Tipping Points

When one lives alone for a period of time, certain equilibria are reached. There is just enough of something or just the right combination of things or just the correct state of disarray, but not quite enough disturbance in the Force to precipitate action.

Yes, the single man (or woman, I suppose) comes to appreciate that fine line that separates good enough from not enough, clean from needing attention, a small pile of dirty clothes versus a load of laundry.

Mark my words, you know it and I know it. This line of demarcation exists, even if no one else is there to see it. If a tree falls in the woods…

This line, this state of being, this rallying or staging area in the single person’s world, is the tipping point.

That point when inaction will lead to hunger, sadness, disappointment, or madness.

What are some of my personal favorite tipping points, things that push me to my limits and help me to understand just how much I can tolerate before I start to embarrass myself, even though no one else lives with me?

A classic is the almost empty gas tank. We’ve all been there. Cars used to have needles that showed how much  $0.75 petrol was left in the tank, riding lower and lower until the little metal or plastic stick lay irresolutely against the little plastic spindle that meant EMPTY, not wanting to finally rest there with finality but knowing that it was inevitable. In recent years cars have had digital and visual gas gauges that often times make use of little blocks of light called pips, each little square standing in for a gallon or two of $3.50 (or later, $1.85) gas. Less pips, more anxiety about not making it to the next station.

And less you folks who drive Prii or other hybrid electric cars gloat too much, believe me, a Prius can run out of pips, and gas, just like my father’s Ford Falcon could. Yes, my friends, that story of adversity on the road from Myrtle Beach to Augusta, Georgia is one for another day and another post. Trust me. Lose your pips, and you will not have a gladus night.

Another single man’s tipping point is the amount of food in the refrigerator (substitute pantry or cupboard or other if you like) that it takes to sustain life. Now, I like to eat. Hell, I have even been known to cook a meal or two that tasted pretty good. Like any self respecting guy, though, I hate to go to the grocery store. Hate it. Hate it. Tonight, my refrigerator happens to be stocked with fruit, some veggies, milk, some good cheese, a few brews, and a wonderful Irish lamb stew that I cooked up two nights ago. My freezer is full of venison and chicken and frozen vegetables.

There have been times, however, when I peeked into the abyss and saw exactly one lemon, a shriveled up Roma tomato, a single Fat Tire and half an onion. Could barely make Stone Soup with that. Now, to be clear, this was not because I had no money, and it was not due to lack of time to go to the grocery store. It was due to a combination of laziness and curiosity about how long I could actually survive without replenishing the home stocks. How many Zaxby salads and Chick-fi-A fruit cups does it take to drive one over the edge and propel one’s car (with only two pips left on the gas gauge, no less) towards Publix and the wide aisles of plenty?

One last tipping point, although I could go on.

How many times have you realized that there is not enough coffee, ground or whole bean or even instant, if you can stand that stuff, to make a pot first thing in the morning? And it’s 11:45 PM. At night.

Your dilemma: get dressed in something other than skivvies and athletic socks and drive (now with only one pip left on your gas gauge, this is getting interesting) to find a bag of Dunkin Donuts House Blend (because America really does run on Dunkin, my northern friends tell me), or risk getting up and being in such a state of caffeine withdrawal that you cut yourself shaving three times and go out of the house with mismatched socks, cutting off every hapless driver who gets in your way going to Starbucks.

Coffee, you see, is worth more than gas and food combined. Coffee makes the world go round. Without coffee, we are no better than the apes (who are smart enough not to drink coffee but stick to bananas, which they wisely peel sideways, thank you very much) Without coffee and caffeine, social discourse stops, commerce grinds to a halt, and continuing resolutions in the House of Representatives are never voted on. The government shuts down and we all move to Nicaragua, where they have coffee plantations.

Tipping points.

American men love their cars, and the way to a man’s heart may be though his stomach, but for those of us who love the ripe red bean, you will have to pry our worn, weathered coffee mugs from our cold, dead, recently caffeinated hands.

The Starbucks at the University opens at seven. There’s a gas station on the way.

Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow.

Rosie and Me: Day 18. Flint-stones.

Once upon a time there was a coffee shop in Emporia, Kansas…

Well of course there was a coffee shop. Whose blog is this anyway?

Granada Coffee Company was my mid-morning stop today to recharge and sample the local beans and muffins. A blueberry one and a big Americano with plenty to take on the road was perfect. The shop was little but homey and comfortable, with just five or six tables. The lady barista was very friendly to me from the start (are you sensing the pattern here, that people who are around coffee, who drink coffee and who brew coffee are all very nice people?), and I was very impressed with the fact that she called every one of her customers while I was there by name as they walked in the door. The sign on her wall said, “Enter as strangers; leave as friends.” I believe that this fit just right.

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Then, it was on to see the Flint stones. No, not the yabba dabba doo kind, but the rolling hill kind that were a nice shade of yellow-brown-gold and undulated nicely through the rest of Kansas before I hit Oklahoma. The Flint Hills were a very pretty part of the state to drive through indeed.

The highlight of my day, and the only real destination I had set myself today, was the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. How can I describe this place to those of you have never been there? I expected that it would be a very visceral experience for me. I am getting a little road weary now that I am in my third week away from home, and I tend to get a little more emotional when I’m tired, so I knew that this would be a very interesting and educational, but emotionally painful, stop. It is telling that one of my close friends texted me just before I got there and checked in with me, offering to touch base later in the day to make sure I was okay.

Walking up to one of the massive gates, situated at each end of the site like gigantic bookends of time, plus seeing the sections of fencing that have been left to accept tokens and memorabilia from visitors, immediately hit me in the gut. That and the fact that Jesus, in the form of a large white statue across the road, had turned his back on the horrific trauma, covered his face, and wept. I saw the tiny tennis shoe hanging from the fence, the pictures of the victims and the still-fresh grief of the families that said goodbye, probably for the hundredth time, to their daughter or father or husband, and I had trouble seeing to use my camera to capture the pain.

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I spent a total of about four hours at the site, three in the bright sunlight of the outdoor venue and inside touring the museum, and another hour as the sun set. I wanted to get another set of pictures as the wonderful lighting slowly changed the feeling of the Memorial from a sun-splashed beauty to a melancholy glow. I was very glad I took the extra time to go back.

The Memorial is one of the best I’ve ever visited, and I highly recommend you see it if you ever go to Oklahoma City. The museum educates as it should, with words and pictures and sounds and emotion and shock and closure. The outdoor area is nothing short of spectacular in its ability to recreate the space as it was in the moment before the blast, but to also bring us forward in time long past 9:03 AM on that fateful day of April 19, 1995. The horror of the loss is apparent in the Field of Empty Chairs, but the hope and serenity that comes up from the perfectly clear and calm pool of water between the bookended gates of time is calming. Above it all, the Survivor Tree lets us know that when all hope seems gone, life can go on.

I don’t have any other words that do this place justice, but I tried to capture some of the emotion behind the lens of a camera to share with you. I hope I have done a good enough job.

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The overarching themes of this Memorial are that out of horrendous destruction springs monumental beauty, from hate can come love, and from darkness can come soothing light.

If you love someone, tell them.

If you feel strongly about something, act.

None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.

Good night, dear readers, from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Rosie and Me: Day 15. Bless the Beasts and the Children

Today was a very busy, fun day in Denver, Colorado! Before I run down the places you should visit the next time you’re here, let me share a reflection I had on the hike and again this morning as I started my long urban hike around Denver.

When we were on the Chimney Gulch Trail in Golden, Colorado, which was moderately difficult and had some very rocky and slippery patches going up and down, I noted that Kaya did not seem to even notice the parts that made her humans pause and make sure their footing was sure and their balance was assured.

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I was never in fear that I would actually fall off the mountain or injure myself, but as I have gotten older, I do notice situations or places that, if not paid proper attention, could possible give me trouble and even get me hurt. It pays to wear good boots (I had on my new pair of Salewas yesterday and they performed like a champ), watch the trail, and make sure one’s footing is sure before putting weight down or attempting to climb a rocky outcropping.

My daughter Chelsea made a spot-on observation that made me think.

“Dogs don’t worry about rocks, slipping, or falling into canyons. They just walk and smell everything. She’s just walking and smelling.”

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She’s right, I thought to myself as we completed the hike. For Kaya, this was pure fun, being outdoors and running and smelling and meeting other dogs along the trail. What could be better than that?

This morning, I got up and decided to do a coffee shop crawl through Denver, hitting as many coffee houses as I could in about six hours, before rendezvousing with Chelsea and Travis for the rest of the day’s activities. One of the first places I passed by was the dog park that Chelsea takes Kaya to on many days of the week. It is beside a large park with a huge grassy area and is a very nice for the dogs of Denver. I looked to the far left of the park, opposite the dog area, and saw a man walking two large animals, one a black lab and another dog that I did not recognize. He let them off their tethers and they began to lope, then run flat out as fast they could for the park. They were playful biting at each other, nipping and swatting and running and racing each other all across the grassy field, and then got to the fence and waiting expectantly for their slower master to arrive to let them in, prancing and hopping up and down in anticipation. There was only one other dog in the enclosed park at that time, and they were obviously very happy to meet and greet and begin their morning’s play.

This reinforced the lesson that Kaya and Chelsea taught me yesterday. Dogs are very present in the moment. They run, they smell, they walk, they sniff, they meet and play with their friends, and they seem to take little heed of potential problems or dangers in their environment, except for obvious ones, of course.

How we could learn from them, I thought. How much we could learn about playfulness, being in the moment, not worrying about the potential bad outcomes that we as humans think lurk around every corner. I tried to adopt that mindset today as I went about my day of play in Denver.

I visited four different coffee shops today, starting with Purple Door Coffee. Please take a minute and go to their website and listen to them describe their mission and why they run Purple Door. I was treated in exactly the way they describe when I entered their door this morning, and the owner made sure that I was happy with my choice and purchase and entire experience in her shop. How often do you get that kind of customer service nowadays? The granola slice and Americano that I enjoyed there was a perfect start to my morning coffee jaunt through the streets of Denver.

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Next, I walked to Huckleberry Roasters, another shop that I had read about on Yelp and that was very highly rated and reviewed. The shop was bright and airy and full of conversation and bustle this morning, and the coffee I got was also excellent. The baristas in this shop went above and beyond, not just making my coffee but helping to give me quality recommendations for other coffee houses to visit in the area, and then breweries that might be interesting to visit later in the day as well. When I told them I was traveling across the country and this was my morning activity in Denver, they were as excited as I was about trying out their shop as well as others in the community. I thought that was very commendable and was very grateful for their shared expertise.

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All during my walk through the city today, I saw flowers and interesting sights, and wanted to share a few of those with you too.

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Next stop was Crema Coffee House. I enjoyed a Costa Rican pourover in another lively atmosphere with very friendly and helpful staff. I was impressed that wherever I went and no matter the shop, the staff and baristas were consistently helpful, smiling and very nice. It was very refreshing indeed to see folks that obviously enjoyed what they were doing and wanted to be there to assist you in enjoying your experience as well.

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More scenes of fall and downtown Denver on the way to my last coffee shop of the morning, Little Owl.

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Little Owl was a pint-sized upscale place to sit by the stream of city traffic going by in downtown Denver. Again, the environs were clean and neat and modern, the staff skilled and friendly, and the coffee excellent. I tried a cortado at this shop and was not disappointed.

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After taking the three mile walk home from downtown, I met Chelsea and Travis to go do a brewery tour. We decided to check out the Great Divide Brewery right downtown. We started in the taproom, where we sampled a few different brews including an oak aged stout that I really liked. After the tour we would try small samples of three other brews that were all just as good. Of interest is that this brewery proudly proclaims that they do not brew anything that has an APV (alcohol per volume) of less then 5%. In fact, one of the brews was >12% alcohol per volume! (I did not try that one, as I wanted to be awake for dinner!)

The brewing process, along with the bottling, labeling, packing and shipping processes were fascinating, in that they are still done in this one building where the founder did all the work himself years ago before expanding and hiring the fifty employees that work there now. I’m going to check out some of their product when I get home and can get back to Harvard’s in Aiken. Here are some pictures of us waiting for the tour, outside by the large brewing containers, etc.

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The last activity of this very long and very busy day was dinner at a very strange and wonderful place called Forest Room 5. Check out their website, as it is also very different and interesting. The food was good, the drinks interesting but certainly not like the craft beers that we had sampled just before dinner! Check out the odd decorations in the main room and over the bar.

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All in all, this was a very good day! I love Denver, and it has been very nice to visit with Chelsea and Travis for a couple of days. Tomorrow, it’s back on the road for a four hundred fifty mile ride to Salina, Kansas. I hear that I may get reacquainted with the winds in this next leg of the trip, but I wager that the temps won’t be as cold as they were in North Dakota last week. We shall see.

Much more to come, as we have the Eisenhower Library and Museum, a Kansas winery, the Oklahoma City bombing memorial, and many more things to see before I have to get back to reality.

Good night, dear readers, from Denver, Colorado.

P. S.

GO DAWGS!

Rosie and Me: Day 14. Boxcar Coffee and the Chimney Gulch Trail

“I don’t want to take a bath!’

“You must. You’re filthy, and you haven’t had a bath in two weeks.”

“I’m fine. Run me through some puddles on the way to Kansas.”

“You have bugs in your teeth.”

“I do not!”

“Do too.”

“Do not!”

“You must take a bath. Think how much better you’ll look.”

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Today started, after the quick bath, with a trip to Boulder to check out some new coffee shops and to browse and walk and people watch. The drive to town out of Denver was stunning, with the early morning sunshine hitting the snow-capped tops of the Rockies as if it was focused there on purpose. Boulder is home to the University of Colorado Boulder, and is a thriving, bustling, pretty little college town with a cosmopolitan feel.

I first visited Boxcar Coffee Roasters.

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This little shop, shared with a deli and wine shop in the same physical building, is quirky, has an excellent atmosphere, was filled with patrons, and served up a great cup of coffee and biscotti.

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The baristas were wearing matching clothing, very smart looking, and were knowledgeable and friendly. I enjoyed some time in the back room there drinking coffee and writing a bit.

Next, just down the street toward the busy retail section of town, was The Cup-Espresso Cafe.

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This little place was bustling in the front section, spilling out on the sidewalk, with music, conversation and studying going on at a torrid pace. The nice thing about this coffee shop was that there is a quiet room in the back for those who want to read, work on their computers or just have a more toned-down area to enjoy their time there. I sent some time at the bar in that area, nursing an Americano and working on more notes for this post. An interesting little “cell phone booth” was reminiscent of the old days when one had to enter a phone booth to make a call any time you were away from home.

After visiting these two coffee shops in the morning, I spent another hour or so walking the main streets of Boulder, looking at all the wonderful little upscale shops, restaurants, and other coffee shops that went on for several blocks. The day was lovely, the sky blue and the sun bright and warm. I could not have ordered better weather to explore a more lovely little town.

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Later, after getting back to Boulder and meeting up with my daughter Chelsea, we drove a few miles outside the city to hike the Chimney Gulch Trail, about a three hour round trip. Kaya the wonder dog accompanied us and never faltered! Here are some shots of us on the trail, some pictures looking back at Golden, CO, and the Coors plant there, and some looking way back out in the valley towards Denver. It was a great little hike, moderate in intensity and a lot of fun for all of us.

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Dinner tonight was at the very fine Sushihai near downtown Denver. We came upon this little gem quite by accident, as we were headed to another restaurant and found that it had been closed even though it had an active review on Yelp. It was a serendipitous event, as the meal was lovely and we enjoyed it very much indeed. I feasted on duck and we shared a dessert of mango and green tea ice cream.

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So, I’ve traveled 4550 miles so far, seen many sights and been in many states. What are some of my rants and raves so far for this trip?

Chicago has too many toll roads and the construction on many highways and at many major intersections makes it very hard to drive around that city and its environs.

North Dakota was much too windy and already too cold for me even in October. I simply could not live there, though I enjoyed my visit. (Sorry, Julie!)

Montana lived up to its Big Sky Country nickname. It was very beautiful and fun to drive through when the roads opened up for miles and miles ahead.

Seattle has been the most fun city so far. The Pike Place Market, the many shops and coffee stops downtown, the beauty of the Space Needle and the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit, and the views of fog, mountains and water from the parks all made my time there very special.

Portland was a nice city to visit and learn about but like my pictures, everything there seemed to be so GRAY.

For sheer beauty, openness, many things to do, and opportunities to get outdoors and participate, Colorado has been the best so far. Denver, Boulder and Golden were all beautiful and fun to explore today, and I look forward to more adventures here tomorrow.

I found myself thinking “I wish I could do this at home!” today. What I realized was that I can recreate this fun traveling vacation and all the activities that have been so much fun so far. I just need to realize that the trips will be shorter, the time spent will be limited and the geographical areas will be closer to home. There are many wonderful things to be seen in my adopted home state of South Carolina.

The intention to get out and see them will be key.

Good night, my friends, from Denver, Colorado.

Rosie and Me: Day 9. U of W and Teatro Zinzanni

Well of course Day 9 started with a long walk and coffee! Do you even need to ask now?

Bird on a Wire was the site of my doppio espresso and sparkling water stop for the morning, followed by Elizabeth’s hosted walk to the local community garden, a very cool little place that boasted flowers, veggies, sculpture, arches, and all manner of coolness. My pictures do it better justice than my words could, so here you go.

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Day 9 also included a trip to the campus of the University of Washington, home of the Huskies, sort of DAWG wannabes, if you will. Not that the football team could even match the extreme awesomeness of the BullDAWGS of the University of Georgia, but the campus was indeed beautiful. Oh, okay, okay, props for beating the stink out of California 31-7.

Again, pictures are worth a thousand words, so here you go.

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Of course, just down from the U of W campus is what is considered by most to be the oldest coffee shop in Seattle, Cafe Allegro. We had to stop in there for a moment off our feet, and I tried not coffee (surprise, surprise) but hot apple cider. It was excellent!

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Next stop on Day 9 was the downtown area around the Space Needle (alas, we did not have to time to ride to the top, but that will get checked off the list the next visit west) and the absolutely stunning Chihuly Garden and Glass installation. Wow, the color and the imagination and the stunning design of these pieces was just incredible. Please enjoy just a part of what we saw there.

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Now, what visit to any major city is complete without seeing some kind of show, right? Especially a dinner theater show that is full of zaniness, comedy, juggling, high wire acts and an aerial tango that will leave you speechless. This was Teatro Zinzanni, something that Elizabeth told me was a must-see while I was in town. Saturday night was capped off by this wonderful, funny, very enjoyable experience.

Sis claims that she did not arrange this on purpose, but we ended up sitting at the VIP table with none other than the founder, artistic director, president and CEO of the Teatro, Mr. Norman Langill. What a treat! He was gracious, as was his friend, and they asked us several times about our experience, our enjoyment of the show, etc. It was a great way to cap a super first visit to Seattle that will definitely not be my last. Elizabeth and I grabbed a picture with two of the very funny stars of the show afterwards. (I’m not at all sure how this guy managed to walk in those high heels, much less perform in them!)

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What a wonderful day it was. What a lovely city to visit. Again, I cannot thank my friend Elizabeth enough for taking the time away from work and family to show me the city that she obviously loves very much. If you have a chance to get to Seattle, check out these places!

On to Portland! The Day 10 post will be forthcoming later today. See you back here tonight.

Rosie and Me: Days 8 and 9

Yes, dear readers, I’m still here!

Haven’t fallen into a crab tank or slipped off the Space Needle or climbed Mount Ranier yet (can’t even see it yet because of Seattle’s signature clouds and fog)

I’m just having a blast with my friends Elizabeth and John and Zoey and Steve and Darlene and Vickie, eating way too much, walking miles to offset the eating (I hope!), buying gifts for grandkiddies and a few others and drinking a lot of good Seattle coffee.

Elizabeth has me out walking again at eight AM today, then it’s off to the university, more coffee and who knows what. A dinner theater show will cap the day and this wonderful visit to a lovely city.

My friend Ruth has planned another chock-full day in Portland tomorrow.

Don’t worry, the Field Notes notebook is full of scribbles and cards and receipts, and I’ll fill you in on all the details soon. I just may have to reach a hotel in Boise before they let me sit down long enough to write.

In the meantime, enjoy these glimpses into the fun with friends in Seattle.

Oh, and scandal be dammed.

GO DAWGS. Beat Mizzou!

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