Category Archives: cities

Three Days Without Rules

One of the most reckless and euphoric weekends of my life had a bizarre beginning. As my flight was landing at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, I removed my headphones. First, I hear the woman next to me, talking to her teenage daughter about how tired she was, having been traveling for 15 hours. “I’m going straight to bed as soon as we get home”. Less than half a second later, I hear the two guys sitting in the row behind them talking about something going on in their Vegas-bound lives. “She was seriously a hoe”.


I wondered what it’s like to live in a place like this. I visit Las Vegas regularly, but never think of it as a place where people live. Most visitors just think of it as some sort of crazy amusement park-like place of gambling and entertainment. Nobody thinks of people working, raising a family, and doing normal life things here, but it does happen.

Do people who live in Las Vegas just become accustomed to being surrounded by talk of partying, gambling, and debauchery, the same way New Yorkers don’t think much of crowds and pollution, and people in West Texas don’t think much of the smell of feedlots? How would one go about raising a daughter in this town?

The majority of trips to Las Vegas don’t go anywhere beyond the Strip. However, Vegas does have more to offer. Like most other cities in Western North America, Vegas is surrounded by mountains, and recreation opportunities.


Only half an hour West of town is Red Rock Canyon National Preserve, the most high profile place for hikes and scenic drives in the vicinity of Las Vegas.


Before getting mired in the standard Las Vegas activities, I explored the place a little bit, driving to a few scenic overlooks, and going for a moderate length hike.


It was a good opportunity to get a little sun and exercise.


And even draw on the rocks to gave myself some good vibes for my upcoming gambling.


After last year’s trip to Vegas, I concluded that “The common thread to everything that goes on here is that people are enjoying themselves, embracing their wild sides, in their own way, and letting go of at least some component of the restriction they live under during their normal lives…” This year, possibly due to my current frame of mind, I felt even more free spirited, even more liberated. It felt like ALL THE RULES WERE LITERALLY GONE!

 


Nothing felt off limits.

It was as if everything external that had been stopping me from ever doing anything was just gone. Expectations from others. Fear of bad outcomes. Even the law of averages.


I rolled for 30 minutes at the craps table, winning myself some money, but winning some others at the table some obscene amounts of money. Some even made bets on my behalf out of appreciation!

While there were a couple of places where I lost a little bit of money, the winnings just kept on coming. All three nights I won big!

 


The drinks just kept coming, free when gambling.


Unlike in normal life, hangovers never set in, and I never felt like sleeping.

Normally, if I sleep only six hours (as opposed to the usual 7.5) on a given night, I am drowsy. On this 72-hour binge of over-stimulation, 90 minutes felt sufficient.

The overall stats for the trip….

  • Three days in town
  • Approximately 75 alcoholic beverages consumed
  • Total sleep 7.5 hours
  • Approximately 26 hours of total gambling
  • Winnings of approximately $850
    • Nearly all of which was on $10 tables
  • Everything else: Well, as the saying goes “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas”


Except my money! That comes back with me!

To make that happen takes self-restraint. When people win money in Las Vegas, Las Vegas tries to take it back! First, by getting people to gamble more through a combination of free drinks and making it difficult to find the exit to any casino. It takes some discipline to “Quit while you’re ahead”.


If one can leave the casinos without gambling away those winnings, Las Vegas will try to get it back on the Strip. I found out first had that Las Vegas has a way of spotting a winner. Maybe they can see it in people’s eyes, smiles, behavior and expressions of confidence. But they seem to know who is winning, and come after them.


Promoters trying to get people to go to clubs, sex workers, people trying to sell stuff both legal and illegal, even random strangers. They came for me, and, it felt like the more I won, the more aggressively they came. After the second night of wining, a promoter walked with my friend and I six blocks up the Strip trying to convince us to go to a strip club. After the third night of winning, I had to navigate through what felt like a mine field of sex workers who, when I told them I was good, responded “No you’re not, you’re alone.”


I did not need a set of rules, government involvement, societal pressure, or anyone watching over me to restrain from most of what Las Vegas was trying to get me to do. Nor did I have to take advantage of every single opportunity presented to me to feel as free spirited as I had felt in my entire life. I was liberated from external rules and expectations, not my own judgement. I confidently decided for myself what activities I wanted to take part in, without letting fear stop me, but also without letting fear of missing out (commonly referred to as FOMO) get met to do things I did not want to do or spend money I did not want to spend.

Going back to regular life after a weekend like this is difficult. Regular life, the average day, well there is no way it will ever compare.

Of course, this all was not in the least bit sustainable. My body could not handle even one more day of this. Anyone remotely close to my age seemed to be in suspended disbelief that I could handle what I did.

It is such as crazy mystery of life. Why are unsustainable habits frequently more desirable than sustainable ones? Why does it seem like the things we are told are good for us make us feel bad, and that the things that we are told are bad for us make us feel good? And why does the result of such things rarely seem to fit the narrative we are given?

I don’t profess to know everything about life, but this year I finally processed through a lot of what I had been observing over the past decade. We are taught so many things, through school, work, media, etc. about the way life is supposed to be lived. Assumptions are ingrained into our heads to the point where we do not even realize we are making them in our life decisions. These assumptions can, at times, be misguided, and even hold us back from making the most of our lives.

With no assumptions. With no “you should do this”, or fear of what happens when you “don’t do that”, life made more sense. It is just about getting over the fear of the unknown that lies beyond the divide. I do not know what is going to happen when I return to normal life. And, while I have no plans to run on two hours of sleep, or start drinking at noon, I do hope I can bring the confidence and spirit of self-determination back to “regular life” going forward. Many people look to rules to protect them. Like my weekend in Vegas, I would rather trust my own judgement to bring  me to the right outcomes.

Focusing on What Really Matters

That is, the people that have made, and continue to make, my life what it is.

Our day-to-day lives can become, at times, spiritually toxic.

We get preoccupied by what we are doing on a day-to-day basis. Often that involves a combination of work, other responsibilities, and some form of “quest” we have for ourselves. For many, that “quest” is status or career related. However, for some, things that are typically thought of as “leisurely” can end up being that quest….

I need to get a better golf score.

I need to be the best looking person at the party…

I need to get a better time running up “the incline“…

How much skiing can I do in one day?

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More often than not, we achieve what we set out to do, as long as we willing to put the necessary time and energy into it. If it truly matters to someone to be popular, they eventually will be popular. If it truly matters to someone to advance at work, make a lot of money, or even play on a winning softball team, well, it will be done.

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I guess things do happen by accident too.

It’s just a simple matter that, well, nobody has the time and energy for everything.

We have to make choices. We have to set priorities. Over time, our lives end up becoming reflection of the priorities we set. When I see a divorced and single powerful executive, well, it is clear where their priorities have been for quite some time.

Sometimes I lose sight of this, but people have always been a priority to me. I feel far more fulfilled when I share my adventures with people, and I am certainly more satisfied when the tasks I perform on a regular basis are having a positive impact on the lives of other people.

Acting more in accordance with what my true priorities are, I spent a long weekend, right in the middle of the summer, in the flat midwest, largely indoors.

Not just in the maze of suburbs that surround Chicago, and in Indianapolis, Indiana, but also traveling I-65 between the two, not the most glamorous ride.

The main draw to Indianapolis is its affordability. It does not necessarily find itself at the top of people’s “bucket lists”, or desired travel destinations.

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However, many chose to live here. The city continues to grow and appears to be prospering!

Which means that, in Indianapolis, a group of people can easily find enough interesting things to do and have a really good night out. It is often cheaper too. Well, that is unless the evening includes a visit to the most expensive steakhouse in town…

One of Indiana’s most iconic restaurants aside, the weekend was not about being at a high profile destination. It was about the people I was around, and it was nothing short of magical. I felt that feeling that is so elusive we do not even have a word for it in the English language; the opposite of loneliness, in a world that is lonelier than ever! I am blessed to have the people in my life that I have, near and far, from all my life’s “chapters”, and people who are willing to set aside time and energy to meet up with each other. This is what made me feel so wonderful this weekend- possibly more wonderful than I would have felt had I went off on my own, to a bucket list destination, or spent this time trying to advance my career.

 

When we act according to our true priorities, the result is always better 

Just as important as what our priorities are is how our priorities are set.

Not everyone will set their priorities exactly like I do. The question is whether we are being true to ourselves when these priorities are determined, day in and day out whenever there are multiple needs competing for our time, money, attention, and energy (i.e. life).

Are we making choices based on our own understanding of what we need to feel happy and fulfilled? Or are we letting something else dictate what we prioritize? Fear of losing a job? The desire for approval from others? Someone else?

The world can often bring us in the wrong direction, setting the wrong priorities. The boss pressuring you to perform. Peers bringing out your competitive side. Even self-doubt. This is why I urge everyone, in order to achieve a better life result, to..

  1. Determine priorities for yourself. List them, and order them.
  2. Each week set aside time to evaluate, and most importantly, reassert in your own life what your priorities are and how that should be reflected in your choices.
  3. Occasionally re-evaluate those priorities, and determine if some areas are needing more attention.

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Barbecue and Beer in Kansas City

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Kansas City is one of several places in America known for their barbecue.  Recently, Travel and Leisure magazine ranked it America’s best city for barbecue.  In other rankings, the city almost always places in the top 3-5.  While barbecue is sometimes the subject of fierce debate, Kansas City has a distinct barbecue style that appears to always be part of the discussion.  Regardless of how any specific barbecue fan feels about Kansas City’s sweet, savory, and saucy barbecue style, it has certainly earned significance in culinary circles, and it certainly has its fans.

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I came to Kansas City with only one food agenda… I wanted barbecue.  I did not bring up any specific places or dishes.  I just knew I wanted barbecue.  I’d leave the rest up to the locals.

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The first place I found myself was a place called Joe’s.  I was already encouraged by the name.  For some reason it feels like the restaurants with the best local food in the United States are named just someone’s first name (examples [1][2][3]).  I wonder if this is the same in other countries.

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We waited in line for close to an hour to eat at Joe’s.  This may be partially due to the fact that it was Memorial Day Weekend.  But, I cannot imagine that this line is too much shorter on any other Saturday in the summer.

Without even making the specific request, I found myself at one of Anthony Bourdain’s 13 places to eat before you die.

One can clearly see that this is the kind of place that values their sauces, and a variety of sauces.  This contrasts the barbecue style of Kansas City with some other places, where I was told there is greater emphasis on the meat itself, how it’s cooked and how it’s spiced.

The portion sizes ended up being somewhat deceptive.  I ordered the rib dinner, which included a half a slab of ribs, Texas Toast, and a side.  It did not look like a lot of food, but I found myself fuller than I had felt in quite some time!

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The next day we went to a barbecue establishment with a different feel.  Whereas Joe’s is actually in a gas station, and in Kansas, B-B’s is in Missouri, and feels more like what most barbecue places I’ve been at feel like.  The walls are more densely decorated than an Applebees, and plastic red and white table cloth covers the tables.

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Side note:  While technically, Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri are two different municipalities, they don’t feel too different.  If it weren’t for the highway signs, or the road named Stateline Rd. I would probably be unaware that I am entering a new state.

As if traveling food shows were somehow my destiny for the weekend, B-B’s Bar-B-Q was featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners Drive Ins and Dives.

It was another phenomenal meal, but once again, I overate.

In addition to eating more than I typically do, I drank after both meals, much of it being in the form of beer.  Beer, of course, is one of the most filling forms of alcohol.  So, while my tastebuds enjoyed this entire experience (Boulevard Brewing makes some excellent beer), my body was not happy.  I came away from this weekend not knowing how people here are able to eat and drink this way on a regular basis.

Despite this, it was still an amazing experience, and I got to see other things that Kansas City has to offer, including their downtown and historic Power & Light district (there has to be a reason for this, but I did not bother to look it up).

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One thing that plagues the modern world, and particularly my generation, is mental exhaustion.  Our minds are exhausted from the information overload which often results in analysis paralysis, which becomes extremely inefficient and exhausting.  When planning activities, we often give ourselves the following choices:

First is to select an activity that is familiar.  One that has already been done, and we are familiar with.  With this, we get a good experience without exhausting our minds planning.  However, there is no expanding our horizons.  Choosing all of our activities in this manner will inevitably lead to a rut.

The second is to do extensive research, spending hours on Yelp, Tripadvisor, and similar sites.  This, will usually ensure a good experience, but at the expense of exhausting research and planning.

The other option is to just wing it, making quick selections based on gut instincts.  This minimizes the exhaustion in selecting activities.  However, it can often lead to sub-par experiences.  I used to love to eat at randomly selected restaurants in the central business districts of small towns.  This practice lead to some unexpectedly amazing experiences.  But, there were quite a few disappointments as well.

My experience in Kansas City provided me with yet another reason community and trust are so valuable in our society.  By knowing people who are knowledgable on the subject of barbecue, I found myself at two truly great barbecue places without having to spend time researching places.  I relied on the knowledge of others.  This is something I hope we all can do more often as we seek out new places and experiences.

Pure Magic

Las Vegas, Nevada!  Magical!

IMG_7480.jpgWhile I am not sure everyone agrees, it is one of those rare situations where, at least from my perspective, one word can be used to sum up a place.

The word magic itself can be a tricky one to pin down.  Most people think of magicians pulling rabbits out of hats.  Some people think about some kind of supernatural force, something that cannot be explained by science and logic, which, for many, has a negative connotation.

To me, magic is the power to transform.  No illusions are necessary, nor are any supernatural powers (although, as an open minded individual I will not rule them out).  I find it “magical” anytime a specific situation has the power to transform something into something else, regardless of whether anything that can be considered supernatural is involved.  Magic can occur in the standard magician situation, like when one sits there wondering how the four of hearts suddenly became a mountain goat.  But, it can also happen when someone meets a new person, when a rainbow suddenly appears, or when a new experience leads to people viewing the world a different way.  All of these “transformations” occur well within the realm of what can physically be explained by either science or logic.

As soon as I set foot in Las Vegas, I see a world transformed into something completely different.

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Paris is a mile from New York, and just across the street from Caesar’s Palace.  Less than a mile up the road is Treasure Island.

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Suddenly midnight is “early”, and 3 A.M. is not too particularly “late”.

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Money transforms from paper into little round discs.  Suddenly, $5 is a “nickel”, and $25 is a “quarter”.

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People are suddenly willing to take on all sorts of risks they’d otherwise be unable to fathom.

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And, those weighing over 350 pounds, most likely typically shamed in their day-to-day life, can eat for free at a place called the Heart Attack Grill!

When I think of the people I talk to, or have talked to on a regular basis, I would say that Las Vegas appeals to roughly 2/3 of the population.  I do frequently encounter people who tell me they have no interest in visiting Vegas.  It is, after all, somewhat of a hyperbole for a certain aspect of adult life, particularly young adult life, that is wild and unrestricted, but also potentially destructive in multiple ways.

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Vegas got its start as a gambling destination.  Gambling is still probably the first thing anyone would think of when the think of Las Vegas.

Gambling in Las Vegas can be a number of different types of experiences.  There are plenty of different kinds of games and plenty of different kinds of experiences, from the fancier resorts, like Aria and the Wynn, to more affordable places like Casino Royale and Circus Circus.

Those that prefer lower stakes can opt for a change of pace at the Freemont Street Experience.  This was the original Las Vegas, and some of these casinos, right in the heart of what is considered Downtown Las Vegas, a few miles north of the strip, are among the first ones developed here in the middle part of the 20th Century.

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The pedestrian mall in some ways is reminiscent of similar streets in other major cities.  The street almost becomes a non-stop party, with attractions, tons of places to drink (and in this case gamble), and areas where stages are commonly set up for bands to play.

My primary gambling mode is, and probably always will be, table games, usually black jack or craps.  On this particular trip, I found my sweet spot at places that fit somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, such as the Flamingo, Cromwell, Ballys and Treasure Island.

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But Vegas is more than gambling.  In fact, there are plenty of visitors that come and do very little gambling, preferring to spend their time at the clubs, at pools, shopping, or taking part in another activity altogether.

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The common thread to everything that goes on here is that people are enjoying themselves, embracing their wild sides, in their own way, and letting go of at least some component of the restriction they live under during their normal lives, even if it’s as simple as piling up large amounts of foods that do not typically “go together” at a buffet.

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As a single entity, Vegas makes me think of what it would be like to live in a movie, or on some natural version of a drug high.  Everything feels more significant.  The dull parts are cut out.  There is no doing laundry, ironing shirts or anything like that.  Heck, even sleeping is reduced.  Decorations and shows appear everywhere in a manner that stimulates all five senses until they are overloaded.

I’d say the “real world” (however you want to define it) is not magical, but whose fault is that?  Could I be missing the “magic” that does occur on a day-to-day basis?  As people become entrepreneurs, find new relationships, have the courage to leave bad relationships, discover who they truly are, and go on life changing trips.  Could I be failing to take the opportunities to create “magic” when they present themselves?  When someone needs help, when someone has an idea, or when a truly splendid rainbow appears in the sky, just begging me to stop what I am doing, forget whatever my mind is currently fixated on, and just allow myself to take in the experience.

The truth is, with a good enough imagination, enough confidence, and a willingness to act, any place can be “magical”.  But, whenever I lose sight of that, I know I can always go back to Vegas to reconnect with it.

Logan Square: A Place That Still Feels Like Home

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In some ways, it feels as if I never left.  I go about my business from instinct.  I do not need to look up where things are, think too hard about how to get there, and fret about to expect from the people around me.  It is all still very familiar, fresh in my memory.  Things like how the streets are laid out, where the traffic lights are, or where and how to board busses and trains are still like second nature to me.  It is what makes a place feel like “home”.  It is what many people miss after a couple of months moving to a new town, as, for most, it takes time to become truly acquainted with a city, the customs, the energy, mannerisms and the like.

It’s now been nearly four years since I moved away from this neighborhood of Chicago, situated several miles northwest of downtown, near the halfway point between downtown and O’Hare International Airport.  Four years has always been a fascinating length of time for me.  I was a teenager when I first observed the significance of this length of time – four years.  I’ve always been fascinated with observing people, what makes them the way they are and how that changes over time.  I’d think about people, including myself, who they were, what kind of life they are living, what activities they are taking part in, and what their expectations are.  These things were likely to be quite similar one year to the next, but after a four year time frame, significant differences would be observed in most people.

This may be cultural, as we are trained from a young age to break our lives down into four year increments (high school, college, etc.).  But, I noticed something else too.  It felt as if four years was how long certain unintentional transitions took to manifest.  It’s how long a person can passively absorb a new culture (by passively I mean neither actively embracing nor resisting it) before starting to also reflect it.  It is how long one can go without talking to someone before it really does start to become awkward to meet again.

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It’s not like everything is exactly the way it was four years ago. No place really works like that.  Over the course of time, things change: A store goes out of business, a new one pops up, a few places renovate their buildings, new signage comes in, etc.  We are accustomed to this gradual change.  In the place where we live, we do not even notice it.  It’s kind of a seamless flow.  However, after several years, the cumulative effect of all the new development becomes noticeable.  This Logan Square, the one I returned to in June 2016 is not different enough to feel foreign to me.  It feels more like when a best friend gets a different haircut, or when a house gets one room remodeled.  It’s still the same person.  It’s still the same house.  It’s still the same Logan Square, just with a couple of new features.

Logan Square is also a neighborhood in transition.  It has been for a long time.  At the turn of the century, when the renewed interest in urban living following the crime reductions that took place in many major cities during the 1990s was still a new thing, Logan Square was still run down, and kind of edgy.  It would take a few more years and several thousand more young people searching for the new urban life.  However, Logan Square was destined to become a destination for young urban professionals.  The CTA blue line runs right through the heart of the neighborhood, giving residents easy access to both downtown and O’Hare airport.  Logan Square is somewhat of a hybrid neighborhood in this sense. It is possible to live here car free. But, car ownership is not the burden it is closer to downtown, where monthly parking can get quite pricey.  Most residents pay something like $100 a year (I’m not sure what it is exactly now- not something I keep up with) for a neighborhood city sticker.

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The Logan Square I came back to was a Logan Square with somewhat more energy than it had several years ago.  There were more people walking around.  There was more nightlife.  There were more buildings, and a lot of new restaurants, bars, shops, just places to go in general.  This should not be surprising.  It is just a continuation of the trend that I had once been a part of.  Logan Square felt more energetic and more alive, but it definitely maintained most of its individual character.  It felt like home- just a slightly livelier home.

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The weekend was fast-paced, and full of events, taking me from one side of the city to the other.  Due to time constraints, I took far too many Uber rides, as it would have taken longer to take trains and busses everywhere.  I recall going up and down the Kennedy and Dan Ryan expressways, passing from one side of town to another over and over again.  This is the part of a busy weekend, which is mostly about scrambling around to as many events, and seeing as many people as possible, that fades into kind of a blur.  It’s just a blur of nighttime expressway riding, going through Hubbard’s Canyon and riding by the new Whirlyball building a whole bunch of times.

Trips back to Chicago always feel like a whirlwind for me.  Trying to spend time with family friends, etc., see as many people as possible.  But, there is more to it than that.  Everything around me seems to happen faster here.  There is something about dense urban environments that make me, and probably others around me as well, walk faster, move faster, live faster.  Events happen and plans come together much quicker.  It’s like there is something in the air, or something about seeing a lot of buildings, people, and just stuff going on all around us that makes us want to pick up the pace.  If there is one thing I truly miss about Chicago and my life there, it is that.

A Visit to Albuquerque

People like to break things up into neat little groups.  It is a technique people use in order to try to simplify a world that, in reality, is quite complicated.  In the United States, we take our cities, and break them out into various groupings.  We place cities in groups based on their region, their size, and sometimes even by culture.  I am as guilty as anyone of doing this.  But, every once in a while, we find ourselves in a place that reminds us that we need to respect two basic tenants of humanity, which apply both to the Cities we visit, as an entity, as well as to each and every one of us individually.

Each City, just like every one of us, has a distinct and unique individual identity.  In this identity, we see reflections of factors such as its geographic location, its history, and some of its specific influences, such as specific personalities and prominent industries.  We also see some specific quirks that cannot be easily explained just by looking at what we observe elsewhere.  It is the same way with each and every one of us.  When we are being true to ourselves, our behavior patterns manifest in a similar unique manner, a manner that can only be described as attributed to our unique person.  I feel it every time any one of my friends responds to anything I do or say by simply saying “That’s so Steve”.

Also embedded in the character of any City I have ever visited are reflections of natural law, or the universal truths that bind us all together.

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Albuquerque reminded me of both of these two basic facts.  Albuquerque has a unique heritage.  It has similar beginnings as Santa Fe, and even has an Old Town Square that reflects these beginnings.

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However, much of the city was built in a much more sun-belt style car-centric manner.  It is one of the most storied towns along historic U.S. route 66.  Route 66 embodies multiple eras of U.S. history, including the mass migration to California during the Great Depression, and later the first decade after the second World War, when the American road trip first became accessible to a large swath of the American people; the middle class.

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Route 66 connected Chicago to Los Angeles from the late 1920s through the end of the 1970s.  While the route covers a large distance, traversing many different parts of the country, it is the Southwest, New Mexico and Arizona, that is often most commonly pictured when people imagine that classic road trip on route 66.  While the exact location of the route 66 town in Disney’s Cars is not disclosed, the imagery in the movie clearly points to a southwestern location.

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Albuquerque celebrates its pivotal position along route 66 by both preserving some of the places that were legendary stops for travelers along this highway.

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As well as creating restorations that recreate the experience of being at a travel stop along the old highway, much the same way old west towns recreate the American West during the 1800s.

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Route 66 is even the subject of a major controversy in town.  A proposed Bus Rapid Transit project, called Albuquerque Rapid Transit, would more or less follow the path of historic route 66 through town.  Residents of a hip area of town adjacent to the University of New Mexico called Nob Hill appear united in opposition to the project.  Some of the signs I saw opposing the Albuquerque Rapid Transit referenced protecting the heritage of route 66.  However, I wonder if this opposition is motivated by route 66 preservation, or the desire to avoid any changes to the neighborhood.

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Regardless of whether the people are motivated by the desire to preserve route 66 in its historic format, or preserve their neighborhood the way it currently is, on display here is one aspect of humanity that appears consistent across all cultures.  When people are enjoying their current situation, they generally do not desire change, and, in many cases, will fiercely oppose it.  This has been the case for me, personally, at various stages in my own life, and is also evident in a lot of the behaviors I observe in others when they react to changes in the workplace or their favorite social media outlet.

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It also appears to be basic human nature to seek out a broader view of the world from time to time.  It is the reason people go to the top of the world’s tallest building, hike Mount Rainier, or sit and gaze down at Los Angeles from the Hollywood sign.  Albuquerque’s answer to this is the Sandia Peak Tramway.

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This tramway takes passengers on a 15-minute ride from a base elevation of 6559 feet (already significantly higher than the center of town), to a peak of 10,378 feet. Here, visitors to the area can see unique rock formations.

 

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Learn about the unique biomes that can be found in the mountainous terrain (Breckenridge has a similar exhibit, but uses an actual garden).

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And, can get a view overlooking this city that actually covers a much broader area than just the Albuquerque city limits.  In fact, Sandia Peak is so high that it is quite difficult to make out individual buildings or even neighborhoods in town!

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The culture is unique as well, seeming to combine so many aspects of the West and Southwest.

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Along the Rio Grande River, which cuts through the center of town, a bike trail, as well as numerous parks provide the urban outdoor space that Westerners seem to value so much.  Whereas, in many other cities I have visited and lived in, living in close proximity to a park is desirable, but kind of a bonus, it feels as if people here in the West view being near a park as a prerequisite, a necessity of life itself!

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On this particular Sunday afternoon, a parade of classic cars rolled through Old Town Square, showing off their classic appeal, and the hard work each and every car owner put into maintaining their vehicle’s shine.

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That evening, on the West side of downtown, another group of people are gathered, also showing off their vehicles, and, almost downright partying.

When I think of all the cars revving their engines up at night, all I can say is, “That’s so Albuquerque”.  One could speculate what mix of cultural influences, old Spanish, sunbelt, Western, Hispanic, etc. lead to Albuquerque being the way it is today.  But it is more than that.  The same can be said about any other place one would visit.  That is why we travel, not just when we need to go somewhere for business, or when we wish to visit people that live in another place, but also when we desire an experience we simply cannot have in our respective hometowns.

An Old World Town in a New World Region

In the U.S.A., we are quite accustomed to the seeing certain kinds of towns in certain parts of the country.  Since cities were built earlier on the East Coast, we expect to see towns laid out like Boston, Annapolis, or Charleston.  These cities tend to be a bit more challenging to navigate, as is particularly the case with Boston.

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By contrast, in the Western part of the country, we expect to see towns built more around automobile (or the automobile’s predecessor in the late 19th Century, the horse drawn carriage).  Cities like Phoenix, designed with driving in mind, have mostly straight-line roads, with suburban areas having windy subdivisions.

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This is what we have come to expect from towns in this part of the country.  So, when I first looked at Santa Fe’s road network, I was quite surprised to see a city full of windy roads that resembled something I would expect to see along the East Coast, or in Europe.

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Oddly enough, New Mexico is one of the oldest regions in the U.S., at least when it comes to architecture.  The historical lineage is just different.  New Mexico is home to over a hundred Native American Pueblos that date back to long before anyone associated with the United States of America would arrive.  Many of them are still inhabited, with some having been inhabited for over 1000 years!  This is quite a long time for this part of the world.

Santa Fe, New Mexico’s capitol city was founded originally as a Spanish colony in 1610, ten years before the Mayflower would come ashore in Massachusetts, and still retains much of its original Spanish style.  In some ways, driving into New Mexico feels like entering a whole different region, fairly instantaneously.  I first noticed this storm chasing in college. It was my first time in New Mexico, or Arizona.  I was previously unaware of the prevalence of adobe style buildings in these two states, and was somewhat surprised to see how abruptly the styles of the building around me changed once I crossed the border from Texas into New Mexico.

Santa Fe appears to have retained much of its cultural heritage.  Aware that New Mexico has a substantial Spanish history, I decided that it might be a good idea to check out a Spanish restaurant downtown.

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Taberna came highly recommended by the staff at the hotel, and certainly did not disappoint.  The food was excellent, and, on this particular evening, a performer named Jesus Bas performed for the customers.  I sincerely, if only for a moment while sipping a glass of wine, tasting enchiladas, and hearing Spanish music, felt like I was in Spain.  Well, at the very least, it made me want to go to Spain.

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I decided to somewhat follow in the footsteps of one of the people who inspired me to start writing about my travels, Anthony Bourdaine.  For those not familiar, he is a chef who eventually became the host of a series of food related travel shows.  I watched a lot of his previous Travel Channel show No Reservations, where he did not just simply describe the food he was eating, he would also reflect upon the experience, what certain places made him feel like, and what historical context they can be placed in and such.  His current show, which is actually a bit less food focused and more focused on the travel is called Parts Unknown.  So, I was actually quite excited to see a souvenir shop actually called Parts Unknown.  Additionally, the shop is located only a few doors down from one of the places Anthony Bourdaine visited on the Season 2 episode where he travels around New Mexico; the Five and Dime, a shop where he gets a Frito Chili Pie, a commonly served dish in New Mexico.

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I did not end up getting the Frito Chili Pie, as there were a limited number of meals I could have here in Santa Fe.  I mostly just looked around at the souvenirs available in this shop, which featured Santa Fe’s connection to one of my favorite aspects of American History, route 66 (although the route bypassed Santa Fe starting in 1937).

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I ended up going to a place called Horesman’s Haven, a small restaurant on the edge of Santa Fe famous for authentic New Mexican style food where Anthony Bourdaine was caught off guard by the level of spice in their green chili.

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My chili was not quite as spicy, but still packed quite a punch.  I am glad it did!  Many people try to avoid spicy food while on vacation, to avoid experiencing an upset stomach while far from home.  In this case, the level of spice was an important part of the experience.  Life is meant to be experienced.  Some people spend their entire lives trying to avoid bad outcomes.  In my view this is a sure fire way to miss out on countless rewarding experiences.  Bad outcomes are going to happen.  We just need to manage them in our own way.  Missing out on a whole bunch of experiences, and I am talking about things much more significant than one high quality meal, bears a much greater cost than the occasional unfavorable outcome.

I am guessing this is the attitude taken by the unexpectedly high number of people who make a living as an artist in this town.  In the downtown part of Santa Fe, it seemed like half of all buildings house art galleries.  Santa Fe is known for art galleries, but there seemed to be way more than is necessary to support a town of roughly 70,000 people, even if all of those people are wealthy and have dozens and dozens of pieces of artwork hanging from all of their walls.

Like New Mexico as a whole, Santa Fe appears to have an interesting set of values that does not fit neatly into one of the categories we have become familiar with.  It is western, but also European.  It is cowboy, but also quite diverse.

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It is a state capital, but has a state capital building that looks nothing like any of the other ones I have seen across the country.

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It is the kind of place that erects historical markers dedicated to fiscal responsibility, an important, even if not flashy, achievement, and one that reflects the western values of personal responsibility.

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It is also a place that erects building dedicated to the memory horrible death marches in Europe.

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It is both “old world”, and “new world”.  It does what we all need to do, both in our own cities, and more importantly, individually.  It combines old ideas with new ideas in a way that uniquely represents its individual identity.