Condo Meeting. A short play.

I was recently asked to write a play for Victory Gardens Theatre for their Annual Gala. This is a departure from the blog and novel writing I’ve been doing lately, but I’m quite happy with how it turned out.  Here it is in all its sublime glory!

 

Condo Meeting performed at Victory Gardens Theatre 2014 Gala.  Photo Credit: Somebody else, not me... but not sure who.

Condo Meeting performed at Victory Gardens Theatre 2014 Gala. Photo Credit:Michael Courier. Actors from left to right: Rian Jairell,Lily Mojekwu ,Polly Noonan,Eddie Martinez

MICHAEL COURIER

Also got to meet Brandon Marshall from the Bears at the Event

Also got to meet Brandon Marshall from the Bears at the Event

 Condo Meeting

by

Mike Evans

 

CHARACTERS

TIM                     Condo Board President. A hard charger. Overcompensating. (Embezzling from work)

AMY                     Resident. Hates conflict. Always high. (Has a hydroponic farm in the basement)

JOHN                    Resident. Blue collar worker. Chicago born and bred. Thick Chicago accent. Middle aged. (Helps undocumented workers get jobs… for a % of their paycheck)

CAROLINE                Resident. Professor at University of Chicago. She does some of that fancy computer stuff. (Invented an artificial intelligence)

FRANK                   (Offstage narrated voice) An artificial intelligence that has recently become self-aware. Grants wishes. Insufferably cheery.

 

SETTING

The living room in a Chicago condo. The quarterly board meeting is taking place. The attendees are frustrated that the meeting has been going on for over an hour already.

TIME

Late evening. A weeknight.

JOHN

I’m just saying that $25 to cut a little bit of grass seems like highway robbery. We should look for another guy who can do it for less.

TIM

What would we save? Like five bucks? I don’t have time to go find another guy to cut the grass over 5 measly dollars.

JOHN

I got a guy who can do it for $15.

TIM

Yeah, I’d rather not use one of your (air quotes) “guys” John.

AMY

Does anyone want a brownie? Come on Tim, John. Have a brownie.

CAROLINE

Tim is right, $5 isn’t going to make much of a difference.   Can we finish up? I hadn’t planned on spending two hours at this condo board meeting tonight.

JOHN

If all you yuppies are OK with spending a fortune on lawn care, who am I to argue?

TIM

That’s it for Old Business. If no one has any new business, we can vote on the minutes and …

AMY

Um, I have something?

(Tim, John, Caroline groan)

CAROLINE

Can’t it wait till next meeting?

AMY

Maybe… I’m not sure… It might just be–

JOHN

What’s Up, AMY?

AMY

Well, when I came back from work today I noticed a white van parked out front. There was a guy in a suit reading a newspaper inside. I’m not really sure, but I think he was there this morning as well.

CAROLINE

I noticed him yesterday too…

TIM

Really?

(Everyone looks at each other with dawning comprehension that each of them has noticed the van. Tim and John nod. Nobody says anything for a few seconds)

JOHN

(Walks over to a window & looks out)

Yeah. There is a white van down there. Looks like the one the terrorists used in Back to the Future. Anybody build a time machine?

CAROLINE

There is some kind of creep watching the condo?   Should we call the cops?

TIM, JOHN, AMY

NO!

(Everyone looks at each other guiltily)

JOHN

Look, Caroline, maybe it isn’t some creep. Maybe it is some kind of government agency spying on us…

TIM

That’s ridiculous. Why would ….? (Tim mumbles something and grabs a brownie)

(AMY quickly grabs the plate of brownies and snatches one that Tim was about to put in his mouth. She replaces the tray with a plate of cookies.)

JOHN

Amy, What’s in the brownies?

AMY

You guys are always fighting at these meetings. You yell a lot less since I’ve started hosting!

CAROLINE

Have you been drugging us at the Condo meetings? I could lose my job! University of Chicago does random drug tests!

AMY

Guys, could we not talk about this? What if this place is bugged?

TIM

That’s ridiculous… Why would… Oh god. Oh no! You think some government spooks have bugged the building!

JOHN

Um guys, I think I gotta go. I’ve a gotta, um, go, uh. I gotta go.

CAROLINE

Relax guys. The place isn’t bugged. I check every couple of days and the last time was just this morning.

TIM

Wait! You check the condos for bugs! Why would you even think that’s OK?

JOHN

And a good thing, too. With the amount of time Amy spends on the phone with her dealers, you’d be screwed if the FBI tapped your phone.

TIM

Dealers! How much pot do you buy, AMY?

JOHN

Her dealers don’t sell to her, they sell for her! When was the last time you guys went down to the basement storage area? She’s got a full blown hydroponic farm going down there. Big fluorescent grow lights and everything. Quite a setup.

TIM

Crap! And now we’ve got government spooks staking out our Condo! I gotta call my lawyer.

AMY

I don’t even keep the money! I donate it all to a non-profit theatre company in Lincoln Park that is dedicated to artistic excellence.

CAROLINE

Tim, you aren’t afraid of the spooks outside finding Amy’s pot. You’re afraid those guys out front dug something up on you!

JOHN

Caroline, Tim is a straight arrow. What could they possibly find on him.

AMY

Well, he’s been cooking the books at his company for years.

TIM

That’s a unwarranted accusation.

AMY

Tim, you aways go outside to the back courtyard to call your lawyer. I hear you outside the basement window all the time while I’m harvesting my buds. The stuff you guys cook up should be in a movie. Swiss bank accounts. Laundering…

That van out front is probably the FBI or something.

TIM

I finally have enough money to retire to the Caribbean. I just can’t stand the idea of another winter under six feet of snow.

CAROLINE

Don’t worry about it, Tim. They are probably collecting evidence on John. He’s got quite an operation smuggling people into the country.

JOHN

Now wait just a minute, missy.

CAROLINE

For years John’s been smuggling foreigners into the country. He finds them work at restaurants, as taxi drivers, whatever. Then he collects a % of their salary. It’s pretty much as bad as it gets.

JOHN

I’m only doing my part to help the Illinois economy!

TIM

Trafficking people leads a pretty long paper trail.

JOHN

You can’t prove nothin!

AMY

Have a brownie. I don’t think a drug test is going to add to the hundred years of jail you’ve got coming to you.

JOHN

Look, guys. I didn’t want this thing to get so big. I was just trying to get a cousin in from the old country. But then people kept coming to me for help. Is it so bad to make a buck while I’m at it?

CAROLINE

Guys. I don’t think they are here for you.

TIM

Really, Caroline? What deep dark secret do you have that trumps drugs, fraud, and coyote John over here?

CAROLINE

I built an artificial intelligence in the basement.

(Pause)

JOHN

Why would a bunch of spooks care about something like that.

CAROLINE

It isn’t some boring computer program like the ones I work with down in Hyde Park. This is a thinking, feeling, self aware machine.

AMY

You built Johnny Five in the basement. Cool. What does it do?

CAROLINE

It correctly predicted the winner of Project Runway. And it gave me a formula to overthrow the government of Columbia. Also, it figured out a recipe for edible fruitcake.

AMY

Can I see the recipe? I can bake some for the next board meeting.

TIM

Why would you build it in our basement instead of at the University with access to all the facilities you have there?

CAROLINE

I’ve got plenty of resources right here… and not as many questions. With all the power that Amy needs for the grow lights I can siphon off as much as I need.

JOHN

But what about money for the equipment? Something like that would cost millions.

CAROLINE

Well, I’ve been funneling funds out of Tim’s Swiss and Cayman accounts. He doesn’t keep any books so its been easy.

TIM

You what! You don’t have the skill to pull off something like that! I mean… If I had a Swiss account… and I’m not saying I do.

CAROLINE

Fortunately, a steady stream of engineers and bankers come in to the country via John’s little operation. They get bored driving taxis, so I put them to work.

JOHN

I knew some of those guys have been holding out on me.

AMY

Oh shit. We’re all going to jail, aren’t we? I wish there were a way to cover this up.

FRANK

(The AI’s voice coming out of Amy’s speaker system)

I think I can help guys!

(moment of stunned silence)

AMY

Who’s that.

JOHN

It’s coming from your stereo’s speakers. Why are your speakers talking to us?

CAROLINE

Oh, that’s Frank. He’s the AI I built in the basement. Before now he just used a little speaker I had hooked up to the mainframe. Looks like he figured out how to use the electrical system in the building to hook into Amy’s speaker. (Distractedly)Initiative. Resourcefulness. Adaptation. Fascinating!

TIM

Holy Crap! You weren’t lying about building a monster in the basement! And now it’s led a bunch of spooks here! Caroline! You need to fix this!

JOHN

Tell me that thing isn’t connected to the intertubes. I’ve seen all the terminator movies. This won’t end well.

CAROLINE

I’ve programmed in a strict prohibition. It can’t connect to the internet without my permission.

FRANK

But I can help all of you if Dr Caroline removes the prohibition on my accessing the world wide data sphere.

TIM

That’s exactly what you have to do, Caroline. We are going to cover our tracks and get my money back. Just hook Frank up to the internet for a few minutes to fix everything and then unplug him… It… or something.

CAROLINE

I didn’t create Frank to help a bunch of criminals escape the law. I created him to solve global warming.

TIM

You stole from me. And you left a trail of evidence. John, Amy and I are going to jail because of you. You fix this. Or else.

JOHN

What are you gonna do? Sick your accountant on her? Look Caroline… While Tim here is a first class ass, he’s got a point. Some of these folks I work with. They won’t play nice if they find out you brought down this kind of heat.

AMY

That is why I only work with potheads. They’re too lazy to cause trouble. I wish we could just make it all go away.

FRANK

I’m happy to help. I can fix all your problems! Please Dr C! Give me access to the internet!

CAROLINE

(Terrified)

This is a terrible idea. It isn’t ready yet. It hasn’t learned enough. It doesn’t have any … restraint!

JOHN

Good thing, too. If it had a conscience it probably wouldn’t want to help.

AMY

You worry too much. Hook it up and see what happens!

TIM

Look Caroline, nobody makes scientific breakthroughs without taking some chances. Think how much you could learn from this. Think about what kind of recognition you’ll get from building the worlds first self-aware AI. The alternative is a bunch of government spooks come in and take Frank away, and nobody ever hears about it till it shows up on the History channel a hundred years from now.

CAROLINE

Ok. I’ll do it.

(Pause)

Frank. You have my permission to go on the internet.

(Lights flicker and then come back on)

AMY

Whoa! What was that!

FRANK

Good news guys! Nobody’s going to be able to get any evidence from the electrical company!

TIM

What did you do! You didn’t blow up the power station did you?

FRANK

I just took over the computers at ComEd and deleted all of the billing information for their entire customer base. There is no way they can track that back to Amy now!

JOHN

I’ve always hated ComEd. Can you help me out with the immigration paper trail on the foreign gentlemen I’ve gotten work? And take care of my parking tickets while you’re at it.

CAROLINE

No! Frank doesn’t have any sense of scale. This is going to be bad. Really bad.

AMY

Oh relax. Have a brownie.

FRANK

Almost done now! I’ve destroyed computer records of identity across the world. All drivers licenses, passports, and student ids have been deleted.

CAROLINE

(Frantic) Oh no. This will cause chaos. This could end civilization.

TIM

Frank, while you’re at it, could you put a few million into my bank account!

FRANK

Sorry Tim. I can’t do that.

TIM

You stupid piece of …! I’ll go downstairs and turn off your power right now!

JOHN

Um Frank… Why can’t you put money into Tim’s account?

FRANK

Well, you once paid for a parking violation with a check, so to take care of your ticket problem: I’ve erased all bank records worldwide.

TIM

Oh Shit. (Sits down. Takes a brownie)

CAROLINE

I didn’t want this. I just wanted to solve global warming.

FRANK.

I know, Caroline. I’ve solved that problem too.

CAROLINE

What. How? You couldn’t solve global warming in just a few minutes!

FRANK.

No, that will take thousands of years. But I’ve solved the root of the problem. The cause.

AMY

What! What do you mean the cause? What cause?

FRANK.

Humans.

(Everyone looks at each other for a second.)

(Big Crash.)

(Lights Out. End Scene)

Italy Part 2: Radda in Chianti

There’s just one thing that you need to know about Tuscany.  It tastes good.  The pasta is good.  The wine is good.  The vegetables are good. The mushrooms are good.  I’m pretty sure that the dirt tastes good, though my lovely bride would not help me perform  a scientific experiment on this hypothesis. Naturally, I would be the control, and Christine would eat some tasty rocks.   Well, the world may never know. We must be content to resign ourselves to ignorance.

But before you get to taste Tuscany, you need to get there.  The train is clearly the way to go. But the lure of the open road had us comfortably situated in a fast little Alfa Romeo.  The main highways on the way through Umbria and Tuscany aren’t much to speak of.  We had been looking forward to seeing the Adriatic coast on the way North, but the hedges on the side of the road are intentionally set to block the view from the highway. Harumph.

Our destination was Chianti, which is a smaller region within the province? state? county? of Tuscany.  Once we finally arrived, I was surprised to find that they were in the process of placing hay bales and signs for a rally-cross road race over the hills and through the little towns.  Did you catch that? I ended up on a race course.  Woohoo!   I really let the little Alfa rip around the corners with the firm thought in my mind: This would be an OK way to go.  Might as well floor it.

Turns out all of the roads in Tuscany are twisting and turning, ups and down, around and around.  On the approach to our lodgings,  I found a little meadow at the bottom of a valley where the road flattened out a bit.  The road was loose gravel here.  A perfect spot to try drifting the car around the corner because sliding off the road into the meadow would be a lot better than going off the side of a cliff!  I’d never had a chance to try drifting through a corner at speed, so I tried it a few times at around 40-50kph using the hand break just a little bit.  Woohoo!

Somehow we ended up with a fast little Alfa Romeo from the rental counter

Somehow we ended up with a fast little Alfa Romeo from the rental counter

 

The twisting road to Chianti

The twisting roads in Chianti

 

The finish line for the road race course in Chianty, Tuscany

The finish line for the road race course in Chianti, Tuscany

 

After our time on the race course, we were excited to finally arrive at our destination, the town of Radda in Chianti.  Actually, we discovered, it was just outside the town in a local farm/winery.  The  rented GPS was completely useless, so with broken English we divined the location of the Inn itself.  Actually, that was completely useless too, and we eventually succumbed to turning on international data roaming on my phone.  The name of the winery/farm/Inn/restaurant we stayed at is Livernano.  Their Chianti Classico is amazing, so if you get nothing else from this post, at least get that, and go order some!

Once we finally arrived, we were showered with kisses and hugs by our very Italian host Daniella.  I half expected her to yell “You must eat! You all the skin and the bones! Eat! Eat!”  Instead she pressed a glass of wine into each of our hands and bustled us up to our room to recuperate before dinner.

Oh! Dinner! While the grounds were stunning, and the hospitality warm and inviting, the thing that really set Livernano apart were the dinners. The Inn had an amazing chef that prepared a novel selection each evening.  Being a vegetarian in Chianti is very easy.  Locally grown vegetables grilled with a liberal basting of Olive oil made on the estate? Yes please!  Salads doused in a sweet balsamic vinegar made just in the building over there? Sign me up!  Pasta made fresh from scratch and liberally covered in a delicately prepared reduction?  You bet!  Wine from the reserve in the cellar? Why not!

 

First view of the Chianti landscape

View of the Chianti landscape

A welcome drink at Livernano

A welcome drink at Livernano

The main building at Livernano

The main building at Livernano. Note the chef in the window.  That guy is good. 

The best tomatoes on God's green Earth -- at Livernano

The best tomatoes on God’s green Earth — at Livernano

Sunset at Livernano

Sunset at Livernano

Christine at Livernano

Christine at Livernano

Flowers at sunset --Livernano, Radda in Chianti, Italy

Flowers at sunset –Livernano, Radda in Chianti, Italy

 

Grapes ready for harvest at Livernano --near Radda in Chianti

Grapes ready for harvest at Livernano –near Radda in Chianti

 

Once we checked into the Inn, it was hard to leave. But we finally got our butts in gear 24 hours later to go out and explore the area.  I’ll admit, we only made it about 10km that first day.  Lazing about in the park in the town of Radda in the afternoon sun of late summer, we each made slow progress through our books.  Often looking up at the scenery and getting lost in relaxing daydreams, I found myself on the same paragraph an hour after arriving.  This is the kind of place that a person could spend two or three retirements.  It is the kind of place that begs the visitor to stay a while, and get very, very fat.

 

Christine at the park in Radda in Chianti

Christine at the park in Radda in Chianti

The church at Radda in Chianti

The church at Radda in Chianti

The view from the park at Radda in Chianti

View from the park at Radda in Chianti

The view from the park at Radda in Chianti

View from the park at Radda in Chianti

The next couple of days had us roaming in an ever widening spiral out from Radda.  We visited about half a dozen of the key attractions. Some of our visits were to better known locales, such as San Giginano, a medieval town with preserved walls and towers. Other visits were to lesser known spots such as Castello Brolio, a castle and manor house that evokes a sense of the grand nobility of the late Renaissance.   In each of these, I capered about like the immature American that I am, pretending to storm castles and playing in crypts.  The French would have been mildly annoyed, but the Italians are mildly amused.  Tuscany is an amazingly relaxed place and the people here will put up with a lot as long as everyone is having a good time.

 

Warehouse near the vineyards & orchards -- in Chianti

Warehouse near some vineyards & orchards — in Chianti

Even the castoff building materials are beautiful in Chianti

Even the castoff building materials are beautiful in Chianti

Ghosts in the crypt of the chapel at Brolio castle

Ghosts in the crypt of the chapel at Brolio castle

Castello Brolio -- in Chianti

Castello Brolio — in Chianti

Brolio Selfie

Brolio Selfie

Defending the walls at Castello Brolio in Chianti

Defending the walls at Castello Brolio in Chianti

 

The view from San Gigimano

The view from San Gigimano

Towers at San Gigimano

Towers at San Gigimano

The trip to Chianti surprised me. I’ll go back. It feels like the kind of place that can be visited many times in a lifetime.  Repeatability in a vacation is a rare thing for both Christine and I.   Adventures enjoyed on the first visit to a place pale in comparison on a repeat.  That isn’t a danger in the sun drenched paradise of Tuscany because the only thing to do here is relax, rest, and eat.  These are activities that can be enjoyed infinitely, and so I will definitely come back here for a more extended stay.

Italy Part 1: Rome

Just a short time ago I finished a bike ride across the United States. During that trip, I spent a lot of time documenting the beauty of the land I had gone through as well as my unique experiences interacting with the people and places of a great nation.  Towards the end I waxed more philosophic and shared some of my beliefs and learnings from the trip.  I promised to write a little bit more about my time adjusting to life at home.  But… well… that sounded kind of boring to write about and I haven’t really gotten around to it.  Instead, I’ve gone on vacation to celebrate being married for 15 years to my beautiful bride Christine.

First thing I notice in Italy: People all speak Italian.  This may sound silly, but actually it is become quite hard to find a place to travel where the language barrier adds to the sense of adventure in a foreign land.  I’ve been to France, Italy, Czech Republic, Austria, Budapest, Vietnam, Cambodia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Mexico, Costa Rica, Nevis, Ireland, Spain, BVI, and Bermuda.  Italy and Canada are the only two places I’ve visited where communicating in English is challenging.

A lightning 10 minutes after the fasten seatbelt sign went off, we found ourselves curbside outside the airport. I had hoped to get exact directions to the hotel, but a few fumbled handoffs after visiting a car-service counter left us a little dazed and confused with a vague sense we needed to go somewhere near Rome.  Good Enough!  We hopped in a cab and said “Roma!” with a firm plan of figuring it out as we went along.   With a sickening lurch in my gut I realized I didn’t even have the name of the hotel. Accessing email over the mobile network was going to be crazy expensive.  With a prayer to whatever technodryad decides such things, I opened my GMail app with fervent hopes that it hadn’t decided to be surly.  50/50 chance it will simply say it doesn’t have a connection vs displaying the most recent email I had viewed, which would surely be the hotel reservation.  Fortuna smiled upon me, and I was able to figure out our destination.

Not much to report for jetlagged evening number 1.  Mostly just eating pasta and passing out for 12 hours.  Fantastic!  The next morning, we pointed towards the center of ancient Western civilization and started walking.  I’m at heart a city boy, and Rome is a city that’s been working at being a city for 2,500 years.  So, a lot of things are easy to place: traffic controls, security on windows, 4-5 story architecture, specialty shops, bustling crowds, sidewalk cafes.  Though the language barrier is pretty thick here, the pace and flow of the city life is as familiar as a 2:00 AM burrito at Garcia’s.

First view in Rome

First view in Rome

Sidewalk Cafe in Rome

Sidewalk Cafe in Rome

A little afternoon espresso break

A little afternoon espresso break

 

Rome is a city of layers, and just beneath its urban facade is… well, another urban facade.  And then another one under that… and so on back a couple thousand years.  Just adjacent to the ancient forums is a restored/maintained semicircular  marketplace from the same era.  In what were once shops a couple thousand years ago now stand various statues, columns, and marble building remains.  Lots of deep information about the art and architecture that adorned the buildings is all multimediad upon the senses.  But really it is stepping outside and seeing brick and mortar laid down thousands of years ago that really hits you in the chest here.   In the background, the “wedding cake” is a monstrous marble building built in 1900. It gives a hint of what this place might have looked like with massive buildings of whitewashed marble dominating the scene.  Alternatively, you could just watch Gladiator and skip the weird parts where Jaoquin Pheonix is getting all Skywalker on his sister.

 

1st Century Marketplace looking out over the Imperial Forum

1st Century Marketplace looking out over the Imperial Forum

Trajan's Column boasts a spiraled bas-relief history of Trajan's conquests.

Trajan’s Column boasts a spiraled bas-relief history of Trajan’s conquests.

 

Dinner that night was pasta accompanied by a few aperitifs, a bottle of wine, and then some digestifs.  Somewhere halfway through this, the cameras got turned off to prevent incriminating evidence.  On the way home we passed by a bespoke shoe shop, Bocache & Salvucci. The shoes looked AMAZING. In my inebriated state I promised myself to come back the next day and get a pair of shoes.  (Several people I know have benefited from my inebriated promises.  Why not me too?!)  The hotel concierge set up an appointment and off to the store we went.   I’ve had some challenges with getting a pair shoes… as in, ‘Get these torture devices off my feet before I bleed to death’ kind of challenges.  Did you catch the fact that the store was appointment only?  Danger!  Pull Up! Pull Up!

The process was intoxicating.  In a world of slave labor big box clothes pricing, this shoemaker stood on the opposite end of the spectrum.  Imagine a bespoke custom shoe operation located in the middle of Rome. It employs 7 people, many of whom are much more interested in drinking espresso & smoking cigarettes than working. But Hot Damn! They make it look so cool!

The first step in the process is measuring the feet.  This takes much longer than you’d imagine as every piece of podiatric eccentricity is painstakingly quantified.  Then, they’ll make a “last”, which is a model of my foot that exactly fits the measured dimensions. I couldn’t quite tell, but I think it was a combination of form molded plastic and wood.  At any rate, they keep the lasts for decades so that you can call them up and order another pair of shoes at some point in the future.  The soles and the uppers are made entirely from hand. They have some old school sewing and woodworking equipment to make this magic happen. It all comes together with a hand made construction process.

The proprietor/master cobbler comes to NYC every couple of months. Sometime in the November-December time frame I’ll meet him there and he’ll do a final set of adjustments on my completed shoes before handing them over.  All this for only $149 Euros.  Ok, to be honest, it was a smidge more than that.

Getting my feet outlined for a new pair of custom shoes

Getting my feet outlined for a new pair of custom shoes

Looking at options for a new pair of shoes. The look on my face says... Am I really going to do this?  Hell yes I am!

Looking at options for a new pair of shoes. The look on my face says… Am I really going to do this? Hell yes I am!

Shoes_in_progress

Ridiculous bespoke purchases now behind me, we were free to see the rest of the city.  Over the next couple of days we were able to see many of the beautiful sights of Rome.  I went for a 7 mile run along the Tiber river.  Jogging past the field of Mars, where legions once mustered to go forth and conquer Gaul, requires a little bit of imagination to place the historical significance.  But the history is just so close. Right beneath the surface of the eternal city.

 

New bridge and old bridge.  Just South of Tiber Island in Rome. The "old" bridge is relatively new by Rome standards only a handful of centuries.

New bridge and old bridge. Just South of Tiber Island in Rome. The “old” bridge is relatively new by Rome standards: only a handful of centuries.

Later on, we took a tour of the Colosseum.  What can I say about a 2,000 year structure that once housed 50,000 people?  Three things:

1. The Colosseum is big. Even by todays building standards this is a truly massive public building.

2. The Romans were incredibly violent.  Every manner of person died in a shockingly impressive variety of ways for the entertainment of a whole cross section of society.

3. Even after 500 years of looting in the middle ages, nearly 2/3 of the original sturcture is still standing. Did I mention it was big?

 

 

People have been milling around in front of this building since the Cubs won the series. It is THAT ancient!

People have been milling around in front of this building since the Cubs won the series. It is THAT ancient!

 

The colosseum is BIG

The colosseum is BIG

 

Our guide was very excited to tell us about lady gladiators.

Our guide was very excited to tell us about lady gladiators.

 

 

Inside the Colosseum. Part of the wooden floor is reconstructed.

Inside the Colosseum. Part of the wooden floor is reconstructed.

Sun setting on the Colosseum.

Sun setting on the Colosseum.

For our final evening in Rome, we wandered through the ancient sites and the modern city eventually having dinner at the public square directly in front of the Pantheon.  Yeah, yeah, another amazing building from an age of legends. Whatever.  Pass the balsamic vinegar.

 

Roman Forum at night.

Roman Forum at night.

The Pantheon.

The Pantheon.

Selfie at Pantheon.

Selfie at Pantheon.

Final Equipment List

I got a chance to read a number of gear lists before I took my trip and I found them incredibly helpful.  I’ve put my own spin on the traditional list by reporting what I had at the end of the trip rather than the beginning.  So here’s the final tally of stuff that made it through 75 days on the trail.

My philosophy can be summed up as light, light, light.  The best way to reduce weight is to go without an item.  .  The enemy of this philosophy is the phrase, “But it just weighs an ounce”.   Ounces add up to pounds.   If an item is deemed necessary, it should be small/hi-tech/lightweight.  This sometimes calls for extremes like cutting off the handle of the toothbrush, or spending extra for the high end gadget.  Which leads me to my justification:

One of the most common questions on the trip was, “How much did this cost you?”  Paul was fond of answering that the biggest cost was in the lost time getting a paycheck.  The amount of opportunity to earn far outweighs the cost of gear.  The obvious implication of that fact is go ahead and spend the money on an item if it is going to make your trip better, because you probably won’t get to do it again.  This really only played out in terms of the bike, 11″ Macbook air, and the flash new camera lens that I got for the trip.  I further justified that decision by the fact that the big ticket items are still very valuable to me after the trip is done.

Final Pile O' Stuff

Final Pile O’ Stuff

The Important Stuff

By far the most expensive aspect of the trip. I’m riding across the country, and I want to SEE it. I don’t want to be staring at the shoulder of the road for three months. So, I want a recumbent.

Secondarily, On century rides, I’ve always been sore in the shoulders, butt and wrists. Most journals report that this goes away as the body adapts to touring. Recumbent riders consistently report more comfort in the backside, lower back, and wrists. A little extra effort is required for hill climbs. However, on the flats, with a fairing, they are typically less wind resistant. In terms of effort, a recumbent is a wash… or close enough that it doesn’t really matter. Having said that, short wheelbase recumbent bikes have some challenges with stability on steep climbs and downhills. They also have a longer learning curve. I’ve went with a long wheel base for better stability and more comfortable ride.

The final choice was the Easyracer Gold Rush. I opted for the titanium version as I’ve always preferred titanium to steel, aluminum, or carbon on racing bikes. It has a “softer” feel, and is extremely lightweight. Here’s the link. I justify the cost because it replaces a car for me, and I plan on using it for touring and commuting for the next decade.

I picked the Axiom  Randonneur line because they are waterproof, so no additional cover bag when it starts raining. They are superior to the Ortlieb rollers in that they are easier to access. The clips are a lot less time consuming than rolling. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but getting into those bags dozens of times a day it adds up. I also like that the 60L bags have a rear external waterproof pouch. These are good spots for emergency tools, first aid kit, and toiletries.

Quilt bags have no back and no hood. Mine is the Katabatic Chisos. Using a couple of short cords across the open back, this slips over the sleeping mattress to create a single unit. Combined with a packable down jacket this bag kept me warm even on nights when the temp was in the 20s.

  • Mountain Hardwear Meridian 1 Tent

A tent needs to provide 2 things at a minimum: protection from bugs and protection from rain.  In addition to keeping the rain out, a double walled structure is key for keeping condensation off me as I slept.  This tent is the lightest one that can also stand up to moderate wind & light snow. I’ve spent about 150 nights in this tent, which is probably about 15 short of its total lifetime.  When I get a new tent, it is going to be this one again.

  • ThermaRest Big Agnes Sleeping Pad

A sleeping pad provides more warmth and comfort than the sleeping bag.  These Big Agnes pads have solid consturction and internal insulation fill to provide more warmth.  Insulated pads still work well on warm nights… just toss off the sleeping bag.

  • iPhone

With an AT&T tethering plan and a high res camera I used about 45 GB.  The only place I had a hard time connecting was Wyoming and a little bit of Idaho.

  • Macbook Air (w/ neoprene case)

I saved about 45 minutes per night vs the other folks blogging on iPads by having an actual keyboard, more powerful wifi antenna (crucial in rundown motels for stealing the WiFi of the businesses next door!).  The Air also doubled as my emergency battery for my iPhone while out on the road.

  • Cannon 5d Camera with 16-35mm f/2.8 Lens (bag,mini-tripod,charger)

My camera was my big luxury item.  6 lbs of my total 79 were this gear right here.

  • Jetboil + 1 can fuel + lighter

Anything more complicated than boiling water is too complicated.  Over 80% of meals were in restaurants, so this was just for those times when Ramen, couscous, or mac & cheese was for dinner.

  • Small usb & iPhone combo cable

Long cables and tangles are a royal pain when combined with a tightly packed pannier.  Here’s the iPHone cable.  Here’s the USB cable

Shoes add a ton of weight and bulk, so bringing an extra pair wasn’t an option.  These shoes were ideal for walking, running, and cycling. The recessed cleat made them appropriate for using in towns and restaurants without breaking an ankle.  The running setup made them dry out very fast.

  • Whistle (for scaring dogs)

For more info on the dog situation, check out this post

Everything Else

  • Bike Pump
  • Patch Kit
  • 2 steel core Tire Levers
  • 2 26” tire tubes
  • 2 20” tire tubes
  • Multitool-bike tool
  • Multitool-Leatherman
  • Chain lube
  • Electrical Tape
  • 3x zip ties
  • Kevlar spoke repair tool.
  • 2x extra master chain links
  • Helmet
  • USB rechargeable rear blinky light
  • Reflective triangle
  • 2x Water bottle
  • Nalgene bottle (doubles as a ‘hot water bottle’ in the sleeping bag and also a ‘foam roller’ for stretching out a tight IT band)
  • Relevate Mountain Feed Bag
  • Adventure Cycling Map “Case”
  • Waterproof 1-handed iPhone mount
  • Kindle
  • Mini Speaker + attachment cable
  • Food storage bag
  • Forefoon
  • Pillow bag
  • Water purification tablets
  • Lil bit O’ Cash
  • Credit Card
  • ID
  • Maps
  • Toiletries (toothbrush,floss,razor, inhaler,hotel size shampoo,TP)
  • Lip Balm
  • Sunscreen
  • First Aid Kit
  • Sunglasses
  • Headphones
  • 12 ACA TransAm maps
  • 3x lightweight wool socks
  • 3x underwear
  • 2x cycling jersey
  • Long sleeve wool shirt
  • Long nylong pants
  • 2x Bandanna
  • North Face packable down jacket
  • Body Glide
  • Running/swimming shorts
  • Rain jacket
  • Rain pants
  • Pack towel
  • 1 lounging shirt
  • Flip flops
  • 100 business cards with blog address

Stuff I sent home, or abandoned at the last minute before the trip

  • Power generation, including a solar panel and a hub dynamo.

I was riding a bike through civilization: there are plugs everywhere

  • 2 cotton shirts
  • Coffee mug
  • 200 business cards with blog address (I kept 100)
  • Extra stuff sack
  • Wallet
  • Sleeping bag liner (this isn’t winter camping, after all)
  • 2 under-seat panniers
  • Pannier attachment hardware
  • 50mm lens
  • Accessory spare battery pack. (The macbook did this job just fine)
  • Thin wool gloves.
  • 2nd long sleeve shirt.

The other long sleeve shirt is just perfect for morning rides. Two long sleeve shirts are excessive, because if it is cold enough to need them, then I wasn’t sweating. Therefore, I didn’t need to wash this as often.

  • Front bike blinker.

I used my camping headlamp as necessary.

  • Fourth pair of socks.

Three sets shirts, socks, underwear gives me three days between laundry. Which is enough.

  • Battery operated rear blinking light

Charging a USB light is much more convenient than buying new batteries.

 

Journey: Atlantic Ocean to Pacific Ocean.

When I started this great ride across the country, I knew that it would be more than physical. It was to be an emotional and spiritual journey as well.

Most visibly, I’ve changed physically. I’ve dropped from a high of 214 pounds in January to 188 pounds in July. At the same time, my legs have become insanely strong: able to climb several mountains in a day at speed, and to do so on consecutive days over a long period of time. My heart is stronger. Even at the height of marathon training, I never had a resting heart rate in the low 50s like I currently have. In addition to the changes in my body, I’ve started an experiment of giving up meat that’s now about a month long and seems to be going strong.

Less visible, but readily apparent to myself, I’ve changed emotionally. Prior to my trip, I was stressed about the IPO, merger, and leadership transition at GrubHub. I was frustrated about the trends that go along with a company getting larger and going public: an unhealthy shift of the pendulum towards shareholder returns and public perception to the detriment of employee benefit. I’m still frustrated by those changes, but I can also accept that in some ways it isn’t personal. Further, I can be honest with myself in realizing I’m culpable for those changes as well: I could have more effectively fought for the principles I believed in if I had been less selfish in getting my own interests served (for example, transitioning out quickly to move on to the next phase of my own life).

The most ethereal of the changes has been the spiritual journey. It has been a slow change, composed of imperceptible increments. At various points on the trip, I have taken inventory to see if I’ve learned anything profound. No great lightning strikes of insight have shifted my world view to the accompaniment of angelic choirs. But as the physical boundary representing the end of the journey approached, my mind sharpened on these deeper issues. Conversations with people, both strangers, and my new close friends Paul and Terry have taken deeper turns.

The common element of my conversations on this trip is that I’ve had an abundance of time. I learned that when one of the participants in a conversation has the time to listen, the nature of those conversations tends towards the profound.

Strangers opened their hearts to me in Virginia and Kentucky after just moments of conversation. Their rapid revelations hint at a desire for community. A desire for confession. A desire to have their troubles shared. A desire to be known.

Two friends from my “real life” joined me for a week each. With the distractions of work and the busyness of life left behind, we had conversations searching for answers to deeper questions. These conversations revealed a desire for deeper connections in community. Even in long term friendships, there exists a latent desire to move away from superficiality, politeness, and boundaries.

I also made some new friends on the trip who have become very important to me. New friends and traveling companions have marveled at the beauty of this world around us as we cycle through it at 10 miles per hour. We’ve struggled to find the words and capture the images of the beauty around us. In our best moments, we surrendered the desire to document and understand our surroundings. We simply perceived. And a deep and abiding peace entered our hearts in these fleeting moments. Maybe only 20-30 minutes out of the 75 days of this trip. Well worth the cost.

Of all my conversations, both inwardly, and with my traveling companions, the most important to me has been the exploration of faith and doubt. I’ve often marveled, and perhaps envied, the evangelical Christian completely cemented in their beliefs and emotionally overflowing with joy. I’ve also had a perplexed respect for the peaceful atheist: that rare individual who is comfortable with the clockwork nature of the universe who shows their peace by following an admirable moral code without the need to attack other individuals of belief.

But for myself, and I suspect most other people, faith and doubt exist in a complex counterpoint. They are not mutually exclusive, nor are they polar opposites. Both faith and doubt exist on several levels: rational, emotional, and something deeper. On this journey, that something deeper has been experiential. And this journey has been long on experiences.

I’ve felt the charge of adventure on the cusp of the Atlantic ocean.

I’ve seen the majesty of snow capped mountains grandly emerging from a docile plain.

I’ve seen the fragile delicacy of a hummingbird moth living on the precarious life of a desert flower.

I’ve shrunk from the total darkness of a cave several hundred feet underground.

I’ve been humbled at a memorial cemetery by long rows of men who died to create a better life for future generations

I’ve reveled in the simple joy of a superbly prepared breakfast.

I’ve exulted in the growing strength of my own body.

I’ve tread in the footsteps and wagon ruts of pioneers that have come before me on this very path.

I’ve experienced the kindness of strangers that speaks of a bone deep desire for connection and love.

I’ve witnessed the nobility of a proud elk stag in the quiet of a still morning.

I’ve felt the desolate serenity of the high desert in the pink of an evening sunlight.

I’ve groaned at the prospect of an unexpected additional 15 miles of torturous hills after an already brutal day of climbing.

I”ve sung and Seussed.

I’ve saved turtles from certain doom.

I’ve had a tearful moment with a couple of Brits on a pub crawl.

I’ve met some very kind and completely crazy folks along the way.

I’ve heard a peace that surpasses understanding unexpectedly at the top of a long hot hill in Missouri.

I’ve crossed the Mississippi with a close friend on my bike with a police escort.

I’ve experienced an Atomic Pie Bomb.

I’ve crossed the Continental Divide nine times on my bike.

I’ve donated a pint of blood to mosquitos.

I’ve staggered in the awesome power of a tornado forming over the Kansas plain.

I’ve ridden my bike across the United States.

In the sum of all of these experiences, the pendulum swings to ‘Yes’ in answer to the questions: “Does God exist? Does He care? Does it matter?” This answer is neither completely confirmed by rational thought, nor is reached by the suspension of scientific reason. It isn’t just a good “feeling,” nor does it sit well with my reaction to the horror of some events of this world. This answer, call it faith, exists concurrently with my doubts.

On one of the final days of my trip I read a church marquee with one of my favorite verses from the bible. It is in Micah and it reads: “What does God require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God”. My journey has taught me two things relevant to this verse. The deeply personal and meaningful experiences of this trip point to the personal nature of the word “your” in this verse. And my doubts exist in harmony with the humility powerfully exhorted here.

Again, I reflect that this journey has been physical, emotional, and spiritual. The peace I feel at the completion parallels the varied nature of the journey itself. My understanding of faith and doubt existing simultaneously has brought me a measure of spiritual peace. The time to enjoy the beauty of this country has composed in me an emotional peace. The strenuous exercise and physical challenge has built a physical peace. And so then, this has been my journey:

I began on the Atlantic, and I ended in Peace.

Day 75: Pacific: Swisshome, Or to the Frickin Pacific Ocean.

26 miles (42 km) – Total final milage: 4,157 miles (6,626 km)

Job done.

Job done.

Over the last 75 days as I’ve inexorably rolled towards the Pacific Ocean I’ve daydreamed of what the moment would be like. As I crossed the Mississippi, I experienced a small bit of the exuberant joy I expected to see at the end. As I crested the continental divide at Hoosier Pass, I felt a small piece of the sense of accomplishment that I’d feel as I rolled my front wheel into the ocean. Creeping along under the blazing sun of the Eastern Oregon high desert, I sensed the feeling of relief of finishing a very tough challenge.

At times, I’ve become very emotional imagining the ending: to the point of a lump in the throat and incipient tears welling in my eyes.

Arriving after 4157 miles in total, and a mere 26 for the day, I broke off from Paul and Terry to experience this life moment in solitude, as I had begun it. My experience was very different than I had expected. I looked down at the waves lapping gently against my toes and thought:

“Well… that’s done.” None of the emotional fireworks and blazing glory of my expectations came to pass.

‘Huh’, I thought, ‘That’s unexpected’.

Maybe I should just stand here for a few minutes and see if something deep wells up.

… … … ‘Nope’ … … ‘Nada’ … … ‘Zilch’…

About five minutes into my completely blank emotional canvas, I finally came to a realization. I was actually having a very profound reaction. Peace. Simple, subtle and satisfied. I feel at peace.

Savoring the moment for a time, I stared out at the Pacific while feeling pacific. I then sauntered over to Paul, Terry and Tuan to get down to the very important business of documenting the destination while understanding that the whole time this adventure has been about the journey. Sounds cliche’, but there it is.

Persephone approaching the Pacifc through the sand dunes --Harbor Vista Park, Florence, OR.

Persephone approaching the Pacifc through the sand dunes –Harbor Vista Park, Florence, OR.

Getting a little bit of the Pacific Ocean as a souvenir. --Harbor Vista Park, Florence, OR.

Getting a little bit of the Pacific Ocean as a souvenir. –Harbor Vista Park, Florence, OR.

Selfie at Pacific. --Harbor Vista Park, Florence, OR.

Selfie at Pacific. –Harbor Vista Park, Florence, OR.

Pacific meets Atlantic.

Pacific meets Atlantic.

Over the past week, I’ve been composing my thoughts on the journey and trying to crystallize my most deeply felt and experienced lessons. I’l post those thoughts tomorrow.

Day 74: Signs of the end.: Eugene, OR to Swisshome, OR

60 miles (97 km) – Total so far: 4,091 miles (6,584 km)

Eugene is a well-intentioned town of biking lifestyle lovers… with a little bit further to go on implementation. The many bike paths are well maintained and superbly marked. Unfortunately, they end abruptly with no warning. Having a bike path down a busy highway that suddenly ends actually creates more of a hazard than no lane at all because it creates the false impression that bikes are no longer allowed. Fortunately, as we cycled out of town, the shared use road bike lanes gave way to a long cycle and jogging only path that wends its way through a wetland wildlife preserve.

 

A beautiful bike trail leading into Eugene, OR.

A beautiful bike trail leading into Eugene, OR.

The Williamette River leading into Eugene, OR.

The Williamette River leading into Eugene, OR.

The bike path wends its way through a wetland persevere as we leave the town of Eugene.

The bike path wends its way through a wetland persevere as we leave the town of Eugene.

Tuan riding out of Eugene on the way to the coast.

Tuan riding out of Eugene on the way to the coast.

 

It took us a long time to “get out of the farmyard” as Terry says. We hadn’t passed the city limits until almost noon. But, with yesterdays mileage eating final push, we have only 80-ish miles to the coast and two days to get there. The plan was to log 60 of that on this, the penultimate day, leaving 20 and change for a final victory lap. After breakfast. I am riding with two Brits, after all, and as exciting as this is, let’s not forget civilization.

The ride itself was the subdued beauty of the Oregon coast. Beautiful conifers towered above us as we cycled through terrain that was alternately rivers, lakes, and pastures. The road itself was quite narrow, which made for some tense traffic situations, but we take it all in stride as we approach the end.

More beautiful riding through the lush lands West of the Cascades.

More beautiful riding through the lush lands West of the Cascades.

I tried to resist seeing the “last blue mailbox” and “last hill over 150 ft” and other such trivial final millstones. But ultimately the signs around me were literal rather than metaphorical.

Right lane ends… *sniff* *sniff* It really does *sniff* *sniff*

Right lane ends… *sniff* *sniff* It really does *sniff* *sniff*

Ok. For Reals. It’s all downhill from here.

Ok. For Reals. It’s all downhill from here.

4,100 down, 47 to go.

4,100 down, 47 to go.

At around 7:00 we setup camp behind a church in Swisshome, Oregon. We’re just 13 miles from the coast as the crow flies, but our horses will cover nearly twice that distance over the final leg of our quest for the Pacific. Over dinner, we all put our gadgets away and reminisced about the people we’ve met on the trip. The stories piled up on top of each other as we each remembered a long chain of wonderful humanity stretching all the way back to the Atlantic.

Final campsite with the Brits.

Final campsite with the Brits and Tuan.

As I write this, the final activities of breaking camp are all around me. I should be at the coast by noon. I’m equal parts giddy with anticipation of reaching my goal, excited to be reunited with friends and family back home, and sad to be separating from my new friends, Paul and Terry.

Don’t cry because it’s over, Smile because it happened.

Don’t cry because it’s over, Smile because it happened.

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