On Travel And Whatnot

I done visited me some places in my life. More than some, considerably less than many. I seen me the Rooster Days parade in Broken Arrow Oklahoma. I drove past that big arch thingy in St. Louis. I spent a day once in Mendota California. On purpose. I spent a drunken afternoon betting on Jai Alai in Tijuana once. Y’all may want to put those on your bucket lists.

Mrs. Trout and I got to talking and the subject of travel came up. She asked where would I want to go for a big bucket list vacation? Interestingly it turns out, I don’t know. I’ve never actually put any real thought into it. Trips, vacations, countries, and adventures have just sorta happened… I don’t have a big list that I’m checking things off of. So I decided it’s time to create that master list and start working through it before I get run over by a cement truck.

Turns out, making that list is harder than I thought it would be. I actually got somewhat overwhelmed. Are we talking about big budget, six months of planning, once in a lifetime trips? Maybe it’s the quick weekend dash to see the Myrtle Beach Elvis fetouriststival? Worldwide or U.S. only? Lazy sit on a secluded beach (would have to get in banana hammock shape for that one) or trek the Himalayas? Pampered all-inclusive resort or someplace that might not be so safe for a camo baseball hat, Bermuda shorts, fanny pack wearing U.S. of A good ‘ole boy? Culture and museums or party my brains out (well, until 10pm, I go to bed early) on a beach somewhere in Phuket?

Once you pick a place, how do you see it? Organized tour? Frantically hit every tourist spot you can since you’ll never be back? Ignore the tourism and stay in one spot like a local?

There’s just too much out there. I’m paralyzed. What if I choose wrong? What if I can’t find a Taco Bell? I may have to binge-watch No Reservations for ideas. Or Bear Grylls. Nah, too scary. I may just stick to every season of Diners, Drive-in’s, and Dives. Eating my way across the country seems like a worthy bucket list goal. I’m going to keep working on this list. Check back with me in a while to see how it’s going. Odd’s are I’ll still be staring at a screen with approximately 1,232 browser tabs open, all pointing to various top-50, must-see lists. Or I’ll have been sidetracked with epic dog fail videos.

On The Big Blue Bin

I shouldn’t tell you this because it makes me sound, well, terribly insecure. I am, but that’s beside the point. The point is to leave you marveling at how manly I am, combined with a deep sensitive side. Stay tuned for the end of the post and videos of monster trucks, tattoos,  blowing stuff up, and American eagles flying majestically over the latest Tough Mudder run.

This week I had two friends make me feel really bad about myself. They didn’t mean to (refer back to insecurity). The first incident followed the horrible running decision from my last post. My friend seemed to truly enjoy the run (no, I don’t understand that) and commented on her feelings upon reaching the summit. One of the things she said was how thankful she was that she had two arms and legs that work and how grateful she was that she could do something like this. At the time the only thoughts I had were #1: beer, #2: I’m never doing this again, and #3: beer.

It wasn’t until later that I reflected and realized that, holly crap I’m pretty damn insensitive. Of course she’s right. I’m sure there were folks in that race that trained most of the year, overcame incredible obstacles, and just finishing was probably a significant milestone for them. Meanwhile I’m writing a snarky post complaining that I didn’t do as well as I wanted and I should probably put more effort into it next time (no, there won’t be a next time). We’re all one horrible cement truck accident away from wishing we could run a race. I should be damn grateful that at my age I still can participate.

The second incident occurred over a dinner conversation. Somehow talk drifted towards garbage and I casually dropped the anti-green bombshell – no, I don’t recycle. After an uncomfortable silence, my friend called me out on my statement and said “why?” I briefly contemplated tales of old war wounds, presidential dispensations, we live in a recycle-free zone, my busy schedule… but quickly came to my senses and ‘fessed up. The answer is that I’m too lazy to sort it and I already take out the garbage too many times every week. Uh yeah, that sounds as lame writing it as it did saying it.

Sadly, I spoke the truth. I really am that shallow. I actually searched “does recycling really work” to see if I could make myself feel better. While there are a number of arguments you could try and make, at the end of the day recycling is a few less things that end up in a landfill. And that’s a good thing. Oh, but the cost!! Err, I looked that up too. In my town, even if I was to add a second recycle cart it’s only an additional .54 cents per month. Dammit, I hate when I can’t be right all the time.

Does this mean there’s going to be a fundamental shift in my outlook? Have I completely given in to the North End, crunchy granola, hippie, 420 celebrating, Tibetan prayer flag, and save the whales lifestyle? Probably not. But I do think I need to be a little more appreciative of what I have. And if I can make a few small differences here and there, why not? I am officially making one of the two garbage bins under the sink a “recycle” bin. We’ll see where it goes, but don’t hold your breath for the hemp clothing and compost bin.

As promised, in no particular order:

egale

Monster trucks  (I tried, but I just can’t do it. Too close to pro bass fishing and “jorts + mullets)

U.S. Marines blowing shit up  (warning, might be disturbing for those who don’t really understand what “stopping ISIS” actually means)

It doesn’t fit me, but I’m fascinated with day of the dead tattoos. (Dia De Los Muertos if you’re not from pigs-knuckle Arkansas. Apologies to any of our southern brothers that actually live in Arkansas. If you’re a reader and live in Arkansas, on purpose… well, I’m sorry. Don’t know what else to say)water

The Tough Mudder. (Relegated to the same waste bin as running races. Never again. Interferes with drinking beer)

On Moments Of Truth

The moment of truth. A turning point. That defining moment. The red pill or the blue? Beer or bourbon? A salad or fries? Jimi Hendrix or… wait, never mind. Hendrix is always the answer. For many people there comes a point in time where you reach a place that inspires you to decide that you don’t want to continue down the same pzig-Ziglar-motivation-quotes-2ath you’ve been on. If I was a motivated guy, this is where I’d insert the inspirational quote from Zig Ziglar and declare that things will be different from now on.

Uh, that’s not really my style. Although, I did have one of those moments yesterday. I’d foolishly signed up for a running race that I’d done before. Except I was lazy and I didn’t train for it. I probably gained did gain weight between sign-up and race day. I assumed that, like when I was 20, I could just show up and get ‘er done. Uh, nope. It was pretty ugly. As I lumbered uphill like a pregnant walrus, it became clear that I can no longer deny reality. I’ve gotten old, fat, and frighteningly out of shape. I was passed by people who, if I saw them on the street, I’d think to myself “there’s a walking heart attack”. I was passed by people in their 70’s who looked like they were going to keel over at any moment. I survived and finished, but it was a humbling day.

I woke up this morning determined to change and to seize this opportunity to improve myself. I vowed to be the like ‘theRock and post my 4am daily workout on the Instagrams. I will be a paleo god and laugh at those fools eating gluten and sugar. I will be pure! I will fuel the engine with nothing but locally sourced fresh food kissed with mermaid tears and love. I will embrace Grok and become a crossfit machine. Then I thought about pancakes and wondered when the new pizza place down the street will open.

I’m not sure if I have it in me to change my habits. I like the idea of it. It’s the doing part that’s a challenge. It’s hard to say what path I’m going to take. I did win the weight loss challenge of ’14. I’ve also managed to put all that weight back on, plus some, by sitting in a chair fairly continuously for a year and a half. Which me is going to emerge come Monday morning? Will it be the motivated and disciplined troutdog or the fat lazy trout taking the path of least resistance?

Realistically, any clear thinking person knows that our actions should be based upon preparations for the zombie apocalypse. And what is Columbus’s rule # 1? Cardio. So there you have it. It’s the 4am wake-up and go time for me. Then again, there’s the merits of being well-armed, don’t be afraid to use your ammunition and rule #2 – the double tap. Go ahead and hand me those pancakes.

Tallahassee: Are you fucking with me?

Columbus: Uh, no. You should actually limber up as well. Especially if we’re going down that hill. It is very important.

Tallahassee: I don’t believe in it. You ever see a lion limber up before it takes down a gazelle?

All Hail Conventional Wisdom

Rick Grimes once said, “The definition of insanity is doing something over and over and expecting a different result”. It might have been Simon Cowell who said it. I’m not very good with my fact checking. Anyway, I’ve been amused at the latest schoolyard spat over who’s the least qualified on foreign policy. It’s interesting watching the talking heads andpajamas foreign policy experts reporting in their pajamas from  their living rooms via skype, all expressing intellectual dismay at the “frightening, and frankly dangerous” lack of worldly knowledge certain candidates display.

Because I like to question everything, let me ask you something. What was the last foreign policy success we’ve had since, say the end of the cold war? Have we had an honest to goodness success that didn’t cost us untold billions, thousands of lost lives, or destroyed economies, infrastructures and inspired hatred for generations? Seriously? Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Kosovo? Afghanistan? Iraq? Iran? Syria, Libya, Egypt? Basically anywhere in the Middle East. How many billions have been spent stationing troops in South Korea for the last 50+ years? How’d Somalia work out for us? Nicaragua? I guess our bright shinning star is that we once liberated some medical students on the “Island of Spice“. You can pry my nutmeg from my cold, dead, fingers…

Given our track record, why would we listen to anything the experts tell us? What they appear to be expert at is maintaining the status quo. Which apparently consists of selling arms and issuing foreign aid at a rate which boggles the mind. Meanwhile we’re told we need to pay more taxes because we can’t afford to buy more number 2 pencils for little Johnny. At least we have enough checks left in the checkbook to afford the $1.4 million it cost to develop an app for the TSA that randomly points left and right.

I’ve enjoyed watching the momentum Trump and Sanders have created with the people being pissed off at the establishment. It’s about time. But when the establishment parties ignore the people (you didn’t really think you had any say in this did you, silly rabbit) and put in place the candidates of their choosing, what are the people going to do? Will that initial momentum have enough inertia to continue to drift towards revolution… or will it just be the latest occupy movement that fizzles out as soon as we come to grips with the fact that American Idol is never coming back?

 

The Five Dollar Shake

The other day, in an effort to wean myself off the political crack I’ve been smoking in ever-increasing amounts, I was scrolling through a gallery of photos. It was an attempt to motivate myself to maybe take a picture again someday. Anyway there I am scrolling away,  every once in a while stopping to click on a picture that grabbed my attention. I started wondering what is it about a particular photo that reaches out and triggers something in the brain? All the photos were technically accurate and well done. Many were similar scenes or subjects. Why does one out of many grab you?

It would be a curious experiment to take a hundred photos and let a bunch of independent folks pick their top 10. How many people would pick the same list? There’s something about that “it” factor that’s so hard to quantify. We know it when we see it, but none of us can explain exactly what “it” is. Probably because it is often different for everyone. This applies to art, music, food, writing…

I don’t know what the right word is to describe this phenomenon. How does one restaurant or bar capture that vibe or buzz, where a very similar one a block away sits empty? We have a local business that, after a gazillion (I’m too lazy to look up how many) years, is closing at the end of the summer. This place is basically a “beer garden”. It’s way out of the way. A limited menu of mostly fried food and simple non-craft beer. A run down, biker bar looking place, with nothing more than a giant dirt “patio” and a bunch of rickety wooden picnic benches. It does not have one element going for it that would indicate any possibility of success. It would be listed under marketing 101 as exactly what not to do.

During the summer months – packed. Score of cyclists make it an end of ride stop. It’s practically a requirement to go there after floating the river. Flotillas of people make multiple pilgrimages there every summer to drink beer and bake themselves in the dust. How is it possible that a place like that creates a vibe that works, without advertising, and the fancy new million dollar brewpub downtown goes out of business in six months?

It’s a strange thing. The marketing folks spend a significant portion of our GDP trying to artificially capture or create it. Sometimes they get it right. At the risk of the implying to the Taylor Swift army that they’ve won the battle, her new ad spot for Apple struck me. It’s simple, unexpected, and funny. Why did that ad grab me and not the 2.7 million others we see on a daily basis?

As is the on-going theme of my life, I have very little point to this. I think it’s worth spending time looking at art, or writing, or something outdoors, and trying to figure out of all the images we see each day – which ones grab your attention? Now go find more of those.

VINCENT: Did you just order a five-dollar shake?
MIA: Sure did.
VINCENT: A shake? Milk and ice cream?
MIA: Uh-huh.
VINCENT: It costs five dollars?
MIA: Yep.
VINCENT: You don’t put bourbon in it or anything?
WAITOR: Nope.
VINCENT: Just checking.
_____________
VINCENT: Can I have a sip of that? I’d like to know what a five-dollar shake tastes like.
MIA: Be my guest. You can use my straw, I don’t have kooties.
VINCENT: Yeah, but maybe I do.
MIA: Kooties I can handle.
VINCENT: Goddamn! That’s a pretty fuckin’ good milk shake.
MIA: Told ya.
VINCENT: I don’t know if it’s worth five dollars, but it’s pretty fuckin’ good.

On Star Trek, And Tricorder Repairmen

We are at a crossroads in America. We no longer have a middle class. It’s disappeared. Poof, gone. You can work in the retail or service sector for low wages, or you can try and get an advanced degree and work in the tech world. There’s almost nothing in between. We cannot compete with the global economy when it comes to manufacturing. Period, game over, it isn’t coming back.

Of course there will be niches here and there we succeed at and offshoring isn’t quite as cheap as it once was. At the end of the day though, you cannot compete against a country whos workers are paid pennies on the dollar compared to the U.S. The sooner we come to grips with that the better off we’ll be.

I was listening to Department of Commerce Secretary Pritzker on a morning show today and she made an astounding comment. When asked what U.S. sectors are doing well right now her answer was “construction, housing, and consumer retail”. That’s it. That’s our economy in a nutshell. Sectors that are based upon low skilled labor and are volatile and bubble-prone. That oughta scare the holly bejeezus out of you. I don’t know about you, but I’m not all that comfortable banking our economic underpinnings on the hope that Americans will continue to embrace the iPhone 9s with a screen size .02 cm larger or the resurgence of the hover board craze (guaranteed fire resistant!). It’s ok though, ’cause you’re going to need a bigger home to store all that stuff – and boy, do we have some exciting new mortgage options for you!

So what will be the economic engine for the middle class in the future? I’m certainly not smart enough to figure that out or I’d already be investing in it. It clearly won’t be the manufacturing of “things”. It has to be a commodity that can’t be easily shipped from overseas. Something that takes development of an actual skill or expertise, yet doesn’t necessarily require years of schooling and advanced degrees. A job that is valued and recession-proof enough that the average Joe/Jane can support a family and, with some prudent saving, can afford to go drink fruity adult beverages with tiny umbrellas on a beach occasionally.

While I don’t know what that sector will be, if I had kids or if you’re just starting out in the job world, I’d make damn sure I was comfortable with data, information management, and device connectivity. Learn how to create a website beyond just using a canned template. Can you connect a device to a network and troubleshoot problems? Can you write simple scripts to connect various programs and do something with their output? Can you take data from a program and do something with it to present it in a compelling way? None of these things take years of advanced math or electrical engineering to understand. These are skills anyone who applies themselves can master.

What is clear about the future is that we will be driven by data. Billions of cheaply manufactured devices will all be connected to various networks and attempting to communicate with each other. Yes, eventually your refrigerator will be not only ordering your weekly groceries, but will be preparing nutritional summaries for your health care provider. My report will be exclusively cheese, beer, and hummus. Beef and pork will be too damn expensive for anyone but the evil one percenters.
medical_tricorder
I’ve  gone the route of helping sick people. There will always be sick people, right? Meanwhile I’ll probably be replaced by an $11 an hour, 17 year old medical assistant wielding a Star Trek medical tricorder. I should have been training to be a tricorder repairman. Or an Obamacare v.12 website administrator.

 

 

Tribes, Or I Just Wanna Surf

I’ve been following a story for a while now about a group of well-to-do, middle aged men in the Southern California town of Palos Verdes who’ve become a surf gang of sorts. Seriously, what 50 year-old belongs to a gang called the Lunada Bay Boys? It sounds like a skinny jean wearing boy band from the 80’s. Unfortunately they’re violent and preventkook anyone who’s not a local from surfing there. The conflict is heating up and now a federal class-action lawsuit has been filed against them. Way back in the day I spent more time surfing than I did going to high school (no, that didn’t work out so well for me kids) so I’m very familiar with the locals-only mentality. Back then you needed to know the rules of each break if you wanted to avoid your car getting keyed. Some places were short boards only. Some didn’t allow leashes. Others only allowed all black wetsuits. Pretty silly in retrospect, but violate the rules and something bad was sure to happen. You’d see some non-local kook come traipsing down the beach in a neon green wetsuit and just know it wasn’t going to end well.

Meanwhile, back in the batcave, I just watched a TED talk from one of my favorite writers, Anand Girdharadas. I’d highly encourage you to watch it when you have a moment. Powerful and motivating, it made me feel bad about myself and how judgmental and shallow I can be at times. He talks about inclusion and the American dream. And then he said something that really jumped out at me – that our tribal separations are the great moral challenge of our generation.

He’s right. But he’s also wrong. At the end of the day we are all tribes. We are not accepting of people who don’t fit into our tribe. I don’t think that’s right or wrong, it’s just human nature and has been from the beginning of time. A black kid with long dreads, saggy pants, and walking with the gangsta strut in a middle to upper class suburban neighborhood is going to get a very chilly reception at best, if he’s not first greeted by 5-0. But put some white dude wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase in the middle of Watts and he will be relieved of his Apple iWatch, Fitbit, and Starbucks rewards card in a jiffy. Two tribes, neither are tolerant of others that don’t fit in.

This will be true anywhere on this planet. It’s a myth that America is this great melting pot and somehow now we’re becoming less tolerant. We’ve always been tolerant – as long as you embrace the collective tribe that is the American culture AND you do your best to fit in with whatever local culture and tribe you’ve chosen to locate next to. If you continue to cling to your old tribe, the new tribe will remain a bit frosty. That doesn’t make it right and it certainly doesn’t justify some of the behaviors you’ll find in the news – but it is the human condition. We are all members of “our” tribe.

Intellectually, we’d like to think we can rise above our tribal loyalties. The reality is that it takes very little discomfort for us to revert back to our own groups. The solution is not for politicians to admonish us to “rise above” or “this is not who we are” at the slightest hint of opinion differences. It is who we are. We do not easily accept tribes that don’t look like us. It makes no difference if those tribes are political, religious, economic, racial, dress, or music. The dude will abide when it comes to the norms of my tribe. The answer is the economy. Generally the further down the economic ladder you are, the more you’ll cling to your tribe. A prosperous middle class will be tolerant of anything.  Want to get rid of tribal unrest in this country? Make sure you elect a political representative with a viable plan to spawn a new middle class economy. (hint, it’s probably none of the current meat puppets)

Meanwhile, I’m going to go figure out how to fit in with the mountain biking, climbing, fishing, craft beer drinking tribes. And stay away from that Taylor Swift tribe. They’re pretty damn scary.