Archive: America

Hawaii Volcanoes and Haleakala National Parks (#26 and #27 out of 59)

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Part of what makes Yosemite and Sequoia so beautiful is that you have to drive through Fresno on the way. It turns out the exact opposite holds true for the national parks of Hawaii. Both Hawaii Volcanoes and Haleakala National Parks are less beautiful in context because they are surrounded by the most gorgeous place on Earth. So when you actually drive to the main attractions you’re underwhelmed because you’ve seen and explored nothing but spectacular scenery along the way. After driving two hours to get to the national parks you calculate the obligatory time to show interest in geology until you can get back to the beach.

While my career and job prospects appear to be nonexistent, I take a little bit of solace in the fact that I’ve poured all my energy, time and money into traveling the world with a girl I somehow tricked into marrying me. By last count I’ve been to five continents, 20 countries (more if you go by FIFA’s count), 27 national parks and 40-something states depending on how much you count drive-throughs. It’s possible that Hawaii could be the best trip I’ve ever taken anywhere, which I hate to admit because so many people have been to Hawaii. There is nothing pretentious about my favorite vacation which sucks because I’m a very pretentious person.

I’m going to have the same favorite place as Barb in accounting who went to Honolulu on her honeymoon 20 years ago, which is such a waste of all the other trips I’ve taken. I could’ve saved a boatload of cash from the Australia trip if I knew I could go half the distance without exchanging currency or having to deal with all the spiders that will murder you. Yeah, Thailand was beautiful but they also have plenty of Thai food in Hawaii without the underage prostitutes (this might be a minus for some). Food costs a lot more money in Hawaii but you can choose any country’s cuisine and it usually includes American-sized portions.


Every beach I’ve visited in Hawaii has been the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen. I snorkeled with enormous green sea turtles that looked at me and threw me a head nods like we’re old buddies. I swam with an aquarium’s amount of fish, laid out in the softest sand in front of the most picturesque palm trees and snuck into the bathrooms of the fanciest hotels in the country. And it’s all the little things make Hawaii incredible. All the free parking next to these perfect beaches, the fact that – somehow – this is still part of the United States even though you’re half an ocean away. The food, people, weather, rainforests, sea turtles, laid back vibe and abundance of banana bread, and I really, really, really enjoy banana bread to the point where my last blood work showed a spike in potassium. And Hawaii is like the capital of banana bread.


Now somewhere along this paradise, the national park service designated a couple stretches to officially join the ranks of the 59 United States National Parks. And they do this because – like all national parks – these two places offer one feature better than anywhere else in the country. Driving up the Jagger Museum of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (even though all of Hawaii are volcanoes) we saw real, bubbling, red hot lava belching out of a crater into a huge undulating sea of magma. That was amazing. You know what else was amazing? Walking out of the hotel in flip flops to the Corona-quality beach while we were handed cold pineapple slices. Nothing against the national park but we didn’t have to drive several hours away from the beach for the latter and the rangers were short on pineapple.


Haleakala National Park suffered from the same problem as Hawaii Volcanoes, which is that it’s a really strong team in the league’s best division. They might be in first place if they played in the Midwest Division, but because they’re in the Pacific League they’re mired in fourth. We drove the entire Road to Hana to scope out the park’s Seven Sacred Pools and hike through a bamboo forest. We switchbacked up 10,000 feet to overlook the island’s crater and see the Big Island popping out of the clouds. But national park standards are so overwhelmed by the beauty along the way. They could have said any slice of the Road to Hana was a national park or any coral reef filled with sea turtles and you’d get the same beauty while remaining much closer to the minibar.


It’s not just that you’re driving past gorgeous viewpoints, it’s that you also get to be a part of it along the way. You can hop into hidden pools beneath thunderous waterfalls, you can hike through rainforests and swim with turtles. I tried as hard as possible to care about volcanoes when I was standing on a crater. But I could continue caring about the geology while charging a piña colada to a random room at the Grand Wailea because, technically, that’s on a volcano as well.


If Hawaii Volcanoes and Haleakala National Parks were located in Oklahoma, they would be the greatest gems in the national park system. Because they comprised two out of 10 of my favorite days of travel in my life, they were memorable stops on a perfect vacation. They might have been victims of the weather as well. Haleakala will join the ranks of Machu Picchu and Denali as places I traveled very far only to see them on cloudy days. Hawaii Volcanoes required an eight-mile hike to get a closer view of the lava that we opted against. If it had been raining at the shore and the parks saved the trip, maybe it would be another story. I just really liked snorkeling and I feel guilty reporting that to the National Park Service.


Even though this sounds like a critique of the parks themselves, in truth it’s nothing but a rave for the state in which they’re located. And if I’m focusing on the negative it’s only out of my own bitterness that I have to leave. All those previously mentioned lack of job, career and financial prospects are waiting for me back home. Hawaii is a place you can just disappear. You can swim, snorkel and surf every day. You are a world away from news and politics and rather than facing reality, you can stuff your face with mahimahi fish and chips and enough banana bread to induce kidney issues. And I have the national parks and this crazy, stupid adventure of visiting every single one of them to thank for taking me to the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. And if that sounds like a roller coaster of emotions it’s only due to the sudden drop in blood sugar until my next slice of banana bread.


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Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks: On the Pressure of Being Camp Dad

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Three years ago, on the cusp of starting my first grown-up, full-time, real, corporate adult job, we threw a bunch of friends in a car and camped near Big Bear for two nights. It was billed The End of Freedom Camping Party, and has since become an annual tradition whether the other campers know it or not. This year had the even better occasion of an imminent lay-off, and got to mark The Return to Freedom Party. I booked a mid-sized group campground five hours north of L.A. and invited people who will be beneficial to job hunting.

 

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are on the southern end of the Sierra Nevadas, about an hour south of Yosemite. They were founded 126 years ago in order to protect a bunch of really big trees. Basically, a bunch of loggers and prospectors chopped down some of the oldest and largest sequoias in the world to prove to East Coasters that they were real. This is what it took before Instagram. Everyone thought the enormous trunks were a hoax, so the loggers got back on the Oregon Trail, battled dysentery, chopped down a few more barks and lugged them back across the country. The cycle continued until the government asked people to knock it off with the tree chopping and proving that they were real so that I could celebrate my unemployment.

 

We booked a group campsite near General Grant Grove, home to the world’s second-largest tree, and hosted varying degrees of first-timers and seasoned campers to spend the weekend. After going through all the options for food, cooking, activities and attractions, Jen and I reasoned the easiest choice would be if we bought and cooked everything and planned the full weekend for the entire group. The other options with a group of eight people were to assign meals, have everyone fend for themselves, or open up the park to hunting. Seeing as deer traps are forbidden in the national park system, we opted to become the camp parents for all our friends.

 

There is a huge amount of responsibility that comes with being camp parents. It means that the entire weekend falls on your shoulders. The whole three days of rest and relaxation comes with the looming pressure that any mistake is entirely your fault. Burned the corn on the cobb? That’s on you. Three hours of driving for nothing? There’s only Camp Dad to blame. Any crankiness, screw-up and disappointment feels like it’s your burden that needs to be fixed. Like a defender in soccer, you can have a perfect match, but one giant mistake is your responsibility.

 

On top of being camp parents, we also had to deal with Camp Aunt and Uncle on our trip to apply some pressure as well. While we had to be the killjoys in the name of logistics, they got to load up their car with cornhole, a hammock, gadgets, devices, solar powered phone chargers, a football and booze so that they got to be the fun ones. And then when the other campers got hungry and tired after all the fun games, it was our responsibility again. And Camp Aunt and Uncle got to be like, “Not our problem, we were just kicking back,” while we’re stirring chili with one hand and yanking out splinters with the other while keeping temper tantrums at bay.

 

Being Camp Parents also means learning and embracing a tremendous amount of patience that doesn’t exist on solo trips. When you’re backpacking alone, you can do exactly what you want at any time of day. But being camp dad means you have to be perfectly fine with being ready to leave and then having someone say, “I have to go to the bathroom.” Then when that person gets back, someone else says, “Y’know what? I have to go to the bathroom too.” And so on, until everyone in the group has individually gone to the bathroom. By this point, you really have to go as well, but you need to hold it in the name of a fictional schedule on which you triangulated coordinates with your Garmin watch.

 

Day two was a two-mile drive down a dirt road to Redwood Mountain Grove. We made it a mile or so up the Sugar Bowl Trail, which was one of the best finds in the park. The trees in this part of Kings Canyon didn’t have the same reverence as their larger brethren, but the hidden turn-off and dirt road kept the tour buses away. If I’ve learned anything from this aimless goal of seeing every national park it’s that I’ll sacrifice beauty in the name of avoiding crowds. One foot of a giant sequoia is worth ten selfie sticks.

 

Any fantasies I had of being on the trail by eight to complete the six-mile loop before lunch were altered in the name of being the stupid, happy-go-lucky camp dad. One person has to stop at a tree to take a picture, and then everyone wants the same picture, and then, yeah, I kind of want the picture too. So eight pictures on eight cameras later, it was time to turn around because I wanted to show everyone Kings Canyon.

 

What I thought was a 30 minute drive to a beautiful and lush meadow stretched into a 90-minute winding slog through the barren and drought-stricken Sierras. With everyone ready for lunch, a more lenient camp dad would’ve stopped at the idyllic Hume Lake. Families were playing in the water, there was a well-stocked store and tables that overlooked the reflecting water on a warm mountain day. Instead I gunned it past the beautiful water because we had a schedule that needed adhering. I watched the temperature climb into the triple-digits as we descended the inferno of Kings Canyon and heard stomachs rumble as it ticked into the afternoon.

 

And as much as it looked like it was going to be a disaster, the best part about being camp dad is the stuff that doesn’t get planned. The meadow was too far away and the trails were too hot to hike, so we made our way into the river that runs through Kings Canyon and that was the afternoon. That was it. No plans, itinerary, schedule, maps. It was throw everyone in the water, and it was absolutely perfect. Obviously I’ll take all the credit for how well it went even though I never would’ve just sat in a river for two hours if it were a solo trip. And the best part was that it tuckered everyone out so that, being the camp parents, we could get some sleep that night.

 

We loaded back into cars and climbed three thousand feet of elevation back to the campground. We then tore each other to shreds and undid any feelings of goodwill by playing a round of a game called Avalon. This mafia-type exercise in lying and accusations generates all the nice feelings of a witch hunt, while also allowing you to destroy all your friendships. We declared a truce in a two-mile evening walk to the General Grant tree. A family of deer pranced along our route to pose for a couple of pictures before camp mom knocked some chili out of the park. Everyone passed out because I dragged them up and down some mountains in order to snap some pictures.

 

Our way out of the park took us along all the touristy sites through Sequoia National Park, which are great for a first visit and should be avoided thereafter. The General Sherman tree (largest in the world), Giant Forest and Moro Rock were swarmed with crowds who were shuttled along the excellent and free bus system the park set up. It’s a little surprising to find that one of the best public transportation systems I’ve ever seen is in Sequoia National Park. Everyone held their lunch together as we drove down the switchbacks from 7,000 feet of elevation down to the 108-degree foothills that are going to go up in flames any minute now. Four hours later, we were back in Los Angeles doing everything we could to remember the idyllic river from the previous day.

 

As terrified as I am about being an actual camp dad to real-life, tiny human beings at some point in the future, it’s nice to know that all I have to do is constantly worry about an army of people having a good time while dealing with any issue, injury, problem or surprise that’s going to spring up at any second. There is little reward, satisfaction and payoff that comes with the job. And compared to the freedom that comes with grabbing a backpack and heading off on a giant trail on your own schedule, it’s a completely different trip. So enjoy that leisurely bathroom break, refill the water bottle a few more times, sleep in a little late, and snap as many extra pictures as you want. But if I hear one more word of complaint, I am turning this car right around. Thanks for a great trip, everyone, and get off my lawn.

 

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The Week Podcast 3.20.2015

The Week Podcast 3.13.2015

The week of March 13th 2015 in two minutes. Republican senators make pen pals with Iran, the secret service fails a driving test and Oklahoma frat boys sing on a bus.

I Feel The Same Way About the 2012 Oscar Contenders As I Do About the 2012 Republican Candidates

Bland candidates that will have to do.

Watching the screeners for the 2012 Oscars and keeping up with the GOP debates makes me feel an identical apathy for this year’s crop of movies and Republicans. Whether they lulled in the race until one hot week or they entered the race with tremendous buzz and landed with a thud, movies and Republicans share a similar dullness in 2011-2012.

Of the hundred-plus movies that came out last year, there are a handful that have any shot at being named the winner: The Artist, The Descendants, Hugo, The Help (because Hollywood likes this sort of schmaltz, see: Crash) and Tree of Life. If you’re considering nominations then you can also loop in Moneyball, Bridesmaids, Melancholia, Midnight in Paris and War Horse if the Academy decides to open themselves up for bribes. Out of all the Republicans who explored the idea of running for president, we are now down to Romney, Paul, Gingrich and Santorum.

Both groups are the same in that no one really loves any of them, but someone has to come in first. Therefore, one movie and one Republican will have to win not because they were most-liked, but simply because they were hated the least. Obama’s opponent and the winner of this year’s best picture will share the title of not being great, but that they had fewer things wrong with them than the competition.

Let’s start with the current odds-on favorites: Mitt Romney and The Artist. Neither rode a tidal wave of support to get to the front of the pack. No one has ever left a Mitt Romney speech feeling inspired. You watch Mitt Romney speak and you’re left thinking, He said everything he’s supposed to say. The Artist is the favorite for best picture because you leave the theater thinking, That’s the kind of movie that wins best picture. The Artist is not The King’s Speech, it’s not The Hurt Locker. No one is going around raving about how they were bowled over and had the wind knocked out of them and were cheering at the screen by a black-and-white silent film from a French character actor. Read more

Last Week – October 24, 2011

Week in review summary for October 17, 2011 – October 23, 2011. Muammar Gaddafi killed, exotic animals set lose, Republican debates, Real World casting and more.

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The Hundreds of Ethnic Minority Groups Make It Really Hard to Be Politically Correct With Your Racism

Sikhs, a confusing ethnic group for racists

In the 1970s there were three television channels: CBS, NBC and ABC. If you had a show on the air, take an average episode of M*A*S*H for example, you would pull in a bare minimum of twenty million viewers. There weren’t a lot of choices and nobody cared. People didn’t pine for a thousand channels of premium on-demand with a third of the channels requiring you to call your subscriber and another third in Spanish. With all the specific choices and divisions, things have gotten a lot more complicated. I feel like racism has faced the same kind of transformation. It is harder than ever for racists to be politically correct.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that racism is good. What I’m getting at is that if you are racist, which in addition to being a bad thing, must be tremendously difficult if you want to be accurate. There are so many different ethnic minorities, cultural niches and divided sects that make it really difficult to pinpoint the minority group you are trying to degrade.

If you are going to be racist, you want to be politically correct about it, otherwise racists will miss their intended target. Because every community has their own day of pride, or a parade or a national holiday recognized in their American enclave, you want to make sure that you are talking about the right people. If you are trying to be racist against Haitians, is remarkably easy to confuse them with Dominicans, a group that you might not harbor any racist feelings against. If you are trying to be racist against a Puerto Rican, but confuse him for a Mexican, then you look like an uneducated and insensitive bigot. And that’s just Central America and the Caribbean. Read more

Do We Really Need the Riot Fence For the Women’s World Cup?

As one of a small collection of die-hard American soccer fans, I strongly support the U.S. Women’s National Team in pursuit of the Women’s World Cup trophy. I remember Brandi Chastain sending in the tournament-winning goal in ’99 and followed their early oust in the ’03 and ’07 tournaments. But those riot fences behind the goals. Really?

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for an equal tournament for the female players as the men. And soccer fans should be just as passionate for their country regardless the gender of the competitors. But doesn’t it seem a wee bit excessive to have the women’s tournament surrounded by a forty-foot tall barbed wire-topped barrier used to stop thousands of violent maniacs lighting fires in the stands?

What kind of rioters are we expecting for the Ivory Coast versus Sweden Women’s World Cup match after all? A bunch of Swedish lesbian biker chick women’s soccer fans ready to tear the place apart if their blonde beauties fall in the group stage? Won’t these behemoths be able to scale the fence on their own accord?

Maybe it’s to keep out the thousands of young girls who are there to support their role models. A zombie virus could break out, thus turning these children into an army of crazy undead monsters hell-bent on eating women’s soccer star brains. Protection would then be warranted.

There are riots in Greece right now over the austerity measures. Tens of thousands of Greek youths are striking because they don’t want their retirement age to be raised to the ripe old age of fifty-five, or whatever their dream deal is. Maybe they want to go to Germany (not sure how since the Greece airport employees are kicking back on the beach right now during their strike), and go ape-shit crazy at a women’s soccer match. Read more

Are The “If You See Something, Say Something” Signs on The L.A. Metro Sarcastic?

I noticed recently that the Los Angeles bus and subway system has instituted the “If you see something, say something” campaign to keep citizens alert of suspicious activity. Am I the only wondering what kind of a pathetic terrorist would take out his attack on the Los Angeles Metro?

For starters, what is the point the terrorist is going to make? If he sets off a dirty bomb laced with C4, nails and shrapnel and blew the entire bus or subway car to pieces, he would kill me and five Mexicans. I am not ready to be memorialized by a bunch of photos of the Virgin Mary, plastic flowers and candles bought at The Dollar Store because a terrorist didn’t know how Los Angeles transportation worked.

You know what constitutes suspicious activity on the Los Angeles subway? Riding the Los Angeles subway. “Who is that guy? He doesn’t look homeless. He might even have a girlfriend. Oh my God, he’s speaking English, call the policia!” Read more

At Least The U.S. Postal Service Didn’t Release Stamps With Those Street Corner Statue Of Liberty Salespeople

Last week the United States Postal Service announced they mistakenly put the wrong Statue of Liberty on their stamps. Intending to issue a new series of Forever stamps with Lady Liberty, they accidentally took a photo from the archive of the Statue of Liberty at the New York, New York Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

Some would argue that this is the true iconography of America: fat, loud, overweight tourists easily duped by marketing claims to blow their paychecks on blackjack tables. It is a hell of a lot easier to see the Statue of Liberty in Vegas than New York City. Cheaper to stay, plenty of places to grab unlimited buffets, plus Paris is right down the block. Do you think any Americans are actually going to Paris? Americans are way too racist for any kind of cultural experience.

The only thing I don’t understand is why didn’t they go full-circle with the Lady Liberty mishap? If you are going to put the wrong Statue of Liberty on your stamps, why don’t you at least put the street corner salespeople who hawk auto insurance, mortgage scams and tax preparation? Read more

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