I’m on Twitter a lot. I mean REALLY A LOT. Maybe too much.

The problem and the joy of Twitter is that it’s brief. Twitter has replaced my RSS feed since it’s fast and simple. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it just happened. I spent so much time on Twitter that I just stopped looking at my RSS feed. At first, when I considered this, I felt that maybe I was skewing the way I digest news and wasn’t getting a well-rounded feed. But RSS feeds are by choice and so is who I follow on Twitter.

The difference is that I can share what I read to my followers or I can comment or I can just post a thought. On the latter, the platform is considered microblogging. And micro it is with only 140 characters. Now, for some, it’s 280 characters. I didn’t get that expansion but the anonymous Twitter account I run did. That’s hilarious because I can now actually add the word f*ck to my anonymous Twitter posts because I don’t have to worry so much about word count. I’m sure that’s the reason they’re expanding the character count… so we can all swear more.

So why am I writing about Twitter rather than tweeting about it? It’s because I follow so many writers. I love reading about their writing experiences, their publishing experiences, their point of view on life and death and love and whatever. And that’s because I want to be a writer.

If you read writer’s posts on Twitter long enough… like a day or two… you will see one of them post that if you want to be a writer, then just write.

Well, duh.

But I’m a public school teacher. When do I have time to write? Like, um, never! And that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

And that’s the problem. I’m just making excuses. I sit in class watching my student work on projects I give them and envy the time they have to think and write and create. Then I say to myself, “Some day.” And get back to grading or planning or answering questions. I’ve done this for years!

Well, f*ck that! I have things to say. They’ve been filling my head for ages. I write ideas down in notebooks and notebook apps. I write then down on Post-It notes. I try to remember them when I have none of those things handy only to forget what thoughts or ideas I need to write in my notebook, etc. Those writers posting on Twitter are right. If you want to be a writer, just write.

So I took that advice and hashed out this little 519-word post. It just flowed out of me. It took approximately 15 minutes. It was easy.

Just write.

My students didn’t even know I was doing it, they were writing themselves. It was satisfying, it hardly took any time.

Just write.

And now back to grading, planning, and teaching these little sh*ts… um… these wonderful high school students something and then have them write about it.

TomIsWriting

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That Time I Thought I Would Make A Good BBC Presenter

Yesterday the BBC announced a new presenter for their hugely successful auto show Top Gear… and it wasn’t me.

Top Gear is a show about cars that no one can afford, mostly, presented by three socially awkward Brits and a masked race car driver called The Stig (which I think is British for Zorro). What made it successful was the interaction between its presenters Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond. They clearly liked working together as well as making life difficult for each other. And we all enjoyed their awkward attempts to socialize with the locals in foreign countries (or their own). Top Gear rose to the status of global pop culture and slowly evolved into more of a comedy show with a hint of buddy movie and less an actual car show.

All of this came crashing down last year when the controversial Jeremy Clarkson, the patriarch of the trio, got himself fired for a fracas with a producer. The other two soon followed when they realized that the chemistry was no longer there if their buddy wasn’t part of the show. Fans were furious. Petrolheads (British slang for car fans) didn’t care about political correctness. It was the lack of it that actually elevated the trio to stardom.

So was Top Gear dead? Many thought so. I thought so. We all mourned its demise and watched reruns on BBC America. But then the producers announced that the show would go on with a new producer/presenter: Chris Evans. Here was someone who had appeared as a guest on Top Gear, an experienced presenter as a morning radio show host, and a self-proclaimed petrolhead with a collection of Ferraris. Evans said they wouldn’t mess with the show too much but would try new things and not try to duplicate the previous show’s characters. Top Gear supporters have been mostly acerbic in their response. It seemed that Top Gear was truly dead.

During the summer Top Gear posted (they have quite the online presence and an actual car magazine) that they would try something new. They decided to check globally and search widely for new presenters. In fact anyone could apply. Simply record a 30-second video explaining why you want to be a Top Gear presenter. I thought that if they wanted to mix it up a bit then they needed an American. They would have a good time making fun of an American presenter driving on the wrong side of the road nearly crashing a Bugatti Veyron, laughing uncontrollably ordering spotted dick, and basically insulting the monarchy.

And who better to do that than me? I drove out to the Bonneville Salt Flats, home of land speed records… a real petrolhead location… and shot my video. I sent it in and waited for a response while imagining what it would be like living in the UK being maybe only the second American on British television. There’s one in the cast of Downton Abbey, right? I returned to my life as a broadcasting teacher and commuting the 52 miles to work at 100 miles per hour. I never heard anything from the BBC or Top Gear producers and, eventually, realized that there was probably thousands of entries and maybe I just wasn’t quite ready for British prime time.

Yesterday, Top Gear announced a second presenter… wait for it… an American! As I said, it isn’t me. Instead it’s Matt LeBlanc, the fastest celebrity around Top Gear’s track. Well, damn, he’s the perfect American presenter. I never had a chance.

Gift or Compulsion: Constantly exploring the next new thing

or why my password app has so many abandoned entries

I drift from online app to online app constantly looking for the perfect venue to write. Does that make me a writer? That’s hard to tell.

It started with blogs. Boy, I signed up for a host of blogs. Wrote a bit in all of them. Was rather haphazard in my posts. Had no direction, no theme, no clue what the hell that it was that I wanted to express to the world. But blogs were quickly supplanted by podcasts. Wow, now I get to really use my voice! Then came vlogs or video blogs or whatever. Yes, I have a YouTube channel, albeit with nothing on it.

The land of No-Delay-Of-Gratification showered us with social media. Is that writing? Better yet, is it literature? While Facebook is not literature, could Twitter be? At first I pained to make posts more literary and less, “Going to the bathroom now.” Suddenly I didn’t have to find time to write, I just could jot something down and the world could see it. And if Twitter’s 140 characters was too confining, there’s app.net with 256, which is also not enough if you tend to ramble on.

Finally, I find Medium. Not 140 characters, not social media. Instead an online writing app with a very large font. So large that the people who walk behind me in this coffee house can now watch what I write and read. Some have even offered to edit this for me.

Have I come full circle? Is this blogging? Is this writing? Is this literature? Or am I just doomed to try the next new great thing?

(Note: This post originally appeared on Medium.com)

Jim the Indian

The difficult thing about adulthood is that our lives are filled with so much responsibility and skepticism that it clouds the memories of those little adventures that filled our childhood. You remember childhood don’t you? It was that time in life when simple things filled you with wonder in such a way that a regular person can seem mystical in a child’s eyes.

I met someone like that on a trip in the middle of nowhere with my parents and another family. We were camped on the Skyline Drive, a dirt road that follows the ridgetops of the mountains of Central Utah. We usually went to the desert except for July when we traveled to high alpine areas for the cooler temperatures. One evening while we were eating dinner around the campfire we noticed what looked to be a cowboy just at the edge of the clearing where we made camp. He was majestic as he sat on his horse quietly observing us. Our dads approached him and introduced themselves. He reciprocated by introducing himself as Jim and explained that he was a sheepherder. We had noticed his sheep herder’s trailer and camp while we were looking for a place to camp but didn’t think twice about it since sheep camps were not an unusual sight in Utah. Eventually the dads invited him for dinner.

Mom fixed him a plate of food and took it to him. He took the paper plate and ate while still sitting on his horse. The kids gathered around and started asking him questions but the parents urged them to just let Jim eat. He was an indian. Today we refer to them as Native Americans but, in those days, he referred to himself as an indian and so he became Jim the Indian to us. The kids were told to finish their dinner and, before we knew it, Jim was gone. He had vanished as silently as he had appeared.

The next morning we saw him again racing through the trees in pursuit of a single rogue sheep. The wooly straggler was crashing through the under brush while Jim and his horse glided almost silently through the forest with only the occasional “pah-rump” of hooves touching the ground. Horse and rider would float in unison without disturbing a single branch. The pursuit raced past us as if he had wanted us to see him. I believe he may have actually glanced over at us and winked as he sailed by. Such are the memories of an eleven-year-old.

While we were eating breakfast he appeared again silently at the edge of camp. Again he was invited to join us for a meal. And again he ate while mounted on his horse. But this time he actually started enjoying the swarm of kids who would gather and ask questions. Our parents again urged the kids to leave the poor guy alone but it seemed that Jim the Indian actually liked the attention. Thinking back now, as an adult, it’s easy to imagine that Jim led a very solitary life and probably actually enjoyed all the attention and the food. I know now that when you live by yourself that you don’t usually go overboard on meals for one. So, for a few days, Jim the Indian had company and a few good meals. In fact, he showed up every morning and waited until invited to eat.

On the last morning, as we were finishing breakfast and while our dads were rolling up our sleeping bags, Jim actually got off his horse. He let us all ride the horse while he guided it through the forest. It was a rather solemn experience since we all knew that our short time together was coming to an end. Even at that young age I realized that I would never see Jim again. His was a nomadic lifestyle while our’s was carefully mapped out. Fortunately, we were afforded periodic serendipitous journeys into the wild.

If I Could Kidnap Anthony Bourdain Where Would I Take Him (in Utah)?

With Anthony Bourdain coming to Salt Lake City this week to promote his new book, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook (Ecco/HarperCollins. ISBN 0061718947), I wondered if it was possible to kidnap him and show him Utah. If so, where would I take him to avoid the classic pitfalls of fry sauce, green Jell-O, and funeral potatoes? Considering his show, No Reservations, travels to obscure locations on the globe where he partakes in the local traditions and eats the local fare, stateside this could be challenging. Clearly, some sort of adventure or tradition that leaves a pleasant imprint of Utah without seeming too generic is necessary.

It would be important to showcase the uniqueness of southern Utah. An abundance of national parks and breathtaking scenery certainly would be noteworthy to such an accomplished globetrotter. So I would take him rafting on the Colorado River. One of the premiere destinations in Utah would be Moab where you can take any level of river trip you desire from the simple yet exciting daily section, the more challenging Westwater Canyon trip, or the downright thrilling, nearly Grand Canyon trip down Cataract Canyon. Following whatever degree of thrill or placid floating Bourdain desires, I’d treat him to dinner at Buck’s Grill House.

Buck’s is an enigma to Moab. A rough resort town (formerly a uranium mining town) catering to mountain biking, whitewater rafting, jeeping and such is hardly a place you’d expect a culinary adventure. But Buck’s is exactly that, disguised as a restaurant in keeping with the look of the rest of Moab. On the outside, Buck’s is a log building set back from the highway leading into town. A kind of unassuming place you could stop by for a BBQ sandwich and a beer. But it’s much more than that. It is the prize of someone born in Moab and familiar with the culture. Tim Buckingham got his training at the Culinary Arts Program at Santa Barbara City College. While it’s no Culinary Arts Institute, he did train under the chefs at the San Ysidro Ranch and Four Seasons Biltmore and moving on to executive chef at the Wine Cask in Santa Barbara before moving back to Moab.

The food is definitely interesting to the palate. I had the Carne Bajio (slow cooked beef in adobo sauce wrapped in crepes with goat cheese, smashed black beans and rice verde). Can I say, “Holy shit!” – This is Moab! Get me a burger and get me on the trail! No really, the different tastes that go with this item are amazing. The smashed black beans are also something else, familiar and yet interesting. And, while not a big fan of rice, I loved the rice. Everyone in our group ordered something different and all had the same reactions. In fact, it was so much so that we all had to try each other’s entrees.

But a river trip is only a part of the spectacular scenery since visibility is limited in the bottom of a canyon. Next would be a scenic drive along Highway 12 between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks. A scenic byway missed by a lot of tourists, and locals, which features spectacular views of the Grand Staircase. A drive along this winding two-lane road would encompass a stop at the Kiva Koffeehouse. A kiva is a room used by the Pueblo for religious ceremonies. While this building is modern, completed in 1998 by non-Native American engineer Bradshaw Bowman, a stop here is kind of a religious experience. The view from the dining room is like no other, a splash of color and vastness that sets the mind at ease. The homemade menu is refreshing and different from the usual roadside fare. They also have two ‘Kiva Kottages’ (one single King and a double Queen) that have no phone and no television but do include wireless Internet. Hey, no mindless television and no way to contact your broker but at least you can post to your blog!

Finally, I would provide Bourdain with a chance to get some greenery into the scenery with a trip to the northern Utah Wasatch Mountains. Utah is popular with Hollywood for the diversity of scenery from dry desert vistas to high alpine. Utah hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics so there must be mountains somewhere, right? And the best way, in my opinion, would be to see it from a hot air balloon in either the Park City or Heber valleys. Why ballooning? C’mon, I’m a balloon pilot. But after a bit of lazy floating we would go have a meal at the hospital (yes, the hospital!) and not because of some unfortunate ballooning incident. The locals all know that the best food in Park City is at the Silver King Cafe in the Park City Medical Center. Really. I had the opportunity to meet the executive chef and wellness coach Jason Kieffer recently and enjoy his spectacular and ever-changing health-oriented menu. His experience includes being the executive chef for Bill Gates’ management team. I imagine people were crying at his departure (Jason’s). This place I found through a word-of-mouth recommendation from locals I know who admit they eat there about 5 days a week. Walk into the medical center and you’d think you just walked into another guest lodge in Park City. This is the hospital I want to die in because I know that at least the food will be good.

Why kidnap Anthony Bourdain? After reading his first book, Kitchen Confidential, it became clear after having worked briefly in the restaurant industry that I did not have the intestinal fortitude (nor the blood stream capable of the drug and alcohol intake) necessary for a culinary career although I may share the same f**king vocabulary. Still, I enjoy his program on The Travel Channel, No Reservations, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter. I like the way he looks at destinations not as travel locations but as cultural experiences. He travels the way I like to travel. During this little felonious escapade in Utah with Bourdain I would hope that we could connect a bit on an intellectual level, have some good food and some great conversation, and then part ways having experienced an adventure together. Perhaps he’ll even thank me (probably not).

EDIT: Since writing this review, Buck’s Grill House closed. It saddened me that such a great restaurant couldn’t make it, but that’s the dilemma with food in a resort town.

The Coke Dilemma

Since giving up alcohol in 1994, I have firmly transferred my addiction to Coca Cola. Good for a sugar buzz and staying up all night, but it doesn’t make operating machinery a life-threatening endeavor. In the U.S., this works out nicely since most food places now consider Coca Cola, and other soft drinks, as a loss leader. This is because they are so cheap that food establishments still make money if they give you free refills. Consequently, sit down in most any restaurant or fast food establishment and the Cokes will seem to multiply on your table like a herd of rabbits.

In Europe, it seems, soft drinks need to be precisely measured and rationed out like a valuable commodity. For 2.50 euros, or the equivalent of $4.00 at this moment in time, you get 1/3 of a liter of Coke with no possibility of a refill. Because of the laid back attitude here (which is what we were looking for in Germany) your Coke arrives about 20 minutes before your food does. So you basically have nothing to wash your meal down with at the end of dinner.

Oh, and they don’t give you water either. You can buy 1/3 of a liter of water for about 1.60 euros (or about $2.50). What is interesting is that the beer sells for somewhere in the middle which makes me want to rethink my whole addiction thing. After all, beer was invented in Germany and tastes much better than in the U.S. Trust me!

P.S.: On our last day in Germany, we discovered that the restaurants must give you tap water for free if you request it. It’s the law. We just never thought of asking. Damn.

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The Speed of Europe

On a less weird but certainly different vein than Dresden’s history is the way we have embraced the German speed at living. There are two speeds here: the autobahn and everything else.

Upon arrival in Berlin we rented a car in the middle of Berlin in order to avoid the taxes we’d have to pay at the airport. Once rented, we were escorted to our car, which was parked in the right lane of traffic on Kurfuersten Strasse. No time to even look at the car, just jump in and drive off (we later looked at the car at a rest area so we’d be able to recognize it in a parking lot).

Then on the autobahn everyone is driving 10-20 kilometers per hour (6-12 MPH) faster than the posted speed (same as home so I felt comfortable) with Mom constantly reminding me that I couldn’t afford a speeding ticket. I ended up asking her if it was alright to pass the motorhome like everyone else. Eventually I just drove fast to stay awake since the jet lag was starting to take hold.

The other speed is totally relaxed. In the U.S., the restaurant business is predicated on how many tables they can turn around in one night. Here, in Germany, that’s not the case. We would go to an ice cream parlor, for example, and just sit and talk long after the ice cream is gone. The ice cream dishes are so good here that the time spent eating is miniscule anyway. Here, service is slow, the food arrives when it is good and ready. And no one seems to care! here, the locals know how to relax. It’s enough to make an American restauranteur just want to shit.

I could get used to this. So can Kim. And when we get back to the U.S., we plan to frustrate the hell out of the food service industry in the name of enjoying ourselves and all out relaxation. The fast-food mentality of America just needs to stop… NOW! It’s indicative of all that is wrong with America. It only leads to stress-related ailments. So I plan to save Americans one meal at a time by taking my sweet-ass time eating out.

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