Las Vegas, Nevada
New Orleans, Louisiana
New York City, New York
St. Paul, Minnesota
The Grand Canyon, Arizona
The Florida Keys, Florida
Quad Cities, Iowa/Illnois
Santa Cruz, California
San Francisco, California
Battletech at Chicago's North Pier
- A road trip to Austin, Minnesota (home of Spam) to pick up my college friend Ron. We stayed at his sister's house behind the slaughterhouse. Then, an 800 mile drive to Chicago. The reason? We wanted to play a videogame. It was an epic adventure for two computer geeks, and it was my first taste of "virtual reality". We stayed at my friend Beth's house in Rockford, and she drove us into the city. The videogame was slightly underwhelming, but I remember running around Chicago like "Ferris Beuller's Day Off". We went to the Chicago Museum of Modern Art, where I was mesmerized by the original John Cage manuscripts and Ron embarrassed me by looking at the Mark Rothko paintings and yelling, "A four year old could paint better than this!"
Walking in Atlanta in the rain/ drinks at the top of the tower
- I'm sure I was in love with Michael before this trip, or I don't think he would have invited me to go with him on a business trip. However, I knew it for sure as we walked hand-in-hand through the misty fall rain. We looked at the city lights, did some window shopping, and had drinks at the top of Peachtree Center. Sure, the rest of Atlanta was overrated (see below), but this part of the trip was magical.
- Compared to the tacky and revolting Mount Rushmore, Devil's Tower is a genuine treat. Even the hills for miles around the Tower are wonderful look look at... green mounds that lump over and around the mountains. I didn't climb the Tower, since it is a sacred Native American monument, but I wanted to. And I stood for a hour looking up at it, tempted to climb to the top and feel the breeze on my chest. The fact a tower of dirt mesmerized me for so long means a lot.
Portland's outdoor mall
- Portland is a sleepy town, mostly notable because the police officers there are allowed to ear beards.. and they all do. Powell's books and seafood restaurants are my favorite attraction. However, on Saturdays, a three-block section west of town forms a warren of little stalls and booths offering everything for sale, mostly arts and crafts for the leftists crowd.
The jugglers going up to Winnipeg
- Myron and Paul had a great juggling routine, and two cars of jugglers drove up from Minnesota to Canada to see them. I was invited along even though I barely knew anybody. Renata Fossett had purchased to walkie-talkies for the trip, and it was fun for a while to talk between the two cars. Ok, then it was annoying... and I had had underestimated how long of a drive it would be. But when we got there, there was lots of juggling, a great public show, and lots of laughs. We played "Stomp the bunny!" until dawn. Warning: don't do out to eat with jugglers if you get bothered by things flying through the air: bottles of ketchup, salt shakers, serving trays, waitresses.
Boystown (Boylston Ave.) in Chicago with Beth
- This was a quick trip, but visiting a good friend made it all worthwhile. Chicago is a fun town... maybe in small doses. I'm not sure I'd want to live there. But if I did, I know I'd be haunting Boylston Avenue a lot. Very hip and very gay, it has a lot of great shops and restaurants. Sure, it's a bit scary, but all great cities have an element of danger, don't you think?
"Explore Central Illinois" with Beth
- I was driving Beth to an SCA event that was being held in a small town somewhere south of Chicago. However, I missed my turn, and tried to take the "back roads" to save some time. Well, I managed to start spiraling around the town without ever reaching it. Luckily, Beth didn't mind. As we drove through the thirtieth little Main Street village, Beth turn to me and said, "Explore Central Illinois!" It was hilarious at the time, and I think I enjoyed getting lost more than finally arriving at the site. Bonus joke: I deadpanned to Beth that I needed some gasoline for my juggling torches, and almost convinced her to steal some from the front porch of a shack we came across on a dead end road. Almost, but not quite.
Las Vegas with Rob Voight
- Rob taught me how to gamble. And as the night wore down, we tried to play Pai Gow poker without really learning how, and laughed like maniacs about his mom's dog named "Kino". "At least it wasn't named 'Craps'!" After we grew tired of the late-night pastrami sandwiches at Binion's Horseshoe, we drove out of town to the Lake of Fire park, a collection of red rock hills that look like a set out of a movie about Armageddon. We hiked until I was scared of heights and could go on. We scrambled down past "Mouse's Trap", and drove back into town and valet parking. Thanks again Rob.
- Ah, what a city! You can drink on the street there, and I did. Just ask for a "Geaux cup". I liked the colorful, potent daiquiris sold on Bourbon street. I even loved the mansions in the Garden District. I even loved the tacky touristy souvenir shops and the faux (and real) historical sites. New Orleans attitude would be annoying in any other city, but here it's a wonderful mix of exuberance and nonchalance. It's like no other city.
NY Broadway theater
- I go to New York for the art, I go for the food. The pace is frantic and the people are busy, but what I really like to do is see theater. There are plenty of half- price tickets available for most shows, and you can wait in line with the rest of the tourists for the same-day leftovers. Not ideal, but still a good buy.
Antiques in Stillwater
- My ex-boyfriend Mike loves Stillwater - the antiques, the river, the food, and the quaint feeling that makes it feel like you've gone back in time. Since I grew up near there, the place has a different feeling for me. Once or twice a summer, before I was legal to drive, I would bike the 20 miles distance to the town... just for an ice cream cone. Brown's ice cream would give me a *huge* three scoop cone for a quarter. Then there's the great Italian restaurant set inside a cave, the wine store specializing in sweet local wines, and the old train station, now fileld with shops. Get a cone, walk along the St. Croix river. It was my weekend getaway when I lived in Minneapolis.
Seattle: Breakfast in Black Diamond, Washington
- Driving to Mount Charleston, I decided to stop in a little mining town at the base of the mountain called Black Diamond. And what a find it was: a genuinely cheap antique store next to a used bookstore. I found a lot of treasures that day (old leather boxing gloves for $10! Photos of miners! Steroviews! Books on mining!) And next door was a great bakery/diner that gave me one of the best breakfasts I have ever had... imported tea and lace pancakes. I think the berries were hand-picked just a few blocks away. What a surprise treat.
Seattle: Chateau St. Michelle
- I got lost trying to find Microsoft. I mean... the company practically owns Redmond, but all I could find was tacky used motor boat shops. Then, completely by surprise, Michael and I drove onto a wide green lawn in front of the winery. They have concerts there in the summer, I'm told, that are wonderful to see. However, that day, I was happy enough to walk by the waterfalls and look at the swans. And inside, I tasted more types of wine than I had ever read about. I am currently addicted to a sweet red dessert wine called a "Reisling" that can't be bought in stores, but only at the Chateau St. Michelle winery. I'll definitely be back, and this time I ill buy two cases.
- A bear bar in Seattle. Useless junk hangs off every wall of the bar, and the men are all friendly. Or, go for a walk down nearby Broadway... kind of a gay ghetto of stores and restaurants. Downtown Seattle has its charms (and the Market), but the hip university strip can't be beat.
Seattle: Scottish festival in the shade on Mt. Charleston
- It's fun when thing pop up during vacation that aren't planned. What a great coincidence to be in Washington during their annual Scottish Festival. Sure, it's not very big, but it has a great location. And everyone was very nice. I bumped into an old friend there who was singing Irish songs on the main stage! I'd go back, but maybe it's better not to plan those things and just let them happen.
Staying at the St. Paul condo
- I like to get nostaligic about St. Paul. It was "the big city" when I was growing up in a small town an hour away. And as a kid, I used to love going to the Science Museum downtown (science being a hobby I enjoy to this day). Unfortunately, the downtown area was never developed quite right, and the downtown mall is still a shell of what it could be. But in 1996, Mike's friends let him and I stay at their condo at 10th and Wacouta while they were out of town. When Mike got up in the morning (at least two hours before I did), there was a farmer's market in the park square just outside our window. It appeared out of nowhere like the circus in the Ray Bradbury book "Something Wicked This Way Comes". They sold us breakfast and then departed. Magical and unexpectedly strange.
The Grand Canyon
- I went in February. Did you know it snows in Arizona in February? I didn't. In fact, Flagstaff can be downright cold if you are camping outside (or crashing in your poor-student car, like I was). However, there are no tourists in Arizona in February, though most everything is still open. I talked with the locals, the bus drivers, and the bored tour guides. Then I just went walking. Weaving in and out along the rim of the Canyon for hours, I felt like I was the one person around for miles. My footsteps led towards the rim, and I sat in the snow and looked over the edge at the colors of the sunset reflecting on the rocks way, way, way, far below.
Arizona's Meteor Crater
- As a child, I was fascinated by Ripley's "Believe It or Not". I thought that the trees and rocks in the shape of people were some sort of sign that there was a god. later, I came to appreciate the talent or Mr. Ripley's ability to draw. But I am still impressed by the Meteor Crater in Arizona. Ripley touted the thing and almost every one of his books, and as a ten-year-old, I tried to imagine how much force it would take to make a crater that large. Actually, it's not unique. There are many other craters in nearby states (I've sen several of them), and Russia has larger ones. But I visited anyway, driving ten miles out of my way on a dusty road that had "cow traps: and signs to "Beware of Cows". I stood on the edge of the bowl on a windy day, and I was wearing a black cloak. I felt like Death from "The Seventh Seal".
NE Arizona and Nevada wastelands (painted desert, too)
- I don't really like the desert. If I'm in the mood, the immense space can give me a somber feeling about self and time and place. However, I usually think it's a scrubby, life-less wasteland full of dust and long highways that lead to places I'd rather be. Still, the painted desert of Arizona is interesting. It has to be appreciated on it's own terms: it's not really as colorful as the tourist postcards suggest. It's also full of these bizarre canyons that are hidden under the surface of the horizon. The ground maylook flat, then suddenly, you will come across a great rip in the land, like a concealed trap. The black scars wind around for miles, and I bet it would be fun to hike around inside of them... in a scary sort of way.
The Florida Keys
- Ah, Key West. "Papa" Hemingway has it correct. It's a great place to drink, and sit, and bullshit. It's a tourist trap, but none of the restaurants, bars, or vistor sites deny that. Like New Orleans, the city has a laid, back feel that doesn't really care what you do or how loud you are when you do it. There's not much to do on the little island, but that's the point. When we were there, Key West was celebrating their independence from America (it's a long story involving a 1970's road blockade) by racing around in boat shooting water pistols (and worse) at each other. I like it when an entire community of people doesn't take themselves too seriously.
- Just north of Oklahoma City, it's quite a treat. The restaurant on the main drag has a fantastic Swedish brunch that is better than any truck stop food you'll find on I-35. And all around are cute Scandinvian boutiques filled with homemade crafts. I bought a huge wooden shield there, and took a bunch of pictures. European ethnic communities are often hard to come by, since most of them evaporated by assimilating. But not here. After brunch, some high school students gathered on the street to folk dance and sing songs in Swedish. Call it "an oasis of interesting".
Victoria (especially Butchart Gardens)
- Even if you had already visited Vancouver and Seattle (two of my favorite cities in the world), you might still be surprised by Victoria. It's located on the confusingly-named "Vancouver Island", though it's easier to get to by taking a ferry from Seattle. Or, I also enjoyed the scenic drive around Puget Sound (though watch out for the crowded ferry at Port Angeles... you might not get on board right away and spend two hours shopping around the small town, as we did). But when you finally get to Victoria, the city is a wonder: a little slice of Europe on the west coast. The city looks really out of place, with the huge Fairmont Empress hotel on the waterfront, and all the little shops and restaurants along crooked alleyways. But the jewel in the crown is the Butchart Gardens, which are stunning even in winter. I would live there if I could, but I'd also be happy for a sabbatical every year or so, just to visit.
Oysters in Olympia, Washington
- This was an unexpected stop on our drive up back from Victoria. After being disappointed with the food in Tacoma (see my vacation disappointments page for details), I was pleasantly surprised by the oysters at the Oyster House. Ok, the meal wasn't perfect: they charged my VISA twice, which I only caught when I got back and saw the bill, but the food was worth it. I don't think I would have really minded paying twice as much (ok, I would have, but still...)
Monterey with my parents
- I love to travel with my parent, although it doesn't happen as much as I'd like. My ex-boyfriend Mike jokes that we should kidnap my mom more often and take her to Washington D.C., Europe, or Canada. Other family trips to Alaska and San Diego never panned out, so it was a treat to go with them to Monterey. It was a Porsche event (what else?) but we also got to see Carmel, the great Monterey aquarium, the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, and a little of San Francisco. Even the drive down Hwy 1 was fun, though the hairpin turns, slow traffic, and construction mitigated the enjoyment of seeing those amazing cliff vistas. So, we drove back through San Jose and got to see the incredible Winchester Mystery House instead. It was a relaxing weekend, and I loved walking out the back door of our condo for a stroll on the beach, only to return later and eat fantastic seafood with my brother, sister-in-law, and the folks. Sometimes, I forget that the joy of travel is not only the destination, but who you travel with.
My first crown tournament in the Quad Cities
- I was a member of the SCA for a long time, and it provided some of my favorite college memories. For those of you that don't know about it (and didn't hit the URL in the previous sentence), the SCA is a medieval historical group, much like a rennaissance fair gone amok. It not only gave me a great group of lifelong friends, but it gave me an excuse to leave campus on the weekends and drive to far-off places. Ok, so the "Quad Cities" of Bettendorf and Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island and Moline, Illinois aren't normally a magical enchanted land of knights and princesses, but for this one weekend, they were. I was kind of kidnapped to go on this trip - it was my first SCA event, and I didn't know what to expect. As it turned out, it was one of the busiest SCA events I ever attended. Or maybe it just seemed that way at the time. There was a medieval feast, a court ceremony, lots of fighting, dancing, and drinking, and I got to juggle and play my guitar and sing irish music. Even the glitches were fun: when I went back to my room to change into my medieval "garb" for the evening, my friend Chris Pasquerette accidentally took the car and ditched me at the hotel wearing nothing but tights, a doublet, and boots. Somehow, I made it to the feast on time, and partied, "reveled", and laughed well into the night with good friends.
Santa Cruz pier with Rick Howard
- This was a band trip, and a big one at that. I was a junior, and my best friend Rick Howard was going to be graduating soon as a senior. So, the trip was kind of bittersweet. We shared a hotel room together, and for some reason, the band director let the teenagers roam around Santa Cruz alone for an entire evening. I think we were supposed to stay on the pier where all the touristy attractions were, but Rick and I managed to get ahold of a local weekly newspaper that describe where the punk record stores and other "cool shops" were. Unfortunately, those shops were nowhere near our hotel, and we walked for hours talking and getting lost. The journey became somewhat of a quest, and we ended up getting into a lot of adventures, including paying a homeless man to buy us wine coolers at a liquor store, as long as he also could "buy something for himself, too". I was feeling like a king, even more so when we found our way finally back to the hotel room, and all our fellow band geek friends begged us to share our wine coolers (we wouldn't), and sat on the hotel bed and heard about all the places we'd seen while they stayed in the amusement park.
- San Francisco, what a city! I regret that I never made it into Stanford - the only college that rejected me... and rightfully so and for the best. I always swore I'd move to "the city" (as my friends call it - never "Frisco"), but housing prices, traffic, and crime have kind of taken the shine off of that dream. Maybe I'll move there someday, but for now, I'm happy to visit every other year or so. I love the hills and the scenery. The restaurants and seafood. The great gay culture and bars along Folsom as well as the Castro (ah, the "Lone Star Saloon" home of the bears)! There's great shopping, areas both high-tech as well as sleazy, and far too much to do in single day trips (visit wineries, Alcatraz, Palo Alto, see the ocean, the list goes on and on). It may sound strange, but what I love best is the politics and bickering as the citizens of SF try to decide what their city means and what kind of culture they will have: whether the city should provide more or less servics to the homeless, what to do about growth, or how housing prices could become manageable. I love these arguments, because they mean that the city HAS a culture, and an identity - something valuable and worth protecting. And that is why I love to visit, even after all the other cities in America (and worse, the entire world) become more homogenized and similar, with a GAP store and a Starbucks on every corner. Let's hear it for those that are a little different.
Holidazzle on Nicolette Mall
- I hate the cold, ever since I grew up in Minnesota and decided I'd rather stay inside and read math books that venture out into the snowy arctic outdoors. However, one Christmas trip with my ex-boyfriend Michael made me see winter in Minneapolis in a different light. It's sometimes a joy to travel with someone and show them a place you've been but they haven't. This trip was one of those times, and Michael was amazed by the shopping in Minneapolis, the beautiful lakes so close to downtown, the Mall of America, and the odd Scandivian culture and people. All things that I had taken for granted after so many years of school and work in the area. So, even as I was stamping my feet and cursing the chill while standing on Nicollete Mall in sub-zero weather (and probably 40-below windchill) watching some little children march down the street bundled tightly in huge snowmobile suits while wearing portable battery packs and lots and lots of flashing lights, I had to laugh. Mike was enchanted, cheering as the parade went by, and I looked at him with love at the way things turned out and pride at being able to show off my hometown. Now that's the spirit of Christmas.
- Like San Francisco, Provincetown argues about many many things. Housing prices went through the roof a long time ago, and the city's culture is being split between the haves and the have-quite-a-lot-but-not-as-much-as-the-haves. The truly poor people have left long ago. They argue about whether the town is too gay, not gay enough, or become something different. However, they don't know how good they have it. This is the closest thing there is to gay paradise. Great bars, great restaurants, and shops full of stuff only gay people and lesbians would understand and/or covet: skimpy bathing suits, art deco antiques, and homoerotic art. It's fun to see the look on the straight tourist's faces as they push their baby strollers down Commercial street and see all the boys hold hands and the lesbian couples holding babies. Some locals get upset at they're seen as a tourist attraction and that people treat Ptown as a "gay zoo" where straight come to watch the animals. I think that's a little unjustified - I think the straight people are just coming to see the great shopping, culture, art, and history of the place. For chrissakes, the place has a wonderful setting... the great sandy beaches and enormous expanse of Cape Cod. The scenery alone could put you into a deep meditative trance.
And what strange things to see! My favorite memory is seating a cheap slice of pizza outside of "Spiritus Pizza", where enormous crowds gather outside the sidewalk to see and be seen. Very soon, along came the famous "Hat Sisters" with their friends, driving a convertible onto the sidewalk. The radio started blaring a vocal number, and the couple in the back stood up and starting lip synching, while the Sister up front held a spotlight plugged into the cigarette lighter socket. Instant theater! After the number finished, the car merged with traffic, only to round the block and do another number. Now, where in the world could you see something like that?
Sure, there's trouble in paradise: hotels were expensive, crowds were immense, and some of the drag shows at night seems to be solely for the entertainment of the straight crowds who seemed to be laughing at us and not with us. Gay culture itself seems to be splintering (and it could be argued that it was never very "cultured" in the first place) with homosexuals meeting in private trysts on the Internet rather than trying form any sort of coherent community. I hear the town absolutely dies in the winter, full of underemployed fishermen and boarded-up closed shops. Circuit parties have brought back a dangerous side to gay life, with unsafe sex, and way too many drugs. In a world where gay people are so many things besides cute party boys, I wonder if Provincetown is kind of a 70's anomaly, a backward vision of what it means to be gay in the US. Maybe it would be a good thing if the gay people went elsewhere for their vacations, and turned Ptown into just another art colony tourist stop for the affluent Nantucket crowds.
But as my ex-boyfriend Mike asked me, "Why do people have to ruin things? Can't there be at least one town in the US that's totally gay?" He has a point. I don't really mind if Provincetown is kept as a sort of gay amusement park, frozen in touristy decadence. I never expected it to have a sustainable local economy aside from tourism anyway. And, as much as I'd love every town in America to become more gay-friendly and to see gay-oriented shopping even in small towns in the country, there's something to be said for walling off Provincetown and keeping it separate and special. It was the first gay resort, and the biggest, and even if it goes the way of Key West and the trendy straight people take over, I hope there will always be a place for the Hat Sisters and their convertible.