Monday, December 29, 2008

If there's one thing I've learned on this trip...

...It's that it's very difficult to keep a travel blog when your access to a good internet connection is very infrequent and the site you use to host the damn thing never lets you actually upload photos. Also, I'm pretty picky about what I put up, so I didn't really want to do a half-assed job with no photos all along the way. So I waited until I had time here to actually write stuff, until I could mess with photo files and actually upload them, until I had a solid enough connection to hang online long enough to compose. That's right, Compose.

So the last post was from Texas? Jesus. I hope I haven't completely lost your attention. And now to tell all the stories I should have been telling all along the way all at once would be far too long for the average contemporary american attention span. No offense, I'll just paraphrase and give some highlights since then. From Austin we've driven a few thousand miles up through Texas into New Mexico. Unfortunately we just cut across the top corner of that state and didn't have a chance to go to Albuquerque, which I've wanted to do for a long time now. But we did stay in beautiful sunny Clayton, NM where we ate at the historic Eklund Hotel - a very classy joint straight from the late 1800's. From there we took ... umm... Highway? 193? This is a highway in New Mexico:

Yeahhh. Twenty-odd miles of gravel, our bikes were not very happy on the back of the car, but we did see a pretty sweet herd of antelope and some incredibly gorgeous scenery. Not to mention a "town" called gladstone that, as far as we could see, consisted of a trading post and that's all. It was also my first experience ever in a snowy desert. Growing up in Vermont a kid could get to thinking that deserts are ALWAYS really really hot and snow in deserts couldn't ever exist. let this dispel that myth, that in a high New Mexico desert, we built an EIGHT FOOT TALL SNOWMAN!! Isn't it amazing!!?? it's HUGE!!

Then we stayed in Denver with Trevor AKA Twelve, Christy's old friend from Idaho. And it was Awesome!! I could totally live in Denver for a while.

And from Denver to Moab, Utah, home of Arches National Park. You may have heard of it in the news lately, it's one of the places that the Bush administration wants to open up to oil and natural gas exploration. Yup, including some of the land within park boundaries, even. National Park land, full of industrial equipment and the risk of environmental disasters. Oh right, it's safe, totally, just ask the Tennessee Valley Authority about the safety of natural resource extraction and energy production. Clean Coal my ass. Awesome guys, real cool guys. totally sweet.

Here's what Bush and the BLM want to fuck up:

Tons of big huge enormous red rock walls and crazy canyonlands and formations.

Balanced rock in the morning sunlight. And at maybe around ten degrees f.

Turret Arch. Photos do no justice. This thing towers probably seven stories up and had me choking on my tongue it was so awesome.

Christy being cute with Delicate Arch in the background.

Someday, this will ALL be OUUURRRSSS.... wait, it sorta already is. okay. Someday, This will all be littered with OIL WELLS!!!

Landscape Arch. 306 feet long, WAY WAY WAY bigger than any photo I'd ever seen made it look. It's HUGE, and way high up. definitely worth the hike.

AND!! ...a bunny.

Then we went to Salt Lake City. The record here of my thoughts on Salt Lake City have been censored by my better judgment. Mormons are completely insane and should keep their filthy paws off the California constitution. If you don't like gay marriage then don't $#*^!ng have one but don't go passing constitutional amendments limiting other people's civil rights. Ditto abortion, keep your religion to yourself. (jerks.) okay, partially censored.

Then to Idaho, then through Nevada to Lake Tahoe to Oakland. Now we're in Oakland. Told you I'd be summarizing. Do you have any idea how long I've been in front of this screen?

More later.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


A couple days ago in Austin we had a Harvey Milk memorial day. It began early in the afternoon with the award winning documentary called The Times of Harvey Milk, which when I was in college was the first movie since I was little that was so overwhelming and intense and touching that it made me just bawl into my palms. This time I managed to choke it back but there's a scene toward the end (maybe if you've seen it, you know the one, the vigil scene...) that hits me like a damn battering ram in the chest every time. 

If you haven't seen this movie, I can't recommend it highly enough. 

later that night we saw the Hollywood take on the story of Harvey Milk starring Sean Penn as Harvey. I had been looking forward to seeing it ever since I heard just a couple months ago that it was being made and hearing reviews of it and interviews with some cast members. Word on the street was that the movie was incredibly well made and remarkably accurate and that Sean Penn totally kills it as Harvey Milk. And you know? you may have heard this before but seriously, by halfway through Milk you can forget that you're watching Sean Penn because it just becomes the story. The way they use real news footage and imagery from Harvey's campaigns blends the non-fiction telling with reality in a way that blurs the lines even more.

Go see this movie. If you've never heard of Harvey Milk or what happened in San Fransisco in the late 70's, go see this movie. If you've ever heard of the murder defense where they successfully argued that the twinkies made him do it but aren't exactly sure where the story originated, GO SEE THIS MOVIE! If you're not doing anything tonight and it's still playing in a theater near you, Go See This Movie! And when you're done, rent the documentary, The Times of Harvey Milk. 

That is an order. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Everything's bigger in Texas

Taking smaller state roads instead of interstates will give you a more sincere impression of a place. Otherwise it's just truck stops and fast food joints and breakdown lanes and exit signs the whole way, and those look the same whether you're in Vermont or North Carolina or Texas or Oregon or California. 

From Austin it was northwest on 183, through smaller towns but still 70 mph. Awesome. In Sweetwater we pulled off the highway to get a closer look at the windmills spinning sedately by the dozens in every field within view. More and more as we went on until hundreds could be seen stretching all the way to the horizon in every direction, probably thousands in the county. 

All the fields where the windmills stood were growing cotton. Have you ever seen cotton growing on the plant? It's amazing! It's just like...Cotton! I mean, there's seeds in it that need to be processed out, sure, but beside that it's soft and white and fluffy just like you'll find it in the store. It really makes me wonder why cotton is usually bleached (what, to make it...white?) and processed with all sorts of chemicals. Anyone? Anyone?

As we were pulled over on a dirt roadside admiring the windmills, an enormous pickup truck with Texas plates slowed to a stop beside us. A little nervous that is might be his land we were loitering on, I braced myself for any brand of texas style greeting. 
"You guys aren't broke down, are you?"
"Naw we're fine, just checking out the windmills."

Turns out there's a higher concentration of energy producing windmills in this county than anywhere else in the world. Thinking of the opposition to wind energy development in Vermont, I asked him how the locals around here feel about them. At first he didn't seem to know what I was talking about. Everyone around here supports it. Really? But this is Texas, land of Oil. Wind farms have local support? yup. create jobs? yup. Benefit the community? ayup. "See them big poles up there? that's more goin' in, They're puttin another 300 up'n a field out that way soon, should be more as far as I'm concerned."

I told him that back where I'm from some folks are trying to get wind energy up and running but there's a lot of people fighting it, think it'll ruin the scenic quality of the ridge lines and all. He made a face and a dismissive gesture like whoever doesn't want wind must be crazy. Now, there may be some solid arguments against putting windmills up in Searsburg, VT but as Vermonters with our reputation for environmental responsibility and a disaster of a nuke plant next door, don't you think we should be at least half as supportive of clean, renewable energy as a goddamm Texas cotton farmer? 

Yeah, he farms cotton himself. "Pshaw" shakes his head. "Cotton's not going for nothing, we get 40 cents these days."
"Per what, per pound?"
"Yeah per pound, now you got two pounds of cotton in a pair of levi's and that's about all, now how much you buy a pair of levi's for?"
"Well," can't really say I've ever bought a pair of Levi's but "more than 80 cents!"
"Farmer gets nothin', hard to make a living..." he trails off and gazes out the window at a field of cotton that goes on just about forever. Now how about that! Here I am working with coffee, trying to learn what I can about markets and commodity price fluctuations and the alternative systems of trade that provide minimum floor prices to help farmers make a living in Sumatra and Guatemala and Ethiopia and this dude here in Texas is farming a commodity with a price in the toilet making it hard to make ends meet. I was stricken by the similarity between his story and the stories of coffee I've heard over the past few years. It was also refreshing to have a nice dirt-roadside chat with a big ol' Texan farmer. One of those much needed stereotype smashing experiences. 

Stupid blogger website won't let me upload any photos at all. SO FRUSTRATING!  There's picture of cotton, and windmills, and Texas, that I can't show you. 


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Austin, Texas!

Need I say more?

Driving into Texas, I finally got the feeling that we'd left the east, like we were on the road in a different part of the country. Memphis and Asheville are much different than the northeast, but when the winding green hills started flattening out, the vegetation became beige and the earth got redder, there became less familiarity out the window. We'd gone. 

Arriving in Austin was wonderful. We stayed with Christy's old friend Laurel who was totally awesome, opening her home and taking time out of a super busy schedule to hang out and show us around the town. Oh! Right! So the first night we're there, pretty much as soon as we show up, I start looking through the paper to see if there are any shows I might like to go to. After all, Austin is, as they say, the music capital of the country and we rolled in on a Saturday night. So I went through the whole music section of the alternative weekly and listened online to just about every band listed, to see what would be best to go to.  One venue, the Mohawk, listed a secret show and we had a brief conversation about how it would be crappy if we didn't go but heard the next day that it was one of our favorite bands, or it would be funny if we went and it totally sucked, or it would be Awesome if we went and it turned out to be somebody we were totally surprised and excited to see!! 

Well, I settled for a thrashy punk rock show from what I heard online, then went to a friend's band's myspace page to put their new single on in the background and see where they were on tour the next week. And...WaitWHAT? December 13th!? That's tonight! Guess who we actually got to hang out with this time!? 

Helll yeah! THEY were the secret show!

The Next day we played kickball... in T-shirts and tank tops. By the way we were very sorry to hear about the weather everybody else in the country has been getting. Very sorry indeed. Now look at this!

Kickball in the sun. Christy is the barely visible dot just right of dead center. Eh, it's the best picture I had of from the day.

Austin convinced me that the reviews don't lie. It's a city I could see myself living in for a while. And while I love Vermont more than any other place ever, it might take me a minute to forgive a state that failed through 28 years to introduce me to the deep-fried pickle.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Little Rock, AR

Sunset en route to Little Rock, from the roof, with bikes. Digital Photograph. 2008 NFS.

Conway, actually, but Little Rock would be the closest landmark really, except the hotels and fast food joints of Conway. I'm sure it's a great town, I just didn't see much of it.

Those hotels I mentioned though? boy howdy. America's Best Value Inn...My Review is... oops.

Checked in, walked into the room, started poking around. Sorta funky, not super clean, whatever. Heater didn't seem to work. No big deal. Some holes in the wall, who cares? Lamp shorted out. Happens. opened the bedside drawer to make sure the was reading material and there was a king james version of the weirdest story I've read in a long time*, a Crack pipe. or maybe meth. Hello? just checked into room 103. I'd like to switch please. thanks. (upon checkout, on the front page of the local paper on the countertop there was a headline story about a large meth lab bust the previous day. weird. [and the room they switched us to was barely better])

We had a wonderful visit with Christy's grandparents, however. We went to the Clinton Presidential Center of Ongoing Propaganda, Information Control and Library.
There was stuff about his Childhood.

His Environmental record.

Foreign Policy.

Life in the White House.

Continuing Service to America

However, the whole time we were there I was pretty distracted by a temporary travelling exhibit entitled "Art of the Chopper." Which made the whole trip pretty frickin' worth it.

*A creation myth that consists mostly of stuff like "dude said it, so there it was, don't ask questions" I don't find to be particularly convincing. Sorry.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Nashville and Memphis, TN


Until now Asheville has been the farthest south that I'd ever travelled over land. I'd flown to Mexico a couple years ago and to Little Rock way back but never so far down in a car. It felt monumentous at age 28, to finally bust through the 35th parallel with some connection to the ground.

The house in Nashville that we stayed at was accessed via miles of commercial district which gave way to a ... residential? area? Mansion after mansion after mansion. it was weird. The home itself was far more modest but far more beautiful. (Designed and built in a traditional japanese style by the wonderful folks we stayed with.) I made this new friend, pretty tops on the continuum of cuteness.

And we happened to time our trip just right so that a quick spur into Nashville proper for the first time, not much of which did I actually see, coincided with an appearance by our friends Matt and Kim, of the band....matt and kim...


Unfortunately, their plane had been delayed in gainesville that day (some problem with the wing, apparently, which had, in all seriousness, to be re-duct-taped on,) so that they showed up in Nashville ten minutes before playing and were busy and exhausted after playing. Not a chance to say even Hello. ah well. . maybe I'd see them soon ... hm. But the show was fantastic! The Cool Kids played afterward. great hip hop.

12 / 11

There was no way we'd be able to live with ourselves after driving through Memphis, TN in the middle of the day with time to spare and NOT stopping to pay our respects.

Here's Christy checking out some real estate we were thinking about investing our futures in. For Sale. Cheap. Foreclosure.

We Bought It!

just kidding, it's Graceland.

The King! Why god?!


Oh. Yeah that's why.

I have to say, I walked away from the experience with a new-found appreciation for what Elvis accomplished. A thousand million hundred records sold, just about, and a million hundred thousand dollars earned for RCA. and lots of pretty golden records on the wall.

Daaaamn. And that's only like half of them.

...we apologize for any delay...

the mechanism that transfers photos from the camera to the computer is malfunctioning, there will be a slight delay in the subsequent posting of any photos. as the posting of photos makes the telling of stories that much more enjoyable, I will be suspending any in-depth updates until the photo transfer system is working properly again. Briefly, we left asheville, nashville as a blast, we saw matt and kim play and it was fun, the house we stayed in was neat. on our way through memphis we stopped at graceland and paid our respects to the King and $24.30 each to Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. for the opportunity to do so. In little rock we've had a wonderful time with Christy's grandparents and one of those usual cheap motel experiences. you know, you've had them too, thin walls you can hear everything outside, stained carpet, non-working heater, crack-pipe in the bedside table, lamps missing bulbs or shorting out. you know, the usual.

more to come, with photos.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Asheville, North Carolina

1075 miles in.

The drive from Pittsburgh to Asheville was long, slow, snowy, and wet, winding up and down huge hills

in our loaded down car.

We've been spending most of our time here lounging by the wood stove.

With Laura, one of my all time favorites.

In the Cabin.

by the yurt.

I managed one good picture of the sunset from the land.

The first day we were here some friends took us on a hike to this wonderful waterfall.

I've been thoroughly enjoying this book.

I made a new friend named Andy who is opening what will prove to be an awesome roasting company. check it out at Here's how it looks so far.

We have been enjoying some nice down time with friends. Tomorrow will be a quick drive to Nashville where hopefully we get to see our friends Matt & Kim play some music, and then on southward! 

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Single-Tall-Three-Pump-French-Vanilla-Dry-Caramel-Latte by any other name....

Don't judge me by this.

We all know that being in a new city, a big place with tons of people, affords a person a certain degree of anonymity, facelessness and thus, immunity. You can do things you wouldn't typically do in a smaller place that is your hometown, where there is familiarity and accountability. This doesn't necessarily excuse you from making bad decisions, but at least spares you the humiliation and ridicule that would naturally follow. So Why, in this case, do I want to document and share any questionable activity? to clear my conscience, perhaps, and warn others against making the same mistake. So here it is, time to come clean.

Today, for the first time ever, against the protest of my better judgment and prodded along by nagging curiosity and feeling that it might be worth it, maybe just this once, so I know (although now I'm ashamed to say it). . . .I walked, freely and willingly, into a...oh god. okay.
Into a Starbucks and ordered, though not without voicing my hesitation to the person behind the counter, a Caramel Macchiato!! IT'S NOT A MACCHIATO! IT'S CANDY! IT'S AN AFFRONT TO TRADITION! AN ABOMINATION! now my insides are coated with sugar and caramel and french vanilla and second rate espresso and I can't get this taste out of my mouth and it feels dirty.
and I'm sorry.
I'll never do it again.
It's true. I really did it.

This maybe deserves a brief backstory.

a Macchiato, in italian espresso culture, is a shot of expresso with a dollop of steamed milk on top. That is all. The Starbucks company develops a drink that starts with a puddle of vanilla sugar syrup, fills the mug with foam, slathers a coating of caramel sugar syrup over the surface of it and pours a shot of espresso through the top and they call it a Caramel Macchiato. In the real world, there's no such thing. That'd be like walking into a bar and ordering a belgian white ale and having the bartender put a mango-cosmo-tini in front of you and when you look at him like WTF is this he says "oh, that's just how we prepare a belgian white ale." No sense! so people walk into specialty coffee shops now all the time and order Caramel Macchiato's and the brilliant thing about it is that they look like asses to anyone around who knows what's up. The crappy thing is that no matter how you try explaining to them what a Macchiato is they stomp their feet and whine for a large caramel vanilla latte, which is what starbucks should frickin' call it anyway. God! So as a purist, when the subject of starbucks and their manipulation of tradition and misnaming crappy drinks comes up, I get a little indignant. so I thought maybe I should know what I'm talking about and suck it up and order and drink one.

I now have my mandate. It sucked.

***Qualifying Update***
The only reason I was at a starbucks in the first place was because my bicycle broke and I brought it to a repair shop in probably like 10 degree weather just upstairs from one so I was just killing time staying warm while my bike got fixed. I was grateful to leave as soon as they called me. The end.

Fightsburgh, Pennsylvania

So the first day of driving went pretty much without event. Christy and I, in the subaru, all loaded down mostly with everything of hers she could fit around the very few things of mine I took. Everything she owns, just about, that she didn't already ship. The shocks must be sad because the back end is so low the wheel well hides the top of the tires. It's a car full, and it looks heavy from the outside, and feels heavy from the inside, trying to manipulate the car from lane to lane on the highway or brake at a stop light feels like steering an ocean liner compared to when the car is empty.

We arrived in the very strange city of Pittsburgh, PA on Wednesday, December 3rd. There's virtually no cops here, we've had our car parked in the same 2 hour spot for three days, people leave their belongings unattended on tables at coffee shops without worry, and nobody that I've met so far pays rent. This place is Crazy!

It's been a great visit with Dan and Jenn, and the way they live, the way this town works is pretty unique. I'd say the cost of living is low, but that would be an understatement that needs some explaining. Okay. As well as I understand it, it's like this:

Pittsburgh's entire economy and society was built exclusively and depended severely on the health of the once vibrantly booming steel industry, which created a good handful of millionaires and supported a city full of workers. Then, around the decades of the 1950's through the 70's, a transition occurred where somebody decided it would be much more economical to perform one essential step in the steel production process overseas instead of over the river. Mills closed, steel crashed, Pittsburgh fell, people fled and house after house after house stood abandoned. So today many buildings in just about every part of town remain boarded up and empty and a person can buy a house, however run down by decades of unkempt emptiness, for, seriously, like $1,000 or $3,000. That is, if a person chooses to orchestrate a money transaction at all. 

As Christy and I are prowling Wilkins St. looking for Jenn's house, we are passing very large, very fancy looking residences on the block that corresponds with the address number Jenn gave me. "I thought you said they were squatting," exclaims Christy. I thought so, but I guess not. we enter Jenn's house, a nice but nondescript row house, and look around. Clean, warm, electricity, water, a fireplace, turntables, computers, wireless internet...oh. well...I thought jenn said she was squatting, but it sure doesn't look like it. Turns out, this is what they call it here.

We've heard stories of people who tried to pay rent but gave up when they discovered the 
checks weren't being cashed. Dan's friend Morgan owns his entire building, for $Nothing.00. The community farm where Dan lives pays no rent or mortgage to occupy the two houses of their "compound" in the hill district but receives grants from the city and was recently given roughly three additional acres adjacent to the land they're already working to cultivate. Dan is moving out soon to another house further up the hill, no first or last months rent required. No security deposit, no application application! or second, third, fourth or fifths month rent, either.

It's all very 
It even shorts out a kid who's spent a large chunk of his life identifying as an anarchist. not the idea of squatting, I mean the idea of a whole American city in 2008 just BUILT for squatting.

"Dan's in Pittsburgh!?" my brother had no idea when I told him I'd be visiting him here. The incredulity was partly because he had no idea Dan was living east of Oregon and partly because, I think, the general sense of this place is that it's  a dirty, depressed, run-down, collapsed town (so who in their right mind would choose to live here). Which I thought too. and, well, it is. But you gotta admit, that makes it pretty awesome!!!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Welcome to my new blog. Cue foreboding organ music.

This shouldn't make me nervous but it does a little. Sharing online like this. I just figured that as I'll be bouncing around for a while it would be an easy way to keep folks updated on where I am and what I'm doing, photos and stories and whatnot. Also, with the economic downturn and the restructuring government, I thought I'd do the Total Information Awareness Office a favor and make it easier to track my every move.

A couple reasons it feels funny is that 1) I have a tendency to overshare a little, I think, which can be good sometimes but not so much at other times and 2) I imagine a wide variety of people may have access to it. Everyone from my old punk rock friends to members of my family to folks I've been associated with through the world of work and coffee. Different people from different venues in life to whom, as I'm sure you understand, one tends to differently filter the relay of personal information, and stories and photos and whatnot. Take it as an opportunity to know me in a fresh new way, just don't hold anything found within against your opinion of the author and the author'll do his best to balance the honesty with the self-incrimination.

You can find this at Don't be fooled. I've been in the same spot for the past three years of my life, not really Gogogoing so much as far as location is concerned. But, here's the plan for the next few months of my life:

Road trip: pittsburgh to asheville to nashville to memphis to little rock to austin to denver to salt lake city to idaho to california. fly back to vermont. go to northern vermont for a week long coffee class. take a train to NYC. fly to Guatemala and independently explore coffee production in central america for two months or longer. fly back to the northeast. maybe drive to atlanta for a coffee trade show in April. head back to vermont. get things together and ride my motorcycle from New England to Portland, Oregon at which time I might then rename this blog StayNunziStay. Because as far as the plan takes me is to re-settle in Portland for a while, work with coffee any way I can, play in a band and otherwise take advantage of all that great city has to offer. Barring any sidetracks, distractions, detours or revisions along the way, which I may leave myself open to, we'll see.

And what's a blog without a photo, right? Here it begins, in the car with Christy, just leaving Vermont, on the way to Pittsburgh.

Stay tuned.