Monday, May 11, 2009

I Don't Like Overhead Squats

[Introduction: about a year ago I discovered that, despite years of hating the gym, I actually loved working out. Thanks to an awesome bootcamp class in Seattle and a crazy CrossFit gym here in SF I've been able to get a great workout with out going to the "gym." I could rant and rave about this for many, many paragraphs, but I'll save that for later. The short version is that I'm so into my gym that I've convinced myself to start writing about what I do there. I think it'll help keep me motivated. (And if I accidentally inspire someone else to try it out, well that's a nice benefit! If you want to learn more, I'd be happy to share.)]

Last Thursday's workout included something new and a visit from an old friend. The something new was a squat snatch. The snatch squat is fairly complex move that can be much more easily described in video form (the sweet soundtrack doesn't hurt anything, either). The old friend was an unexpected visit from my goat. Where a goat in this case is not a furry, four-legged friend, but an exercise that is inexplicably difficult. (Note: I did a quick dictionary check to see if it included this definition of goat. It does not, but I was excited to see that a goat can also mean a leprechaun's man! Unfortunately I quickly realized it's just late and my reading comprehension is slipping...)

Anyway, back to my story! Sadly, the squat snatch is not my goat. It would be, I think, a noble goat to have. It's a complicated move, combining a complex maneuver with precision timing and balance. Unfortunately (for me), it also happens end up in a glorified overhead squat.

And the overhead squat is most definitely my goat. Which is odd, because I love back squats (and don't have anything against front squats, either). But nothing about the overhead squat is fun. Something about holding a bar above my head throws everything else completely out of whack. I don't know if it my general lack of flexibility, my freakishly weak wrists, or something else completely. I've been trying to target my shoulders by doing extra PVC pipe stretches and handstands before class, but any attempt to squat with anything more than a PVC pipe above my head is still a recipe for disaster (or at the very least, a cause for concern).

When I first started in January, I thought that pull-ups were my goat. Even using the thickest band I quickly tired to the point of exhaustion after just a handful of pull-ups. I felt helpless. But then I discovered the wonders of the kipping pull-up and now I love doing pull-ups. Sure I can still only do ten or so at a time, but they're fun! And even if I'm exhausted I can still string five or so in a row.

That gives me a faint glimmer of hope for my overhead squats. Maybe next week I'll discover some trick that'll sort everything out. Sadly, I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen that easily. Instead, I think I just need to buckle down and embrace the goat. It's a challenge, for sure. But the greater the challenge, the greater the reward, right? If that's the case then I can look forward to a obscenely large reward, some day in the (very distant) future.

Actually, I feel better about overhead squats already. I think I'm ready to go at it right now. Maybe all I needed was a pep talk. But do me a favor and please don't ask me how I feel about them the next time you see me sitting on medicine ball, bar overhead, trying to figure out how I'm going to stand back up.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Morning Commute

I hate commuting to work. I hate commuting so much that the last time I lived in California I chose to live in the dead center of the suburbs — killing any faint glimmer of a social life — because it meant I could rollerblade, bike or walk to work. And it was worth it. I hate commuting.

Fortunately my second tour of California includes a job in downtown San Francisco, meaning I can live close to work and be in the city. In fact (checking the distance now...), my apartment is just 1.3 miles from work. Google maps tells me it's an easy, 20 minute walk each way. But I know better. My apartment is on top of Nob hill, which makes the walk home more heart pounding than relaxing. I'm all for a little extra exercise, but getting home every day sweating and out of breath gets old after about one week. I should know, I did it my first week here.

Enter one of San Francisco's most memorable (and touristy) landmarks: the cable car.

Off to work...

One of city's three cable car lines stops directly in front of my apartment, runs down Nob hill, and drops me off 4 blocks from my office. It's perfect. The cable cars are almost exclusively used by tourists, as the $5 fare (each way, no transfers) doesn't seem to entice the locals. Fortunately for me, the cable cars are operated by San Francisco's bus department, meaning that a monthly bus pass works on the cable cars as well! Alright, alright, enough technical details. The bottom line is that I can hop on or off whenever I want to!

And I take full advantage of that opportunity. There is something unnaturally satisfying about smoothly coasting up and down the steep streets of San Francisco at a steady 9 miles per hour. And I haven't found anything more San Franciscan than running out my apartment, sprinting to the corner and leaping on to cable car as it pulls away. (Note: Although I have discovered that the cable car operators are noticeably less enthusiastic this. I haven't been kicked off any cars yet, but I've been on the receiving end of a couple of stern gazes and scolded once.)

I figured that I would eventually grow weary of the novelty and start to hate the slow moving, screechingly loud cars, but it hasn't happened yet. I take every chance I can to ride the cable car. For example, my nearest grocery store is just 1.5 blocks from my apartment. But tonight I walked half a block in the opposite direction so I could catch the cable car, ride it two blocks, then get off at the store. I did the same thing on the way back.

That isn't to say the cable cars are without fault. Where to start with that list? For starters, the cars run in a constant loop, so a logical person might come to the (seemingly reasonable) assumption that every time a cable car passes you in one direction, there should be a matching car coming soon from the other direction. Sadly, that is not the case. There have been times when, while waiting for a ride at the end of a long day I've seen three or even four cable cars go the other direction! How does this happen? Where are they all going? They have to come back at some point, you'd think. But they don't. It doesn't add up.

My biggest complaint, however, is standing along the outside of the cable car (you can kind of make out the running boards at the bottom of this car. Standing out there on a warm, sunny day is a fantastic. The wind is blowing in your hair and you're hanging off the side of a moving vehicle in downtown San Francisco. It's hard not to feel like a super hero, all that's missing is a cape.

Until you look back at the cable car and realize that some old, overweight tourist is sitting literally a foot from you. And he's sitting up higher than you're standing, which means his knees are jammed into your ribs and ... well his man section is uncomfortably close to your chest. Allow me to repeat that. An older gentlemen is sitting immediately in front of you, taking in the sights of the cable car. He's talking to the conductor, watching other cars pass, and looking at his map of the city. But what he's not doing is paying attention to the fact that his legs are spread and his man bits are sliding dangerously close to your chest. You try to lean as far away possible but the conductor quickly gives you the evil eye and tells you pull yourself back in. You sigh, inch back towards the danger zone and take your imaginary super cape off. A true super hero wouldn't stand for this sort of injustice.

Monday, April 27, 2009

A Weekend in San Francisco

I may be a bit biased, but I'm pretty sure Seattle is the greatest city in the world.

I've proudly uttered that line a few times. Well, more than a few times. And I stand by it, Seattle is an amazing place. However, my friend Gaurav made an astute point today at work. If I love Seattle so much, what the hell am I doing in San Francisco? Good question.

I guess the only thing greater than living in my favorite city is exploring new cities. San Francisco is a great city to explore. Although it isn't that much larger than Seattle, it's officially a big city. And what I love the most about big cities is that there's always something new and different going on. San Francisco's bizarre events provide a great excuse for someone new to the city (aka me) to get out and see what's going on. Which makes life fun.

In just the last couple of months I've seen nearly a hundred people go pantless around the subway, stumbled across a classic car convention, and enjoyed a designated car-free morning prompted random acts of dancing, an attempted game of roller soccer and an appearance by the ever popular octo-bike.

And these are just the events that I happened to bring my camera along to. The bottom line is that things are happening here. I love checking out all the quirky things that make San Francisco the city that it is. Which brings me back to this blog, my travel blog. I don't really consider myself a resident of San Francisco as much as I am a long-term visiter here. And I'm okay with that. Because life is more fun when you're traveling.

If you're sitting at home and you hear some news story talking about a "hunky Jesus" competition you shake your head and think "what a crazy city I live in." But if you're on vacation you think "alright that's crazy, I need to go check that out." (Hunky Jesus did indeed happen, on Easter Sunday. The winner apparently showed up with his own sheep to complement his cross, crown of thorns, and 6-pack abs.) That's the person I want to be in San Francisco. Well, I guess that's the person I want to be in life, but we'll start with this year in San Francisco and build on that. Hopefully rekindling this blog will continually force me to check out and (and join in) on all the wonderfully crazy things that happen in this city every week.

There's a lot to see, so there should be plenty to write about.

Monday, July 07, 2008

The $60 Beer

I'm not a big gambler. I'm too logical and methodical, two traits I'm convinced aren't going to help me strike big in Vegas. My logical eye ensures that I play determined not to lose too much (instead of hoping that I might win big). Sitting at a roulette table I consistently spread the minimum bid out across the board, attempting to minimize my losses. My friend Mike is much more impulsive and will randomly decide to place all of his chips on a single number. Does he usually lose more than me? Yes. But I'm sure that one day he'll hit a number, rake in a ton of chips, and live large (at least until he turns around and places his winnings on another long shot bet...). I don't think I'd ever consider gambling a good idea, except that I love the idea of a new adventure. I'll try pretty much anything once.

It was with a little trepidation that I set out to Las Vegas last week. I love a new adventure, but I've been to Vegas a couple times now. Would I still have fun or would unpleasant aspects of the city finally overwhelm the fun I usually have there? It turns out the answer is both. As I mentioned, my goal when gambling is to bleed money as slowly as possible. More specifically, if I can get free drinks from the waitresses faster than I'm losing money, I consider that a net win. The first night out we walked down the strip to a small casino called O'sheas. I'd only been in Vegas for a couple hours at this point and wasn't quite ready to start spending money. Until my eyes hit the "War" table.

War is exactly the card game you might think it is. The dealer gives everyone a card, then reveals the house's card. If your card is higher than the house's card, you win. It's obviously not a thinking man's game. It is, however, my game. You can verify this fact with my sister: I am the unofficial world champion. I was shocked that Vegas even offered this as a game; I'd never heard of it before. Mike was already playing and in less than 10 minutes was up $70 or so.

My confidence was buoyed by Mike's success. If he can win at War, so can I. I sat down next to him and officially started my Vegas vacation. Even better, a cocktail waitress happened to stop by and I ordered my first drink. All I had to now was stay even for a while and everything would be going according to plan. Well... I think you know where this goes from here. In less than 20 minutes I managed to lose my entire stack of chips. Disgusted with my inability to strike big in War, I picked up my beer and left the table. It may have cost me $60 to play War, but at least I got a free beer, right?

It turns out that is a consistent theme Vegas. "Free" is thrown around a lot when it really shouldn't be. The city is a costly experience, in every sense of the world. Physically, emotionally, figuratively, ... the list of adverbs goes on. It doesn't mean you can't have fun there (I did), but you will definitely pay for the experience. In fact, there's probably something wrong with you if don't feel at least some sort of relief as you step on your departing flight, leaving the city of sin behind for good. But more on that later.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Vacation's Over

I can tell when it's time to wrap up a trip; aside from the date on my return ticket. It's the little things that start piling up. I begin to run out of toiletries (and no, foreign replacements just don't cut it). My watch's battery has died and it's taking up space in the bottom of my bag. I start leaving things behind all over the place (I think I've accidentally left a small souvenir in every country). I start getting tired of staring at the same 5 shirts and two pairs of pants every morning. The once charming quirks of the road slowly turn into annoyances. And I start dreaming about everything I miss in America.

Traveling is like a two sided coin (um, not to be confused with those single sided coins going around today). On one side, exploring the world is one of the best things I've done with my life. The adventure and thrill of something new is addicting. I linger near maps and globes, imagining what journeys await me. Even now, after two months of traveling I caught myself staring at the world map in the back of the US Airways magazine, wondering what continent my life will take me to next. I learn something new everywhere I go and every trip leaves it's mark on me. Some marks are big, some are small, but they all help me build myself into the person I want to be.

But on the other side, the more I travel, the more I love America. Don't get me wrong, traveling wouldn't be nearly as enjoyable without the surprises that every new country brings. But what can I say, America has spoiled me. I've long since discovered that many of my life's essentials — say fruit or vegetables — are exotic and rare treats. I can't describe how reassuring it is to know that I can walk through an airport here and pick up a banana at nearly any convince shop (I spent nearly an hour in the Madrid airport this morning looking for fruit, any fruit, before finally finding some soggy, soft apples). I love that I can walk into a restaurant and be greeted with a smile and a pleasant hello, not a dirty scowl that wordlessly asks "what are you doing in my restaurant?"

Yes, I'm an American through and through. And very proud of it. And I can only hope that — in the same way that every journey leaves it's imprint on me — I leave some positive imprint from myself and America on someone who's path I've crossed. Yeah, it's a little self-centered to think like that. But when I think back through my travels I see that it's the people who make ordinary days special. It's people who teach me about life and about the world out there. It's people who show me what it really means to be a Kiwi, Spaniard, or a Moroccan. In return I do my best to show them what it means to be an American.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Going Out on a High Note

Last night one of my favorite bands, the Foo Fighters, played in London. An evening with my favorite band sounded like a perfect way to finish my adventures around Europe so I spent some time on, trying to get a ticket to the concert. The Foo Fighters are much bigger in Europe (as compared to America) so tickets aren't easy to come by. But I persevered and ended up with a seat. Sure was about about 10 rows from the top of the arena and literally couldn't be much further from the stage, but it didn't matter. The music was loud and the atmosphere was electric.

And the Foo Fighters lived up to the hype. It was an epic performance. At nearly two and a half hours long, the show included a a lot of their older (and louder) stuff. As Dave Grohl (pictured above) explained before launching into another series of vintage songs: "sometimes I just gotta scream my ass off." Which he did. It seems like a good motto for my trip, too. There will be plenty of time to settle down and take care of my "normal" life, but sometimes I just got kick back, do exactly what I want to do, and scream my ass off. Which is what I've been doing for the last two months.

I Just Want Chips

I don't understand the British language. I was at a Mexican restaurant last night, have a couple of drinks and snacks before going to a concert (more on that later). In need of a taste of America (well Mexico, but close enough), I asked the bartender for some chips and guacamole. He looked at me strangely and told me he needed to check with his manager first. I sat and watch him and the manager have a quick conversation, point at me, and talk some more. He finally comes back over and says "yeah we can do that" and proceeds to spend 5 minutes typing away on the kiosk to ring up my order.

It's during this process I realize that something has gone horribly wrong. In the back of my head a light goes off: "chips" aren't actually chips here, they're french fries. So I call the bartender back over, explain what's going on, and we both have a quick laugh. I elaborate on my original order, explaining that I actually want corn chips and guacamole. "Oh right, you want nachos," he says. I tell him that in America nachos mean just chips and cheese, and I definitely didn't want cheese. But apparently it's different over here so — for the first time in my life — I order nachos (and guacamole).

A few minutes later my order shows up and (much to my unfortunate surprise) nachos in England are, in fact, exactly the same as nachos in America. Except I have a tiny dollop of guacamole in the corner. Thanks. So I'm stuck with a plate of nachos for dinner. But it's 7:00pm, I haven't eaten since breakfast, and the nachos cost a staggering 6 pounds, so I saddled up and ate an entire plateful of cheese covered chips. Europe makes you do strange things.

The end result is that I still have no idea what the English call chips. Crisps, perhaps? I think that's just for potato chips, though. A task for my next trip, I guess.


England has long since been a thorn in my side. Previous trips to London were far from ideal; the city and I seem to have developed a mutual feeling of distrust. So it was a with a wary eye that I stepped foot back into the country last week. In my mind England had a lot of apologizing to do.

Fortunately, my week was sensational. The first good decision I made was to avoid London proper and spend most of my time exploring the English countryside instead. "Charming" isn't a word that's usually in my vocabulary (I just confirmed this with a quick blog search — "charming" is nowhere to be found), but there's no other way to describe the English countryside: it's charming. The English love a good brick building and the land is peppered with a variety of old brick walls, houses and facades.

Speaking of old, the amount of history in England can't be overstated. Yeah, "duh," I know. But I still can't believe how every singly city is just steeped in history. Oxford (pictures here), for example, is obviously well known as one of the oldest universities in the world. But it's amazing to read through Oxford's history and stumble across all the famous people who've studied, lived, and left their mark on the town. Next to Oxford is Blenheim palace (pictures), the largest palace in England. Not only is it home to generations of famous dukes and earls, it also happens to be where Winston Churchill lived. And just a short train trip north is Warwick (pictures), one of the top 10 castles in all of Europe. As an unabashed Gothic fanatic, I couldn't help but feel giddy as I walked along the ancient castles walls at sunset, envisioning the medieval view over the old village. And then there's Stonehenge (pictures). In a country filled with history, Stonehenge is heads and shoulders above anything else. It is old. Built in 4000 BC, it was already ancient ruins when the Romans stumbled across the site in 43 AD.

So yeah, England has done its part and has won me over.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Lets start with the facts: Iceland is phenomenal. I love pretty much everything about it. I love the constantly changing, occasionally extreme weather. I'm used to unpredictable weather in Seattle, but it pales in comparison to Iceland. Sitting directly on the gulf stream doesn't help any. A relentless wind pushes a week's worth of weather systems across the island in an afternoon.

I love the alien landscapes, the result of a recent combination of volcanic and glacier activity (not to mention that Iceland lies on the mid-Atlantic ridge, which continues to pull and stretch the island). The glaciers fuel a gorgeous collection of rivers and waterfalls, which wind their way around geothermal activity and through tectonic cracks. And there is no doubt about it, Iceland is rugged land. I saw a more diverse population of shrubs and bushes on the edge of the Sahara than I saw throughout inner Iceland. (And the rest of my pictures from a day trip through inner Iceland are here.)

I love the small, comfortable feel of Reykjavik. With a population under 200,000, downtown Reykjavik is a friendly union of small business and houses. No colossal high-rises, overwhelming pedestrian crowds, or frantic commutes. A streak of Scandinavian practicality that runs through nearly everything, too. Building design is simple and effective. It almost looks like IKEA decided to get into the architecture market.

And, possibly more than anything else, I love Icelandic people. After weeks among overbearingly boisterous Spaniards, Iceland's reserved nature was relaxing step back (although many locals appear determined to make up for their agreeable personality with a brazen disregard for American or European style standards, opting to forge a style that is purely Icelandic). Iceland is truly a multilingual country, as everyone speaks flawless English. It was fascinating to watch them talk to each other and subconsciously slip back and forth between languages, depending on what the situation called for.

And speaking of the Icelandic language, what a strange beast. I read a quote about learning the language that goes something like: "Learning Icelandic is like getting a tattoo on your ass: it's painful, it takes a long time, and you rarely get to show it off." Encouraging! The biggest problem is that most of the letters look familiar (it's based on the Latin alphabet), but the letters don't sound like you'd expect them to (and there are several sounds that I'm simply incapable of producing). For example, "h" and "v" work as expected, except when put together, where they produce a "qu" sound. The letter "g" sounds like a "g" or a "y", depending on the surrounding letters. And "ll" creates some weird "l"/"h"/clicking sound, which I haven't come close to saying correctly.

Icelanders were also a little confused about why anyone would visit their windswept island in the middle of the fall. Without fail, the first question they ask is: "Why come to Iceland, and why come to Iceland in November?!" There are, as I've started to list, at least million reasons why Iceland is amazing. Icelandic people, growing up and enduring the windy, dark, and sometimes bleak conditions, have a hard time imagining Iceland as an exotic location. But it is. I liken it to traveling to Mars and running into a Martian race there. The Martians would have a hard time understanding what is so exciting about a vast, burnt, dry, red land. But come on, it's Mars!

I always felt a little silly telling the locals I went to Iceland because well... "dude, it's Iceland!" Next time I tell them to read this, instead.