June 5th, 2009

Hip-hop consists of four elements: MCing (often called rapping), DJing, graffiti, and breakdancing.  And with these elements comes culture and fashion.  Many often equate hip-hop to noise because radio only broadcasts top 40 booty banging tracks, and perhaps that is why hip-hop remains one of the least understood genres of music.  True hip-hop is more than just rapping to a beat; it’s a way of life that one must experience to truly understand.

Graffiti by Adam Stab

Graffiti by Adam Stab

One of the elements of hip-hop that is often forgotten is graffiti.  To understand more, I hit the streets with DèAngelo, a graffiti artist I met at a record shop in Baltimore, MD.  We meandered through the back alleys of the city and charged through dense brush alongside railroad tracks in the middle of the night amid torrential rainfall to search for a pot of gold.  And we were successful – we discovered multiple graffiti jackpots that contained some of the most beautiful murals I have seen my entire life.

DèAngelo took out a spraycan and via a live demonstration, showed me the intricacies of can control, and how lines can be manipulated without the use of cardboard cutouts to create smooth lines.  I was soaked, dirty, smelly, and bitten multiple times by mosquitoes – but I was having the time of my life, because this was hip-hop at its core, grassroots style.

I managed to meet many of the biggest graffiti artists of Baltimore today, including Adam Stab.  Two decades down the line, they are still writing from the heart.  I hope that in a decade I will keep my youthful nature and keep on doing what is important to me, just as these artists have done.

Graffiti is beautiful and should be embraced.  There should be certain areas in the inner city designated as tag zones and graffiti programs implemented in those zones to keep youth away from crime and drugs.  And in these places, there could be hip-hop concerts where local DJs and MCs meet up.  It’s an inexpensive way to help curtail a massive problem.

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Hello, El Camino!

June 2nd, 2009

roadtrip-090After a long and exhaustive search, I found another vehicle.  And yes, it’s another Honda Element.

The adventure rocks on, starting in Baltimore, MD.


Goodbye, El Camino

May 23rd, 2009

Car crashOn Monday, I lost control of my vehicle and flipped it a few times.  Luckily, I walked away from the pernicious accident with only minor cuts and bruises and a few sore tendons.  I am still counting my blessings.

Because of Memorial Day Weekend, all one-way rental cars were unavailable.  I had to hitch a ride 150 miles from West Virginia to the next state of Pennsylvania just to rent a car.  But alas, two days later, I was able to obtain a rental car, gather all of what remained in the Element, and headed to Washington D.C.

The trip has been put on indefinite hold until I can obtain a new vehicle.

West Virginia

May 18th, 2009

West Virginia is extremely different than I imagined.  Vast, lush forests paint the landscape.  The rolling Appalachian and Allegheny Mountains run through a good portion of the state, bordered by the muddy Ohio river to the North East.  White water rafters find themselves at home conquering the turbulent rapids of the rivers while hikers trek the dense vegetation.  On Friday, I went rock climbing along the New River Gorge with a few expert climbers from Pennsylvania, who were generous enough to let me use their climbing equipment.

Huntington Fire Station #1To the West lies Huntington, the second biggest city with a population of 49,000.  I spent the last couple days living there at the main fire station.  It’s like a house: a fully stocked kitchen, laundry room, gym, movie room, game room, and dormitory.  But, with the amenities, come long 24 shifts.

It takes a man of certain character to want to live this lifestyle – low pay and long hours in hazardous situations – all of which can cause rifts in relationships and marriages.  And yet, it is this hero who calls it his gain, because these are minor inconveniences when compared to the nobler cause – rescuing people from burning buildings, opening mangled cars, acting as backup paramedics, and helping the damsel in distress.  His mellifluous loving nature naturally exudes.

I want to live,
I want to give
I’ve been a miner
for a heart of gold
It’s these expressions
I never give
That keep me searching
for a heart of gold
And I’m getting old
Keeps me searching
for a heart of gold

Firemen and many in the South already have what Neil Young strived for – a heart of gold.

Coming from the white-collar world where one constantly has to monitor his own speech for fear of discipline from human resources, it is refreshing to see that with these firemen, there is no beating around the bush in the vernacular.  And this is not out of malice or spite, but out of a camaraderie reminiscent of kin.  I tell you the truth, it is a noble thing to want to regulate speech and use discerning words to respect the comfort levels of others.  But none is richer than the family that is willing to tolerate direct criticisms without fear of retribution.  This is the beginning of the heart of gold.

Free education

May 11th, 2009

Batter Blaster teamLast Saturday, while walking the streets, I passed by the construction of a massive tent.  Turns out, a California based company named Batter Blaster was trying to break the Guiness Book of World Records by creating the most amount of pancakes in an eight hour period.  One day later, I was paid to lead three teams to help break this world record.  We were able to shatter record by creating roughly 80,000 pancakes.  I don’t think I want to eat or flip another pancake for months.

It’s events like the this one that make this trip not only fun, but also educational.  I’m starting to learn about human interactions in the social sphere.  And so, I’ve been practicing my social engineering, not in the negative notion of using people for an end goal, but in the positive notion that building rapport is important in forming relationships.

The large majority of my trip from paid museums, excursions, and tours to riding horses, boating, and music CD’s has been free.  All of these were started with a mere introduction to a perfect stranger.  Goodness begets goodness, and if others see that you are genuine in your attitude, they will open up and trust you.  Dale Carnegie, an awesome public speaker and coruscating personality from generations before said this:

There is only one way… to get anybody to do anything. And that is by making the other person want to do it.

It’s a shame that some of life’s most important lessons are not taught in school; it’s a code of the streets.


Unhealthy habits

May 8th, 2009

Each state has its own peculiar subtleties in the law.  It is foolhardy and sometimes even dangerous to assume that laws are shared across states.  Smoking, in particular, differs rapidly from state to state.  In the South, smoking and non-smoking sections are prevalent.  States that are “forward-thinking” in their plans to deal with smoking ban it inside public buildings.  So, the question is, why is smoking socially frowned upon?  Is it because second hand smoke emanates and spreads to others or is it because the person is willingly spending money to harm himself, develop bodily ills, ultimately raising costs for health care?

Hypothetically, if smokers only smoked in their private dwellings, would smoking still carry the same social stigma?  My wager is that it would.  But if that happened, then there would truly be no difference between smokers and people who eat junk food.  Both are conscious choices and addictions.  Both cost extra money, hurt the body, and cause a plethora of ailments.  At what point are we held responsible for damaging ourselves?

There isn’t a lack of nescience on this subject – everyone is educated enough to know that smoking is bad for their body.  Why do we not attach the same social stigma to people who eat massive amounts of junk food?  The amount of overweight American adults exceeds the amount of American smokers by a 2 to 1 ratio.  With heart disease as the leading cause of death in the United States – more than diabetes, suicide, Alzheimer’s, cerebrovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, influenza, and unintentional injuries – combined, why are we not paying more attention to this debilitating yet avoidable problem?  Instead, fast food restaurants and places that serve double portions are thriving.  Double stackers and quad-stackers are now equated with a hearty meal.  Every ailment stems from improper aliment.

Yes, we are given the fundamental right to do what harm we want to ourselves, save suicide.  But, are the potential problems worth the short-term gratification?  Partners become less sexually attracted, health care skyrockets, cars get bigger, more gas is consumed, increasing amounts of people starve, and every so often, one falls face down from a heart attack.  Perhaps we should focus our energy on something that many have problems with: the gorging of unhealthy foods.

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May 6th, 2009

roadtrip-464It seems this roller coaster we call life runs in the dark.  We never know when it will turn, go upside down, or plunge into the abyss.  Failure is a guarantee in life, and disappointment is a subset of that.  Disappointment stretches across racial, social, economic, and cultural boundaries whether it deals with a friend, a job, an appointment, or a planned vacation.  We always tell ourselves that life will be better, only to find that once we conquer the hill, that the roller coaster dips, and brings us to another valley.  Only through proper planning and precaution will the roller coaster avoid the deep drops.

Off the Florida Keys there’s a place called Kokomo
That’s where you wanna go to get away from it all
Bodies in the sand, tropical drink melting in your hand
We’ll be falling in love to the rhythm of a steel drumband
Down in Kokomo

Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I wanna take you to
Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty mama
Key Largo Montego, baby why don’t we go
Ooh I wanna take you down to Kokomo,
We’ll get there fast and then we’ll take it slow
That’s where we wanna go, way down in Kokomo.

Since I was a child, I remember hearing this song blasting through my father’s stereo system and thinking “That’s where I want to go, to Kokomo Island, where there’s the most gorgeous beach on earth.”

Turns out, Kokomo is a tiki bar, and there are no beaches around.  When I arrived last Thursday, it was closed.  The place I had dreamed of going to my entire life was not open.  I was told to come back in a few days, where Kokomo would be open and a live band would be playing for a party for “hundreds of bartenders from all across Florida”.  When the day came, Kokomo was once again closed, and there was no party.  It was no risible matter.

On the upside, I managed to stay with an awesome local for a few days at Big Pine Key.  He showed me the intricacies of crab fishing and boating.  I even managed to swim to a private, secluded island.



April 28th, 2009


My music education began in Austin, TX.  And now, a fortnight later, I am in New Orleans, LA, basking in the sweet sound from the instruments of street musicians.  This morning, in true New Orleans outré fashion, a band comprised of six young adults who could not have been more than twenty years of age took to the streets at 3 A.M. playing trumpets, trombones, and drums.  Within the blink of an eye, a throng of people crowded around this magnificent display of brass.  There was more energy there than any concert of 10 magnitudes greater.  The feeling was ineffable.  It was music done grassroots style – arms were flying in ecstasy, torsos were moving like flowing water, and feet were shuffling as if it were 1969.  Words weren’t needed for unity.  The drumbeat transcended reality.

A good lyric or tune can comfort and console, incite anger and outrage, inspire and encourage, or impart knowledge and wisdom.  A song has the power to remind us of a loved one and dig up remnants of a past long forgotten.  Many times, it is unforgiving, making us relive memories we secretly tried to tuck away in a safe box.  For many of these street musicians, music is all they have left.  It is their blessing and it is their curse.  I am reminded of Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”, a poignant tune that I imagine some of these artists must breathe and feel.

So I’m just gonna sit on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Ooo, I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time

Look like nothing’s gonna change
Everything still remains the same
I can’t do what ten people tell me to do
So I guess I’ll remain the same, yes

It is with these street musicians that I can appreciate the most.  And best of all, it’s free.

Light the Night Walk

April 18th, 2009

Upon arriving in Little Rock, AR, I passed by Light the Night Walk, an event hosted by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to raise money for cancer research, education, and patient services.  Walking past this must have been ordained, because I immediately canceled plans to hear a spoken word poetry reading, and, with less than two hours before the event, decided to walk the streets and start fundraising with the first stranger I met.  It was very ephemeral.  Within the hour, I was miraculously fully funded, with an overflow of cash.  And though it was for a good cause, I loved the frisson of soliciting money from strangers, never knowing if my attempts for support were feckless.  This must be how a salesman feels, always on his toes, adjusting his tactics according to body language, in the attempt to establish rapport with the potential client to seal the deal.

Amidst the fundraising, I came across many who retorted the same exact excuse: I’m sorry, but I have no cash on hand.  I daresay that the majority of these were blatant lies, perhaps out of fear that I was a con man.  I am gathering public opinion on whether or not one would do the same thing in this scenario.  The poll is completely anonymous.  Please answer honestly.

Would you tell a solicitor that you no cash on hand when you actually do?

View Results

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The dream

April 13th, 2009

I have met a handful of vagabonds on my journey and all of them share the same story – they have chosen this path.  Indeed, they have chosen wisely.  In the words of Georgia O’Keefe:

I always felt as though I walked the edge of a knife, afraid to fall off. So what? What if you do fall? I would rather be doing something I really wanted to do.

In the high pressures of Silicon Valley and beyond, one chooses his own vocation, whether that is one with the highest pay, one with the most prestige, or one that supports the family.  It is unfortunate when one works at a job that he loathes merely to maintain a high standard of living.  It is equally unfortunate, where, when one hears of a colleague or neighbor who makes more, desires himself to be at least on equal footing so that he can “get ahead” of the game only to sadly find out that the cycle repeats itself in a more furious fashion.  By then, the person is headstrong in his ways and finds it extremely hard to let go of his grandiloquent lifestyle and even continues on the unsatisfactory job that has left him in a state of inanition, convincing himself that one day, the problem will solve itself and that in the interim, the weekend will dissolve all worries.  For him, the work week is too long, the weekend is too short, and Monday seems to always come too quickly, but all is okay because better linens can be afforded, faster cars can be driven, and finer foods can be consumed.  Why should one submit to the feet of societal pressures only to be chewed, mangled, and spit out?  Thoreau elucidates this well:

… but as he began with tea, and coffee, and butter, and milk, and beef, he had to work hard to pay for them, and when he had worked hard he had to eat hard again to repair the waste of his system – and so it was broad as it was long, indeed it was broader than it was long, for he was discontented and wasted his life into the bargain; and yet he had rated it as a gain in coming to America, that here you could get tea, and coffee, and meat every day.  But the only true America is that country where you are at liberty to pursue such a mode of life as may enable you to do without these, and where the state does not endeavor to compel you to sustain the slavery and war and other superfluous expenses which directly or indirectly result from the use of such things.

There’s a commonly used ice breaker called “The dream job”.  In the past four years that I have played this game, I have met only one who is living his dream.  All others mention of jobs that they wish they could be doing, and I suspect that four years down the line, few will have taken steps to make this dream job a reality.  The majority of the conscious weekday hours are spent working.  Don’t succumb to a mediocre existence and lull in misery over a paycheck.  Follow your dreams.

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