Thursday, August 25, 2016

Rockport - August 2016

Last week I visited Massachusetts for the second time with my wife. The first time we came was in December of 2013, just a few months after we started dating, so that I could meet her father who lives in Rockport just outside of Boston. It just so happened that the week we were there was one of the coldest weeks they have had in that area in almost 25 years, and I also managed to catch the flu during the flight. But despite single digit temperatures outside and trying to contain my triple digit body temperature inside, we managed to have a fun trip which included touring Fenway Park and catching a game at the Garden to watch the Celtics play the Knicks. We also spent a day in Rockport, which was the day it snowed over half a foot. Seeing snow fall that hard while also looking at the ocean was a surreal experience for me.

This time, we were smart and decided not to visit the Northeast during the winter, and would be seeing Boston and the coast in the middle of August. Amanda has been visiting the area for most of her life, as her father has lived in Rockport since she was 4, so visiting for her feels as much as a homecoming as it does a vacation. I have been lucky enough to go to Ecuador to visit my father earlier this year, and more recently took a trip to Lake Tahoe with Rogue Expeditions (see previous blog post for a recap of that trip), so I was excited about getting to take one more trip before we both start the Fall semester of our graduate school programs.

After early flights, we arrived around lunch time and her dad picked us up at the airport and drove us the hour or so out to Rockport, where we ate lunch on a patio overlooking Cape Ann and the Atlantic Ocean. We ate clam chowder and caught up, and then headed to his condo to unpack and get settled. After a short jog around town to shake out our legs, the evening was spent telling stories and laughing, and once in bed, we stayed up to watch Benjamin Button all the way through despite being exhausted from our 3 AM wake up call that morning.

On Friday, Amanda met with a higher up at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston for lunch to network and learn more about the hospital, and her father and I strolled down Newbury Street, a popular shopping and eating destination in the heart of the city. My father in law proceeded to give me excellent life advice over our lunch, which is typical when spending time with him. When we picked up Amanda after her meeting, she was beaming with excitement for having gotten to see a lot of Mass Gen and share her ideas for her future with a fellow UT graduate. We stopped for ice cream on the way back to Rockport, and settled in for a movie that night.

The next morning, I decided to go on a running adventure and run along the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway to the Annisquam Lighthouse about 6 miles away from where we were staying. The road itself lived up to its name, and the Light(house) at the end of the tunnel was stunningly beautiful. People commenting on the photo I posted to social media asked if it was really a photo I took, or rather a picture of a painting I was posting. I had not been prepared for how beautiful the coast is in the Northeast during this time of year. Even the rocks were beautiful. That night Amanda and I shared a romantic dinner at the same balcony restaurant we ate lunch at the first day, and watched the sunset over the sleepy town.

On Sunday, Amanda and I rented bikes and explored Rockport on two wheels. The houses are a combination of historic, huge, and beautiful, and come in all shades of colors. We finished the bike ride with a dip in the ocean at Front Beach, which added to the bodies of water I have gone swimming in this calendar year (Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador, Lake Tahoe, now the Atlantic Ocean). We ended our day watching Memento, which we had never seen.

It was bittersweet having to head home the next day, as we felt as though we had just gotten comfortable and relaxed in our little beach condo getaway. But it was great to finally get to take a trip together, as we had both traveled without each other over the course of our first year of marriage, but hadn't taken a trip together since right after we got in engaged over 2 years ago to Portland. While it can be good to have those breaks away from each other at times, trips like these remind us that we truly are each other's best friend, and it left us feeling refreshed before we both get busy in the grind this Fall.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Running with Strangers

(As originally written for and posted by Rogue Expeditions

Almost exactly two years ago I joined my first training group at Rogue Running in Austin, Texas and was invited by my coach to come listen to an informational meeting about a run based traveling company called Rogue Expeditions. I sipped on a beer and watched intently as this couple named Allison and Gabe described how their love for running and traveling had led them to start this company, which included trips to locations such as Kenya, Patagonia and Morocco. I remember being struck by how passionately the couple talked about wanting to create memorable adventures for those who signed up for their trips. Going on one immediately went on my bucket list.

Flash forward to two weeks ago, as I was boarding a flight to Reno, Nevada where I would be picked up along with five other first-time Rogue Expedition trip takers to be the 2016 group to #RunTahoe. I had hardly slept the night before due to excitement, yet ultimately still did not really know what to expect. I would be staying in a cabin with strangers, visiting a part of the country I had never been to, and logging my longest week of miles this calendar year (not to mention logging those miles via trail running which was also not something I had done a lot of). So the sleepless night of excitement may have also had twinges of nervousness mixed in. However, I managed to make my short connection at LAX and arrived safely in Reno (as did my checked luggage) and was greeted at the baggage claim by a very cheery Allison and other runners in the group. The excitement from everyone was palpable, and even one participant whose luggage had not arrived with her flight was still in great spirits as we all began to bond in the car ride to our lodge for the next five days. Pretty quickly my nerves about vacationing with strangers began to subside.

            For runners, bonding is not a new concept. There is the bond created from sharing the misery of training runs. There is the amazing atmosphere created before, during, and after races in which there is always a feeling of celebration. There is that shared runners high when sharing a drink or meal that feels truly earned. I have also found that it is often easy to bond with other travelers. When you meet other people away from home, you get to share stories, and people seem to really open up when they are out of the comfort zone of their daily routines. These two different ways of connecting with people are merged in this environment cultivated by Rogue Expeditions.

After arriving at the cabin and getting to meet everyone in the group, we set off on our first run of the trip. The Donner Lake Rim Trail would give us amazing views of Donner Lake, where the infamous Donner party was stranded in the 1840’s, and we would get to cross over the famed Pacific Crest Trail. Running at altitude can be a bit of an adjustment, but the amazing views and perfect weather distracted us.

 Gabe, Allison, and our other guide Sarah were all very gifted in the kitchen, and each meal prepared by them provided perfect fuel for the adventures we were having during the trip. We had everything from Thai food to fajitas to steaks, and being able to have home cooked meals only added to the family vibe of the trip. On day two, we ran the Rubicon Trail, ending with a picnic on a secluded beach right on Lake Tahoe in the popular area of Emerald Bay. The cold water was refreshing as we ate and took photos of the amazing views around us.

            Day three was the long run, which consisted of 14 miles on one of the most popular trails in the world – the Flume Trail. The views of Lake Tahoe from high up on this trail are incredible, and neither my words nor my pictures can do them justice. The pace for everyone on this run was slow, as we knew we would be stopping frequently to take pictures. We once again ended with a picnic on a beach, this time eating Argentinian styled wraps and climbing on the boulders of Chimney Beach. Back at our cabin, the group bonded over Cards Against Humanity and crossword puzzles, and the atmosphere continued to feel more like a family reunion then a house full of people who had just met days before.

            The fourth day was meant for recovery, but multiple people got up early to go on an extra run before the scheduled trail so that one of the group members who had to leave early from the trip would not have to run alone. The scheduled run took us through the abandoned tunnels of the transcontinental railroad. It was incredible to see the amazing graffiti artwork within the tunnels, and seeing tunnels carved and/or blasted through the sides of mountains was impressive. After another picnic, we headed to the Truckee River to go whitewater rafting. Truly living up to their promise of epic adventures, the hours on the river were a great change of pace from the trail running.

On the final morning, everyone woke up and run the “optional” last run to Moriah Point overlooking the Royal Gorge. Once again, the views did not disappoint, and it was hard knowing we would have to say goodbye to our little cabin on the Serene Lakes. As we began departing, genuine hugs and warm wishes were shared, and plans were already beginning to circulate for when we could all get together again for a reunion. It was not surprising to any of us that a lot of people end up signing up for multiple Rogue Expedition trips. I recently wrote a blog post for Rogue Running about joining a running group and finding a family, and that theme again permeates my feelings towards this trip. The connections shared, the experiences that Rogue Expeditions cultivated for us will never be forgotten by everyone who attended. Every detail was taken care of for us, and all we had to do was show up, run, and enjoy the views. I can’t wait to sign up for my next trip, and hope my words will inspire others to do the same.

I joined a running group to make friends, and instead I found a family

(As originally posted for Rogue Running in Austin, Texas)

In August 2014, I decided to join a training group at Rogue Running in Austin, Texas. I had just gotten engaged to my now wife, whom I met on Tinder (which is a story for another time), and was coming to the realization that as I had grown in my relationship with her, I had lost some of the friendships I had previous to meeting her. Although I graduated from college about a month before moving to Austin, my first four years in the Violet Crown could be viewed more as the “party” portion of my life than the four years I spent in college in my hometown in East Texas. However, most of the friendships I had made during that time were based more around going out and drinking than on something I could consider a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. As I moved down the path towards marriage, my time spent on the bar scene lessened, and I realized I needed a way to meet people that would be a little more conducive to my new, attempting-to-be adult lifestyle.

I learned about Rogue from a friend who had successfully run her first marathon while training with one of their groups. Previous to joining, I had casually trained for and successfully run a number of 10k’s and half marathons, which I did as almost a form of justification for my indulgent lifestyle. It was also somewhat meditative for me, the solitude of pounding the trails or pavement, so I was a little hesitant about running in the August Texas heat with a bunch of strangers.  I tried to maintain a positive attitude, especially considering I had at times in my life experienced the infamous “runners high” and figured if I could catch that sense of euphoria occasionally, that surely I could meet 1 or 2 people I might be able to bond with.

What happened over the course of the next few weeks, months, and now years is a laundry list of life lessons in connecting with people. Running in a group appealed to my competitive nature in a way I had not seen coming, and also reminded me of my past growing up playing team sports including soccer and basketball. I had not imagined a sport as considerably “solo” as running could be groomed and improved thanks to having a team or group around you, taking pleasure in your progress. I also learned that misery truly loves company, and that “embracing the suck” with fellow runners allowed me to overcome mental barriers to run distances I never could have imagined on my casual solo runs of the past.  The accountability these connections provided gave me strength on those early Saturday mornings when I did not want to get out of bed to put in the work I had signed myself up for, and at the end of every one of those runs, regardless how I felt during, I always felt accomplished and grateful for the kind words received from the cheerleaders around me. 

Post-run stretches turned into hang outs, dinners, happy hours, holidays, and life events. I even took my turn at coaching a few groups occasionally as an assistant coach for a season. The bonds forged on the roads of Austin have turned into lifelong friendships and a sense of community and family I could not have imagined. As I spent the Fourth of July with over 50 runners who woke up early to run in the hills of West Austin before enjoying some amazing food and fellowship, I could not help but be grateful for the family I have come to feel a part of. As I train for the New York City Marathon this November, I know that I have the support of hundreds of runners who truly want to see me succeed, and it will be those smiles and handshakes, likes on Facebook, and good luck filled text messages that keep me going. I didn’t need an app to find friends; I just needed to go Rogue.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Finding my iSoul Mate

“How did you meet?” I used to try to avoid this question like the plague when talking to people in regards to me and my girlfriend. People seemingly always put a lot of importance in the validity of a relationship based on how it began. Sure, I admit that even I was guilty of this for a while. I would have preferred some epic chance first encounter like I stopped to help her change a flat tire on the side of a busy highway, or returned her missing cell phone to her and left my number inside, but the reality of today’s modern and mobile world is that leaving meeting someone of substance up to chance encounters leads to a life of loneliness and longing. Even in Austin’s vibrant nightlife and bar scene, working up the courage to talk to someone you find physically attractive is intimidating, and it’s hard to truly get to know someone over club music and stiff drinks.

“We met on Tinder.” It’s not glamorous, it isn’t how you imagine your favorite Nichols Sparks’ novel beginning, and it is typically met with a shocking laugh or uneasy smile. But it is how I met my girlfriend and now roommate. For those not familiar with the so-called “dating” app Tinder, it is a mobile app based on a simple concept of “Hot or Not.” Pulling photos users get to choose from their Facebook profiles, Tinder gives people the chance to be as shallow as they want in trying to “connect” with people on the site. You can set a radius of up to 100 miles from your current location, and set parameters for the age range you’d like to see potential matches within. With a simple swipe to the left or right, you decide if the person you are viewing is attractive enough to try to potentially establish a connection with, or if they are better off being sent back to the depths of anonymity. You are only given the opportunity to converse via message with someone if you both give each other the positive swipe or “like.” Which to a lot of people can seemingly mean “like, I would totally do you.” From there, it is up to your own pick-up lines to get you past the potential cat-fishing, virtual relationship stage and  into the real, scary world of face-to-face interaction. What did I go with you ask? “You look really familiar, do we know each other?” Don’t worry, I’ll post another entry sometime soon titled “Pick-Up Lines 101.”   

Tinder can be a lot of things, depending on what you’re looking for and how you go about using it. A lot of people assume that everyone on it is simply looking to “hook-up.” Now I don’t necessarily believe that everyone using it could potentially meet their future spouse, but I have known many people who legitimately try to use the app for its so-called intended purpose: dating. Tinder provides a way to meet people in a world that is obsessed with their iPhones and instant gratification. The “You have a New Match” message you receive whenever someone whose photo you gave a positive swipe to reciprocates that “like” is an undoubtable ego-boost. Couple that with the fact that meeting someone randomly is nearly impossible in the go, go, go fast-paced atmosphere and environment a lot of people (especially in a city like Austin) live in these days, and you’ve got a perfect match… pun intended.

When explaining how I met my girlfriend to people who are unfamiliar with the app, I try to break it down in simpler terms. If you are single (and not even necessarily unhappily so), whenever you go to a bar, or even Whole Foods, a yoga class, the dog park, etc., you typically are not going to strike up a conversation with someone of the opposite sex unless you find them aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Now, this may sound shallow or unfriendly, but I am a realist and reality is that the first thing people who are either consciously or subconsciously looking for a mate are going to judge is appearance. This is a primal thing. So the fact that the first conversation I ever had with her was following an alert on my phone telling me that she had deemed me attractive, allowed me to come from a place of confidence. Similarly, a female accepting my offer to buy her a drink could have the same effect. The primary difference being that when I sent her that amazing pick-up line of “you look really familiar,” it was coming at a time where we were both at our own homes, completely sober, with very little distractions. So in a way, meeting her on Tinder provided a much easier, safer, and “real” environment to begin to get to know each other than if it had started by me trying to grind up on her at the club. Tinder opened the door, the rest was up to her and I.

A little bit of Facebook creeping, a lot of text message wittiness, and a Snapchat scavenger hunt later, and we were no longer just a virtual fling, but a real life item. Despite having since lessened our social media carbon footprint by deleting most of the aforementioned apps, I honestly believe our relationship would not and could not have begun in any other way. The accessibility of each other’s friends lists, photos, and instant communication all these provided allowed us to get a sense of what the other was like before we ever met, and essentially helped expedite the process that neither one of us even knew we were on or looking for. 9 months later, and we have been happily living together for months, with the rare fights usually stemming from what else but jealousy caused from social media and virtual communication. It’s a slippery slope at times, but I can say with full honesty and confidence that Tinder changed my life. With one swipe, I found the woman I want to marry. And if and when that day I propose comes, and she says yes, you better believe I will be posting about it on social media and sending my story into Tinder so that they can publish our story (and pay for our honeymoon).

Happy hunting Tinder-ers, choose your swipes well. You never know who might be on the other end just waiting to become your new flame. #godblesstinder

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Christmas Story

You guys might not know this, but I consider myself a bit of a loner. I tend to think of myself as a one-man wolf pack. Some of my gifts this year for Christmas included new tires for my car, and new running shoes for my feet. Both gifts couple well with some of my favorite hobbies: long, often solo road trips... and long, always solo runs. I also have been both self-proclaimed as well as notoriously been dubbed by others as being somewhat of a Grinch and/or Scrooge. After graduating high school, my parents divorce, moving out of the house I grew up in, and a few lack-luster (and at times lonely) Christmases, my sense of jolly had fallen by the wayside. I, for the better part of the last decade, had alienated myself from the Christmas spirit.

Last year, I tried turning over a new leaf. I opened up to the idea of Christmas a little more, got to spend time with my family, and enjoyed seeing the joy on my nephew Jude's face as he opened presents and talked about Santa. It made me long for some of the holidays from my youth, when that special toy, popular shoes, or brand new bike were under the tree. It wasn't a sense of jealousy I felt, considering I was the boy in my kindergarten class who told everyone Santa wasn't real, but more just a longing to be excited about a time of year that everyone else I know looks forward to year round.

As I departed for East Texas on Friday evening at work, I turned on a playlist of some of my favorite tunes, turned my phone off to save the battery, and began battling the holiday traffic. Once I got close to Tyler, I began contacting friends and making plans for the night. Hours later, I was surrounded by old classmates, friends new and old, ex's and old teachers and bosses, what seemingly felt like all of Tyler. Getting to see so many people I hadn't in a long time, and more importantly seeing my closest friends that I miss all the time was a really good experience. I used to dread going out in Tyler, and still admit to being very snobby about the scene now for obvious reasons of being spoiled to the nightlife available in my new home of Austin. But on this night, I realized that I wasn't out just for the sake of being out, and that I hadn't driven excitedly with a smile on my face all 4 hours to Tyler because I was looking forward to a Jameson and water at Rick's. I was so excited just to be in the presence of good people, the kind of people who have known me my entire life, been there for me through my highs and lows, and genuinely love me despite knowing literally all my faults and flaws. Although I am still bitter that the bar closed at midnight, it was still awesome getting to see so many people, and I woke up Christmas Eve in a great mood, despite the typical hang-over and lack of sleep.

I went for a long run at my old spot, Rose Rudman, in the rain, and tried to sweat out the toxins from the night before. After lunch at Jason's with my dad, and watching football with friends for a few hours, I was feeling extremely at home. Like I had never left Tyler, doing all the same things I did throughout high school and college. That evening, I went to my mom's house for presents, food, and drinks. Spending time with my entire family, eating a wonderful meal, sharing stories, exchanging gifts, it was a perfect night. Jude of course was as excited as last year, which was no surprise, but what was shocking to me was the excitement and sheer joy I was feeling as well. The gifts I got were all perfect, despite me not asking or even hinting for any of them, and the gifts I purchased for everyone all turned out to be hits.

This weekend has been hands down one of the best Christmases I've had in years. I wasn't focused on taking pictures to look back on later, I was focusing on making memories that I will look back on forever. As I drove the long drizzly drive back to Austin this morning, it finally dawned on me what my problem had been all those years. The true meaning of Christmas, past all the religious, political, and economical riffraff is about surrounding yourself with the people you love, that love you in return, and being able to share not only food and drinks and presents with them, but more importantly to share with them your feelings. To let them know how much you love them, appreciate them, and are grateful for them. It doesn't matter if you got that iPad you wanted, or if that gift card you gave was warmly received, its about the handshakes, the hugs, the kisses, and the I Love You's that the holidays bring out in everyone.

So just wanted to say to all my friends and family, both the ones I saw this past weekend and the ones I didn't but hope to see soon, I just wanted to let you all know that I love you all, I am extremely grateful and appreciative of all the love, support, friendships, and bonds I've been able to create, develop, grow, and share with you. I hope that everyone has had a great and warm Christmas, and that the new year brings many blessings and happy times. I am overwhelmed with how lucky I am to be where I am, but most importantly being who I am, and I know that the person I am is a direct result of the people I've been so blessed to be surrounded by in my life. Thank you so much!

Happy Christmas!

-Jo Jo (Jo)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Occupy Ourselves

I apologize in advance for this being lengthy, hadn't updated in awhile...

The past 2 years, I've been living a life full of highs and lows (quite literally), and until recently I pretty much had been sticking to the high points when it came to updating this blog and more or less bragging about this wonderful life I've been living. Well this past week I hit probably the lowest point I've reached since moving to Austin, and ever since then I've been trying to find some semblance of sanity, a clear picture of clarity, an answer to this arrogance I have seemingly created in my on-the-surface Polaroid perfect life.

24 is a strange age, trying to balance that feeling of still being a young and dumb college kid, with the responsibilities and hardships of being an adult living in the so-called "real world." Instead of "what are you studying?" or "what do you want to be?" it's "what are you doing these days?" Well, truth be told, I've been living life centered more or less around one thing... myself. And although at times I have felt completely justified in that venture (see older blog posts for proof), claiming that I will only be this young with such little responsibility for so long, the truth is, I've been hiding the painful truth. The truth I've been either too stubborn or naive to look at, but one that reared its glaring and ugly face at me recently, and that is the fact that I am not entirely satisfied with the life I'm living or the way I've been living it.

Do I regret everything I have done the past 2 years? Not in the least. I have seen more concerts then just about anyone I know, met some incredible people, made friendships that will last a lifetime, found a wonderful girl who is patiently putting up with me and my constant mistakes, and accomplished many things on my bucket list. So I can't say the past 2 years have been a complete failure. But it dawned on my recently that I've been hiding behind my rock-n-roll lifestyle to mask some of my insecurities and deficiencies. I have slowly but surely been trying to numb myself, self medicating, and justifying it anyway I could.

I am the Occupy Wall Street generation. We have been taught our entire lives that if we did good in school, got into a good college, studied and worked hard, that we would graduate and find ourselves working jobs we could be proud of. That the transition from college to the real world would be as simple as the one from high school to college was. That we could have our cake and eat it too. Well reality is upon us, and the truth is we are struggling to get blue-collar jobs as much as we are to get white-collar ones. The man who sits behind me at work listens to conservative talk radio all day everyday, and I hear all these older right-wingers screaming how we all hold this feeling of entitlement, that they worked for everything they earned and we shouldn't be upset with where we are at right now, we should just suck it up and deal with it. Well its true, we may have this feeling of entitlement, but its because it was what we were raised to believe. What we were taught since birth, from that older generation, the ones who weren't too proud to flip burgers. They taught us that we should get an education, that unlike them we shouldn't have to start at the bottom and work our way up. They worked hard so that we could get that education, and not fight to make it just to get by.

Well here I am, 24, a college graduate, struggling to get by. Working a job I needed no education for, at the only place who would even give me an interview. I have numerous times flooded the job market, applying to hundreds (literally) of companies, sending my resume out to anyone who would read it, and don't even get contacted to be informed that I wouldn't be receiving an interview. The few employers who did all said the same thing, I lacked the work experience. Well duh, because I went to school the past 18+ years of my life, like I was told to do my entire life.

Growing up, I believed by 25 I'd have a firm grasp on my future. I'd have something concrete to cling to, a job to be proud of, a nice car, a fancy apartment or condo or house even. Possibly be engaged or even married, contemplating baby names and working towards my first million. The reality is; at 25, I hope that my nearly 10 year old car will still run, that my crummy apartment won't be entirely caved in as the foundation has slowly begun to sink in, that I make enough money to afford to pay all my bills and still afford to have any amount of fun and eat meals more complex then Ramen Noodles and spaghetti. As far as marriage and babies go, despite seeing a growing number of Facebook statuses changing and baby pictures being posted, I would never even consider looking at an engagement ring until I could not only afford one, but could afford to get married. And at the rate I'm going, that might happen when I'm... 40?

So I've numbed myself to the reality of my situation, I go out and party just to forget that in all honesty I'm pissed off with what I've worked so hard to achieve. The older generation looks down at me, scoffs at me, because they think I don't know what hard work is, that I haven't gone through hardships or been through what they've been through. Well I've got news for them, for the past 20 months I have missed exactly 1 day of work that wasn't a vacation day asked for months in advance (which was this past Friday). I've worked 50+ hour weeks for a majority of that time. I've supported myself, paid my own bills, and managed to stay completely debt free. I don't owe anyone anything, I don't have a credit card or student loans to pay off, and I am proud of the fact that I can look at myself in the mirror and say I am self-reliant. So this so-called sense of entitlement you claim I am so naively crying about is a bunch of bull shit, because I work hard and all I want is what I was promised my entire life. I want a return on my investment.

I may not be able to control the economy, or what companies will or wont hire me, but there are a few things I can control. Namely, my lifestyle and the type of person I'm striving to be. So instead of pretending that my reality isn't in fact my reality, I've decided its time for me to grow up a little bit. That at 24, maybe getting wasted all the time and spending most of my hard earned money on booze and concerts isn't necessarily justifiable just because I'm not satisfied with the job I've fallen into. So instead of that beer, tonight I'll pick up a book. Instead of watching that unrealistic TV show about the perfect family or deadbeat love-able "hero" who always manages to get by despite being a dumb-ass, I'll write, and go to bed earlier so I can wake up earlier to work even longer hours. Instead of self-medicating and trying to escape reality, I'll go for a run and try to improve my physical well-being even if I can't improve my financial one.

Friday morning, 11-11-11, I woke up with a new take on life. Thankful to be alive, with a feeling I had been given a second chance that I might not have even deserved, and I'm going to try hard not to waste it. I want to be an example that people from my generation are not worthless hippies who want hand-outs, we are capable, hardworking, educated 20-somethings who will change the world when someone finally gives us the chance. It starts with self-improvement, and I encourage all of my friends to do the same. Am I saying I will never have another drink or see another concert? Hell no, I moved to this city to enjoy it and I fully intend to keep doing it. But that doesn't mean I can't be smarter or more mature about it. And maybe, if I keep my head high and a firm grip on my reality, I can be the change I want to see not only in myself but in this fucked up world we live in right now.

I worked over 11 hours today. I grocery shopped to save money. I put gas in my 10 year old car. I ran 3 miles. I did laundry at the apartment I pay for. I ate healthy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I wrote this long blog that no one but myself will probably read. I will read a good book till I fall asleep. I told the people I care about how much they mean to me... And I will get up tomorrow and do it all over again. Life is a daily struggle, but its all about making choices. I'm here, taking it one day at a time, but in the end the only person I need to impress is myself. And today, for the first time in awhile, I am proud.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Austin City Limits 2011

Summer coming to an end meant one thing to me, 3 letters that people in Austin say nonchalantly like they are reciting their ABC's: A.C.L. Despite the weather still feeling like the dead of summer, I had once again been anxiously awaiting for this week to get here. Of course, I bought my tickets before the line-up was released way back in May, and the chances of me missing Austin City Limits was as likely as rain was in the forecast the past 4 months since I had purchased the tickets... zero percent.

I started off ACL week with Deadmau5 at Austin Music Hall. Being one of the more entertaining acts at last year's festival, I thought catching him at his own show would be a cool way to kick off what I like to refer to as my fall break. We got to the show a little too early unfortunately, but did get to see Tommy Lee do a DJ set, yes that Tommy Lee, which was surprisingly entertaining. Dubstep DJ Excision came on next, and was also pretty legit if you are into that kind of thing. I can be when in the right mood, but unfortunately was not quite at that level on this given night. So once Deadmau5 finally hit the stage I'm sad to say I was pretty tired, and being surrounded by high school kids with glow sticks was just not cutting it for me. We stayed for about 45 minutes, got to see some incredible visuals from Deadmau5, and hear his infamous electronic beats. All in all I left feeling a little dejected, and a little worried about how I was going to survive the next few days of all out music.

The only official ACL Aftershow I bought tickets to in advance was for Pretty Lights with Nas and Run DMT at Austin Music Hall the night before the festival officially got under way. I knew a few different people going, so I showed up solo and just made my rounds. Run DMT were a pair of local Austin DJ's, and they got things going with some good jams. Nas came on next, and a little intoxicated due to his birthday being the night before, put on a surprisingly impressive set complete with some of his older classic hits. The place was getting live to "Hate Me Now" and the energy in the venue was contagious. The anticipation for Pretty Lights was palpable, and when he finally came on, the place exploded. Pretty Lights went on a little after 11pm, and didn't stop playing till after 2am. It was by far the most visually entertaining show I've ever been to, and he straight up rocked out. The most important element to me at a show is crowd involvement, and not a single person at AMH was standing still for nearly 3 hours. His set, set-list, and crowd involvement were all flawless. I walked away knowing there was no way any show I could see at ACL the next 3 days would come close to touching what I had just been a part of. Easily top 3 best shows I've ever seen, if not the best. Do yourself a favor, and catch his act if you ever get a chance. Seriously. Do it.

So on very little sleep, I awoke Friday feeling rejuvenated and back to being excited thanks to the show the night before. After the ritualistic Kerbey Lane brunch filled with homefries and mimosas, it was off to the festival early to get our money's worth. After dropping off some flyers downtown for my friends over at Tortoise & Blonde (, I made my walk over to Zilker Park. Along the way I started chatting with another guy making the pilgrimage wearing a Caribou shirt (one of the best concerts I went to in 2010), and after about 20 minutes of trading stories and laughs, came to find out his name was Jordan. Small world. Having already gotten my money's worth the night before, I more or less just tagged along with my friends to whatever show they wanted to see, and since none of Jordan's friends had made it down there yet, he ended joining as well. We started at Theophilus London, and during his set the unthinkable happened... it started raining. Granted it wasn't a downpour, more of a light drizzle, the crowd still went pretty wild none the less, so thankful for the cool off during the hot day and the much needed rain the entire area of south Texas so desperately needs. Then we hiked over to the other side of the park and caught some of Wild Beasts, and Brandi Carlisle, whose Johnny Cash cover had the crowd feeling like shooting a guy down in Reno. James Blake was interesting, but not really my cup of tea, and despite my eternal love for Ray LaMontagne I just simply was too far away, and too hot, to truly enjoy his set. I tried to get over to catch some of Foster the People's highly anticipated set, but was left feeling very disappointed both by the poor sound and the overall performance of the hipsterish band. Thankfully, Nas saved the day again when him and Damian Marley put on a killer set on the main stage in the heat of the late afternoon. Was so happy I got to see anyone with the last name Marley, especially from as close as I got. Once their set was over I had a decision to make, keep my spot close and get mobbed in with the thousands of people piling in for Kanye West, or bail and watch it from a distance and make it to my ride in a timely fashion. I made a game-time decision and pushed my way close, having already seen Coldplay before I knew this would probably be the only headliner I'd actually see at the festival this year. Waiting an hour stuffed between 50 thousand people is an interesting experience, and in no way is fun, and I was getting quite cynical towards the end as I sobered up and waited for Kanye to come out, because lets face it... Kanye is an ass hole. I fully expected him to come out late, half-ass his performance, and leave me feeling completely unjustified in my decision. Note to self: always underestimate performers. Kanye came out in the middle of the crowd on a huge lift, only 5 minutes late, and absolutely killed it. His first 5 or 6 songs were all jams, and the crowd involvement was off the charts. I completely took back all my bad mouthing of him and was left pumping my fist watching the throne. The only downside was having to snake my way out of all those people to make it back to my ride waiting for me near downtown. Apparently I made the right decision once I finally got out of there (alive, thankfully) as I heard his show ended up being best at the beginning and declining a little towards the end. I ended up literally tripping over a friend on my way out of the park, as ACL never ceases to bring all types of people together. All in all it was a successful first day, thanks mainly in part to Kanye's surprisingly dope performance.

A little tired after a long first day of drinking in the sun, I slept in, went to lunch with Lauren, and took my sweet time getting down to Zilker. I decided rather than trying to stage hop all over Zilker like I had the day before, I would be better off just posting up at one stage all day, sending out a mass text to anyone I knew at the festival as to where I was letting them know I'd be there all day, and just sit back and enjoy the experience. I picked the Google+ stage, where Alexander, Skrillex, and TV on the Radio would be playing on that day. I had bathrooms 10 yards to my left, a water filling station 20 yards behind me, a bar 10 yards past that, and a prime spot about 20 yards away from the stage. During Alexander, some friends met up with me, and we enjoyed sitting around listening to the melodic tones, drinking, and letting the light rain that had started up cool us off. Skrillex came on and we got a little closer and enjoyed a very entertaining and fun set, with the surprisingly large crowd completely into it as much as we were. Surrounded by good friends I rarely get to see, we danced and had a great time dubbin out to his jams. Once his set finished up, I pushed even closer to get a prime spot about 3 rows back for one of my girlfriend's favorite bands, TV on the Radio, so I could find out just why she likes them so much. I quickly found out, as they put on the most impressive set musically I saw all weekend. I also was about 10 feet away from Christian Bale standing on the side stage apparently filming a movie, so whenever one comes out in a few months that involves him being at a festival or something, look for me snapping photos in the background.

Sunday, after not exerting as much energy the day before, I woke up early ready to make the most of my last day at the festival. After a burger and some beers at Black Sheep Lodge, I headed back to Zilker with the same game plan as Saturday, post up at Google+ and enjoy not trying to deal with maneuvering through 75,000 people. Chiddy Bang kicked the day off, and they put on a surprisingly entertaining set, as I was not impressed the first time I had seen them a few months back. The white guy playing drums made a huge difference, as did having a large group of friends around me again versus essentially seeing them alone the first time, and we all danced and had a great time despite the killer heat. Elbow went on next, a band my sister introduced to me a long time ago and I have always enjoyed. We had a great spot close for this show, and they put on a very good show musically. Empire of the Sun was the last show of the night at this stage, and I was not at all prepared for their wild and crazy show. It was like a 1980's band meets an Andy Warhol painting, and I was happy to be so surprised by a show. Those crazy Aussies had the place rockin, and having already seen Arcade Fire earlier this year, I didn't mind only catching a few of their songs from their headliner performance from way in the back before saying so long to ACL 2011.

I took work off Monday, a lesson I learned the hard way last year, and was lucky enough to win free entry to an ACL (the PBS TV show) taping of the British band Gomez. I didn't know much about them save the one song I had on an ACL Sampler I had downloaded a few weeks back, but I was third row for their hour long show and they were very impressive. It was a nice intimate way to finish up another successful festival week. Ironically enough, I ended this past week the way I started ACL last year, by seeing Neon Indian. This time it was at Mohawk, and it was another great night.

Its times like these that make me thankful to be alive, to be living in the town that I do, and being able to have the means to do the things I want to do. I am so grateful to be at this place in my life, where I have amazing friends, a great supportive family, a beautiful and caring girlfriend, a job that allows me to live where I want to and support myself, and an attitude that has challenged me to open up and meet new people, try new things, experience new events, and become a person I am happy and proud to be. I can't wait to go back and read this posting, just like I read last years "Austin City Limits 2010" post when packing for this years festival, and relive all the incredible moments I was lucky enough to be apart of. To everyone who were a part of this years memories, thanks! I don't know that I will be going all 3 days to ACL again next year, but it is definitely an experience I will always cherish and remember.