Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Mount Rainier Summit Anniversary

One year ago this morning, I reached the summit of Mount Rainier. To mark the occasion, I originally intended to write an in-depth account of the climb. Unfortunately, the bar exam has thwarted that plan, so my frequent readers will have to wait a while longer for that post. For now, a few photos will have to suffice. The photo below features Gabriel and me standing at climbing school the day before the hike. The summit appears in the background, roughly 10,000 feet above and ten miles away from us. The photo at the top of the post shows us enjoying our accomplishment, completely ignorant of the difficulties that would face us on the long walk out.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Japanese Game Shows

Really no commentary is necessary for this one. The video says so much about Japan.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Tales of Two Road Trips: "The Places In Between" and "The Road"

My daily schedule has become hectic, but each morning presents a solid half hour of blessed public transportation. This allows me a half hour to read and relax on the train before a day of trying to cram information into my head. My recent selections have presented stories of two drastically different road trips, each devastating in its own way.

The Places In Between, by Rory Stewart

I began The Places In Between with a large number of preconceived notions about the author. I knew the story detailed the author's walk across Afghanistan in 2002. Based on that detail alone, I expected the author to be a macho risk-taker. I expected the story to be interesting but full of boastful anecdotes. I formed these opinions by pondering the type of person willing to take such a risky trip.

Fortunately, I could not have been more incorrect. The author comes across as introspective and knowledgeable, resourceful and kind. He weaves threads of his own story along with Afghanistan's history--both recent and ancient. The result is a beautiful tale of danger and discovery. His narrative is a welcome contrast to the way Afghanistan tends to be presented in the mainstream media. Instead of discussing a monolithic culture, Stewart reveals an Afghanistan marked by diversity. While reading, I realized that much of what I have read about the country had been littered with overgeneralizations, and the lack of subtlety in our conception of the nation will likely be the downfall of the US project.

As a travel story, the book was one of the best I've read. He faces difficult conditions throughout his trip, and his survival depends on the hospitality of strangers. He encounters dangers that seem alien and absurd, but the dangers make the journey so remarkable.

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

I assume most folks who come to this blog have heard of The Road by now, so I will keep my comments short. It's a story of the love between father and son, the end of civilization, and being. The writing transports me, and each time I set the book down I have to shake off the world McCarthy creates so deftly. The story is scary and beautiful, and it unmasks existence to its core, finding a perverse clash of good and evil. I call it "perverse" because I'm forced to decide where I would fit in this world. I'd like to think that I'd be "carrying the fire," but I can't be sure.

I now face the first time that I have been afraid to finish a book. I lack only fourteen pages, but I don't know if I can face what they may hold. When you read the book, pause at the bottom of page 272, and I imagine you will feel the same way.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Gun Barrel City, Texas: Saturday Night at Cedar Isle

The moon illuminated Cedar Creek Lake as we slowly cruised toward the bar. It was a cool night, the sort of night one sorely misses in August. The water was calm, and, as the breeze from our motion forced me to squint, I soon fell into some strange space between sleep and consciousness. The short trip was relaxing and peaceful, and it in no way prepared me for what would ensue.

We were headed to Cedar Isle, a bar that squats above a dock along highway 334. It's the kind of bar one expects to find on a lonely tract of tourist beach . . . the type of place that should have Jimmy Buffet blasting from the radio while the owner bitterly rants in a drunken haze about how the beach bar was the fulfilment of a lifelong dream. In that vein, the bar sports tattered turquoise siding, a guy grilling burgers near the dock, and easy boat access. This bar was different though. First, the ocean is roughly 500 miles away. Second, Jimmy Buffet never entered the band's playlist. Third, this bar made me feel out of style for not having a mullet. Cedar Isle is a world of its own.

As we pulled toward the dock, we strained our ears to determine whether the bar had a live band or a karaoke machine. The water distorted the sound, and we couldn't tell whether the vocals came from a self-labeled "professional" musician or a drunken hack reliving past glories. We soon realized the sound definitely came from the band, but it was likely also coming from someone reliving past glories.

We muscled past the grill and onto an open patio. Our senses were soon occupied with an eclectic cast of characters. We saw an aging woman in a red top with Shirley Temple, red-died curls framing her weathered face. The band seemed to be a gathering of utter strangers: a bass guitarist who looked like a young Paul McCartney with Ringo's 70s hair and a cut-off tank top. The lead guitarist flaunted a grandiose mullet that moved with his rockin' gyrations. The other guitarist looked twenty years and about nineteen thousand cigarettes behind the rest. Together, they offered three distinct sounds: Beatles (he sounded like a young John Lennon, meaning this one man was effectively channeling three Beatles), high-pitched hair rock (via the Mullet), and 90s grunge rock. They were perfect.

We staggered through the crowd and immediately realized that we were about five beers behind our fellow patrons. We also realized that we would not, and probably could not, catch up to them. We found a table next to a couple of guys from Waxahachie who were just passing through, apparently enjoying a day of "fat doobies" on the deck of their boats. While they confirmed that detail in conversation, their smiles had told us that already.

Our table gave us great views of the dancefloor. A lone dancer in a polka-dot top thrusted her arms about violently, jerking in utter disregard for rhythm. Occasionally she would collapse suddenly on the ground and then rise again, a drunken phoenix. Her efforts were soon joined by countless others. Perhaps a result of the crowd, the polka-dot dancer vanished. A while later I spotted her in the distance, continuing her dance quite alone on the dock. This night was all about her.

We sipped our beer and laughed, thankful to be the hell out of Dallas. Megan and I had visited a posh Dallas establishment the night before, a place notable for its creative cocktails, unique food items, and plastic-surgeried patrons. Cedar Isle was a simpler universe. The beer was canned, the music was classic, and the deck shook with a lust for life repressed in the Dallas restaurant by self-consciousness and glam.

I took in the scene and reveled in the unbridled joy. Somewhere in that reveling, I noticed a woman had pulled off her shirt and was giving lap dances to her friend. Meanwhile, polka-dots was coming dangerously close to assaulting the younger guitarist. The cops seemed to have circled in on a group of underage partiers, and somewhere in the emerging chaos, we decided it was time to head home.

We untied the boat and headed off toward the moon, which was now high in the sky. The cacophony of Cedar Isle slowly slid into the distance, and the hum of the engine prepared us for sleep. I shook my head and wondered whether that trip to the bar was just a strange dream.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Brothers Australia Update

Just finished a brief online chat with Tom and Mark Everett. They are currently in Cairns, and there were a few items to note.

1) They couldn't talk too long. They needed to eat a quick breakfast before heading out to a rainforest where they will "snuggle with koalas."

2) They are enjoying new experiences with beer. Tom's favorite so far is called Toohey New, or "new" by the locals. Mark Everett prefers mango weizen, a German hefeweizen featuring a couple small dollops of mango nectar.

3) Tomorrow Mark Everett will get to work on his Chaco tan during a seven-hour boat ride . . . that will take them to an empty sandy atoll . . . which will be their starting point for a snorkel trip . . . on the Great Barrier Reef.

Bar review classes might be a bit tougher to sit through tomorrow!
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