Sunday, February 15, 2009

Northern California: Part 2

When the flight landed, I gathered my things and followed the rest of the passengers down the plane steps and into the salty Arcata air. It was hard for me to believe that just eight hours ago I was leaving behind the smog-ridden and paper strewn streets of Detroit. I walked into the airport baggage claim area, which coincidentally was located in the same room as ticketing, security, and the departure and arrival gates. I grabbed my black luggage from the turnstile and made my way to the front doors. Just then I heard someone yell my name.

"Erin! Erin, is that you?" Startled, I turned around to find an airport employee. "You've taken the wrong luggage dear. I'm sorry, here's yours". A bit embarrassed but mostly bewildered, I passed the black luggage over to her in trade of mine.

"Wow. This certainly is a small airport", I think to myself.

As I walked back towards the double glass doors I see the glimmer of a silver car pull up front. It parks and a man walks out in a dark blue uniform, shiny black military boots and a baseball cap. I was suddenly filled with complete excitement. I dropped everything I was carrying and ran towards him, arms out and we embraced. He tried to keep a smile on his face but something was amiss. Was he nervous? Doubtful? Regretful? As it turns out - he had food poisoning and needed to go home, immediately. I guess it wasn't the egg salad sandwich I thought would do me in, but rather a bad batch of Hamm's beer he'd had the night before.

We drove to his home in Ferndale, through the hills and perfectly asphalted streets. There was a beautiful green field with a big red barn right before we made the turn into his military housing subdivision. Wordless, he led me to the door and turned the key, we went upstairs to his room and I put my luggage in the corner. I looked into his eyes and I saw him in a way I've never seen him before. He was very ill and all I wanted to do was to take care of him. I made him a little bowl of applesauce and then we laid down into bed together, pulled the sheets up over our eyes and fell asleep, his arms wrapped gently around me.

In the morning, the California sun poured through the thin linen drapes. I slowly opened my eyes and remembered were I was. He still hadn't woken up yet so I kissed his face and traced the scar on his cheek, smiling to myself. I tip-toed out of bed and made myself a glass of orange juice. The apartment was large and bright. Tiled floors remind me of Florida vacation condos, so feeling their cool, hard surface under my toes reassured me that I was far away from home.

Unfortunately for us, having a guest in town did not excuse him from his military duty. He ambled down the stairs, in the same starched blue uniform I've grown so accustomed to seeing on him. He touched me tenderly around the waist and introduced me to his roommate, Ryan.

"This is my ex girlfriend, Erin" He said. The statement hit me like the sting of cold bath water. Feeling a bit numbed, I managed to turn my lips upward into a forced smile and introduced myself. With that he turned around aptly and headed out the door for work. I heard his car start and the sound fade as he pulled away. Ryan hung his head for a second and then lifted it up with a smile on his face.

"So you're the girl huh?"

"I'm sorry...yes I suppose so." I responded.
"He hasn't stopped talking about you since he got here. He's always talking about this girl he left in Detroit. He's in love with you, you know. Don't let him fool you."

My stomach was starting to make its way into a knot and I laughed out of nervousness. Before I could make another comment, Ryan interjected and said "Come on, let's go - He told me to take care of you today and that's what I'm going to do. Let's go shopping."

Shopping. If the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, then the way to mine is through the door of Macy's. I liked Ryan immediately.

He took me to the Bayshore Mall, just outside Arcata in another small California town whimsically named, Eureka. When I walked into the mall, I used the ATM to pull out some cash for shopping. The first store we walked into was Anchor Blue. I immediately found several pairs of jeans, earrings and an ivory sweater shrug. As I stood in the checkout line I began searching for my debit card. I couldn't find it. I started to panic - Did I drop it? Leave it somewhere? Then, it dawned on me. Oh my God, I left it in the ATM. The ATM ate my card, I'm 2,500 miles from home and I have no money. I asked the store clerks to put my clothes on hold (I may not have any money, but when I find a good pair of jeans, I'm not letting them go!)and I raced to the ATM. My debit card was obviously no longer there and the ATM glared at me with that smug, self-righteous look. What if someone saw me walk away from the ATM without taking my card? What if they took it and were now quickly depleting my checking account buying Roombas for their extended family at the Sharper Image? Suddenly, Ryan snapped me out my self-destructive though pattern and suggested that I check with mall security. "Maybe someone turned it in," He suggested.

Enter my cynical Midwest skepticism. Coming from a town where people will steal the wheels off your car while you're sitting at a red light, I did not give this option much hope. However, given my vulnerability, I decided it was at least worth a try. We found the security office and I asked the round, sloppy guard if anyone happened to turn in a debit card. To much of my surprise, he opened the black metal drawer to his left and pulled out a glimmering gold card with his chubby hand. "Is this it?" He asked.

"Well, you're certainly not in Detroit anymore, Dorothy" I thought to myself.

The next day, I spent the morning jogging into downtown Ferndale. With the mountain views and crisp California air, I was in a state of absolute content. Downtown Ferndale is the type of town that renovates it's historic buildings instead of tearing them down in favor of efficient and bland modern amenities. In fact, the entire town is considered a historical landmark. Films such as Jim Carrey's The Majestic and Dustin Hoffman's Outbreak have been filmed here. While jogging downtown, I had three people wave to me. At first, it startled me. I thought perhaps they were waving to someone else, but then I realized that this is what happens in quaint towns like this. You don't have to know someone to give them a friendly little wave.

Later that night, when he returned home from work, we decided to go out for a few drinks in downtown Eureka. Arriving at Lost Coast Brewery, we were escorted to our long wooden table to meet with several of his friends. Lost Coast is just like any other hometown brewery; with an eclectic mix of garage-sale decor, frosty micro-brewed beers and colorful clientele. You are immediately greeted by a giant styrofoam black widow spider, dangly precariously over the front entrance. As we sat down with the rest of his friends, he cordially introduced me to everyone, "Hi everyone, this is my ex girlfriend, Erin."

Trying to prevent the wave of bursting capillaries now covering my body in an unavoidable crimson hue, I again forced a smile while clenching my jaw in bemusement. We finished our meal of deep-fried vegetables and downed the remaining drops of Great White lager. On our way down the 101 towards home, he pulled over on the highway and turned the car off. "Come on, get out," He said.

"What are you talking about?"

"Follow me."

We walked down the rickety set of wooden stairs, blades of grass poking out between the planks. It reminded me of Detroit, with it's untended lawns and forgotten architecture. Just then, we reached the end of the boardwalk and the sky suddenly lit up like someone switched a bare lightbulb on in a room full of mirrors. The moon was full and the ambient light reflected onto the ocean's water in a million glittering facets. The water rushed onto the sand, only to be drawn back into the sparkling tide and the low rush of the sea softened my mind into a trance. The Pacific Ocean, warm and peaceful was so different from the sharp and unforgiving waters of the Atlantic I had visited before. We stood there, arms wrapped around one another and stared into the horizon, the offshore buoys rocking gently and I thought to myself, "This is it. I made the right choice coming here. He is the one."

The next few days were filled with elation; my heart bursting with champagne bubbles of lust, love and the assurance of a man who loved me. We decided to have dinner together in downtown Ferndale at a little Italian restaurant called the Ferndale Pizza Company. A small and simple diner, the restaurant had an outdoor patio space and tiny indoor dining area complete with red checkered table cloths. We sat down in the empty restaurant, hands clasped together loosely across the table. Our server walked up, introduced herself and took our drink order. She suggested we try the pizza here, "It's famous to the area". she quipped. Being the only pizza joint in the one square mile radius of tiny Ferndale, it better be a big hit with the locals. We chatted for several minutes until the server returned carrying a large silver platter with a hot, melty cheese pizza on top.

"Are you guys visiting the area?" She asked.

"Well, I live here," He said, "But she's just visiting."

"Awww, you guys make such a cute couple."

"Actually, this is my ex girlfriend."

That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. For the last time, I pursed my lips and bit my tongue until I could taste the salty warmth of my own blood. I put my palms face down on the table and pushed myself backwards in my chair.

"I want to go home." I said poignantly.

"Alright, we can get this food packaged up and we'll go."

"No, I mean I want to go home. To Detroit. You're doing nothing but wasting my time here. I don't even know why I came."

Finally, all my feelings of rejection and humiliation came rushing out all at once. I was defiant and very serious. I wanted to be on the next flight out of this God-forsaken Land of Oz. I wanted to be back in the nitty-gritty city. I didn't want people to wave at me in the street, I wanted people to mug me. At least in Detroit, I felt safer emotionally than in this town, in this restaurant, with him.

"I want to go home." I said again. And this time, I truly meant it.

To be continued...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Buddha Machine

The brainchild of China-based musical duo, FM3, The Buddha Machine is a small musical loop player that can play any combination of 9 repetitive ambient sound loops. The idea is derived from a similar loop player that plays a continuous loop of Buddhist chants. This player was created for on-the-go Chinese Buddhist who were unable to make it to temple for prayer.

Resembling a small transistor radio, The Buddha Machine has a volume control, headphone jack and a switch to move between the 9 ambient loops. But unlike the I Pod, music can not be uploaded onto the machine. 

I am currently obsessed with the practical usage of this little gizmo. It's perfect for relaxing while traveling and requires little to no user input. The ambient loops create a total calming effect - perfect for tense take-offs and landings. If you crave a little Buddha Machine action right now, or if you'd like to learn a little more about can check it out here at Zendesk

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Northern California: Part 1

Travel Dates: August 24-September 5 2005
Flight # UA6185 San Francisco to Arcata, California
Seat 5A

This particular trip will always remain near and dear to my heart for several reasons. First, it was the maiden flight of my traveling career. Second, it was the most romantic gesture extended to me in my life to date - I'm still waiting for it's successor. 

As they sometimes say, life is about the journey, not the destination. But in this particular case, it was all about the destination and that destination was to be in his arms again. 

Sufficient to say, I was young and in love. I had been dating a military man when he was abruptly transferred to Air Station Humboldt Bay in Northern California. We broke up and didn't speak for months. I was devastated but what could one do? I finally resorted to leaving my cell phone at home just so I wouldn't have to look at it every two seconds and wonder why he hadn't phoned yet. Regardless, I had a plan for when and if he'd ever call me. The plan? I wasn't going to answer. I was going to make him call me at least three times before I would nonchalantly answer the phone, "Hello? wonderful to hear from you - I had completely forgotten about you".

In late August, I was running behind to meet friends for dinner. I had the radio blaring as I put the finishing touches on my hair when I heard the phone ring. I figured it was just my girlfriend who was patiently waiting for me in a car downstairs. I raced into the other room and grabbed the phone just in time to glance down at the caller ID. It was him. 

There was an awkward pause before I said anything at all. I couldn't just hang up. So I said the first thing that came to my mind, "Hello?". In keeping with his personality, he tried to contain his excitement and emotion when he heard my voice. What came out of his mouth next shocked me more than the phone call itself. He said that he needed to see me. He wanted me to book a flight immediately and put it on his credit card. I didn't ask questions, I didn't even think about it - I just packed my bags and was on the next flight to California.

The connecting flight to San Francisco was on the best airplane I have ever been on - the Boeing 777. Each seat was equipped with it's own television screen with an array of preselected movie options. I was seated directly behind the restrooms with a large area to stretch my feet out. Aisle seat, no one in front of me - a frequent flyer's dream. Since the San Francisco flight was due on to Tokyo, we taxied into the international terminal. I had a little under one hour to spare before my flight to Arcata was scheduled for take off. I spent some time in the bathroom, skillfully applying my makeup to arrive looking stunning and impossibly fresh (for those of you wondering, yes, that is a Carrie Bradshaw quote!). What I didn't realize was that my flight to Arcata would be on a propeller plane, flying out of Gate 87A, which is NOT part of the main airport. I was supposed to board a bus, which would take me to the gate some several miles away. Needless to say, by the time I arrived at my gate, the flight had left some 5 minutes earlier. I was absolutely crushed. Luckily, there was one last flight leaving to Arcata that day and I only had to wait an hour. The lady at the ticket counter was even nice enough to give me a food voucher for the inconvenience.

As the hour passed I began to get nervous. I spent my food voucher on a lousy egg salad sandwich and began to wonder whether that tightening in my stomach was simple nerves or a case of salmonella. As the baggage handlers loaded our luggage onto the plane, I braced myself for the hour and fifteen minute flight on what might as well been a lawn-chair with hundreds of helium balloons attached - certainly not comparable to the plane I arrived at SFO on. 

The flight was loud and bumpy. The turbulence did not fair well with my virgin flight legs and nerves. I was beginning to get nauseous. Just when I thought I may have to resort to using the provided air-sick bag, the flight attendant came over the intercom system and announced that we would be landing in fifteen minutes. I was struck by the formality of this gesture considering he probably could have just said "Hey everyone, we'll be landing in fifteen minutes" as he was no more than five feet away from any one passenger at any time. Regardless of the irony, I did appreciate his professionalism in this obvious less-than-desirable flight position. 

I then focused my attention out of the foggy airplane window and at the miniature landscape below. It was at this moment I realized that he was down there waiting for me. This is were he lived - where he has been living since he left me all those months ago. Those were his tiny trees, tiny rivers and tiny roads. I was moments from seeing his face and being able to hold him. What would I say? As the flight began it's decent, my emotions started to spiral from my control. By the time the plane touched down on the tarmac, my eyes were already welling up in tears. Noticing my distress, a passenger seated next to me asked if I was afraid of flying. At this point I realized that I wasn't afraid of the rickety plane but I was terrified at where it was taking me. I fought back the tears as I said to her "No, I'm just very nervous to see someone". 

to be continued...

Monday, February 9, 2009

The 1-2-3's of Travel Essentials.

There are certain rituals that every frequent traveler performs before a departure. Some travelers come prepared, with TSA approved carry-ons, carefully organized travel documents and the comfort of knowing the ins and outs of airport protocol. Others are an absolute wreck. You can always spot the travelers who are completely oblivious to the rules and regulations of air travel. They're the ones who pack a gallon of milk in their carry-on and argue with security agents about the absurdity of the TSA's 3-1-1 guidelines (3 ounce containers in a 1 quart clear plastic ziploc bag, 1 bag per passenger). They forget to remove their shoes and walk through the metal detecters wearing more gold jewelry than Mr. T. 

No one wants to start a trip by arguing with the TSA over carry-on liquids or be behind someone in line who is. Over the years, I have developed a system for air travel that maximizes efficiency, reduces stress and ensures my comfort throughout the flight.

1. Utilize Your Airline's Website.
You will be surprised with the services you can find on your airline's website. If possible, sign up for free text message updates. The airline will automatically text your cell phone to inform you of delays or cancellations with your flight. Other family members can also utilize the website to check on your flight status for effortless arrival pickups - all they will need is your flight number. Another great service provided on most airline websites is the ability to check-in online up to 24 hours in advance of your departure time. Most online check-in services include the ability to pick seats, update frequent flyer information, prepay baggage fees and print boarding passes. Also, when at all possible, be sure to check your luggage curbside. Be ready to pay a little extra - you will have to pay a nominal fee for the service, in addition to tipping your luggage handler. But trust me, this will save you time at the busy ticket counter, which in some cases could be the difference between making your flight or missing it!

2. Dress For Comfort. 

There's nothing worse than being on a transcontinental flight in uncomfortable fitting clothes. I have several items that I always bring with me and consider indispensable for air travel. Most of the following apply to the women - but the overall sentiment crosses all gender lines. 
{The Pashmina}
I've come to realize that not everyone knows what a 'pashmina' is, but I will tell you, it's purposeful variety makes it perfect for travel. A pashmina is a shawl approximately 28" by 80" made of light-weight cashmere. The pashmina can be used in place of a blanket, for chilly cabin temperatures, as a head covering for unexpected rain and even as a way to block out cabin light and noise during red-eye flights. When not being used for any of these purposes, the pashmina can be easily worn around the neck as a scarf or attached to the handles of your luggage. 
{Ballet Flats}
I love being able to take my shoes off during a flight. Not to mention the ease of going through TSA security. Although you wouldn't want the sweaty man sitting next to you to take off his shoes mid-flight, the responsibility of podiatry hygiene lies with you. 
{I Pod}
This one is a no-brainer. With recent technology allowing for thousands of songs, playlists and even full length movies to be accessed from the super skinny I Pod, it has become my favorite travel companion. Although it's not technically clothing - I consider it to be an extension of my fashion! Please be aware that although having an I Pod is a great way to avoid interacting with your neighbors on the plane, it won't stop anyone from tapping on your shoulder and asking you where you're from, where you're going and why...
{Carry-On Luggage}
Do yourself a favor and bring a carry-on. You'll thank yourself when you still have all your essentials, even after the airline loses your luggage (knock-on-wood). My Diane von Furstenberg carry-all was given to me as a gift by my oldest sister. It's small enough to be unobtrusive in the cabin, yet large enough to carry all my travel goodies. I can even tuck it under my seat as my allowed personal item and bring a larger carry-on if needed, to avoid those extra 'checked luggage fees' the airlines are charging these days.

3. Pay Attention. 

Know where you're going, what gate your plane is leaving from and where you are sitting. While at the gate, it's always a good idea to pay attention to the announcements and be aware of when your boarding section will be called. By being one of the first in line for your section, you avoid the risk of missing out on precious overhead compartment space - and having to unwillingly check your carry-on luggage. If you forget to request seating and end up stuck in a middle seat between the 'I don't understand personal space' twins, take a look around the cabin. Ask a flight attendant if there are any available seats. If there are - they will be more than happy to let you switch to something more comfortable. Also, if you happen to be in the armed services, it's always a good idea to travel in uniform - you'll more than likely be bumped up to First Class for no charge. 

Wishing you the very best on all your future travels! I hope you've found my travel tips to be helpful! xoxo. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Charleston, South Carolina

Travel Dates: March 13-19 2004

College Spring Break. The simple utterance evokes images of bikini clad women, drunken fraternity boys and preeminent death-by-accidental-overdose. During my freshmen year of college, instead of taking a road trip with my new sorority sisters for a week of tequila, rented condos and one-night stands, I opted for a short spring break trip to Charleston, South Carolina with my high school sweetheart. 

On the morning of Saturday, March 13, 2004 we piled my thoughtfully packed luggage into the bed of his yellow 1997 Ford Ranger and began the 865 mile journey to Charleston. The Michigan morning was rainy and cold - the thought of 75 plus degree weather was a welcoming change.  

To be quite honest, the subsequent drive through Ohio and West Virginia was rather uninteresting. Supremely lacking any visual stimulus, I fell asleep somewhere through the Appalachian Mountains. When I awoke, we were just crossing over the I-26 viaduct near the Ashley River into Charleston. What a way to wake up! The air smelled crisp and distinctly Southern. The sun was just beginning to rise and it was already in the upper 60's. I took off the hooded sweatshirt I was wearing, rolled down the window and breathed in deep. I was 18 years old and on Spring Break - life was very good. 

We rented a room at the Master's Inn Charleston, a budget hotel on the outskirts of downtown. The room was clean - yet very simple. Not a complimentary bottled water or artfully folded linen in sight. Located right next door to a gas station, it was a great spot for the quick and easy late night snack and morning orange juice. The grounds included an outdoor pool, which we never used, and clean landscaping of beautiful Carolina palms and red cedar flower beds. For less than $100 for a 4 night's stay - it can't be beat.

We spent our first day in the downtown Charleston open-air market. The land on which the market sits was donated by one of the many wealthy Charleston families during the early 1800's. The five buildings that make up the open-air market span from Meeting Street to East Bay on the waterfront. Originally intended for local vendors to sell fruits, vegetables and other food products; the open air market now caters to the many tourists that visit Charleston every year. Luckily, you can still find local produce including delicious fresh fruit - perfect for snacking while shopping! You can also find many basket-weavers creating beautiful (and expensive) sweet grass baskets. This craft, passed down from West African slaves, is considered one of Charleston's most spirited traditions.  

We then decided to venture out to the many local stores along King Street - the Fifth Avenue of Charleston. One of my favorite shops while we were there is the vintage shop, Granny's Goodies. Located at 301 King Street, Granny's Goodies is chock full of glossy black vinyl records, zany polyester shirts and all the Bob Marley paraphernalia an aspiring Rastafarian could long for. 

Around lunchtime we found the Sweetwater Cafe on Market Street and decided to drop in for a bite. If you're in the mood for simple, short-order food; this is your place. You are able to view directly into the kitchen and watch the cooks grill dozens of breakfast orders. The formica tables, endless glasses of sweet tea and southern hospitality gave me the feeling that I was a guest in my Grandmother's house at a crowded family get-together. You won't find hustle and bustle in Charleston so every time the cafe doors opened and the fresh Carolina breeze wafted in, it reminded me to take it slow. 

On my second day in Charleston, we decided to explore Folly Beach. While downtown Charleston is historic and reserved, Folly Beach is energetic and casual. At 9 AM we decided to stop at Folly Beach County Park located on the west end of the island. With 4,000 feet of Atlantic Ocean beachfront, Folly Beach County Park was a sight for my sore Northern eyes. Unfortunately, my very first dip in the ocean was not unlike an ice-bath. The wind was whipping around with 20 mph gusts, yet I removed my shoes, rolled up my jeans and took the obligatory splash in the frothy tide. I even paid two quarters to view the ocean from those kitschy boardwalk binoculars. 

We then took a stroll along the tourist-trap beach shops, including Mr. John's on Center Street. Fair warning: you'll be forced to wade through piles of 'My friend went to Folly Beach and all I got was this lousy magnet' souvenirs. However, if you look closely, you could bring home some great loot. I bought my sister a fabulous miniature Jade Buddah - which she proudly displays on her bookcase to this day. I also picked up some artisan-made shell jewelry and hand carved tribal art. 

Amongst the stilted homes and shops of Folly Beach, lies the Folly Beach Crab Shack. If you're looking for 'Shacktacular Seafood' as their welcome sign suggests, then you're in the right place. Beach music played in the casual dining space while the hostess led us to our shellacked wooden table. Each table had a large hole in the middle which we quickly learned was for tossing away your empty crustacean shells. Bibs on - it's crab eating time. This was my first time ever eating crab and I know what you're expecting me to say - it was astounding, succulently good, crab: a gift from Poseidon. But sorry folks, I was not impressed. My first complaint, it's a messy and time consuming process that yields little reward. My second complaint, you dip the crab meat into a vat of melted butter - of course it's going to be delicious. Anything covered in melted butter is going to be good. My third complaint actually has nothing to do with the crab at all but rather with a phenomena I experienced that I will refer to as 'generalized assume racism'. Our table happened to be seated next to a southern couple who took to us northerners and stuck up a conversation. During this conversation, the couple made several racial references. This left me very confused. Was it assumed that because I was white, it would be okay to make these remarks? After all, I am a complete stranger to these folks. Despite the awkward conversation, my time at the Folly Beach Crab Shack was pleasant. Our final bill of $50.88 was the most indulgent dining experience I'd had to date - however, many years later, I realize that I spend that during the typical cocktail hour and laugh at my formerly green self.

The third and fourth days in Charleston were spent discovering the remaining downtown Charleston area outside of Market Street. We visited the South Carolina Aquarium and had a lunch at the cafeteria style restaurant, Just Fresh at the IMAX. To this day I put all my faith in the prepackaged banana pudding parfait, and it always leaves me disappointed with a slight tummy ache - as did the one I sampled here. 

My absolute favorite memories from Charleston were not spent in a restaurant, surf shop or any tourist spot. They are set in the back alleys and cobbled streets of downtown. I could walk these sidewalks for hours just marveling at the beautiful historic homes with their colorful window boxes and perfectly tended, iron-gated gardens. I walked the promenade of East Battery Street, along the Charleston Harbor and envisioned strolling alongside 19th century ladies-who-lunch, in their candy-colored hoopskirts, twirling their parasols. I could fantasize about living in the expansive mansions of East Battery and pictured myself lounging on one of my many piazzas. Morning tea and biscuits? Yes, please. Afternoon Sherry? Oh, but of course.

Charleston is the kind of city that despite pressures from modern influence, remains quaint, placid and distinct. It's a place were hospitality is engrained in the residents and casualness pleasantly coexists with old-world manners. After a lifetime of Midwest cynicism, I am now certain that sweet tea flows from kitchen taps and babies are born in a seersucker suit, if only in Charleston.