Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hell, Michigan

We just got back from our official "house hunting" trip to Toledo, Ohio (more on that later). We stayed with my parents at their place in Michigan and drove down every day.

On our one day where we actually got to do something fun (instead of tearing our hair out worrying if we were going to find a place to live) we went to Hell, Michigan.

I grew up about 20 miles from here in Ann Arbor, but had never really heard about it until it was featured on "Extreme Towns" on the Travel Channel.

When they say it's a town they're stretching it because there are only about 74 people but there are plenty of tourists!
The "main strip" of Hell consists of 3 buildings, a bar called The Dam Site Inn, an ice cream/souvenir shop called Screams Ice Cream and a pizza parlor/part-time post office called "Hell in a Handbasket" (can you tell they're really working the theme?) where you can buy postcards officially stamped from Hell.

While small, the area is also in the Pinckney Recreation Area and sits on 11,000 acres of state park so there is plenty of hiking, canoe rental (available at Hell in a Handbasket), and horseback rentals (the nearby Hell Creek Ranch) but most people come for bragging rights.
There's also a mini Putt-Putt and children's area.

And for the really adventurous souls (or those of the white trash persuasion) there's a small wedding chapel where you and that special someone can tie the knot.

And how did the town get its name you ask?

Well, there are apparently 2 theories to that little conundrum:

First: The town's founder, George Reeve, ran a mill/general store and moonshine operation back in 1838. When the farmers would come to grind their grain and stop to set a spell, they would often "forget" to come back home again. So when asked where her husband was, the farmer's wife would often reply, "Oh, he's in Hell!".

The 2nd theory is that the ever cantankerous Mr. Reeve, when asked what they should call his town replied rather peevishly, "They can call it Hell for all I care!"

And the name stuck.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sneakers! and more of

Shoes--simple things you put on your feet, right? But the sheer number of different names I've heard the humble tennis shoe called in the last few days is mind-boggling.

I'm watching a British television show and they call them "trainers"

I'm in Canada and they call them "runners"

I'm in Philly and they call them "kicks"

I'm on the East Coast and they're "sneakers". This particular moniker provoked a lot of West Coast scorn when my professor from Pennsylvania said it.

I'm on the West Coast and I'm guessing they call them "tennis shoes". I'm not 100% sure about this one though. You would think since I've lived here almost 4 years I would, but I don't. I just know you get mocked if you call them sneakers.

They are also known as "tennies" or "sneaks".

Then you get people who just call them "Nikes" no matter what the brand. Kind of like how they call everything a Coke in the South even if it's not. (Don't get me started on the whole pop/soda debate. I can't wait to move back to the Great Lakes Region and be near my people again who call it pop).

I pity the fool who calls them "athletic shoes" but that's another story.

I read an article recently where they found the oldest human shoe. It was a leather lace-up thing. However, when I tried to find out more information about it and googled "shoes" somehow a disturbing entry from Wikipedia entitled "foot thongs"appeared. Not sure what to make about that.

So many names for such a simple thing....high tops, low tops, slip-ons, Chuck Taylors, rubber shoes in the Philippines (according to Wikipedia and which sounds wrong on so many levels).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Things I will (and won't) miss about San Diego

While I'm sad to leave San Diego, a place I've called home for almost 4 years, I'm excited to begin a new adventure in an old familiar part of the country.

In thinking back on my time here and all the things I've learned, I've realized there's going to be a lot of things I do miss and some that I won't so much.

Lets start with what I will miss:

  • All the beautiful flowers and foliage that come with the weather

  • The "anything is possible" attitude--I know so many young people (both local and relocaters) who have started their own business--I love that in So Cal people feel they can be and do anything

  • All the wonderful vegetarian/vegan food--it's so nice to have an option other than grilled cheese at a restaurant

  • The (for the most part) open-mindedness--not always, but it's mostly live and let live out here

  • The grassroots movements--in CA regular citizens can get any initiative they want placed on a voting ballot (as long as they get enough signatures). I was involved in a Humane Society initiative and while it wasn't fun asking strangers for signatures, it was a great lesson in civic responsibility

  • Yelp and Cragislist (apparently these aren't popular in Toledo. I've been on the Toledo Yelp site and most of the far too few reviews are from out of towners. I'm going to have to change this

  • San Diego winters (which we're still currently experiencing. It's been 65 degrees and gray for 3 months, except for a mild heat wave last week where it made it into the 80's)

  • The beach (even though I rarely use it--too much traffic and too few parking spots)

  • Learning that appearances do count. Not that I was a slob before but I've learned that it's nice to spend some money on yourself and get a pedicure (although I do have them use my polish so I can touch up the nail as it grows out and extend the life of the pedicure. I credit my Scottish genes for this one.

  • Hearing so many different languages spoken and seeing so many people from different backgrounds

  • Being close to a military base (did I hear free gym and no sales tax?)
What I won't miss about San Diego
  • The fact that there are no seasons. It's almost the same weather year-round. Which sounds nice in theory, but the 4 years here has been like one big amnesia trip. Everything blends together. Ask me what I did last Thanksgiving, Halloween or Memorial Day and I likely won't be able to tell you

  • The traffic and congestion. It takes me 30 minutes to go 9 miles in the morning. 20 minutes of that is simply trying to get on the highway with the rest of the I-5 morning crew. My exit backs up almost 2 miles on the drive home.

  • The really, really bad drivers. Like driving 80 mph in the slow lane, passing people, while there are 2 fast lanes wide open. Like motorcycles which are allowed to drive in between 2 cars on the highway. Like people who don't do the "wave" when you let them cut in and act as if you're lucky that you got the privilege. Like people who refuse to let you merge onto the highway even though the lane next to them is empty. My LA-born and bred coworker insists that it's not that people are being rude but that they're just not paying any attention. Hmmm, I think that makes me actually feel worse about driving here.

  • May Gray and June Gloom (see entry here)

  • Uber casual business attitude. Our receptionist at work is mad because my boss won't let her walk around the office with no shoes on. There's no follow-through in any business related activities here--it's like, "Oh, I'll call you...." For instance, when I called to turn on the cable when we first moved here, the salesman was like, "Ummm, can I just call you back?" and he NEVER did. I thought those guys worked on commission?

  • The fact that we're SO far away from everything. We're in the farthest Southwest corner of the country. It's expensive to fly out of here and to catch an international flight, you have to fly or drive to LA

  • Too many Paris Hilton wannabe's. I (guess I can) see this if you're clubbing, but at 9 a.m. on a Sunday in Trader Joe's????

  • Oh yeah, Trader Joe's! The nearest one is an hour away in Ann Arbor, Mich.

So many things and I'm sure I've forgotten some. Anyone else have any?

Friday, June 11, 2010

May Gray and June Gloom

In San Diego, there's a certain payback that's due every year for having a frost-free January and February.

It's a little thing called May Gray and June Gloom. Basically, it's exactly what it sounds like. For 2 months, there is little to no sunshine and everything is gray and dreary.

It's hard to wake up in the morning, it's hard to get motivated, it's hard to deal with it in general.

This is an actual photo taken in mid-afternoon in June.

It's also cold. I'm talking 60 to 65 degree weather at the coast in June (while the rest of the country bakes in heat wave after heat wave).

The cold doesn't bother me (yeah right---I just turned on the heat and the windows are all closed) but it's the overall gloominess.

The first year we moved out here, my stepdaughter visited in June, thinking she could go to the beach. Yeah, that didn't work out so well.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Mexico City!!!

So, I spent my Memorial Day in Mexico City. Not the most traditional of choices, I agree, but you can't beat a round-trip ticket and 4-night hotel package for $314 flying out of Tijuana.

I highly recommend this to anyone who is flying in Mexico (and probably Central and South America as well) and who lives in San Diego. It's actually quite easy. You take the trolley or get dropped off at the border, walk across and take a US $12 or $18 peso taxi ride to the airport. You can do this even if you don't speak any Spanish.

However, there aren't the many people in the TJ airport who speak English, so if you don't speak any Spanish, be prepared to mime a lot. But on the way out, I met a young American couple who were going to La Paz and they had done ok with not knowing Spanish, so it's definitely do-able.

Flying into Mexico City was a little disappointing. It's like the 3rd biggest city in the world, but there's hardly any skyscrapers. It's definitely not like Sao Paolo, Brazil which actually took my breath away.

I had arranged for a driver to pick me up at the airport ($35 round-trip. Thanks Cheaptickets!) but I now realize you could probably take the subway as long as you don't have a lot of luggage. You can print off a map of the subway and it goes right to the airport.

After I checked in to my hotel, I walked around for a bit and ended up eating the most expensive meal of my life. (not intentionally, of course). I was so tired and the only restaurant I could find was this fancy Japanese fusion restaurant. Nice to find out the next day that if I had only walked about 2 more blocks I would have found tons of restaurants.

I ordered vegetable tempura, read my book and listened to this teenage jazz band they had playing. While the food was just ok, the service was fabulous! I understand a little bit better why people go to super fancy restaurants.

Anyway, a few beers (Sapporo of course) and some tempura and sushi later and I get the bill, which is about 500 pesos. Which comes to about $50. With a tip, it came to about $70. I was so tired, I didn't even care (although I obsessed over spending so much money the rest of the next day). However, it was a super nice restaurant and everyone deserves a splurge now and then.

They packed up the sushi/rice and tempura which I figured I could somehow save, but I saw a homeless guy on the street and ended up asking him if he likes Japanese food. He said yes (must be a bum with a sophisticated palate) and gave him the rest of the food. He seemed happy. I seemed happy. So I figure it's money well spent.

I have somewhat of a problem giving homeless people money (especially when they have signs like, "Need money for pot" or "Why lie? I need beer". It's kind of funny, but are you really doing these people any favors by giving them drinking/drug money? I figure you can never go wrong with food.

Anyway, the next morning I had arranged a city tour and I met a really nice Venezuelan girl and Brazilian guy on the tour. We saw the President's Palace and the Diego Rivera murals, the Cathedral (complete with some "Aztec warriors" posing for tips, and the Zocala, which is one of the largest public squares in the world. However, when I visited there was some sort of permanent squatter camp/political protest going on and there were tons of people camped out there.

That afternoon, I also went on the Pyramid tour. This was one of the things I really, really had wanted to see. Technically, it's called Teotihuacan but I think most people refer to it as The Pyramid of the Sun and The Pyramid of the Moon. They are pre-Aztec pyramids and one of the most important archaeological sights in Mexico. You have to have a driver to get there.

One thing are my research agreed upon. Driving in Mexico City: Just Don't. I can't agree more. There are tons of huge boulevards and roundabouts. I think the drivers may be worse than NYC.

It's pretty cheap to hire a tour to go to the pyramids (like $35 or so) and we stopped off at the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe . This is the most important religious site in Mexico (if you click the link, you'll recognize the picture immediately). There are actually 3 churches here. The original, then a newer one (which is actually sinking into the soft soil below--kind of like the Leaning Tower) and then the 3rd, which was built in the 70's or so and definitely looks like it.

They had the actual "miracle" painting/cape there. It's the original image that supposedly appeared as a symbol on someone's cape and apparently has been shown that no human hand c0uld have created it.

How they had it displayed was very interesting. They had 3 sets of moving sidewalks (ok, I know that's a Beverly Hillbillies description of it but I don't know what those things are called--they're the things in the airport that are like escalators but flat and they help you walk faster).
So you could view it one way, get off the moving sidewalk, step 1 foot in front and onto another one going a different direction, zoom past it again, get off, step 1 foot in front and zoom past it in the other direction. No gawking allowed!

This day was the highlight of my trip as the next day was a real let-down. I had really wanted to go to Xochimilco, which is considered the Venice of Mexico. I figured I could do the subway myself and didn't need to pay for a tour. Which is true. The subway was easy to figure out and only cost about .25 cents (30 pesos) one-way. The whole trip cost me about $1 US (you have to pay for a transfer).

Maybe if I had been with a group it would have been fun. But you have to walk down many small, dirty streets to finally get there and when you do, you have to walk down a small passageway filled with people selling open-air food (complete with flies and e. coli) and then you get to the canal and it's dirty and brown.

You can then rent a boat which has a guide who paddles the boat (like a gondolier) but I could definitely see it's more fun if you have a big group because there are long picnic tables in the boats and you can eat and drink (people come up to you in boats to sell food, soda and beer). As I was on my own, I didn't want to tag along and be the third wheel to a Mexican family having a nice Sunday afternoon out, so I just took the subway back). The subway was easy and I was proud of myself that I could do it, but if you're traveling alone, I think I would recommend the tour so you have people to sit with and talk to on the boat.

The next day, I just walked around and chilled in my hotel room, watching bad dubbed sitcoms and Mexican soap operas. Part of the reason I went down there was to practice my Spanish and see if I could survive. Most people were very nice, however, I did have a minor altercation with a teenage counter person at KFC (I hate American fast food but hey, I didn't want to get Montezuma's Revenge).

Other than that, I had complicated conversations about international phone calls, complaining about everything in my room because nothing worked (ie, the fan, most of the lights and the refrigerator--I never got the last one solved), I listened to whole tours in Spanish and even protested when I got short-changed at Oxxo. Which I am proud to say, I successfully got my 50 pesos back. We never covered that in Spanish class!

The main street in Mexico City is Paseo de la Reforma although I think most people call it Avenida Reforma or Calle Reforma (I know I did when I asked for directions and people understood me). My hotel was on this street (Imperial Reforma) and many important sights including the Angel of Independence which I learned from a very rude and very mustacchioed female guard can only be climbed on the weekends.

There was tons of anti-Calderon graffiti (really explicit stuff, like Death to Calderon, etc) and other squatter camps. I don't know if this was the feeling of just a few disgruntled people or how most people felt. (I also just love being able to work in the word disgruntled whenever I can).

Some people say Mexico isn't safe, but I felt perfectly safe the whole time I was there. I watched my purse, just like I would in any big city, but most people I met were pretty friendly (again, the smaller the town, I think the nicer people are). But aside from KFC guy and the female mustached security guard, everyone was pretty nice.

However, be prepared for guns. It's funny that foreigners think the US is a gun culture. I counted 11 police officers in just one stretch of block and they all had semi-automatics. Not to mention, all the cops/security guards outside businesses like banks and sex shops (I have no idea) who stood guard on the doorstep with automatic pump-action shotguns.