Monday, November 30, 2009

Day 38: In the Walls of the Cave

The first day of traveling with Mountain Man and California Kevin (CK) had been, in my opinion, a huge success. Everyone got along, there weren't too many unnecessary bathroom breaks (yeah me) and the conversation was flowing for most of the nine hour trip from Palm Springs to El Portal. Amazing all the things that I can talk about with an audience who had never heard my material before. Once we got to CK's house, however, we crashed. A full weekend of Phish had caught up to all of us and we were done.

I woke up in Yosemite completely in awe of the scenery around me. A far cry from the smog of Atlanta, looking out CK's living room window was like looking at a Bob Ross painting (happy trees and happy stream and happy mountains). Neither Mountain Man nor I had ever been to Yosemite, so we were both ready to see and do new things. Day 38's thing I have never done before: tour Yosemite National Park with a local.

It did not take long for me to understand that CK was a pretty hard core outdoorsman. On the road trip we learned he had spent a large portion of his summer vacation camping in Alaska. Knowing this about him made me a little nervous to see what kind of activities he had planned for us. Mountain Man told me privately that he'd told CK to keep our hikes at the beginner level, since we were travelling and wouldn't be packing hiking gear. I did not have the heart to tell Mountain Man that I don't actually own real hiking gear. I've asked before, but I'll ask again, "Isn't hiking just walking on an incline?"

I may not have had "gear," but I did have running shoes and workout clothes. Oh, and a Patagonia fleece and a Marmot hip pack (hip pack = fanny pack with cool outdoor company logo on it). Bring it, Yosemite. I can look the part.

CK works for the Yosemite Institute, an organization that leads environmental education programs for school groups. He took the week off to hang out with us, but I wonder if he felt like he was still working because Mountain Man and I were hanging on his every word like students on one of his field trips. We asked questions about everything.

Me: "What's that?"
CK: "A rock."
Me: "Ohhhhhhhhh, cool!!!!"

CK has lived in Yosemite for five years and knows a great deal about the geology, geography and ecology of the park. He is also patient, soft-spoken and easy-going, all great qualities for a tour guide. CK could've told me that the sun only shines five days out of the year in Yosemite and I would've believed him. But he didn't. He shared a wealth of knowledge, of which I remember about five percent. I hope that the kids he teaches do better than me.

CK first took us to Sierra Point, an unmarked hike. It used to be a trail, but a rockslide forced it's closure in the 1970s. One minute we were cruising along the paved walkway with all of the other tourists, and the next thing I know, ascending up rocks that didn't seem to go anywhere. Just the three of us. For the most part I was fine. I kept up with the boys and I didn't fall. There were times when the openness or steepness freaked me out, but I kept reminding myself, "This is just a walk, this is just a walk."

Only it's not just a walk. Here's what one website says about Sierra Point: "This hike should not be attempted by beginning hikers due to the difficulty of the missing portions of the trail. In fact, the National Park Service does not recommend that anyone take this trail."

Hiking is NOT just walking on an incline. Hiking is serious. I'm a hiker.

The view from Sierra Point was well worth the risk (easy for me to say now that I'm safe at sea level). We could see four waterfalls and CK used Mountain Man as a map to show us some of the other Yosemite highlights.

After lunch, we walked to the base of Yosemite Falls and sat for a bit watching the water hit the rocks. On our way back, we ran into some of CK's co-workers leading groups of kids from what he says is the ultimate destination of their trip, Spider Cave.

Whenever I think of caves, which is rarely, I think of them as I've seen them in movies. A damp, dark room with a low-ceiling that's accessible on foot by an archway style opening in the rock. This cave was nothing like that.

In fact, I had no idea we were getting ready to go through Spider Cave until CK was already inside and calling out for someone to follow him. He stepped down into an opening no more than three feet wide and within seconds I couldn't see him anymore.

I could hear his voice, though, and he was giving me instructions on how to follow him into the cave. That is how the experience was meant to go. I would listen to his instructions, do what he said, and then turn around and give the same instructions to Mountain Man. CK said this was a team-building exercise. Go Team!

CK would tap the walls of the cave and say something to me like, "Hold your left hand out and you can feel that the cave is going to take a bit of a turn to the right. Leave your hand there for support and bring your left foot down about two feet and you'll feel the ground. Be careful though because the walls are going to get pretty narrow."

It was then my job to repeat those directions to Mountain Man. Only mine came out like this: "It's tricky here. Put your foot down carefully. Good luck."

Poor Mountain Man quickly learned that he was on his own in this dark cave.

Dark may be an understatement. I mean pitch-black. I couldn't see my hand in front of my face. CK assured us there were no spiders in Spider Cave, but honestly if there were, I wouldn't have ever known. I couldn't see anything.

The craziest part of the cave came at about a third of the way in when the cave became so narrow that we literally had to lie on our backs and turn slightly to the left to squirm through. CK said they call this part of the cave the "birth canal" and though not pleasant to think about, I completely understand why.

Once we got to the end of the cave and were about to exit, CK stopped and said, in his best Yosemite guide voice, that this was the part of the trip where we talk about our feelings.

I said in my best eighth-grade voice, "This experience wasn't what I was expecting at all, but I thought it was awesome. I really felt like we communicated well and all learned to trust each other. However, I could've done without Mountain Man playing grab-ass the entire time in the dark."

Mountain Man said, "This was not what I was expecting either, and I almost lost it a few times back there. Oh, and Stephanie gives horrible directions."

Clearly I made the right move electing to go first behind CK. I felt at ease with his expertise and explicit instructions. Mountain Man, on the other hand, was forced to go at it, with only me to help guide him. No wonder he had a mild freakout going through the birth canal. Before we climbed out of the cave, CK said usually for his school kids, he'll turn his head lamp on so they can see what they navigated through. Unfortunately he didn't have his lamp with him that day, so we have no idea what the space looked like.

Since I've returned, I tried to look up Spider Cave/Yosemite on the Internet to see if there is any picture of it, and so far, I haven't been able to find one. In fact, most of the entries about Spider Cave are from people who have heard about it but can't figure out how to find it. Like Sierra Point, Spider Cave is also something only the locals know about. Maybe it's the elitist in me, but I think this is so cool.

We finished the day watching the sunset in a meadow at the base of El Capitan (Mountain Man and CK engaging in some serious man talk and I engaged in a stare down with a deer). Then we headed back to CK's house for some homemade pizzas and microbrews. This Tuesday couldn't have been more different from any other normal Tuesday in my house. And I couldn't have loved it more.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Day 37: Almost Perfect Strangers

Over the summer I met a guy, who for the sake of the blog I will call Mountain Man. He lives far away from me (in the mountains, get it?), but over time we gradually started talking, emailing and before long, had formed a pretty cool long distance friendship.

As we got to know each other, we discovered that among our many common interests, we were both going to California for the Phish festival. He was meeting some of his friends there to camp, but we made plans to hang out. About a month before the concert, Mountain Man upped the ante, "Hey, after Phish I'm headed up to Yosemite with my friend that lives there. You should come with us."

I considered his invitation. On paper, this was a crazy idea. I barely knew this guy. I couldn't go on vacation with him! On the other hand, he was cool, and Yosemite sounded cool. I had the time off, I was in need of a vacation, and I had never done anything like this before, so the possibilities for the blog were wide open.

So completely abandoning reason and sanity, I made Day 37’s thing I’ve never done before: go on a vacation with someone I hardly know.

Ok, maybe that's not completely accurate, because I had actually gotten to know Mountain Man pretty well. We just hadn't spent that much time together. And by "that much," I mean, hardly at all. But for whatever reason, I wasn't really nervous at all. I was nervous, however, to tell anyone about it.

In fact, I shared the details of this trip with so few people before taking it, there is probably a good chance that some of you are finding out about it for the first time right now. I have been accused since returning of being secretive and downright shady. I cannot deny either of those accusations.

I decided for fear that something terrible would happen and my parents would have no idea where I was, that I had to fill them in on my post-Phish travels, albeit as generically as possible.

Then I had to decide which parent to tell. When it comes to family, I choose carefully who I talk to about certain subjects. Mom takes the friends/boys/emotional girly stuff and Dad takes the career/sports/money stuff.

Under these guidelines, mom was the obvious choice. I was concerned, however, as she can sometimes, without even realizing it, be a downer. I was excited, but I needed her support. Any bit of negativity could've sent me over the edge.

She called, and I went for it, trying not to let my own uncertainty about the trip to come through in our conversation.

“So…remember that guy from the Northeast that I had told you about? Well he’s going to Phish too, and I think we might extend our vacation and head up to Yosemite with a friend of his that lives there,” I told her on the phone hurriedly.

And then I waited for the aftermath, completely expecting her complete disapproval with such an insane idea. “You don’t even know this guy! Are you crazy?! I completely forbid this trip.”

Equally dramatic, I would yell back, ““I’m 29 years old!! I can do what I want!!! You can’t stop me!!!”

This is not how it went down.

Instead, she said, “Cool! Sounds like fun!”

Whaaa? No disappointment? No forbidding me to go? The only thing that I ever got in trouble for in high school was being a bitch and talking back; I was kind of hoping this was going to be my chance to let her down with my complete irresponsibility. But she wasn’t upset about it all! She was excited for me, excited for the trip.

And then she hit me with, “So…this boy…is he a friend or more than a friend? You seem to have a lot of guy friends.”

I did not want to go down this road, so again, I kept it light, “Well, he is my friend. . .(my voice trailed off because while true, that wasn’t exactly the whole story but I didn’t even understand what was going on and I wasn’t about to try and explain it to her).

Luckily she saved the awkward silence with, “Well, can I see a picture of him?”

What? Apparently the idea of her daughter going on an extended trip with a complete stranger/possible weirdo/possible serial killer was easier to take if she could at least see what he looked like.

Sure, I said. And I sent her one.

She must have approved because she told my dad and right before I left, I got an email from him that ended with, "P.S.S. Did your mother tell me you are meeting this dud from the northeast at this concert? Tell him to be careful. I’m watching him!!! "

I think he meant to say "dude." Amazing how one little letter can change a sentence's meaning entirely.

I went back and forth getting really excited and then getting terribly nervous. Mountain Man could sense my fear and the two of us decided that if our time together at Phish was a disaster, I could always go back to San Diego with Team Temecula and catch a flight to San Francisco and continue on my trip as scheduled. No need to stress, I was going to live in the moment, take it one day at a time. Well, at least I was going to try.

Sometimes my mind would go into overdrive and I would start to think about how horribly wrong this exerience could go.

"What if he acts weird when he drinks?" I said to my friend Maribeth days before I was supposed to leave. "I mean, I like what I know of him so far, but what if has a couple of beers and takes his shirt off or acts like a meathead?"

Maribeth laughed, "What if he thinks you act weird when you drink?"'


Team Temecula arrived in Palm Springs and Mountain Man and I were staying in constant communication. Until we weren't.

At some point during the weekend, he decided he was done with his cell phone and chose to leave it at his campsite for the rest of the time. So communication stopped. I guess he assumed we would just "bump into each other" eventually. There were 50,000 people at this festival. I wasn't convinced.

I was confused. And sad, as I had looked forward to hanging out with him. I was also freaked that this extended vacation was about to go up in smoke.

I talked to my parents during the weekend and my mom asked me, "How are things with Mountain Man?"

"I haven't seen him," I said, and then I started crying (I'm still not sure why. Maybe it was because I was embarrassed, maybe it was because I had come down with a cold and felt terrible, maybe it was because I knew I had to dress up like a strawberry).

My mom was instantly worried and felt sorry for me. My dad was less concerned, "He's probably just getting rowdy with his buddies, don't worry about it!"

Those in Team Temecula that knew what was going on had mixed opinions too.

A lot were like my dad and assumed it was no big deal, "It's Phish! He's having a good time, relax!"

True. This trip was like a mini-high school reunion for him. He's drinking beers and having fun. I don't want to rain on anyone's parade. I just wanted to drink beer and have fun too.

There were those that thought Mountain Man was acting like an ass. "What's his deal? I'll kill him."

I was stuck somewhere in the middle, trying to navigate the reality that there was a good chance I was never going to see this guy. I needed to start figuring out how I was going to get to San Francisco, Boston and eventually back to Atlanta.

Fortunately, I didn't have to sort any of that out. Because early Sunday morning a very guilty Mountain Man called me to apologize. Rowdy boys weekend was just that, apparently: boys weekend. We arranged to meet at the venue and sort it all out. And we did.

Maybe I'm a fool, maybe I really wanted to go to Yosemite, or maybe I didn't want to believe that I made a mistake in going forward with such a crazy plan. Whatever the reason, I decided to accept his apology, which I did believe was sincere, and go forward with the trip.

So Monday morning, Mountain Man and his friends (California Kevin and North Carolina Dave) pulled their dusty Subaru Outback into my plush rental house on a golf course. They'd been camping for four days, eating burritos for most meals and had showered maybe twice the entire time, so I'm sure it was quite a shock to enter a house that looked like it could be in a rap video. Mountain Man knew me, but these guys did not at all, I can only imagine that they're probably thinking, "Who does this chick think she is?"

After some drama that involved us getting locked out of the house with all of my stuff inside, a call to the rental house place and finally finding a way back in (thank you North Carolina Dave a.k.a. Macgyver), we loaded up the car and headed on our way. Me, still wary of this dude who had so suddenly fallen off the radar, but excited for the adventure ahead.

Talk about worlds colliding: sorority girl who rents mansions for Phish concerts climbs into Mountain Man and friend's Subaru Outback wearing designer jeans and carrying an oversized suitcase? The comedy wasn't lost on me. And it continued as we made our way to Yosemite.

**Oh, and another thing I did Monday was to eat at an In-and-Out Burger, which despite having lived in California for a summer, was also something I had never done before.**

Day 36: I Called the Opener

My trip to Palm Springs and the Phish Festival 8 was drawing to a close. For those of you who are unfamiliar with, or do not enjoy the band Phish, I'm going to try and keep this entry brief for fear that I may have already bored or confused you.

A little background here: Phish is a rock band that was formed at the University of Vermont in 1983. Everyone describes their music differently, but they are probably best known for long jams and their ability to improvise. They also have dedicated fans, who will spend lots of money and travel far distances to see them play, knowing that they're going to have a different experience every time. Phish never plays the same show twice. They've been around for a long time and have an arsenal of original and cover songs that they play, so the fun for me is the anticipation of what they'll play and what's coming next.

Thus, while seemingly ridiculous to some that I would travel to California to see a band I've seen several times before, this is "par for the course" Phish behavior. I've seen them play in Tennessee, Vermont, North Carolina, Georgia, Wisconsin, Virginia, and now California.

Impressed? Don't be. When it comes to Phish, I'm a rookie.

There is a reason why Team Temecula executed our trip to Palm Springs so successfully. Because between them, they've seen Phish hundreds of times (maybe thousands, seriously), in dozens of cities. They know what they're doing because they've done it before. A few times.

Their knowledge and experience with this band far surpasses mine.

In addition to renting fabulous houses on golf courses, orchestrating elaborate group costumes that light up, Team Temecula also plays a pre-show pick game. Everyone throws in cash, picks five songs that they think Phish might play. The person who picks the most songs, wins the cash.
I hate this game for many reasons. First of all, when it comes around to me to pick a song, I can't ever think of one. My mind goes blank. And the picking is supposed to move quickly. Secondly, sometimes this game has the potential to become a "I know Phish better than you" contest, and I hate that too. And third, I never win.

But I played along, again, not wanting to be a party pooper. Friday and Saturday, Zach and I made our picks as a team. I think it's supposed to be an individual sport, but we didn't care. We also never won.

Sunday rolled around and I ended up hanging out with some other friends at their campsite (slumming it, I know). They had been playing their own, less organized, no money on the table version of the picks game. Just one song. Winner wins nothing, except the respect of the others.

I threw out one of my favorite songs, "AC/DC Bag." This was not a radical pick. They frequently play this one and hadn't yet since the festival began. But still, I called it. It was all mine.

And sure enough, as we are making our way to the field for the last night of the festival, Phish played the first notes of their first song. My friend stopped walking and said, "Wait, is that...? That's AC/DC Bag! Steph, you called the opener!"

Indeed, Day 36's thing I've never done before was to call the opener at at Phish concert.

And for your viewing pleasure, here it is:

Day 35: You Can Be the Strawberry

In preparation for Festival 8, there were massive amounts of emails circulating among Team Temecula about what everyone would dress up as for Halloween. I've mentioned before that I'm not a huge Halloween fan, and can count on one hand how many times I've dressed up as an adult. But I'm no party pooper, so I decided to play along and make Day 35's thing I've never done before, whether I wanted to or not, to participate in a group Halloween costume.

When I signed on for the trip, I sent Melanie an email: "Hey, what are we thinking about doing for costumes?" I suggested the Royal Tenenbaums cast. I was quickly shot down.

"We've already decided," she responded, "We're going as Ms. Pac-Man, the video game."

My mind went blank. There are characters in the video game? Wasn't it just Ms. Pac-Man eating some dots?

A quick Google search refreshed my memory and I remembered that yes, indeed, there were other characters in the video game. In addition to not really participating in Halloween activities, I also didn't spend a whole lot of time in arcades growing up.

Melanie and I's conversation continued. "So far, we have four ghosts (Randy, David, Zach and Jackie), a Power Pill (Joe), a Pretzel (Fais), Cherries (Laura and Julie--from Julie likes to dress up like produce, she just doesn't like to eat it) and I'm Ms. Pac-Man."

" is there anything else you need?" I asked, not quite sure I wanted to know her response.

"Why don't you be the strawberry?"

A strawberry? That's not so bad. I'm a strawberry blonde, so it makes sense. A red dress, a green headband, some drawn on freckles for the seeds. Done.
I was curious to see if an actual strawberry costume existed. So I Googled "adult strawberry costume." Sure enough, there were several "strawberry-ish" costumes. Strawberry Shortcake, strawberry doll (what?), strawberry daiquiri.

All of these costumes featured a different busty blonde wearing a mini-dress, thigh-highs and stripper shoes.

Really? I loved Strawberry Shortcake as a child, but I certainly don't remember her being overtly sexual. In fact, I don't remember her being sexual at all. She lived in a strawberry patch and hung out with Care Bears. When did Strawberry Shortcake become a hooker?

These costumes proved my point that adult women use Halloween as an excuse to dress up like sluts.

Well not this strawberry. Those awful Halloween corporate monsters may have ruined Strawberry Shortcake for me, but I was going to be a Ms. Pac-Man Strawberry with some dignity and class!

And then somewhere around email 112 with the group, go-go boots were brought up in the discussion and it became apparent that my group, along with every other group in America, would also be participating in slutty Halloween.

Go-go boots? Come again?

That's right, the fruit would wear white go-go boots and Ms. Pac-Man would wear pink ones. A short red dress and go-go boots and apparently even fruit can be risque.

I also learned in the email chatter that the reason the group decided to be the Ms. Pac-Man cast was chosen was because Randy wanted to have a costume that lit up. So there was a lot of discussion about ordering lights to attach to costumes. In fact, there is a website dedicated to helping us achieve our goal: Best. Website. Ever.

Honestly, I wasn't 100 percent on board with making fruit sexy, but making the costumes light up? Sold!

Right before I left for the trip, I had a friend in town and several busy days at work, so I put off shopping for this costume until the weekend before. But I wasn't concerned. It's a red dress. How hard could it be? And then I went out and actually tried to find one. And couldn't.

I started at American Apparel where I found an array of red dresses in a multitude of styles...that would all fit my Barbie. Interesting that the mecca for hipsters makes clothes for women without hips.

I tried department stores, thrift stores, discount superstores and kept striking out.

And then, as if I was still a child in need of a costume, my mom called and told me she found, and bought a red dress that looked like a strawberry. She continued to give me a five minute detailed explanation of what the dress looked like, stitch by stitch. It gave me a headache. I finally told her to put it in the mail and I would give it a try.

Not completely confident, I kept searching for a backup dress. And I eventually found one that would've worked had mom's dress been a disaster. But it wasn't a disaster! It was perfect. It came in the mail the day before I left. And it really did look like a strawberry. I'm 29-years old. And my mom bought my slutty Halloween costume.

The night of Halloween finally arrived and after all of the stress and the search for the red dress, my costume came together. The group execution was a success. At least I thought it was. Until some guy dressed up like a monkey asked me if I was the Statue of Liberty.
"What? I'm a strawberry."

"I thought you were a Christmas tree," someone else piped in.

Looking at pictures, I can kinda see what they both meant. My light-up "stem" did look like the crown on the Statue of Liberty. And it was dark out there. Maybe they thought my red dress was green. Or maybe they had a few too many beers and/or psychedelic drugs.

No surprise, Team Temecula rocked Halloween as Ms. Pac-Man.

And I rocked it my first time a part of a group Halloween costume as a Strawberry/Statue of Liberty/Christmas tree.

Day 34: Sink the Putt!

Despite the stressful drive and late arrival to Palm Springs/La Quinta the night before, several of us woke up early.

I say "stressful," but who am I kidding? The only person it was really stressful for was Randy, and that's because he was driving. I was in the backseat talking about blogging and thinking of new ways to use the word Temecula.

I can't speak for the others, but I was too excited to sleep. I was in California! And not at work!

I planned on writing, I really did. Until Randy informed me that the house didn't have Internet. I slammed my fist on the granite kitchen counter top and shouted, "What?! No Internet?!??!!? This is an outrage! I'm going to have to hang out by the pool all day before the show tonight?!! Unacceptable, Randy!"

So instead, I accompanied super travelers to the grocery store and spent the rest of day enjoying the sunshine. On the golf course. And then at the pool. And then on the golf course. And then at the pool.

I know, I know, obnoxious. I'd hate me too.

The house that my now-favorite travel companions rented actually sat on a PGA West Golf Course.

I have always been a fan of golf. Let me rephrase: I have always been a fan of golf courses. And golf tournaments. And golfers. Since impressing my dad at the driving range earlier this year and taking him up on his offer to pay for golf lessons, I have been working on becoming a fan of golf, the sport.

So when I saw my friend Zach, who is a caddy, head out to the PGA West green in our backyard, I followed to see what he was up to. Zach, who has never met a stranger, quickly befriended the golfer, who was alone and just practicing.

Several of us quickly joined him on the green.

And then Melanie suggested I may Day 34's thing I've never done before to sink a putt on a PGA golf course.

Once again, is there anything this woman doesn't think of?

Yes, of course that's what I should do!

If it wasn't for her, I probably would have been forced to hold hands with some dude with dread locks later that night.

Besides the course itself and the beautiful blue skies above us, nothing about completing this task was pretty. My attire, my reaction, the three tries necessary to pull it off, none of them were ever a part of how I saw scenario playing out in my head. But I didn't care. The sound of that golf ball dropping into the cup was worth it, even if the circumstances weren't perfect. And it definitely confirmed that in addition to golfers and golf courses, I actually do enjoy golf.

The only let down was that my dad wasn't there to see it. I emailed him immediately afterwards to tell him about the thing I'd never done before.

His response was quick, "Good for you. How many tries?"

He's my dad. He knows me, and my golf game, pretty well.

I couldn't lie, "Three tries. Got it in on the 3rd and sank 2 in a row. I need some more practice."

That's an understatement.

I planned then to call my golf instructor when I returned to Atlanta, or maybe add "Go to the driving range alone," to one of the things I've never done before.

Oh, and Dad, thanks to modern technology (and friends with nice cameras), you WILL get to see it. Just tilt your head to the left.

Day 33: Along for the Ride in Temecula

Finally, Vacation Blog is here!

Day 33's thing I've never done before is to go to Palm Springs, see three days of Phish (a band, for those of you who may be unfamiliar), stay in a super amazing house on a PGA golf course and forget about my real life for 11 days.

Buckle up blog fans, because the next 11 days are all dedicated to my vacation, that began with a weekend in Palm Springs, California for Phish's Halloween Festival 8.

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but the blog was a huge source of stress for me in preparation of this trip. Should I take my computer and try and blog while I'm away? Is that what real bloggers do? I'm going to see Phish. How realistic was it to think that I would actually blog? I was already so far behind going into the trip, though, so if I took an 11 day break, I would be really behind. REALLY behind.

I consulted one of my travel companions and he told me that if I was stressed about it, I should just bring my laptop. My unpredictable, still sick with the swine flu laptop. I wasn't even sure it still worked outside the walls of my own house. But I thought I might get a chance to write on the plane, or perhaps if there was a moment of downtime. So I brought it.

And I'm so glad I did because it served as a perfectly fabulous piece of carry-on luggage for me to keep up with. And that's it. When I escaped my real life, I really escaped every aspect of it. I didn't write once.

I just posted my Haunted House entry. I'm much further behind on writing then 11 days. I've recommitted myself, though. And I will not give up. I'll catch up eventually. Right?

Back to the trip.

Now, I have traveled quite a bit and I've been to enough concerts and music festivals to know how to do it right. Or at least I thought that I did, until my friends Melanie and Randy, and their concert posse proved me wrong. These seasoned Phish phans (I swear this is the first and only time I will ever use 'ph' for the 'f' sound except when spelling my own name) really know how to do it right.

I decided to go on this trip much later than most, but once I signed on, I immediately began receiving emails from the crew coordinating costumes, transportation to the airport, and links to information about the festival site. I was overwhelmed at the planning that had already gone into the trip, but knew that I had chosen the right group to tag along with. I admit, I wished in these moments that I had given the Phish crew my new gmail address so that I wouldn't open my Hotmail account to 65 new emails each day. There was a lot of communicating going on with this group.

Had I given out the Gmail address, I could've also viewed, with ease, the Google Docs spreadsheets created for the trip. That's right. This crew made spreadsheets highlighting how much everything cost, who still needed to pay, and what airports this geographically diverse group was flying to and from.

Not to mention, they had rented a 15-passenger van to transport us from San Diego to our house on PGA West. No that's not a typo, I wrote "house." I could've typed "swanky house on PGA West, the golf course," because that's where it was. And it had a pool. And a big screen TV.

These people, who I have wisely befriended over the years, do not mess around. They attack life and Phish concerts with equal fervor. And spreadsheets.

Serious. Business.

All I did was book my flight, send a check to Randy, and show up to the airport.

With plenty of time to spare before take off, I dipped into a nearby sports bar to have a beer. I was settling up my tab when I got a text message from Melanie.

"Where are you?" it read.
I texted her back, "I'm at the bar. Paying the check. Where are you?"
"On the plane. You better hurry," she responded.

I looked at the time. Our plane was scheduled to depart at 6:55pm and it was just 6:30pm. Still, my heart started beating wildly. There were still people lined up outside the gate. I still had 25 minutes, didn't I? I picked up my pace a little bit. I was clearly out of my league with these super concert travelers and if they were sitting on the plane then that's probably where I wanted to be too. All the Google Docs in the world will not make up for one weak link who misses her flight. And I did not want to be that weak link, especially because getting on the plane on time was my sole responsibility at this point.

I walked quickly to the ATM to get cash and hustled to get on the plane. It turned out that Iwas fine and I had plenty of time before the plane took off, but I decided I was going to stay close to my fellow travelers for the rest of the weekend to avoid any more unneccessary freakouts.

We all made it to San Diego, Randy picked up our van and hit the road, driving through several southern California cities including Encendido, where we drove around a shopping mall for half an hour looking for a place to use the bathroom. Nearing desparation, we finally got out and pulled over on the side of the road in some mountainous region and took care of business right there in nature, also something I've never done in California.

After we had relieved ourselves, everyone’s mood improved considerably. Perhaps that's what made driving through the city of Temecula so damn funny. Or maybe we just loved the word "Temecula." We started using Temecula as a noun and a verb and even referred to ourselves as Team Temecula. Unfortunately the fun didn't last very long, and soon it was apparent that our team was lost.

All the emails, planning, and spreadsheets, and no one knows how to get to our destination? Or where to pick up the keys to the house? This rookie behavior was straight out of my playbook.

Lost in Palm Springs. Or was it La Quinta? It was another first either way.

The day of vacation firsts eventually came to an end when we tracked down the keys and found our amazing house.

Team Temecula had arrived and was ready to party.

Day 32: This is It

Following the exciting and terrifying experience at Netherworld, I needed something a little more cheery to follow. I was leaving town the following day and should have been packing, but I decided instead to make Day 32's thing I've never done before to go see the Michael Jackson documentary, This is It, on opening night.

After his death over the summer, the producers of Jackson's stage show edited together all of the rehearsal footage to create This is It. The film begins at his bizarre concert announcement in London and takes viewers to dancer auditions and and then on to rehearsals at the Staples center in Los Angeles.

The film gave me an idea of what an amazing production these last shows were going to be and how much time and detail had been put into making them that way. Jackson is an obvious perfectionist who was involved with every element of the show. The choreography, the lights, the musicians and dancers, and the awesome music that I have been a fan of since I was a child--it was all flawless.

The entire time I was watching the movie, I couldn't help but think about the dancers and musicians that were going to be a part of these last shows. What a roller coaster of emotions they've had this year. First auditioning and getting picked to perform with the King of Pop must have been the most exciting, unbelievable experience of any of their young lives. And then to lose their leader and friend in such a tragic and untimely fashion and never getting to see that dream come to fruition--it had to have been devastating.

My friend Devon, who kindly, and perhaps foolishly agreed to accompany me to this movie, got a little nervous when I told him I was going to need to sit on the end of the row so that I could get up and dance if the mood hit me.

"Oh God," he said, "Really?"

"Yes," I responded, "Really! It's Michael!"

I never got up to dance, but I watched this film on the edge of my seat with stars in my eyes like a little kid watching a cartoon. It made me want to dance. And sing. It also made me sad. Sad that this man so capable of lighting up a stage and bringing an audience to their feet was taken too soon.

The movie also got me excited for my own music adventure which kicked off on Thursday, and made me even more hopeful that Phish might choose Thriller as their Halloween costume on Saturday night.

I'm so glad that I was able to see This is It the night that it opened. But I admit I was a little disappointed with the turnout at my theatre. Devon pointed out to me that it was 11pm on a Wednesday night. I didn't care. This is Michael Jackson. This is it!

He was, is and will always be the King of Pop.

Day 31: Haunted Hell...errr, House

For the first time in my adult life, this blog has forced me to participate in seasonal activities that I had never done before. And I love it. That's not to say I loved all of the activities (corn maze = lame), but I'm glad I am embracing each holiday and not letting them just pass me by. When people say, "Can you believe it's already Thanksgiving?" I will now respond, "well, yes, actually, I can."

There was just one task left to complete ahead of Halloween and it was the one I dreaded the most. Luckily for me, I had full blog support from Lauren and Katy who were willing to help me complete Day 31's thing I've never done before: go to a Haunted House.

I'm really not much of a Halloween fan. When my brother and I were kids we always carved pumpkins, dressed up and went trick-or-treating, but that was really the extent of my family's involvement in the holiday. My dad's birthday is on Halloween, so as soon as we kids allowed it, our family tried to make the day more about his birthday and less about spooky stuff.

When you get down to it, I hate to be scared. I stay away from horror movies and television shows. I find everyday life frightening enough without ghosts, vampires and paranormal activity.
But it was Halloween. Time to get spooked for the sake of the blog.

A simple Internet search pointed me to the direction of several Haunted Houses in the Atlanta area. I chose one, but in my ignorance, quickly found out I had chosen incorrectly.

Netherworld, I was told, was THE Haunted House to go to Atlanta.

But when I told people that I was taking my out-of-town friend there, I was met with a lot of raised eyebrows and a lot of "Whoa...really? Have you been before?"

And I'd imagine that these people have a higher threshold for scary than I do. I knew already that this was a really bad idea.

The day of the haunted house was a rainy one in Atlanta. Really rainy. I emailed my friends, "Do you think we should do something else? It's raining pretty badly." I'm such a sissy!
"Well, it's indoors, right? We'll be fine," Katy responded.


On my way out the door, my friends at work who had just gone to Netherworld gave me two pieces of advice, both of which I am forever grateful: the "experience" starts before you actually think it does and it's not over when you think it is.

The entire trip up to Norcross was spent in complete freak mode. All three of us blaming the other for choosing this as today's activity. "I gave you both an out!" I exclaimed, in reference to my email about the weather.

Regardless of who was to blame for this excursion (me), we had to go through with it. It was after 9pm, I had already planned on this being the thing I've never done before and I charged $69 worth of tickets on my credit card. We were going.
We pulled into the packed parking lot with our guards up, fully anticipating for characters to attack us immediately when we got out of the car. Apparently there are a lot of bloggers attempting things they've never done before or people actually like these scary activities. I saw people running, heard people screaming. I had a knot in my stomach. I was truly terrified of what was about to happen.

We tentatively walked up to the ticket counter, encountering a few scary figures along the way. The man selling tickets could see the fear on our faces and said, "oh you girls are gonna be fun."

When he said that, I wondered if there was some sort of communication device that he used to alert all of the actors when complete wusses are about to come through. If so, I think this guy would've used it. He could tell immediately that we were about to jump out of our skin.

I refused to let this get to me and proceeded to the start of the Haunted House ready to attack it. "It's mind over matter," I told myself. I could do this. It is all make believe. None of it is real. I was going to link arms with my friends, be brave and get through this maze with confidence and self-control. I would do what I always do, and internalize any anxiety or fear that I was feeling.

We walked ahead, slowly, but deliberately. And then, as if scripted for a bloopers show, a vampire/ghost/scary thing flew out from the ceiling right over our heads.

And we fell. On the ground.

None of us recalls who fell first, but the fact that we had linked arms so tightly caused a chain reaction. One person went down and we all went down.

Did I mention we were in the first room of the Haunted House? Like ten steps in.

So much for living the fear on the inside. My anxiety was right out there for everyone to see, lying on the floor in the first room of Netherworld. This experience had turned me into one of those excitable, wears-their-emotions-on-their-sleeve kinds of people that I hate. You know the people on game shows that scream, run around and fall on the ground when they win a prize? Or faint when they meet their favorite celebrity? Or shriek into the phone when they win movie passes from a radio station? I despise that behavior and those people.

Yet here I was, on the ground, screaming, gasping, laughing (at the fact that we fell) and truly scared. I also felt strangely and overwhelmingly exhausted.

We peeled ourselves off of the floor and proceeded through room after room of terribleness. Flashing lights, moving floors, eerie sounds and elaborate special effects contributed to the fright. Not to mention the horrifyingly detailed costumes on the characters jumping out at us at every turn.
About mid-way through Netherworld, a group of three other visitors, two large guys and one of their girlfriends, caught up to us. They seemed to be just as freaked out as we were. Our chain of three quickly turned into a mob of six. Complete strangers holding on to each other for dear life.

In fact, these guys were grabbing and touching us in ways that in a normal situation, would be completely inappropriate and unacceptable. But under the circumstances, none of us really cared.
In fact, haunted houses could be the answer to a lot of the world's problems. When you're in that vulnerable place and you're scared, you'll grab onto anyone for comfort.
Marriage on the rocks? Head to Netherworld and you'll find your way back into each other's arms.

Kids not getting along? Take them to Netherworld and scare them into working it out.

Race relations tense in your community? Take your town to Netherworld. Everyone will quickly realize that when in the dark being chased around by spooky characters in costume, we're all the same.

We (all six of us) ran out of the haunted house and back to our cars. We were all sweating. I had a headache. Sure enough, the experience wasn't over and we were chased briefly by one of the parking lot creatures. Katy, who spent the latter part of the haunted house with her fingers in her ears and her eyes closed, politely, but firmly said to the creature, "Please stop. I've had enough!"

I imagine a "good day at the office" for actors at a haunted house would be to completely terrify their visitors and bring them to their knees. I'm happy that my friends and I were responsible for making their workday a success.

We fell.

***Editor's Note: unfortunately there are no pictures to document this horrifying experience or the bruises incurred as a result. These images are taken from the website.***

Day 30: Flippin' Out

After a dramatic and stressful night in Katy's kitchen, I planned on making Monday's task easy. I also planned on making it involve someone else taking my order, cooking for me, and serving me my dinner. Having my friend Lauren in from out of town made this easy to accomplish because she loves eating out in Atlanta, and though I've lived here for five years, there are still so many restaurants that I haven't tried. She is also a fan of the show Top Chef, and to my surprise, Atlanta is full of current and former show contestants owning and working at restaurants here.

Day 30's thing I've never done before was to eat at a Top Chef contestant Richard Blais' restaurant, Flip.

What's funny about the decision to take Lauren to Flip is that I don't really eat hamburgers. I don't really eat a lot of red meat, period. I stopped in the eighth grade because I wanted to be skinny and it was the cool thing to do and I just never started really eating it again. I'm not terribly strict about it, I just don't choose steaks or hamburgers at restaurants or cook with them at home. I did eat a hamburger at a cookout a few years ago, but that because I was trying to impress the guy that had invited me to the cookout. It did not work, and I've regretted that decision since.

But Flip isn't just any normal burger joint. It is a "Burger Boutique," that has, in addition to a wide assortment of beef burgers, burgers made out of salmon, falafel, lamb, crab, turkey. I knew after merely glancing at the menu ahead of our visit there that I would have no problem finding something to eat. "Burger Boutique," also suits Flip because of the restaurant's modern, swanky decor. Big white tables and booths are accompanied by stainless steel chairs and light fixtures. It's as if they are saying, "It may be hamburgers and french fries, but you don't have to eat like you're at McDonald's." I should totally be in advertising.

Regardless of having viewed the menu online (several times), I could not, for the life of me, decide what to order. Everything looked awesome. Plus, I fear food envy the way some people fear spiders or snakes. I'd rather go hungry than wish I had ordered something that someone else at my table ordered.

Food envy is real. And it is the worst.

Apparently my friends also have this fear. This poor waiter. First we come in late on a Monday night, and then we ask him to tell us about nearly every burger on the menu. "What about the turkey burger, do you like it?" "If you had to choose between the tuna burger and the lamb burger, what would you choose?" We all mulled over this decision as if our dinner selection was going to save or destroy the free world as we knew it.

When the waiter returned (likely to tell us that the kitchen was closing and we had to decide), Katy picked first, and put her menu down. Then Lauren picked the crab burger that the waiter had highly recommended. Then Katy changed her mind and also chose the crab. When it comes to ordering food at restaurants, I always elect to go last. That way, I can listen to what everyone else is ordering and place my order accordingly. Some call this sneaky, I call it smart.

In this instance, however, it backfired. Lauren and Katy had chosen the crab. Now, I could've gambled at that point, gone out on my own by choosing a different burger and possibly been victorious if my selection was the better of the two. If I chose poorly, however, I'd be forced to live with my decision, alone, while the only other two people at my table enjoy their waiter-recommended crab burger that I also considered. I'm not a gambler, especially when it comes to food, so I opted to go three for three and order the crab. "We're all in this together," I thought, good, bad, and hopefully tasty.

The crab burger consisted of lump crab, green curry coconut sauce, pickled apples and micro greens. The burger, in my opinion was good. I did think there was a little too much bread, and not enough crab or sauce. But overall, I like the concept. Wait, what? Who am I? I'm nobody worthy of critiquing anyone's food, but I know what I like, and while the crab burger was good, it wasn't amazing. And I really wanted it to be.

Since my own visit to Flip, I recently talked to someone else who just went and ate the lamb burger, which was what I had considered ordering instead of the crab. He said it was awesome. It was as if the Food Gods came to taunt me with this information (should've gone out on your own, idiot).

Wanting to get the full experience, when the meal was over, we ordered a milkshake for dessert. Which for the waiter, meant more torture as we went back and forth over which milkshake we should get, the Spicy Chocolate Mole or Nutella and Burnt Marshmallow. Seeing that we were headed nowhere fast, Katy reigned in the discussion and suggested we go with what Lauren wanted since she was in from out of town. I'm sure the waiter was relieved that we were able to nail this decision down without so much discussion. I know that I was. Nutella and Burnt Marshmallow. Done.

The milkshake was awesome. The whole night was, really. Good company, good food, and I wasn't tricked into eating things that I thought I hated or forced to stuff vegetables into a blender.

Day 29: Pumpkin Pie and Trickery

When I went to the pumpkin patch with my friend Trish, I bought a pumpkin in preparation for this day's task. An old high school friend who reads the blog had suggested this challenge, and I accepted, making Day 29's thing I've never done before to make a pumpkin pie from a real pumpkin.

I've made pumpkin pie before, from canned pumpkin, several Thanksgivings ago, but I liked the idea of doing it the hard way, and I thanked my friend Amy who suggested it. Seasonal, challenging, and potentially tasty. A true winner.

Because I knew that I would be cutting into the pumpkin and cooking with it, when I was at the pumpkin patch, I thoughtfully chose an oddly shaped, ugly pumpkin and left all of the nice, round, deep orange pumpkins for families wanting to carve and display theirs on their front steps.

After reading recipes online, however, I soon discovered that the pumpkin I chose was far too big, and likely not sweet enough for pie. It turns out there is a special breed of pumpkins, sugar pumpkins, specifically for cooking. This was a couple of weeks ago, but there is still an over-sized misshaped pumpkin rolling around in the trunk of my car.

Before choosing my recipe, I also assumed that the pumpkin used for the pie filling was the gunk in the middle attached to the seeds that is cleaned out for carving. Wrong again. It's actually the part between the skin and the "guts" that makes the pumpkin.

I hadn't even started the cooking process, and I've already been really wrong about two major parts of this assignment. I was not feeling confident. Furthermore, the recipe called for 4 cups of pumpkin. Am I supposed to know how many cups of pumpkin one sugar pumpkin will yield? Are people born knowing these things? My mom used to be a home economics teacher and I would like to think that if anyone should be born knowing such facts, it would be me, her daughter. But I had no idea how many pumpkins to buy to pull this off.

So I bought two. Two sugar pumpkins.

The execution of this task happened in two parts. Part one happened in my own kitchen and involved gutting and roasting the pumpkins. For the second part, my friend Katy offered to let me use her kitchen and all of her fancy tools and appliances for the pie assembly and baking. On top of that, she also offered to cook dinner for another friend and me. Both extremely generous offers that I'm confident Katy regretted later that evening.

At my house, alone with the pumpkins, I realized just how long it had been since I'd carved a pumpkin. I'm not sure I'd ever actually done it as an adult. I also realized how pitiful my knife selection is and proceeded to hack into this pumpkin alternating between a butter knife and an over sized vegetable peeler. It wasn't pretty, but eventually it got the job done.

I decided while gutting the pumpkins that I would save the seeds for roasting because though I hadn't eaten them since I was a kid, I do remember enjoying them. Plus when I told everyone that making the pie from a real pumpkin was this day's challenge, that's what they all asked me, wide-eyed with excitement, "Are you gonna roast the seeds?! Oh I LOVE roasted pumpkin seeds!! YUM!!"

I didn't have the heart to tell them that I hadn't planned on it. So I did.

The gutting of the pumpkins was no surprise, a complete mess. There was, and still is, pumpkin everywhere. On my hands, in my hair, on my clothes, on the walls, on the get the idea. Gross. I did save the seeds though, have no fear!

Because I was roasting the entire pumpkin, cleaning it out was much easier than had I been carving it for display. Instead of cutting a small hole at the top and reaching my hand inside to clean out whatever I could reach, I cut those suckers wide open and went to town.

And then it was time to roast them. I put them on a cookie sheet (I actually have one of those) and put them in the oven at 375 degrees. I had no idea how long such a task would take, but the plan was to roast the pumpkin and then pack it up and take it over to Katy's for the mixing, assembly, and of course, dinner.

So that's what I did, but not before nearly burning my fingers off trying to remove the warm pumpkin flesh from the skin and then pack it into every available piece of Tupperware I own. Remember when I said before I wasn't sure how many cups of pumpkin one sugar pumpkin would make? I still don't know, but two sugar pumpkins was far too many. I think I could've succeeded making a pie with a third of one pumpkin. Once again, there was pumpkin everywhere.

By the time I got to Katy's, I was sweating. Sweating from the pumpkin roasting, sweating because she had her oven turned on to cook the chicken and sweating because I was not confident that any of this was going to work. I set up shop in the corner of her kitchen and began stuffing the the warm, roasted, but still somewhat firm pumpkin into a blender. The recipe said "use a food processor or a blender to blend the pumpkin." It did NOT say, "a food processor is really the only way you're going to pull this off without giving yourself and those around you huge amounts of anxiety." I thought the blender would work to break up the pumpkin and give me the consistency I needed. I was wrong.

"Do you want a glass of wine?" Katy asked me. "Yes," I said, wiping sweat from my brow, "Please. Now."

Less than ten minutes later, while fighting with the blender, I knocked the wine glass over, breaking it and causing wine to spill all over Katy's counter and some of the pumpkin. This little project was already taking far more time than I wanted to spend on it, and now I had to take a time out to clean up the huge mess that I just made. I was annoyed. And still sweating.

The moral of the story here: I did not cook the pumpkin long enough, forcing my dinner companions and I to take turns pressing every single button on the blender to try and get some movement between the blades and the pumpkin. Soon enough, we were all sweating. But there was minimal progress, and we began scooping and measuring the pumpkin. On our way to four cups.

While I was in the corner of the kitchen freaking about the pie and the spilled wine, there was still a very elaborate dinner being prepared just feet from me. Katy had prepared a chicken with lemon and herbs that smelled delicious. There was also a salad with homemade dressing and some of my favorite things: walnuts, goat cheese and dried cranberries. And then there was a platter full of sweet potatoes, cut into fries and baked with olive oil and rosemary. If you've been around this blog long enough you know that there are only two foods that I can't stand: sweet potatoes and beets.

Still, these orange sticks looked tasty, and Lauren and Katy couldn't stop eating them and commenting on how good they are. Dare I try sweet potatoes again?

I went for it.

I was not disappointed. That's right, amid the pumpkin pie insanity, I found a sweet potato that did not disgust me. A thinly sliced, slathered in olive oil and rosemary, sweet potato. Even if the pies were a disaster, and all evidence was leading me to think that they would be, I would at least count this day a success because of the sweet potatoes.

Miraculously we (and it was a group effort at this point) were able to get the pie filling incorporated and put into three pie crusts. That's right, with plenty of pumpkin to spare, the two sugar pumpkins made enough filling for THREE pies. Katy took the rest of the pumpkin that was leftover and made soup out of it. Amazing.

While the pies baked, we sat down to the delicious dinner that she had prepared. Baking pies definitely kick-started my appetite. I was starving. And everything was delicious. The chicken...the salad...the sweet potatoes.

Suddenly I noticed Lauren and Katy were looking at each other and then they looked at me. "Do you like that salad, Steph?" one of them asked me.

"Yeah," I said. "It's awesome."

"Well that's interesting," Lauren said, "because it has beets in it!"

Wha??? I was tricked! They put yellow beets in the salad.

Lauren had threatened to force me to like beets when she came in from out of town, but I didn't think she'd actually pull it off. But she was right, beets with goat cheese and walnuts is pretty damn good. Could it be that now there is not a food out there that I don't like? Perhaps yes, when made in Katy's kitchen, with enough dressing and oil to disguise how they really taste.

So with this news, even if the pies didn't bake or wouldn't set, I was still going to make it through the day having done something I've never done before. I learned to like beets! And sweet potatoes!

After finishing the delicious meal, it was time to return our attention to the pies. I held my breath as Katy opened the oven. We were all stunned to see that they were actually setting! Still not ready, even though they had been in there for 45 minutes. We put them back in the oven. And we waited.

And waited. Ten more minutes. Still not done.

And waited. Fifteen more minutes. Still not done.

Lauren and Katy finished a movie they had been watching. I might've taken a nap or played Brickbeaker on my Blackberry.

And then we waited some more.

Finally, when we could not take anymore, we took the pies out. They were done, or as done as they would ever be. I was done. But I baked a pumpkin pie (three of them) from a real pumpkin!

Because they stayed in the oven for close to two hours, the crust on the pies was beyond dry. But the filling was good. It tasted like pumpkin pie.

Lauren and Katy agreed. They said the pies were good. But they are nice people and they weren't going to tell me they were bad, especially since they contributed their muscle and sweat (literally) to the process. The true test would be my co-workers the next day. On the other hand, I've seen my co-workers eat day-old pizza that sat out overnight because it was a.) free and b.) there, so maybe there willingness to eat the pie was simply because they could reach it. Like cheese and chocolate, Cool Whip seems to make everything taste better, so I was sure to pick up plenty and serve it with the pie. This trick seemed to work, too because everyone ate it, and said they liked it.

Still, pumpkin is a pain in my ass. Real pumpkin anyway. And as far as I can tell there is absolutely no advantage of using real pumpkin as opposed to canned. I found out later that week on vacation that my pal Julie at was also tackling pumpkins, but she went for canned pumpkin. She also made pumpkin crisp and not pie. No dried out crust there. Smart move, Julie. Well done.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Day 28: High School Get Down

When I started this project, my friend Emily, a high school English teacher, was so excited to help me come up with ideas for the blog. She and her husband Scott immediately started brainstorming and sharing their ideas with me via text message, email, and one night, via drunk dial from a bar.

Shooting range.

Wear your bra on the outside of your shirt.
Weird (and most likely all Scott).

Chaperone prom.

I could hardly contain my excitement. Is it strange that I was this pumped about returning to high school to chaperone a dance? Probably. No, definitely.

I shared this blog possibility with some colleagues and they all erupted in laughter. "Do we think it's a good idea for Stephanie to chaperone a high school prom?" they all asked each other in front of me.

Without pausing, one of bosses replied, "Well I guess it depends on whether you're a parent or a student."

Admittedly, I'm a little wacky, and I like to have a good time, but I'm still responsible. I dare some high school kid to drink alcohol or smoke pot before coming to a dance that I'm chaperoning. I dare them.

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from Emily, "Interested in chaperoning the Homecoming Dance at my school this weekend?"

Prom isn't until the spring, so it was like Christmas came early. "I'm in," I replied.

That's right, friends, this former Homecoming Queen (yep, still living in the past) went back to high school and made Day 28's thing I've never done before: chaperone a Homecoming Dance.

Leading up to the dance, Emily and I exchanged text messages and emails about what we should wear, what time she wanted me to pick her up and what color corsages we would buy each other. While the conversations were all in jest, I truly wasn't sure what the attire for such an event was, especially for a chaperone. Emily assured me that whatever I wore would be far better looking than anything that I'd find at this dance.

We also confessed to each other on the way to the dance how hard it was not to have a drink while getting ready for the event. How sad. Out of habit, I actually went to my refrigerator to pull out a beer and then remembered I was going to a high school dance. Adults navigate through social anxiety with alcohol. High schoolers don't have that option, at least not out in public. No wonder high school sucks so bad!

When we arrived, I was immediately shocked at some of the outfits the girls were wearing. Shocked that their parents let them leave the house wearing such short, tight clothing, but more shocked that they felt comfortable enough to leave the house wearing dresses that barely covered their backsides with stripper shoes. By the time I got to high school, I was deep into a hate/hate relationship with my body and spent most of my time figuring out clever ways to cover it up. Not these girls. They were letting it all hang out.

The event was held in the school's cafeteria, which was huge and extremely dark, with the exception of two portable colorful strobe lights. There were a lot of kids there, and they could've spread out on the floor, but most of them huddled around the DJ table. And by DJ table, I mean a cafeteria table with a sound system on it. I followed Emily's lead and we stayed on the periphery, observing the dancing and daring each other to leave the outskirts to go into the dance mob to check things out.

For the most part, the kids were well behaved. There were some questionable moves on the dance floor, but that was to be expected. And there were a few groups who thought it would be a good idea to climb on each other's shoulders (Why? Why would they do this?). I even ventured through the crowd at one point just to get the full experience and the worst thing that happened to me was that I had to smell sweaty teenagers, which reminded me of my own prom date my senior year. He and I are still friends and I know he would agree that he was probably the sweatiest guy at our prom. Teenagers are stinky. But as far as I could tell, these students were following the rules.

Sadly, in the two hours we were there, Emily and I only recognized about ten songs, including Usher's "Yeah," (major screams from the crowd), Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," (we were pleasantly surprised and extremely pleased that they even knew this one), and the Cha Cha Slide (always a crowd favorite, even among my old friends).

Even though it has been more than ten years since I graduated, I still remember being in high school. Perhaps it's because I've remained friends with a lot of people that I went to high school with. I look at pictures of myself from that time and still think I could pass for being in high school, though I'm sure that ship has sailed. Whatever the reason, it doesn't feel like it was that long ago.

But this dance reminded me how long ago high school actually was for me. I felt old. A lot has changed since I was their age. This is the Internet, cell phone, Facebook generation(now I sound old too).

Periodically we'd see kids emerge from the crowd talking on cell phones, which I found odd. I wanted to run up to one of them and say, "You're 16. Everyone you know is out on that dance floor. Who could you possibly be calling?"

Still, despite all that is different about their high school experience and ours, Emily and I remarked about how much is still the same.

The same cliques of teens that existed when I was in high school still exist now. The smart kids, the jocks, the snobby girls all stuck together with their own group and it wasn't difficult to pick out who was who.

There are the awkward teens who couldn't dance, but really tried. My favorite part about these kids is that many of them came over to talk to Emily (Mrs. Russell), who in addition to being a great teacher is also a hottie. I imagine to them, the Van Halen song "Hot for Teacher" applies here.

There were the so-in-love-I-want-to-slow-dance-all-night-even-to-fast-songs couples that were holding on to one another as if it was their last night on earth.

There were the guys who were too cool to dance at all, who talked about how much the party sucked and how they couldn't wait to leave. I imagine a keg party at someone's house whose parents were out of town was in their future.

I didn't get to bust anyone making out, or break up any fights or even console a scorned teen-aged girl for getting burned by her two-timing boyfriend. But the night wasn't a complete loss...a teacher and one of my fellow chaperones walking through the crowd had her ass grabbed by a student.

It's still unclear whether or not the butt swipe was intentional or accidental, but it had us all laughing for a while.

High school can be fun, I guess. Even as an adult.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Day 27: Computer Skillz

There are days when I struggle to come up with one new thing to do. And then there are days when several new things present themselves and I wish I could save some of them for another day.

Day 27 was one of those days AND it had a theme, all focusing on computers.

Computer day got kicked off on accident when a co-worker rocked my world with some keyboard tricks. She saw my over reliance on the mouse and asked me if I ever used my keyboard to copy, cut and paste.

"No," I said reluctantly, embarrassed and mad at Mrs. Sligh for not teaching me such skills in my typing class at Irmo Middle School.

Katy then proceeded to show me how to hit Control and 'C' to copy, Control and 'X' to cut, and Control and 'V' to paste. My world will never be the same.

Since I met her two years ago, Katy has been shocked and amused by the fact that my non-work email account is set up through Hotmail. Every time she wants to send me something and asks for my address, she'll laugh when I respond, shake her head, and say, "I ALWAYS forget that you have Hotmail! Ha!" In my opinion, she is a little too amused. I mean, is Hotmail THAT BAD? It's an email server. I open my mail, read it, close it and move about my day.

I do agree that after having the Hotmail account for ten years and using it for nearly every log-in that I have, the spam has gotten a little out of control. But I don't think that's Hotmail's fault, and I'm convinced any account with any server would produce the same amount of junk mail.

So what's the big deal about Gmail? Katy's certainly not the only one who thinks I'm behind the times. I know several Gmail converts that constantly tell me how awesome it is and how far superior it is to all other email servers. All these Google devotees need to stop ridiculing me and take a good look at themselves, in my opinion. Tell me, why the obsession with Gmail? It's just email!

I feel like I'm on the verge of falling prey to the Apple world, but if I ever look at someone using a PC, throw my head back and laugh evilly at how sad and pathetic they are for not having switched over to a Mac, I give you permission to punch me in the face. Same goes for putting an Apple sticker on my car. Run me over with the car if I ever do that.

Anyway, I decided to see what all the fuss is about with Gmail. With all of the glowing recommendations and outright criticism of other email servers, I fully expected for my life to change upon joining. So I signed up, picked my username and began to navigate.

Gmail is nice. So is Hotmail.

I IM'ed Katy:

gallmans 10/23/2009 11:50:08
i just joined gmail!!!

byronk 10/23/2009 11:51:23
it's about time

byronk 10/23/2009 11:51:27
good news for everyone

gallmans 10/23/2009 11:52:34
so far, not impressed

gallmans 10/23/2009 11:52:43
you gmail people had me convinced i was going to cure cancer
so far, nothing

byronk 10/23/2009 11:53:05
have you personalized it?

gallmans 10/23/2009 11:53:33

gallmans 10/23/2009 11:53:35
it's email...

gallmans 10/23/2009 11:53:43
how much more personalized can it get?

byronk 10/23/2009 11:53:41
oh steph

gallmans 10/23/2009 11:54:01
i mean, i don't really care if my email inbox has graphics and pretty pictures

byronk 10/23/2009 11:53:46
oh you poor little hotmailer

byronk 10/23/2009 11:53:55
you come on over to my desk when you can later and i'll show you a little something

byronk 10/23/2009 11:54:09

byronk 10/23/2009 11:54:10
well i like it

byronk 10/23/2009 11:54:13
you can see mine if you want

byronk 10/23/2009 11:54:33
it's cool, you can do stuff like have the sun move in your background

byronk 10/23/2009 11:54:36
with the time of day

gallmans 10/23/2009 11:54:47

byronk 10/23/2009 11:54:43
there's some fun stuff

byronk 10/23/2009 11:54:50
for fun

gallmans 10/23/2009 11:55:00

byronk 10/23/2009 11:54:54
you buzzkil'

byronk 10/23/2009 11:55:02

gallmans 10/23/2009 11:55:36
this conversation we're having...

gallmans 10/23/2009 11:55:38
just made the blog

So, I have a Gmail account. No one is actually aware of the account because until now, I hadn't really told anyone about it. I'm still a Hotmailer, until having the sun rise and set on my inbox becomes a priority to me. Right now, it's not. If I change my mind, however, and decide to fully embrace Gmail, I promise not to ever judge all of you Aol'ers, Yahoo'ers or my fellow Hotmailers.

Last on my list of computer fun was creating a fan page for "Project 29 to 30." Many of you already know about this one because you've already been suckered in to join. As if I didn't love this blog enough, now I'm asking everyone to express their love for it as well.

The fan page was suggested to me by a friend back when I started the blog, but it took me until now to fully understand what a fan page is for and how to set one up. A fan page, I learned, is that tricky "notification" that gets you all excited because you think some hot guy from your past just found you and wants to be your friend or that some book publisher just read your blog and wants to make a deal. But no, it's just some loser that wants you to become a fan of his band or start-up company or Sunny Days. "Sunny Days," as in, days when the sun shines. Whoever took the time to set this one up needs to get off facebook and get some fresh air.

Anyway, so now I'm that loser who made a fan page. For herself. On a Friday night. Alone. And then it was time to solicit fans.

I was freaking because I couldn't figure out if I should ask all 655 of my friends to be fans or not. I mean, we all know now how much I want people to read this blog, and how anxious I think people aren't. But I get annoyed when people ask me to become fans of their pages. I cannot tell you how many times I've hit "Ignore" only to be asked a month later to become a fan again. How many people did I want to bother and what circles of friends could I stand to bother the most? In the end, I hit up most of my Georgia and South Carolina network friends, but I feel like another round of "Become a Fan of Project 29 to 30" is coming, so watch out.

I thought that because I was asking others to become fans of my page, that it would only be appropriate to become a fan of the page myself. Sort of like when you cook something fattening for someone. It makes them feel better about eating it if you go ahead and take a bite first.

But a colleague quickly called me out, "You can't be a fan of your own page!" Wait, I can't? I quickly de-fanned (?)...un-fanned (?)...removed myself from the the Fan Page.

To all 234 of you that clicked "Become a Fan!" and not "Ignore," thank you! I can't say I would've done the same, but I really appreciate you. And so does my anxiety.