Category Archives: Travel

For the Love of Denver: Microbreweries

Denver mural

Breweries keep popping up in Denver—land of the microbrews—like perennials in springtime, so much so that it’s become an established part of the city’s culture. The brews might be unique and varied (with no mainstream beers sold on site), but there seems to be a ubiquitous, overarching vibe wending through each garage door-fronted pub that looks a little something like this:

Walk up to the entrance and you’ll likely see a food truck parked out front. Denver breweries are all about the beer and very few offer a food menu outside of local beef jerky or trail mixes hanging behind the bar. This is a win-win for patrons and food truck owners alike as the cuisine alternates depending on the day of the week, offering options from street tacos to sushi to banh mi to suit your tastes. (Warning: if the Burger Chief food truck is your only available option, Go Hungry, unless you’ve been hankering for a touch of food poisoning.)

Don’t worry about trying to show up between 3-6, because prices are the same all day long. Instead, to cut costs, try a flight sampler or a half-glass if available.

As you make your way through the slew of dogs and kids bustling about at knee-level, feel free to pat their heads and tell them they’re being good boys and girls. Owners/parents are used to this and will ignore you like a drunk Uncle on Easter.

Inside, you might do a double take to make sure you’re in the correct pre-agreed upon place, because even if you’re in a new brewery, you’ll experience a flash of deja vu when you peruse the industrial-style design with repurposed wood and metal tables, the bare light bulbs and exposed pipes, and the visible barrels behind the glass wall where all the magic happens.

On the walls you’ll notice a theme amongst breweries—that all permanent art looks like it was commissioned by the same artist, an artist in love with the locale and the landscape who paints abstract and geometric mountains and plenty of Colorado flags in blue, yellow, and red.

The menu boards are colorful and hand-written, and possibly displayed on skateboards. For those of you who don’t imbibe, check the board for a kombucha brew, which is steadily becoming more common, then grab your trivia card to test your pop culture and historical knowledge, or sit down with your crew at a community table for a round of Apples to Apples or Uno. Before you leave, fill up a growler of your favorite brew to take home and maybe buy a T-shirt or sticker to show off your local pub love.

If you have trouble deciding which brewery to check out first, don’t fret. For the most part, it comes down to the neighborhood you’re in, the friends you meet there, and that little special something that stands out, like the repurposed airplane wing bar top and movie projections at Former Future, or the giant encased gears at Declaration. Whether you’re a native or just in town for the weekend, if you want a taste of a classic Denver experience, the microbreweries are where it’s at.

former future

*This post is based off of Comrade Brewing, Declaration Brewing Co, Denver Beer Co, Fermaentra, Former Future Brewing Co, LowDown Brewery, and Platt Park Brewing Co.

Have a favorite not on the list? Feel free to comment with a recommendation.

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One Page at a Time

Growing up in Iowa, I developed an insatiable desire to see the broader world around me. I would look through binoculars over the cornfield that stretched out behind my backyard, blinking and squinting and imagining the lives of the families living on the other side. At dusk I could see lights go on and off in little window specks. Were there kids inside those windows, making faces as their parents sent them to bed? Did they read the same stories before falling asleep? Those houses felt a world away, but, similar to the worlds inside of books, gave me a hope to one day see what else was outside my little town tucked inside the fields in the heart of America.

I was a quiet kid obsessed with stories. TV shows such as Full House introduced me to big city life as well as big family life, sending me into daydreams of a lifestyle very different from my own. I wondered what it was like to attend a three-story, fenced-in school on a busy city street, to travel by subway, and to grow up living in a high-rise apartment with no yard for dogs or flowers or tomato plants. Anne of Green Gables sent me dreaming of the opposite, of a place where I could be free to wander and roam in the country surrounded by acres of animals, wildflowers, hidden paths, and nothing but time.

I remember when my great aunt Lorraine told me she’d been to all fifty states. I wanted to know if she’d seen the Grand Canyon, the coast of California, the White House. She helped my travel dreams seem attainable, especially since she was someone from my own family.

The Midwest is the perfect place to foster a dream for travel. Especially small town Midwest, where kids grow up curious about the other side of the cornfields. When you have to travel 70 miles for the nearest (substantial) mall, or for the restaurants advertised on TV (Oh the days when The Olive Garden and Chile’s sounded like luxury cuisine), even Starbucks carries with it an extra special appeal. Sipping a mocha Frappuccino during a Saturday shopping trip to Sioux City felt like turning a page in the proverbial book of life experiences—a book with chapters not limited by distance. Every city, every neighborhood has its own character, each street and structure, down to each person.

When I travel I look for the ubiquitous, that little something that helps me connect to the world around me.  While acclimating to New Zealand’s summertime in January, I was thankful for the familiarity of the English language. When handling money in Japan I took comfort in the 10 decimal place to know how much I was spending. These connections aren’t to say I didn’t look further, but they did serve as a basis for seeing where I’m from in a new way—whether politically, educationally, by cuisine, or otherwise. When I see how other places function, I question if things here are the best they can be.

A similar outlook is sparked when I read. For example, dystopian literature such as Brave New World, 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, or The Hunger Games series feature fictional worlds with (quasi) believable futures. If this is where we’re headed, then how can it be prevented?

I believe that when reading and travel are combined, there’s no end to inspiration and understanding. Jack Kerouac’s On the Road inspired me to keep pen and paper with me whenever I leave home. I don’t snap a lot of pictures when I travel but instead rely on words to bring me back to a specific time and place, and to the people I interact with. This is what gives me hope in the modern day world—recording what I see and know and learn—and it’s why I plan to never stop chasing new scenes, in life or in the imagination.


El Forte

When I was nineteen I spent a week in Santa Barbara with a friend who lived in a two-bedroom with five housemates. People came and went all day and it took me half the week to recognize who actually lived there. The apartment—El Forte, they called it—was never empty.

No one left for the day without waving the peace sign. They welcomed my presence and I imagined staying with them longer. I imagined walking State Street, handing out sandwiches and cigarettes to the homeless. I didn’t even smoke; I’d just buy a pack and give them out two at a time, offering a light to those in need.

El Forte needed a new fridge and the landlord promised to deliver one in the morning. Ashley, Andy’s girlfriend, held an impromptu cleaning-out-the-fridge party. I ditched early after seeing the slimy black mass fly into the trashcan. That explained the sour smell that’d been lingering in the kitchen, and likely why I found a cockroach in my cereal the morning before.

Other than a rudimentary science experiment, the kitchen was also a makeshift recording studio where you had to move guitars to get to the orange juice. Posters of Radiohead, Foo Fighters, and The Mars Volta decorated the walls, thumbtacked at crooked angles. If a housemate was cooking, they were more than likely making grilled cheese. En masse. I never ate so many consecutive cheese sandwiches in my life.

There was tea most nights, and weed, and walks to the corner store they called “MJ’s” because the head clerk looked like Michael Jackson. I started a Vitamin Water habit and added to the collection of bottles—soda bottles, liquor bottles, flavored water bottles half-filled with seed shells—on every surface of the apartment.

The loveseat I slept on had a large red stain that I hoped wasn’t blood. Maybe Gatorade? Or calzone sauce? Nick, Brandon and them loved calzones. At least the stain was dry and I could cover half of it with my pillow.

Every night, the guy crashing in the living room across from me snored through ragged sinuses—a side effect of a former coke addiction. He had dark curly hair, the tight spiral kind that I wanted to reach out and touch. But not more than I wanted to run a drumstick up his nose to end his incessant snoring.

So I slept a few nights upstairs on Jackie’s couch. Jackie was from Colorado and missed seeing deer in the mountains. She was twenty, petite, and blonde. She had a fake ID and a medical marijuana card. Jackie made a killing off the guys in El Forte.

Ninja Turtles and expandable-shape pill capsules lined El Forte’s entertainment center. The pills shook all night—sponge dinosaurs anxious to emerge—above the TV that no one ever turned off.

A longboard stood by the front door next to a crate of shoes—tossed together like so many personalities living in one space. Taped to the door, a poster of two women in their underwear lay kissing. It was artistic, said Andy.

On Tuesday, Stefano—one of the Italian brothers—rode over on his bike. He’d had eighteen beers and still wasn’t drunk. As he talked, he scraped Special K on a cd case.

Andy said that I put myself in those situations for the writing material. I denied it then, but it’s true. I’m no Tom Wolfe, but I like to pretend.

El Forte was alive—everybody acting out their own movies like mad, listening to Coheed all day, Jonestown all night.

It felt artistic. And it felt real.


Peace, Love, and Mung Beans

Off the coast of Auckland, NZ

 

“Hell of a long swim,” the old man laughed from his dinghy at the opposite end of our survival rope. Our motor had died on the Hauraki Gulf while heading back to our group’s sailboat, and we had no oars. But the old man spotted us idling in the water before panic set in—the rope he tossed as strong as the Island wine.

Our teammate with the short-cropped hair, the oldest student in our group, thanked the old man as he pulled in his rope.

“No worries,” he said.

No worries: the slogan of a nation.

A slogan for the previous night spent on Waiheke, where there were only open skies, a row of sleeping bags on a hillside, and a basket of seashells at my feet.

Kia Ora, we said at sunrise to the sound of zippers punctuating the dewy morning. Kia Ora, said the heads behind the zippers.

We docked after two days out, and for two days more felt the gentle rock of the Gulf with every step we took on land. We tried the local fare—breaded cod, with chips, wrapped in that morning’s newspaper. We bent the stalks of native foliage to our noses, breathing in memories of a place we may never return to again.

Jan. 2009


In the places you go, you’ll see the place where you’re from

 

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Driving through the night was worth it to not see Nebraska. Semis lit up like suburban neighborhoods on Christmas Eve and exits claiming towns that may or may not exist guided me back to Iowa—home, where I hadn’t been in nearly a year and a half.

Growing up in the Midwest I often pretended the low-lying clouds were mountains in the distance. I figured kids that grew up near mountains, or ocean, or any landscape different from cornfields must be the luckiest kids in the world. But, I’d remind myself, I was the one who had the secret cornstalk playground in my back yard every summer. It was common knowledge among the neighborhood kids to follow a row to its end in the event of getting lost. One time I walked the length of my block through the six feet stalks—thrilled, frightened, happy.

When I’m home, I get to ask things like, “Who made that?” instead of, “Where’d you get that?” I like this. I like that the woman at the bank remembers me and even pronounces my last name 90% accurately. I like that the local jeweler still does my repair work for free. And the doughnuts…Sorry Winchell’s, Waltons, Lamar’s, Donut House, Voodoo, Glazed and Confuzed, and Dunkin Donuts—Page’s Bakery wins, hands down.

However, as is the case with all places we leave behind, there are also things not to like. Things like hurricane-level winds strong enough to realign car doors and bend trees to their demise. Curvy one-lane highways bordered by deer-littered ditches. And cows like scorch marks dotting the parched earth, their smell enough to turn any good carnivore into a temporary vegetarian.

Interstate travel never fails to make me wonder: Who are the people buying fashion accessories at gas stations? Sunglasses I get, but faux-leather studded purses? Quandary.

On the drive back to Denver, while for miles passing nothing but farmhouses and gas stations with only two pumps, a scene from the movie Big Fish came to mind. Karl the giant says to Edward Bloom, “I don’t want to eat you. I just get so hungry. I’m just too big.” And Edward replies, “Has it ever occurred to you that maybe you’re not too big? That maybe this place is just too small?”

To me this makes sense. The life I get to live in Denver wasn’t possible in a small town. And despite the underwhelming confections, I’ve come to take city life for granted (e.g. “What do you mean, no local cage-free eggs?” Or, “Why aren’t you flipping off that asshole who just cut us off?”). The mountains have a pull on me and always will. They ground me, and for this Denver is the first place I haven’t dreamed of leaving.

I believe it is good to be with family and connect with one’s past.

It is also good to be home.


I-80 Essentials

Music:

Brand New, Modest Mouse, Taking Back Sunday (4 songs tops), Slayer (2 songs), Tegan and Sara, Motion City Soundtrack, Straylight Run, any soundtrack or mix cd made in college, Mmmbop.

(No matter the cheese factor, sing-along music is a stay-awake must)

Foods:

Doughnuts loaded up on at hometown bakery. Nothing compares. Nothing. Also: apples, bananas, and carrots for good energy (confession: health nut, apart from homemade pastries).

Drinks:

None! Don’t drink anything! Why would you make the trip take any longer than it already is?!

Topics of Conversation:

How much we’ve become like our parents, How much we differ from our parents, Who looks different/graduated/got married/had a baby–babies? Sucks to be them. Monsanto. Capitalism. American education. These are all acceptable.

Activities:

License plate game, napping, reading aloud (so the driver knows why you keep laughing, of course), air drumming.

 

Good luck, and may the state of Nebraska never consume you.


Day 13

Franz Josef, New Zealand

 

Dedication is the Franz Josef Glacier site workers who re-cut the ice steps every morning.

With a stitch in my side I look out over the river and its crying cliff-faces. I don’t blame them—words here are not enough.

More satisfying than softball cleats, my crampons lodge me in fearless position. I test my balance, like someone strapped into skis for the first time, able to bend backward without falling.

Blue ice is something I’ve only seen in pictures, like the ombre autumn mountains in Vermont until I moved there.

We start our hike in t-shirts. By glacier’s top, triple layers—more as protection from ice burn than chill, the strenuous cardio sufficiently warming my skin.

There was no preparing for this.

When I do something I fear, I learn more about myself than in any college psychology class.

I meet my fiancé’s eyes, both our backs flattened to an ice wall, shuffling sideways on a narrow shelf. I want to take his hand, but there’s a deep trench at our feet just wide enough for an average-size adult to slip through.

He takes mine anyway.

When I conquer something I fear, it usually starts with a suggestion from Derek.

It’s not the ensuing muscle pain that I remember—though I know it was there—or whether I was sweating or shivering.

What I remember is feeling small and more involved with this Earth than I knew I could be–amazed by the landscape of a country that for half my life I didn’t even know existed.

I remember promising myself: never stop exploring.

Jan. 2009


Vacation ’96

Blood-spotted bedspread. I’m nine years old.

Barred windows; bullet holes in the glass.

This is Nashville.

The woman behind the counter at our Days Inn is way taller than my mom. Maybe even my dad. Maybe she’s the first black woman I’ve ever seen. Two of her long fake fingernails are pierced with a tiny silver hoop. I wonder how accurate her typing is as she checks us in.

Music City, USA.

I’m hoping to see Shania Twain. Or even Deana Carter. I can’t get Collin Raye’s song about that 8-year-old out of my head. I hope I don’t mess up like those women in the video. Like the women I see on COPS—my dad’s favorite show that he watches from his recliner after work. My mom wishes he wouldn’t watch that trash around me, but it’s his nighttime version of coffee. I like when he lets me watch Power Rangers. My mom hates that show, too.

But we all agree on country music and it’s cool to stand peaking in from the entrance of The Ryman. Though it’s not very interesting without a star on stage. Maybe the janitor, when he’s mopping the stage floor, imagines a live audience and a different career.

Maybe my dad pictures me on that stage.

This is the farthest I’ve been away from home. And for the record, the Bluegrass State does NOT have blue grass. But it does have a converted rest stop mansion.

Our first day driving from Iowa we stopped in Hannibal, Missouri. In the cave where Jesse James graffitied his name, a tour guide turned off all the lights to show how scary it was for Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher way back when. My dad likes to kid around and he clicked on his green watch light. Everyone laughed and then the tour guide gave an okay, that’s enough look.

Somehow we keep getting lost in this city.

Through my backseat window in a dirty gas station parking lot, I see a brown-skinned man talking to my mom with his hands. Back in the car she says he kept saying, “You listen to me!” when giving her directions. We all laugh, but I think my mom’s glad to be back on the road.

I like the Bobby Bare Trap store and get my picture taken with the world’s largest teddy bear. Something to write home about, as they say.

My mom and I buy matching Nashville t-shirts and I wear mine to bed that night. I like staying at motels, but I’m ready to be back in my bedroom where I can be alone and write. Two more days still. I wish we could fly.


Street Mama

Amarillo, TX

“Name’s Pixie. Friends call me Street Mama. Ise raised forty miles southa Dallas.”

It’s impossible not to overhear other people’s conversations in the compact Amarillo bus station. Standing by the bathrooms near the only vent that’s pumping cool air is a woman whose little finger wouldn’t fit the description of a Pixie. Summertime is Street Mama’s time. Her leisurely confidence while wearing a snug spaghetti strap tank top, sans bra, gives her away. This is the type of woman who doesn’t keep secrets.

“My mother was a real piece-a work,” she says to a group loitering under the vent. “I use ta be called Samantha Lynn, but I been Pixie for over ten years now. The first guy I been with called me that and it stuck. But my baby daddy thinks it’s too girlish, so he jus’ call me Mama.”

Street Mama turns her head and gasps. “Ethan Daniel! Get over here! You hear me? You stop that, right now!” She grabs what must be her son and sets his diapered bottom on a covered trashcan. She gives three sharp, quick raps to the toddler’s bony hand. The child is frail and doll-like with a complexion like dishwater. Ethan Daniel wails, inciting three more raps to his other hand.

“Ethan Daniel, can’t you see I’m talkin’ to grownups? Apologize to these people! Apologize!”

Ethan Daniel can’t yet be three years old. His face is a contortion of pain from the striking and confusion as to why he’s being punished.

At the drinking fountain stands a line six people deep. There’s been a lot of recent rainfall, and everything in the station is sheathed in a thin layer of dew. Even the walls are sweating—years of condensation having warped the paint. The bus driver is late.

In a rage, Ethan Daniel strikes out at Street Mama, and she in turn scolds him for hitting.

CNN drones from a TV in a corner of the station’s waiting area, lulling entranced travelers into lethargic, shell-shocked expressions. But Street Mama’s voice carries over it all. She’s on the phone now with her mother.

“He won’t listen to me! Mama—are you listenin’ to me?! Goddamnit, he won’t fuckin’ listen to me! I’ll use whatever language I wanna use!” There’s a pause, then: “Little shit. He’s so filthy. I know that, Mama. What do you think I been doin? Here—I’m passin’ over the phone so you can talk some sense into ‘im.” She holds the phone at her son’s shoulder. “Ethan Daniel, take the damn phone!” The child cries and knocks the phone to the ground.

The line at the drinking fountain dissipates, and in the corner of the waiting area a man reaches up to raise the volume of the latest news report.

Summer 2007


Squatting in the Wrong Decade

The first time I saw a horse on a rooftop was in Lexington, Nebraska. It wasn’t a real horse, but I’ve never seen one, alive or otherwise, on a roof since. Coming from a packing plant town, the familiar Tyson aroma of seared hog flesh filled my nostrils and gave me a sense of home as we drove into Lexington. Barmore Drugs could’ve passed as Storm Lake’s Ressler’s. All these small Midwestern towns resembled each other in the details.

Down a residential street, two young girls in oversized T-shirts helped their mom rake the lawn. I pictured my childhood self and friend jumping into leaf piles at my grandma’s house, then heading inside for a snack of apples with caramel.

I was with my dad, spending two days driving to Broomfield and stopping here for the night like two road-weary truckers—a bed and a clean bathroom our main requirements.

On the outskirts of town a giant plum-painted water tower sat, like an industrialized Jack Horner, squatting in the wrong decade. Front lawns along residential roads were spotted with rusted truck beds filled with such things as wood, torn-out carpet, and empty bottles of engine oil.

Sticking out like Jack’s thumb on the edge of town, an African restaurant and a huddle of tall, well-dressed black men talking and laughing in the parking lot.

In its prime, the heart of this town must’ve been the railroad. Two spiral ramps supporting a footbridge over the tracks–for the days when it was needed to cross without danger–stood as the town’s most notable landmark.

Our motel parking lot was strewn with semis, and as we walked past them to the office my dad straightened protectively. In our motel room, we opened our paper Sonic bags to find cold fries, a chicken sandwich coated with black lettuce, and no appetite.

My next meal came as a Styrofoam cupful of Froot Loops, dry, the next morning. I frowned at the assortment of O’s, but kept any complaints to myself. I couldn’t wait to get to Colorado and the well-stocked cupboards of my uncle’s house.

March 2007


Locks

The woman’s hands were in my hair before I could stop her.

I was sitting on a bench outside the Grand Junction bus station, piecing together a Lunchable before my next transfer, when she walked up behind me–her skin tanned and leathery, her breath warm and pungent–and grabbed hold of my hair, twisting it between her fingers. Tangling it into knots.

She was a beggar, this woman. Her own hair stringy, dreadlocked. I turned and looked her in the face. My heart sped up and I dropped a cracker.

“Such pretty hair,” she drawled. “My mother had red hair.”

I stammered a thank you and made to stand up.

“I wish I could just—ha!” She brandished the air like a pair of scissors and made a mocking hack at my hair. “–Snip it off and sew it onto mine.” She smiled devilishly and fondled her dreadlocks.

I excused myself and walked to the nearest trash can as if to discard my lunch. I would walk around the entire station to get back in before I’d invite any more attention from outside.

June 2006


Autumn in Vermont

Where I wish to be every Fall

Where I wish to be every Fall


Rainbow Warriors

Teenage flower children, their long hair strung with beads, play handclap games in front of me at the Amarillo, TX bus station. They tickle each another and make googly eyes despite the presence of the girl’s mother. This petite woman–a hippie hangover–smiles at them, her thin lips stretching to meet a smattering of pale freckles.

They’re headed to the Rainbow Gathering in Arkansas, held annually in a National Forest since 1972. Hippie Mom asks my friend where we’re headed. “Twin cities,” says Emily. She’s returning to her nanny job, and I’ll be headed five hours south from there once our two-day bus trip concludes.

Next stop: Oklahoma City, where a one-hour layover turns into six, then seven. An MIA bus driver means we’ll be spending the night on the most uncomfortable metal mesh benches ever designed for extended public waiting. If it weren’t for the obscene hour and lack of cell phone service, I’d call my boyfriend to pass the time.

Grumpy from lack of sleep, and anxious to get back on the road–a trip that would take over 50 hours between Phoenix and Minneapolis–I look to Emily for support. She’s given up on sleep and stares down at a book, her eyes unmoving. She feels my gaze and scrunches her nose in commiseration. There’s no denying the mid-summer stench of road travel. If our bags hadn’t disappeared with the driver, we would’ve changed clothes hours ago. I look down at my grubby t-shirt and feel depressed. The rainbow gatherers still appear fresh–the women in matching striped skirts and the boy in a Hawaiian shirt with his thin brown hair tied back in a low ponytail. A cool, airy skirt would be nice about now. I scrounge through my purse for a hair tie, but come up empty.

With nothing better to do, I watch the teenage couple paint glitter on each other’s faces, then braid the other’s hair. Hippie Mom sits knitting with a peaceful expression as though she were home and life couldn’t be sweeter. A soft hum rises from her throat. The teens get up and spin while holding hands, repeating what sounds like a tribal chant:

“When Earth is ravaged and animals die

A new people shall come

Many colors, classes, many creeds

Who by their actions and their deeds

Shall once again make Earth green

And be called

Warriors of the Rainbow.”

I lean forward and ask Hippie Mom what they’re singing.

“It is an old Native American prophecy.” Her eyes brighten and she looks at the kids. “The Rainbow Gathering, where we’re headed, has no leaders. We commune non-violently to celebrate peace and love on our planet. All are welcome. It’s a transformative and empowering experience. Here…” She pauses to retrieve a crumpled scrap of paper from her knitting bag. She scrawls two words on it then hands it to me.

The scrap was torn from a flier advertising free community basket weaving classes. I scan for her handwriting and read aloud the two words, presumably a name: “Art Penny.”

“If you wish to find him, he will be found,” says Hippie Mom’s daughter, smiling at me encouragingly. I give a polite nod, but I’m too tired to inquire further.

“Thank you,” I say, and dismiss myself from the conversation by extensively folding and slipping the scrap with Art Penny’s name on it into my purse.

The next day, near Topeka, Emily asks me what I talked about with the rainbow family.

“I can’t be sure,” I say, “but they were very friendly.”

July 2007


Quake

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Approx. 2:30pm

I’m chatting with my mom over Facebook, attempting to convince her in the most electronically reassuring tone possible that I am, in fact, very much alive. We did feel the earthquake, but up here in Sapporo, we’re well removed from the ensuing tsunami and nuclear power plant meltdown.

My husband and I were eating at a popular second-floor soup curry shop with our Japanese friends when we felt the quake. Derek’s legs jiggled compulsively under our lunch table, so at first it didn’t concern me that my soup was mimicking a scene from Jurassic Park. Not until he said, “Is the whole building shaking?” with a nervous laugh.

Outside, lampposts wavered precariously in the street. Iron fixtures and concrete foundations never felt so unreliable as in the moment Naoki told us that we were experiencing our first Japanese earthquake. He and Yurika were excited for us, taking pictures of our bemused faces. Then they eyed each other and frowned.

“This is lasting too long,” said Yurika, her lower lip puckered out in confusion.

My heart raced and I gulped in deep breaths of air to slow it down. A waiter came out and turned on a small TV mounted to a wall. A multi-colored map of the country lit up the screen, red indicating the greatest damage. The earthquake’s epicenter had reached a magnitude of 9.0 on the Richter Scale (the highest being 10.0), and here in Sapporo we’d felt a 3.0.

I’d underestimated the lack of control that an earthquake can elicit. The lack of anywhere to go–whether inside or out, higher up or underground–where you can’t feel the shaking. There’s nothing to grab hold of to steady yourself. Feet are unreliable.

The aftershocks lasted for hours; the first of which we felt from inside a nearby Pachinko Parlor. The cacophony of slot machines cycling thousands of little metal balls through their thick groves of pins, the TVs at full volume declaring public transit closures, and the rumbling echo of exposed heating vents, did little to disguise the reality that dozens of people just lost their balance at the same time.

With an uncharacteristic scowl, Naoki left to catch a train back home to Chitose. The rest of us decided to do the same, boarding a jam-packed shuttle through the city.

In Yurika’s apartment, I sit next to her grieving family as we watch the helmeted news anchors update us on the death toll; thousands are missing, nine hundred (the number growing by the minute) are confirmed dead. Aftershocks will likely continue for months.

An entire country has felt this disaster–in their homes and in their hearts. I suddenly feel as though I’ve overstayed my welcome. It seems inappropriate to be American in this time and place. I can escape; I can cross the ocean to where radiation isn’t an immediate threat to my well-being. Where many people haven’t even heard of the tragedy, let alone succumbed to it.

Derek wants to stay and help with the recovery efforts. But how? And is it practical? At times like this, family matters most; and in their minds the most helpful thing we can do is return to them in safety.

Friday, Mar. 11th, 2011


Albuquerque to Phoenix

bus-seats

The Greyhound permeates an undefinable smell–a sweaty blend of passengers and stained seats, all in varying states of cleanliness. Some of us have been traveling for four days. My trip should be over in two.

Across the aisle is a longhaired man wearing a borderline-pornographic T-shirt. He’s in his late twenties and clutching the hand of the woman beside him. They don matching track marks and speak to each other in hushed tones.

An hour later I wake from a half-nap to the sound of a low, agonizing moan and the stomping of feet. I look over at the longhaired man whose head now rests in his hands. His knees bounce rhythmically as if propelled by tiny trampolines–the apparent signs of withdrawal–and I hope, for his sake, that his trip is shorter than mine.

July 2007