NYC magic is different. It's more like... more like a dream that becomes so vivid as to be real. You suddenly see a score of possibilities that seem to be just within reach. It's not that there are no problems - on the contrary, it's clear that there are obstacles. The magic of NYC is that you suddenly feel like you can take them head on and defy the odds. It's heady, in a way.

For me, I suddenly saw a slew of possibilities and futures. I realized that there was so much to be had in this city and that I had just barely skimmed the surface in the two years I had lived here. This wellspring of supressed dreams just started bubbling up inside me and erupted like a geyser of what-ifs and could-have-beens.

But it wasn't in a negative way like, "Oh, I really missed out." It was more like, "I have so much more to do here. I have to make it back here and accomplish what I set out to do all those years ago, starry eyed and young." Or something.

Point is, as I drove into NYC I began reevaluating my life. I was distracted though, by the insane traffic and the upcoming deadline: Wicked started in an hour and I had to make it to my hotel, dress, and get to the theater before then. I put my introspective journey on hold and made it to the Gershwin with plenty of time, so fresh and so clean clean.

Now, if you haven't seen Wicked, you need to stop what you're doing right now, check where the nearest showing is, and plan a trip around it. Take sick days, buy the plane tickets, do whatever it is you have to do. This is theatracal event of this decade, and it's on track to be the theatrical event of TWO decades. You must has to see this show in your life. Why? Let me count the ways:

1) Music. So epic. I know the CD backwards and forwards and I was still blown away by Defying Gravity and No Good Deed. And Glinda's songs are even better in person than on the tracks. This music was awesome.
2) Characters. So much depth. So much growth. So much emotion.
3) Fun. Everything about this show is fun. Even in the second act, when it gets much more serious, it's still fun. They do a perfect job of disarming you with comedy and light heartedness before slamming the emotion and power of the second act in your face and heart.
4) Costumes and setting. I put these two together even though they could be their own categories, and indeed they are. But the feel of what I was looking at was so spectacular that I put them together. The set was simple but effective, and the costumes were just amazing. The lighting was something I had never seen before. I won't give it all away, but Defying Gravity literally blew me away. By the time it was over I was sitting like one sits in a car that is accelerating too fast for you to catch up to, like you're just thrown back in your seat by the explosiveness of the car. That's how I was at the end of Defying Gravity. Epic.
5) Story. The story is fun, but the writing is excellent. Even if a particular actor isn't doing the part justice, you can't help but enjoy it because of the writing and story.

I could go on, but you get the picture. The show was everything everyone has ever said it is. It also helped that I had the absolute best seat in the house. You know when rehersals are going on and the director sits in the exact best seat so that he/she can see everything that's going on on-stage? That's where I sat. Pay the extra bit of cash so you can get a good seat. Course, in the Gershwin all the seats are really good.

I left that theater deep in thought. My first thought was "Why was I not in that show?" I realized that I still had the bug. I resolved to get back into it and see what I could do. Granted I've got three years of killing bad guys ahead of me, and I'm stoked for that. I couldn't be more excited for it. But that will only last so long. I'll be back to NYC to try my hand someday.

I started looking at all the things I wanted to accomplish in life and wondered how anyone is supposed to just pick one job or career to do. I want to do law, politics, intelligence, infantry, theater, film... a family too, somewhere. But how are you supposed to do all that? I thought about it long and hard, trying to figure out some way to do all of them. There is a great quote that a professor gave me at BYU. It reads:

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."

Excerpt from the notebooks of Lazarus Long, from Robert Heinlein's "Time Enough for Love"

Now, my professorleft out the bit about "Specialization is for insects," and I dont' mean to say that if you've specialized than you're the equivalent of an insect in my eyes. I do think that the principle is there though - why limit what we can do or attempt because it's safe or easy? A human being is a complex creature with incredible potential. I hope that by the end of my life I can say that I've done all these things. I'm determined, thanks to the magic of NYC, to get my list accomplished. And there's more on the list than what I wrote up there.

I went back to my hotel ON TIMES SQUARE (INORITE!!) and flopped down on my bed as I planned my next move. It was now 2330 and I was beat. I had said goodbye to my oldest friend in the morning, driven 10 hours through the day, and then had my mind and worldview blown to bits during the night. But I'll sleep when I'm dead, so I looked for my next adventure.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Day 11-12 Road Trip '11: West Virginia

Why West Virginia, you ask? Didn't you know that Lewisburg, WV has been voted the coolest small town in America? Go look it up.

The drive to West Virginia was not fun. Well, no. The drive TO West Virginia was quite pleasant. Sunny with a breeze, straight-line highways, and cheery skies. The drive THROUGH West Virginia was stormy, windy, and full of near-death experiences. I gripped the steering wheel so hard that there were multiple times I'd cramp up and have to stretch. MY HANDS.

I was literally hydroplaning through those highways. I thought I was cookin at 40 mph, but everyone else must have known something I didn't because they were screaming past me with dirty looks. My body was so tense (and probably malnourished. I think I had nothing more than a mountain dew all day) that I had to stop maybe three times. THREE TIMES! To put that in perspective, I stopped twice in 800 miles on an earlier day, and had to stop three times in WEST VIRGINIA.

But seeing my long nearly-lost friend Adrianna made up for it. I say nearly-lost because every time something threatens to put the kabosh on our friendship - like one of us moving across the ocean in a world before computers - we have found a way to stay in touch. Go technology. Go us. we've known each other since the FOURTH GRADE. Beat that.

We hit up the Greenbrier while I was there. The Greenbrier is this luxury resort located in eastern West Virginia that's been around for a couple hundred years. Very Victorian. Or whatever style of architecture is old and grand. It's full of marble and really bright green and pink interior decorating.

The thing about it is, during the Cold War, the Greenbrier underwent some massive renovations. Turns out the government also put a top secret bunker underneath it at the time in case of a nuclear attack on Washington! This was a legit underground bunker for the President, Vice President, and both houses of Congress to rendezvous should an attack occur. There were rooms enough for all of Congress and their families, plus staff. It housed a few thousand people, had food, shelter, electricity and water, and protection. Pretty incredible.

The most incredible thing about it (to me) was that it stayed a secret for THIRTY YEARS. I'm blown away that such a monumental task was kept secret. The people from the town knew that SOMETHING was up, but they didn't know what. There were bunker-workers who worked undercover in the hotel so that they could maintain bunker operations throughout the entire 30 years. There were massive vault doors all over the hotel hidden behind walls. Trucks even drove through this service tunnel. The entrance was a wall that swung open. There was also another entrance that, from the outside, looked like a garage door with a sign that read "high voltage." Ha.

I was only in WV for a night and a day. The bunker was very cool, but the real highlight was seeing Adrianna.

And then it was off to NEW YORK CITY. NEW. YORK. CITY. NEWYORKCITY. I love that city.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Day 8-10 Road Trip '11: STL

Saturday to Tuesday morning was spent recharging in St. Louis. Mostly that means sleeping in till about 11 am and then lounging around all day in my pajamas. When I finally did get up, it was off to the Arch.

Can you believe that I lived in St. Louis for something around five years and never went up it? Apparently that’s a common theme among those who live near an attraction like that. When I was in New York I met lots of people who had never visited the Statue of Liberty, gone up the Empire State Building, or even seen a play on Broadway. When you live that close to something special, you kind of take it for granted, it seems.
Well, the Arch is bigger than you think. It looks small(ish) in the St. Louis city skyline, but it’s huge. The base of the Arch dwarfs whoever stands next to it. I had this overwhelming desire to play Tracball in between the bases. I miss you already, Tracball. There were people playing ultimate Frisbee, but it’s just not the same. Luke, Erica, and I took pictures while we were there. Unfortunately we got in line to go up it just as they were putting up the “Sold Out” sign, so I still haven’t been UP the Arch, but at least I’ve been TO it. We made it back in time to get Luke to Prom. Ah, Prom. So many memories. Most of them sucky.
Sunday was church and visiting my old friend Kirstyn. It’s crazy how old we are now. It’s not like we’re THAT old, but people have families and kids and jobs and responsibilities. I always thought for sure that I’d be doing all those things before everyone else. Funny that I’m the last. I’m ok with that though, for now.
I was supposed to head out Monday. At least, that was my original plan. But something had been bothering me all weekend about leaving on Monday so I said to myself, “Tuesday it is, Sean.” Good thing I did, too, as we’ll see later in my adventures.

Monday was more recharging, a car wash, and a high school band concert. Luke plays the drums so I made it to listen to him play. I was messing around on my phone while the elementary and junior high schools played, grinning and bearing the honks and screeches. Suddenly the music  jumped in quality. I looked up, because something was different. The music was on beat, in tempo, sounded… better. Like the whole band had been lifted. Turns out they put Luke on the drums for this one song to help out the junior high band. He was on the set, just doing his thing, unaware in the sudden and significant increase in quality of this music. It was still junior high music, mind you, but it took a step up as soon as Luke took a seat. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Day 6-7 Road Trip '11: AZ to STL

Two days of back to back 10 hour driving. Sooo fun.
I kept tabs of the scenery as I went through the different states. AZ kept going back and forth between canyons and desert. New Mexico was some UGLY desert - as opposed to the spectacular deserts of Southern Utah, Nevada, and even AZ. The colors and landscape were all just bleh. It kept alternating between these random platueas and the ugly desert.

And then there was Texas. Of course with all the hype I was destined to dislike it. But then I saw miles and miles of wind farms and promptly changed my mind. Any state that is working like that to reduce dependence on oil (period) is ok in my book. Except for Oklahoma which is OK.

I made it to Oklahoma City that night, something I was rather proud of. I think it came out to be 800 miles that day. Could be the most mileage in one day on the entire trip, I think. Kimber facebooked me and offered her parents' place for me to stay, and I'm glad she did. Her house was an excellent place to recharge, even for only a night. The home is just so homey that it's hard not to feel refreshed from being there. It's outside of the city limits in some beautiful country, on its own peice of land with this feeling of permanence inside. The furtniture, design, and layout of everything just feels... permenant. It's the only way I can describe it.

That's such a foreign idea to me, having lived all over the place for 2-3 years on average in each location, but their home made me re-evaluate the idea of continuing that lifestyle. Also, Kimber's wedding photos are so excellent. They actually look happy in their photos. It was hard not to be cheerful walking down the hallway with those pictures up.

Anyhow, the next morning the Larsons made me breakfast, shared with me their 15th Century Bible (fascinating), and even packed me a cooler - and gave me the cooler! - for the road.

Oklahoma makes great humans.

The drive to St. Louis was GREEN. I had come into Oklahoma during the night (I arrived in OKC at 0045), so the last thing I had seen was the desert/plains of Texas. The next morning I'm driving out of the Larsons' driveway and it actually takes a few seconds for my eyes to adjust to all the green.

I stopped in Jefferson City, MO to visit my grandparents. My grandmother is suffering from cancer and ailments of various flavors and has just as many pills and medications adding to the fun. I can't say enough about how optimistic and cheerful she is, despite all the suffering. You'd think she just had a minor cold the way she talks about it. It was another good recharging moment to just be with them and feel of their love and support.

I finally rolled into St. Louis around midnight. Many of the bridges and exit ramps were flooded from all the recent storms. My family had actually had to delay their flight back from my graduation on account of the damage. Luckily the homefront hadn't suffered any damage at all.

I gave a "sup" to my family, and without any further ado, I threw my stuff in my room and fell asleep on TEH GRATEST BED EVAR.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Day 5 Road Trip '11: Grand Canyon

The day started relatively early, meaning that we were out of the house by nine-ish if I remember right. We packed up the cars, hit up the nearest gas station, and from there the fellowship broke apart. But we will always remain a fellowship so long as we remain true to one another.
Or something like that.

But seriously, I'm glad that my brother and B-Reil came along with me to Vegas and then decided to hit LA with me. It was infinitely more fun to have them along than to have gone by myself, something I realized alone at the Grand Canyon. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

We said our goodbyes and we were off, Blue Falcon and Yellow Jacket to Las Vegas, Red Fox to...

STARBUCKS!!! I had to catch up on some blogging and plan the day's events. By the way, their chocolate milk sucks.

I decided to hit up the Skywalk at the Grand canyon as opposed to hiking or river rafting it on account of time. Plus it just sounded cool. The Skywalk is this glass bridge over the Grand Canyon that you can see straight through to the 4000ft rocky surface below. Besides the fact that it sounds like one of those things man does to tempt Nature, the prospect of seeing the Canyon like that appealed to me.

The drive wasn't too bad at all - until I got to the last 14 miles to the edge of the canyon. It took me FIFTY MINUTES to drive FOURTEEN MILES up this unpaved, rocky, rough road that wound around and around to the top of the bluff before the canyon. I'm on to their game though. They have this shuttle that goes from the bottom of this unpaved road to the Skywalk area. If you want you can pay to ride the shuttle there and back. Course, once you get to the top of this road there is glorious pavement once again that takes you to the edge of the canyon and the Skywalk itself. It's just for that random 14 miles uphill that there is no pavement. Nice. When I got to the top, I couldn't see out the back window it was so dirty.

I hate to say this, but the land and the Native Americans that live there feel used to me. That's the word that kept coming to mind: used. The Natives eek out a living by doing dances and making cheap crafts for sale, as well as being workers on the tours and bus drivers. Granted, they might not feel that way, but I couldn't help feel that way myself.

The place itself is actually just a tourist trap. The Skywalk is very cool, but I'm not sure it's worth the tour that you have to purchase along with it. It's like 80 bucks for the "tour" (which is just three stops: 2 views of the canyon and some random Native American ranch), and then 80 more bucks for the Skywalk. It seemed like a lot at the time but as I'm writing now maybe it isn't. It took a lot of time though.

IRREGARDLESS!!! The Canyon is absolutely amazing. You really can't imagine the scope without having been there first. There is seriously nothing like it. The pictures you've seen of the Grand Canyon don't do it justice because you can't feel immensity of it from a picture like you can from actually being there. You just feel small. You can see helicopters int he distance giving tours and what not, but they only appear as tiny specs against the backdrop of the Canyon.

AND PEOPLE WERE STANDING SO CLOSE TO THE EDGE!! I kept having flashbacks to Hoover Dam with people going right up to the edge and peering in. I heard this one story later about this couple who were taking pictures near the edge. "Ok back up a little more!" the guy would say. The girl would take a step back. This went back and forth until the girl just fell right of the edge and died. I kept expecting that to happen.

In the end, it was all worth it to see one of the wonders of the world, but, like I said before, it feels a bit empty to do so and not share it with anyone. It would have been more fun to do it with Blue Falcon and Yellow Jacket, or anyone really. I thought for sure I'd prefer to do it alone and meditate or do yoga on the Canyon's edge, but I was surprised to find myself wishing that someone was there to share it with. C'est la vie.

I made the trip down that 14 miles of craproad and drove to Flagstaff, AZ where I stayed the night. Kyle had hooked me up with the senior missionaries from his mission who lived nearby, but something told me to call it a night. I'm not sure why, but it was a pretty distinct feeling that I should pay the hotel for a night rather than drive another 2 hours to stay for free. This whole trip has come together perfectly based on these hunches and impressions, so I decided to go with it and stay the night there. After working out at a 24 Hour Fitness (for free, thanks to some girl who I would bet is from California), I turned in for the night, prepping for the following two days of straight driving.