Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Bandelier National Monument

I've always loved coming home. To my bed, to my stuff, to my familiar TV channels, to my food, to the sights and smells and everything else so familiar and reliably predictable and comforting.

But for some reason tonight, after this trip, of all the trips I've taken (or maybe of all the homes I've had), I'm feeling like a bit of a stranger here.

I miss standing on mountain tops. I miss breathing pine-fresh air. I miss the endless surprise around every corner. Seriously, my jaw would literally drop time after time after time every day, whether it was a huge valley below me or a horse-filled pasture beside me or a ridiculously improbable and precarious peak above me. It was seriously a constant thrill, a feast of wonderment, a banquet of awe.

Driving 95 miles per hour. Bare foot. Feeling the hot sun on my face free of that last, superfluous 6,000-12,000 feet of atmosphere. The tightness in my lungs, gulping down the thin air. Leaping from crag to crag at a plunging cliff-side free of nanny-state guard rails and warning signs (when did heights inspire so little fear in me?).

Standing amid the thousand-year-old ruins of a long-lost people. Listening to the stories of struggle and pain and conquest and perseverance and acceptance. Tracing the history of these cultures in the faces of the people who sell your gas and take your tickets and clean your rooms.

And the smells. The smells alive inside centuries-old churches. And the feel of mud and straw walls and the darkness of old wood beams and ox-blood painted floors. The dust in the air and the dirt under your feet, the impossibly blue sky.

The daily struggle of basic human interaction. Strangers coming together, negotiating their way through relationships and transactions. Each wanting to receive and give in sometimes equal and often unequal amounts. The minor favors, the unintended slights, the small gestures, the give and take. The standing up for oneself if only to be heard and respected and have control, only to grant a favor because we all know it's a hard world out there and sometimes the only thing we have is the ability to confer a small kindness and the only thing we want in return is to be acknowledged for the giving of it.

These tiny, invisible, delicate threads that connect us all, like wobbling tightropes inviting and daring us to step out and come across and meet somewhere on one side or the other or in the vast middle. And we do it, with conscious effort or unconscious instinct because in some place hidden or acknowledged we know there is no other way.

It's aliveness. Maybe that's what I'm missing at this moment. Or connectedness. The kind that's risk-free and thus so easily taken for granted in everyday life. Or maybe it's just sleep. Maybe that's all I need to blend back in where I belong or at least live.


That was me, just 8 hours ago. And not just the hot tub. It was actually warm enough to be in the pool. (Albeit a heated pool.)

And though the flight was superfast, helped along by the jet stream, and the CTA ride in was relatively uneventful, I'm experiencing some reentry pains.

First, the noise. I always sleep with a noise machine and/or air conditioner going, just to drown out the street and building noise. I had none of that in New Mexico and was amazed that I didn't need it. Now I'm back to dogs barking and doors slamming and drunks (and even non-drunks) yelling.

Second, the crowds. There are SO many people around. And the line at the CVS to buy milk seemed insane, though it was normal for here.

Third, the random daily irritants. My CTA card is apparently not working, so something to add to the short week's to-do list. My TV for whatever reason was losing its volume. I thought the remote was stuck, so I removed the batteries. Then I removed the batteries from all the remotes. And still the little green vertical dashes on the screen would go down, down, down and finally disappear off the left side. I thought maybe someone with a remote across the street was fucking with me. But even with me and the blinds blocking the TV, it still did it. After some fiddling it somehow got fixed, but that was weird.

And now tomorrow an audition with three pages of script. Pilates class. Grocery store. Phone calls. Invoices. Bills. Etc., etc., etc.

There is one good thing, I suppose. Thanks to technology, all my photos are done. No developing, no uploading, no captioning. All complete!

And my home is clean ... and I can finally watch Mad Men on Demand. Good things ...

19th Nervous Breakdown

It happens at some point on every trip. Usually toward the end. The result of fatigue, perhaps, or overconfidence maybe. Either way leading to carelessness and stupidity and ultimately causing eruptions of anger, frustration, forlornness and near-tears.

That was my last 24 hours. It started with a malfunctioning printer at the hotel in Santa Fe, thus leaving me with sketchy directions to Taos. Combine that with New Mexico's odd habit of not always marking roads and streets. And I don't mean back roads and dirt paths, I mean major state highways.

So there's the getting lost, which always sucks. Then checking into Taos and finding the hotel's Internet is down. And walking around town late on a Monday night trying to find a decent place to eat. (And actually, one highpoint of the day was this beautiful little place right next to my hotel that made the best Indian food I've ever had!)

Then there's searching around for an Internet cafe in the morning. Then there's Taos Pueblo, one of several must-see pueblos in the state. Turns out it was the eve of the Feast of San Geronimo, meaning no tours and no photos of any kind. It was still cool seeing it but, of course, I'm all about the documentation.

So after a long day of touring and driving I decide to return to Santa Fe to the hotel that was so awesome. Only thing is, this time I didn't get the balcony with a view from the top floor. I got no-balcony ground floor. I splurged for nothing. I could be staying at a Hampton Inn for half the price. (Though I will take advantage of the pool and hot tub in the morning.)

Then tonight I walked about 2 miles in order to go less than a quarter mile, tracing a giant circle of lostness around my ultimate dinner destination.

Ugh, ugh, ugh. Very frustrating.

All the same, though, I'd trade a bad here for a good day in most other places.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bandelier National Monument

This is just about the prettiest picture I ever took. And my little compact digital isn't that great. I credit the ancient spirits worshipped by the people who built this kiva.

Kivas are ceremonial rooms where religious rites are held. Like their other dwellings, you enter through the roof.

To get up to this kiva, you climb 4 ladders and some narrow steps 140 feet up a cliff face.

At the bottom of the cliffs lived the Ancestral Pueblo people for 400 years until around 1500 AD (though evidence of humans passing through the area goes back 10,000 years). They dug out caves into the side of the cliffs, which served as the back rooms to several-story stone houses.

Continuing to work backwards here, the cliffs themselves are not rock. They're made of "tuff," a thousand-foot layer of compressed volcanic ash from two eruptions of the Jemez Volcano one million years ago. The eruptions were 600 times more powerful than the Mt. St. Helen's blast. So the tuff is soft and crumbly. In the softest parts, swiss cheese-like holes eroded away. The people here then dug out and enlarged these holes to create dwellings.

Below the cliffs, on a plateau on the banks of the Rio Grande, which provided a rare-for-this- area, year-round water source, was a village where, at its peak, around 700 people lived and cultivated crops.

This is just one settlement among hundreds in this park, among thousands of other sites throughout New Mexico and the Southwest. No one knows what happened to the Ancestral Pueblos or why they suddenly left around 1500, though several modern tribes trace their roots through oral history to these people.

By the way, I learned that Ancestral Pueblo is the preferred name. It used to be "Anasazi," but some say that's a pejorative term coined by the Navajo and meaning "Ancient Enemy."

What a world. How anyone could ever be bored by it is baffling.

Monday, September 28, 2009

I found what I was looking for ...

... in Sante Fe.

Really, this place is perfect. Albuquerque was, let's see ... a cow town? (Actually, I think it literally was a cow town at some point.) But it's very much like lots and lots of towns across the country. A tiny little historic area with some decent shops and stuff and a few overpriced touristy restaurants. Then tiny pockets of what passes for coolness spread all out over the city. A nice find here and there, but not enough of it to really reach critical mass.

Santa Fe, on the other hand, seems to have it all. Museums, galleries, stores, shops (the first Starbucks I've seen in THREE days). Yes, many of them are national chains but there are many others that are not, and together they create enough sustainability to give the downtown area some real liveliness.

While Albuquerque pretty much shuts down by 9 pm, I wandered around last night and caught two excellent live music acts. One Country & Western, which I'm not a huge fan of, but they played a lot of Johnny Cash, so that was okay. And a blues band that made me feel like I was right at home in Chicago. And they went all the way 'til midnite!

What's also cool is the downtown area is not just for tourists. There were lots of locals at the country bar. So it's not one of those towns where none of the natives go downtown. And it's both laid back and cosmopolitan, if that makes sense.

Speaking of natives, I'm staying in a native-American owned hotel and it is amazing. First, it's beautiful. Second, I scored another sweet room, complete with balcony overlooking the pool (plus there's a pool!).

It's right next to Old Town and the prices are really, really reasonable! And it reminds me of another cool thing about Santa Fe. They make a real effort to have the buildings, old and new, fit in with the historic adobe style. Like, here's the hotel:

And here's a slice of the plaza in Old Town:

And even driving in through the suburbs the houses (the nicer ones at least) blend in with the landscape, in subtle hues of pinkish brown. So they seem to have a lot of respect for their history and architectural heritage.

Only hitch is, I was thinking of this last night. I'd forgotten that when I stay at nice places alone it makes things a little lonely. I was not lonely at all in the dump I stayed at in Alamagordo (the giant water bug inhabiting the bathroom was company) because I would never think for a minute of having someone I cared about staying there. But here, like the place in ABQ, it makes me think how nice it would be to share it with someone.

Anyway, off again in a couple of hours for some hiking, where I hope to see one of these:

But first I think I'm gonna take a soak in the hot tub ...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Whiter than white

I've been to some cool places. Big Sur. The Grand Canyon. The old Ranalli's on Lincoln.

But it's been a long time since I've been anywhere as cool as White Sands National Monument. It's 275 square miles of pure white gypsum sand -- giant dunes rolling clear out to the San Andres mountains.

It's set within the White Sands Missile Range and sometimes closes for short periods if the military's shooting rockets overhead. It's also south of the Trinity site, where they detonated the first Atomic bomb.

When you're driving through it you feel like you're up in the north woods in January. Nothin' but white, with piles of it banked on either side of the road.

What's rare about the sand is it's gypsum. From what I understand, rain dissolves minerals off the mountain rocks. The rain and snowmelt bring it down to the valley to an ancient lake that was many times larger than the one there now. The lake evaporates, leaving the gypsum behind in dry beds. The prevailing winds send the gypsum flying to the northwest.

It's so clean and pure.

And unlike "beach" sand, it's cool on your feet, even on a 90-degree day. (And no cigarette butts, either.)

The dunes are in constant motion, rising up and flattening out and marching ever forward. And when you get away from the people, it is so, so quiet. It's that weird deafening kind of quiet that sort of presses in heavy on your eardrums.

And you can stay until past sunset, which I did.

I was hoping also to see some amazing stars, but we've got a half-moon up now and that seemed to overwhelm them. But it did help me get back to my car.

Oh yeah, and that dish? There's also sledding!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A nice place to visit

When I go on solo trips I usually stay in dumps. Well, not too dumpy, but no place that beckons you to linger to long. Which is fine, because I usually never stay two nights in a row anywhere and, with a packed agenda, I don't spend too many waking hours in the place.

But I booked a nice place for at least one night as a reward for the small-town dives that will sandwich it on either night. And I am making the very most of it. Swimming pool, hot tub ... I even managed to sweet-talk my way into a free breakfast courtesy of the nice front-desk lady, who is either a consummate professional or thinks I'm hot.

Anyway, the place is so nice, I actually took pictures of it, which I never do. When I travel with a woman, that always seems to be the first thing they do. Pictures of the room, the bed, the view, the grounds, the restaurant, the pool, the decoratively folded towels, etc.

So I am wringing every last minute out of this place. I checked in early and I'm not checking out until 10:59:59. Had a nice relaxing breakfast and hung out in the pool and hot tub. Well, I kinda relaxed. I bounced from pool to hot tub and back several times, checked Facebook, took some pictures, did 50 pushups, swam several laps, mentally planned my day, etc.

Actually, if I don't wrap this up I'll be checking out a little late. Enough relaxing. 212 miles to Alamogordo!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What they didn't teach me in school

When I was a kid it was very easy to get the impression from popular culture AND formal schooling, that the native people of North America were a bunch of nomads, living in teepees, wandering from place to place and not accomplishing much in the way of building a lasting "civilization."

Then in high school I did a paper on the Aztecs. And I thought, how come the native people up here didn't build huge cities and roads with governments and order and permanence and such?

Well, it turns out they did. Some of them hundreds of years before the Aztecs. Like these folks here, who lived over a couple of centuries in a massive 850-room settlement atop Morro Rock.

Or these ones here, who built a civilization atop a 367-foot mesa starting around 1100 AD. Acoma Pueblo (or "Sky City") is the oldest continuously occupied habitation in the United States.

Centuries before the conquistadors arrived they'd established trading networks all the way out to the sea and down to Central America.

Man, the stories I heard today. Heartbreaking, beautiful, tragic. How they suffered under Spanish rule, how they successfully rebelled in 1680 and gained 12 years of independence. The brutal reprisals in the re-conquest. And yet, once they were finally free, many kept their ties to Catholicism, creating an interesting hybrid of native and Western spirituality. For them it's all simply a path to finding meaning and connection.

The pueblos are fascinating. No pictures without a permit. No pictures in the church or cemetery. No video. No notetaking even. This is beautiful, beautiful country. Before today I had Utah as the prettiest state (at least in the lower 48). New Mexico's giving the Beehive State a run for its money.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Getting out the door

Man, it's tough getting out the door. I managed to get all trip-related stuff done (print itinerary, do laundry, refill Rxs, banking, pack, back up computer) and get the place cleaned up to be nice to come back to, and get final work off my desk, but then there are always wild cards, and they always come at the last minute.

Two new business calls in the past 24 hours, a commercial audition and booking, attempts by two different agents to get me to another audition today, and scheduling just a few minutes ago of another audition the very morning after I get back because, I guess, the client really, really wants to see me.

Based on the company name and location, I think I've actually done two jobs with these guys in the past, so maybe that's why they want me so bad. Connections. It's so funny. I walk into this Lincoln gig today and the producer is a guy I've worked with on at least two other projects. So that might explain that.

And finally, speaking of Lincoln, what a nice, fun thing it was. To be performing those great words, from the Emancipation Proclamation as well as private letters to various people. And the fact that in a few weeks I'll be able to walk into one of our Chicago museums and watch a film with my voice as Lincoln. That may just be one I need to invite the mother out for.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Playing another Kentuckian

I've been typecast! First I played a Kentucky banker in that commercial. And next I'm playing another of the Bluegrass State's native sons: Abraham Lincoln.

That's right. Honest Abe. The Great Emancipator. The Rail Splitter. Can't you see the resemblance?

Actually, I'm just doing his voice, but it's for a local museum, which is pretty cool. It's the last gig I ever thought I'd get, but I went to the audition yesterday and I guess I really nailed it.

They had noted in the breakdown that Lincoln actually was known to have a fairly high-pitched voice, particularly for a man of his stature. Sort of a squeaky, backwoods twang. So I listened a few times to a sample they sent of a Lincoln impersonator, practiced a bit, and just went and did it. And they cast me.

I don't know if it'll be part of an exhibit or what. I'd think they'd get someone completely expert in the dialect and the period if that was the case.

So we'll what happens. I looked over the script and there's a lot more than the small paragraph I did in the audition. I hope I can replicate whatever it was they liked. Right now I'm sounding a bit too genteel. I'm gonna have to hick it up a bit ...

Monday, September 21, 2009


This is the one I've been eagerly anticipating. It's about the funniest thing I've done, and I'm really pleased at how well it turned out after what was a pretty fun morning of shooting.

They even used some of my material! The original script was something like, "Make it out to all-day Darrin. What? I can shoot?" But we had the time and I just kept making stuff up, including the Titanic bit, which I completely forgot about.

They also had me handing him all kinds of other stuff -- toasters, oars and other weird stuff. Thought they might use that as a tag or something at the end, but I guess there was just too much gold to choose from!

It's really nice to have a commercial spot that I can be, you know, really proud of. I mean, I can be both seen AND heard (my best 'til now have been one or the other), and it's not cheesy (no turkey carving or pretend families). Feels good.

PS: I hate that this blogger template cuts off wide-screen videos and don't feel like making a second version of it for YouTube, so people can just follow this link to see the "whole" thing. (All of me is in there, at least.)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Attack of the 50-foot allergan

I'm doing a happy dance for the rain that's falling right now. My allergies have been absolutely killing me this month. It's the worst September I can remember. The worst I've felt since going on the super ass-kicking drugs I've been on.

And I blame it on the rain. Or the lack thereof -- 22 straight days without significant rainfall. Even though the Internet says the pollen count has been moderate it hasn't felt that way to me. So hopefully a good soaking will wash away whatever's in the air that's been making me wake up with beet-red eyes crusted shut.

I swear these allergies get me down just bring me down in every way. I can't imagine how people with really serious chronic ailments, like arthritis or major back pain or migraines or ulcers, manage to live day-to-day. It just changes your whole being -- your mental outlook, your energy, your spirit ...

So come on rain. Fall, fall, fall ...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Bouncing Back

I guess I've never really experienced actual depression. From what I know, it's apparently debilitating -- you can't work, you can't do anything. Maybe that's just one outcome. Mike Wallace suffered from depression and seemed to be pretty productive.

Anyway, I think I just experience ordinary sadness, anxiety, and ennui. There's always something. Relationships or family or work or money or health or esteem. Sometimes it's everything.

But I always manage to make my way out of it. Maybe not all the way up to heel-kicking status, but somewhere up to my usual even keel, which I think generally has a fair dollop of sadness to it anyway.

I do it by ... doing. I just do stuff. I force myself into some activity. I knock off some work tasks, I email some friends, I go to the gym, I take care of some errands, I go for a walk. Today I went White Tornado on my kitchen, scrubbing it down to within an inch of its life. (I was kind of amazed to see again what chrome looks like!) I even defrosted the fridge and cleaned all the crumbs out of the bottom of the toaster oven.

I guess I kind of let things go. I haven't been "entertaining guests" much recently. In fact, hardly at all in the past couple of years. (Here's a tip: maybe don't date someone who can't stand your home.) So the motivation to keep it spotless has sort of waned in that time. And I've always been a total Felix about the household. Mind you, it's always ridiculously neat and tidy on the surface, just maybe not as clean as it should be.

Anyway, walking into a kitchen whose brightness gives me a low-grade sunburn is kind of a pick-me-up. And even beyond that, just the doing of it -- the scrubbing, the ice-chopping, the 409 and Cometing -- all of that is just very therapeutic.

No doubt actual depression is more complicated and can't be cured with a feather duster. But I do believe that in life, no matter what happens, no matter how you feel, you just have to press forward and grit your teeth and go about your business. Waiting for the Happy Fairy to wave her wand and lift you up isn't likely to happen. Sometimes the best you can do is just struggle through. And sometimes that's good enough.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Be careful what you wish for ...

So I got an audition today. That's usually how it works. You complain and it happens.

And, serves me right, it was a total dud.

They had us line up four at a time and just interviewed us. Some guys they spent several minutes with. One group was in there for 10 minutes, so they must have been damn interesting. I had, maybe, two questions and under a minute. And I'm not being self-conscious or overly self-critical -- it was hilarious how quickly it was over.

Fine. Most of the shoot's going on while I'm on vacation anyway. Maybe I was giving off a vibe. Or maybe I was tired. Or maybe my answers weren't that interesting. Whatever.

The more interesting part is a conversation I had with the guy I always audition with. We were just comparing notes about the unbusyness of things, and he had some good perspective. I've been feeling like it's been a pretty good year. But I got the idea now that maybe it only seems good because a few years ago I was doing much, much less. Back then, he was crazy busy.

So maybe it's only good because I didn't know what the hell I was doing then, and thus wasn't getting called a lot. I can't quite imagine what his idea of busy would be like -- having two or three times the number of auditions I now have. That, I think, would be insane.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My little black book

I use these (the lined ones) to track all my audition information. A pretty simple, chronological system of notetaking.

Lately, though, it's been used mainly for figuring my vacation itinerary and jotting down notes on hotels and things. Because I haven't had an audition ALL MONTH.

That's insane. I knew it had been a while, but a look at the big blank calendar shows it's been two weeks and two days, which is my longest dry spell since January. Even February, when I took a week off for Mexico, I didn't go that long.

I had a booking last week, yes, and that's good. But this basically means there's nothing now in the pipeline. All callback and booking dates for those old August auditions have surely passed. And with me going away next week, it's looking like it's going to be a while before I'm back in the groove again. (No doubt tons of opportunities will arise for the dates I'm gone.)

It's a very odd feeling, not having been on the Halsted bus in so long. I'm not going to worry too much, though. The worse situation to be in, pipeline-wise, is to have no outstanding checks due for jobs already done. I've been in that situation a number of times. Meaning, even if I booked something the very next day, no acting $ would be coming in for 30-90 days.

So there's that. Well, that and the fact that I just expanded my vacation itinerary to include White Sands. That'll be fun -- sledding down 50-foot dunes of gypsum.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Light at the end of the tunnel?

Or is that just the headlights of an 18-wheeler coming straight at us?

I did my quarterly taxes the other day and this year continues apace. When all is made and spent, it should be as good as, or better than, last year. And last year was a good year. Which is great, considering how things looked for a couple of months there back around November-January.

But I buckled down and really focused, did some marketing, declined some theater opportunities that might have been a distraction from earning my keep and, lo and behold, all's well that ... okay "ends well" may be a bit premature, but the immediate future -- six months or so -- looks just fine.

And we keep seeing signs. The stock market picking up, job losses slowing, occasional inklings of consumer confidence and mini-boosts in various housing numbers. So all of that has made me pretty confident lately. Confident enough to forgo the staycation and take an actual vacation.

On the other hand, though, grim news continue to come in, both statistically and anecdotally. People I know being laid off after holding out through successive rounds of purges over the past year. And many, many companies continuing to go out of business.

I hope I wasn't premature. I hope projects and new business continue to flow in as they have this year. But a good chunk of my income -- maybe half -- happened to come from three big windfall projects. Not windfalls in the sense that they just fell in my lap -- I did have to work for them, after all.

I just bid this week on a solid six-month project that would be great to get, but I can't count on that. I think when I get back I need to ratchet up the marketing again. It's way too easy when you're busy to justify not tending to new business.

And when you don't do that, you risk getting squashed by the semi.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Up, down and all around town

I went on a major, fest-fueled biking binge yesterday -- 20 miles, two fests and one very far away bar.

An awesome day. First to the Renegade Craft Fair over in Wicker Park, where I quickly tired of looking at stuff that, while often beautiful and creative, I had no intention of buying. I don't need anything more on my walls and certainly no more delightful knickknacks and conversation pieces. So I sat at a sidewalk cafe, drank some beer and read my book.

Then on to a fest in Old Town, where the Gin Blossoms played. Sure, they're frothy and insubstantial, but for a couple of years there in the early '90s they contributed the soundtrack to what was a very fun life.

I love that I finally know enough people in Chicago that I can go alone to a fest and run into people I know. I ran into four groups of friends there and, based on Facebook status updates, just missed a couple of others.

Then a nice dinner of Mexican food with friends and back on my bike to the northernmost reaches of Andersonville to hang out with some fun Factory folks. And then the long trek home at 2 am down dark back streets, with my iPhone playing Gin Blossoms tracks old-school style (no earphones).

Summer is definitely not over. I don't care what the fat lady says.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Land of Enchantment

I booked the trip to New Mexico I was considering, and I'm approaching it with a mix of excitement and trepidation.

It used to be I'd take off on a solo trip to somewhere strange, with no reservations (of either the compunction or accommodation variety) whatsoever. I hate to think I've become cautious in my oldER age. But I do seem to spend more time considering the risks and consequences and such. It's not that I was ever particularly brave in, say, driving around France on my own. Rather I just didn't think too hard about it.

I'm also working really hard to restrain my tendency to try and see EVERYTHING. I have 7 full days and nights. In the old days that meant I'd do 2,500 miles or something. (Literally. My first solo road trip, up to the UP, was 2,000 miles in 5 days.) I mean, I've never been one to sit around and have a 2-hour lunch on vacation or while away 4 hours in single museum, but I think I can make some compromises.

Yes, there is a lot to see. But I'm pruning. The idea of going to Four Corners was intriguing. Just to stand in four states at once -- and do a quick series of FaceBook status updates from each -- held a lot of allure. But it's very far to go and there's very little else to see nearby and the landscape itself doesn't look too pretty.

Then there's the Very Large Array, which was featured in the movie Contact. Twenty-seven giant radio antennae pointed up at space! But my online research showed that they CGI'd a bunch of extra dishes into the background. It's still cool, but not quite the image I had in mind. And again, it's very far, and very remote.

So I'm gonna go slow (for me). I'm actually staying two nights in a row in one town, which is unusual. I'm going to savor stuff a little more, take little side trips, really explore things in some depth, and give myself time for more than a 30-minute hike here and there. This will be one trip where I will NOT be hiking at a fast jog, racing the setting sun because I've given myself less than an hour in a place that deserves a half-day.

I will see ancient Indian pueblos (including the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the U.S.), old Spanish plazas, abandoned mining towns, beautiful canyons, high mountain towns. And MAYBE, just maybe, the RATTLESNAKE MUSEUM, with THIRTY species of LIVE rattlesnakes!!

Most of all, though, I'm really, really looking forward to seeing the stars again. It's been so long. When I went to the Grand Canyon 10 years ago it felt like I could touch the stars, they were so bright and close.

Now THAT's enchantment.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


Today was a little reunion of sorts. Five years ago I shot an industrial for Wolf Kitchen/Sub-zero, as patriarch to a nice family of four. They wanted to update the video to reflect a half-decade's worth of product updates, and they thought my "wife" and I were such a fine couple they invited us to reprise our roles.

She grew her hair and more of mine turned gray, but other than that, we picked up right where we left off. Me making glib remarks (since it was MOS) and her pretending to be into a husband who's an inch or two shorter than she is.

It was a long day. Up at 4:45 am to drive to Madison, and not home until almost 9 pm. But what was cool about the gig was the place where we shot it. It's a training facility for their sales people. Since this is pretty high-end product (one fridge sells for $12,000), the environment reflected that.

So amongst many dozens of stainless steel-clad and hardwood-cabineted stoves and ovens and refrigerators in simulated kitchens were spectacular artworks and furnishings, all wrapped in an architectural gem of a building. There were four giant Chihulys suspended like mobiles in the vaulted glass atrium/lobby. One of the kitchens had a ceiling taken from an old farmhouse in Tuscany.

And beyond all the art in canvases on the walls was the reception room, where one giant wall was itself an artwork. I didn't catch the name of the artist, but the entire wall, made up of broad, horizontal-stripes in alternating tones of fuschia, was itself the canvas. Apparently, the artist came there to paint it. I didn't know they made housecalls.

A downright inspiring place to work. I know it brought out some of my best vegetable cutting and sauteing.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Red Moon Theater's latest outdoor spectacle

Usually the long weekends that bookend the summer are pretty tame for me. Either I'm alone and everyone I know is traveling out of town, or I'm dating someone and we spend the entire time together, doing mostly date-type things.

This Labor Day weekend was different. Lots of variety, lots of activity, lots of different people. Six meals outdoors (a new record), including two picnics and a bbq. Some bike riding, some sun, and a road trip that included four solid hours of hiking. (Or maybe "hiking," since 70% of the paths at Starved Rock are paved or boardwalked, which only encourages huge extended families to bring everyone from nana to baba, with the accompanying strollers, crutches and wheelchairs.)

Plus a reunion with an old friend, a crazy outdoor show/spectacle at the Lakefront just down the street from me, and, of all things, a wiffle ball tournament that has me absolutely in traction today. It hurts when I sneeze. (Someone today said I shouldn't swing so hard. Now they tell me.)

And some date time to boot. Along with a decent amount of alone time, catching up on reading and vacation planning.

So an excellent weekend. And yet I feel vaguely ... unsatisfied.


Monday, September 07, 2009

Places I remember ...

Starved Rock State Park

It feels weird and a little bit sad going to old places with new people, but what can you do? You can't just stop, say, eating your favorite cheesesteak sandwich in the city, or going to the lake or on road trips. That's life, right?

I suppose with the right outlook it could be considered therapeutic. Like an exorcism. Still, it feels a little like cheating. I guess the most important thing is to try and make it new and different, otherwise it could play like the lobster scene in Annie Hall.

I guess one thing that made it new and different is that 90% of the park was NOT under water, like it was last time.

Thursday, September 03, 2009


I was really sad there for about, I don't know, 20 hours or so.

Planning a personal vacation when I know I should be going home to see my Dad. Inexplicably missing someone who mostly just made me feel bad about myself -- even as someone else is doing nothing but treating me with kindness and affection. Paying easily twice what a completely ordinary meal at Oak Street Beachstro was worth. The alleged "liberal" media's constant distortion and over-simplification and exaggeration and thoughtlessness in reporting on an issue that is SO important to our future.

Capping it all was two testosterone-packed morons outside my front window today threatening to beat the shit out of each other over some stupid, minor, nonsensical traffic thing. For some reason that just brought it all to a head. I was like, really? You guys are screaming at the top of your lungs over THIS? Afghanistan, Iraq, healthcare, the economy, unemployment, crime, Iran, Korea, etc., etc., etc.

I actually went out there and was prepared to tell them to shut the fuck up and let it go, but the owner of the corner diner did it for me, in just about those exact words. It really was ridiculous.

Then when I got back in I was just sorta slightly overwhelmed in about the only way it ever happens to me. A catch in the throat, a flush in the cheek, a tiny bit of wateriness in the eye and ... well, that was about it. That's about all it ever is. I swallow and sniff and it passes and I'm done.

I need to do two competing things: 1) take responsibility and, 2) relaaaaax ... and ACCEPT.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

End of summer

I finally saw fireworks tonight. Sure, they were just Navy Pier fireworks, but they were something at least. Just about right for this semi-kinda-summer we've been having.

Everyone swears it's over, but I'm convinced it's going to be warm through Halloween, to make up for the lateness and coolness.

Of course, that's what I thought last year ...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

From Old Mexico to New Mexico

My vacation planning is coming along. It has to. The longer I wait the harder it's going to be to get away.

I've pretty much given up on London for now. I think to make that economical I need to think about a February trip. $750 for a flight, plus hotel, plus incidentals, etc. I just can't spend $2,000-plus for 5 days in London.

New York/New England was in the running, and may still be. Flights are cheap, but a car rental is almost $500 for a week. Crazy.

Just for grins I priced Mexico -- back to the place I went to in February. It's crazy cheap, though it is hurricane season.

So I'm homing in on New Mexico/Arizona. I found airfare and a week's car rental for under $500 combined, which seems like a pretty good deal. And as I'm researching it, it's getting more and more interesting. On one hand, there's the old Mexican culture, the arts, the crafts, etc., around Santa Fe and Taos. Plus the Indian Pueblo culture.

But then there's also the ancient cultures up in the four corners, in Northeast Arizona. The oldest, continuously inhabited area in the U.S. -- the Navajo, the Hopi, the Anasazi. And people long before that.

And, of course, all the natural wonders -- the canyons, the mesas, the mountains and the deserts.

Much to consider ...