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Hipster City Travel: Is Denver the Next Austin?

“Denver is Austin five years ago,” we heard from no less than five Denverites during our recent trip.

“There are so many jobs.”

“There is so much construction going on.”

“The traffic is insane!”

“Look at all these condos!”

Sound familiar?

We heard these statements over and over as we talked to friends, acquaintances and complete strangers on the sidewalks of Denver.

At first glance, Denver looks nothing like Austin. Though ATX is home to 200,000 additional citizens, the skyline and downtown streets of Denver feel like that of a bigger city. It isn’t until you dig into the individual neighborhoods that you discover the quirkiness that lies within. The DIY attitude and outdoor spirit are alive and well in the Mile High City. And as a recent NPR story pointed out, Denver is the no. 2 fastest-growing city behind Austin, and much like its counterpart, the foodie scene is booming.

It is in public transportation and walkability where the two cities begin to differ, Continue Reading

Austin, Pop Culture, Travel

Ten Free Venues to Check Out During SXSW Music

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park, Texas; 6 1/2-hour drive from Austin (via National Geographic)

Bandelier National Monument

 Bandelier National Monument, New Mexico; 11 1/2-hour drive from Austin (via me)

Enchanted Rock

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Texas; 1 1/2-hour drive from Austin (via Texas Parks & Wildlife)

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana; 6-hour drive from Austin via Most Beautiful Pages

Padre Island, Texas

Padre Island National Seashore, Texas; 4-hour drive from Austin (via me)

Chiricahua National Monument

Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona; 12 1/2-hour drive from Austin (via Geoff)

Saguaro National Monument

Saguaro Nation Park, Arizona; 13-hour drive from Austin (via Geoff)

Monahans sand dunes

Monahans Sandhills Sate Park, Texas; 6-hour drive from Austin (via Texas Parks & Wildlife)

Caddo Lake

Caddo Lake State Park, Texas; 5 1/2-hour drive from Austin (via Texas Parks & Wildlife)

Sabine Nation Wildlife Refuge

Sabine National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana; 4-hour drive from Austin (via U.S. Fish & Wildlife) 

Travel

The Beauty & Destruction of the Texas Gulf

Life is interesting.

Sometimes it takes you to the Texas Gulf, on a shrimp boat captained by a man named Mauricio. On that boat is a beautiful woman doing aerial silks. While you watch her, your boyfriend is dressed as a sea captain and is aiming a fake firearm at a fictional person. Two friends are simultaneously filming these scenarios. You and Mauricio stand there staring at all of it; you try to speak with him in your newly learnt Spanish, but he laughs and corrects you. You discover through the beautiful girl, who is filming a crowdsourcing video for her festival to heal the bay you are sailing in, that the water around you is polluted by the plastic and aluminum factories she points to in the distance. All the sea life around you is toxic, and the beautiful woman plans on reducing the mercury levels in the bay by planting oyster mushrooms.

Sometimes life is interesting, and you’re in appreciation of it all.

Oyster men. #TexasGulf

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Yesterday I met Amanda, an environmental activist putting together an event to help clean Lavaca Bay in the #TexasGulf (it's polluted from the local factories). Here she is doing aerial silks on a shrimp boat as part of a a video for the event's crowd sourcing campaign. She's a beautiful soul doing beautiful things. http://www.rockethub.com/projects/52068-wiv-luv-water-fest-with-the-texas-oystermen #savethebay #savetheplanet

Yes, that is a beautiful woman doing aerial silks on a moving shrimp boat. #TexasGulf #yoga #lifeisinteresting

Today my boyfriend is pretending to catch shrimp on a shrimp boat. He knows how to keep the magic alive. #indiefilm

Bye bye, #TexasGulf. #sunset

The director through the director's viewfinder. #indiefilm

Amtrak train
Travel

Tips, Tricks and Hacks to Riding the Train

Over the holidays, I took my sixth domestic train trip. Since my fear of flying creeped on strong about two years ago, my modes of transportation are now the car, the bus and for long distance, the train. (I don’t recommend taking the bus; it can be a sad and disorienting place.)

I’ve learned a great deal about American’s great passenger train, the Amtrak, over these past two years. A lot of friends have said that my journeys have inspired them to take the train themselves, which makes this blossoming rail nerd very happy. In case you’re interested in traveling via the train yourself, here are some tips, tricks and hacks for getting the best out of your Amtrak adventure.

1.) Spread yo’self out
During the slow season, you can easily claim yourself two coach seats and sprawl your fine ass out during sleepy hours. This is not frowned upon. However, if the train car does fill up, you gotta give up that extra seat. Don’t be the dick that pretends to be asleep when someone is looking Continue Reading

train travel
Travel

Stories of Strangers on the Train: The Christian and his Gay Daughter

I can’t remember how our conversation started, but we talked from 8AM to 10:15AM. He was 60 years old, a truck driver. His daughter bought him his first smartphone, and he asked me if I could download a few apps for him. I was surprised how relaxed he was giving me his phone and personal information, but the train has a way of making you feel comfortable. I find myself sharing stories of my own life to strangers.

While I was downloading the apps, he began talking about his daughter who gifted him the phone. His face lit up when he spoke of her. “She’s an artist, a poet, a rapper. She’s cool,” he said. Many years went by where they didn’t see one another, and when he saw her again, he noticed that she had a very beautiful “female friend” with her. “You know, my daughter likes members of her own sex,” he told me. He mentioned God once or twice in our conversation, so I wasn’t sure where the conversation was headed. “She was afraid to tell me that she liked women,” he said. “Everyone Continue Reading

Travel

A Love Letter to the Land of Enchantment

New Mexico ghost town

When I tell people that New Mexico is my favorite state, they ask why.

Why that grizzled old state? 

If they have ever visited the Land of Enchantment, they end their conversation with, “Santa Fe and Taos are beautiful, but the rest of the state can go.”

Even as non-New Mexican, this comment cuts at my heart like a steel blade. You see, many people just don’t understand New Mexico.

It is the place you drive through to answer your California dreams.

You have a distance relative, Dancing Thunderbolt (not her birth name), who lives in a New Mexican ghost town and sells turquoise. You’ve never met her. A common family dinner conversation is how Dancing Thunderbolt hasn’t shaved her legs since 1976.

You know there is poverty. You know that there are Native Americans.

Maybe you’ve heard of Hatch green chiles or the Manhattan Project or Georgia O’Keeffe.

You’ve most definitely heard of Breaking Bad.

Is the state filled with meth labs?

But mostly you don’t think of New Mexico.

It’s a desert of the ones who were born forgotten and the ones who choose to be forgotten.

It is a ghost state with a population smaller than most major cities.

I’ve fallen in love with New Mexico over the years because its forlorn and beauty are interchangeable.

It’s weird; a loner.

You see, you can stand in most areas of the state and transport yourself to 50, 100 over 500 years earlier.

There are pieces of land that haven’t been touched in years, and there are areas that haven’t changed their appearances in centuries.

The oldest house in America?

Santa Fe.

The oldest church in America?

Santa Fe.

The oldest capital in America?

Santa Fe.

Some of the oldest Native peoples, Puebloans, are from New Mexico.

Look up at the big sky, clean of pollution; look at the horizon, full of color, and know that you’re looking at the same landscape that others saw before you.

Trace your feet along the train tracks; touch your finger upon the adobe structures.

To experience the land, you must stay on the ground.

And you must stop in every lost town, every common destination and every roadside stop.

You must talk to its people.

To know New Mexico is to plant your feet in its red earth.

To let your head drift into the blue abyss.

The Southwest was and continues to be wild and unlike any other.

It is where ancient cultures meet, and progress enjoys lounging in the sun.

Next time you daydream of traveling, do not cross the land of curiosity, bewitchment and beauty off the list.

Give it a chance and let her show you what she has to offer.

Let her show you her flaws, her prized traits and her stoic brood.

Georgia O'Keeffe New Mexico

New Mexico turquiose

New Mexico pueblo dwelling

109 East Palace

Pabst Blue Ribbon Blue Velvet
Travel

Hipster City Travel: Wilmington, North Carolina

Wilmington, North Carolina

Oh, Dawson

Wilmington, North Carolina, is one of those idyllic coastal towns peppered with rose-lined picket fences, friendly neighbors, an old-timey Main Street and, in David Lynch’s version of the city, the occasional severed ear chilling in a field. Located just a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean, this town of 110,000 boasts a wonderfully weird arts and culture community nuzzled within 19th century storefronts and brick-lined roads.

Cucalorus Film Festival

I first visited Wilmington last year when our film played the Cucalorus Film Festival. Now in its twentieth year, Cucalorus has become an institution in Wilmington. Run by a colorful group of filmmakers and film champions, this interactive fest takes hold of the city for one week, with pop-up screenings featured across downtown. What makes this fest special is its seamless intertwining of the local community with visiting filmmakers. It is quickly jumping the ranks of top regional film festivals in the U.S., and filmmakers flock to attend. By Continue Reading

Travel

Reasons Why You Should Travel by Train

I’ve clocked 125 hours on the train in the past ten months.

Ninety-six of those hours were spent on a single trip from Austin, Texas, to Syracuse, New York.

The train became my preferred form of travel after flying started setting off all kinds of anxiety alarms. The experience of going to the airport and then barreling through the air in a disorienting metal tube forced me to keep my feet on the ground.

After my initial train trip from Tucson, Arizona, to Austin, Texas, where I rolled out of bed from the hotel, walked across the street and straight onto the train, I became hooked. Every time I see the bright, streamlined body of the antiquated trains also sends a small chill through my spine. Even as a little girl, I loved the rhythmic sound of a train rolling along the track. Trains beckon to a time that I dreamt  being a part of.

Though the train is extraordinarily inconvenient if you’re short on time, it’s the people you meet and the new landscapes you see that keep you Continue Reading

Travel

Stories of Strangers on the Train: The Veteran

train stories

I met a lot of people on my recent 96-hour train trip.

I shared a story about the old man who looked like the main character in Up. He was traveling to Chicago from San Antonio, heartbroken after arriving the day after his sister had passed away. He was tiny and had an infectious giggle. Though sad, you can tell he is a man who loved his family and life.

The next story I’m about to share is of a man on the opposite side of the spectrum.

Today’s post is about the American vet with post-traumatic stress disorder. Or the drunk who just got out of prison.

Some of you who may follow my Facebook page have already heard this story, but I’d like to share it in more detail here.

_______

A man gets on the train at 5AM.

He’s drunk.

He’s loud.

He can’t sleep. In fact, he hasn’t slept in days.

He looks down at my sleeping body and wakes me up to say, “Hey, Girl. What’s up?”

I mumble that I’m sleeping, and he takes the cue to leave me alone. For now.

As I drift in and out of sleep, I can hear him telling his buddy that he doesn’t trust anyone.

No one came to see him while he was in prison.

He has a gun, and he’s not afraid to use it.

My imagination runs wild as to what this drunk, beligerant passenger will do, but he mostly doses in and out of consciousness, occassionally saying a crude remark about a female who walks by his seat or telling his buddy that he loves him like a brother.

When his buddy gets off the train, he turns to me to share his slurred, drunken life.

He tells me that he’s traveling to Seattle to see the daughters he abandoned over 20 years ago. He tells me that the mother of his children is in an unhappy marriage, but he doesn’t want to get involved. He tells me that he had to shoot women and children in South America for the U.S. Army. He tells me that he works for Veteran’s Affairs, that he travels to different hospitals trying to uplift vets. He tells me that the men and women who fought for our country get no respect.

He cries and cries.

He doesn’t bring up about being in prison, and I think that maybe I misheard him when he was talking to his buddy.

Because he is so unbelievably inebriated, he repeats himself. A lot. He tells me that I have to share the story about the horrible things that the U.S. Government is doing, but he’s afraid I will be killed. Sometimes he whispers, making gestures towards the young soldier in uniform sitting two rows in front of us. Sometimes he just stares at me with wild, animal-like eyes, waiting for me to affirm everything he is saying.

When I mention that I would like to go to the observation car to get some work done, he asks if he can join me. And because I’m a pushover, I say yes.

I watch as he buys a beer in the train cafe at 9AM, and I make a gesture to the attendant that he’s drunk. She tells me to run.

I politely tell him that I will see him later, and since he sits right in front of me in coach, that is the truth.

Later, I overhear him in the observation car telling another person that he just met a journalist from New York and that he’s working on a big, important story with her. Though only 53, he looks 15 years older, and has a voice made of pure whiskey.

As he stumble-exits the train hours later, he reminds me to share the story of what the U.S. Government does to veterans, and that if I do, the story will be big.

I couldn’t promise him a groundbreaking article in the New York Times, but this is the best I can do. And though it’s not the expose he was hoping for, it is an example of what can often happen to the hard-working individuals who sacrifice so much for this country. That’s of course if what he told me is true. Alcohol can make all stories dubious.

 

Travel

Stories of Strangers on the Train: The Old Man

stories from the train

Last week, I took a 48-hour train trip from Austin to New York. Some of you have been following my adventures on social media (thanks for coming along for the ride!), but I wanted to share some more stories on my blog from the tracks. Amtrak didn’t pick me for their Amtrak Residency, so I decided to make my own.

When I boarded the train in Austin, my eye immediately noticed an elderly man that looked like the lovable character in Up. He was so tiny, with his pants up above his waist, and he wore oversized horn-rimmed glasses. He sat in silence by himself and stared out the window, lost in thought. One could only imagine what was going through his mind as he watched the Midwest glide before him. I wanted to talk to him, and I smiled each time he passed me, but I was too afraid to make conversation. I took a photo of him with the caption, “I want to know his story,” and I truly did want to know. What was he thinking?  What did each line on his face represent? Friends online invented their stories and encouraged me to talk to him.

When we descended upon the last hour of our trip, I realized it was now or never. I approached him like a 16-year-old boy nervously asking a girl to dance at the prom.

I sat down next to him and mentioned that he had been on the train longer than I. He told me that he was traveling from San Antonio, though he lives in Chicago. You see, last week he got word that his sister in San Antonio was very sick. He jumped on the train in Chicago to come see her, but she died the day before he got there. He told me that “his heart was sick” from the loss. Her name was Orilla.

Two sisters are now dead, and so is his wife. Seven years now.

He apologized for his broken English, but I thought he spoke beautifully. He was born in Monterrey, Mexico, but he lives in a house with his daughter and son in one of the coldest regions of the States. He stills has his house in Mexico because his wife liked to visit there. He might sell it though.

His beautiful, thick glasses were by Marc Jacobs, but his high waist pants and dress shirt have probably been in his closet for 40 years.

Sometimes he giggled and stared out the window.

I couldn’t stop looking at his beautiful skin and all the years that weathered it.

When we pulled into Union Station, he told me his daughter was picking him up. I lost him in the crowd, and I will never see him again. But I will never forget his face.