Highland Falls, NY

One trope I had at one point or another felt was a lazy narrative device was the what I called “unexplained calling.” You know the one. The call to adventure wherein a character’s motivation to go to a place or do a thing doesn’t come from interpersonal conflict or an aspect of their past, but just a feeling they get. They set about their adventure because they feel called upon to do so. You don’t need to substantiate it or justify it. They just feel that way.

A little bit of life experience has told me that that kind of sh*t sometimes totally just happens, though.

Now, I can – like with any example of the above gripe – do a psychological deep-dive on the in’s and out’s of maybe why the motivation manifests the way it does, and with the confession I’m about to make, I will.

When I was a kid, we moved around a lot for the sake of my dad’s health some, but mostly my mom’s job mobility. Born in Oregon, spent some time in California, moved out to Kentucky, up to New York, and back to the west coast. In New York, we were in a tiny little hamlet called Highland Falls. A quick check to Google Maps will show you it’s along the Hudson River, and about forty minutes’ north of New York City. It’s tiny, a drive-through town. We lived there for about two years while I was six and seven years old before we moved out to California where I really did my growing up.

So even though California has become my home state and where I’ve spent most of my life, part of my brain has remained doggedly rooted to Highland Falls, and I’ve been what I can only describe as “viciously nostalgic” for that little village ever since moving away. Now, I’m no psychologist beyond the garden ‘armchair’ variety, but I have a hunch as to why I’m that way. When we moved out here and I turned eight, it began a long series of life events and landmarks, from 9/11, my dad passing away, and a series of new schools as we continued to bounce around, to the tumultuous nature of teenager years with all the first’s that come with them and every struggle that’s followed since in my twenties. If I had to guess – and I do, citing my aforementioned lack of credentials as well as not being an all-knowing genie – my psyche sort of sees that quiet little town as The Good Ol’ Days, and the move out to California as when The Trouble Began (“Trouble” being just what growing up is). So it latches onto my foggy memories of that time with the rose-tintiest of rose-tinted glasses.

Even accepting that as true enough and explaining somewhat rationally where the impulse comes from, it doesn’t really stop me from really wanting to visit the place again. Which, to put that into perspective, would mean taking time off of work, organizing flights, rental cars, hotel stays, and more, all totalling to a couple grand of travel costs…to see drive-through town that can’t possibly resemble the one I knew growing up.

For…what?

Like, really. For what? To see a childhood home I lived in for two years that’s probably been repainted? Is that really worth the time and the price tag? No. Of course not. The obvious work around is to just look up my old address on Google Maps and take a Street View tour of the town, if the nostalgia means so much to me, right? Well, guess what smart guy? I already did that. Here’s the thing: The street I grew up on is the ONLY ONE that the Google car DIDN’T map out. So what we have now is an implacable calling to a small New England town in the middle of nowhere, to see a house that shouldn’t hold any value to me sentimental or otherwise, and a global mapping service that has said house strangely blurred out, only fueling this feeling of mystery.

The way I see it, this can only go one of two ways.

One: I fly out there, rent a car, the Whole Nine, and I make it to my childhood house to find the town even smaller than I remember and the house with new owners who would be understandably perplexed to see a thirty-year-old staring at their front door with his sole explanation that he lived there more than twenty years ago. The town is just a town. My childhood is well and truly gone. The house is just a house. There is no calling. I just wasted a couple thousand to see a regular old town like any thousands of others and should reexamine some things in my life.

Two: I fly out there and all the rest, uncover some real eldritch, funky Stephen King sh*t, and am never heard from again by my friends and family.

I guess, if for positively no other reason than posterity, let this post stand for the record when, in a year or two, I decide to make the pilgrimage, announce it on here, and this blog abruptly ceases being updated forever. Like, I know I take breaks here and there, but if I say “Hey, I’m off to Highland Falls. I’ll update you,” and y’all never hear from me again, it’s some weird It stuff. Aliens. Monsters. Men in Black, some kind of funky stuff, and this meager slice of the internet can stand as dubious proof of that.

So…I guess…’til then, right?

Ciao.

An Argument for why Disneyland Might Legitimately be Magical

Sup everybody, and happy holiday madness (whatever your particular flavor of that may be).

I’m 28, and I tend to be behind the curve on a lot of things. I haven’t had chicken pox yet, I watched Avengers: Endgame years after it came out, and I finally went to Disneyland for the first time a couple of weeks ago.

My fiance’s parents gifted us tickets because Mandy had been wanting to make the trip materialize for years, knowing I hadn’t been yet and wanting to be the one to take me. Add to that a couple more years of frustration and patience what with the world shutting down recently, and we finally made it happen (safe as can be) last month.

I won’t lie: I was worried. Worried that I’d heard almost three decades of hype around the “Happiest Place on Earth” and that there was no way in heck a place could live up to all the stories and expectations. I was worried we’d go, and I’d be a jaded, grumpy old cuss who was too adult for the whole place. And with how excited she was to take me, show me, and see my reaction, there was a lot of emotional investment that hinged on that reaction – and I’m no good at faking that stuff, I’ve tried.

So, along with all the fun, it was also a gigantic f***ing relief when it turns out that Disneyland is awesome. And when I say “awesome,” I mean super, incredibly f***ing awesome.

Y’all, for three days, I was a kid. At first I felt the enchantment doing its work, could see the design to the park and the reality of where I was, but that eventually all melded into the background behind the music, the characters, the food, the smiles, charms, rides, and everything else.

Y’all…Goofy waved at me. Me!! Mickey’s own buddy Goofy waved at me, and I got to take a photo with Flynn Rider while he hit us with the smolder and tried to talk smack about Maximus – the greatest horse in the Disney universe. (And you can check your arguments at the door. He’s a horse that upholds the law and friggin’ swordfights. He’s a horse that buckles effin’ swashes. #swashbucklinghorse)

But beyond the glitz and glamour of the theme park, there were a few moments that we experienced that I legitimately cannot figure any other way beyond some level of actual – and I raged against the term at first, thinking it too overused – magical influence. And I have an argument for why I think that is in a minute, so you’ll see what I mean. (If you’re boring or short on time, feel free to skip past the numbers to the juicy bit at the end. #smoothbrain #busybee)

First, I present the evidence…

  1. Uncanny Luck with Reservations
    There’s a restaurant at Disneyland called the Blue Bayou. If, like me, you hadn’t heard of it, it’s essentially a large cafe inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride where you sit under dim lighting, eat overpriced stuff, and can vaguely see park goers on the ride in the quiet background. Something also associated with the Bayou is how impossible it is to get in. Mandy tried six, eight months out from our trip to get seats and they were all booked up.
    Now, put a pin in that.
    There’s also a new ride at the Star Wars Land section of the park called Rise of the Resistance, and when I told people about our trip coming up, everyone and their DOG was telling us how we need to try and get it, and to try really hard because it’s next to impossible to do. At the time we went, you had to reserve your space online using the app, and check-in times were at 7:00am and 12:00pm, so you had two chances each day. The first time we tried, we hit ‘Reserve’ right at 7:00 and were told it was booked up, having filled up in microseconds.
    Back to that pin.
    We exit the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, pleasantly sighing at the fun we’d had, when Mandy sees the Blue Bayou hostess standing at her podium. She basically figures “What the heck?” and approaches, asking if there’s space available. The hostess mentions at first that they were, at present, booked out for the next two months. Just as we’re beginning to say our “We understand” and turn to leave, she does a quick scan of her seating chart, does one of those surprised frowns, and says that if we have time right that minute, there was actually an open table for two.
    We stand there blinking for a moment before we say, “Um, heck yes, why not?” She tells us to stay close by and they’ll call us up in a moment or two. That’s when we check the time and see it’s 11:57, and we need to start smashing that refresh button on the Disney App for the Resistance ride. It’s 11:59 and the hostess calls us up, and we hold up a polite finger with the “Wait oooone second” while we pray to whatever god will listen for a spot in line. The clock ticks over to 12:00…
    …and we made it, just at the end of the queue behind a couple thousand other people.
    Within the span of a couple minutes, we nailed two rumored-to-be impossible reservations. Disneyland just started serving alcohol in limited amounts to adults, so you bet your tookus that we celebrated with a couple of exorbitantly expensive cocktails and a dessert. It felt like the most baller move to pull, was my thinking. If we were there on a months-long reservation, you can be sure I’m not getting out of there for less than a filet mignon and a lobster tail. But with some spontaneous serendipity like that, I’m there to get sweet, get krunk, and get out.
  2. The Missing Pin
    That weekend was also when I learned of the crazy pin culture that surrounds Disneyland. You can buy them, obviously, but you can aparently also trade them with either park attendants or fellow park goers. Folks will set up “shop” out in front of storefronts with BINDERS full of specialty pins they’re collecting or trading. I like pins, but these mofo’s LOVE pins.
    Mandy has a couple of Disney pins from previous trips she went on as a kid, and one of the days while I was in the restroom she traded up with a couple and surprised me with a Maximus pin I put on my hat. Besides that, she has her core two or three she wouldn’t give up for the world and one she likes but planned on trading for a special one she was on the hunt for (we’ll get to that).
    We were all set with our pins – me with Maximus and her with her traders – as we were getting in line for the Star Tours ride. If you’re unfamiliar like I was, it’s basically a next level POV Star Wars movie where your seats lean and jounce around to make you feel the gravity of the starship movie you’re watching. We’re about to walk into the “theater” when she sighs, says “Oh, no…” and explains that her trading pin had come loose and fallen on the ground somewhere, now lost.
    Maybe it was the childlike joy and innocence I’d been marinated in for the last two days, but that missing pin left me heartbroken for her. It wasn’t just the missing property, exactly, but also the fact that the pin was a stand-in for the one she’d meant to trade it for, however easily it could be replaced. Explain it however you want, we were bummed.
    Which is what made it all the more impactful when, after the ride was through, she pulls on my sleeve going, “Evan, holy crap. Look.” The pin had somehow fallen off of the strap of her bag by her shoulder, fallen a couple of feet, and been caught by the swinging pocket of the sweater she had tied around her waist.
    I…I can’t…
    I don’t know enough about statistics to give you any numbers not out of my butt that can express how unlikely of a catch that was, and I also won’t be shaken out of my belief that it took the ghost of Walt Disney himself to make it.
  3. The Only Way to Watch Fireworks From Now On
    So, once we got off the Rise of the Resistance ride, Mandy and I each found a rock out of the flow of traffic to sit on and we just stared at the sidewalk with thousand-yard stares. It was THAT good. One of the first things I did once we came back into ourselves was text my aunt and thank her for the advice and the push to try and get on the ride because of how worth it it was. She gets back to me with some congratulations and some follow-up advice to try the Big Thunder Mountain rollercoaster if we hadn’t already. We hadn’t yet, so we make it our next stop.
    It’s well past sundown by this point, and on the way to Big Thunder Mountain, we notice foot traffic and lines for rides are getting pretty thin, and quickly realize that it’s because the park is gearing up for its nightly fireworks display. Mandy pauses us to ask the obvious question: Do we pause what we’re doing to try and find a good spot to watch them from? And we pretty much conclude together, “Nah, they’re cool, but seen one fireworks show, you’ve sort of seen them all,” and keep making our way to the rollercoaster.
    We were right, and it paid off. The line for Big Thunder Mountain moved pretty darn quickly and we were at the front in no time. Big Thunder Mountain is probably best described as the “least themed” of the rollercoasters in the park. Matterhorn has the bobsled and Yeti, Space Mountain has the total darkness, trippy warp-lighting thing. BTM is basically just fast and loud. That said, it’s a really smooth ride, and a lot of fun. We had a great moment to appreciate how fun it was while it slow-climbed up the second big ramp for the exterior drop, and I heard some distant, low, “Thuum, thuum-thuum, thuum.”
    We had just enough time to wonder what the heck it was when, in the sky directly in front of us right as we’re about to crest the peak for the big drop, fireworks exPLODE into an eruption of color and sound.
    Y’all, if you ever have the chance to catch a fireworks show directly beneath it from the back of a rushing rollercoaster, you have to give that sh** a try.
    But again, what was uncanny was the timing of it. A second or two in either direction and the moment isn’t the same. If we hadn’t been smack-talking the “You’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all” fireworks just half an hour before, it wouldn’t have been the same. It couldn’t have been PLANNED better.
  4. The Theme Park Read My Mind
    Bear in mind for a moment, that up until now, all these events (including this one) have all taken place in the same day. We were there for a grand total of three days, the first to be spent in Grand California Adventure and the next two in Disneyland proper. Grand California Adventure was awesome, no doubt, but I can see why it’s popularly held that it doesn’t compare to the mainland itself.
    So we’ve had our first day of fun, toured most of the park, eaten the food, seen the storied attractions, ridden some crazy sh**, and now we’re on our way out around 11:00pm taking the moment to slowly walk by the storefronts we’ll be perusing more thoroughly during our last day tomorrow.
    I have no idea what hits me, but while walking down that main thoroughfare on the way out, I pause in the middle of the road. Our year has been pretty rough and stressful with some real adult stuff – housing stuff, financial stuff, health stuff, job stuff, the works – and I’ve got the thinning hairline to show it. These couple of days to completely and utterly forget all that, to give ourselves over to enchantment and just enjoy it and each other’s company were…(damn, I hate to say it at risk of overuse)…magical.
    So I stopped. I took a minute to breath in the incredible relief and monumental power stored there. I turned around to look at the statue of Walt Disney holding Mickey’s hand, with the famed Disney castle aglow in the background, wondering and hoping at what kind of man Walt himself was and if he knew what the place would become. I turned back to look up at the gigantic Christmas tree in the main roundabout – oh, yeah, the whole place was done up for Christmas, shoulda mentioned that – and just felt…goddamned grateful.
    Suddenly, chuum! The surrounding lights all glare a crisp, robin’s egg blue, and a voice comes over the PA saying something to the effect of, “Hey everyone. The world has its up’s and down’s, but we here at Disney try to make your time here just a little bit magical and do some good, and we hope we’ve done that for you. Happy Yule Time, everybody.”
    And fucking snow machines start filling the air with fresh, wintry little bubbles.
    I swear to God, it’s like someone at Disneyland Command Center saw me on one of the cameras and called it in.
    “*static* Ma’am, we have a first-timer with a case of Inspiration. Permission to engage Protocol Yuletide Magic?”
    “Permission granted, Imagineer. You are free to engage. I repeat, you are free to engage.”

    When Disney eventually builds its own private military corporation to topple world leaders and fully take over the planet, I’m first in line for citizenship. Sign me up.
  5. Last Little Bit of Impossible
    Our second day in Disney proper was, like I mentioned, mostly just a second sweep. Re-doing the things we enjoyed our first time around, and making sure to go over anything we missed. This entire time, however, Mandy’s been looking for a particular pin to trade hers for: the grape soda badge that Ellie gives to Carl when they meet as kids in the movie ‘Up.’
    At this point, it’s about 11:30pm on Sunday. It’s been three days of a lot of walking, and I have a long drive ahead of me in the morning, so as we do our final sweep through the stores on our way out, I excuse myself to sit on one of the benches in the roundabout while she finishes up her own shopping. After a while, I’m about to call her when she walks up to me with a bag on her arm, hands behind her back, and tears brewing in her eyes.
    In the last minutes of our last day in the park, she found the last two grape soda pins in the last store on our way out.
    Fucking. Magic.
    (And yes, I know this post started with me censoring cuss words and has now devolved into dropping hard F’s. I even kept my language squeaky clean while in the park on our trip out of respect for the park [and yeah, the kids too, I guess]. Otherwise it just felt like I was littering the air with my profanity. But here, it’s the only thing I can think of to bring proper emphasis to how magical that shit was.)
    As she tells it, she was on her way out of the store when someone passed her holding the pin to put it back on the rack because they didn’t want it. She explained that, actually, if they were going to put it back, she’d been looking for that exact one for days and would love to take it from her. That was then overheard by the store’s clerk, who mentioned they had precisely one more behind the counter if she could use two to match with someone. The rest is history.

So, yeah, thus concludes the highlights of that trip, even if this can’t possibly encapsulate the whole experience, all of the incredible little moments that comprised the whole. Now, the important bit, the angle I think all of those paragraphs justify and why that hallowed ground might legitimately be magical.
You know the reverence we give to haunted houses? Or the sites of massacres and terrible tragedies? There’s always the talk of the ways in which all of that negative energy, after enough of it with enough time to soak into the walls or the ground, can be felt as a palpable psychic presence.

At the end of the day, good and evil are just perspectives. Light and dark are just states. Positive and negative are just directions. If something is true of one, it’s reciprocally true for the other. If enough death, sadness, fury, and negativity can soak a ground so that it’s haunted and give one the heeby-jeebies, why can’t the reverse be true? The millions of people that have walked those square miles of park over the years, brimming with joy, imagination, love, innocent wonder, and all the rest…couldn’t…couldn’t that create a kind of positive haunt which lends itself to more positivity in the way a negative haunt spins further bad juju?
Now, obviously, I don’t have a conclusive answer beyond the weight of the rhetorical question, but I think it stands to reason, to some degree. Obviously, how you feel about the original premise surrounding lasting energy soaks will affect how you think of the theory it leads to, but it seems worthy of mild consideration.

Whatever the result, I’m just glad to have formed insanely happy memories that will be lifelong. Or at least until I have children of my own, try and take them, and have the memories re-shaded with how much I hate how expensive it all is. But such is life.

You Should Run

As much as that sounds like an ominous line out of a horror story, I mean it literally.

(Oh, and up at the top, we should acknowledge that the following is going to continue a recent trend of involving a fair amount of crass, poo-based humorous anecdotes. So if you’re too sophisticated for that, I understand. No hard feelings.)

If you’ll remember, the first rule of Zombieland is “Cardio.” Followed swiftly by “Double Tap” and “Limber Up,” but rightly put first in the list. You can be clever, well-stocked, and prepared, but if you can’t run or swing a bat when the time comes, the zombies are going to win. (Also, if you haven’t seen the movie, do yourself a favor and do it. It’s a great time.)

I’m not necessarily saying everyone should run a marathon each week, either. I go through seasons of putting in road work, interrupted by equally long seasons of being a couch potato. But I was just confronted with an experience that showed having at least a fair cardio base is truly invaluable.

This isn’t a life-and-death story, but it comes close. Listen up…

A few weeks ago, my fiance and I took a trip out to Austin, Texas to visit her family for the Fourth of July. We had a great time! The day of The Fourth, we began by taking it relatively easy, then went to a place called The Longhorn Saloon to play “Chicken-Shit Bingo.”

Yeah, you read that right.

You might be thinking, as I was told it would be, it was a goofy name wherein you played regular Bingo, except a chicken was responsible for choosing the ball. Could NOT have been more different. Players would be called to line up at a table at the beginning of each new round where they could buy essentially a raffle ticket. You’d pay either $1 or $3 for your ticket, affecting the pay-out if you won, then sit back and hope. After all players had their tickets or the tickets had run out, they game-runners would go over to a coop of chickens that had been chowing down. They’d take one of those birds, and bring it over to another oversized cage with a floor that had a checkered pattern with numbers on it corresponding to the numbers on the tickets given out. The chicken would eventually take a squirty poo (sorry for the imagery, but it’s true) on one of the numbers, and if it was yours you won.

After that truly bizarre but hilarious new experience, we went back to the house for BBQ. Through that BBQ, I learned two lessons, one in the moment and another that would hit me later. The first was that unless you live in Texas or Tennessee, apparently, the BBQ you might think is good is actually total bullshit. Y’all, on that trip, I tasted the flavor equivalent to seeing the face of God. That brisket, the cream corn, the mac n’ cheese, the coleslaw – it was all out of this world. I ate so much I was in physical agony but could NOT be happier for the sacrifice my stomach was making for the sake of my soul.

Which brings me to Lesson #2. (<– lol Get it? Ah, you will.)

After a delightfully painful dinner, we walked down the way about a 3/4 mile or so to a spot to watch a fireworks show. We reach our grassy destination, set out our lawn chairs, and get ready for the show; whereupon my tummy grumbles. And not in that kind of nonsense way where it’s telling you your hungry despite having just stuffed yourself. It was the, “Hey, because you just added a bunch of inventory, we need to move some stuff along to make room” kind of grumble.

Like a gentleman, I measured whether I could endure an hour or so sitting with the discomfort, whereupon my body delivered my brain a report stating “You can try, but they’re your shorts.” So, with a resolved sigh, I asked where the nearest restroom was. Now, I was hoping her folks might toss me the house key that I might back track to their house and use a private bathroom. Instead, my mother-in-law laughs and points the other way down the road, saying, “You see that traffic light intersection?”

I look and see waaaaaaay down the road is the traffic light, so I nod.

“Cool,” she says. “Go to the OTHER one just down the road from that one, and go left. There’s a park and they’re bound to have facilities.”

If it wasn’t so full, my stomach would drop at how far of a walk it was going to be, but rather than waste time, I nod and start power-walking in that direction.

Lesson #1.5 proved to be that unless you’re SURE of a shortcut, just go the way you know, especially if you’re in a hurry. I made it to the first traffic light and saw a pizza place across the street. Thinking I might save some time rather than make the full journey, I hop across the street to ask if they have a restroom the public can use. And just so you’re aware of the severity at play here, I was ready to bribe the guy with a $20 bill I had in my wallet. Alas, he wasn’t in any kind of mood to sneak me in the back, and recommended instead I try Domino’s across the street and down the way.

I start crying internally, I head back out the door and down the way. I risk another short cut, and hike up to the Domino’s. This time, before I can even get my hopes up, I can see their bathroom is still boarded up from public use due to Covid restrictions. So I try cutting across from the parking lot to where I can see the field of the park that I was originally supposed to go to. Bear in mind, it’s getting dark and the show is supposed to start soon, but I can see I’d have to climb a tall, chain-link fence if I wanted to cut across, and I didn’t want to risk adding a twisted ankle to my current list of problems. So I add yet MORE minutes to the time the journey’s taken by going back around and getting on the main road I was supposed to be following this whole time.

I make it to the second light and turn left into the park. It’s dark, it’s crowded as HELL with campers flooding into the park for the coming show, and I realize I left my phone behind. So along with balancing internal control of my bowels, I had memorizing street signs and turns I’m taking to the list so I don’t get lost too. Cause, you know, THAT’D be awkward.

I make my way through bustling crowds and finally, like spotting a beautiful oasis amid a desert, I see the bathrooms a short hop away. I make my way inside the brick building, find one of the many open stalls, and take my place upon the thrown.

I should note here that earlier in the evening, the question arose from my fiance’s little sister as to why we celebrate the Fourth with fireworks. The answer, rightly, had been that they were meant to simulate bombs going off, explosions in a time of war, given it was celebrating a fight for independence. I’d always found that a little funny since, always seeing the show from outside, it never felt quick like I’d imagine experiencing a bomb blast to be.

It sounds like the timing of a hokey joke in a cheap comedy, but I swear to God that the moment I <ahem> “placed myself upon the throne” and immediately <ahem> “got to work,” the fireworks show started DIRECTLY above the restroom facilities.

It REALLY added to the moment. And I can say with certainty now, that the simulation feels accurate. From inside that little brick building, it felt like I was taking cover from a shelling. The walls rattled, my guts shook (for a number of reasons), and the cacophonous booms soaked the earth beneath me.

That new experience under my belt, I collected myself and headed back towards the rest of the group to watch the show. Knowing I had already burned up part of the show with my <ahem> “business” <ahem> I decided to run back to the group rather than walk in order to save time.

Now, I’m in the middle of one of those aforementioned couch potato seasons, but was pleased to find that my cardio base could handle a little one-mile run despite the trauma I’d just gone through and being loaded to the brim on Texas BBQ. I made good time, only had a minor stitch, and was able to enjoy the rest of the show with family.

So, I hope you in no way got lost in the <ahem> details here and absorbed the true point of how important some baseline measure of personal fitness can be in the face of true emergencies.

Take care, everybody.

Pocket Story Series #1

Good…God.

Well’p, we made it. We’ve made it to a point where we might be able to start watching the dust settle rather than whip around in a heinous maelstrom of bad news and general caca. I’m all for fresh starts. In fact, just behind Thanksgiving here in the States, New Year’s Day is my favorite holiday. I appreciate Christmas and Halloween for the things they do, but I just prefer silver to gold, the lieutenant to the captain, the…crow’s nest to the…figurehead- I dunno. This is starting to fall apart, but you get my point: The Underdog.

And in an effort to embrace that, I’m starting this up: the Pocket Story Series.

A little bit ago at a yard sale, I picked up a little book called the “Amazing Story Generator,” and I think our goal here will be to do our best to disprove that.

The gist: The book gives a circumstance, a character, and an action, then I’ll whip up a little diddy here for us to enjoy, marvel at, laugh at, or whatever else, then I’ll show what the elements were that I had to work with.

Cool? Cool.

Oh! Also, quick plug: I’m gonna have a few published stories come out this year that are already in the pipeline, so expect to be bombarded with news about those when they approach and/or come out.

Cool again? Cool again. Without further adieu…

Working Late

Geoffry Hanson set down his cup of coffee, folded his finger over his belly, and enjoyed a contented sigh. The outdoor cafe was nice, and it had been a long while since he’d been in Amsterdam. When he was here last, must have been, what, ’93? And that was for work, so he hadn’t really been able to enjoy the city.

Funny enough, as the thought hit him, the job site had been close to where he was now. Very close, in fact. He paid for his coffee, got up, and left to go for a stroll. He walked along the canals and paused at a house by one of the embankments. There it was. He looked on at the gabled facade, a remnant of the seventeenth century Golden Age, and smiled.

That was where he and his team had busted a trade between a couple of Turkish gun runners and their Soviet partners. Across the street was where they’d surveilled a Chinese-national informant to verify what she’d had to say before taking her asylum. Aaah, and just down the canal there was where they’d saved the city from a terrorist plot involving a threat to its water treatment. Geoff smiled.

A life working for MI6 had been a rewarding one.

He ambled down along the waterside, reminiscing on the good he and his team had done. As he strolled, something caught his trained eye. A briefcase, sitting alone next to a discarded beer can underneath a nearby bridge. It’s nothing, he told himself. Definitely nothing.

This was his first vacation in his 25-year long career, and he wasn’t going to let work spoil it…

…much.

Despite himself, and mostly to convince himself of what he was telling himself, he meandered over to the discarded case. He gestured to an invisible crowd of onlookers the futility of the observation and tested its weight as a means of showing his instincts were misplaced. To his dismay, the case was heavy. Very heavy. Too heavy to house simple papers.

He pinched his nose and heaved a great sigh.

Geoff clicked the briefcase slowly open and revealed its inner working: wires, nodes, and a digital reader showing a countdown. It was a bomb, and a very big one at that. Disgruntled, Geoff clicked the heel of his left shoe, detached the sole to retrieve the bomb disposal kit hidden therein, and set to work saving the world yet another time.

Retirement couldn’t come soon enough for Geoffry Hansom; but, he supposed, perhaps for the sake of the world, it could.

END

Aaah, that was dorky.

Okay, so the pages turned up, as you may have guessed: “On vacation for the first time in years / a world-weary intelligence agent / finds a buried atomic bomb.”

We missed the “buried” bit, and let go of the “world-weariness” as well, but it came together adorably enough. This being just a warm-up, keep an eye out for more of these and again for news on bigger stories I’ve got coming our way.

Til then, take it easy, y’all.

The Time I Smuggled Explosives Across Europe (kinda by accident)

(Welcome to an ‘In Case You Missed It’! This will be one of those I re-post for a few days since it’s a tale I really wanna share as much as I can. If you’ve already seen it, think of the first time as a nifty pre-order bonus. I guess where the bonus is…a slight sense of superiority.)

I’ll be honest, the tale I’m about to share, I was saving it. But now that we’re about to dive in, I’m not totally sure what occasion I was waiting for: 100 followers, a one-year anniversary, my first book deal, etc. It’s a favorite of mine to share at parties or over campfires, but being shut in like we have been, I guess it’s just eek’ing out of me.

So here goes.

When I was sixteen, my mom blessed me with one of the single greatest experiences in my life so far. We merited invitation to (fucking somehow, by the way; still no clue where it came from) a program sponsoring “student ambassadorship” called People-to-People (apparently founded in 1956 by my main man ol’ Dwighty D). The idea was pretty simple, though: send high school-age kids to different countries to paint them with the brush of culture to promote a more global viewpoint and international friendship.

And that’s mostly what happened.

The tour we went on took us through six western-European countries: England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria. There’s A LOT I could wax on about, a ton of granular experiences captured in those three weeks that will absolutely last a lifetime, and volumes that could be filled with all of that, but this one centers around the hallmark segment of the trip, which was the German Home Stay. In the weeks running up to the trip, we got to hear from alumni of the program, and the German Home Stay was absolutely heralded and touted above and beyond as the thing you’ll remember most, and it TOTALLY was.

But before we get there, some stuff happened in France a week earlier that sets the story up for its climax, shall we say.

France was fun, it was cool, all to say the least. The Louvre, the Palace at Versailles, the fooooood, and the markets – I could go on for days. Almost bought a man thong for six euros, egged on by the peer pressure of my travel mates, a decision I deeply regret not indulging, to this day.

But Paris was also the first place the trip organizers sort of loosened our leashes, so to speak. Regrettably, I don’t remember the name of the region or the area itself, I just know we were in a Parisian market. They posted us up by a central fountain and told us, “Alright, here’s where we’ll be for the next hour. Go ahead, set your bags down, go run around and browse, but so help me God be back here in an hour.”

So we scattered. We ran free, scoured, and had a hell of a time. And, naturally, it took about ten minutes to hear someone say this: “Guys! I found a place that sells M80’s!”

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with what M80’s are, growing up, I always heard them called a “quarter-stick of dynamite.” I’m not totally sure how accurate that is, but even if it’s an eighth-stick, you get my point. They blow up toilets, tear apart fingers, and all the rest. They’re also totally illegal for civilian use in America (without proper license, and…c’mon).

So the second we hear this, of course a gaggle of us beelines it for the shop we’re directed to and I buy two fat bricks of these things. I fork over whatever I was asked for and leave the shop grinning from ear to ear. I’m holding explosives that I now own and can do whatever I may with.

The sense of power was intoxicating.

That was, until we got back to the fountain, I bragged about the acquisition and another traveler asks, “Cool, but…how’re you going to get them home?”

I look at them, smile, and say….nothing. I…I say nothing at all for several long moments, because I don’t have any fucking idea how I’m going to get these home. I just stand there, pants quickly un-tightening, realizing the bricks of explosives in my hands aren’t the terrific playthings I wanted, but had quickly turned into burdensome contraband.

Not emotionally prepared to just leave them behind.
Can’t fly back to the States with them in my backpack/bag.
Can’t ship them plane or boat.

Fuck.

So the next week or so sees me wondering how best to handle them.

Now, setting that aside, the German Host Stay.

I stayed with a terrific family whom to this day I still consider my relatives overseas. They treated me phenomenally well, took me out, showed me places, toured the town with me, and when everybody else went to school the following Monday, we went to a Green Day concert instead.

(Which, actually, was one of my favorite parts coming out of this whole trip. My host brother, wonderful man named Florian, told me that Sunday night, “Tomorrow, you will go to school, and mom with take you to a museum. I will not be going, because I will be going with my father to a Green Day and Rise Against show.” He saw the twinkle in my eyes, the quiver to my chin, and said, “Would…would you like to come with us instead?” Somewhat un-diplomatically, “Fuck yes I want to go with you!” So the next day I was on the autobahn going 100 mph+ on my way to a rock concert with Florian and his dad while everyone else went to class.
Aaaaah….fond memories.)

The time came and went, and before I knew it, I was waking up on the morning of my last day. We were instructed to, when this time came, make our beds neatly, write a thank-you note, and leave said note along with a gift from home on the pillow. I made that bed tight enough to bounce a euro off the sheets, poured my heart into the thank-you note, and left a little plush Snoopy on the pillow, explaining that he’s a character of a cartoonist from my hometown.

That, and two bricks of M80 explosives.

It was a difficult decision, but time was running out, and I could think of nothing better to do with them. Besides, when I explained how and why I had them, it led to a pretty resounded laugh as to the circumstance (and it seemed like the American thing to do, if we can be honest). “Oh, excellent!” Florian’s mom exclaimed at the news. “We actually have a holiday coming up, and we will light on in your memory!”

The sentiment filled me with both honor and dread.

“Ooh, awesome,” I said. “Just…ooo, boy, please be careful with those.”

“Oh, yes. We will be. Do not worry.”

“Heh, awesome….but, like, for real. Please, be careful. I don’t want an email a week after I get home saying Florian doesn’t have fingers on his left hand or something.”

I didn’t actually say that last part, but I thought the hell out of it.

Ultimately, I made it home without being detained, and got an email some time later saying that the firecracker went off splendidly without hurting anybody. It’s also the reason I put in my bio that I’ve technically smuggled explosives internationally. So, really, everybody wins.

Ciao, for now.

The Time I Smuggled Explosives Across Europe (kinda by accident)

(Welcome to an ‘In Case You Missed It’! This will be one of those I re-post for a few days since it’s a tale I really wanna share as much as I can. If you’ve already seen it, think of the first time as a pre-order.)

I’ll be honest, the tale I’m about to share, I was saving it. But now that we’re about to dive in, I’m not totally sure what occasion I was waiting for: 100 followers, a one-year anniversary, my first book deal, etc. It’s a favorite of mine to share at parties or over campfires, but being shut in like we have been, I guess it’s just eek’ing out of me.

So here goes.

When I was sixteen, my mom blessed me with one of the single greatest experiences in my life so far. We merited invitation to (fucking somehow, by the way; still no clue where it came from) a program sponsoring “student ambassadorship” called People-to-People (apparently founded in 1956 by my main man ol’ Dwighty D). The idea was pretty simple, though: send high school-age kids to different countries to paint them with the brush of culture to promote a more global viewpoint and international friendship.

And that’s mostly what happened.

The tour we went on took us through six western-European countries: England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria. There’s A LOT I could wax on about, a ton of granular experiences captured in those three weeks that will absolutely last a lifetime, and volumes that could be filled with all of that, but this one centers around the hallmark segment of the trip, which was the German Home Stay. In the weeks running up to the trip, we got to hear from alumni of the program, and the German Home Stay was absolutely heralded and touted above and beyond as the thing you’ll remember most, and it TOTALLY was.

But before we get there, some stuff happened in France a week earlier that sets the story up for its climax, shall we say.

France was fun, it was cool, all to say the least. The Louvre, the Palace at Versailles, the fooooood, and the markets – I could go on for days. Almost bought a man thong for six euros, egged on by the peer pressure of my travel mates, a decision I deeply regret not indulging, to this day.

But Paris was also the first place the trip organizers sort of loosened our leashes, so to speak. Regrettably, I don’t remember the name of the region or the area itself, I just know we were in a Parisian market. They posted us up by a central fountain and told us, “Alright, here’s where we’ll be for the next hour. Go ahead, set your bags down, go run around and browse, but so help me God be back here in an hour.”

So we scattered. We ran free, scoured, and had a hell of a time. And, naturally, it took about ten minutes to hear someone say this: “Guys! I found a place that sells M80’s!”

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with what M80’s are, growing up, I always heard them called a “quarter-stick of dynamite.” I’m not totally sure how accurate that is, but even if it’s an eighth-stick, you get my point. They blow up toilets, tear apart fingers, and all the rest. They’re also totally illegal for civilian use in America (without proper license, and…c’mon).

So the second we hear this, of course a gaggle of us beelines it for the shop we’re directed to and I buy two fat bricks of these things. I fork over whatever I was asked for and leave the shop grinning from ear to ear. I’m holding explosives that I now own and can do whatever I may with.

The sense of power was intoxicating.

That was, until we got back to the fountain, I bragged about the acquisition and another traveler asks, “Cool, but…how’re you going to get them home?”

I look at them, smile, and say….nothing. I…I say nothing at all for several long moments, because I don’t have any fucking idea how I’m going to get these home. I just stand there, pants quickly un-tightening, realizing the bricks of explosives in my hands aren’t the terrific playthings I wanted, but had quickly turned into burdensome contraband.

Not emotionally prepared to just leave them behind.
Can’t fly back to the States with them in my backpack/bag.
Can’t ship them plane or boat.

Fuck.

So the next week or so sees me wondering how best to handle them.

Now, setting that aside, the German Host Stay.

I stayed with a terrific family whom to this day I still consider my relatives overseas. They treated me phenomenally well, took me out, showed me places, toured the town with me, and when everybody else went to school the following Monday, we went to a Green Day concert instead.

(Which, actually, was one of my favorite parts coming out of this whole trip. My host brother, wonderful man named Florian, told me that Sunday night, “Tomorrow, you will go to school, and mom with take you to a museum. I will not be going, because I will be going with my father to a Green Day and Rise Against show.” He saw the twinkle in my eyes, the quiver to my chin, and said, “Would…would you like to come with us instead?” Somewhat un-diplomatically, “Fuck yes I want to go with you!” So the next day I was on the autobahn going 100 mph+ on my way to a rock concert with Florian and his dad while everyone else went to class.
Aaaaah….fond memories.)

The time came and went, and before I knew it, I was waking up on the morning of my last day. We were instructed to, when this time came, make our beds neatly, write a thank-you note, and leave said note along with a gift from home on the pillow. I made that bed tight enough to bounce a euro off the sheets, poured my heart into the thank-you note, and left a little plush Snoopy on the pillow, explaining that he’s a character of a cartoonist from my hometown.

That, and two bricks of M80 explosives.

It was a difficult decision, but time was running out, and I could think of nothing better to do with them. Besides, when I explained how and why I had them, it led to a pretty resounded laugh as to the circumstance (and it seemed like the American thing to do, if we can be honest). “Oh, excellent!” Florian’s mom exclaimed at the news. “We actually have a holiday coming up, and we will light on in your memory!”

The sentiment filled me with both honor and dread.

“Ooh, awesome,” I said. “Just…ooo, boy, please be careful with those.”

“Oh, yes. We will be. Do not worry.”

“Heh, awesome….but, like, for real. Please, be careful. I don’t want an email a week after I get home saying Florian doesn’t have fingers on his left hand or something.”

I didn’t actually say that last part, but I thought the hell out of it.

Ultimately, I made it home without being detained, and got an email some time later saying that the firecracker went off splendidly without hurting anybody. It’s also the reason I put in my bio that I’ve technically smuggled explosives internationally. So, really, everybody wins.

Ciao, for now.

The Time I Smuggled Explosives Across Europe (kinda by accident)

I’ll be honest, the tale I’m about to share, I was saving it. But now that we’re about to dive in, I’m not totally sure what occasion I was waiting for: 100 followers, a one-year anniversary, my first book deal, etc. It’s a favorite of mine to share at parties or over campfires, but being shut in like we have been, I guess it’s just eek’ing out of me.

So here goes.

When I was sixteen, my mom blessed me with one of the single greatest experiences in my life so far. We merited invitation to (fucking somehow, by the way; still no clue where it came from) a program sponsoring “student ambassadorship” called People-to-People (apparently founded in 1956 by my main man ol’ Dwighty D). The idea was pretty simple, though: send high school-age kids to different countries to paint them with the brush of culture to promote a more global viewpoint and international friendship.

And that’s mostly what happened.

The tour we went on took us through six western-European countries: England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria. There’s A LOT I could wax on about, a ton of granular experiences captured in those three weeks that will absolutely last a lifetime, and volumes that could be filled with all of that, but this one centers around the hallmark segment of the trip, which was the German Home Stay. In the weeks running up to the trip, we got to hear from alumni of the program, and the German Home Stay was absolutely heralded and touted above and beyond as the thing you’ll remember most, and it TOTALLY was.

But before we get there, some stuff happened in France a week earlier that sets the story up for its climax, shall we say.

France was fun, it was cool, all to say the least. The Louvre, the Palace at Versailles, the fooooood, and the markets – I could go on for days. Almost bought a man thong for six euros, egged on by the peer pressure of my travel mates, a decision I deeply regret not indulging, to this day.

But Paris was also the first place the trip organizers sort of loosened our leashes, so to speak. Regrettably, I don’t remember the name of the region or the area itself, I just know we were in a Parisian market. They posted us up by a central fountain and told us, “Alright, here’s where we’ll be for the next hour. Go ahead, set your bags down, go run around and browse, but so help me God be back here in an hour.”

So we scattered. We ran free, scoured, and had a hell of a time. And, naturally, it took about ten minutes to hear someone say this: “Guys! I found a place that sells M80’s!”

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with what M80’s are, growing up, I always heard them called a “quarter-stick of dynamite.” I’m not totally sure how accurate that is, but even if it’s an eighth-stick, you get my point. They blow up toilets, tear apart fingers, and all the rest. They’re also totally illegal for civilian use in America (without proper license, and…c’mon).

So the second we hear this, of course a gaggle of us beelines it for the shop we’re directed to and I buy two fat bricks of these things. I fork over whatever I was asked for and leave the shop grinning from ear to ear. I’m holding explosives that I now own and can do whatever I may with.

The sense of power was intoxicating.

That was, until we got back to the fountain, I bragged about the acquisition and another traveler asks, “Cool, but…how’re you going to get them home?”

I look at them, smile, and say….nothing. I…I say nothing at all for several long moments, because I don’t have any fucking idea how I’m going to get these home. I just stand there, pants quickly un-tightening, realizing the bricks of explosives in my hands aren’t the terrific playthings I wanted, but had quickly turned into burdensome contraband.

Not emotionally prepared to just leave them behind.
Can’t fly back to the States with them in my backpack/bag.
Can’t ship them plane or boat.

Fuck.

So the next week or so sees me wondering how best to handle them.

Now, setting that aside, the German Host Stay.

I stayed with a terrific family whom to this day I still consider my relatives overseas. They treated me phenomenally well, took me out, showed me places, toured the town with me, and when everybody else went to school the following Monday, we went to a Green Day concert instead.

(Which, actually, was one of my favorite parts coming out of this whole trip. My host brother, wonderful man named Florian, told me that Sunday night, “Tomorrow, you will go to school, and mom with take you to a museum. I will not be going, because I will be going with my father to a Green Day and Rise Against show.” He saw the twinkle in my eyes, the quiver to my chin, and said, “Would…would you like to come with us instead?” Somewhat un-diplomatically, “Fuck yes I want to go with you!” So the next day I was on the autobahn going 100 mph+ on my way to a rock concert with Florian and his dad while everyone else went to class.
Aaaaah….fond memories.)

The time came and went, and before I knew it, I was waking up on the morning of my last day. We were instructed to, when this time came, make our beds neatly, write a thank-you note, and leave said note along with a gift from home on the pillow. I made that bed tight enough to bounce a euro off the sheets, poured my heart into the thank-you note, and left a little plush Snoopy on the pillow, explaining that he’s a character of a cartoonist from my hometown.

That, and two bricks of M80 explosives.

It was a difficult decision, but time was running out, and I could think of nothing better to do with them. Besides, when I explained how and why I had them, it led to a pretty resounded laugh as to the circumstance (and it seemed like the American thing to do, if we can be honest). “Oh, excellent!” Florian’s mom exclaimed at the news. “We actually have a holiday coming up, and we will light on in your memory!”

The sentiment filled me with both honor and dread.

“Ooh, awesome,” I said. “Just…ooo, boy, please be careful with those.”

“Oh, yes. We will be. Do not worry.”

“Heh, awesome….but, like, for real. Please, be careful. I don’t want an email a week after I get home saying Florian doesn’t have fingers on his left hand or something.”

I didn’t actually say that last part, but I thought the hell out of it.

Ultimately, I made it home without being detained, and got an email some time later saying that the firecracker went off splendidly without hurting anybody. It’s also the reason I put in my bio that I’ve technically smuggled explosives internationally. So, really, everybody wins.

Ciao, for now.

Jake, the Road Trip Guy: Symbol of an Odyssey

I’m 99.8% confident we haven’t gone over this one before, which is good. And this time, I’ll note off the bat that I’m doing the same name thing as last time. I have no idea if the guy I’m about to talk about was actually named Jake; but he looked like a Jake and did some Jake-shit. So if you’re a Jake that’s offended at being misrepresented, take it up with Jake, the Road Trip Guy. I’m just the messenger here.

A few years ago, I took a trip to the Grand Canyon. It was something I’d been “planning on doing” for years but never pulled the trigger on actually doing. Finally, after enough pressure from Mandy to actually pony up, we made it happen. Loaded up the car with WAY more supplies than we needed, and started the drive at 5:00 in the morning.

Thus began the adventure, thus began the troubles.

The day of driving was actually incredibly smooth. The problem came when the sun was setting on the town of Kingman, Arizona. For context, I drive a 2003 Chrysler Sebring (and I named her Phoebe). She ain’t a powerhouse. No indomitable work horse. Not a racing star. But dammit, she’s been reliable. We drove for 15 straight hours, averaging about 85 mph through state highway and open desert in 100 degree+ July summer heat, loaded down with two adult asses and way too many camping supplies. So when we pulled into the Travelodge and I rolled down my window to hear a crunching, grinding sound, there was some concern.

“Is that your car?” Mandy said.

I looked around at the numerous cargo trucks driving and idling near us, saw the low-flying plane overhead, and replied, “No. Don’t think so. Can’t be. There’s a lot of noise here. It’s probably that.” But after checking in and parking somewhere quieter, I changed my tune: “Nope. Yup. It’s definitely my car.”

The awesome part? I had just that morning written “Grand Canyon or Bust” in the dirt of my rear windshield. But, as I told myself, it was all part of the adventure. It was tomorrow’s problem to be solved in the morning.

Waking up with the sun, I google nearby auto-shops and am fortunate enough to find one just down the road. So we check out, croak and grind our way down the road, and pull in. I put on my best helpless Californian young man charm (which is a delicate line; you either appear like the adorable, handsome puppy you’re going for, or come off like a witless douchebag). By a combination of, I’m assuming, my efforts working along with their natural good-heartedness, they fit me in.

I’m told that, depending on the problem, it can either be $1,200 and they’ll need my car for about three days, or it might be a $200 patch job and I’ll have it back in three hours. Thanks being to Odin, Vishnu, Yahweh, and whoever else, but it was the latter, and we were back on the road in a matter of hours. The one caveat: no more air conditioner. It was a bypass sort of fix, which mean the air compressor and drier was toast, but the car would run. I told him that it didn’t fuckin’ matter because he saved my trip and that we’d be fine.

As it would turn out later, spoke a little too soon on that last part.

We hit the road again in high spirits at having overcome the obstacle with the power of good fortune and were on route to making it to Mather Campground by around 4:30.

That was when I discovered how deliciously freaky the whether in Arizona can be during the summer.

Having no AC was pretty rough, but at the time I was pretty thin and had an affinity for the heat, so it was bearable. That said, when we crested one of the desert hills to see thick storm clouds in the distance, we didn’t take a second to question it and zoomed ahead for the shade they offered. To this day, that remains one of the most refreshing sensations I can call to mind. The rush of cool air, the smell of fresh rain on desert sand, the relief of shade from the clouds.

Just…dude.

I held my hand out the window to feel the cool wind, and it was like running my skin under silk. Then, I felt a little rain drop. Mandy and I looked at one another, giggling about the mana from heaven. One more drop, and then another hit my windshield…

Moments later, and I shit you not even one little bit, moments later – I couldn’t see. The rain appeared so suddenly and in such dense sheets, I was driving utterly blind. The only reference I had to go on were the reflectors in the middle of the road, but even those were scattered and obscured. Every few moments, water that had flooded any little dip in the road’s curve was slamming my wheels and threatening to wrench us off into the unknown.

I was so intensely focused on maintaining control of the vehicle, I did what I could to run a list of options. I started a mental countdown to when I would pull over, put on my hazard lights, and pray we weren’t hit from behind by an equally blind driver.

5…

4…

3…

2…

Right when I got to “1…”, just as quickly as it appear, the rain completely vanished. The air was utterly clear, out of nowhere. I’d been warned about how spontaneous and strange the weather could be, but experiencing it first hand was…just a real trip. We made it the rest of the way to the town outside the Grand Canyon, which played host to the national park, in actual safety.

I should mention here that although I had bought an overabundance of supplies – physical things one might need when hiking and camping the Grand Canyon – I didn’t actually plan anything. I didn’t make an itinerary, I hadn’t picked a camp ground until that afternoon, hadn’t made a reservation of any kind, nothing.

So when we showed up to the front gate and saw the big sandwich board sign reading, “No Vacancy”, it threw a wrench in things.

Or did it…?

This was where my power of undying, stupid optimism came into play. I saw the sign telling us to go away because all hope here was lost and figured, “What the hey? The worst case is that we’re in the same boat we’re in now.” So we drive up to the gate.

The ranger leans out of his post, smiles, and points out our lack of placard/park pass. I smile back, tell him I totally don’t have one, explain our situation, and said, “Now, in our shoes, what would you do? Like, is there a reason we can’t go in to look around?” And he explains that he would probably go in, drive around, and see what we can scrounge up as there’s no harm in trying. We trade high-five’s and I go in to explore the campgrounds.

Zone after zone, more signs all reading in big red block letters: No Vacancy.

“S’all good,” I figure, and we keep plugging ahead. Finally, we come to another ranger post to another campground with yet another sign reading: No Vacancy.

Well’p, it’s worked so far.

I park off to the side, and approach with the ranger giving me a bit of a quizzical look as she eyes the sandwich she knows has told me to go away. “Hi,” I say a bit sheepishly. “So, I see the sign, and totally get that things are booked up, buuuuuut I’m holding out hope.” Even as I’m saying this, she’s nodding and reaching for a(n already familiar at this point) map of the area. She makes marks and points out other areas we could try instead. I smile, take the map, nod, and head back to the car.

Now, we face the decision to race to other destinations and explore other hopefully available options, but something in my gut told me to hang on. So I stood there, making sure to be in plain view of the ranger’s post, while I pulled out my notebook and made a list of options – the first bit of any real planning I’d done or would do for the rest of the trip. And it was more of a flow chart, “We’ll try this, and if that doesn’t work, try what? These, and if these don’t work, then what? Go here. And if that doesn’t work, go here,” so on and so forth.

Then, the most wonderfully serendipitous thing in my life to date happened.

It’s 4:55. The ranger station closes at 5:00. And I hear from off to the side, “Ahem. ‘Scuse me. Sir?” I look over and see the ranger smiling and waving me over. “You still wanted to camp here, right?”And y’all, I DANCE my way back to her post, nodding, smiling, and all the rest of it.

Apparently, there at that moment, about five minutes before the gates closed on us…someone cancelled their reservation. The best part (and the weirdest), was the type of thing that if you wrote it in a story, you’d be called a hack: the people that cancelled their reservation, there, five minutes before the chapter closed on us, right before hope wasn’t an option anymore, had reserved the EXACT bracket of days we wanted to be there.

Hope…hope is a weird thing. Especially being an optimist, it forces you to dance the shadowy line between being persevering and being heinously stupid and delusional. But this, moments like this where the impossible, least likely thing works out, is why we do it.

Because of the nature of it, the ranger could get us in for one night, whereupon we’d have to try to re-reserve the space in the morning. So we made our way to our camp spot, set up the tent, and lived it the fuck up. Utterly in the moment. Tomorrow wasn’t guaranteed, so we did all the camping shenanigans in one night: s’mores, drank too much, got a big-ass fire going, did firespitting, BBQ’d, everything.

Morning came, we made a grand ol’ breakfast, wondering where the day would take us, not knowing where we might lay our heads that night. We packed up came, and drove out to the front gate, content with the uncertainty….whereupon we got there first, totally reserved the spot for ourselves the rest of the week, went back, unpacked everything we just bloody packed, and settled in for a week of camping at the Grand Canyon.

Now, a LOT of stuff happened that week, and it’s already been – like the trip itself – a long road to get here. To the point. To the main meat of the the trip and this tale.

It’s time we met Jake, the Road Trip Guy.

So the Big Hike of the week was that next day, where we took on the Bright Angel Trail. Just like the rest of the trip to date, I hadn’t done any worthwhile planning – just operated on a whim and improvised where necessary. So, why change up what had been working?

We would later see plenty of signs all saying distinctly not to hike between the peak hours of 11:00am and 4:00pm, which I still think is a little dumb; because when the hell else are you supposed to go? But whatever. Nevermind. The point is that you can safely bet your shapely buttocks that we began our hike into the canyon RIGHT at 11:00am.

And you know what? It was BEEEEAAAAUUUUTIFUUUUUL!

We saw all manner of strangely colorful bugs, terrific people, watched a line of mules climb on by us (their pee is gross, take it on faith), and got to take in the majesty of the canyon.

That said, it was also grueling. Peak heat in the shadows was about 130* Fahrenheit, and while there was a rest stop every mile and a half where one could get water, our bottles or canteens were reliably dry by the time we made it to each one. (That said, never urinated once, and never noticed any sweat. That’s how much you sweat and how quickly it evaporates. Y’all. It was the surface of the Sun.)

Along with these rest stops were NO SHORTAGE of signs ALL saying: “DO NOT try to make it down to the Colorado River (the bottom) AND BACK in the same day. You WILL die.”

Queue: Jake, the Road Trip Guy.

We made it about 2/3 of the way to the bottom (just about the maximum safe distance for a 1-day hike), and turned back for the ascent – which was about 100x more painful than going down. Who’da figured? It was during this climb back up that we meet Jake – being attended to by park rangers and kindly hikers – and hear his story.

Jake was from Seattle, apparently, and was on a one-man road trip of the American Southwest. He’d been to Bryce Canyon, Monument Valley, and Zion, and he was finishing up his expedition with the Grand Canyon itself. In truth, I’d long loved the idea of doing exactly that, so I was totally on Team Jake. I was ALSO on Team Jake, because he made my lack of preparation look like a fully stocked Bat Cave complete with a top-of-the-line Alfred.

As the story goes, since he was only going to be in the Canyon for so long, he was determined to make it – yes, exactly – down to the bottom to the Colorado River and back up in the same day. Were that the extent of it, stupid, but no harm-no foul. He was a solo hiker (something you’re not advised to do) from a city along a cool coastline at sea level coming to perform an arduous hike at elevation, for one. His equipment for the endeavor? Basketball shorts, shoes, and a single heavy glass growler for water.

His reasons? He didn’t bring food because he wanted to “lean out,” and he thought the growler was cool and would be enough – which it, decidedly, was not.

The reason he’s (probably) still alive today and didn’t die then and there in that canyon: another hiker that spotted him and his hilariously shitty gear and said, “Uuuuum….what’cha doin’?”

That said, I’ll end it with this: I admire Jake, the Road Trip Guy. He embodied the spirit of adventure that pervaded my own journey those several days. When I got back home, I had to attend a wake some weeks later, and when sharing the story with family members for sake of small talk, I told my Uncle Forrest: “You know, it was great. We made it through that trip on a combined 10% wit, cleverness, charm, and calculation, and the remaining 90% was all total dumb luck.”

I’ll remember his answer until the day I die.

“You know,” he said, “you might be surprised to find out that those are actually the same proportions for getting through life.”