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Last Night as a Nomad

After one month of travel involving seven states/territories, six flights, four time zones, and only one lost pair of headphones, I am back in Madison. I am still a homeless person, though, until tomorrow morning when I get my keys and meet the movers. Then, the new school year will be that much closer to beginning. For tonight, though, I’m in the luxury of the Hampton Inn. Free wifi, fluffy beds, and a bathtub = heaven.

My dad was well enough today for a trip to DC, so since I was flying out of Reagan (a first for me!) we packed up mid-afternoon so all four of us (mom, dad, sister, and me) could have dinner together. It also happens to be my parents’ wedding anniversary, so that was something fun to celebrate. We had Greek food at Zorba’s in Dupont Circle, after which Dad and I found two geocaches, one real and one virtual, and both within spitting distance of my sister’s apartment. I then said goodbye to my sister, and headed to the airport with my parents. Even though I will be seeing them in about three weeks, it was still weird to say goodbye; this past month has seemed like a bunch of giant goodbyes. I almost missed my flight because I was charging my daughter (iPhone) at the next gate over, but according to my seatmate, they only made one or two boarding announcements. They really didn’t give us a whole lot of warning; the girl in front of me in line had gone to the bathroom and returned only to find that her entire family had boarded without her and now they were doing the final call, which is the one I heard.

The flight was about an hour and forty-five minutes, although it seemed like no time at all. I walked down to baggage claim with my seatmate, a woman called Kristen who was in town for business. Even though we were far from the last ones off the plane, for the first time, our bags beat us out to the baggage claim. One taxi ride later, I was at the hotel, and of course one of the two desk attendants is a friend of mine, and the other is one who actually just moved out of the building I’m moving into, and lived only one floor below me. She seemed positive about the building, and from what I gathered she was leaving because she was in a one-bedroom with a roommate.

Overall, it’s been a fun month, with some ups and downs but mostly ups. I got to experience life as a true nomad for a month, sleeping on planes, couches, floors, and in my own bed. I experienced the hospitality of three friends and got to see their homes for the first time.

Positives of living the nomad life:

  • Always experiencing new things. Everywhere I went, I managed to see or do something new, even in Baltimore. I spent very little of the past month bored, and subsequently, very little time thinking about myself. It was fast-paced and exciting. I can find something fun almost everywhere, from the airport in Charlotte to a sleepy beach town in Puerto Rico.
  • Freedom of movement. There’s just something about being able to pack yourself up into a backpack, a suitcase or two, and just jet.
  • Freedom from possessions. Even this morning, it didn’t take that long to gather my things together, including those items I had accumulated on the trip (a fan from Puerto Rico, a journal from Arizona, school books from home) and overall, it was nice not to be burdened with so much stuff. If it couldn’t fit into my bag, it didn’t come with me; I threw out a lot of junk I would have normally kept. Cue tomorrow, when I open my suitcase and ask myself, “what is all this crap?” Still, it kept me from accumulating too many unnecessary things and buying souvenirs for myself or for friends.

Negatives of living the nomad life:

  • Always on the go. My first few weeks were so action-packed that I barely had time to breathe, or reflect. Even though my Arizona roomie Kathleen admired my ability to reflect on the moment, I couldn’t really settle too long in any one place until I got back to my parents’ house. It was good to be forced to be forward-thinking, but it was tiring.
  • That feeling of homelessness. Along with the excitement come the questions. Where is home? I’ll be somewhere else a week from now, where will I be a year from now? What should I be doing now to prepare for then?
  • I missed my stuff. I’ll be the first to admit my materialistic instincts. I missed my own familiar bed, my car (although my wheels in Puerto Rico and essentially having my dad’s car for the week because he couldn’t drive were huge perks), my clothes, my book collection, having a place where I could receive mail, and even eating the foods I’ve become accustomed to. I also gained a greater appreciation for privacy as well as how to be a better roommate/house guest, and got some good decorating ideas. Most of all, I got the urge to be a good host so I can return the favor or pay it forward.

With only one more night of unharnessed luxury, I might as well live it up: a hot bath and then to bed. Oh, and bienvenidos to my newest visitor from Guatemala.

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Adios, Mendota

Just a quick update.

The apartment is fully packed (well, 90%) in boxes and bags. Some will go into my car; most of it, though, into storage.

I have about half of my paper down, which I will finish tonight come hell or high water so I can print a copy, then pack up the printer.

I still need to eat the dinner I just cooked, put laundry in the dryer, and take books to the library.

Tonight will be my final night in 620 N. Carroll St., Apartment 409, ever.

Tomorrow morning I will return my Internet box (too stressed to think of what it’s called), get some money from the ATM, retrieve my water bottle from the gym and possibly take a shower if I feel so inclined, pick up some contact solution at Walgreens, shove some stuff in the mail, and get the 1:00 PM bus to Chicago (already paid for!), or, if I play my cards right, the 11:30 AM bus.

I will have no fixed address for the next month.

Adios, Mendota…hola, being a hobo.

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Because It’s Impossible To Find a Sandwich on State Street

Today, I walked past the space on State Street where Dobra Tea once was (RIP), and there was a sign up announcing…

COMING SOON: FIREHOUSE SUBS

Another. Freaking. Sandwich. Shop.

I know that Madison is a college town, but enough is enough. If you take a walk down State Street, you will find, in no particular order: Subway, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Which Wich?, Jimmy John’s, Five Guys, Cosi, Milio’s, Erbert and Gerbert’s, Potbelly Sandwich Works, not to mention all the coffee shops which also sell sandwiches. I mean, would it kill us to have some more diversity? Currently, there’s a Nepali place, but no Indian place (which will be changing soon). Until Short Stack, there was no breakfast place. I’d love a decent Mediterranean place, or a place like La Madeleine in Houston that’s a slightly more upscale coffee and food shop. A kosher restaurant would be amazing, but let’s face it, that’ll never happen.

But still, if you need a sandwich, just come to Madison and we’ll blindfold ourselves and run around State Street and eat at the first place we break a window.

3

Season in the Sun

One thing I’ve learned since being in Wisconsin for almost a year is that there are but two seasons: winter and roadwork.

When I moved here, I guess I didn’t notice the roadwork part much; maybe because school was starting, they eased up. Winter was winter, but as soon as it ended, roadwork came and it’s still coming.

It started with the construction on new buildings. That’s not so much of a problem, but it is kind of a nuisance sometimes to have to dodge construction workers and risk being crushed by falling debris on the way to the gym.

But then, they started tearing up the roads.

It started when school was over, and it started here on Langdon. Driving straight down Carroll or down Langdon towards State Street isn’t a problem, but the left side, until recently, was closed off. The weird part, though, was that people still drove through it anyway. I still don’t get that.

But then, there’s Johnson Street.

“Giant mess” doesn’t even begin to describe it. The street is orange as far as the eye can see, with the netting, cones, and barrels. Not to mention down to one lane. It’s come to the point where I dread going east, and when I do, I’ve been driving around the Capitol just to avoid Johnson. The Capitol.

Going to the west, the end of State Street in front of the library is all torn up and cut off from the public. It’s like basic training just to get to the front door of Memorial. A girl actually fell in a hole right at the intersection of State and Lake. I didn’t see it happen, but I did see her get helped up. It’s pretty ugly-looking. At least the creepy guy who leans against the wall and tries to start conversations with me whenever I walk past him isn’t there anymore.

Then, there’s W. Broadway in Monona. Um…no thanks, ever.

And going eastbound on the highway.

I think I need to go read a book or something.

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Geocaching Milestones: #1100-#1500

After having no luck yesterday, I found my 1500th geocache at 2:57 this afternoon.

The last time I posted a geocaching milestones post was when I found my 1400th last year; now, I conclude this series with the stories of my five most recent milestones.

#1100: Who Needs Labels? (Katy, Texas)

This cache was on a hot and sunny day in Katy. It was a little hard to find, because it was near some train tracks, but it had a lot of favorite points. I felt stupid when I found it; it was an ammo box painted white and attached to something. I wore a tan shirt that day.

#1200: Sunset in the Far East (Houston, Texas)

This cache was decently sized and despite the name it was in the western part of Houston. It was at a dead end under some rocks, and ironically, I found it just after sunset in my gray Bookcrossing shirt.

#1300: I’d rather do the Texas Alphabet Chili Challenge (Shenandoah, Texas)

I hadn’t explored the wealth of caches in the northern suburbs of Houston, and so I decided to head to The Woodlands and Shenandoah that day. This challenge required a geocacher to have found a cache for every letter of the alphabet, somewhere in Texas. With over 500 Texas caches at this point, it was pretty simple to make a list. I saw a big turtle near the cache, which was a pot in a patch of woods next to a parking lot, about 100 feet from the car. I found it in my green Edward Gorey t-shirt.

#1400: the Secret Garden (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)

The journey to this cache was stressful. It was during the move from Houston to Madison, and I knew I was coming up on this number. I didn’t want my 1400th to just be a pill bottle or a skirt lifter; I wanted a real cache, and the morning we left Oklahoma City, I had 7 to go. We visited the Oklahoma City memorial, where I scored 3 virtuals, and nearby was a large hospital complex with 4 physical caches on its grounds. My dad was more interested in getting on the road, so he gave me 30 minutes to find the caches. I booked it through parking lots and grassy knolls, and as luck would have it, the first three were spot on. The last one was a nail-biter; I had only 5-10 minutes left and I was searching all through this little garden. Finally, I spotted it sitting in a small tree. I can’t remember what I was wearing, but I was very sweaty.

#1500 : District 13 (Madison, Wisconsin)

I really wanted my 1500th cache to be extra special. District 13, a mystery cache, was my initial choice. But then, I realized that I was at 1,494 and was going to Perrot State Park and potentially Minnesota the next day, so I could only find a maximum of five caches on that trip. I didn’t end up finding any, which was a bummer, but the next day, I just picked up where I left off. I looked for a few easy caches around town and found five out of seven of them, then headed to the coordinates I got after I solved the District 13 puzzle. Though it was a pain to find parking, the cache was an easy-to-find tupperware container hidden near a grocery store. As I took my victory picture, I realized that I was wearing my Virgin Records t-shirt – the exact same one I wore when I found my 100th cache. That’s either a very bad thing or a very good thing.

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Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin: Little Winery on the Prairie

After a tumultuous semester, it was time for some exploring. So, today, I went west in search of wine and cheese. I found one of the two, and some other things as well. Join me for another episode of…

Wonderful, Wonderful Wisconsin

Episode 2: Little Winery on the Prairie

About 45 minutes northwest of Madison, just where Dane County meets Sauk County on the Wisconsin River is the town of Prairie du Sac, home to the Wollersheim Winery. I had tasted their wine before. Their most well-known vintage is Prairie Fume, which is light, white, and wonderful. At their beautiful vineyard, their hour-long winery tour and subsequent tasting is worth way more than the paltry five-dollar entrance fee.

Wollersheim Winery dates back one hundred and fifty years. The “modern” era, as they call it, started when a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor and his wife bought the land and revived the practice. They hired a French man to work for them, and sure enough, he ended up marrying their oldest daughter, and now the two of them run the winery. Funny how that works. After a short film, we walked outside through the carriage house to see the slopes of grapes. It was a gorgeous day. Back inside, we saw the huge vats where they process the wine, and then went downstairs to a pungent underground wine cellar with casks and barrels of wines. One barrel had a window so we could see inside, but it was mostly sediment. Then, we went back up into the carriage house for a wine flight, which is a fancy way to say “wine tasting.” We got to try six wines: Prairie Fume, Sangiovese, Chardonnay, River Gold, Eagle White (a special!) and a Semi-Sweet White Riesling. Obviously the Prairie Fume was the best, but the River Gold and the White Riesling were quite tasty as well. Outside, we walked up to the top of the hill, where another wine cave is built inside the hill. There are also wine gardens where you can sit and enjoy wine bought from the gift shop, ten dollars a bottle (eleven in stores!). They also had these cute miniatures in the refrigerator. It was my first ever winery tour, and overall, it was lovely.

After that, I drove to Plain in a vain attempt to see the Cedar Grove Cheese factory; alas, they were closed for the day when I got there. However, we weren’t far from Spring Green, which is famous for the House on the Rock.

It took so long to get there on winding, twisty roads up a hill, but The House on the Rock is something to be seen. When you drive in, it’s like an alien garden with giant Chinese urns covered in flowers. Alas, I only had an hour left before they closed, so I could only do one section of the three-part tour. But of that one section, I saw a heck of a lot.

Walking through the winding staircases, you enter a tiny, dark house full of Asian art and sculpture. The ceilings are low, but the atmosphere is so architecturally high, and high above the valley. There are rooms upon rooms of Asian furniture, hidden waterfalls, and so much art. Then comes the Infinity Room, which is truly a sight to behold. It’s a long, narrow room that seems to go on forever and ever, jutting out over the valley. They also had an automated violin/tambourine/harpsichord thing that scared the hell out of me whenever it came to life. Then, you go back inside to see even more rooms, sit on the couches, and climb the twisty staircases to the sun deck. The Japanese garden is splendid as well. I hope to go back and visit again.

5

If This Coffee Cup Could Talk…

Today, I decided to have an adventure in the wonderful town of Madison. I had heard of Dig N Save, but I wasn’t really sure what it was all about. I knew it was a resale shop, but we’ve got plenty of those, St. Vinny’s being the most prominent. Another friend told me that she had gone to Dig N Save and bought three hundred Beanie Babies to gut them and make a rug. I know that the 1990s aren’t coming back, but eviscerating them and sewing together their furry exteriors for art’s sake? Shudder.

Beanie Baby guts aside, I went to see Dig N Save for myself, and I couldn’t believe what I saw once I got there. There are resale shops, and then there are resale shops. Dig N Save wasn’t particularly big in terms of floor space, with only two large rooms, but the amount of crap they had was spectacular. The front room had dumpster-sized tubs full of used clothing, which people were rooting through. In the back, though, was where they had some really interesting crap. Mounted on pegs were wooden chairs and stools, most of them in great condition. The floor beneath them had dressers, file cabinets, desks, shelving, tables, sofas, and chairs, which, again, were a little dusty but not unusable. I guess if was truly unusable they wouldn’t bother putting it out. In the front of the room, however, were three rows of bins full of dolls, stuffed animals, board games, Beanie Babies (the ones that survived the massacre), and other childhood toys. The bin on the far wall contained china, and that’s where I found this gem.

Photo: Okay, so I saw this coffee mug in a junk shop and I couldn't look at it without laughing so I bought it. So much character. I wonder what it's story is and how it ended up in Madison.

In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have bought it, because who knows what’s been in that cup. But I saw it, laughed, and every time I passed it by, I couldn’t help but laugh. So I had to buy it, dust and all. They charge by wright, 35 cents per pound, and all I had was the mug, so it came out to a bank-breaking 37 cents.

But just look at it…it’s hysterical.

Someone named Bernie (or with a friend named Bernie) went to Las Vegas and bought this mug, pictured here on my kitchen table. First of all, there’s that name…Bernie. Bernie. Seriously. Do you know anyone under the age of 65 with that name? And no, pets don’t count. Plus, Las Vegas, the place where you can get lucky in the casino, or in other ways (if you have the money).

So here’s the image I have, and a story to go with it.

This guy is about 5’7″ and a half, average build, maybe a bit of a pot belly. He appears to be in his late fifties or sixties. He’s got wrinkly skin, a slight tan from working outside, a brown mullet, and of course, a porn-mustache offset by his grayish facial hair. He’s not from Vegas; he’s just visiting from California because he won his disability case for choking on a Good-n-Plenty while driving the forklift at his job at a beverage supplier. He drove here in his pickup, and is staying at a fleabag motel but spending all of his time between the blackjack tables and the bar. There he sits, in his blue striped dress shirt, faded leather jacket, jeans, and boots. He’s also wearing those thick-framed glasses that are kind of a pinkish at the top and fade down to clear. After losing almost all his money on a poorly-placed roulette bet, he’s at the bar, flicking cigarette butts into an ashtray, when he sees a quarter someone left on the ground by his stool. On a whim, he picks it up, goes back into the casino, sticks it in a slot machine, and what do you know – five thousand dollars. He goes “whoopee!” and then off to the mall to get some classy duds and to a dealership to trade his car for a white Cadillac. He drives down the Strip, catching the eyes of some drunk ladies, and tells them to get in. They do, and he takes them on a shopping spree for sequinned dresses and jewelry, so they look like his fantasy: the spokesmodels from The Price is Right. Then, he checks all of them into a fancy hotel where they get even more drunk, possibly snort some coke, and play around naked in the hot tub. Then, Bernie announces that he’s feeling lucky, so he gets into his new purple Hugh Hefner pimp suit and the ladies back in their dresses (silver and gold, of course) and back down to the casino. He shoots some craps, plays some blackjack or poker, then tries his luck on the roulette wheel. He asks one of the girls when she was born, and she says “26!” so he bets it all on 26 as he kisses her and she coos. Of course, his roulette wheel luck returns with a vengeance and the ball lands on 17. He turns to the girl and she says “how strange, I’m 17!”

“Wait, I thought you were 26?”

“Yeah, 26. I was born on June 26.”

“I asked you your age.”

“Ohhh, I didn’t understand the question.”

An undercover cop notices, and arrests Bernie for bringing a minor into a casino, taking him away as the girls vamoose. As the cop’s loading him into the car, Bernie trips and falls face first into the console, which pops open to reveal a bag of marijuana. Bernie quickly grabs it with his teeth, and as he gets up with it, head bruised and bloodied and all, the policeman realizes he’s been caught. A bunch of people have been watching this whole thing and go “ooooh.” The cop quickly grabs the bag from Bernie’s teeth, jams him in the car, then gets in and speeds off, narrowly missing a lady who is knitting while walking. He quickly makes a deal – he’ll release Bernie if Bernie leaves Vegas immediately. Without much of a choice, Bernie heartily accepts. The cop keeps driving past the police station and arrives at the airport. He stops in the loading zone, quickly, goes to the back seat and unshackles Bernie, leading him to the ticket agent and giving him $500 to pay for the ticket right there and then. Bernie buys the ticket, and the cop then runs out of the airport, gets in his car, and speeds away, yelling, “keep the change!”

Bernie goes through security, only to find out he’s got some time to kill before his flight. So he gets a pizza and a coke. After he finishes, he’s on his way back to the gate when he spies an airport gift shop. He goes in and pokes around, before seeing the mugs on display, and what do you know, they’ve got one “Bernie” mug left. He has just enough money to pay for it. They call his flight number over the intercom, and he hustles back to the gate and gets on the plane, ready to put the trip behind him, with his coffee mug as a souvenir.

Then he realizes that he drove to Las Vegas.

Whoops.

If you’ve read this far, congratulate yourself. I wonder: what do you think of Bernie? I want to hear your “Bernie in Las Vegas” story…if you write and post one, comment below with the link and I’ll reblog you!