As the Sun Slowly Sets in the West

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         Staring out the window, I watch the sun as it slowly sets in the west. It is a hazy, late summer day, and I am behind the wheel. On the last leg of a long trip, we are nearing home.
         “Look girls,” I say.  “Over there, by the mountains.  See the sun, it’s setting.”
         “Ooh, pretty,” the youngest answers me, as she sits on her booster seat and looks out her rear window.
         The hazy atmosphere mixed with the radiant colors of the setting sun give the sky a particularly memorable brilliance.  It is a remarkably memorable moment in time.
         “That’s quite a sunset,” Elizabeth replies from the passenger’s seat, as her hand finds its way to my knee.
         Cruising along at 70 some miles an hour, we watch as the sun weaves in and out of the space between the tall firs that dot the landscape.
         “It is a fine sunset,” I say to Elizabeth.
         “It certainly is,” she says back to me.
         “I’m bored,” the oldest chimes in.
         “Are we home yet?” the youngest asks.
         “No, not yet,” I reply.
         Staring out the window, I watch the sun as it slowly melts into the horizon.  Then it is gone.  Its memory, though, is burnt into the sky in the form of reddish-orange hues.  Soon, they too are gone.
         Driving in the darkness with illuminated pavement stretching out before us, we make our way home and to the end of our journey.

Favorite Places: Victoria, B.C.

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         Memories slowly fade away with time.  Some, however, carve a niche in one’s subconscious mind and patiently wait to surface when the time is right.  It has been more than a few years since we visited Victoria, British Columbia.  As always seems to happen, the memories of our time there have slowly receded like the tide rolling away from the coast after having reached it’s apex.  Then one day a crisp ocean breeze caresses my skin and my mind travels back to forgotten days – to the niche – to Victoria.

         I have visited many places in the Pacific Northwest, but few have carved a permanent niche in my subconscious like Victoria.  One of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest, Victoria has a historic charm mixed with Canadian hospitality.  Located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria is one of Canada’s top tourist destinations and for good reason.  The city definitely has a lot to offer.

         Having crossed the Strait of Juan de Fuca by ferry, we arrived in Victoria on a midsummer day.  Stepping off the ferry, our eyes were immediately drawn to the architecture of the Empress Hotel and the Legislative Building.  Soon we found ourselves trekking around the inner harbour and downtown.  One of the highlights of our trip was exploring the second oldest Chinatown in North America.  While in Chinatown, we had fun strolling down Fan Tan Alley, which is reportedly the world’s narrowest street.

         As always happens, though, our vacation eventually came to a close.  Our memories of Victoria, however, have yet to subside completely.  Existing in a niche in each of our minds, the city patiently waits to materialize in our imaginations when the time is right and the crisp ocean air blows gently against our skin.

 

Favorite Places: St. Augustine

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         Cool, clean, crisp water satiates my unrelenting thirst for life.  As the transparent liquid is digested within me, I am reminded of youth.  Of timeless days spent aimlessly wandering on a sun-drenched beach.  Watching the forgotten waves lap against the shore, I know that I have found my own personal Fountain of Youth.  Before I can settle in and become comfortable, though, the ocean evaporates and my tongue dries leaving only the next best thing: a place called St. Augustine, Florida.

         Home to Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, St. Augustine is different than most places in Florida, and the United States for that matter.  I suppose it has something to do with the fact that St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement in the continental United States.  Just how old is St. Augustine?  Well, it was founded more than 300 years before the city where the Four Traveling Macs currently reside was first incorporated.  In the U.S., that’s old.

         Standing at the gates to the old city, I knew that I liked St. Augustine.  I like places with a past, and St. Augustine certainly has that.  It doesn’t hurt that it has a nice beach as well.  Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the continental U.S., is cool too.  Then, of course, there’s the Fountain of Youth.

         St. Augustine is definitely an interesting place to explore.  With its interesting past, unique architecture, and nice weather, St. Augustine is not only a great place to visit, it is one of the Four Traveling Macs favorite places to visit.  We all need a trip to the Fountain of Youth from time to time, right?

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Favorite Places: Tokyo

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         There’s just something cool about being within the most populous metropolitan area in the world.  Sure all big cities have their own unique vibe, but Tokyo has more than a vibe –it has a heartbeat.  The city itself is big, really, really big, but it isn’t dirty.  The city is quite clean, even with alcohol vending machines on the streets.  Few, if any, Western metropolises can equal that feat.  That’s just one of the ways that you can feel Tokyo’s pulse.

         Speeding into the heart of the Japanese capital on a bullet train, I could sense the heartbeat drawing closer.  Unlike the faint pulse one feels on the periphery of postmodern society, the pulse inside Tokyo is strong.  Stepping off the train into the crowded maze of the city, I knew that I had arrived in more ways than one.  I was in Tokyo, and I had become part of the heartbeat, part of Japanese society, and part of the 23 special wards.

         Exploring the pulsing city, I got to know Tokyo quite well.  From Sensō-ji to a riverboat ride on the Sumida River to looking out at the city from the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, I came to know the city if only for a brief moment in time.  Like all moments in time, though, my Tokyo adventure eventually drew to a close.

         Before I knew it, I was at Narita International Airport waiting to board a plane back home.  Time flies fast, even faster in big cities, and it pulses by at an exponential rate in Tokyo.  Still yearning to see more, I boarded a Boeing jet airliner bound for the West Coast of the United States.

         Jetting across the enormous expanse of the Pacific, I finally felt Tokyo’s pulse grow faint.  The pulse has yet to subside, though.  I can still feel its distant beat within my own veins.  I may have left Tokyo long ago, but it has yet to leave me.

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Camping @ Crater Lake

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         I was born along a ring of fire, and the evidence abounds.  Volcanoes, lava fields, earthquakes, and so much more, remind me of the inferno that burns beneath my feet.  Amongst the reminders, a blue-pristine lake tells me the truth of a long forgotten eruption.

         It was there, beneath the lake’s icy blue water that I found myself drifting as I looked up at a barrier separating two realms.  Slowly my eyes closed, then they opened and I awoke from a dream in my tent at Crater Lake.  Did I experience a Native American vision quest?  Perhaps, it was just that.  Then again, maybe it was just a remnant of the thunderstorm that rolled overhead hours earlier.  Possibly, it was just ghosts enacting an ancient August ritual.

         It was then that I knew camping at Crater Lake was, is, and always will be more than just an ordinary camping trip.  Fire, s’mores, sleeping bags, family, a tent, sure it was all there—but what made it just that much more?  It could only be the lake.

         Born nearly 8,000 years ago, Crater Lake is the remnant of an ancient volcano.  More ancient than the Coliseum, the pyramids, or anything else that man has built, yet young compared to the four-and-a-half billion year history of the Earth—the Lake lies silent, yet speaks of the past so eloquently.

         What better location is there to spend a night beneath the stars, next to a fire, and away from the municipalities of the world?  It was there, with my mind at ease, that I began to see the truth of the lake and, oh, so much more….

Becoming a Cosmic Tripster

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         Four months, 56 locations, 102 stamps, many, many pints, and, of course, lots of good times, that’s a bit of what it took to become a “Cosmic Tripster.”  So what exactly is a Cosmic Tripster?  A Cosmic Tripster is someone who has collected all of the stamps in their McMenamins Passport.  With various pubs, breweries, theaters, and historic properties spread throughout Oregon and Washington, McMenamins is a Northwest icon.  For $20, passports let you collect different stamps from all of the McMenamins locations and earn prizes along the way, including a grand prize once you have collected all of the stamps.

         Becoming a Cosmic Tripster was a fun way to spend the summer.  Here are some of the highlights of the quest, which you will also find on Page 29 of my passport:

Favorite Pub: Six Arms in Seattle
Favorite Hotel: Edgefield
Longest Distance Traveled: Mill Creek Brewpub (211 miles)
Shortest Distance Traveled: Sherwood Pub (1.7 miles)
Favorite Pint: Dave’s Devil Juice Double Red Ale at Highland Pub & Brewery
Favorite Food: Portland Dip at Roseburg Station
Favorite Server: Jenna (Barley Mill Pub)
Favorite Wine: White Rabbit
Favorite Movie: Guardians of the Galaxy at the Bagdad Theater
Favorite Light Fixture: Crystal Ballroom chandelier
Favorite Architecture: Bagdad Theater
Most Unique Artwork: Grand Lodge

         Well, what are you waiting for?  Pick up a passport today, and start your quest.  Who knows, maybe we’ll see you at the annual Passport Club Party.

 

My Vegas

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         Why do I say my Vegas?  If it’s not my, or your, Vegas then it’s their Vegas.  The Las Vegas of the silver and small screens.  The fake Vegas.  It’s nowhere near as good as my Vegas.  My Vegas is the place you want to be.  It exists at the intersection of myth and reality.  A place where you can have fun, and not spend an arm and a leg to do so.

         To find my Vegas, first you have to dispel the myths.  Number One: You’ll win.  Some do, but most don’t.  Don’t come to win, but be happy if you do beat the odds.  Number Two: You’re a high roller.  I believe the Occupy movement taught us that ninety-nine percent of us aren’t.  That being the case, be content to be on a budget.  Number Three: You have to drink a lot to have a good time.  Sure, it can be fun but it can also end badly.  Moderation is always a better choice.

         Now the truth.  Number One: Find a deal.  Want to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower?  Look for the two for one deal.  Want to see a show?  Checkout Groupon, or look in one of the coupon books that you see everywhere.  While in Vegas, I saw a lot of cool stuff but I didn’t pay full price for any of it.  Number Two: Stay modest, visit expensive.  I’ve stayed at Mandalay Bay and at, well, less cool digs.  Regardless of where I stayed, I didn’t spend much time in my room.  There’s just too much to see.  In the end, I had more fun when I stayed cheap and had a bigger budget to explore.  Number Three: Find a pool. Vegas is hot in the summer, and it’s always nice to cool off.  Even if your hotel doesn’t have a nice pool, there are some good pool clubs where you can get wet.

         Well, that is my Vegas.  What is your Vegas?