Latest 3 Things

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

3 Bad Trips

I’ve never been one for vacations. In fact, to date, the total number of vacations that I’ve taken in my adult life could be counted on one hand (with five fingers left over). Yes, seriously. As the second straight year where my New Year’s resolutions have fruitlessly included actually taking that first professionally purposeless trip begins to come to a close, I’m ever more committed to finally taking the plunge, requesting the time off and buying the damned tickets. But because I’m not accustomed to taking vacation for vacation’s sake, I’m convinced that an event/destination trip would be a good first step to take as I slowly begin to learn how to relax. You know the kind of trip I mean, where you go someplace to do something that only happens there; like running with the bulls in Pamplona, falling down the hill after the cheese in the UK or having a cheap suit made in Taiwan. I’m afraid, however, that going overseas is a little ostentatious for this first-time hedonist, so I’m sticking to the good ol’ U.S. of A. for my event trip. As a word to the wise for my fellow vacation virgins, however, (from personal experience and reliable hearsay) here are 3 event destinations to be avoided at all costs (no matter what else you’ve heard):

1. Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I know. I know! Dissing New Orleans is about as fashionable as leg warmers and a Dukakis bumper sticker. So let me just begin by saying that I was completely wrong about the Big Easy when I predicted the end of that city after Hurricane Katrina. I didn’t think they had it in them. And, despite all the motivational tales I’ve heard/read/seen about New Orleans’ survivors and perseverance, faith and restoration, I have to tell you, I would have run out of there like I stole something (perhaps that’s a bad analogy). But amidst all the bad, the one good trait that the survival of Katrina has highlighted in the citizens of the N.O. is tolerance. They will tolerate near chaos with a smile. They will tolerate buildings literally rotting around them with an unwavering faith and complete disregard for personal safety. And they will tolerate a lack of sterility and cleanliness only otherwise seen in horror film scenes and third world prisons with a stiff drink and a cavalier attitude towards deodorant. Unfortunately, nothing highlights these disturbing strengths quite like their annual Mardi Gras celebration; when they fill an entire city with the kind of people you spend all your time avoiding when you go out in your own hometown. If the black plague ever resurfaces, this is the one place they can reliably start looking for “Patient Zero.” If you hold your health, safety and well-being in any sort of regard, just grab some beads and head down to your local bar for Fat Tuesday - and leave the civic anarchy to the folks who have perfected it.

2. New Years Eve in NYC. Like most things on television, this looked like a better way to ring in the New Year than I could ever hope to replicate in whatever little ‘burg I was turning the calendar over in (including Los Angeles). It just seemed so cool. I mean, it’s in Times Square - the center of the commercial universe; there’s Dick Clark, MTV personalities, singers and other celebrities; there are countless throngs of people, that giant ball, the countdown, and that fateful moment - where hundreds of beautiful, fresh-breathed strangers will want to celebrate the occasion by kissing you while Auld Lang Syne plays loudly in the background. Which all sounds great, except, that’s not how it really goes down. First off, it’s cold. I don’t mean “a little nippy” either. I mean the kind of cold that makes “global warming” seem about as believable as the Easter Bunny and renders your entire cognitive process capable of only one thought: “Fuck, it’s cold!” And since they don’t make clothing (other than spacesuits) able to keep warm-blooded animals alive in that kind of weather, no matter what you wear (and especially if you try to dress fashionably) - you’ll be freezing your ass off. The famous people? Well, they’re actually in Times Square. Your pedestrian ass won’t be anywhere near Times Square because 500,000 people had the same good idea that you did. Trust me, you’ve never seen 500,000 people in person before - because if you had, you wouldn’t want to ever see it in person again. For reference, it’s like taking your average NFL crowd and multiplying it by ten, and then turning it loose on surface streets. And like that same NFL crowd, it's mostly populated by people who have breath that smells like burnt hair and wet dog, and who have imbibed to the point of forgetting any notions they had of good manners, personal space or volume control. Unless your resolution is to lose faith in humanity less than five minutes into the new year, watch your NYC New Years like you watch your pro football: on TV.

3. Halloween in (the) Castro. Though I give Portland credit for sincerity and effort, the real capital of weird is and will always be San Francisco. For those who have been reading me for a while, you know that I have an especially pointed hatred for the “city by the bay”. But for all of the horrible and terrifying parts of “the City”, I always had a special place in my heart for the Castro. For the S.F. uninitiated, the Castro is the traditionally “gay” part of the city - where the freedom to love who you want, how you want is a civic mantra so strong that the entire borough seems to be infused with the same rainbow that adorns the flags which mark its streets. It was also the only place in the city where I didn’t fear for my physical safety after dark. Or at least it used to be. As a law student in nearby Palo Alto, I was convinced by friends that this stronghold of proud individualism would be the perfect place to celebrate Halloween. I mean, what better place to play dress up and make believe with your friends, than a place which encourages and celebrates the same year-round, right? Wrong. Way wrong. It’s difficult to describe the true horror of the Halloween scene at the Castro. It felt like the truest approximation of what I would expect to see in the streets at the Apocalypse. Social order wasn’t being blithely ignored, it was being forcefully abandoned. There wasn’t so much shouting as there was screaming. There wasn’t pushing and shoving, there was fighting - with weapons! Windows were being smashed, cars rolled, and trash bins lit afire. One of most peaceful, jubilant and tolerant places on earth had been transformed into a living nightmare. So, if you’re looking to simulate actual hell during your October 31st festivities, you now know where to find it. For everyone else, stick to your local costume party, and save the hell for Sundays.

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I’m all for experiencing new things, and certainly an advocate for getting yourself outside of your comfort zone every so often. That being said, I’m also no proponent of putting yourself purposefully into your discomfort zone - as I am similarly not a proponent of festering, freezing or bleeding. It’s cool if you’re into that sort of thing, as long as it’s cool with you that I’m not. Vacations, like any time off, should not, as a rule, involve anything particularly painful - because, well, that’s what the gym, work and watching The Notebook with your girlfriend are for. Like stocks, investment opportunities and anything advertised on TV after midnight - if something sounds too good to be true, it is. So the next time someone is telling you what an awesome time they had collecting beads, New Year’s kisses or drug-laced candy corn, it’s best to remember three important things: (1) it’s not you they’re trying to convince, (2) misery loves company, and (3) you avoid contracting 100% of the diseases you don’t hang out with. Safe travels everyone, and I’ll see you in Philly in December.


Jen and Tonic said...

You're right about the Portland vs. San Francisco bit. Portland is quirky, but San Francisco can get downright bizarre.

I've never had the desire to do Mardis Gras in New Orleans, or New Year's Eve in New York, and probably for the reasons you've listed above. I've heard Halloween in Vegas is a riot. You'll have to let me know how it is ;)

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