Rockers East Vancouver…and a bunch of other places

I recently returned from a two week, four city trip out west. I spent time primarily in Vancouver, British Columbia, Seattle, Portland and Minneapolis. In order to get there, I took an Amtrak train, since I don’t generally prefer to fly. Also, because it’s awesome.

Here are the first few days of my journals and photos.


1/21/10 10:58 PM CST – Minneapolis, Minnesota

The sleeper car room is actually pretty cool. I don’t know how else to explain it other than it’s an oversized closet. There’s two seats on the bottom, then a top bunk that pulls down, a table in the middle that folds out so you can set drinks, computers or even play checkers with the checkerboard pattern built in. There’s a nice set of toiletries in a bag – soap, shampoo, etc, and and a box of Kleenex. It’s private and quiet. Happy to be in here.

1/22/10 7:24 AM CST – Rugby, North Dakota (approx.)

So, turns out a sleeper car is not entirely conductive to sleeping. I took a Tylenol PM last night to help aide me in napping, and instead, it just gave me these wild hallucinations you get from staying up too late with night time cough medicine. I just ended up tossing and turning a lot, and compulsively checking my phone and trying to find music on my iPod. I think I tried to turn on Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports” on several occasions. I don’t remember a lot of it, and that’s probably because I was really tired.

I dared to look out the window in the morning. If there’s one thing about the Dakota’s – at least North – there is absolutely nothing but land. Hardly any trees in site. I’m looking forward to Montana, seeing some mountains and feeling like we’re getting somewhere. The Midwest is like one big vacuum. I always thought it was special that Illinois didn’t have mountains. I always wished it did. It was always kind of a treat to see them. I haven’t seen any substantial western ones since I went to visit my grandfather in New Mexico ten years ago.

It being nearly seven thirty without a sunrise sort of freaks me out. I don’t really ever recall it being this dark out ever so late in the morning. It doesn’t even look like it’s coming up anytime soon.

Eating on the train has been an experience each time. To conserve space, they group you into fours at a table. Last night for dinner, it was me, two Minnesotan women in their fifties (likely) and a slightly larger college freshman girl going to visit her friend at Winona State University. The Minnesotan women were returning from a ski retreat in Michigan, and it seemed that they were generally interested in hearing about my Minnesotan girlfriend. The Winona girl tried out for American Idol in Chicago, making the second cut before she got eliminated. She attends UW Milwaukee.

This morning, I sat with two older men and this completely green-behind-the-ears kid traveling to Minot, ND from Fayettville, NC. He asked a lot of questions about politics, the underwear bomber and other stuff people don’t generally bring up in a conversation. The man next to me – whom I’ll call Jerry, because I don’t really remember his name – was a former band teacher in Manhattan. We talked about jazz and he told me about Gene Shepard and some other radio guy I can’t remember the name of.

Both the Minnesotan women and this man Jerry were very interested in talking about Apple. The man across from me was a machine parts repairer or something. He was from near Milwaukee. Nice enough people.

1/23/10 1:52 AM PT – Sandpoint, Idaho

I’m way past the expiration date on this train as we accidentally took a two hour break due to some wheel trouble. This was doubly aggravating, considering that no one was available on the train to talk to about this particular incident. I think I freaked myself out awake because of it.

Either way, I’m likely in Idaho now, waiting for one last stop before the final one hour and 45 minute trek to Spokane. I don’t anticipate being there anytime before 4 am, which means it’s about six am my time. Ugh.

There is one cool thing about this whole situation though. Being insulated by the mountains in this train car. I can’t necessarily see anything outside, mind you, but I feel like we are the pigs in a very big blanket. That’s kind of cool.

This woman that I met on the train along with this guy Liam who I met in Chicago (he effectively drank all the way from New Jersey to Montana.) Anyways, the woman wanted me to call her MA (for Mary Alice or Mary Ellis?). I don’t know. She had a new white MacBook and the first two Beatles Anthologies. She said being on this train was like it’s own little town. I liked that.

1/25/10 10:26 AM PT – Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

As Friday bled into Saturday and the train trip continued, we made a scheduled stop in Libby, Montana and ended up not leaving for over two hours. Turns out there was some issues with the wheels or the engines on the train that resulted us dropping an engine in Montana. I dozed off for an hour when we had stopped. When I woke up, I was slightly delirious, trying to find a conductor or an attendant for no luck. I was with this older woman named Nancy who was coming back from her mother’s funeral, and some older headstrong guy who claimed to be a former conductor. He was wearing a brace on his arm.

We got to Spokane two hours late. Kelly picked me up and we got to the hotel where we talked for a bit then got ready for bed. I was so amped up from the ride that I didn’t end up falling asleep until 5 AM PT (7 AM CT). Needless to say, after a few interrupted hours of sleep, I was still pretty tired.

With that, we set out on the road for Vancouver. First was a stop at Jack In The Box where I got a decent chicken sandwich and curly fries.

I’m amazed at how “not present” I feel on this trip. It was no different on our way back up to Vancouver. I found myself constantly in awe of the mountains, how big and frankly, perfect they looked. They weren’t like those on the east coast – these had more definition – pine trees, rockier cliffs. In the decent towards Seattle, these mountains bordered the water (which was impossibly blue) and were punctuated by great blue and grey cloudscapes. It’s truly Pacific Northwestern. There’s something so inherently free and open and goddamn clean about the whole thing. I just consistently can’t believe that this is my life at this moment.

Also, we stopped at a Starbucks on the way and i had my first London Fog, which was absolutely terrible. Subsequent ones since then have been much better. Don’t trust a Starbucks in it’s home state, it’s bound to disappoint.

After four hours of driving, Kelly and I decided to stop in Seattle for lunch. (This was a decision we weren’t sure we were going to make, as we had a scheduled White Denim concert at the Media Club that evening. Because of our 8 + hours of driving later, we didn’t end up going, but that didn’t deter us.

I don’t think that there’s a much better place to go for an introduction to Seattle other than Pike Place Market. It’s incredible. Kind of like a flea market on steroids, with fresh food. Also, it’s a complete sensory overload. Fresh fruit and veggies everywhere. The seafood is at every corner. I saw enormous shrimp for sale, so fresh that I just wanted to pick one up right off the ice. I saw the guys throw the fish at the Fish Market. There is so much going on in every corner of the market, it’s like a different world with each space. I’m excited to go back this weekend to discover it even more. With this little bit, Seattle seemed very, very livable. Hopefully next weekend does more to persuade me in that direction. Note:

It’s here I have had the biggest and some of the best sushi I’ve had. HUGE California rolls with REAL CRAB MEAT. Not the imitation stuff. Delicious.

(I should note, when we parked the car, we accidentally parked next to human feces. It’s very clear that it indeed was human feces, mainly because the person used a paper plate or some sort of paper product to wipe. It was pretty gross. It also prompted my mother to send me an email saying she saw some people doing crack by the market when my parents were in town there. Hilarious.

I took some of my best photos by the market – the sky seems tailored to for really vibrant photos. The colors are amazing at sunset.

After a few hours in Seattle, we decided to head back to Canada. This, on the last few trips I’ve made has always been my favorite thing: Crossing the border. This trip, it seemed a bit more labored. We were both kind of concerned crossing the border with an American passport and a Canadian one. Lucky for us, we didn’t have a lot of trouble.

First impressions of Vancouver: It’s probably the least Canadian city of the three major Canadian cities I’ve been to. Perhaps I feel like it’s more of an extenuation of what I saw in Seattle – but with a different flag and kilometer signs. It’s still pretty, but not in the ways I thought when I was entering. It seemed kind of ho-hum, but after the Sea To Sky Highway drive on Monday (more on that later) I got shut up pretty quick.

Sunday, we went downtown. First stop was a place called “Honey’s” that Kelly swears by. They have these gigantic, homemade donuts that were unlike any other donuts I’ve had before. They’re more mini cakes than anything. Delicious. We also had the “Coveman” breakfast, which was your standard eggs/bacon/potatoes with some amazing potato bread. Well worth it.

Going downtown on Sunday was cool enough. I liked the Hudson Bay Department Store with all of the Official Olympic Merch – kind of reminds me of a Canadian Marshall Fields – not Macy’s, natch.

We visited a couple of lackluster record stores, Gastown (nice steam clock), dodged into some decent coffee shops, stopped by the Amsterdam Cafe (The legal weed cafe. You can’t buy it, but you can smoke it there.) Not that it mattered.

At dinnertime, we met up with Kelly’s friend Tess, someone I have been a casual acquaintance with through messaging for a couple of weeks now. We went and got late night sushi at Shima Sushi. It was a great hole in the wall place that Kelly and I visited the next day after. I must put a Negitoro roll (Tuna belly and green onion) on my list of favorite rolls. Hopefully I can track it down when I get back. Probably – definitely – won’t taste the same.

View over 200 photos of the entire trip here, and check back for more entries from the trip!

We have a winner!

The winner of our contest for a pair of Gaslight Anthem tickets at the Double Door in Chicago is Andrew Schlaack! Here’s the winning entry:

Perhaps it’s cheating, but I’m having a hard time deciding between two, so I’m going to do my top two of this year.

The first of the year, is the Jimmy Eat World Clarity 2009 Tour at the Metro, February 28, 2009. Jimmy Eat World has always been, in my opinion, phenomenal live. This tour sold out almost instantly, and the MEtro date was no exception. I had to buy tickets from a scalper on StubHub, and though I paid far more than I ever planned on, it was well worth it. Waiting outside the venue, meeting Tom, and reminding him of the time he drew a phallic symbol on the back of my denim jacket. The show itself was fantastic with Clarity being played front to back, and “No Sensitivity” being one of the encore songs, it definitely stands out as one of my favorites of this year.

The other was the tied-for-first choice for different reasons. Same venue, almost two months later. My wife and I saw Alkaline Trio and Saves the Day, April 21st, 2009 at the Metro. It was the second of two nights, and the all-ages show of the two (we went to both, but I’ll explain why the AA show was better). When Alkaline Trio came on, I made my way toward the circle pit because I spent the previous night in the push-mosh up front. The entire night was spent with people who were just as passionate about the music as I was, and wasn’t just trying to scream that they wanted to get into Matt Skiba’s pants. These people understood what the pit was about. Bruised and knocked around, we all formed a wheel and spun around the perimeter of the pit, every last one of us singing “Radio” at the top of our lungs. Many bro-hugs were to be had by these people who we each felt connected to for that one night. These were people who understood. And to share that night with them made it one of the best concerts I’ve seen this year.

Close runners up include: Green Day at the United Center, The Music Tapes at The AV-Aerie, and Taking Back Sunday in Orland Park on the Journeys Touring BBQ thing that they do. I’m not quite sure what that all was, I just know I saw Taking Back Sunday play for free, and it was fantastic.

Thanks to those who entered, and we hope that Andrew and his guest have a great time. We’ll see you there!

Pitchforkin’ III

As I mentioned two days ago, I was privileged enough to win a 3-day pass to Pitchfork Music Festival. This will be my third straight year at the fest. I’m not guaranteeing I’ll see everything, obviously, but I’ll be reporting back on the acts that I particularly enjoyed over the weekend. Please feel free to leave comments and I’ll try to get back as soon as internet access allows.

Until then, enjoy this picture snapped of Sonic Youth during their “Don’t Look Back” peformance of Daydream Nation, on July 13, 2007.


Blago-ing My Thoughts…


The 2008 election kind of turned me into a news site junkie. I’d followed news pretty closely anyways, but it kind of activated my politics gland a bit more than I expected. I’ve been using Google Reader to aggregate all of these new sites for me. I probably have about a dozen or so news sources I like to pull from at any time. My philosophy is to pull from as many sources from as many leanings as you can, and then kind of make your own interpretation of what you’re getting from the news. Anything less than that, you’re probably not very well informed.

Going through my sites today, I found a rather alarming post on Huffington Post, or the site founded by columnist and author (also onetime California governor recall candidate) Arianna Huffington.

Here’s the headline to the post Blagojevich Compares Himself To Mandela, King, Gandhi.

Un. Fucking. Real.

I’m a born and bred Illinois resident. I’ve always been proud of my state, sort of that underdog little brother to the big coastal cities of New York and Los Angeles. I’ve always felt that any attention we’ve gotten as a state (or the city of Chicago) is because we’ve had to fight for scraps. That’s partially what made it so much more exciting when Barack Obama ran for president. He was our guy. Who lived in our state The big bright spot in the middle of all of this, well, shit.

Illinois politics, particularly the governorship is an embarrassment to this state, and makes us look like shitheads to the rest of this world. Four of the past eight governors in the state have either been indicted or convicted of felonies. Fucking preposterous. What’s worse? it’s happened to the last two. In a row.

As we’ve already had to suffer through the trial of George Ryan, we are thrown back into another scandal have to deal with this awful-coiffed egomaniac who’s comparing himself to the great leaders of the world. He tried to sell a Senate seat among whatever else he’s been scheming to do for the past six years.

Tomorrow, his senate trial begins. I hope he’s convicted and they throw him out of office. Give Lt. Governor Pat Quinn a shot at this state. He doesn’t even get along with the guy. Blago hasn’t spoken to him since the summer of 2007.

Rod Blagojevich says that this whole debacle makes him a victim “in a plot to raise taxes.” He’s making analogies to Western movies about himself being a cowboy and ‘being hanged’. He’s going on TV shows like “The View” and “Larry King Live” to ‘defend himself’.

Bad idea dude. That’s not helping your cause at all. You’re just providing little nuggets of pop culture to remember you by. If you were sane, and the least bit coherent, you’d quietly slip away and let the state of Illinois get on with our business, instead of putting everyone through this costly trial.

I’m hoping Illinois can rebuild it’s reputation. Even if Rod’s ousted, we have a long way to go.

Let’s just get the ball rolling.

P.S. Watch this classic clip. Douche.

Excessive Dictionary Usage

1. Still can’t believe we have a new president. I suppose the first real transition I was conscious for was Clinton to GWB. It’s kind of weird that we keep on progressing like this. This is the fifth president in my lifetime, already. Craziness. Okay. No more of that.

2. @John_Agnello suggested I write about my irrational fear of peanut butter. I don’t have an irrational fear of peanut butter.

3. Also – John_Agnello @obviate “WTF, where’s my peanut butter cups, Brendan!!!” Completely random.

4. Tomorrow night is Animal Collective at Metro. I’m really excited. Talk about seeing a band at the height of their powers. These guys are EVERYWHERE lately, and I feel incredibly privileged to be able to get to their gig. I have some serious anticipation for this gig. My camera’s broke and being repaired, but I’ll try to take what I can with ye olde iPhone.

5. Went to lunch with my good friend Jordan De Shon today. We remarked that 2009 is a painfully bad year for big movie releases. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince as well as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (atrocious movie title, btw) looks to be the only semi-decent big ticket flicks coming out for the summer. I sincerely hope Hopefully Pixar continues their streak with Up. If anything, the main character has the bestname since Mike Wazowski. Get this – Carl Fredricksen. Carl!

6. The new U2 single sounds like dogshit. I don’t even think I finished it, and I used to like U2. A lot.

7. The new Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band record, Working On A Dream is streaming over at NPR. Click the link to hear it. I’m sort of disappointed with it. There’s enough there to hold my attention – but it’s like, the songs feel really half baked. Disappointing, but not terrible.

8. No Doubt is touring this summer with Paramore. It’s good they’re getting back together. I saw them in 2002. Good show. Unfortunate that they’re playing with Paramore. Okay, okay, so I dug Misery Business! I’m sorry!

9. I could not believe my ears when I heard this. Wow.

10. Most fast food is an excellent idea in theory, but poor in execution. Just sayin’.