40oz. To Rainbow Road

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I hadn’t seen that ugly red door in three years. Was it three years? The Superbowl was in February that year, so that would make it two years and nine months. I threw up just to the right of his stoop that night. Nick said I was too nice of a person to hold my liquor.

I was happy to see that Stephen answered the door. He was still his roommate after all this time. He had the unlucky distinction of being the one to find Nick, naked in the shower, lifeless. I returned a smile of recognition when I passed the door. I swear I saw a vision of me puking pass by Stephen’s eyes when he smiled.

I entered the apartment and shook my head when I had expected beer bottles to still litter every surface. It was spotless and sterile. I walked into his room, just kind of floating as memories passed through my mind and left like waves. I saw he had still had his old gateway computer. He should have finished that novel. I wonder if it was still in there. He talked about it enough. I could tell you all of the plot points by heart, even three years removed. I moved on to the living room. They still had the Nintendo 64 plugged in. My heart rose for the first time in days. I bent down and ran my finger along the spines of the games and stopped on it. Mario Kart. Thoughts of drunken races at three in the morning put a real smile on my face.

“Hey, Stephen. This game was mine. Can I have it back?”

He did not respond, telling me everything. I approached him while he was studying a piece of paper on the counter.

“When is the memorial?”

“Sunday at noon.” He looked down at the plastic cartridge in my hand and a small, brief smile appeared on his face.

~Chris Joy

California Academic

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There must have been a mistake. This paper has to be the wrong one. It could not be his. He looked up to the top of the paper and read his name again to make sure. “Frank Grimes.” There was no mistaking it. He looked at the side of the paper and studied the bright red fraction written in the corner again. Frank ran his fingers through his shaggy blond hair, finding some bits of sand that had come to class with him. Professor Wright lectured at the front of the class underwater and sounded muffled and far away to Frank, who could not take his eyes from the printed pages in front of him. The red ink written over black print glared back at him, the color of blood. He let out a sigh.

Thoughts of the hour spent studying, pouring over three hundred pages in rented hardback. The ease with which the words flowed from his brain when crafting the paper. The ease of his fingers as they filled the illuminated screen. The way that he came up with his thesis and paragraphs with barely even a glance at the instructions. It was his best work all semester. He understood all of the concepts of postmodern archetypes in classical meme structures just by reading the chapter summaries. He didn’t even have to be sober when he read them. Perfect.

Frank had had the best semester of his freshman year. He made a couple new friends, who all surfed as he did. He had reached a zen-like state of consciousness when playing Call of Duty that was unrivaled amongst his group of gamer friends. He had even reveled in the fact that his only class that semester was based purely on tests. No homework. It was perfect. WAS. Perfect.

~Chris Joy

Rideshare Confessions (day 1)

I have started driving for Lyft! Yesterday was my first day doing a full “shift” and the following was my experience.

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(Not an actual picture from my car. I do not live in Amsterdam … I wish I did)

Driving for Lyft has been a bit of a process, so here is some knowledge that I may be able to pass on to you if you choose to go down this road (see what I did there?). If you are not, just skip this part:

  1. You have to get approved. It took me three days from the time I signed up on the website to get cleared to drive. As long as you have a clean driving record and a clean “newish” car, you should have no problem. They even have an option to rent a car if you so choose.
  2. Car insurance can be tricky. You must let your insurance company know that you are driving for rideshare and using your vehicle for commercial purposes. If you do not, you may not be covered under certain circumstances or not at all. I had to switch my car insurance to Allstate which does cover when I drive for Lyft. The best part is they will help with Lyft’s deductible (Lyft insures you when you are picking up someone and when you are driving them BUT there is a $2,500 deductible which is huge. Allstate brings that down to $500). They also cover you when you are working for Lyft but not actively picking someone up, most do not I found out.
  3. There are many gadgets and things that you can get to turn your car into a hotel on wheels. The only thing that really helped are signs to remind your passengers to rate you and tip you and to get a mount for your cell phone. I also got a dash cam just for peace of mind. You can find decent ones for $50 and under on Amazon.

There are many other things that I left out like keeping mints and air fresheners, having trash bags for “sick” passengers, and looking up tutorials on Youtube to familiarize yourself with the app but I want to get on to the experience.

*The names have been changed to protect the innocent and guilty alike*

Day 1: Friday, 2:50 pm

Ride 1. South Escondido:

I waited around a Vons shopping center near the freeway for about 20 minutes with the app on and nothing coming through. I was seriously considering going back to my apartment to drink beer and watch Black Mirror when Tex’s face appeared on the app.

I drove to the other side of Escondido and picked him up. Well I tried to pick him up. He was a well dressed Asian guy with a blue striped button up shirt who was very nice and talkative. The problem I had was that when he got in the car, I was not prompted with the pick up option and got flustered. When driving for rideshare, you have to hit a button when you arrive, when you pick someone up, and when you drop them off. You have to do this or else you do not get paid. I could not figure out how to do this and accidentally drove in circles trying to get the app to work. Tex was great, I explained the situation to him and he even tried to help me get the app to work, but to no avail. He was going to a local brewery, Stone Brewery, so I promised that if I could not get it to work I would just drive him for free. Luckily, I tried to close the app and when I did, it closed google maps and prompted me to pick him up. The whole ordeal was probably 3 minutes but it felt like an eternity of embarrassing naivete.

I was playing The Black Keys at the time on Spotify, so we talked about the blues and a native american blues guitarist he liked that he heard of on NPR (he was slightly hipster but I did not hold it against him) called Link Wray. He had bought a vinyl record of his music and encouraged me to do the same. I did listen to some of Link Wray’s music later that day and he is pretty great. I dropped him off and wished him a great night hanging out with his cousins.

Ride 2: CSUSM

I parked in the brewery’s parking lot and almost immediately got a notification for Elaine. I drove to Cal State San Marcos and picked her up near the new Urge combo pub/lounge/bowling alley thing. She was a nice plump young lady who was either Asian, Latino, or some kind of combination of the two. She did not talk much and seemed happy to stare out of the window at the traffic I was paid to battle against. I am the quiet type too when I have used Uber and Lyft so I did not try and make conversation. Forced conversations are so much worse than peaceful contemplation. I dropped her off at a grocery store back in Escondido and decided to get a sandwich.

Ride 3: back home

I ate my sandwich and went back online when I got to my car. I did not get a ride for about fifteen minutes so I read a chapter in A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami (I am also a hipster but I do not hold that against me). Marlene’s picture popped up and I took off. I drove to Eastern Escondido in the middle of rush hour in the suburban ghetto that is Washington Avenue. I am convinced all Washington avenues are like this in any town you go to.

I picked up three teenagers and immediately felt old as they all looked like middle school kids to me. I assumed that the two bigger ones were friends and the younger one was a little sister. I could tell from their conversation that I was right which made me feel like a poor mans Sherlock Holmes. The older friends sat in the back and talked about shoes, friends from High School (they were 19 and just graduated), and how Starbucks is so overrated. For fun I told them that I also work at Starbucks and after they all laughed, they admitted that they went to Starbucks earlier that day. I dropped them off at an old folk’s home, which I thought was strange. I was down the street from my apartment, so I clicked off of Lyft and went home.

Statistics: 1 hours and 40 minutes, 26 miles, ~$18 profit.

 

Part 2: Lyft after dark!

 

I decided to try a Friday night shift. I was feeling comfortable with the app and, more importantly, wanted to make more than $10 an hour. I decided to try a power zone (Lyft pays extra if you go to a high demand area) and the closest one was Carlsbad. I went to my buddy’s house to hang out, which was a mistake. We got carried away talking about Dungeons and Dragons and random thought experiments about Elon Musk’s true identity. I did not leave his house until just shy of 11pm. I missed most of the prime driving hours when people are heading to the bars and now had to wait till people stopped drinking and needed to get home.

I smoked a couple of cigarettes (Sorry Wife) and could smell it in my car. I knew I could not pick people up smelling like this. So I used my training from my youth, doing road trips while completely out of money. I went to the grocery store; sprayed a small amount of Axe body spray on myself, put some nice smelling lotion on my hands, and bought a Febreeze auto air freshener (they are powerful and smell great, highly recommended). I was back in business.

Ride 1: Oceanside

I decided to drive toward downtown Oceanside because I saw that it had some weird pink zone on it, which I assumed meant it was busy. I never actually made it.

While heading north on El Camino Real I got a request rather quickly. It was less than a minute away. I showed up quickly and hit the button that I had arrived. I did not hear or see anything for 3 minutes. Lyft has a policy that if the passenger does not show up in 5 minutes, you get $5 and are supposed to move on to another ride. I called Christopher and he said “How did you get here so fast? I am just finishing up but my girlfriend is still on her way. Please hold on.” I did because I am a nice guy and they were both in the car a short while later.

I see why the guy had to wait as his girlfriend was supermodel gorgeous. It takes time to look that good. They made kissy noises in the back of the car and giggled. I kept my eyes on the road. I dropped them off in Encinitas and made my best fair for the night.

I waited around Encinitas for a bit but went back to Carlsbad to hit the power zone. I got to downtown and immediately had my next, and best, ride yet.

Ride 2: Carlsbad

I picked up Dwayne at the Coyote Grill. He was well dressed and slurring his speech. I asked him how his night was going and it went like this:

“You know the kind of night where you know everything will change after?”

“Oh, is tonight that night?” I asked, intrigued.

“Huh?”

I knew I liked him already. My first real drunk passenger! He was meeting some coworkers from the hotel that he works at. He was talking about the differences between him and his coworkers that are from the east coast. We discussed the differences in culture and how no one can make a proper California burrito outside of San Diego County. Then it got deep. We talked about philosophy and why our culture is in the radical change that it is in. It was refreshing to have a real conversation, albeit a fuzzy one at best, but the foundations were there. I dropped him off and we thanked one another for the discussion. He ended up tipping me $5! My best lesson yet, talk to people if you want to get tips.

Ride 3: Lindsey

I drove back to Carlsbad and immediately got a ping for O’Sullivan’s. I have to admit that I was getting pretty tired right around then but I was determined to finish out the night. I knew where O’Sullivan’s is located so I decided not to use Google Maps (mistake #1). I was also thinking about the deep conversation that I just had so, to make a long story short, I passed the bar. I made a u-turn and went down the wrong alley (mistake #2) and by the time I made it to the back of the bar, it was too late. I called my passenger and she hung up. I called her again and she said, verbatim:

“Uh, I saw you pass us? You are too late? I already got an Uber. Just cancel the ride or whatever. CLICK”

It had been 2 minutes. This is where I learned an important lesson. I canceled her stupid ride (mistake #3) but it is not my responsibility to cancel it. I should have let the timer run out and put her down as a no show, which would have paid me for my time. It is her responsibility to cancel the ride, instead of just hanging up on me and finding another ride immediately. Canceling the ride for her also dropped my acceptance rate which I have to keep high to be able to earn bonuses.

It is okay though. I have learned from the experience, I have moved on (I haven’t), and I am not going to obsesses over it (I can’t stop thinking about it).

Ride 3 (part deux): San Marcos

I thought that the downtown San Marcos area would be a great choice to pick up rides (so far it hasn’t). I got pinged for a pickup by Wally. It ended up being in an apartment complex a couples miles away. He did the lift line, so it only gives him 2 minutes to get to my car. The timer expired before I saw him which means I was supposed to leave to find another passenger but I called him and he came down a minute later. It pays to be nice.

It was a kid that could not have been older than 18. He was scrawny with a leather jacket and a fresh haircut. It was a kid doing cosplay as an adult. Maybe that is what being an adult is?

He got into the car and immediately told me he lost his wallet at his “girlfriend’s” house and that is why he was late. I only mention this because he said it with extra emphasis, he really wanted me to know he had a girlfriend. I said not to worry about it and that was it. Not another word. I dropped him off and we wished one another a good night. I saw later that he tipped me $2. I guess he liked the quiet, or that I did not question that he came from his girlfriend’s house.

Ride 4: Melissa and company

I was going to call it quits after Wally but I got a ride offer right when I was going to turn off the app. It was in Encinitas for three people. I had just started turning onto an on ramp for the freeway and used some creative driving (don’t worry, there was no one around me) to turn around and head back toward the coast.

I pulled up to one of the thousands of bars. I swear Encinitas only has two businesses; restaurant bars and new age metaphysical book stores. A chubby young woman with a shirt that says LOOK AT MY BREASTS (not literally) and a skinny couple got into my car. They had been drinking the night away and were a blast to have in my car. This ride confirmed that I was in the right profession. I love driving drunk people around.

I drove them back to one of their houses. The one with the ridiculously low cut shirt was talking shit about anyone and everyone. It was fun to listen to but what made it great was that her friend could not follow along in the back, mostly because of the noise of her rolling her window up and down and up and down, over and over for no apparent reason. I was entertained.

When I dropped them off, the girl up front was talking shit about her older brother who is “such a loser.” She said that he is pathetic because he is turning 30 years old and is only now getting his Bachelor’s degree. I am 31 and getting my degree in 2 months. The girl left her eyelash curler in my car and I thought about driving back and giving it to her but I gave it to my wife instead. Karma.

 

Statistics (day total): 5 hours and 6 min., 142 miles, ~$65 profit

 

All in all, it was a very fun experience. I think I have found a new source of income that I am going to enjoy and I will keep you all updated as I continue this rideshare journey. Thanks for Reading!

If you like this, Check out my other articles on travel and dorky things. I would really appreciate if you like, subscribe, and especially if you share it with your circle of influence. I will be posting more regularly in the near future, so please check back every so often.

~Chris Joy

Anxiety and Repugnance 2: Southwest Boogaloo

 

It all started with a Secret Santa present. I go to the local casino with a coworker of mine and play roulette, maybe once a month. I picked him for Secret Santa so I went to the casino and put $10 on black as his present. I took a picture in case I lost. I won and gave him $22 in table chips (extra $2 because I still owed him from fantasy football). While I was getting ready to leave I put $5 in a slot machine and hit a $50 bonus. I took that to the poker table and two hours later I had $190. The next weekend I did better and in two weeks I had turned $5 into $450.

I had just made the dean’s list at school and had the weekend off before classes started again on Monday. My last semester of college. The last chance I would have before I started my career and worked full time again. I knew what I had to do. I was going to Vegas, baby!

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Day 1:

The first day of my impromptu vacation did not start well. I was nervous about the trip and mostly terrified to be going alone. I wanted the freedom to do what I want on the trip but that also meant that I would have no one to rely on. I was truly on my own.

I left around seven in the morning. I had a bad breakfast and was tired so the first two hours stretched on and on and made me question my recklessly impulsive decision-making abilities. I was thinking about buying a Nintendo Switch instead of going on the trip and now all I could think about was “I could have been in Hyrule.”

I found the audiobook for Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughter House Five” for about $2 online, so I listened to that on the way to Vegas. I was pleasantly surprised! The book was entertaining and very unique. I loved the non-linear storytelling and the twists and turns. I was sad that I did not get to finish the whole story before I got to my hotel (my cell phone died), so it goes.

I had made it to the hotel and I learned a valuable lesson quickly, do not smoke up in the parking lot and then try to check in to your hotel. I pulled out my vape pen in anticipation of the lights and sounds that can only come from Las Vegas and got to work on my cartridge called “gorilla glue”. By the time I made it into the hotel I was grinning like an idiot from ear to ear. I immediately made the wrong turn and ended up walking down a hallway of conference rooms. I then made a right and retraced my steps and found myself headed toward the fading daylight of the strip. Annoyed and tired, I finally found the self check-in kiosk which may be my favorite piece of technology in Las Vegas. The less human interaction for pointless tasks the better! Unfortunately my rewards card would not scan so I had to stand in line and talk to an effeminate man who smiled as he judged my every move. Or maybe that was just in my head.

I made it to my hotel room, texted my wife to tell her I was safe and I passed out for three hours. This was the view when I woke up:

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I was elated. I always get the cheapest room available when I go to the strip. I only use the room to sleep. As long as it has a bed, I am good. I was pleasantly surprised by the view this time. I usually have a great view of the backside of another hotel from my room, which I really do not mind. This was great.

I woke up around 7 pm, starving. I had already promised myself I would have steak on this trip and seeing as my only companion was social anxiety, I ordered take out. I found out there is an Outback Steakhouse on the strip and when I picked up my NY Strip (I thought it was appropriate) they gave me actual silverware instead of those flimsy plastic ones. Instant Souvenir!

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After eating my small buffet (they give you a lot), I decided to commence the real reason of my trip. To play some cards. I had become obsessed with poker in 2003. Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker from an online buy-in of $30. He beat the pros and turned a small investment into millions. I had done the same on a smaller scale with my $5 investment turning into $450 and I was ready for the big time. I left Bally’s and headed to the Flamingo to play some limit poker. I played a few hands and lost a little money but the good news was that the waitress assigned to that particular poker room was great at her job. I think I had 3 or 4 red bull and vodkas in less than an hour. I was feeling great. Unfortunately that spelled disaster for my bankroll. I found out that a tournament was just about to resume when I got up to stretch my legs and late registration was still available. I cashed out of my boring limit cash game, bought in for $70 (way too much), and lost on the first hand. Who knew Queen 10 was bad?

I realized I was a little too drunk to play poker well and left the tables to walk around for a little bit. I saw a procession of hot rods make a ton of noise on the main road passing Caesar’s Palace and the Bellagio. Attention hogs in Vegas? No Way. I also took some pictures in the Bellagio because it is the prettiest casino. I saw a policeman training his K-9 unit which was fascinating. He was so focused and I thought to myself that he looks better at his job than I am at mine.

I was excited to see the Chuly exhibit in the hotel and the art display in the giant flower room. I had seen the Chuly exhibit at Catalina Island in November for my wife’s birthday and I found it to be very colorful and pleasing. This did not disappoint either as it looked like glass flowers were sprouting out of the ceiling. What did disappoint was the new exhibit that was under construction. I always look forward to the display at the Bellagio but my timing was off. I should have known that this was foreshadowing of the highs and lows this trip was yet to bring.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 2:

I slept in. Oh boy, did I sleep in. I think I woke up three times and each time I had the same routine. I took an ibuprofen, drank a lot of water, and went back to bed. I finally got out of bed at around noon. I decided today was the day of the great relaxation.

It was a nice day to write and watch some sports. There were the NFL playoffs after all. I discovered last time I was in Vegas that sports betting is probably the best return on investment in terms of entertainment vs. money spent. Here is a picture of my very extensive statistical analysis courtesy of NFL.com.

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I lost my sure bet on the Chiefs game (Mariota gets a fucking touchdown throw to himself, are you fucking kidding me?!) but I won with my risky bet on the Falcons. I made a cool $13 in five hours of football. I think I may quit my day job and go pro.

I also found out a neat trick for cheap food. I went to a pizza place in the faux outdoor cobblestone streets before Paris Casino. I found a good deal on 2 large slices and a soda for $10. I used the rewards points on my card and basically got breakfast and lunch for the day for free.

After my incredible win at sports I thought I would try my hand at poker again. I played limit at the Mirage and a little bit of no limit at Bally’s. I found out that the true entertainment in Vegas is the crazy people you will meet at the card tables.

The limit game at the Mirage was pretty stale until a group of three black guys showed up looking to have fun. They brought the energy up at the table and got the action pumping and the chips moving. I won a couple decent pots off of them but the best part was their stories. This is the best one that they told me:

The chubby guy sitting next to me was completely broke earlier that day and walked around New York New York for an hour. He was watching people playing Baccarat and an older white guy in a suit was losing, bad. The black dude approached him and said that he was really good at Baccarat and never loses. The guy did not believe him but listened to his advice anyway. He said that he helped the guy win 22 out of 25 hands (is that what it is called in Baccarat?) According to the guy’s story, the man tipped him $700 and left. The black dude was treating his friends to an all expense paid trip to the strip club and they were playing poker while they waited for the limo to show up to take them to the land of titties. They left a short time later and the table dried up again. I left as well.

I then went to Bally’s and tried my hand at no limit. I am good at no limit but cannot stand the possibility of getting out drawn and losing all of my money so I rarely play. I made a little after playing limit so I thought I would give no limit a try. I am glad that I did. I ended up winning back my stupid $70 one hand tournament from the night before and an extra $100.

There was interesting table talk at this table too but there was a huge difference. The interesting part wasn’t what was said but what was left unsaid. It turned out that a couple people at my table were in Vegas for an artificial intelligence convention. They talked a lot about things I did not fully understand. Words were being thrown around about bots, shopping cart abandonment, and Skynet. The part that was interesting though is when they asked an older Asian man in a leather jacket about what business he does in A.I. He played coy and tried to avoid the question but a drunk white guy next to me would not leave him alone. He finally said that he builds certain kinds of chat bots. The guy next to me had a shocked expression on his face after the man said that but then a husky guy across the table from us sat up straight and said “Careful. Depending on what your next words are I may have you kicked out of this casino or worse. Try me if you don’t believe me.” The dealer said that the husky man was not joking and they never spoke of it again.

I walked around some more, not wanting my Vegas experience to end. I saw some humorous sights, things that seemed too cliche to exist and would just come across as bad writing. Lucky for me I have the proof. There was a drunk guy that climbed into the fountain at Caesars Palace. A Christian anti-gambling protest at 1 in the morning. There were businessmen casually talking about losing 40 thousand dollars the night before, drunk women wearing tiny dresses who did not know where they were, and homeless people drinking full bottles of vodka straight while sitting under a bridge singing atonally. It was perfect.

I got back to my room and found that I still had a descent bit of money left. In my drunken state I did two pretty shocking things:

  1. I took the coolest picture of my life
  2. I booked a hotel room the next night in Tempe, Arizona.

I had originally planned to come home on day 3 and have an extra day to recover but Drunk me had other plans.

Day 3:

Let the road trip resume! I packed up my belongings the night before and hit the road at 9 am, which is surprisingly early for me.

I currently take classes at Arizona State University but I take them online from California. I have taken classes at ASU for the last three years but I have never set foot on the campus. I decided to change that. I wanted to visit my school. In my drunkenness the night before, I booked the cheapest room near campus I could find. I know now that that would be my downfall.

I took the long way and drove through the Hoover Dam and Sedona on my way to Tempe. I had seen the Hoover Dam when I was a kid and it was exactly as I remembered it. Huge but really just a wall of concrete. What I was blown away from was Sedona and its deep red mountains and lush forest. I cannot wait to go back and really spend some time hiking there. It was more amazing than I had anticipated.

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A couple funny moments did happen on the road before I reached Tempe. I stopped at a gas station that was far more entertaining than a small town gas station should be. On the road passing in front of the gas station was a truck that was pulling an SUV by a chain. Somehow it ripped a tire off, which dragged and created sparks. A family was playing soccer in the middle of the pumps while refueling. I had to make an emergency stop to piss and found the Joy Cone factory (coincidental because my last name is Joy). Last but not least, my Prius achieved over 100 mpg for 14 miles while driving down the mountains of Sedona. Here are the pictures:

It was a fun and beautiful drive but by the time I got to Tempe, admittedly getting lost a couple times along the way, I was exhausted. I pulled into the Ramada which looked like every other cheap but decent hotel that I had ever been to. But I was wrong. So very wrong. This was the HOTEL OF SUFFERING AND FRUSTRATION.

I left all of my belongings in the car. I just wanted to secure my room for the night so I could go out and get dinner and a beer and immediately retire to bed. I was starving and could not see straight from driving seven hours straight. I walked in to the reception area and found a heavy set hipster girl working the register. She smiled and seemed nice enough when I approached. I gave her my name and she found my reservation. Then she looked nervous and began walking around her clustered work area, looking for something. Without saying a word to me, she disappeared to the back room. I was getting annoyed but kept reminding myself that beer and food was coming soon.

Ten minutes went by and the frustration was starting to get to me. She finally came out of the room and says “Sorry sir, I cannot find the key. I can give you a refund though.” I looked her dead in the eye in disbelief. She was serious. I chose my next words carefully because my wife says that I can be scary when I am mad. “I can wait, take your time but I am not leaving without getting the room that I booked.” She turned red and let out a sigh. She resumed lifting papers and searching her desk. An older man entered the reception area and asked the inept receptionist (ineptionist?) how she was doing. She answered honestly “could be better” and continued the search. Then he said “That’s too bad, Sweetie. Whatever is troubling you I can fix it for you.” He looked directly at me.

I was fucking ready to fight. I think he could tell because his eyes went wide when he looked at me and I turned to face him. He tried to laugh it off and told the ineptionist he would see her later and walked out of reception.

Just then, and I swear I am not making this up, she reached down on the desk in front of where I was standing and FOUND THE FUCKING KEY! She set the key down in front of me and gave a halfhearted apology. I kept my mouth shut for fear of losing my mind and walked directly out of the front door. I did not even go to my room. I just left and walked through downtown Mesa, Arizona to clear my head of thoughts of murder.

I did find a couple of interesting things. There were many statues that were spread out through the cookie-cutter small town streets. Here are some of my favorites.

I also found something that I had dreamed about one day seeing. Something that I had only read about or heard about but never seen in my hoe state of California. It was a drive-thru liquor store. Not only that! It was a drive-thru liquor store that is branded after the mascot of my school!

I got a sandwich from Subway. I got a cranberry juice to go with my vodka left over from Vegas. Then I went directly to my hotel room to retire to my rented shelter for the night.

And it fucking reeked!

I was promised from a sign at the front of the hotel and from their website that the entire hotel is non-smoking. It smelled like someone chain smoked a pack of cigarettes and then invited 5 of his friends to smoke cigars while they play poker for three hours in my hotel room and I just missed them. Oh my god! And I just came from Las God-Damn Vegas! I had been surrounded by cigarette smoke for two days and this was far worse. I ate my sandwich and tried to get used to the smell because I did not want to deal with the ineptionist or this stupid fucking situation again. I started to unpack but a voice rose up in my head.

“You are on your own. There is no one that will stand up for you except yourself. If you want something to change, you are going to have to be the one to do it. Demand the respect that you deserve.” I was going to be an entitled white person dammit. I grabbed my things and walked back to the hotel lobby.

There was a line that had formed and I patiently waited in the back of it. I practiced my line over and over in my head as the poor girl behind the counter ran between the telephone and the register, while answering a barrage of questions from a soccer mom behind the counter in sweat pants that would not leave her alone. I could only feel bad for her.

I waited for ten minutes while she finished helping the customers ahead of me. I stepped up to the counter and she had a look of recognition and fear on her face. I told her my room reeked of cigarette smoke and that I reserved a non-smoking room and would need another one for the night. She tried to remind me that they were a non-smoking facility but before she could I yelled “I know what your hotel is SUPPOSED to be but I promise you that someone smoked in my room and I need another one or I will not be able to sleep tonight.” She apologized and immediately gave me a new room key. I should have felt bad for the her but to be honest I was just proud of myself for speaking up. I patted myself on the back as I walked down the hall to my new room. I was exhausted by this point and wanted to lay in bed and watch the local news. This has become a habit of mine when I travel. I like to watch the local evening news when I am traveling because it is so familiar and strange at the same time. The format is exactly the same and the anchors seem like the ones at home but all of the roads and locations and businesses have changed. It is fun to me. Like peering into a parallel universe.

I got to my new room and admired the pool just outside of it. I put the new hotel key card into the slot and nothing happened. I try it again. Nothing. I try it six or seven times in rapid succession. Nothing. I picked my things back up and returned to the lobby. There was another line of four people that I walked right past and went directly to the side of the counter where the ineptionist was. The middle aged blond lady at to the counter gave me a dirty look but looked away when she saw my angry eyes glare at her. The ineptionist tried to ask me why I was standing there but I cut her off and told her my key did not work. I could tell that she was upset by how much she had upset me. She immediately excused herself from the blond lady and made me three new keys and said that she prays at least one of them worked. One of them did.

I finally had a new room that smelled of fresh paint and looked like it had been recently remodeled. I was so happy. I turned on the television and brushed my teeth. I laid on top of the bed with my phone in my hand. I fell asleep while I was looking for something to do while I was in Tempe for the night.

Day 4:

The last day was wonderfully uneventful. I drove through Arizona State University, which was beautiful and made me wish I took classes on campus. I got over it when I remembered that I would not be able to take classes in my underwear at 2 a.m. (true story). I drove straight home from there. It rained slightly, which fit the mood of having to return to normal life again. Here are the final picture of the Southwest Experience.

As always, Thank You for reading!

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Scholastic Insanity and a Tree

 

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I have finals coming up on my birthday. I had a couple coworkers go on vacation the last two weeks so I have been working more than usual. My wisdom tooth decided to attack the nerve in my jaw and surprise me with extreme pain at random intervals. Oh, and did I say that I have finals on my birthday. My stress levels have erupted and I am starting to show the signs of cracking. Here is an example.

I currently go to Arizona State University online where I am working on my English degree (one more semester!). I am doing well and have finally learned (as a senior) the value of time management. Life has gotten busy and tough but nothing has been as tough as the WRITING CLASS FROM HELL!

It is a lot of work. I mean the most work I have ever done for a class. We have read four 400 page novels, written 4 essays, read about 100 pages in pdfs from random areas of the internet, and written about 2,000-3,000 words a week in class discussions. This is all in a 7 week class. It has been a full time job just trying to pass this damn class. There has been many odd assignments and strange reading and interpretations as my teacher wants us to be experts on the subject and to know (and be graded on) every aspect of her subject. It has been crazy, confusing, and interesting but nothing has been more interesting than my “subject journal,” where I had to write about a subject that is close to me I could observe. Many students chose their pets, I chose a tree. And here he is, Ladies and Gentleman I would like to introduce; Frank Jr.

Full Tree

I have written about this fucking tree for two months. 12 posts in total. There is not enough words to accurately and interestingly talk about a fucking tree. But I did it, kind of. I ran out of ideas and fucks to give at the end of this semester so I decided to write the following as my last post for this stupid assignment. I posted it here for your enjoyment. I hope you like it:

Tree Watch – Day 12 (The Final Chapter)

I have grown very fond of my Longleaf Pine that I have named Frank Jr. I feel that I have gotten to know him well over this semester and that I could even call him a friend. I have spent a surprising amount of time staring at this tree, trying to come up with new ways to look at him, interpret him, discover details about him, and use any information i can to write something new and interesting about. I feel that I may have gone a little too far at one point and I started to feel like a personality came out. I could feel Frank looking back at me and judging me.

He was looking down on me for starting my homework so late. I tried to tell him that I had work and dinner to make but he saw through my excuses. You cannot get anything past Frank Jr. He has literally been around this block his whole life and has seen some things that would make saplings blush. He is wise but stoic in his wisdom. He will not offer advice unless you ask for it. He would say that “answers only come to those who ask questions?” I could picture his old face smoking with a corn cob pipe while reading a newspaper (except he does not like forest fires, so he does not smoke). He likes doing things “how they used to do it, the right way, they took their time and knew what they were doing. and if they didn’t, they would figure it out.”

~James Wilder

The Trial of the Trail

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Bright green meadows with spots of yellow and red wildflowers, a warm breeze passed through my hair, and I wanted to scream. Every footstep in the soft dirt on the trail rang in my ears. It was loud in this quiet peaceful meadow. I was intruding on a heaven not meant for me. I ran through my supplies over and over again, obsessively; did I bring the bug net? There were supposed to be a lot of bugs this time of year and with so much snow pack there was bound to be still water which meant mosquitoes and diseases. How bad is Lyme Disease? The scent of wildflowers passed by and it reminded me of her but I pushed that feeling down. I returned back to obsessing over the supplies I was sure I forgot.

knife, compass, map, sleeping bag, medicine kit, tent, chap stick! That was it. I forgot the goddamn chap stick. The trip was going to be a disaster. I had reached the top of the trail as it descended down into the valley full of trees and warmth. Meadows stretched out down the path, breaking up the lush green forest surrounding the mountains. The breeze blew again and I saw a lonely hawk ride the thermal down into the valley, descending. I followed him.

I heard a loud pop and froze still. I was told bears would be in the area and with my luck I would get attacked on the first mile of the trail. It would have been easier if she was here, even just so I would not look like such an easy target. Another snap came from the east, through some trees. A large brown beast passed through some bushes and I could not make out its shape. I knew I should have bought that bear spray! It crept closer and suddenly I saw it, a deer poked its head through the bushes. It was smelling the plants and did not seem to notice me. After a couple minutes it finally saw me stopped in the middle of the trail and ran away. Again, I was all alone, truly alone.

*This is a short story that I wrote. It is fiction. I hope you like it. Feedback is not only welcome but appreciated. *

~James Wilder

The Wonders of Wondercon 2017

I had been anticipating this one for a while. I had the opportunity to go to Comic Con in San Diego in 2015 and it was not what I was expecting. There was a sea of humanity the likes of which I had not even fathomed. According to Wikipedia, 167,000 people attended the convention and it felt like it. All of the nearby streets were filled with marvel and D.C. superheroes, anime characters, and mostly confused tourists wearing the nerdiest shirt in their closet.

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I was not looking forward to that again but I was told this would be different. I heard from everyone that had attended Wondercon before that this was what ComicCon was supposed to be. How it was in the “good old days.” I was hesitant to believe them but they were right. It Was Amazing!

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One of my favorite parts of the trip was the parking. Anaheim opened up the parking lot at Angel’s Stadium and provided a free shuttle to the convention center. It made the whole thing very painless.

Upon arrival, I was immediately hit with the smell of food. There was a line of gourmet food trucks lined up at the entrance to the convention hall. It was a smart move by Wondercon and provided a wide range of food that all looked and smelled wonderful. I ended up getting a hot dog. I am so obsessed with hot dogs, I wrote a post about it. It was very good and ranked up their with the best of them. I looked up the food truck and it is called Viking Sausage Food Truck. You can use their website to look up where the truck will be in Anaheim that day. If you are in the area, you should look them up. Sorry to ramble, I love hot dogs.

The real reason I wanted to go to Wondercon was the Critical Role live talk show, Talks Machina. Critical Role is a live streaming show on twitch of a

“>group of voice actors playing Dungeons and Dragons

. It is very nerdy and I absolutely love it. I have watched every episode which, according to CritRoleStats.com (yeah, they even have a fan made website for statistics from the show), is over 354 hours of entertainment. It hurts typing that out, what have I done with my life? Anyway, it was a lot of fun and great to see the group of tabletop players that I have spent a considerable portion of my life watching.

*Full Disclosure: I have been DMing my own D&D game which I am turning into a novel. This has taken up all of my time and has contributed to my lack of posts on the site. Sorry

After the Critical Role panel, my wife and I attended two more panels. One was a fascinating talk on screenwriting for television by a group of showrunners. It was a very eye opening experience and made me want to be a writer for television. The best part was one of the showrunners said that running a D&D game is the best way to learn cooperative storytelling which is a very important skill to have in a writer’s room. I almost died. When I graduate next year with my English Degree I am going to give it a shot. Everyone that wants to write in Hollywood makes it, right?

The last panel was one on getting your book published by a group of traditionally and self published authors. It was actually a little sad. The only name that I recognized was R.A. Salvatore and that is because of his character Drizzt that is part of the D&D lexicon. The whole time the authors talked of the good old days of writing and how there is no money in writing anymore. Some of them were a little encouraging but mostly they talked about how the industry is in decline and how hard it is to get published these days. I left the convention a little less sure about my writing career.

I then had the experience of a lifetime. I saw a beautiful Cosplay of Onslaught, one of my favorite Marvel characters:

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Life goal accomplished. Scratch that off of my bucket list!

We spent the rest of the time strolling through all of the pop culture merchandise. I got to see an autograph signing with the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld which was hilarious and sad at the same time. He is probably making a fortune from this convention appearance so I doubt that my pity is even warranted. Some fantastic artists had their paintings up for sale which was fun to look at. The theme seemed to be mashing up two nerdy things together to form one super nerdy thing. Princess Zelda catching a Pokemon. Goku fighting Ryu in Hogwarts for some reason. You get the picture.

It did resemble San Diego’s ComicCon but smaller. It had all of the great booths and fantastic panels with hardly no waiting in line and plenty of breathing room to walk around the convention halls. If you have the opportunity to go, it is worth it. I will definitely be there next year and if you see me, say hello. I will be the Dork that is wandering around.

~James Wilder

Thanks for reading. If you like this, Check out my other articles on travel and dorky things. I really appreciate if you like or subscribe and I will try to post more regularly.

Tiny Changes for a BIG Impact

I feel the call to action. For far too long I have sat back and wondered what I could do to help without making any kind of commitment. I am ready to make one, however small.

I am taking a creative writing course. In the last week of the class we had an assigned reading that had a huge impact on me. We read excerpts from Cecile Pineda’s “Devil’s Tango” which talked about a wide range of issues affecting her but one of the themes was the environment around her. She talked about “habitable zones” and the search for other planets that humanity could exist on. Then the last sentence stuck with me “This Gaia is all you have.” It is something I understood but had never truly thought about. Then I made the critical error, I started researching.

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I found a post on reddit that shook me to my core. Here are some excerpts.

  • The problem with our affect on the climate is that it’s been too late for too long. Not only is it too late to revert carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to the point they were at when we first showed up on the scene, but we’ve entered a runaway greenhouse state where it’s too late to stop the rise of global temperatures as a result of greenhouse gases.
  • Because of the runaway greenhouse effect we’ve caused, the storms are growing more powerful every year and our seasons are being thrown out of whack. Imagine a shift in sea temperatures diverting a tropical typhoon more powerful than Typhoon Haiyan across Indochina and into the Bay of Bengal, dissipating near Sri Lanka. The loss of life would be beyond catastrophic; entire cities, like Dhaka or Puri, could be destroyed. The last time a storm half as powerful struck the region it killed half a million people and triggered a civil war in Bangladesh.
  • People are already having to evacuate island nations in the Pacific because of rising sea levels; imagine how bad things will be when the Netherlands, the entire country, is underwater. Look at a population map for Asia and you’ll see that India, China, and Japan have more than half their total populations living on or near the sea. This isn’t a “pack your bags and stay with Aunt Margaret”-type deal, it’s a “two billion people moving anywhere that isn’t home”-type deal.

It reminded me of a video I saw that was from a movie. The actor that plays Toby from “The Office” plays the director for the EPA and he lays out his feelings about where we stand as a species in terms of global warming.

It feels like nothing other than a giant change in our society can fix this and I for one want to do something about it. I have come up with three changes I am going to make. I feel that if everyone took these steps it could have a major impact and at least slow some of the drastic changes we are facing with climate change. Here are the changes:

  1. Use my car less

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I am lucky because I used to work at a bicycle store so I have a nice commuter bicycle that I can use. I also love to ride my bike so this is just motivation to force myself to do something I like doing in the first place. Any errands that are within 5 miles I am going to ride my bicycle. According to a website I found off of google , biking just to work everyday can save the environment 1.3 tons of co2 in a year.

  1. Eat less meat

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Here are some facts about meat consumption according to an article in Time magazine.

  • 40% of the worlds land mass is used to produce food that we eat.
  • Livestock uses 1/3 of the world’s fresh water.
  • 75% of greenhouse gases from livestock come from north American cattle
  • One of the main reasons for the destruction of South American rainforests are to make room to raise cattle.

I would like to help by not eating beef anymore. I am also cutting out pork and chicken to one meal per week. I would like to go vegetarian but I think baby steps may help me to achieve my goals better.

  1. Eat local produce

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One of the hidden ways greenhouse gases are occurring is shipping. It takes a tremendous amount of energy for our produce and goods to get from place to place, and things are being moved all of the time. One massive container ship that most of our goods from overseas gets shipped in is equivalent to 50,000,000 cars. Produce that is bought in grocery stores travels 1,300 miles on average to get to you according to an article in the observer. Farmer’s Markets relieve much of that stress on the environment and also serve to keep your local economy strong. It feels good to support your neighbors. I am going to purchase my groceries from Farmer’s Markets as often as possible.

These changes may not seem like much, and that is because they really are not. I love to ride my bike, I can live without beef (and meat for that matter), and Farmer’s Markets are pretty darn cool. I look forward to these changes and I encourage anyone moved by this post to please make these changes as well. Share this information with your friends. The last part of my reading was a story by Naomi Klein titled “This Changes Everything.” To make a long story short, it talked about radical change and the spontaneity with which it occurs. There are always movements and protests occurring but it seems weird when one of them seems to catch fire and spread, such as the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street. All of a sudden, there is a tipping point and something clicks with people that makes them want to do something. It is an inspiring article and made me want to do something and hopefully this makes you want to do something. It is like the saying goes “the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, but the second best time is now!”

~James Wilder

*Please feel free to share, like, follow, or ride a fucking bike!

Anxiety and Repugnance in Las Vegas


I went to Vegas with the wife earlier this year and I really wanted to see Mac King. I am an amatuer magician and I always loved his specials from the World Greatest Magic television shows in the 90’s. He would show the audience how to do simple magic tricks and I would go to school and show my friends, so he is a big reason I got into magic. I got tickets with the wife for The Mac King Comedy Magic Show at Harrah’s. I was really excited I had brought some “special” brownies for the trip. I decided a fucking magic show is the perfect time to trip the light fantastic, so I took half of the brownie and didn’t feel much. I took the rest about half an hour later and went to the show. As we entered the theater it really kicked in.


My body began to vibrate ever so slightly and all of the colors in the room got vibrant and warm. The show started and Mac was hilarious. I was really enjoying myself and laughing extra hard because I wanted Mac to know how much I appreciate his art, and I was high as fuck. Then came time for a volunteer. It somehow never crossed my mind. I immediately swore Mac was staring right at me so I pretended to look down and tie my shoe(?) Or something and when I looked up Mac was right in front of me with his hand out. He looked like a malevolent demon and with a smile said “hi, Im Mac.” I instinctively said “hi, Im James” and he said “Everyone, welcome James to the stage.” I have never heard my wife laugh so hard in my life.

The rest is kind of a blur. I got on stage and there was an endless sea of people in the audience. Luckily the stage lighting made it kind of hard to see them, which helped. I would suddenly get a wave of “WHATTHEFUCKAMIDOINGHERE” and my knees would shake. I am proud to say I only almost lost consciousness and passed out twice. He chose a very simple “is the ball in my pocket or in the container” (a tube of oatmeal if you’re curious) trick which was easy enough to follow, thank God. The big reveal was the ball had to be in the container at the end because I saw him put the fucking ball in an empty container. When he reached in, he pulled out a FUCKING GUINEA PIG! It was incredible! The rest of the show was great, probably, to be honest I don’t remember the rest very well. I promptly went to my hotel room after the show and passed out for a couple hours.

~James Wilder

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