Disclaimer: The following in about 92% true. This is based upon the inadequacy of my own memory, varying levels of insomnia-induced confusion and personal tendencies towards hyperbole. Please don't take any of it too seriously - the stories, yourself or life in general.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Things To Do While Driving Through The Empty Plains

Anyone who has driven the vast stretches of empty space, prairie and farmland that comprises the Great Plains of America will understand.  And most of you will know what I mean when I say that there are times when an entire song will play on the ipod and you will realize that, albeit the fact that you have been starring at the road the entire time, you have not really looked at the road for the duration of the song.  This empty, straight road, devoid of other drivers, provides you with ample time and ability to perform myriad meaningless task behind the wheel.

1. Read the map.  I mean really read the map.  When you really read the map you discover town with names like Fairplay, Last Chance, No Name, Slickpoo, Zaza, Hungry Horse, Lolo, Cut Bank and even Hell (Michigan).  You learn about mountain ranges and lakes, national monuments and national parks.  One time I read the map for ten minutes in eastern Wyoming and realized that I should check in with the road before continuing to study the map.

2. File your nails.  Yes, this sounds unnecessarily girly and very anti-feminist of me.  But trust me, when you've been driving for throaty-seven odd hours and have nothing to look at but trucks, prairies, the hood of your car and your hands on the steering wheel, eliminating ragged nails become an obsession.  And since driving requires little or no attention, filing is easy.

3. Eat.  You could actually set up a TV table with a full steak dinner and enjoy it without disrupting your drive.  Nonetheless, on the road, all you're likely to come by is Arby's or Subway, McDonald's or Burger King.

4. Change drivers.  I've done it.  Cruise control makes many things possible.

5. Read a book.  Or, for those who prefer pictures to words, watch a movie.  While I've never tried either, I know people who rent a stack of DVDs before any long road trip.  This makes you question the safety of the roads more than you already do doesn't it?

6. Take a nap.  Ok, just kidding.

7. Watch other drivers.  You will never believe the things you see people doing in cars.  I've seen people applying make-up.  Not just lip gloss but full blown foundation, concealer, eyeliner, mascara and eye shadow.  Like my mother always said, "Careful you could poke an eye out."  I've seen people reading books.  Probably just tourist book and not entire novels but nonetheless, truly engrossed in books.  I've seen more nose-pickers, family-jewel-adjusters, clothes-changes and eyelash-getter-outters than I can count.  But what really takes the cake is when you look at a passing car or glance in your rear view mirror and see a lone driver behind you.  And then, just like that, there are two people in the car behind you.  A guy and a girl.  Priceless.

Hey Life...I Win

Nothing liked getting kicked when you’re down.  I mean really shoved face down in the muddy roadside ditch of life.  Curb stomped when you’re already on your knees.  And then kicked in the ribs one more time, just for good measure.

Well I was there.  And I lived to tell about.

I am an overeducated, rich, upper middle class white girl; blogging on my Mac Book Pro and 1 AM, drinking cheap red wine and living the dream in Aspen because I don’t have to get a job in the midst of the so-called Great Recession.  I am yuppie spawn.  Full of the appropriate proportions of self-loathing, self-righteousness, narcissism, and trite clichés about my existential angst and metaphysical confusion.  My kind seems to love nothing more than to whine about how hard our lives are and how much pressure we feel from our yuppie parents to succeed.

Still, being considered a failure unless you are a high school and college valedictorian, Phi Beta Kappa, Rhodes Scholar, J.D, PhD, M.D., MBA, M.A. and Supreme Court Justice is a rough road to drive down.  And after twenty-three years of it, I cracked.

I quite my high(ish)-paying big-girl job, packed up a duffel bag and got on a plane to Aspen.  I didn’t tell my parents about any of this until I was in DIA, lest they dissuade me from throwing away my life and undermining my potential.

And for the time being this Band-aid worked.  I was able to pretend that I was the pot-smoking, drop-out ski bum that the rich people I served in Aspen thought I was.  I thought I had it all.  And then Prince Charming skied down the mountain one day in the form of a ski-patrolling, fire-fighting, river-guiding mountain man.  And then I really did have it all – the glam local, the fun job, the cool friends and the ruggedly handsome mountain man.  He was everything that I thought I needed to complete my mountain picture.  I actually let down my guard for the first time ever.  People who know me know what a big deal that is.

And then he decided that he didn’t love me anymore.  And that maybe he never had.


My plan at world domination was failing.  My mountain dream unraveled.  The glamorous little place called Aspen became just another town.  Skiing every day lost its charm.  The bar stopped being mountain-town cool and became just another dive bar.  If I was cracked before, now I was Humpty-fucking-Dumpty when all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t superglue his ass back together again.

Just for good measure, life kept on kicking my butt even though I was already curb stomped to the ground.  Every time I tried to get up onto my knees again, I fell back down.

On an airplane halfway between Denver and Quito, Ecuador I decided to get back up.  For real this time.  It took some doing but, much like straining and wasting energy trying to grab the next hold on a rock wall, I finally got it, even though it was ugly getting there.

Now, somewhere in the middle of BFE, in the South Dakota prairie I realize that I’m alive.  Really alive and living life on my own terms and by my own rules.  I actually look genuinely happy. 
I played a game with life called I Win.  And I won.

Too Many Hands Under The Table

The Beastie Boys are on the radio.  Aaron is slumped over at the table drooling on himself – he’s been drinking whiskey since 2:00 and insisted on playing King’s Cup with whiskey even though we warned him.  Whitebread and Billy are engaged in a heated debate about the superiority of Chris Cornell over Eddie Vedder.  And I have too many hands on my legs.

I’ve got one hand on each leg to be exact.  And they each belong to a different person.  Don’t they know what assholes they look like?  Hand One belongs to a scraggly-haired, tattooed, MBA student who is trying to start his own energy consultancy.  Hand Two belongs to a clean-cut, mild-mannered, drummer in a band who has lived in Aspen for four years now.  Seems like the circuits got crossed somewhere when God created this two walking contradictions.

Damn shame that Mr. Tattooed-MBA had to show up tonight.  Where has he been hiding for the last three months?  My style is completely being cramped.

I raise my eyebrows at Summer across the table.  She’s watching whole thing.  She shrugs as if to say, “Looks like you’re SOL.”  My horoscope the other day said, and I quote, "Stop being such a whore.  People are starting to ask questions."  Thanks astrology.  Either way, I’ve got too many hands on my legs and their owners don’t seem to notice, or care.

National Parks, Inc.

Visiting a national park in off-season is a lot like visiting Aspen in April, Seaside Heights, New Jersey after Labor Day or a Des Moines street carnival on Monday morning.  It’s as quiet as a college library on spring’s first sunny day; yet you can hear the faint creaking of chairlifts, or smell caramel apples, or see toothless carnies grinning.  It’s perhaps the most authentic time in these worlds built mostly on whimsy and fantasy.  It’s when you see them for what they are, cracks in the varnish and all.

There is no other time to visit one of America’s great National Parks but during these times.  I do this not only to fulfill my romantic yearnings for authenticity and realness, but also because of the decided lack of the species Homo touristicas.  Find this species in their natural habitat, usually the behind the wheel of the gas-guzzling, road-hogging RV, within the confines of the Shitty-Items-Made-In-China Gift Shop or at the I’m-A-Fat-American Fast Food Restaurant.  This species is identifiable by their really white sneakers with requisite white tube socks, neon green or magenta fanny packs and khaki shorts.  They can usually be seen carrying their young on a nylon leash, or dragging them by an arm as the young screams because they were not allowed to purchase a Shitty Gift at the Shitty-Items-Made-In-China Gift Shop.

Everything leading up to Glacier National Park is themed. It’s as if Walt Disney himself got a hold of the Great American Wilderness and created Wilderness Disneyland.  There is the Glacier View Inn, the Glacier Bar and Grill, the Glacier Bear Supermarket, Wild Indian Curios, Glacier Laundromat and the list goes on.  The so-called Glacier Park International (yes, international) airport is bigger than both the Aspen airport as well as the Akron-Canton airport.  Where is the wilderness I was looking for?
Inside it’s all park fees, park rules, paved park roads, fenced off park picnic areas and tourist shops in this supposed wilderness area.  At this time of year the park, like the Des Moines street fair, is blissfully devoid of Homo touristicas.  It’s just me and a Tacoma with a couple from Alaska, who probably came down south to this here beach for spring break.

I wake up and unfold myself from the backseat of my car, feeling good about life because I was not attacked by a hungry, pissed-off early spring grizzly, and am greeted by the most pristine excuse for a High Rockies lake that I have ever seen.  Alone, absolutely alone, I can’t think of anything better.  Except maybe a cup of coffee, but let’s not split hairs.  I don’t think it would feel the same if the morning silence was interrupted by a screaming rug rat, the growl of an RV engine or the smell of bacon frying on the portable Coleman.

The National Park system is quite the accomplishment.  It protects vast swaths of land and allows the city-bound American to get a taste, however small and brief, of true wilderness.  This is good.  Otherwise the Average American wouldn’t stand a chance against the call of potato chips, Pepsi and the six-hundred channels on their Direct TV. But are they really experiencing the wilderness or are they just touring around Wilderness Disneyland?  It’s just another one of the contradictions that makes America great.  Welcome to National Park, Inc.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Rules For Sleeping in Your Car

Since we are on the topic of sleeping in cars…

1. Never sleep naked.  I don’t care if you are hot.  I don’t care if you want to have wild sex.  You never know when a cop, ranger, grizzly or a shotgun-toting Montanan will come a-knocking.  It’s always better to be clothed in these situations.    Nudity makes it really awkward.

2. Always lock you car.  It deters psychopaths and bears from breaking and entering.  And it gives you a chance to start the engine and make a quick getaway if such an intruder should surface.

3. Don’t fuck with the US Government.  Park Rangers love nothing more than ousting car-sleepers parked in inappropriate camping spots.  Obey all signs in National and State Parks.  Or at least be able to explain why you didn’t.  Note: National/State Parks are different than National/State Forests and require a fee.  Should you choose to ignore this, beware that a Ranger will sniff you out like a bloodhound on a coon’s trail.  Public lands and BLM lands are ideal.  Especially in the wiles of Northeastern Idaho. 

4. If you don’t obey said signage, play nice with the ranger, cop or shotgun-toting Montanan who is mad at you.  Playing dumb usually works best for the female variety of car-sleeper.  Bonus points for nice tits and pretty smile.

5. Crack a window so you don’t suffocate.

6. Keep all of your shit in the car.  Rangers, vagabonds and animals tend to collect it if it’s left outside the vehicle.

7. Leave the driver’s seat clear in case you need to make a quick getaway.

8. Don’t let your fear get the best of you. 

9. Face east.  There is nothing better than watching the sun come up.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Stuff People In Mountain Towns Like

Perhaps the fine publishers of Stuff White People Like would consider a spinoff – Stuff People From Mountain Towns Like.  Included on this list would be face shots, Patagonia, making fun of Vail, making fun of Aspen, being burlier than your friends, sleeping in teepees in the summer, PBR, Subaru, beards, REI, 14ers, not owning a TV and (the topic of today) sleeping in your car in National Parks.

And so I found myself sleeping in the back of a Subaru, in a snowstorm, in the Utah desert, in my Patagonia sleeping bag with a guy named Pete who I met ten days prior.  It just doesn’t get much more mountain cliché than that (he didn’t have a beard though, and we had box wine and Tecate, not PBR).  It was May and the desert should have been scalding hot.  Or at least warm.  Instead it was 30-degrees and snowing.  Screw setting up a tent.

The morning rolled in.  The sky was blue.  The birds were signing.  Children were laughing.  Park rangers were knocking on the window of said Subaru, “Mornin’ folks.  Mind stepping out of the car?”  Utah Forest Service Ranger.  So out we stepped.  Wrapped in sleeping bags.  Into the popsicle blueberry sky of the morning Utah dessert.  No worries though.  He let us go with just a warning. And now we are on the Most Wanted For Sleeping in a Car in an Inappropriate Location list of the United States Forest Service.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Driving I-70 (Also: Running The Colorado Winter Road Gauntlet)

For the second (or is it third) time this week I hucked my pack into my Red Rocket, an ’05 Subaru, and joined the jihad of Weekend Warriors to the ski resorts of central Colorado in their descent to Denver on the dreaded I-70 corridor.  I-70 is a daily battle between overly confident Coloradans, overly paranoid tourists and long haul truckers who could give a shit about anyone because they’re the biggest thing on 18 wheels.  The Coloradans, thinking nothing of doing 85 in a snowstorm, over 10,000-foot Vail Pass around the bends and twists of I-70, terrify the white-knuckle tourists whose license plates are routinely from Arizona, South Carolina or Texas (sorry T$, not you).  Woe is he who is caught in a swarm of Texans in a snowstorm.  A black Escalade in front, an 18-wheeler to the right and a Tahoe behind.   All bearing the blue star and cowboy on a horse that brand the loud-voiced, boot-wearing, big-haired virgins to snow driving.  Rather than maintain a logical distance between cars and pursue a consistent speed, the Texan muscles through in their outsize SUV and then slams on the brakes when they near the unsuspecting car in front of them.  For this reason, 30-car pileups are not uncommon along the I-70 gauntlet.

Despite being a Midwestern transplant to Colorado I crank up my Credence on my iPod and ignore the pending disaster around me.  After all, I learned to drive in Cleveland.  And the Cleveland driver thinks nothing of scraping a 4 by 4 holes in the ice on their windshield and hoping behind the wheel with the defrost cracked all the way up.  Who needs to actually see the road?  It’s all drive by feel in Cleveland.  The idiot factor on I-70 is the highest I’ve seen it all season.  There is no snow.  Literally, no snow.  Not a dusting.  Not the remnants of a snowstorm.  No snow.  Dry roads.  Yet, in preparation for the promised upslope storm (comes from the east), CDOT already has chain laws in effect for Vail Pass and truckers are diligently slinging 20 pound chains around their drive wheels.  Of course the Texans have to slow to a crawl to observe (or oversee perhaps) this activity.  Somehow one such driver finds a way to smash his SUV into a parked semi chaining up.  Like I said, the idiot factor is at an all-season high today thanks to increased Easter traffic.

Since it’s Colorado in the springtime, we think nothing of the fact that it was 72-degrees and sunny at 9 AM and that now, at 6 PM, husky snowflakes have begun to drip down on the city of Denver like Cinnabon frosting.  I have a smattering of friends, both old and new, to grab drinks with.  Crashing on one of these couches won’t be a problem.  I call Lauren.  We’ve been great friends since we were five years old and are supposed to grab dinner and drinks. 

“I’m stuck on the highway.” She’s pissed.

“36 hasn’t moved in the last 40 minutes.  I actually put my car in park and started reading my book.” 
“No worries.  Just call me when you make it back.”

I call Amber, my friend from the mountains.  She’s in the wine business and regularly runs the I-70 gauntlet.

“They closed I-70 at Eisenhower Tunnel.  I can’t stand this road.  And the moron factor is out of control today.  I think I might just die.  Right here.”  Amber tends to be theatrical.  That’s why I love her.  It keeps life interesting.

“No worries.  Just call me when you make it back.”  Déjà vu?

Lauren texts me.  I’m running out of gas.  My light came on 30 minutes ago.  Help?!  I tell here to drive in the emergency lane.  Sounds like an emergency to me right?  CDOT would be ticked if her dead car blocked a lane of the Boulder Highway.

I try Whitney.  She and Lauren and I are all native Clevelanders.  Transplants to Colorado.   We drove west on I-80 until we hit the mountains and decided to stop there.  Her phone’s off.  “Shit.”  She is still on the plane and the prospects for DIA actually staying open are not looking good.  The Frosty Flakes have laid down about 8 inches in two hours.

My phone beeps again.  Lauren.  I am in some random girl’s car.  Will probably sleep at B’s tonight.  So sorry.  Highway closed.

I’m not surprised.  Rather than deal with the idiot factor, CDOT usually elects to shut down entire highways to deal with snow removal.  Eisenhower Tunnel usually shuts down because of avalanche risk.  The roads around Denver and Boulder usually shut down because of idiot risk.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sleeping In My Car Behind The Denver Country Club

Denver.  March 2010.  A snowstorm has crippled my evening plans and left me momentarily friendless, homeless and without plans.  I do what any good Midwesterner would do and head to a comfortingly nondescript, mediocre chain restaurant.

My new friends Dane and Britney spend the next twenty minutes or so trading quips and anecdotes with me about what it means to grow up Midwestern and bond about how wonderful Colorado is.  They are both born and raised in the great state of Ohio as well.  Just like in the movies.  Whenever someone has moved from somewhere terrible to somewhere wonderful, they always come from Ohio.  Food for thought.  I’m already having a mild panic attack about leaving my precious mountains behind.  Dane, the bartender turns out to be every bit his character.  He’s always on point and ready with a witty quip.  He never fails to act ten years less than his likely age.  He is adamant that he will never get married, will never grow up and will remain an atheist until the day he dies. 

This Peter Pan is of the species manus childus, a species with whom I have become intimately acquainted in the mountains.  The age of this man-child is accurately determined only through the application of a complex calculation.

He can be spotted in his natural habitat at the local watering hole (having fun without a beer in hand is tough) chatting up girls at least ten years younger than he is.  They laugh airily at his constant stand-up routine.  Their voices click like so many pairs of high heels on tile and he love every minute of the attention.  He is not usually ganfully employed and is supported by his enabling parents.  He has many stripes, but in the mountains he is usually identifiable by his requisite Careharts, sweatshirt (or T-shirt) from his favorite microbrewery and a college baseball hat.  He always drinks cheap beer and shoots tequila or whiskey.  He loves his Buckeyes, his Buffs, his Cornhuskers or his Bulldogs.  He loves girls but hates girlfriends that last longer than two weeks.  Should one desire to entice this reckless species be a beer swigging, pony-tailed, All American sweetheart who laughs at his jokes and avoids serious conversation.  To avoid this potentially dangerous species look no further than the kryptonite of, “I love you,” or “Let’s talk about our future together.”

“You wanna grab a drink?  I’m getting cut.”

I decide I’ve got nothing better to do.


A half bottle of Hornitos cheap tequila, several beers and a basket of fries later it’s Cinderella time.  I have this bad habit of packing up and leaving as soon as a place, person or situation is no longer fun.  In college, this used to worry my friends when, come 1 AM, Kate decided to disappear into the night unannounced and without warning.  They used to look high and low for me only to find me fast asleep in my bed, pajamas on and makeup off. 

I sneak into my car and realize I have no place to stay.  Shit.  I look at the seat next to me.  Dane’s bag sits there calmly mocking me.  Shit.  “Sucker,” it says.  “You’ve got a strange man’s clothes and no bed to sleep in.  Watcha gonna go now?”

I proceed to the eternal Plan B of the technologically crippled, instant communication dependent, Generation Now.  The mass text.  I text my friends who are stuck in the mountains, I text this guy I hooked up with in college and who might, maybe still live in Denver.  I text my ex-boyfriend looking for his brother’s number.  I text my best friend in Athens, Ohio because it is totally logical that she could help in two thousands miles away.  Nothing. 

I ring my high school girlfriend’s boyfriend’s buzzer ten thousand times.  Nothing.  I am left with no choice.  I park my car on a quiet street behind the bastion of social exclusivity and elitism that is the Denver County Club (my friend who works for a Pro-Israel lobby informs me that they don’t even let Jews in).  I unroll my red sleeping bag that my Mom won at a company party when she worked for Coca Cola.  In 1983.  I pull the hood of my down hoodie over my head.  I hunker down.  I’m too tired to care about moving my shit or putting my back seats down so I curl up on the tiny half of the backseat not covered in snowshoes, hiking shoes, ski poles, running shorts, yoga pants, gloves, helmets hats and other assorted sundries of mountain life.  I’ve got a yoga mat for a pillow, a pair of skis in my ass and a pile of shoes and clothes at my feet.  The great blizzard of 2010 quickly blankets my car in eight inches of heavy wet snow.  The elitists will have no idea that I am passed out on their quiet street, in their fancy neighborhood come morning. 

Friday, April 16, 2010

Which Way Is The Real World?

It’s all well and good to believe in happy endings. But, when someone just keeps screwing up, well, I guess eventually you just have to say, “fuck you.” Or something like that. I heard that today.

Aspen. The land of Happy Endings (both PG and NC-17). Aspen. The bastard child that was born when Sodom and Gomorra fucked the American Dream at the end of a weeklong bender. Aspen. A paradise found. Problem is, Aspen’s got no rules. And like the cliché says, absolute power corrupts absolutely.
I spent the last four months waking up to dark coffee, the Times and two hour breakfasts. In was the trophy wide without the rich husband. I skied, I hiked, I did yoga, I repeated. I amused myself by figuring out which sap I could get to buy my overpriced meal and my fancy glass of wine. No one ever tells you to grow up. No one tells you that hanging out with Jim, Jack and Johnny seven nights a week is actually called alcoholism.

After an evening of average conversation with a nice guy I gave up on the Ridel wine glass and started swigging straight from the bottle of overpriced wine that was meant to impress me. I got just drunk enough to close my eyes and leave my body.  To settle for mediocre sex with a man who waxes poetic about how we were the fortunate few here in Aspentown. We didn’t have to deal with real life. We got to hide from it all in the Land of Milk and Honey. Bullshit.

The problem with Paradise Island is that none of its real. The only real things in life are those that happen by accident. You can’t force real. And you sure as shit can’t buy happiness. I hate it when clichés are true.

After a minute of living in paradise, shit got real. That’s the problem with life. Sometimes it’s real. And sometimes that’s hard. And I guess you just have to deal with it.

When shit got real, that’s when I got happy. There’s friends killing themselves, family members fighting, lovers turning their back on me, unplanned pregnancies, families dying, lovers lying, money getting flushed down the golden drain and you know what? I am happy. Hysterically, manically happy. Genuinely happy. All on accident. I am not happy despite these things. I am not happy because I live in Aspen and ski all day and party all night. I am happy because life is one huge, hot mess. Life is that drunk chick at the bar who is five sheets to the wind with mascara running down her face. She’s up on the bar singing Janis Joplin and drinking tequila from the bottle. And she’s loving every minute of it. Because it’s real.

I guess that’s life. It’s not the perfect mountain town fabricated with equal parts Dior, private jets and pristine ski slopes. It’s the little blond passed out in the bathroom at Su Casa. It’s that naked photo you wish wasn’t on Facebook. It’s the one night stand that became a baby. It’s the cancer that you weren’t expecting. It’s the lover who says they aren’t in love with you, and probably never were. It’s a dirty, cheating, lying bitch. And you gotta love it. Not because it’s perfect. But because it’s real. And because it’s one huge, messed up accident. No amount of planning could create that.

And on this sunny day in paradise hell, I’m sitting here wondering where it all went wrong. And this is my story.