The jewel of the Black Sea is Varna, Bulgaria.
The jewel of the Black Sea is Varna, Bulgaria.
The jewel of the Black Sea is Varna, Bulgaria.
I walked through Bangkok’s ultra modern Suvarnabhumi Airport to what seemed like a brand new metro in the basement. It was nice and cool, the air conditioning pumping full blast. They had a lot of security staffing the place. Two women stood on either side of a metal detector, laughing as it went off every time a passenger walked through. They waved their wands at me and I laughed back. I think we all realized how pointless the screening was.
I bought a train token for 45 baht, one way. They were cheap looking plastic chips that electronically opened the gates. I felt like I could snap them with a mistake of my fingers.
I got on the escalator and went down to the platform. Looking around, there were no crowds by the metro doors, just queues of people, quietly and patiently waiting for the train to arrive. It was way too big of a station with ten sliding doors. When the train came it only accessed half of them. The old passengers exited and no one got on. Instead, security personnel walked through the cars and finally ushered us to pass once they deemed it safe.
The train took off for Phaya Thai where I was to transfer. The tracks ran along a highway that looked like a race track. I watched as the lanes tilted into curves colored like clay tennis courts. We streamed past tiny houses dwarfed by gigantic billboards. They screamed technological progress: new 70” Samsung TVs, new MG sports utility vehicles, beer that guaranteed friendship.
I looked down again. Urban rivers trickled like an archaic artery of the city that had outgrown them. The narrow canals trembled in the fast moving wake of big tour boats.
I went to Thailand and did the whole tourist trap. To tell you the truth, I loved it. Street food, and spiced fresh fruit, tours of temples and majestic ruins, but my favorite was Wat Phanan Choeng and it’s big Buddha.
I took of my shoes and was overwhelmed by red and gold and the constant chink of followers patting pockets for coins. Babies cried and toddlers watched YouTube videos on smart phones while their parents chanted. Fans blew over bent knees under the giant statue. I simply looked up in awe.
A man walked around, laughing with experience. He collected coins from the visitors, and in exchange handed them neatly folded orange robes on silver platters. Buddha was dressed and undressed, dressed and undressed. Orange sheets flung up by three generations. The oldest, still laughing as he now took the sheets from the kneeling people. A middle aged man treated the service like a job, quickly taking the sheets and throwing it over his shoulder. The youngest, nervous and trembling, took sheets and flung them with all his might, barely making it to the crew standing in giant Buddha’s lap.
I felt so foreign, yet very much part of it all. I felt the cycle. To be a part of something larger, but unmistakably connected.
I glided into Venice at sunset aboard a slow moving water bus. It took an hour to get to Ponte di Rialto, the effective center of Veneto’s capital. The shadows of the romantic city contrasted the silhouettes of the factories in the distance. The sun sank, not into the horizon, but into the thick clouds above it, a candy red sun swallowed whole.
The next day the stores were bright and the shop keepers jaded. The narrow streets a sharp labyrinth of tourist traps; the hosts in front of the restaurants mercilessly trying to attract business. I walked along emerald waters stuck to buildings trying to stay afloat. Visitors passed by with shirts that yelled Rome or Paris or FC Barcelona and snapped their cameras haphazardly while travel wallets swung from their necks.
I stopped in places at leisure. There was no reason to be selective, Venice can be explored in anyway but straight forward. Some souvenir shops were stocked with glass figurines and decorative light fixtures. Others were crammed with the hollow heads of masquerade masks. There were leather shops and little stores that sold fountain pens; wine filled plastic two liter bottles in exchange for a few euros. I passed by them all but the wine shop.
Bridges crossed over gondolas. I looked down at the most unromantic part of Venice. The narrow black boats packed the canals full of foreigners. No real Venetian would be caught dead in one it seemed. I’m not sure how many Venetians even live in Venice these days.
The city was undeniably gorgeous, but I preferred Venice at night when the streets eerily emptied and a stark silence humbled the ears. The moon was nearly full and the little boats sat in the canals perfectly still, calmly waiting for the bustle of the next day.
Paris isn't as romantic as it's said to be. It's beautiful, yes. Sprawling with culture, of course. But it felt cold and distant compared to other cities I've seen in Europe. Maybe it's because I can't speak a lick of French, but I have a feeling that Paris is a city that rewards intimacy. I would really need to live in it and know people before it becomes rewarding.
I went to Valencia the week before Las Fallas really kicked off. I took poor photos and burned them all. I guess everything is right in the world.
I hopped off the plane and made the long walk through a modern wing of Madrid's Barajas Airport. I slept the entire flight from Newark to Europe and easily had enough energy to reintroduce myself to the city I left almost two years back. Rounding the corner, I skipped down the stairs, and after 10 minutes I was in front of a Spanish customs officer. The man looked up, and without any change to his short, dark, and distinctively Iberian features said, “Your hair looks like you stuck your fingers in an electrical socket. Passport please.” Yup, I’ve made it back to Spain.
I like realizing that I’m a beginner at everything. I understand that what I want takes time to develop. I like knowing that I'm responsible for creating change. This is the beginning of growth.
When I was home, I met a friend for a beer, but he only had time for one. It hurt, yet I realize that it’s unreasonable to expect people to make time for me since I’ve been away for so long. Sitting and listening to his updates felt like a mandatory chore. I shared my stories and plans and I felt redundant. We struggled to avoid the cliche, to turn the conversation to the conceptual, to explore the trivialities of life in a jovial jest like we used to. Instead, we read from the script, and I hated myself for it.
Did all my friends grow up too fast, taking on the real responsibilities of life or did I never mature, galavanting across continents in a wunderlustful blitz? I think I’m in the right, but everyone else thinks they are too.
I can’t look to what I have to do in nine months. I can’t keep looking at other people’s display of success. I think I know what makes me happy. I’m doing what I love and I’m being honest with myself, even if I’m not being honest with other people. For some reason I have to convince others that I’m doing something worthwhile. It’s worthwhile to me.
First things first, the city is called San Francisco, SF, or the City by the Bay. Don’t call it San Fran. Don’t call it Frisco. The equivalent would be calling Washington, D.C. “Disco.” Cool? Great.
Now, here are my favorite things to do while visiting the City by the Bay:
Muir Woods - Journeying into the Redwoods is a west coast rite of passage. Muir woods cannot be missed, but you’ll need to drive to get there. I suggest taking advantage of a car sharing app like Getaround and ride over the Golden Gate Bridge in style. Arrive early and hike inwards. The beginning of the national park is filled with kids and grannies, but if you walk a half hour in, you'll find yourself alone amongst gargantuan sized trees. If you can help it, go on a weekday to avoid the crowd.
Baker Beach - San Francisco really isn't known for its beaches, but if you come during the SF summer (late August - early October) theres a decent chance that you'll be able to lay out on the Pacific coast sand. I encourage you to really enjoy the sand, because I wouldn't recommend getting in the water.
Land's End/Sutro Baths - If you don't have much time in the city, and you want something quick and easy, look no further than Land's End. The path runs right along the cliff and features impressive views and foliage with a muted prehistoric feel. If you see an opening, veer off the path and climb down to the beach to catch an alternate view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Sunset at Ocean Beach - Have you ever seen the sun abandon the continental United States? Few places rival Ocean Beach. The beach itself is wide, so it's easy to be left alone, and if you go on a Friday or Saturday night, the warm smell of bonfires near Beach Chalet will ignite your senses. Be sure to bring something to drink. If not, there's a supermarket a block away to wet your palate.
Beach Chalet - A fun family friendly afternoon treat. If the weather is clear (not likely), head over to this landmark right on the Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy 1). Most people think that Beach Chalet is only a restaurant, but theres a beautiful little backyard where families bring umbrellas and blankets while enjoying the food and beverage service. Beach Chalet also brews their own beer.
Upper Haight - The once capital of the beat generation’s pilgrimage west is now occupied by neohippies and excellent thrift stores. There are palm readers, shops selling crystals, people selling drugs, and Amoeba, the famous record store by the corner of Stanyan and Haight. Just go up here, and wander around. Be a little bit more open than you usually would and I’m sure the city will take care of you.
California Academy of Sciences - A science museum for San Francisco’s hip young transplants. The building is beautiful, and the botanical roof offers a wild setting and impressive hint at the construction's complexity. If you’re in the city on a Thursday evening, go during “Nightlife,” for a trendy date night with food and alcohol and science. Science.
The Castro Theatre - This beautiful Spanish baroque building sits at number 100 on the list of San Francisco's Designated Landmarks. Smack dab in the middle of arguably the gayest place on earth, the theatre often plays critically acclaimed 20th century films and sells popcorn sprinkled with delicious yeast.
Art Attack SF - If you’re traveling with someone who has never been to San Francisco, they will undoubtably drag you onto the Powell-Mason cable car to Pier 39. I get it; you have to do it, but after your tour of Ghirardelli Square, and purchase average tasting chocolates that you can literally buy anywhere else in the country, check out Art Attack SF. This modern art gallery/cafe/studio is closed on Mondays, but is by far the most San Francisco thing about Fishermans Wharf and Pier 39. There’s also a patio in the back with a few chairs if you feel like relaxing while your friend tries In-N-Out for the first time. Oh, you want In-N-Out too? It’s only a block away.
Events & Activities
Archimedes Banya - This little bathhouse in Bayview (aka Hunter’s Point) is slightly out of the way, but definitely worth the trip for an afternoon at the spa. It’s open from noon until midnight, seven days a week, and there always seems to be a bit of sexual energy wafting around the place. Go at night for a unique view of downtown SF and the Bay Bridge. I strongly recommended this place to the casual exhibitionist, pretend Russian mobster, and seeker of cheap luxury. Three hours at Archimedes Banya will run you $42.
Showdown @ Folsom Street Foundry (Every Tuesday 6-12) - This Tuesday game night is made up of console and computer games and the occasional craft beer. It’s nerdy as hell and everyone there is friendly and inviting.
Tourettes without Regrets (Oakland) - First Thursday of the month - It’s not technically in San Francisco, but this event takes the cake as the best event in the Bay Area. It’s hosted by Oakland comedian Jamie DeWolf, and anything and everything can and will happen. I’m talking chainsaw juggling, Jesus burlesque shows, rap battles, you name it. Seriously, this is not for the faint of heart because I’ve literally seen them throw pig hearts across the room. You’ve been warned.
Standup at the Shelton Theater -This spot has multiple shows a night and is close to Powell and Union Square. There’s a bar upstairs and
Boom Boom Room - Funk, soul, jazz, and the signature San Francisco dive bar lighting. This bar on Fillmore is easy to get to and always a lot of fun. It’s quiet enough to have a drink and a chat, but live enough to bust a move or two on the dance floor. The majority of the crowd is in their forties or fifties, but everyone is young at heart.
House of Air - Have you ever commanded an army of 12-year-olds in aerial dodgeball? Have you ever flipped across a trampoline park? Have you ever asked your mom for the perfect birthday party, but never got it? Well, this place is all of that and more. There’s coffee, and a foam pit, and if you’re someone who has to exercise while on vacation, this can count as your work out. Be warned, it’s a real pain to get there, but after your mid air assault, take a stroll through Crissy Field and marvel at Fort Point and the best view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
El Rio - If you’re in the Mission and you got cash in your pocket, this place might just be the perfect bar. Traditionally a LGBT spot, this place is completely open and welcoming to everyone. There's shuffleboard and pool in the front, pingpong in the middle of the best back patio in the city, and a concert venue in a side room. The crowd is older before sunset and full of real San Franciscans, but turns into a young hangout in the evenings. And did I mention that a Tecate with a little lime only runs you $1 on Mondays? Drinks are on me.
Make-out Room (Mission) - I've never made-out with anyone in this place, but I feel like everyone else I know has. This dancey dive bar is hipster heaven. Girls with died black hair and septum rings, boys with grossly groomed beards, and a live band or DJ spinning vinyl. The only downside is that there is usually a cover, few places to sit. This is a spot to groove and be grooved on. Ya dig?
Bissap Baobab - Senegalese food and dancing. I actually went on a terrible date here one time with a woman who was way too old for me and only talked about her salsa classes. She didn't drink the delicious cocktails, she seemed to ignore the afro beats that vibrated through the packed dance floor, and she laughed at all my jokes. Something had to be wrong. Check out Baobab on a Saturday when the place fills up and the music is bumping.
Bottom of the Hill - Located in Potrero Hill, you will not casually stumble into this bar. It’s a great midweek bar for local up and coming acts. The music is always eclectic and the space is comfortably spread out so you can shake it like you own the place (or stare awkwardly at those who are shaking it like they own the place).
Tonga Room & Hurricane Bar - It’s a tiki bar in the basement of the Fairmont Hotel with fairly expensive drinks and an artificial lagoon with a real boat floating in the middle of it. It makes no sense at all. Grab a Mai-Thai and male kalikimaka or whatever.
Ok, I get it. You really read this because you're a big foodie and keep hearing that San Francisco is the spot for great food. You're right, but unlike many other cities, you're gonna have to pay. Full disclosure, I’m not a foodie, but please enjoy the following cheap eats from around the Mission in no particular order:
Zante's Indian Pizza - I was walking home from the super market with a frozen pizza when I was nearly run over by four women in a white Subaru. They apologized and then asked me to join them for Indian pizza. I was confused too, but I had to know what this place was all about. It's a decent walk south of 24th Street BART station, but this place is worth the trek. The dough is like naan, the chicken is tandoori, and I'm pretty sure there's no tomato sauce, but it's definitely pizza. Every other Friday I would buy an extra large Indian pizza and pick at it over the weekend. Oh! And make sure you're a little cheeky with the skinny guy with glasses. He likes to play silly games to get you to drink, and he beat me. What to order: "One Haywards 5000 Super Strong Beer and an extra large Indian Pizza!"
Yamo (Mission) - I'll miss Yamo almost as much as I'll miss Sutro Tower. This eight person restaurant is squeezed on the corner of 18th and Mission and is tirelessly operated by three Burmese women. Don't forget, Yamo is their restaurant, so it's their rules. If you get to Yamo, but your party isn't complete, too bad! There's no wait list. Ideally, eat here alone or if you have to, with one friend.. If you come with any more, you will never be seated. The women might seem a little cold, but they're really just having a bit of fun at your expense. If you feel like you need to storm out, good! Someone else will happily take your place at one of the very few seats. What to order: No one seems to order anything other than the house noodle. You can get it with a variety of meats, but I prefer it with chicken.
Ken Ken Ramen - Just across the street from Yamo, is a decent ramen shop. The seaweed salad is delicious, and the noodles are a bit too salty, but it has the best bathroom in San Francisco. I'm not kidding. If you're in the Mission, go to Ken Ken to see the bathroom. I'm not shitting you.
It's important to do something that scares you, like talking to new people, buying that ticket, admitting you're wrong or saying you're sorry. My scary act for the day was trusting the internet, and it was brilliant.
Dee contacted me through Model Mayhem, a mostly seedy, yet mind-blowingly inspirational network for photographers and models. We were both new to the site, so we shared ideas for a mood board for a few weeks before agreeing to meet at Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland.
I arrived and kids were everywhere. Of course, it was a beautiful Sunday and The Peanuts Movie just came out. Dee, her fiancé, and I slipped through the doors and up the stairs to a bustling vintage balcony adorned with towering marble columns, lavish crown molding and poor lighting. We turned back to the street and met the golden hour. Then, the trip began.
If I could have it my way, I would always fall asleep first. I tried falling asleep last for a while, but it left me tired and alone. I'd rather let you tell me about it in the morning. I mean, if I didn't pass out as soon as I hit the sheets, I wouldn't have woken up to the sun rising over Lake Tahoe. I wouldn't have grabbed David and Trevor for an early morning walk. I might not have taken out my camera in the first place.
Sometimes the best nights start in the morning.
I can't believe I haven't been to Las Vegas before. This is how everyone should live--for no more than 24 hours.
The massive, rusted out warehouse was filled with installations. The space was set up to host San Francisco’s annual Halloween rave, Ghostship, and not TEDx, a sobering yet equally mind altering experience.
I could only stay for the hour, but I witnessed Keith Yamashita, of the SY Partners, speak about the need for honest creativity and the power of good design. I heard from serial venture capitalist Vitaly Golomb as he shared his stories of being a one and a half generation American, and the importance of global empathy and understanding our misunderstandings. I mean, I even heard from another guy who wanted to send us all to Mars.
But what I heard from well respected speakers fell short of the genuine conversations I had with those in attendance. I learnt from the guy standing behind me in line for a burger about the playfulness of marriage. Jordan told me about his new position at Ministry of Supply and their space tech clothing line. Reza and Jihan and talked to me about about lenses and how to control your temper. Luke Day, told me about his new startup and the t-shirt business.
There's not too much of a story here; I just wanted to tell you that I had a good time.
I went on a vacation to Big Sur with a new family, and they took me in like I belonged. I thanked them for their kindness and I promise to give it back.
We weren't lazy, we just took our time. We didn't make phone calls, we just spoke to each other. We had no obligations, just quiet air and a sunlight that rose at half past eleven over the redwood canopy. No one complained. We simply sat until we felt like getting up.
It's funny how I'm confined to a city with every option available, while there's a sprawling country with very little to do. I have to ask myself which would make me happy. I can't imagine only one.
Don't mind me, just scroll to the bottom and appreciate the naked chair.
I want to make better decisions and I've figured out how. When faced with the option to do something or stay home, I should always choose something. It's as simple as that. Action propels life. Let it be personal development or relationships; we create it all. Getting out of my comfort zone and experiencing something, anything, is better than nothing at all.
Last night I was given a choice. My friends were headed up to Lick Observatory on Mt. Hamilton, just east of San Jose. Di and Yaz texted, saying that it would take an hour and forty minutes to reach the top of the mountain from San Francisco. I was already thrown off and shot back a series of excuses before realizing that my alternative was to sit at home and flick through Instagram, mindlessly paralyzed in awe over images that I was to lazy to create myself.
I scarfed down dinner and I watched the presidential debate. I rented a car and I went.
Things are never as bad as they seem. Di called and asked to meet halfway instead of after the hundred minute drive. Her friend met us at a corporate park and we were on our way, up 40 minutes of hairpin turns. Out the back window, the city laid out in amber luminance. The stars began to poke holes through the void like a needle through the lid of a bug jar. I stared up and I felt myself began to breath.
Di started on about the Milky Way and its galactic core. Tonight was the last day it was on show, before setting until spring. We all broke out tripods and enjoyed it.
It's pouring in DC. No, the rain isn't abnormal. I just forgot what it was like. I can't believe how much the city has changed. Friends are finding careers, wives, new cities, and new friends. I can't decide if I have to just let go or if I've already been forgotten.
This was my first wedding. Maybe I'm still hungover.
Life in Havana, Cuba.
Mika stood in his driveway smoking a cigarette. His hands were worn with stories of white knuckled nights and wringing fortune from circumstance.
A little black Mustang with gold racing stripes rested at the bottom of his garage. A tiny ramp divided the street from his workshop that looked more like a living room than anything else. There was the car, a motorcycle, and a desk with neatly arranged racing paraphernalia.
"The car is my real lady. I've had three wives and this car has outlasted them all."
It was hard not to believe him. Mika had the look of the Beat Generation. He was of the group that said "fuck all" and moved out to San Francisco to join the movement with the rest of the merry pranksters.
Frankly, Mika dressed like a convict. With generic black tennis shoes, a grey sweat suit, and a cigarette perpetually glowing between his finger tips, he smiled and told me a story.
"I got my fastest ticket last week," he said. "One-hundred fifty-eight point eight. The pigs couldn't catch me. I only slowed down because I felt bad for the suckers."
I chuckled, and he went on.
"But that was only my fastest ticket. Back in Memphis, there was this guy named Ron who was honestly the biggest asshole in town. He had a smokin' hot girlfriend and an unfortunate looking wife who he had to leave at home. He had a little bit of money, and trust me, he let you know about it. Now, I really don't care for all his things, but I did care about the Jaguar he drove around."
Mika started speaking quickly.
"Man, one day this asshole gets so drunk at a bar, that me and a buddy boosted his car and went one-hundred and ninety in it. We took it right out from under his nose! I swear, you wouldn't believe how insignificant the rest of the world feels when you're going that speed. I took that car to show my girlfriend and she damn near killed me when she realized who it belonged to. Best thing, I took it back without him ever noticing.
"You know, I learnt three things that night. Firstly, Jaguars are really something special. Also, stealing a car is not as hard as it looks. And finally, I learnt something real important. Women can never appreciate the nice things we do for them."
I just submitted a set of pictures to Find Rangers Camera Club to be featured in an upcoming show. I don't know how these things usually work, but this is a nice release for pictures that would have never made it into another collection or blog post.
I didn't have the chance to write. We were too busy talking about being the gods of our own lives, treating the city like a foreign world, speaking too loudly, drinking too much with our heads above the clouds.
This man is a monster. Hold on, shut up, and fight for everything.
When people appear in your life, take them seriously. Look at them and say something as blunt as, “Lets be friends” or “I like your energy” or “I think we’d get along.” I met Eric a few weeks back, and it started just like this.
Aaron invited me to a party and I was on my way out. It was his friend’s party, someone that i had never met before. On the way over, I bought flowers from a woman selling them on the bus. She told me that they were five dollars. I said I only had two. She picked out the smallest bouquet. I handed her the money, she traded me the flowers, and I hopped down the back door. They were sickly things. One yellowish, one pinkish, and the other browning.
The apartment was full of beautiful people in all black clothes, nose rings and deep red lipstick. The friend seemed to only acquaint herself with gorgeous women and friendly guys who passed joints back and forth while standing around an old kitchen. One of the doors was falling off the hinges. The smoke filled my lungs. I felt comfortable among new friends.
Eric was sitting in an odd chair that looked like a trampoline. The chair was low to the ground and made everyone who sat in it seem small. Eric was smaller than most already, and wore large round glasses that further dwarfed his stature.
I walked over to him, crouched down and asked if he modeled. I said that I’d like to take his picture sometime. His eyes flickered from left to right and a little smile creaked across his face as if to say “about fucking time.” He actually said no, but that he would like to. He said he just moved to San Francisco and that all of his photographer friends were back east.
We exchanged numbers, set a date and produced this set. Just for the love of it. I hope you enjoy.