Travel & Adventure

Home, but not.

I’m sitting at Intelligentsia in Silver Lake drinking a cup of coffee from Burundi. In many ways this feels familiar, and if it was 2009 it would be unremarkable. But it’s 2019 and it feels weird, to say the least. A coffee shop that was once the mecca of LA east side hipster culture, in many ways the unquestioned north star of 3rd wave coffee culture. I’d often sit here for hours writing and chatting with friends who happened by, surrounded by celebrities and punks, bike messengers and young local politicians. A place so iconic that it was represented in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. It felt electric and exciting. It was the town square.

Today my company includes standouts such as people obviously from out of town taking selfies of themselves to prove to friends they were here, some possibly homeless people taking up half the seats outside, a definitely homeless guy who keeps coming in trying to fill an old paper cup with all of the milks and sugars they have on the condiments counter, spilling most of what he tries to pour all over the floor, screaming that the containers are empty and leaving, only to come back 10 minutes later and repeat the cycle, and while the milks get refilled, the puddle on the counters and floors remains. A 25 year old Veruca Salt song blasts from the ceiling mounted speakers. Everyone inside has a laptop, no one outside does. There’s a mother who handed her child a bag of goldfish crackers so that he won’t distract her from Facebook on her iPhone, the kid not having it has dumped most of the crackers on the ground, the mother hasn’t noticed. A artist in one corner has filled half a notebook with with nothing but straight lines, suspiciously glaring at anyone (me) trying to see what he’s up to. Someone’s dog just shit on the iconic blue geometric tiles.

It feels weird.

In many ways, it’s kind of representative of my visit to LA. The reason I’m at this particular coffee shop is because the 3 previous coffee shops I visited were a bust. No parking anywhere near, or no seating available in the shops. These places used to be Cheers for me, I’d walk in and know everyone. On a bad day I’d only know half the people. I’m exaggerating but you get my point. I haven’t seen a face I recognized all day, but honestly why should I? Having moved out of this city more than a year ago, I wouldn’t expect things to stay the same. Shops I’d hoped to visit have closed, restaurants have new menus and friends have busy schedules. I’ve made, and cancelled several dinner reservations. I’ve found myself driving around without any real idea where to go, I’ve parked somewhere and put 2 hours on the meter, walked around for 5 minutes and then gone back and driven away, calling it a day and going to sleep by 5pm. It could just be jetlag.

I have a confusing relationship with LA right now. I don’t want to rely on that cliche’d ex-lover analogy, memories of attraction balanced with self preservative distance and 2020 hindsight, but it’s apt. When does home stop being home? I wrote about the idea of “home” almost a decade ago, questioning what makes something home. I don’t think I answered it very well then, I don’t know that I have the answers now but increasingly for me, home is more of a feeling and less of a place. I feel at home in various places, but no place really feels like home to me. I used to say that Los Angeles was the first place that I ever lived that felt like home, but I think now that’s more about the time and the people, and less about the location. I feel at home when Tara and Ripley are near me, and they are too far away right now. They get into town tomorrow, so maybe they will bring some home with them.

What’s Your Bag

I really hate carrying anything so if I have to carry things, which I often do, I want to carry them in the most efficient and minimal way I can, and do that with some style. I used to always be hunting for “the perfect bag” thinking I could find something that would work for all occasions but I now know that simply doesn’t exist, and different problems require different solutions. Because of that, I obsess a bit about bags which is annoying for me, but perhaps beneficial for you.

2019 Bags
[L to R: Integer, Spar, Shank]

Beyond size the major issues I consider are:

  • Build quality – Is it going to fall apart after using it every day for 6 months?
  • Weather resistance – Is my stuff going to get ruined if it starts raining while I’m out?
  • Usability – Do I need to think about how to get to my stuff, or is it intuitive?
  • Lifetime guarantee  – If there is a problem, will the company stand behind their product?

So, this is what I’m using to carry things around these days, sorted from small to large:

Chrome Industries Cardiel Shank – If I need more than I can carry in my pockets, this is my go to. In the 80’s this would have been called a hipsack, a fannypack or any number of other pejoratives. While the style was questionable then the logic was sound, and in the decades sense the style has course corrected. I tend to wear this across one shoulder so I can swing it on to the front for easy access or to the back to disappear. It’s subtle, but large enough to hold my iPad Mini, field notes and/or a moleskine notebook, a Leica M body or other compact camera, a bag of coffee, some extra film or even a compressed micro-puff jacket, should I anticipate needing such a thing. This is too small for a laptop, but that’s exactly why I like it. A Chrome Industries messenger bag was my daily carry for much of the early 2000’s and their products have always been bombproof.

Mission Workshop Spar – If I need to a laptop but not much else, I reach for the Spar. This is basically a laptop sleeve with a tiny extra pocket for cables, and several ways to get into the main compartment. This is so thin it will fit unnoticed under a jacket if that is required, and the sling strap adjusts incredibly well. I moved away mostly from one-shoulder kind of bags because I find they hurt my back after carrying them all day, so I bought the add on backpack harness, but I actually find the one shoulder strap to be more comfortable.

(A brief note about Mission Workshop, the company was founded by the ex-Chrome team when they sold the company and they put everything they learned then into practice here. When I switched from messenger to backpack style bags, I bought their  Fraction rucksack and over the following decade if became the best bag I’d ever had in my life, hands down. When it eventually wore out, MW took it back and offered to replace it 1:1 with  new one, or give me that amount as credit towards something else. Very solid policy.)

Mission Workshop Integer – I actually bought the previous version of this called the Rhake the moment it was released and loved it in every possible way. My only complaint was that if I put my camera into it, I didn’t tend to take it out because there was just too many steps involved. That only matters because of the kind of photography I do, where I need my camera quickly and also want it out of the way just as quick. When they announced the Integer, which seemed like the Rhake with an additional side opening to quickly grab a camera I was all over it.

In practice the Integer is actually a bit larger than the Rhake. While the Rhake has a very slim profile, the Integer sticks out from your back a bit more which can be an issue in crowds or when trying to jam it under a plane seat, but pulling out the built in foam padding that makes up the camera compartment helps with that a bit but I do find myself wishing it was a bit flatter.

Original Rimowa Cabin – The above covers 90% of my “carrying stuff” needs, but I’d be remiss not to discuss travel as I’ve done in the past. The Integer is actually large enough to hold what I need for several days, but if I have extra gear or am going around the world for more than 5 or 6 days then I’m bringing a suitcase and there is nothing better than Rimowa. I’ve discussed this before but I used to go through $150-200 bags every year, they’d drop a wheel, have a zipper failure, or something else which added unexpected and sometimes nightmarish issues to my trip. I kept hearing about Rimowa and eventually caved in and threw down the big bucks for one and it’s the best suitcase I’ve ever had. More than a decade later it still looks and works like brand new, and I never worry about it breaking mid trip. I few years back I was gifted the aluminum version of the composite model that I had, and immediately passed the composite one down to my son who I’m certain could use it for the rest of his life without ever needing to replace it. The pricetag seems high, but with a literal lifetime lifespan, it very quickly becomes cheaper than buying a new bag every few years. For anyone with a regular travel schedule, you’d be crazy not get one. Inside I use a set of Eagle Creek packing bags to compress and keep laundry and toiletries separate, and those work just as well in any of the other bags if I use them instead.

That’s what I’m carrying when I want to carry stuff. Hope this was helpful and useful, let me know if further travel/carry/gear kind of posts are interesting for you and I’ll see what I can whip together.

The New State Of Things

I’ve lost count how many times I’ve started to write this and then given up and deleted everything I’ve written. I try to write something and then feel like I need to preface it with something else so that people don’t jump to conclusions and then feel like I’m second guessing myself and so on and it ends in a select all and a delete. So I decided to just tell some stories instead which may explain how I’m feeling better than if I just tried to write about that.

***

I’m vegan. Many of you know that and know that I’ve been vegan for approaching 25 years now. More than half my life. In my ideal world it would be illegal to kill animals for food, but I’m very capable of knowing the difference between my ideal world and the real world, and the difference between the two. I’m able to understand that just because I want something really badly doesn’t mean it magically happens. I decided a while ago – after years of taking the opposite approach – that it was more productive to lead by example and answer people’s questions when they took notice and asked, than to attack them and try and force them to change. That’s just me.

Additionally, I like to talk to people who have differing opinions than I do. I find people who always agree with me boring and like to discuss the merits of my positions with people who aren’t convinced. I like to be able to sharpen my take on things on be persuaded otherwise. I count many people with drastically different world views in my circle of close friends and I appreciate that they put up with my hassling them about how wrong I think they are. And they do the same. I find myself agreeing and disagreeing frequently with my friends on the right and the left.

I don’t fit well into any category, which I think helps me with perspective. I try to look at issues on their own and not based on which politician supports and decries them. I know this isn’t a common position, but it works for me.

***

I have friends who were die hard Hillary supporters and friends who were die hard Trump supporters. I was neither. In the early days of the primaries I was backing Bernie pretty strongly. I said several times during that time that I didn’t believe Hillary could could beat Trump and I really didn’t want Trump to win. Once Hillary got the nomination my position remained the same. I didn’t want Trump to win, but I didn’t think Hillary could beat him. I could write many long winded think pieces and hot takes on why I felt that way but it’s kind of moot at this point so I won’t waste anyones time. I’m in a few private slack teams and private email lists. Some of these are very political. Some of these didn’t take kindly to someone not jumping on the party line. I’m not, nor have I ever been a registered Democrat so party lines mean nothing to me. I vote for who I want to based on their own merits. So while Democrats were expected to all get behind Hillary, I maintained that hopes and dreams aside, that while I didn’t want him to win, I didn’t believe she could beat him. In some of these groups I was called a Trump shill. In some of these groups I was called a Bernie Bro and a misogynist. So I left those groups.

My friends backing Hillary ranged from being completely sure she would win, to being completely sure she would win in a landslide.

My friends backing Trump ranged from being completely sure he would win, to being completely sure he would win in a landslide.

I knew both of these groups couldn’t be right.

Again, I’m weird so I recognized that what I wanted to believe and the outcome I wanted might not have been the same thing as what realistically might happen. This was not a welcome opinion.

The echo chamber was in full effect. All these people were only listening to people who agreed with them, and who were saying things they wanted to believe. Most of these people wanted nothing to do with anyone saying anything other than that their candidate was going to slay it.

Then the election happened.

My friends who were backing Hillary are largely in shock. They keep saying things like “How did this happen?” and “How could we have been so wrong?” Someone who called me a Trump shill for saying Hillary couldn’t beat Trump asked me with a straight face “How could anyone have seen this coming?”

***

Tonight there was a protest in Los Angeles, condemning the pick of Steve Bannon as Sr Advisor to the president. I think Breitbart News is very good at stirring people into a frenzy and very bad at reporting the news. I think picking the guy who runs that for a position equal to Chief of Staff is dangerous. I wanted to go and take photos, my wife Tara wanted to go and hold up a sign. Ripley, my 6 year old son also wanted a sign but I’m not a fan of indoctrinating children to anything, and didn’t want to write up a political sign that him carrying around would suggest he was making the statement. I told him what the protest was about, and asked him what he wanted on his sign. I told him he could put anything that he wanted. He wanted a happy sign that would make other people happy too, so he decided his sign should say “I Love Cats.” I thought it was great. On the other side he decided the sign should say “It’s past my bedtime” because the protest was at night and he would be tired and this would show people that even though he was tired and it was late he was there with them. I loved this sentiment. We drew up the signs and headed out.

Tara and Ripley joined some friends of ours on one side of the crowd and I walked around taking photos. The mood of the evening was largely positive, people were protesting something they were upset about but the crowd working together. There were the expected “Ban Bannon” and “No KKK” signs, as well as some more original and light hearted ones including one older lady with a sign that read “I’ve been protesting this same fascist shit for 50 years!” and someone with a trans flag and a sign saying “This isn’t the kind of dick I wanted.” Anytime I was near my family people were taking photos of my son and his sign, with many people telling him they loved it and it was the best sign there, which made him smile big.

20161116-l1000995

20161116-l1010024

He got in on the chanting, memorizing the rhymes. He waved his sign for people and smiled when they took his photo. This was his first protest and he told me he really enjoyed it. He said he loved seeing all the people together, hoping for the same thing.

By 8:30 it was in fact well past his bedtime and we decided to leave. Tara and Rips started to move to the edge of the crowd and I was behind them. As I turned to leave two younger women tapped me on the shoulder. I only spoke with them for a moment but I’d guess they were late 20’s-ish.

“Hi, can we talk to you for a moment about your son’s sign?”

“Sure”

“It’s very cute, but we are concerned that if someone sees it and takes a photo it will misrepresent the feeling of this event.”

“Lots of people have taken photos of it all night, everyone has been enjoying it”

“That’s the problem, it’s sending the wrong message – I Love Cats? This isn’t about cats”

“He’s 6, that’s what he wanted on his sign. I’m not going to put my politics on a sign and make him carry it.”

“He doesn’t support immigrants rights?”

“He’s 6”

“There are lots of kids here with political signs”

“Sure, that their parents wrote for them”

“But what will people think if they see this sign”

“I don’t really care”

“YOU DON’T CARE?”

“Are you really upset that a 6 year old isn’t protesting correctly?”

“You wouldn’t be saying that if you weren’t a white man, maybe you should meet an immigrant and find out how they feel, you are mocking the serious people here… Racist!”

I turned around and to walk away and one of them punched me in the back of the head.

I kept walking, they shouted something but I wasn’t listening anymore.

In the 5 minute walk back to our car, at least 10 more people said “Love that sign!!”

As some of you know, my wife is an immigrant.

I’m going to sleep now, disappointed.

The sun will rise tomorrow.

20161116-l1010036

(A version of this was sent out to my mailing list last night. It’s the first thing I’ve sent out since the election. Feel free to subscribe if you want. All photos by me, I’ll probably post more on instagram as well.)

Riding Trains

I sent out a newsletter today and in it linked to a story I found about people who fall asleep on other people’s shoulders on trains in Tokyo. I mentioned I’d seen the same thing happen many times and recounted a not entirely dissimilar experience of my own years ago. I remembered writing about it at the time but I looked around and couldn’t find what I’d written anywhere. Moments ago I remembered a long forgotten blog I set up and made one single post on back in August, 2007 – and it was the post about the train. As I’ve already lost that once, I thought it would be worth it to repost the story here for future reference. For context, at the time I was working through how to write and tell stories that weren’t entirely from my perspective and weren’t entirely based in fact. So this is that.

The platform at the Jiyugaoka station was packed with people waiting for the next train, an express going towards Yokohama. Suits. Salary men. A few school kids and ladies who all seemed to have some sort of shopping bag with them. He’s seen this scene several times in the last week and blends right in the best of his ability. Headphones in place blocking out the noise of the tracks and book in hand to occupy the time between stations. The train arrives and everyone boards. It’s not as crowded as he expected it to be, but still very much standing room only. He’s reading Pattern Recognition and is a little freaked out that all of the places Cayce visits in Tokyo he also saw, though a day in advance of reading about them. Patterns for sure.

People get on, people get off. Somewhere near Kikuna a seat opens up and he takes it, careful not to take up any more room that absolutely needed. It’s next to the wall and he slides right in. Everyone sitting is doing the same thing – arms and shoulders tucked in tight, attention focused on a book or mobile device. No one looks around, no eyes ever meet. The further away from Tokyo they get the more the ratio of people getting off the train beats out those getting on. About the same time he notices that there are only 3-4 people still standing he notices her. He’s been sitting next to her the entire time, either that or he sat down next to someone else who go up at some point without him noticing. It’s possible because he’s been sucked in by Gibson at this point, but doubts it. She’s on his right, the wall is on his left.

Another stop and more people get off. For the first time on this trip there are vacant seats, and no one left standing. Another stop and more people exit for whatever destination they are off to. She’s still pressed tight against him and he stops thinking about the footage, and wonders how long until she slides away from him. More people get off, vacating more seats but she doesn’t move. He looks at her but she doesn’t return the glance. Her hair is long and black, though barely concealing a set of white iPod earbuds. He sees the nano she’s holding but can’t see the screen, not as if he could read it anyway. It’s the pink model. He smiles and turns back to his book wondering what she’s listening to. The Jesus and Mary Chain are pumping through his own sound isolating plugs. They are good and he can’t even hear the train which says a lot.

“I get an electric shock from you”

He almost jumps when she touches his hand, but doesn’t. He jumps inside, but it doesn’t register outside. He realizes he’s been holding the book with his left hand and let his right drop down near his leg on the seat. She’s done the same with opposite hands and her fingers had just brushed the back of his hand. He didn’t know if it was an accident, her eyes still fixated on something else, some other direction, not him. But her hand doesn’t pull away. She moves it closer. The backs of their hands are touching when their fingers start to merge. Another stop, more people getting off the train, no one new gets on.

“And there’s something going on inside”

He’s still staring at the book but hasn’t read a single word in what seems like an hour. The only thing he’s aware of at all is the two fingers pushed in next to his pinky and ring finger. She hasn’t looked but there’s no way she’s unaware of it. Another station, another stop. There’s no one else on their bench but she hasn’t moved away at all. The doors close and he grabs her hand. It was a bold move, the first thing that couldn’t be brushed off as accidental. She doesn’t pull away. She keeps her hand there, she never looks.

“Yeah, the world could die in pain, And I wouldn’t feel no shame”

They are definitely holding hands. She’s never looked at him, not that he’s been aware of. He’s never seen her eyes. She hasn’t looked. He’s trying not to. The last other person gets off the train leaving them completely alone. He looks at her but she keeps looking the other direction. He turns back the book which he’s completely lost interest in and feels her squeeze his hand just the slightest bit. She still hasn’t looked. He realizes that this is equally the sweetest and strangest moment he’s shared with anyone in possibly years when the train reaches it’s final stop. She lets go of his hand, puts her iPod into her bag, stands up and walks off the train. She never looks at him. He watches her walk out the door, down the platform to the escalator towards some random exit. She never looks back. He doesn’t follow. He sits there and listens to the song. The train doesn’t move.

“Makes you wanna blow the stars from the sky”

Most of this never happened.

Sparkfun Hackers In Residence, Part 1

[ Tara and I are currently in Boulder, CO at Sparkfun. This is the first post looking at what we’re working on.]

PROTOTYPE PROPOSAL

We’ve been thinking about personal drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) a lot recently. Both in the context of how these devices could be useful around a house or neighborhood, as well as how they can help with volunteer projects like Safecast – and if these use cases might apply elsewhere. When Sparkfun invited us to help kick off their new ‘Hacker In Residence’ program exploring this drone question a bit more seemed like the ideal project to work on. There are a number of personal drone options available on the market, but for the most part they are either difficult to work with or limited in functionality. Weight restrictions and limited flight time is a big issue with most commercial options. We wanted to see if we could easily hack an out of the box platform like the Parrot AR Drone to add extra functionality or if it made more sense to approach this problem from another direction entirely.

Mary Meeker announced in her recent Internet Trends report that we are entering a third computing cycle of ‘Wearables/Drivables/Flyables/Scannables.’ As founders of member-driven community spaces, Crash Space and LA Makerspace, we see these technologies being used first-hand and hacked on by both hobbyists and experienced hardware engineers. The scope of where they are headed is infinite.

In the days leading up to our arrival we had to seriously think about the use cases. Sparkfun carries a wide variety of environmental sensors (temperature, humidity, barometric pressure), Safecast has high quality compact radiation sensors… but would this appeal to a less scientific or less niche group of people? And what about the device itself – do we want something with extreme maneuverability? Or something with autopilot? The options were really unlimited.

We decided that the focus for our two weeks of prototyping should be to add a much better downward facing camera to a device that could remain airborne for a period of time well beyond the normal battery life. This would enable high-res event documentation from a previously unreachable aerial view or new avenues for personal security surveillance. We thought if we could solve this first use case, then it would be easy to swap out the camera for any number of other sensors.

SPARKFUN

We received a wonderful welcome when we arrived in Boulder. In addition to providing us with a place to sleep while in town, Sparkfun gave us a dedicated room to work from at their offices. Upon arrival we got the full tour of the building – from Engineering to Shipping – everyone was super welcoming and it was awesome to see where all the red box magic happens.

The team at Sparkfun have been incredibly friendly, helpful and accommodating every step of the way, especially considering we’re pretty much making this up as we go. They also provided us with everything from a shopping list we gave them filled with parts from their catalog as well as bits and pieces from all over the web. We’d like to give an extra special shout-out to Sparkfun’s Director of Education, Lindsay Levkoff for setting this whole gig up!

 

TWO PRONGED APPROACH

Two weeks isn’t a terribly long time to solve a problem like this from scratch, so it’s lucky that we’re not starting entirely from scratch having messed around with some of these devices before and relying on some already ready to go solutions like Dropcam which we hoped would save us some time, rather than spending a week (or months) reinventing the wheel.

In anticipation of things not working out exactly perfect the very first time we decided that a two pronged approach would keep things moving in the event that we ran into any major hurdles. The breakout looks like this:

PRÖNG 1\\\

Quadcopter as platform.

We are using a Parrot AR Drone as the base because it just works right out of the box with no tinkering and is something that pretty much anyone with $300 to blow can get ahold of. Having spent time with several other brands of quad and hex copters, we knew that not having to spend a week calibrating and fine tuning balance was crucial to making this work in our 2 week window.

We hypothesized that removing the battery and adding a tether for power might give us more weight to play with as well as extended flight time. For the camera we decided on using a Dropcam because of similar out of the box instant functionality and the bonus of live video over wifi. Combining the power source for both of these devices which have different requirements would be the main trick. For very specific movement control, this plan definitely comes out ahead.

The Parrot works great as is, but is perfectly balanced for it’s own weight, and we want to add more to that. By stripping off the top hull entirely we save some weight, and luckily the Dropcam that we’re adding is fairly light on it’s own. There’s also a good bit of space between the circuit board and the plastic bottom of the Parrot, so by cutting out a small circle and sliding the Dropcam behind it we were able to attach the camera without any additional materials.


After we confirmed that the Parrot was able to lift the Dropcam and it’s own battery, we quickly moved onto attaching the power cord so we could extend the time in the air (battery life maxes out at about 15 mins). After stripping wires, soldering, hot glue gunning and zip tying, we got the power cord split into 11v (Parrot) and 5v (Dropcam) and were ready to test.


The Parrot turned on and we heard the sweet sound of the initialization tones, then the propellers started going and we thought we’d see lift. Unfortunately after it draws power and goes into lift mode a brownout occurred. We’re currently attaching things to a scope to see what is going wrong.

PRÖNG B\\\

Balloon as platform.

Quadcopters are cool for sure, but they require effort to actually fly. We wondered if removing that concern entirely might be a successful approach. Using the hardware from a microblimp as the drive controls and a weather balloon filled with helium for the lift, we thought perhaps this would just stay up on it’s own, allowing us to spend all the time on perfecting the payload. We decided to mount a Hack HD camera to the bottom for our improved visuals, though logged to a card rather than live (a problem we’d need to address later). As a bonus, both the camera and motors run off 3.7v which we hoped would simplify things. While the balloon approach lacks the fine tuned movement of a quadcopter, it completely solves the “how do we keep this up in the air for a long time” problem without even trying.

HackHD – 1080p Camera Module Test:

 

We’ve been trying to use components that anyone can get their hands-on so we bought some helium used for party balloons but quickly found out that it’s not even close to being pure and the tank we got didn’t come close to filling the 5 ft in diameter, 100g weather balloon. The weather balloon barely floated and thus the cardboard case with the HackHD Camera and Microblimp didn’t lift off the ground. We spoke to a company that sells helium and they said that they would sell some to us if we were using it for scientific purposes and it would cost about $100 to fill our balloon. At this point we are reconsidering the balloon platform and how to fill it without having to purchase a gas. Maybe hot air?…of course that will lead to a whole other set of tests.

NEXT

We have 6 working days left at Sparkfun and we will continue to hack away at our prototypes. We already have some possible solutions in the works but would love to get any feedback or ideas from the Interwebz on how to solve our issues!

To be continued…

 

ABOUT

Sean Bonner
http://seanbonner.com @seanbonner

In 2010 Sean co-founded the first hackerspace in Los Angeles, Crash Space. Sean is co-founder and director of Safecast, a nonprofit environmental monitoring company. They have been prototyping a number of drones for Safecast that will carry radiation and air quality sensors to hard to reach locations.

 

Tara Tiger Brown
http://taratigerbrown.com @tara

Tara is co-founder and Chief Encouragement Officer at LA Makerspace, a family friendly hackerspace in Los Angeles, and co-created Represent.LA to connect and promote the Los Angeles tech startup community. Tara has been working with youth on DIY skill building and following their passionate interests through the LA Makerspace and MacArthur funded Digital Media Learning Research Hub. She is a Forbes Contributor where she writes about Women in Technology and other tech tidbits.

Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland

The middle aged asian guy who just sat down at the table across from me has the most painful combover I’ve seen in my entire life. It’s depressing just looking at it. He keeps brushing it over with his hand which makes it that much more obvious. I can’t stop watching him and it’s making me sad. Everything about him makes me sad, the combover was just the first thing I noticed. His shorts don’t match his shirt. His jacket is ill fitting – probably purchased in the 90’s before he put on 50 pounds. His backpack is overstuffed, like he’s trying to anticipate any thing he might possibly need throughout the day but instead of being prepared he’s stuck lugging this heavy thing around all day.

Going to Disneyland is easy for me. I live 30 minutes away and have an annual pass. If I have a few free hours and the desire I can go jump on Space Mountain and then go back to my regular life without any real interruption. I imagine that’s not the case for him. When he’s not looking around self consciously he’s focused on a map of the park. And not just casually looking at it, I’m talking hunched over forehead veins throbbing sweaty brow focused. He’s got a pen and is making some notes on it – plans I imagine.

I start crafting this guys story in my head. He’s traveled from far away for this, maybe even been saving up for it for years. Or waiting to collect enough vacation days to allow him to make the journey. It’s a big deal to him regardless and he doesn’t want to miss anything. I imagine him being a lonely guy, distant from coworkers and neighbors. But he’s used to it. I can see that all over his face, he’s very comfortable being uncomfortable. He’s comfortable being alone because that’s all he’s ever known. He can’t relate to other people. He stopped trying a long time ago.

I think about what that would be like. I travel alone when business requires it and enjoy the peaceful time with just myself that provides, I like being alone with my thoughts to help sort through them, but I can’t imagine this. If I go to the movies by myself half of the motivation is to get away from everyone and escape to some other world, even if only for a few hours. This guys motivation isn’t to get away, it’s to go to Disneyland. Being alone isn’t the goal of his trip, it’s just business as usual. I wonder how long it’s been since his last non-transactional conversation he’s had with another person. I can picture years and years of slogging away to an office and never talking to anyone. The same as his trip here to Disneyland – he’s on his own with all of this activity around him that he’s not a part of.

And he’s hiding out in this corner of the park studying this map to make sure he doesn’t miss a thing.

I try to picture him on a ride. Does he enjoy it? Does he smile? Or is he just crossing things off a list. I want to think he enjoys it. I want it to make sense. I want this to be enjoyable for him. I feel his pain and isolation and I desperately want this trip to the happiest place on earth to have an impact on his life. I want to see him stop fucking with his hair and smile. I want to see him content, I want him to feel that this trip was worth it. That the years he planned and saved to be here weren’t for nothing. I don’t want him to go home, back to his depressing life thinking this dream trip was yet another disappointment. One more thing that didn’t live up to the hype.

And then, my whole story is shattered when his family joins him at the table with a tray of food. His wife, his kids. They speak english. He smiles. They smile. His wife kisses him without even thinking about it, like it’s just this second nature thing. It doesn’t even require a reaction because it’s so common place. He’s loved and he knows it. Nothing I thought about him is true. Visiting Disneyland is as second nature to him as it is to me. He can come here anytime he wants, and his family and friends are easily in tow.

I’m suddenly so happy for him, and at the same time horrified about what all this says about me.

Transit

Dogenzaka, pre-snow

Making my way from Shibuya back to Atwater Village is time travel. It’s distorting and confusing and exhausting, but somehow it works. This is how my day played out, which isn’t too different than many of Japan->US travel days.

Saturday
7am Wake up, Shibuya.
7:30am shower, email, etc.. My original flight had been cancelled since it was on a 787 and they seem to have this “bursting into flames” problem, so United rebooked me on a new flight. I double check to make sure it’s confirmed and see they’ve assigned me a bulkhead seat which is nice because of the legroom but crappy because you can’t keep your carry on with you during take off and landing. Also no way to confirm at this late hour if they’ve processed my vegan meal on the new flight – Oh well.
8am Breakfast at hotel
9am Walk to train station and buy day-of Narita Express tickets, then back to the hotel to pack bags. Often I’ll buy round trip tickets from the airport when I arrive but if the JR office is closed when I arrive that isn’t possible.
10am Checkout of hotel, but leave bags at hotel desk. This trip, like many others, I have one small roller board suitcase and my backpack – everything fits in those two.
11am Last minute errands. Today that included helping Naim and Levi and Noa see a little of Tokyo besides the Safecast office. We walked through Shibuya to Tokyu Hands then up Cat Street making our way to Omote Sando for food.
12:30pm Lunch at Brown Rice Cafe
1:30pm Jump on the train back to Shibuya, then rush out to the hotel to pick up bags, then turn right around and go back to the train station to catch the 2:16pm NE’X to the airport.
2:16pm Get on the NE’X. Trains in Japan are on time to the second, so if you don’t get there early you miss it. I usually try and get to the platform 15 minutes early to be safe. Today I got there 3 minutes early, with elevated heart rate. The trip from Shibuya to Narita Airport is about an hour and a half.
3:47pm Arrive at NRT, get out of train station, return the WiFi hotspot I rented last week then make my way to the 4F departure floor where I’m lucky enough to have airline status that gets me an express line to pick up my boarding pass and then head to security. Laptop out, keep shoes on – That’s how they do it in Japan. No pornoscanners so no worries.
4:00pm Clear passport control and head to the airport lounge to get everything in order for the flight.
4:10pm Arrive at ANA/Star Alliance Gold lounge. This is a serious protip here- the United lounge at Narita is a piece of shit. They have no food, crappy drinks and barely a power outlet in the whole place. At the far end of the terminal is the ANA lounge and being Star Alliance Gold gets you into it – it’s a walk but it’s worth it. They have a noodle bar in the lounge, endless Inari sushi and CC Lemon on tap. As well as many other options. This lounge rocks, and usually it’s empty. Today it was packed and I had to stand for 10 minutes or so until a seat opened up. I get some food and catch my breath.
5:00pm Leave the lounge and head back to my gate. Lounge is near gate 47 and I’m flying out of 37, boarding is scheduled for 5:05 but today it’s delayed a little and everyone stands around WTFing until about 5:20.
5:20pm board the plane with first batch of folks. Head to the bulkhead seat and get settled.
5:25pm Dude sits down next to me and immediately starts chatting me up. Was I on that other cancelled flight too? Was LA my final destination? How long had I been in Japan? Business?
5:30pm Another dude shows up and has a boarding pass for the seat I’m in. I check mine and see that sometime between when I looked this morning and when I got to the airport I had been moved 2 rows back. YES! Dodged that bullet. I leave Mr. Chatty pants and go back to a totally empty row.
5:50pm I’m in the window seat and a guy sits down in the isle seat and immediately falls asleep. Flight crew announce all passengers are seated and we’re about to take off. Awesome, middle seat is empty.
6:25pm Take off!
6:45pm I confirm that United fucked up my meal request and they only have beef or salmon to offer me. I’m annoyed but I should have known and I kick myself for not grabbing some snacks earlier in the day.

The next 9 hours are a blur of short naps, light reading and watching movies I’ve already seen on the tiny screen built into the back of the seat in front of me. At some point I remember that I also have a few episodes of something on my laptop and pull that out, a much more rewarding experience.

Saturday
10:29am land at LAX. Yes, I’ve just landed about 8 hours earlier than I took off on the same day. Time travel!
10:45am get to the gate and get off the plane
10:55am skip the customs line and head to the Global Entry kiosk and scan my passport, then hand the print out to the CBP dude. Get waved through.
11:05 jump in an Uber Taxi outside the airport and head home
11:29 Arrive home. Possibly a new record time.

I spend the next few hours playing with Ripley and telling him I missed him, then he says he’s tired and I am too so we snuggle up and take a nap.

6pm wake up, think about how long the day has been. Welcome Tara home from work, wrangle up some food, hang on the couch with the family for a while.
9pm The family crashes, I try to catch up on some work that I might have missed during the epicly long day I just had.
11:00pm Remember I need to blog today and tell this story. Then head to sleep.

Research, global citizenship

I’ve talked about this idea here and there in the past, and am working on a longer piece about it but I wanted to throw out some ideas here and get some feedback to see what people thought and what issues are the ones most likely to be stickiest. So this is obviously a continuation of some of the ideas that have come from the technomads discussions and kind of gets into the roots of what citizenship is all about. And how that all plays into the world in 2013 and beyond.

When thinking about citizenship I think it’s useful to discuss the pros and cons, as well as the past vs the present. Let’s think of the big ones.

Most obviously the major benefit of being a citizen of anywhere is the support that comes along with that. I think this is the main thing – having a government “watching your back” so to speak – at least while traveling internationally anyway. You could argue that many of the benefits you receive as a citizen inside any country are also shared by many non-citizens inside that country so classifying those as perks of citizenship are difficult. Being able to vote is a plus, at least if you want to help influence the direction of some level of politics. If you don’t live in the country you are a citizen of that becomes less important, until you start thinking about “branding.”

The “branding” (I don’t know what else to call it) that comes with being a citizen of somewhere can be positive or negative depending. In some places in the world advertising that you are an American for example could attract some unwelcome attention – people who are upset with actions the US government has taken might project those feelings onto individuals. Similarly being an American might grant you some extra freedoms in other parts of the world where there are positive relations.

In the past, being a citizen of some place related much more to where you were, since people didn’t travel as much as they do now. And there was risk of neighboring people invading you, so having a country looking out for you was a pretty good thing. These days, with much more bouncing around the world which passport you happen to have is just as likely to cause problems and headaches as it is to open doors. The argument that a citizenship reflects a culture makes sense in really small geographic countries, not so much in widely spread ones.

I’m thinking a lot about the value of “where you are from” vs “where you are” as well as “where you are going” and how these things play together – nicely or not. I have a lot of questions and not a lot of answers. Would love to hear peoples thoughts on anything that might relate to this.