Sensory Exercise

Meandering across campus, I couldn’t help but appreciate the sunny day.  The bipolar Mother Nature had gifted us with a day of cloudless skies, rays of warmth, and a soft breeze carrying the essence of fresh-cut grass and blooming tulips.  What more could one ask for?  Oh yeah, one could ask for a day of no work and no worries, a chance to enjoy this beautiful day.  But that’s beside the point.

I began concentrating on the rhythm that my flipflops made on the concrete sidewalks.  Growing up, my dad always yelled at me to pick up my feet while walking, but I guess bad habits die hard.  “Slide.  Smack.  Slide.  Smack.”  Each time the plastic sandal hit the heel of my foot, I felt a strange sense of power; I was moving forward, on no specific mission, but I still felt energized for some reason.

It was a little after one o’clock so most people were in class and the pathways were clear.  The birds were singing their boisterous melodies in a language that I will never know.  The breeze blew the hair back from by face and swept through my dangling earrings, creating a slight tinkling sound.  Outside of DeFrancesco, a man was on his cell phone pacing back and forth.  His brow was furrowed, and he looked to be involved in an intense conversation.  His hands gestured his frustration with quick, spastic movements and the clenching and unclenching of his fists.  It was one of those situations where all you wanna do is eavesdrop, but there’s no possible way to get close enough without looking like a creeper.

So, I reluctantly kept walking toward the Academic Forum.  Now, you never know what sort of smells are going to from this building, which was why I wasn’t surprised when the smell of fried bacon assaulted my nose.  It wasn’t unpleasant at all, since I’m a girl that loves bacon, but it was slightly overpowering, considering I was at least 40 yards away from the building itself.  My stale gum began to become a terrible disappointment compared to the promise of crispy, fried bacon.  Too bad I already spent my money on a $6 salad at the Student Union earlier.

Headed to the softball fields, I cut through the field between the Academic Forum and Lytle.  I padded across the grass, feeling the blades prickle my toes, and leaving a path of trampled grass footprints in my wake.  I crossed between a row of bushes and stomped across the pile of mulch.  As I made my way through the parking lot, a public safety officer was busy writing a parking ticket for some poor soul.  I couldn’t help but feel glad it wasn’t for me.  Lord knows I’ve given the University enough of my money in parking tickets.

The softball field was empty, with only the sprinklers making sound.  “Tick, Tick, Tick, Tick.”  The water spritzed around the field keeping the grass luscious and green. I was off to the parking lot to retrieve my car.  Sunshine was reflecting off car windshield making it hard to look at directly.  I was looking forward to the sunroof open, windows down, and 90s music blaring through my speakers.  I couldn’t waste a perfectly good Friday.

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Travel Feature


Chelsea Day

            Did we want to get dropped off in Chelsea or in the Upper East Side?  I had no idea.  We were guaranteed to get lost anyway, so what did it matter?  Chelsea it was.

Traveling on the art bus to New York City, I could hear the guys behind me discussing what museums they wanted to visit and what pieces of art they were anxious to see.  Apparently, looking at a picture of a painting is a totally different experience than seeing it in person.  They moved on to debate the “true” definition of art and the importance of creativity, skill, and vision in the artistic process.  I was completely lost.  To me, if you want to call it art, then it’s art; if you don’t, then it’s not.  What’s the use in complicating it?  Now, I don’t consider myself to be an artsy person at all, so I openly admit that I have little to no knowledge of the art world.  My ignorance of this aspect of life had never bothered me before, but on this day, the fact that I was stuck on a bus with fifty art majors made me feel like an absolute outcast.

The neighborhood of Chelsea is located on the West Side of the borough of Manhattan in New York City.  It stretches from the Hudson River to Sixth Ave.  In the mid-1800s, Chelsea was known for its large population of immigrants.  In the eyes of New York’s elite, this neighborhood was considered low-class, undesirable, and unsafe.  This was mostly due to the various ethnic tensions between immigrants, as well as a multitude of political and social issues.  At that time, Chelsea was not a place for tourists, but rather an industrial zone filled with factories and warehouses.

Recently, Chelsea has become New York’s most promising real estate hotspot, as is apparent by “Million Dollar Listing.”  Hoping to cater to some of the world’s wealthiest men and women, new apartment buildings are popping up all over the neighborhood.  Equipped with not only the best floor plans, appliances, and furniture, many apartments offer considerable city views, making them all the more valuable.  In addition, Chelsea has transformed into New York’s art capital.  With over 300 galleries, Chelsea is now considered the hub for contemporary art.  Chelsea is also known for its nightlife.  With clubs like Marquee, Bungalow 8, and Serena at the Chelsea Hotel, celebrities have been known to spend the night partying it up in Chelsea.

Walking, walking, and more walking.  That’s what we had done all day.  My friend, Caity, and I had literally walked all over New York City.  We started with the High Line, which used to be an elevated rail line, but had since been converted into an urban park overlooking Chelsea.   The sun was shining bright and warm on my skin.  A slight breeze blew, evaporating the sweat from my brow before it had a chance to really bother me.  The cement sidewalk was cushioned between lush plots of green grass and colorful flowers.  It was odd to be able to experience nature, while concurrently staring out at massive skyscrapers and a sea of taxicabs.

With aching feet and an annoyed attitude, all I longed to do was sit down and guzzle a bottle of Diet Pepsi.  For me, city life was fun for a while, but after several hours of being pushed and bumped by strangers in Times Square, I was ready to go home to my small town.  I desperately needed my personal bubble back.  Caity and I headed back to Chelsea.  I hoped we would find some relief there.  As we entered the neighborhood, we passed a playground, and I saw an open bench.  At this point, I didn’t care that we probably looked like creepers for hanging out at a playground staring at little kids.  I needed a break and some time to collect my thoughts.  We sat down on the bench, but after twenty minutes of not moving, my joints started to get stiff.  We decided to take advantage of Caity’s iPhone and looked up some graffiti sites in Chelsea.  Even though we had found some specific locations, we ended up just walking around Chelsea aimlessly.  Eventually, we found our way to PS 11—The William T. Harris School.  It wasn’t exactly the hardcore graffiti we were looking for, but the rainbows and fairies made for an interesting and colorful photo shoot.

Strolling through the Chelsea neighborhood, I could smell the scent of blooming lilacs.  The streets were calm and peaceful.  There was little traffic, and the only people on the sidewalks were moms pushing baby strollers or middle-aged men walking their dogs.  The dark brick townhouses rose from the ground with large stoops jutting out in front.   Cherry blossoms scattered the earth, sometimes falling into my hair.  Spring was in full bloom in Chelsea.

A few days later, I was sitting on the couch flipping through television channels, I stopped on Bravo TV, just as the camera panned across a shot of the Chelsea Piers in New York City.  “That’s weird.  I was just there,” I thought to myself.  I’m not usually a fan of reality TV, but on rare occasions, I can’t help but get sucked in.  Apparently, this was one of those occasions.  As I continued to watch, I learned that the show was called “Million Dollar Listing New York,” and it’s based on the lives of three New York real estate brokers.  Of course, I found the “reality” of these guys’ lives to be quite amusing; it’s funny how three arrogant, high-maintenance real estate agents can talk so many people into spending millions of dollars on an apartment that would be worth half that anywhere else in the world.  As I focused on the screen, I realized that many of the shots in the show were of places that I had visited just two days earlier.  Ordinarily, I expect to see the Eiffel Tower or the Coliseum on TV, but those aren’t so close to home for me.  For some reason, it made me excited to know that I had experienced places that had been deemed cool enough to be included in a hit reality show.

If I ever wanted to live in New York, Chelsea would be the neighborhood I would choose.  Although, looking currently at my bank account, this would be next to impossible, but a girl can dream.

With the streetlights flickering on, and the scent of rain in the air, I knew my day in New York had come to an end.  As I boarded the bus, I realized that wandering through Central Park or meeting SpongeBob in Times Square was not my favorite memory of my day in the city, but rather it was my time exploring the neighborhood of Chelsea and feeling at home in the midst of one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world

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Crystal Cave Piece

            Surrounded by complete darkness, I began to ponder exactly how one would feel if left to die in a cave.  Now, I know this was simply a demonstration to help us identify with the experiences of early-cave explorers, but I couldn’t help but think about it.  Of course, I doubt most of my group would last 20 minutes without some form of electricity, but to be fair, we were never forced to go without.  But seriously, I wonder how I would feel if I was lost deep underground with no obvious way out.  Would I simply accept my fate and give up, or would I fight for survival until my last breath?  Would I die a hero or a moron?  I’m not sure if dying in a cave is considered badass or just lame.  Hopefully I’ll never find out.  It’s funny how my thoughts turn strangely morbid when the lights go out.

            Over the years, Crystal Cave has apparently become “the most popular natural attraction in Pennsylvania.”  Located in the heart of Berks County, this cave was discovered by accident in 1871 while blasting for limestone.  After several explorations, and a disappointing discovery that the cave was not full of diamonds, Samuel Kohler purchased Crystal Cave and the 47-acre farm surrounding it for $5,000.  As a result, Kohler became Pennsylvania’s first full time cave operator.  Soon after his purchase, Kohler made Crystal Cave into a tourist attraction.  From there the story goes on.  Crystal Cave became a chosen venue for parties, weddings, and baptisms.  It also became a popular locale for photographers, artists, and writers.

            Arriving at the mouth of the cave takes some work.  First, one must amble up a sharp incline of switchbacks.  That part of the adventure is slightly awkward; in reality, once you reach the top of the hill, you’re huffing and puffing like you just ran a mile, but you’re trying your hardest to hide your struggle for air, because you don’t want people to know how out-of-shape you are.  If you wish to spare yourself some embarrassment, it’s best to avoid talking to others until you catch your breath and you return to your normal heart rate. 

            Luckily, if you survive the hike to the top, you get to sit back and relax while watching a quality film about the history of Crystal Cave….just kidding.  Yeah, the film may be informative, but it’s several awkward attempts at humor fall completely flat.  It didn’t help that the “theater” had scratched, red cement floors, orange plastic chairs, and ghostly-white walls –not exactly an ideal cinema center like those which most of us have grown accustomed too. 

            Fortunately, I made it through the movie presentation, and my class was able to commence our tour of the cave.  Leroy, our trusty tour guide, made sure to warn us of the Crystal Cave curse:  you come out of the cave looking older than when you came in.  That received a few chuckles from the group.  Regrettably, I had already toured Crystal Cave.  It was a poor decision that my roommate and I made one Saturday during our freshman year, before we had friends and before we had lives.  Anyway, I wondered if this time, the curse would come true.  I could already feel myself aging by the second and my brain turning to mush…here was another 30 minutes of my life wasted.         

            Of course, I’m being over-dramatic, but honestly, how can you be anything but sarcastic when you’re forced to tour a cave?  And not even a cool cave, like Penn’s Cave, which you get to tour by boat and feed schools of swimming trout along the way, but no, just little ‘ole Crystal Cave.  But Leroy tried his best to keep us entertained.  He cracked a corny joke every now and then, and pointed out rock formations with informal nicknames like Sally the Seal and Bobby the Beaver. 

            As our shoes squeaked through puddles of water on the cement walkways, Leroy had begun showing us the cave’s largest room, the “Crystal Ballroom.”  At 125 feet below the Earth’s surface and at a consistent 54 degrees all year long, Leroy explained that this was where the wedding, baptisms, and parties used to take place.  By this time of the tour, the air was becoming oppressive to me; the damp, musty scent made me long for fresh, clean air and the feel of golden sunshine on my skin.  A few hours later…okay, maybe only 15 minutes, my wish came true.  I left Crystal Cave with my windows down and my sunglasses on.  Driving back home, I couldn’t help but think, “Thank God I didn’t pay for that…again!”

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Genre Piece

Here’s a rough draft of a genre travel piece that I just wrote.  Let me know what you think!

Smelling Philadelphia

Fighting for an extra inch to reach across the table, my elbow collided with the head of an old woman, bent over, sniffing a bar of lemongrass soap.  My immediate apology might have been a little too emphatic, but I have always had a soft spot for old people.  Once I had an unobstructed path to the Chocolate Truffle soap, I didn’t hesitate at the opportunity.  I picked up the brick of soap and breathed in…..”Ahhh!”

The hustle and bustle of the Reading Terminal Market was totally killing the ambiance of my soap-smelling experience.  Terralyn occupied a small stand off one of the main arties of the market.  The soft, feminine fragrances of their all-natural soaps and lotions battled with the aromas of fried foods and smoked meats.  Luckily, I was there during the morning rush, and I’m not much of a breakfast person.  During the early hours of the day, I would much rather smell soaps than eat a two-pound meatloaf.

Growing up in Central Pennsylvania, and then choosing the small, rural town of Kutztown, Pennsylvania to attend college, has left me yearning for a big-city experience.  Yeah, I’ve made the occasional trips to New York City, Philadelphia, and even Chicago, but my mother was always in tow taking pictures of me in the middle of Times Square or standing next to the Liberty Bell.  Can you say “tourist?”

This time, I wanted to be a grow-up, independent woman, and take an adventure of my own…with a friend, of course.  Naturally, living in the boonies has deprived me of any kind of “street smarts.”  So I enlisted my friend, Anna, to be my Philly tour guide.  Also, I needed a chauffer; me attempting to weave through city traffic would most certainly result in an accident.  Funny thing is, I never even considered the wonders of public transportation.  In my hometown, where the closest mall is twenty minutes away, it’s more likely to see someone driving down the road on a tractor than waiting at a bus stop.

Anyway, Anna and I hopped on the city bus and headed for downtown Philadelphia.  Again, I thanked God that I didn’t drive.  We got off on Broad Street, and I followed Anna like a lost puppy (so much for my independent woman idea).  We were off to explore the city.  The sun was shining, a slight breeze was blowing, and car horns were blaring.  Oh, the joys of spending a day without a cornfield in sight.

After a good minute, I carefully placed the Chocolate Truffle soap back onto the table, and picked up a bar of Vanilla and Coffee—two of my favorite things in life.  How can soap smell so scrumptious?  The soft, calming scent made me long for a piece of French vanilla pound cake and a large, steaming cup of coffee from one of the local shops at home.  But before I had the chance to bite off a chunk, a flood of college students caught my eye—each student wearing some sort of Kutztown paraphernalia.  My little vacation from reality was just wishful thinking.

Our next stop was Macy’s.  I thought it was weird that out of anywhere in the city, Anna would choose to take me to a department store, but that was before I walked inside.  As I stood inside the door and looked up, I saw enormous pipes covered in gold and large shutters opening and closing.  We had made it just in time for a concert on the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ.  I was amazed that “the world’s largest playable instrument” would be found in a Macy’s, of all places.

While the sounds of the soft melody floated from floor to floor, Anna and I perused racks of shoes, because we knew the shoe department tended to be the least disheartening department in any store; shoes always fit.  Once I realized I was on a budget, and a new pair of Michael Kors pumps was not included in that budget, I began casually drifting away from the shoe display to the beauty and fragrance section.

I tried my best to avoid those pesky sales people that pull you aside and spend the next twenty minutes selling you their products; I understand that it’s their job, but I don’t appreciate it when someone tells me how I apply my makeup all wrong—not exactly a confidence booster.  Fortunately, I was able to sneak past the beauty counters and found a small corner-display of lotions and body washes.   Anna came up behind me, “Yes!  I love Philosophy shower gels; they always smell so good!”  And that’s when my smell test commenced.  First, I smelled the Summer Grace body wash.  It reminded me of long-ago summer days when my grandma would hang her laundry on the line in the backyard and my brother and I would run back and forth through the wall of freshly-cleaned towels and sheets.  Next was Mangos and Cream.  I instantly associated this smell with late night trips to Rita’s with high school friends to get my favorite—a Mango Italian Ice with vanilla custard on top.  I’m pretty sure I made my way around to every different scent, but my all-time favorite was Classic Fudge Cake.  I’m not saying I would want to use this body wash in the shower everyday, but it did evoke a strong reaction from me.  Now, I’m a girl that loves chocolate; it’s my happy-treat, my sad-treat, my preferred-birthday-treat, and certainly the key-to-my-heart-treat.   Once I got a whiff of that body wash, I could literally taste chocolate fudge cake melting in my mouth.  Marketers sure know what they’re doing when they link fragrances to food.

Next, Anna and I traveled to the heart of Philadelphia’s Midtown Village.  We did a little window-shopping and stopped to look at some old CDs in a curbside sale, but again we gravitated toward a small soap shop called Duross and Langel.  The bell above the door rang when we entered, and the hardwood floor creaked as we headed toward the large wooden tables stacked with soaps.  The soaps were arranged into pyramids, large bricks at the base leading up to smaller and smaller blocks.  I was bombarded by hundreds of fragrances all at the same time, but once I set my mind to focusing on one scent at a time, I was able to identify the smell associated with each separate block of soap.  I started with their classic Lemonade soap.  Personally, it was a little too tart for me, but it certainly smelled like a strong glass of lemonade would taste.  I moved on to a more relaxing soap—Oatmeal, Milk, and Honey.  Now, this is the kind of soap I would buy for myself, if I had money, that is.  It smelled light and soothing and natural.  Each soap was hand-made and hand-cut making the experience feel a little more personal.  After spending at least twenty minutes getting lost in the soapy aromas, Anna and I decided to leave before we got major headaches from all the potent fragrances we had smelled that day.

It’s funny to me that I actually spent the majority of my “big-city” trip smelling soaps and body washes, but it was definitely something that I don’t do every day.  Why not stop to smell the world around you, whether it’s in the form of soap or simply nature?  The sense of smell is often taken for granted and as my grandpa frequently warns me, “One day you won’t be able to smell a damn thing, so take a little time to stop and smell the roses.”

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Restaurant Blurb

Here’s a little blurb I wrote about one of my favorite restaurants:

 

Jack and Sarah’s Family Restaurant

Decorated from floor to ceiling with American flags, this down-home, staunchly patriotic, family restaurant is known for serving the best breakfast in town.  The husband and wife duo, Jack and Sarah, aim to not only to offer great home-cooked meals, but to also provide a family environment. Dishing out a variety of omelet choices, Jack and Sarah’s never skimps on the basics.  Melted cheese oozes from the egg concoctions, with bacon scattered all throughout.  Each breakfast plate is piled high with homefries and buttered toast.  And there’s always room for more.  Jack and Sarah’s offers plate-sized buttermilk pancakes doused in butter and sugary, sweet syrup.  But breakfast isn’t the only meal on the menu.  The array of burgers and wraps never disappoint.  One of the most popular choices is the double-bacon cheeseburger.  Vastly different from anything on McDonald’s dollar menu, this burger is stacked to the point where a fork and knife are necessary.  Jack and Sarah themselves are often seen conversing with patrons at the counter or serving food to anxious customers. Saturday mornings are when the “regular” crowd overruns the place.  Every long-benched booth and large oval table is filled with family and friends and boisterous laughter is heard from every corner of the room.  Waitresses know the customers by name and don’t even have to ask for orders; they know it’s always the same.  Located on the outskirts of Cogan Station, Pennsylvania, Jack and Sarah’s serves people from near and far.  Catering to the traveling gas workers and war veterans, the restaurant draws in a crowd of both young and old.  With meals ranging from $5-$12, many have come to appreciate the abundance of food and the never-ending flow of coffee, especially in today’s economy.  This home-away-from-home is sure to satisfy even the largest appetite.

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Ethnographies and Travel Writing

Yes, I am a Professional Writing major, but I am also an Anthropology minor.  In most of my anthropology classes, I am required to read at least one ethnography.  What’s an ethnography?  Well, according to Merriam-Webster.com, an ethnography is “the study and systematic recording of human cultures; also:  a descriptive work produced from such research.”  Basically an ethnography is a book written by an anthropologist based on his/her fieldwork.  As an anthropologist, one must truly immerse him/herself in the native culture of the people he/she is studying and participate in the traditional practices of that culture.  Of course, most anthropologists end up traveling to remote places in the world in order to study small, often unknown or misunderstood, indigenous peoples.  Throughout their fieldwork, anthropologists experience the people, the food, the religious traditions, the weather, the transportation, and so much more, much like travel writing.  Honestly, I’m embarrassed to say that I just made the connection between ethnographies and traveling writing yesterday when I was reading an ethnography by Katherine A. Dettwyler titled Dancing Skeletons:  Life and Death in West Africa.  I highly recommend it, even if you have no desire to learn about anthropology.  Anyway, I found an article that supports with my obvious conclusion.  Check it out!

http://www.travel-writers-exchange.com/2009/03/ethnography-can-lead-to-your-best-travel-writing/

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How Susan Orlean Travels

Learn how Susan Orlean travels!  As a famous travel writer, magazine writer, and novelist, Susan Orlean is considered one of the best in the business.  Take a few minutes and check out what she has to say.

http://www.bootsnall.com/articles/10-09/how-i-travel-susan-orlean.html

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First Travelogue

Here’s my first attempt at writing a travelogue.  I swear I’m not usually this harsh, but anyway, this is just how it came out.  I just handed this in for my travel writing class so I haven’t gotten any feedback yet.  Let me know what you think!

P.S. Any names included in this piece have been changed.

Night of Muzak

After an hour of listening to the whiny melodies of loves lost and dreams crushed, I can’t help but have the strong urge to bang my head against the plastic table.  Maybe I’m a musical snob, but what I’m watching is literally making me cringe.  Suddenly, a glass shatters on the hardwood floor, and a clearly tipsy, middle-age woman gasps.  All her equally-intoxicated friends turn in their seats to stare at the heap of broken glass on the floor.  No one makes a move to clean up the mess.  Instead, someone let’s out a giggle, and soon, the entire group is gasping for breath in fits of laughter.  Meanwhile, the musician on stage is singing what he calls his “wisest song” entitled “Seasons”; honestly, I find it hard to find the wisdom amidst the rough, obnoxious twang coming through the speakers.

The small music café is packed with people—although one can’t help but notice the stark contrast in demographics.  One side of the room is ensconced by conservatively-dressed suburban couples in their late 40s to early 50s, while the other side is entrenched with lackadaisical college students.  One side is drinking cheap bottles of wine from fluted glasses, while the other side is sipping flavored coffee from oversized mugs.  It seems as if there is an invisible line drawn down the center of the room.  It‘s okay to share passing glances, but it’s not okay to associate with the opposite side of the room.

It’s a Friday night, and all anyone wants to do was get off campus.  I had received a Facebook invite from a friend a few days before asking me to go to his gig.  I skimmed through the list of those who were “attending” and Google-mapped the directions.  I found that it was a fairly easy-looking drive and only about an hour from school.  I didn’t have any other plans and most of my friends were already talking about going, so what the heck?   I clicked the “attend” button.

“Uhhh, I think we’re going the wrong way,” my friend Anna says to me quietly.

“Whoops!”

It’s important to know before getting in the car with me that I am notorious for getting lost, even with the help of my GPS, Susan.   Now, Susan isn’t the most reliable GPS, but she usually gets me where I need to go—eventually.  Susan tends to send me on indirect routes, and she occasionally neglects to tell me to take an exit until I’ve already passed that exit, but I’ve learned to accept her flaws for the mere fact that I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere at all without her.

After an hour of driving on windy country roads and partially-joking about finding ourselves in one of those Final Destination scenarios, Anna and I finally make it to the gig.  Walking down the quaint streets of the small town, the air is crisp and clean, but I can smell a faint scent of snow in the passing breeze.  The sidewalks look newly laid, and they are clean of all debris; I would go as far as to say they are “pristine.”  These are certainly not the walkways of a vastly-populated city.  Small storefronts line the street, but all are closed by dinnertime, I’m sure.  A sign that reads, “Family-Owned and Operated Since 1951” hangs in the window of a hardware store.  As we continue walking, one thing I can’t help but notice the serene silence.  But the moment we swing open the door to Charlie’s Music Café, that silence is shattered.

“Good evening, ladies!  Welcome to Charlie’s! How can I help you?” a small, bubbly, redhead woman greets us.

This woman knows how to talk.  She not only tells us the history of Charlie’s but also the history of the town.  Then, she goes over the dinner menu and prices with us, and circles around to stories about her family and friends.  Anna and I emphatically nod our heads in hopes of appeasing her, but she doesn’t stop until she runs out of breath.  After a good ten minutes of story telling, she finally asks for our 12-dollar cover charge.

I had made sure we left campus 20 minutes early, because I was expecting to get lost.  Fortunately, although I had made a few wrong turns, no extra time was added to our journey.  Since Anna and I have a little time to spare, we go upstairs to the snack bar to buy some bottled waters.  The upstairs is small, with barely enough room to stand, but it fits the overall place nicely.  The snack bar is located to the left of the stairs, and straight ahead is a row of wooden barstools. The room opens up to overlook the stage and the tables below.  And if you decide you can’t see well enough from there, mounted on the wall over the snack bar is a large flat screen television, streaming a live-feed of the performances.  It seems oddly out of place in such a down-home venue, but no one is immune to technology these days.

When Anna and I return with our waters, a crowd has begun to gather and the performer is ready to take the stage.  First up is a guy who looks to be in his early 30s.  He is going for the nonchalant look with his black Addidas sneakers, baggy jeans, and white undershirt with a wrinkly light blue button-up shirt overtop.  I think he honestly tried to make his hair look sexily-mussed, but it just falls flat in a glob of gel.  After he is introduced, he bounds up the two small steps to the stage, sets his glass of whisky down on the stool beside him, and picks up his guitar.  The first few strums are soft and calming, and I sit back to enjoy the show.

On the tables are plastic candle flames, and out of the corner of my eye, I can see the red, glaring EXIT sign above the doors to the left of the stage.  On those doors are signs made out of construction paper reading “DO NOT BLOCK FIRE DOOR” in black marker.  Next to the doors is a red, brick wall with several paintings hanging on it.  The one that sticks out right away is a vibrant painting of a tree with its leaves falling onto a sea of green grass.  The painting has various shades of orange, red, yellow, green and brown all blended together.  Across the room, on the opposite wall, there are three separate pieces of gray, plastic paneling.  Placed over the brick wall, these panels don’t seem to provide much of a sense of purpose.  I just assume they’re considered some form or art that I don’t understand.  Looking back to the stage, it’s hard not to notice the ultramarine blue backdrop covered with twinkling LED lights.  Charlie’s definitely has an eclectic feel to it.

My casual perusal of my surroundings stops when the musician begins to sing a cover of  “The Scientist” by Coldplay.  His breathy whine ruins the entire song for me.  Finally, he announces his last song as a “tribute to his childhood home.” Unfortunately, that includes him singing the lyrics, “Walkin’ on the south-side of Philly, I’m in love with my city, Baby,” over and over again.

Luckily the next act has more impressive vocal abilities.  This acoustic duo is called 42nd Street.  The performers start out with a few cheesy jokes, but their music is surprisingly catchy.  With both men being in their early 50s, it’s clear that they were booked to cater to the older generation, but I actually find myself tapping my foot to a few of their songs.  I think what I like most about these guys is that they aren’t trying too hard.  They’re both in jeans and t-shirts, rocking out to their favorite songs, with huge smiles on their faces.  Yeah, they have salt-and-pepper hair, and their voices have a slightly craggy tone to them, but these guys know how to have pure and simple fun.  Apparently, the one side of the room is enjoying themselves too, because I hear a few catcalls and a shout from the back of the room, “FREEBIRD!”  It takes a lot of appall college students, but this crowd of middle-aged groupies certainly raises a few eyebrows.   Anna leans over and whispers, “Please kill me if I ever act like that when I’m older.”

Two hours later, 42nd Street leaves that stage, and invites everyone to join them at the local bar.  Next up is my friend, Todd Post*.  I already know coming into this that Todd isn’t the best vocalist, but he is amazingly talented when it comes to the guitar and the piano.  Usually Todd’s style is pretty relaxed, but tonight it looks a little bit like his mom dressed him.  He walks on stage wearing dark-wash jeans, a blue and white-striped sweater and a pair of tan Sperry’s.  He starts off with a soft, slow ballad that is in his voice range, but as his set progresses, his voice becomes more and more pitchy.  After a few songs, the older crowd abandons their coveted side of the room and leaves for the bar down the street.  This doesn’t happen without Todd’s notice as he jokes, “Thanks to all the 42nd Street fans that stayed to support me…oh wait…” Todd calls up his brother and his former bandmates to help him out by playing the drums, the electric guitar, and an upright base.  Overall, the instruments all sound amazing, but the lyrics and vocals leave a lot to be desired.

When the last note is played, I quickly put on my coat and scarf and head for the door.  Five hours of mediocre, and at times painfully bad, music has left me in no mood for small talk.  I grab Anna on the way out, and we start walking down the quiet street again toward my car.  Now it is snowing, adding to the calm of the night.  I can’t wait to crank up my favorite music on the drive home.  Hopefully Susan knows the way.

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It’s A Weird, Weird World

Oftentimes, when we think about writing a travel article, we think we need to travel to some exotic, foreign land in order to get a good story.  But that’s not true!  Some of the most interesting stories might be right in your backyard.  As a travel writer, you want to experience places that you aren’t particularly familiar with, but that doesn’t mean you have to hop on a plane and travel half-way around the world.  Those kind of adventures are often fun and thrilling, but I know as a college student, they aren’t financially possible for me right now.  So do some research on your area.  These days, a simple Google search can provide an abundance of travel ideas.  Once you find some different locations, pick the weirdest one.  The weirdest one?  Yes, the absolute weirdest.  When you’re writing a travel piece, you want to be uncomfortable; you want to be an “outsider.”  That way, readers get your first reactions and an outsider’s perspective, and you get to experience something out of the ordinary (for you, at least).  If you write about something you do all the time, or somewhere you go to on a regular basis, your writing will be more than boring.  There’s a lot of weird in the world, and believe me, there’s a lot of weird right where you live.  All you have to do is look around!

“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” – Dagobert D. Runes

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Why We Travel

Before thinking about travel writing as a genre, or a career, or even a hobby, one must ask the question, “Why do we travel?”.  Writing inspired by travel, of course, requires that you travel somewhere.  So what exactly motivates a person to travel?   Is it to simply to have an adventure?  Or maybe to learn about a different culture?  Or to see things that we’ve only ever seen on television and magazines?  Sometimes it’s nice to leave the “real” world behind and go somewhere where no one knows your name.  Other times, it fun to experience the world with the people that know you best.  One of the most renowned and respected travel writers alive today, Pico Iyer, explained it better than I ever could in an article for Salon in 2000.  It’s a little long, but trust me, it’s worth reading.

Here’s the link:

http://www.salon.com/2000/03/18/why/

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