Wednesday, March 26, 2014


A guest at the hotel came to the front desk earlier today and asked, "Where's the best place in town to get a good, strong cup of coffee?" I paused and thought about it for a second (even though there's only one coffee shop and it's pretty good, it's Wednesday and I'd just gotten on shift) and he said, "Oh, you must not be a coffee drinker."

"Actually," I replied, "I'm an avid coffee drinker," and I proceeded to sing the praises of the local coffee shop and various stops for a cup between Reno and Palmdale.

I'm a big fan of good coffee. I've met a friends while hanging out alone in coffee shops, start my mornings with an almost religious ritual of brewing the stuff, and enjoy trying new roasts and variations from wherever I can get it. The smell of fresh coffee usually gets me ready to be human, and by the time I'm through with a couple cups I'm typically able to pretend I'm a functioning person. Of course, I wasn't always so jazzed about java, but once I started drinking coffee I never really let up.

When I first moved away from home I didn't drink coffee all that much. I'd take a couple cups of Foldgers with cream and sugar to kick start my mornings before the weekday commute to Lancaster from Mojave, brewing it in my bedroom in my tiny coffee pot while I watched the sun go up in the desert. After a day of classes I'd have to wait for my friend Jim to get out of his improv class, so I'd walk over to the Starbucks a few blocks from the college and drink coffee for a couple hours. I started taking it black after awhile to get the unadulterated caffeine inundation flowing from ceramic mugs and paper cups with paper sleeves, and once I'd moved to Lancaster itself I started checking out various independent coffee shops to see what their brews were all about.

One day a classmate told me about a benefit show at a coffee shop conveniently located a few blocks away from where I lived. I walked to the recently opened Sagebrush Cafe in Quartz Hill, listened to a few sets while I drank their awesome coffee, and noticed a flyer for an acoustic night ever Friday. A few days later I found myself there again, drinking coffee and listening to music, and I did that as often as possible there until the day I moved from the AV for good. It was there at Sagebrush, though, that I realized I couldn't go back to drinking crappy coffee at home, so I applied the knowledge from my short time working an espresso machine and my many hours sitting in cafes to my morning joe.

After years of going out of my way to get decent coffee and drinking the stuff daily, my coffee maker's power switch fell off. The day my dinky little coffee maker died was the day I learned the value of a French press; hot water, coarse grounds, and a little patience grants me an pure cup of dark roasted beauty, complete with the oils typically trapped in paper filters and a taste that-- if done right-- can caffeinate me to a point of a potential cardiac event. Later on, my friend Kristine introduced me to Turkish coffee and I learned what it really meant to be buzzed off of a cup to the point of a heart attack. After trying coffee prepared via Chemex, Aeropress, and essentially every method  imaginable to combine ground beans and water to form a beverage, I've stuck with a drip maker (it's easy) and a French press (it's delicious).

I'm not good at a lot of things, but I'm pretty good at haunting coffee shops and drinking coffee.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Mowing Lawns

Summers are hot in Independence, California. The echoing whir and occasional dripping of dozens of swamp coolers usually drones down the streets, along with the chirping and clicking of bugs. The smell of lilac bushes in peoples yards and sagebrush from the outskirts of town fills the air (and irritates sinuses for a lot of people), and waving clouds stretch from east to west to meet the mountain ranges that make the Owens Valley. Kids play in the creek at the park, older folks hike in the Sierras or the Inyos, and after awhile everyone sweats and pants under the cooler vents at the heat of the day.

I was walking around town one summer afternoon as a teenager, taking in the summertime sensory overload since I didn't feel like spending all my time inside, sweating bullets and bringing my pale completion from white to florescent pink, cooking in the high desert sun and wondering what to do with my day. I didn't have a job, and most people I knew had enough sense to not fry in the summer heat, so I had a lot of time to traverse town and its outskirts while thinking about more productive and entertaining ways to kill time. It was either that or watch TV, so I wasn't too bummed to miss out on my sister's favorite shows in exchange for pointless wandering.

I turned the corner of a block on the west side of town, and a man with a cowboy hat, big mustache, and thick glasses was standing with a lawn mower in a fresh cut yard.

"Hey kid!" he yelled.

"Yes sir?" I replied.

"You want a job?" he asked.

I thought about it for a second, realized I had nothing else going on with my day, and replied, " 'kay."

The man helped out folks with yard work but needed some help with his workload, so he asked if I could mow a couple lawns for a couple houses in town once a week. I agreed, and he told me what houses to go to and when to mow. The first place was a vacation house of a couple from Southern California. He told me he'd drop a mower off in the back yard along with a dump trailer for the grass clippings, and not to worry about it looking perfect since "it's mostly for fire prevention, really."

I went to the house a couple days later. It was late afternoon, and it was still blazing hot even with the sun lower in the sky. The grass hadn't been mowed in a long awhile, and it was a pretty big yard. I stood and stared at the task at hand, sweating and sunburned, realizing why a stranger would simply give me a job right off the street.

But dammit, there was, like, fifteen or twenty bucks on the line, so you bet your ass I mowed that lawn.

I spent the rest of that summer-- along with a few summers after that-- mowing lawns around town for that guy. The smell of dirt, gasoline, and cut grass stuck around in my nose for weeks. Summer sunsets were often watched from a stranger's back yard. I got a farmer's tan that made it look like I was wearing a white t-shirt when I wasn't wearing a shirt at all. The constant hum of a mower engine and tunes from a CD Walkman bounced around in my head for hours on end. The small amounts of cash I got were enough for a little food, music, and gas money. It was one of the best jobs I've ever had.

I ended up moving away and getting a real job, but for whatever reason I fondly remember being a kid mowing lawns. Maybe it's because of the funny small-town way I got the work, or that it was at a time where I didn't actually need to worry about money but had it anyway, but it comes to mind whenever I think about warm weather in the place I grew up.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Growing up in essentially the middle of nowhere helped grant me an appreciation for the outdoors. Being an average of four hour's driving from most major cities, and living in one of the least densely populated counties in the state, my world as a child consisted of stunning mountain ranges, rolling high-desert expanses, evergreen forests in the mountains to the west, and pinon groves in the mountains to the east. Granted, I did spend a lot of time watching TV as a kid since the 90s had The X-Files and a goldmine of other awesome shows, but I honestly enjoyed the times where I'd go camping and hiking with my dad. Regardless if bears were around the campsite (or if I didn't sleep well because I thought about bears around the campsite), I really liked sleeping in tents and walking around the middle of nowhere, and I carried that with me into high school and to now.

I liked TV and video games as a teenager as much as my friends did-- which was a lot. We'd sit inside all day watching anime and shooting each other in WWII games on the weekends, and we'd go to school and talk about games and anime in between watching Homestar Runner videos and doing actual schoolwork until we'd get home and watch anime and shoot each other in WWII games during the week. Some of my friends played sports, but there wasn't any athletic extracurricular I wanted to be involved with so my pasty white self continued to get pastier and whiter as I devoted time to dial up internet and basic cable. However, one day a classmate asked my friends and me, "Why do you guys just sit around in the dark all the time when there are so many things to do here?" My friends laughed it off and continued business as usual, but I took the question a little more to heart.

I started taking walks around the outskirts of town, past the tree farm and the alfalfa fields on the east side of town, beyond the park and the museum on the west side, going along washes and dirt roads until it started to get dark or I needed to do homework. Once I got a drivers license and the Jeep I started hiking actual trails, discovering places that I didn't know were a short cruise away from my TV and PlayStation. All the fantasy terrain I'd see in the game Dungeon Siege or in fantasy movies and books was pretty attainable from where I was, and I explored it as much as I could. I went so far as to ditch school to go hiking in the Sierras-- the only time I'd ever ditched school ever, mind you. Through sunburns, bug bites, bruises, and blistered feet, I played in "the backyard" and haven't really wanted to stop.

Once I graduated high school and moved away I started hiking around Red Rock Canyon, Devil's Punchbowl, and around Wrightwood since I was in the neighborhood. The same happiness that came from being outside back in Independence came around every time I'd go exploring my new home; seeing the jagged red rocks and rolling sand north of Mojave, feeling the wind flowing over the hillsides, exploring places I'd never been to before... it was neat. By the time I moved back to the Owens Valley I'd started exploring other spots in the area I hadn't really been to before, and went to places away from Inyo County too. That pointless meandering along a trail, away from the crowds and commotion of real life, in landscapes that can make a person feel small but free from worries of everyday stuff, has remained an interest of mine since I was a high school anime nerd looking for something to do while waiting for new seasons of shows to start.

Nowadays I have a desk job with a direct view of Mt. Whitney from my window. I think about all the other places in the state, country, and planet I could hike around in one day, and I wait for the weekend and for cooperative weather so I can throw on some boots and check out the places I call my backyard.

Anime and video games are still pretty freaking dope, y'know, but I kind of prefer being outside.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


I never talked on the phone as a kid. What reason did I have? The few friends I had growing up lived close enough that I could usually just walk to their houses, my parents and siblings and I would visit any family I had out of town typically once a month, and most calls at the house were for my folks anyway, so I didn't have a reason to talk on the phone. Every now and then I'd write a letter to my grandparents or something (I was an adorable kid), but otherwise my communication was face-to-face, and it stayed that way for a long time. I was sending out emails and chatting via IM before actually talking on the phone much, but one faithful day as a young man I got my first cell phone.

The early 2000s were a simpler time. My flip phone had a camera-- a freaking camera!-- and... it flipped open! It wasn't as cool as the Razr, sure, but it was basically the next step up from it, and it was pretty awesome to me. Even then, my phone calls were to check in with my mom (to reassure her I wasn't doing anything I was totally doing at the time) and to call and text my friends after I started getting more friends that didn't communicate any other way than texting and MySpace messages. I didn't like the thought of calling to make appointments, or to talk over the phone with strangers, and I was fortunate enough to not have to for a long time. A few phone upgrades, lame jobs, and years later, I got hired at the hotel I work at today.

I spent years working either outside and away from people or behind-the-scenes and away from people. I was personable and nice, sure, but people made me nervous; talking to people, making sure they're settled in and satisfied, explaining things about the area and rooms at the hotel, it was a daunting thing for a introverted guy to face. After, like, I don't know, a couple days of training or so for the job, I'd gotten the hang of talking to guests, checking them in, and the general stuff like that, and it was going pretty good.

Then they asked me to use the phone. 

The monotone droning of the 90s-era phone console indicated someone calling. Sweat beaded on my forehead, both from the heat June beating down outside and the nervousness building up in my chest. I didn't know who was calling. I didn't know what they'd say. I stared at the blinking gray LCD arrow pointing at the 'LINE 1' button, knowing that I would have to answer the call if I were to press it. If I was going to keep this summer job I'd have to get over the nervousness potentially screwing up while talking on the phone, so I took a deep breath, picked up the receiver, and hit the 'LINE 1' button.

It was just a reservation inquiry. The guy on the other line thanked me after I quoted him the rate, and he hung up.

That was it. 

Now I answer calls dozens and dozens of times a day, call to make appointments and reservations, and talk to people professionally and casually over the phone. Even though I still get tongue-tied sometimes and get snarky comments from people on the other line, I realize it happens more in person than it does over the phone and that it's harder to have people notice me rolling my eyes when they're not talking to me in person. I'm not sure why I was so nervous to talk on the phone before, but after a few years of doing it to pay the rent I think I'm pretty used to it. 

It's one of those parts of growing up that just sort of happened to me.