Favorite Memory from Canada

IMG_5218Today is July 1st, Canada Day, and you know what that means right? It’s like their independence day or some kind of day celebrating our neighbors to the north or something, I’m not really sure since I’m not from there and accustomed to celebrating it, and I’m aware that a quick Google search could provide me with the knowledge I need, I’m also aware that research is an essential part of writing, but who really has time for all that? Anyway, whatever this day means, I’m using it as an excuse to share with you one of my favorite stories from when I was in Canada.

The year was 2007, the summer before my junior year of high school, and I, along with some friends, loaded up into our church’s mega bus in Little Rock, Arkansas and made our way north for a mission trip. We were going to Canada to work with a church there to help with their weeklong vacation bible school, but once that was done, there was a free day before we had to go back home where we got to go into Toronto and do some touristy things in the city. We went to the top of the CN tower and we got to see the indoor stadium of the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team, and while that stuff was pretty cool, my favorite part of the day was by far the dinner we had. Right now you might be thinking it’s not that big of a surprise that dinner is one of my favorite memories from Canada, given that I talk about food, a lot, but the greatness of this meal had nothing to do with the food itself, but rather the events that unfolded surrounding the meal.

We were at the Hard Rock Cafe, because, like I said, we were doing touristy things, and I honestly can’t tell you what I had to eat, but again, that’s not the important thing. At some point while we were waiting for our food, me and some friends began talking about something we could do that seemed pretty funny at the time. If you’ve never been a teenage boy before, when you’re with your friends, a lot of time, probably the majority of the time, goes into laughing and making your friends laugh, and honestly it’s a great experience, so in that spirit, I decided to move forward with what we were talking about, and the next time the waiter passed by, I discreetly told him it was the birthday of one of our college interns who was on the trip with us. A few minutes later, the waiter, carrying a piece of cake with lit candles on top, followed by the rest of the staff, marched out of the kitchen and sang “Happy Birthday” to the intern, much to the bemusement of my friends and I. The funniest part to me was that some of the other adult chaperones on the trip were actually buying into it and were saying things like, “Sorry, I didn’t realize it was your birthday.” Ha ha ha.

One person not fooled by the birthday charade however, was the youth minister, who became, I feel, unreasonably angry about the whole situation. I don’t know if this particular joke had struck a personal chord with him or what, but in my six years in the church youth group, this might have been the maddest I’d ever seen him. I remember him looking around the table, neck snapping from side to side like a hawk looking for his prey as he demanded to know who was responsible for the fake birthday thing. I don’t know if I confessed, because that doesn’t really seem like me, or if it was the more likely scenario of the look on my face of unconfined jubilation at how hilarious the situation was that gave me away, but somehow he found out it was me and proceeded to lecture me about how wrong it was for me to have done what I did. Apparently it was stealing since the slice of cake brought out by the waiter wasn’t added to the bill, and I’d committed the cardinal sin of lying. I was sixteen years old, and in my mind it was just a harmless prank, but unfortunately not everyone saw it that way. Regardless, despite making the youth minister angry, I found the whole situation incredibly funny, and it remains as one of favorite memories of Canada.

Happy Canada Day to our northern neighbors!

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The Allure of Minnesota

IMG_2503I’ve been thinking about moving to Minnesota recently, like really thinking about it, of course all the thinking means absolutely nothing if I can’t get my wife on board, which admittedly would be a near impossible task. For someone who grew up in southern California and Florida, warm weather is what she’s knows and loves, so it stands to reason that the harsh Minnesota winters are not at all appealing to her. I could let that discourage me, but I was on the debate team in high school, so if there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s crafting a convincing argument. Granted, I didn’t win a lot of debates, but I did make the team that anybody could sign up to be on, so that should count for something. Plus, it’s not like we’ll be able to move right away since my wife still has a year of school left here, so I’ve got some time to wear her down, um, I mean show her the benefits of moving north.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Memphis, and there are times that I even love Memphis, but summertime is not one of them. Some of the things that I love most about living here are the parks and the things you can do outside, but when it’s not even officially summer and the heat index is consistently over a hundred degrees, it’s absolutely miserable being outside. It’s kind of ironic that the one time of year when it stays light the longest so you can actually do things outside after work, but it’s so hot that being outside has completely lost all appeal to me. And by the way, it’s not just me that feels this way. Remember that wife I referenced in the first paragraph, the one that grew up in Southern California and South Florida? Well, she is absolutely hating this heat too. We were at some store the other day and we’d been inside for a little while, maybe Target, and when we walked out it was a few minutes after seven in the evening, a time when you would think the heat should have relented at least a little bit, but it smacked us in the face and my wife, not normally one to complain about how hot it is, did. So maybe I’ve got a better chance of convincing her to move to Minnesota after all.

I just love the idea of living in Minneapolis, a city I’ve only been to a handful of times, but when I liked each time I was there. One of my favorite things about the city, is that even in the middle of a fairly big metropolis, there is so much natural beauty. A couple of years ago when I was on vacation there, we went to this beautiful park in the city that had a really big waterfall and some several hiking trails and it was just pretty cool, and despite it being July, it really wasn’t so hot outside, which is really all you can ask for in the middle of Summer. We even went to a Minnesota Twins baseball game, and it was enjoyable, whereas now, I made up my mind last night that I’ve missed my chance to go to any of the Memphis minor league baseball games this year because it’s just way too hot and would not be at all enjoyable.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to convince my wife that we should move to Minnesota or not. In fact I think the chances of that happening or probably pretty slim, but it is nice to know that we are both in agreement that it is way too hot in Memphis right now. At least for now there’s hope which allows me to dream about the allures of Minnesota. Hopefully those happy thoughts will get me through this hellish Memphis summer.

The Bus Ride From Hell

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There will come a point at the end of your life where you reflect back on things you have done, the good memories you’ve made and the regrets you have, whether it be peacefully on your deathbed, or in the seconds before you die in a horrible accident. I’m not sure how I’m going to die, but I am one hundred percent sure that when I think about the important decisions I made in my life, the good and the bad, the one that’s going to haunt me the most is the time I took the greyhound bus from Fort Pierce, Florida, to Memphis, Tennessee.

It was the summer of 2014, and a very hot one at that, but my spirits could not be dampened, because despite the misery of living under those devastating meteorological conditions, I was about to have a two week vacation. My wife and I, taking our first trip together as a married couple since our honeymoon, were going to go visit my dad in Memphis for a week, then go spend a week at the beach in Destin with my mom’s side of the family for a week after that. I was getting to spend a substantial amount of time with my family that I hadn’t seen in a while, and I didn’t have to worry about work for two weeks, so I was about to be living a pretty stress free life. I just had to get out of Fort Pierce first, and since I wasn’t confident enough to drive my car on the interstate, for fear that the speed alone with shatter it into a million little pieces, there was no way I was going to drive it across multiple states, which made the getting out of town part a little more difficult.

Based solely on the fact that it was much cheaper than flying, we decided to make our trip to Memphis via Greyhound, the bus not the dog, though I can’t imagine that riding on the back of a bony dog would have been much more uncomfortable than the reality we ended up with. Fort Pierce was only the second stop on the Greyhound’s journey through Florida that began in Miami and ended somewhere less fun, presumably, but even so, the bus was already packed by the time it arrived at the truck stop gas station by the interstate. My wife and I waited in line to board, and once our tickets were scanned and we made our way onto the bus, it was clear that there was no room for us to sit together, so she took a seat near the front, and I walked to the back, plopping down on the seat next to a guy whose head was completely under a blanket, presuming correctly that if he was sleeping then I wouldn’t have to talk to this guy for the four hour trip to Tallahassee. Unfortunately he snored most of the way, so even though he wasn’t badgering me with conversation, he still managed to make the first leg of the trip an annoying one.

It was dark by the time we arrived in Tallahassee where Leticia and I were reunited in the greyhound station that somehow smelled worse than the overnight train, the “Trenitalia,” that runs from Rome to Paris. Fortunately, we were able to sit together for the rest of the trip, which seemed like it would never end. We would ride on the bus for a few hours, then make our next stop, where occasionally we would change buses, and then start the process all over again. Shortly after four in the morning we arrived at the Atlanta bus station, which thanks to my extensive research beforehand, in an attempt to ease my nerves and make me feel better about riding on Greyhound for the first time in my life, I read some pretty horrible stories recounted by passengers passing through the Atlanta station. Like a gentleman, I let my wife exit the bus before I did, which also meant that I could kind of use her as a human shield if something were to go down, not that I was thinking such terrible thoughts.

I was carrying a bag over my shoulder as we stepped out into the muggy Atlanta night, and some guy who was just hanging around by one of the street lamps stepped up to me and asked if I had a laptop he could borrow. I told him no and then he pointed at my bag, the kind of bag that were clearly built to carry computers, and asked what was inside. Luckily I had left my laptop at home for this trip, so I was more than happy to open up my bag and show him the contents that included an extra t-shirt, my toiletries, some snacks, a book, and a notebook, none of which interested him, so he let me go inside while he went looking for his next target, and luckily, I didn’t get approached by anymore strangers for the rest of the trip.

From the time we left Fort Pierce until the time we arrived in Memphis, the trip took about a total of twenty hours, which is almost a full day that I will never get back. I feel like when you look back on bad experiences, you can find one or two positive things that happened or something meaningful you can take from the bad experience, but that’s not the case here. Not only was the trip incredibly long with a maddening amount of stops, but the whole on bus experience was awful, from the signature stench of Greyhound, which smelled to me like sadness and body odor, to the uncomfortable seats left my butt incredibly sore after only about six hours, which left me to shift every few minutes for the remainder of the trip, endlessly searching for a more comfortable position that just couldn’t be found. Sure we paid less money to take the bus rather than flying, but what we lost, all that time and our innocence, was worth way more than the money we saved. Hopefully I never find myself riding Greyhound ever again, but if it does end up happening, maybe I’ll get lucky and be stuffed inside somebody’s suitcase under the bus, because I would much rather be a decomposing corpse than to willingly ride that bus from hell ever again.

Arkansas Eats: Lunch at the Bulldog

IMG_5082I’ve never once in my life looked at a bulldog and thought of food, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happens going forward, because I had an excellent meal at the Bulldog Restaurant in Bald Knob, Arkansas last weekend. I was off work on a Saturday for the first time in several weeks, so my wife and I went to visit my mom for Mother’s day weekend. Before we got to Searcy where she lives, we passed the Bulldog Restaurant in Bald Knob, and I commented that we should stop there and try it out sometime, because I’ve heard quite a few people rave about it. One time when I was about ten, me and my friends were on the way from Little Rock to the summer camp and one of the parents insisted that we stop for lunch at the Bulldog. I remember absolutely nothing about the meal I had that day seventeen years ago, but I figured it must be good if someone was so adamant that we should eat there.

We were sitting around the living room at my mom’s house and she started suggesting things for lunch, and whether by pure coincidence or something cosmic in the universe aligning with the stars as I spoke the name earlier that morning, she asked what we thought about the Bulldog Restaurant, and of course we were on board. Unless you were specifically looking for the restaurant, it’s probably not the sort of place you would take notice of driving by, but the parking lot was completely packed with cars, which was a positive sign of reassurance that everything I’d heard about the Bulldog was true, because there wouldn’t be that many people at a terrible restaurant after close to two o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. It was the kind of place where you ordered at the counter and then they brought the food to you once it’s cooked, and the menu was perched over the register like something you might find at a little league concession stand, which was kind of cool. Most of the items on the menu were pretty straight forward, but there was one thing where a traditional menu with pictures would have been helpful, because never have I ever heard of a pizza burger, but I was very intrigued as to what it might be.

As the line moved forward and we got closer to the register, I had pretty much made up my mind that I was going to get the pizza burger, because it had to be something pretty unique. I was imagining a slice of pizza between two hamburger buns, or perhaps a regular hamburger patty topped with tomato sauce, cheese, and pepperoni, both of which sounded pretty interesting, but when I asked the cashier what the pizza burger was, my imagination had run wild with possibility, because the reality wasn’t nearly as interesting as I’d hoped it would be. She told me it was a burger with mozzarella cheese melted in the middle, so basically it was a cheeseburger with a different kind of cheese, but even though it wasn’t as exotic as I’d imagined it to be, it still sounded good, so that’s what I ordered with a side of fries, and a strawberry shortcake for my wife and I to split for desert.

Although it was crowded inside the restaurant, we found seats at a high top table by the window with a beautiful views of the parking lot and a shed set off in the distance in the middle of an overgrown yard. The food didn’t take long to get there and the fries looked great, seasoned and not too thick, which are my favorite, but when I unwrapped the aluminum foil with the word “Pizza Burger” written in black sharpie, I was completely taken aback, because it turned out not to be a burger at all, but rather a chicken fried steak patty. I don’t know if they messed up the order or the cashier messed up the description, but I was in a go with the flow type of mood, and it didn’t look half bad, so I just went with it, which turned out to be a great decision. The chicken fried steak was really good and the melted cheese in the middle was an added bonus. The pickles and mustard on the sandwich were unnecessary and seemed a little out of place but I thought that I was ordering a burger, so I didn’t see any need to have those two ingredients left off. It wasn’t the greatest meal I’ve ever had, but the fries and the sandwich were both solid and I would definitely eat there again.

The real star of the show wasn’t the entrée at all, but rather the strawberry shortcake that we had for desert. Apparently the Bulldog Restaurant is kind of famous for this sweet dish, and I can see why, because it is one of the best restaurant deserts I’ve ever had, probably second only to the profiteroles I had on my first trip to Paris. The strawberry shortcake consisted of a bowl filled with soft serve vanilla ice cream and sliced strawberries, topped with whipped cream and nuts, with pieces of shortbread placed around the dish. The varying textures, the smoothness of the ice cream contrasted with the crunch of the shortbread married together well and made the desert and all around delight to eat. I would go back to the Bulldog for the strawberry shortcake alone, and lucky for me, I drive right past it on the way to my mom’s house, but even if you have to go out of your way to get to Bald Knob, it will be well worth it for a taste of heaven.

The Ticket

IMG_5090If you’ve never driven on US 64 West, you’re not missing much. It’s a miserable stretch of highway that I have to drive on when I’m going from Memphis, to Searcy, Arkansas to visit family and then vice-versa when it’s time to head home. It’s a road I take out of necessity, and nothing more. It’s a really easy drive from Memphis to Searcy, which is nice, but it’s almost entirely spent on this one highway which definitely has it’s drawbacks. If you’re hungry and looking for something to eat, you better not be too picky, because if you pass up a McDonald’s in Wynne, you might not see another place to eat for the next half hour, and the same goes for gas. Don’t wait until you absolutely need gas to stop for it, because there’s no telling where you’ll be when the light comes on. You could be passing through a small town that has a disgustingly dirty gas station that your forced to go inside of because you can’t pay at the pump for whatever reason and smell the various array of scented sprays that are there to distract you from the fact that you’re in the middle of freaking nowhere and everything in every direction smells like cow manure, or more likely, you’ll be on a long stretch of road with nothing but cotton as far as you can see, and no sign of a gas station anywhere, and if you run out of gas on the side of a mostly deserted highway, you’ve just become the lead character in a horror movie, and nobody wants to go out like that.

I went to Searcy for Mother’s Day weekend, to see my mom, so I was headed back to Memphis Sunday afternoon, listening to 90’s hits on the Pandora station and trying to stay awake as I passed through town after sleepy town and counting down the minutes until I would get home. It’s not that I was fleeing Arkansas as quickly as possible despite the fact that I hate driving through those tiny towns, but the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs was set to start in half an hour, and I really wanted to be home to see as much of that as I could. Driving on highway 64 isn’t just annoying to drive along because there aren’t many options to stop for food and gas, but also because most of the way, it’s only a two lane highway, so you inevitably end up behind someone who is just out for a nice country drive and has no awareness of the speed limit or the person behind them who might be trying to get somewhere in a reasonable amount of time. Also, the speed limits decrease as you enter into the small towns and then go up once you get further away on the other side, so keeping track of what the speed limit is at any given moment, isn’t the easiest thing in the world.

I was driving through a town I couldn’t name at the time, but now know the identity to be Parkin, when I saw a police SUV in the oncoming lane, headed in the direction that I was coming from. I was going pretty fast, because at the moment I was the only one in my lane so there was nobody to slow me down, and I didn’t give much thought to the police officer since he too was driving instead of sitting on the side of the road with his radar gun pointed at me, but just before we passed each other, he flipped on his lights, and I turned to my wife and told her I was about to get a speeding ticket. We held out hope slightly that the officer had just received an urgent call and just happened to be passing me when he was given orders to turn around immediately and head to the scene of the crime, but that notion was completely vanquished as he pulled his car right up behind me. The officer was nice, although I can’t say the same for my two Chihuahuas who began viciously barking as soon as he showed up at my window, and continued to do so until he walked away, and despite the pleading from Jack and Mocha, I was still issued a ticket for driving 68 in a 55. I’ve gotten two speeding tickets in my life, and both of them have been on highway 64, so I guess it’s probably time for me to stop speeding on that road, or maybe better yet, and I don’t know why I didn’t think about this sooner, just stay out of Arkansas altogether. I’m joking, I’m joking. There’s no way I could ever stop speeding.

Two Flat Tires Outside St. Cloud, Minnesota

As the old saying goes, if my tire pops once, shame on you. If my tire pops twice, shame on me, so if that’s true, there was a heaping load of shame waiting for my dad and I somewhere on the road between St. Cloud and Minneapolis. It was a frigid January day, seven below zero when we had left the hotel that morning. I only know this because it was on whatever morning show that happened to be playing in the lobby of the La Quinta inn while I ate breakfast and the only reason the morning show caught my attention was because Matt Holliday had signed a gigantic contract with my favorite baseball team, the St. Louis Cardinals and there was a report about it on the show. I digress, but the point was, it was cold outside, much colder than any temperatures I was accustomed to, but this was my life now, with negative degree temperatures and even colder wind chills, and staying inside was not an option.

Luckily I was prepared for the Minnesota winter, well, as prepared as one can be without having actually experienced the cold firsthand, with my long johns (I don’t know if that’s what they’re even called anymore, but I suspect not since saying long Johns makes me feel really old, like I just heard something outside the house so I’m going to grab my shotgun and rush out the front door wearing just my long johns to see what all the ruckus is about.), long pants, my thermal undershirt with a hoodie over it, and a beanie that said Italia and was embroidered with a logo of the Italian flag that I got the previous year in Rome, although at the time of the purchase, I had absolutely no idea that I would be using it to battle the roughest winter that I’d ever been through. It was a short drive from the hotel to St. Cloud State University, my home for the next four and a half months, but before I could move in, I had to get registered for classes, so thus began my journey all across the snowy campus. If you could have seen me that day, I’m sure you would have been doubled over laughing at how ridiculous I looked, and I know I tend to include pictures with my stories, but thankfully there is no visual records of me walking that day, because I felt like a complete idiot, walking slowly and taking deliberate steps on my toes which I’d heard somewhere was supposed to give you better balance, so I can only imagine how stupid I looked. I felt like a burglar in a play that had to over exaggerate the fact that I was creeping around to be quiet for the benefit of the audience.

Once I exhausted myself walking around campus on my toes, but not having fallen once, so perhaps there was some validity to the theory that had me looking so idiotic, my dad and I left St. Cloud State to head back to the twin cities for the next couple of days because I couldn’t actually move into my dorm room yet. I don’t remember specifically what time it was that we pulled out onto the interstate to head back towards Minneapolis, but it was pretty late in the day. The sun was nowhere in sight and the sky was completely overcast, covered in big white clouds as far as I could see, which to me, might be the most aesthetically pleasing sight in the world. We weren’t driving for very long before we heard a pop, and the car began to swerve from the lane we were in, but my dad regained control of the car and pulled it to the side of the interstate. It was pretty obvious that it was a flat tire, which my dad was more than capable of changing, however he opted to call Triple A, rather than having to work on the car right on the side of the interstate with big truck careening past us at seventy plus miles an hour.

By the time Triple A arrived and finished changing the tire, it was already dark, and while it a slight inconvenience to be stuck on the side of the road, at least we were fortunate enough to not be run over by an out of control eighteen wheeler. With the spare tire on, we were sure that it would take us back to Minneapolis, where we could get it replaced at some point over the next couple of days. As soon as we pulled back out onto the road, like deja vu, we heard a pop, and my dad pulled back off the interstate just feet from where we had just been stranded. The spare had popped, but luckily the man in the Triple A tow truck was still right behind us and witnessed the whole thing, so dutifully he pulled off the interstate with us. I don’t know what the odds of that happening are, having the spare tire pop ten seconds after you replace the regular tire that popped, but I’d guess the odds are probably pretty low. it wasn’t the warm welcome to Minnesota, being stuck on the side of the road in sub zero temperatures, but it was a story we can look back on now and laugh at, or at least I can, since I wasn’t the one stuck paying the bill for tire replacements. I’m not really sure if my dad’s ready to laugh about it yet.

The Bucket List

There are things that I want to do in life that I think about from time to time, and occasionally I will do one of these things, like write a blog, but oftentimes these things will be forgotten and remain undone because I don’t have a list, but all of that is about to change. That’s right, I’m making  a bucket list, so I will have a documented account of everything that I want to do before I die and can cross things off as I do them, a visual record that I can reference to prove to myself that I’m actually making progress on accomplishing the things that I want to in life. So even if it feels like I’m wasting my life, that I’m not doing anything of significance or importance, at least I’ll have the list to prove otherwise. I can carry it around with me and shove it in the face of all my doubters, shouting, “See, I am doing something with my life!” While that might seem pathetic, having a meltdown in public is actually on the bucket list, so what do you have to say about me and my awesome list now?

So aside from having a public meltdown, which I know, sounds glamorous, there are some other things that I’ve dreamed about doing for a long time that finally have a home on my bucket list, like swimming with sharks. It would be so cool to be out in the middle of the ocean surrounded by one of the fiercest creatures in the ocean and have been the driving inspiration behind countless nautically themed movies. Perhaps, although there is a place for this invigoratingly risky activity on the list, admittedly it should probably be penciled in at the very bottom, because it will likely be the last thing that I ever do. That’s just planning ahead.

I’ve always loved travel, and I love food, so it only makes sense that I would combine the two for the ultimate bucket list item. I want to take a road trip through all forty-nine states, Hawaii the lone exclusion since you can’t drive there, and stop at a gas station in each state and eat a hot dog. I’ve only ever eaten one gas station hot dog in my life, and that was in Florida, and not only was it one of the worst things I’ve ever eaten, but it made me very sick, so naturally I’d want to repeat the experience forty-nine times over on a road trip. I just think it would be a great way to see the country and a fun study to write about the nastiest hot dog in the country. The good thing about eating a gas station hot dog is you know you are near a gas station bathroom in case you get sick, and we all know how notoriously clean those public restrooms are.

Those are only a couple of items on the bucket list, but it is far from finished. I’ll be sure to continue sharing my hopes and dreams with you from time to time here on the blog and any progress I make on the crossing those things off the list. If you have a bucket list or have done something that completely changed your life that you think I should try, unless it’s something dumb like having a positive attitude, feel free to share your experiences. I’m definitely open to expanding my bucket list.