the automobile: the original individual mandate?

Ever since the Affordable Care Act was passed, there have been people fighting to repeal it, arguing that it will raise the cost of pizza, and the “individual mandate” made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court (and survived). The Individual Mandate was a controversial piece of the legislation, in short requiring that everyone carry health insurance or pay a fine for not doing so.

I was thinking about a trip I’m making to Wichita later this month and how my options are limited on how to get there. How it seemed like government policy over the years, starting with the “greatest public works project in history,” the Interstate System, is considered one of government’s greatest accomplishments, but how it has ended up reducing funding available for other forms of transportation, thus requiring Americans to own cars to make it from place to place even within their own city boundaries.

And it makes me wonder.

Is the automobile the original “individual mandate”?

Prior to the rise of the automobile, streetcar systems existed, municipal buses ran frequently, and pedestrians and bicycles were accepted and expected on streets. Once the car began taking over, the streets became less hospitable to non-motorized transportation and the cries of public transit not funding itself often drown out those that understand that the highways also don’t pay for themselves.

So where does that leave someone who doesn’t want to own a car, especially in a place outside the five boroughs or downtown Chicago?

Seemingly rather short of luck.

The average American way of life has evolved to a point where it is nearly necessary for a person who wants to be able to travel between destinations on a schedule to own their own vehicle. The Interstate System has made it easier to travel between cities on an individual basis, and the popularity of cars (among other things) ate away at the availability of passenger rail service.  Intercity buses don’t run nearly as often. Federal funding has long supported the roads-and-highways approach over a more holistic view of transportation that considers the movement of goods and people, not just the movement of vehicles.

Public transit is making a comeback in a lot of places, and the generational differences in many realms are beginning to show as Millenials enter the workforce and property-buying market in higher numbers, but it is still incredibly difficult to exist in many places without a car. I couldn’t make it to my soccer games, dance classes, or graduate classes using mass transit right now, and I live in the middle of the city. This also speaks to the sprawling development that has taken place, and without requisite density, transit just doesn’t make sense. All of this piles on to make an automobile a must-own for residents of most places. The “fine” in this case is either the increase in the amount of time spent traveling between destinations because of limited transit service, or the cost of ownership of a vehicle (which, when examined, really is staggering).

So, has policy over the years essentially made the automobile an unofficial “individual mandate”? Maybe with a little more active transportation, we wouldn’t need quite so much health care in the first place.

an inch deep and a mile wide

I’ve never been that good at anything.

Maybe that’s not quite fair. I’ve been okay at a lot of things, but I’ve never been really super amazing good at anything. I got good but not great grades in high school and college. I was a pretty good dancer, but not good enough to make a living doing it. I sang in choir, but no one is lining up to sign me to a label. I’m a lot better at knowing what I’m supposed to do on a soccer field than actually doing it. I go for runs, but I’m not fast and if I saw myself running down the road, I’d probably take pity. I still play clarinet, but even in my community band the talent of some of the other players amazes me. I write in this blog, but it hasn’t elicited any offers of employment in the field. (Not yet, anyway).

I know a lot of people who are really super awesome at what they do. I cringe at the phrase “creative types” being restricted to traditional arts as I pretty strongly believe that creativity is required in just about every type of profession in some form or another. That said, it takes a lot of passion and patience to go all in on an art as your profession. Clearly, I haven’t done that either, and frankly, I’m not really good enough at anything to go all in on it. I’ll stick to enjoying and supporting the creativity of those who have decided and managed to do that and keep dabbling in whatever strikes my fancy at the moment. If anyone manages to find a glass-blowing class in KC, please let me know because I have been searching high and low and NO ONE SEEMS TO WANT TO TEACH ME HOW TO BLOW GLASS.

What’s the point of this? I recently started at a Crossfit gym and it’s making all of these thoughts bubble up again. I only go twice a week, so I’m clearly not as “hard core” as a lot of the people you see in the photos or the Crossfit Games. Does that make me less of a Crossfitter? I’m training for a triathlon, but it’s not an Ironman, so does that make me less of a triathlete? I run, but I don’t have an interest in anything longer than a half marathon, so does that make me less of a runner? I’m working on an MPA, but don’t have a desire to be a City Manager, so does that make me less of a public administrator? I have an engineering degree, but am not on any kind of track to ever get my PE, so does that make me less of an engineer? I have an atmospheric science degree, but no longer forecast the weather for a living, so does that make me less of a meteorologist?

It’s really easy to get down a rabbit hole when you’re surrounded by amazing people who have a more singular focus on something at which they excel. For me, it also means that I have a tendency to feel like I don’t quite fit with a lot of groups. I hosted a going away party for a friend who played for the symphony a couple years ago, and some of the most talented musicians and artists in KC were present – and I felt so out of my league, I relied on some liquid courage to make it through the night.

In a recent conversation with a friend who moved from East Coast to West Coast a couple years ago and is still struggling to find a niche, we talked about my blog post on my move to KC and how he appreciated and understood the ideas in it.  I had plenty of time to reflect on that conversation since it took place in the middle of a multi-hour delay at the airport on my way back to KC after holiday travels and realized what had changed for me since I moved to KC.

It isn’t the activities I’m interested in, or the type of people I like to hang out with. It isn’t my profession or goals, though those have changed along with it.

It’s confidence.

Confidence in knowing that what I’m doing is what I want to be doing.  Confidence in my ability to be just as happy running slow, having the lowest weight total in a Crossfit class, missing the goal wide right during a soccer game and not sight-reading each piece of music in band right the first time. I’ve finally learned to not compare myself to what others are achieving and focus on my own self-improvement and enjoying the activities. I took an intro fencing class about a year ago and was out of town for the last class, so I made it up in a mid-level class with people who competed in the sport. While I’d like to say I held my own, for the most part they kicked my ass. A few years ago, that might have discouraged me to the point of never wanting to do it again – instead, it just inspired me to work harder because it showed me where I could head with more practice. I enjoy the activities I do more, I appreciate the people I’m doing them with more, and most importantly, it has allowed me to celebrate others’ accomplishments without feeling bad about not being able to do it myself. 1:30 half marathon? Strong work, friend! Grab a bottle of water and kick your feet up while I plod my way to the finish. Your work was selected to be in a show at a gallery space? Amazing! When’s the opening and when can I buy you a drink? It just feels so much better this way.

It may sound like I’ve just accepted defeat in not excelling at anything myself. Actually, it’s meant that I appreciate my own achievements more than I ever used to. I love playing soccer when I’m not worried about the fact that I’m probably going to screw up several times over the course of a game. Going for a run is much more satisfying now that I don’t beat myself up when I have to slow down or walk for a bit. And yes, I will look like an idiot when I try to do a handstand pushup, but at least I’m trying!

And if you’re still reading at this point, maybe that offer for a freelance writing gig will make its way to me any day now. 😉

“Live daringly, boldly, fearlessly. Taste the relish to be found in competition – in having put forth the best within you.” (Henry J. Kaiser)

“If we must say something, let’s at least only say true things.”

This morning, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend and mother of their three month old child, and then turned the gun on himself at the Chiefs practice facility. As one would expect, speculation and judgement blew up on traditional and social media. The reasons behind what happened may never be known. I’m not going to join in on that conversation in this post. What happened is a terrible situation and will affect many people for years to come, some for the rest of their lives.

We lost Don Harman and John McClure around this time last year. The families of both men used the tragedies as a way to shed light on what tends to be a rather taboo topic to discuss openly, and KCUR devoted an episode of Up to Date to it.  As most people know, the holidays can be a particularly stressful time of year, but what if we could help sooner? I’m in no way suggesting that every suicide is preventable or equating these three events to one another, but there are certainly things we can all do to acknowledge the importance of mental health in each one separately.

So, why do I care so much about this? After all, I didn’t know Belcher, nor did I know Don or John well, though I’d met both and have friends who were very close to both of them. I care because when public figures battle issues like depression or addiction, the community reacts.  People generally feel as if they actually do know those in the public eye. It makes us reflect on our own lives, the people we know, the situations we’ve encountered. Like other traumatic public events, it can bring us together.  If there was one thing about the reactions this morning that disappointed me, it was those discouraging open communication and discussion on the basis of it being disrespectful to talk about it. Judging, drawing your own conclusions about reasons, being a jerk (some people were actually speculating on the impact it would have on their fantasy leagues) – sure, those things are disrespectful. Talking openly and honestly about a situation, trying to understand it and how you identify with it- that’s human nature. Reaching out to those around you to do it is a coping mechanism. Discouraging those conversations is continuing this notion that talking about problems is showing weakness and should be avoided – wrong, wrong, wrong.

My sister majored in psychology in college and has worked as a case worker in a homeless shelter and currently does intake at a drug and alcohol addiction and rehabilitation center. She’s seen what people are dealing with when they walk through those doors, so I asked her to recommend some resources. No, she’s not a trained psychologist, but neither are most of us. Sometimes we are silently or passively called on as friends, relatives or coworkers to recognize issues before they get too far and to try to find ways to help. It seems there are really two parts to this – seeing the warning signs, but also dealing with the aftermath. These events can be traumatic and everyone reacts differently, sometimes in ways they couldn’t have anticipated.  One interesting organization she pointed me toward was Mental Health First Aid, a “train the trainer” type organization that “…helps the public identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders.” But again, not everything is preventable. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a number of resources describing what to expect after a traumatic event occurs and how to cope, whether it’s from the perspective of a family, a child, a school-based event or just generally for adults. These are mainly resources for how to deal as the friend or family member of someone dealing with demons. If you’re the one dealing with them yourself, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is one place to start. This list is most certainly not exhaustive, but good resources for learning more about mental health in general.

Some might argue that I’m in no way qualified to have recommended any of the above. To that I say, you’re probably right. I’m not trained in any of it, but learning as much as I can about these issues is my own personal coping mechanism and has been for a long time. It helps me better understand the world around me and the impacts these events have on everyone they manage to tangle in their webs. If I can help even one other person by putting them out there, it’s worth it. If I can spur even one conversation about mental health and its importance and heavy stigmatization in society, it’s worth it.

“If we must say something, let’s at least only say true things.” (Zadie Smith on David Foster Wallace, who we also lost to suicide)

(not so) alone in kc?

An article in The Pitch just got passed around my social circles like wildfire (Can’t a guy just make some friends around here? Maybe., 11/6/12) and as someone who moved to Kansas City as an adult with no partner coming along, no acquaintances and no connections to the city, I feel compelled to respond.  Everyone’s experience is different – but this guy’s experience is by no means the rule, and may even be the exception.  Instead of going point-by-point refuting the article (his experience was what it was, why bother?), I’ll just write my own.

I moved to Kansas City from the Detroit area in January 2007.  I got a job at a local TV station and had roughly 4 weeks to find a place, move and start work.  The weekend I came down with my dad to look for a place, there was a giant ice storm – I ended up getting to see approximately 3 apartments and rented a tiny one-bedroom in Merriam, KS.  I knew no one here, no one I knew knew anyone here, and I was moving by myself.  To say it was a rough period is an understatement,  but technology made it possible to stay in touch with friends and make the transition easier.

That said – you have to make friends.  Working nightside in TV meant I was working during all the hours when normal people go on dates, go to happy hour and generally hang out anywhere.  I met a lot of great people at the TV station, though, who understood my hours and the stresses of the business, which was nice.  I also got a retail job at Oak Park Mall a few mornings a week, where I met some great people who I never saw outside of the mall, but felt like part of something when we’d put out new displays all bleary-eyed at 8am.  I tried to meet people through some early-morning workout classes at the community center, but finally had to admit to myself that I didn’t want to meet anyone at 5:30am.

A year and a half later, I moved on from the TV station to a new job with normal hours and went a little nuts joining things. Over time, I’ve picked up a lot of activities – pickup soccer, teaching dance, playing in a community band, a serving job, started grad school, Sporting KC season tickets, went to library lectures, started both running and volunteering at runs, did a few bike races, and a number of other things that I dipped my toe in but never stuck.  But through all these things, I’ve met a huge number of people who were all passionate about something – there’s a lot of passion in KC.  It’s incredible to know people from so many walks of life from the various activities, and to meet people, all you have to do is show up.

I guess that’s the key – you have to show up.  I wasn’t invited to do 90% of the things I mentioned above.  I looked at community calendars, found things that sounded interesting and just did them.  Sometimes you go and don’t meet anyone – it happens.  But the only way to meet anyone is to put yourself in a position to do so.

Another thing – I used to think the social scene in Kansas City was tiny.  Turns out, the entire world is a tiny place.  I’ve met people here who know friends of mine from high school in Michigan through mutual friends in New York.  I’ve shown up to a work event only to find out that another attendee is a friend from pickup soccer.  I’ve blindly joined a community band only to find that a handful of the members are former coworkers from that retail job at Oak Park Mall from several years earlier.  The random connections are everywhere, and the quirky conversations that happen because of them can only take place if you put yourself out there and make an effort.

I’m still a relative newbie in Kansas City; I didn’t grow up here, I didn’t go to college anywhere close and I have no family connection to the city.  Like any city, you have to find a niche and start there – I’ve met some of my favorite people in this city through cold calling a modern dance company and asking if I could start a tap ensemble in their studio space, or creating facebook/twitter accounts for the weekly soccer kickarounds and inviting whoever managed to stumble across the pages to come play.  If you’re not interested in anything, nothing you do will make people magically show up on your doorstep and ask if you want to go grab a drink.  This is not unique to Kansas City – try that crap in Chicago or New York and you won’t get any farther.

I’m pretty happy with how things have turned out.  After a somewhat rocky start, the city has embraced me and I’ve given it a big old hug right back.  Let’s not blame Kansas City for not making friends – it’s not her fault.  And if you’re truly feeling like the gentleman who wrote the article,  find me at @angraor on twitter and we’ll go grab a drink.

Simon Says

There has been a lot of controversy recently related to comments Simon Borg made on the MLS-sanctioned podcast Extra Time Radio.  The podcast has since been pulled, but here are his comments:

It’s fine if you’re a female and you want to be a super-fan. Clearly go for it, that’s your choice. But there is something to be said for how appealing that might be to the other sex. Having a woman that’s such a fan, like painting your face, tuning in to every podcast. I don’t know how many males would be into that.

It’s great that in Kansas City there are a lot of women in the stands, it’s great, but for the guy who wants maybe a serious relationship… If you are following just casually, but if you’re such a die-hard, I don’t know, it comes a point that it is a bit of a turn-off.

I’m not really interested in commenting on what he said – that has been beaten to death at this point.  My comments are on the reaction of the community, and particularly as it goes through Women United FC since they are acting as the female voice on this issue.

Let’s start with how I became a soccer fan.  In high school, I took stats for the boys’ varsity soccer team, traveling with them to away games and learning from Lars Richters, an amazing coach and player.  In college, I attended games at the University of Michigan and even dragged my dad to a Stanford women’s game one year during spring break in San Francisco.  I didn’t start playing myself til I was an adult, but I’ve always loved the game and it never occurred to me that women were ever not supposed to be fans.  When WUFC was formed earlier this year, I appreciated the effort and mission to educate women about the game and bring people together to support their club and national teams.  I saw opportunities for women to support other women playing the game and create a community to encourage others to support their teams.

Then the Twitter accounts for each team appeared, and while there is a lot of useful information in them, there are also frequent examples of the various admins tweeting things about how hot players are or things related to attractiveness.  The door was opened by WUFC members to bring attractiveness into the debate.  Enter Simon Borg with his douchey-but-personal-opinion comments, and the crowd goes nuts.  MLS suspends him for 7 days and apologizes and women are defending their role as fans like the world is ending.  I completely respect all the work the women who started WUFC have done to grow the conversation, but defending us as being sexy by saying we bake cookies, wear lingerie and heels and spend money on merchandise?  Really?

If there’s a desire to defend the group or women fans as a whole, why not focus on our love for the beautiful game?  Our desire to see soccer as a sport succeed, whether it’s MLS, our national team or the little league team in the neighborhood?  There is so much more to this than questioning our attractiveness, and coming back with arguments like that just demonstrate an insecurity that we have to be considered equal to male fans AND we want them to think we’re hot too.  Until physical appearance and gender roles get taken out of the conversation entirely, we won’t be equals.  Screaming with outrage over a man not finding a behavior attractive is just doubling down on the reasons women were marginalized in the first place.  A comment was made on the Ladies of SKC facebook page that said, “I’ve never known a man who had to choose between being a serious fan of the sport or oogling the beauty of Hope Solo.”  I totally agree – but the conversation didn’t start about the women saying players were hot, it started with the attractiveness of women who are “superfans.”  Attractiveness is relative, and just because one man thinks a behavior isn’t attractive, it isn’t an indictment on that behavior.  Besides, given comments he’s made on other topics, who is actually trying to attract Simon Borg anyway?

Smart is sexy.  Confident is sexy.  Interest in fostering community is sexy.  Let’s not get so in the weeds on one man’s opinion that we begin to be defensive about our own role in growing the game. We know who we are and where we came from – let’s act like we belong here.

“Love ain’t the answer, nor is work”

Jamie Cullum has a great song (and, in fact, album by the same name) called Twentysomething.  I’m a big fan of his music, but the title track has been creeping in to my head lately as I listen to the thoughts of my friends and similar-aged coworkers.  Anyone between the ages of about 25 and 35 seems to experience this and call it different things, though the most common seems to be “quarter-life crisis.”

After years of expensive education
A car full of books and anticipation
I’m an expert on Shakespeare and that’s a hell of a lot
But the world don’t need scholars as much as I thought

So, here we are.  Late 20s/early 30s, some of us are married, some used to be, some of us vow never to be. But there is a common thread – we’ve been out of college long enough to feel like it’s in the not-so-recent past, we’ve been in jobs for 5-10 years and we’re feeling an itch. We’ve been pigeonholed into generational descriptions that tell us we’re self-entitled brat spawn of Baby Boomers with no real work ethic and expect trophies for wiping our own asses. This characterization can be particularly frustrating to the hard-working overachievers among our ranks who get judged by the Baby Boomers we’re trying to get to hire us, but many of us have gone out and started our own ventures with other like-minded individuals who want to change the world.

We’re of the generation for whom the Peace Corps has always existed, where having a non-profit career doesn’t automatically make you a hippie and being conservative doesn’t mean you’re automatically against every social safety net.  Sure, around election time the party lines get drawn in the sand, and the rhetoric of late has been harsh and often misleading, but at some level, at least that discourse exists.

So, what’s the problem?  Things seem pretty good, in general.  The economy could be in better shape, and college could’ve been cheaper, but you’re doing okay. Things are looking up.  And yet…something just isn’t quite right.

We join kickball teams and dodgeball teams and Young Friends of [insert cause here]. We volunteer at the food bank/river cleanup/charity of choice. We go to happy hours, we meet people, we become Facebook friends and have a false sense of intimacy with people we’ve met once. It’s all part of the game.  But, for the most part, we still have a core group of friends who we text rather than write on their Facebook wall and go for dinner with when there’s no competing group event (or maybe we drag them along so we don’t have to show up alone).

As with many things in life, though we feel like we’re the first to feel this way, it’s an old idea.  John Mayer sang about it, John Cusack (with help from Nick Hornby) went through it on screen, and Erik H. Erikson was already writing about it in the 1950s.  According to Erikson’s Theory of Personality, every human goes through eight (or later, nine) stages of development.  The two that are relevant to this story are stages six and seven.

Stage Six – Intimacy vs. Isolation

“This is the first stage of adult development. This development usually happens during young adulthood, which is between the ages of 20 to 24. Dating, marriage, family and friendships are important during the stage in their life. By successfully forming loving relationships with other people, individuals are able to experience love and intimacy. Those who fail to form lasting relationships may feel isolated and alone.” (thanks, wikipedia!)

Stage Seven – Generativity vs. Stagnation

“…the second stage of adulthood and happens between the ages of 25-64. During this time, people are normally settled in their life and know what is important to them. A person is either making progress in their career or treading lightly in their career and unsure about if this is what they want to do for the rest of their working lives. Also during this time, a person is enjoying raising their children and participating in activities that gives them a sense of purpose. If a person is not comfortable with the way their life is progressing, they’re usually regretful about the decisions and feel a sense of uselessness.” (thanks again, wikipedia!)

So, there it is – we’re all on this edge of transition between the sixth and seventh stages of our life.  We have jobs, but we’ve been in them for a while and are silently wondering if this is really how we want to spend the next 30-40 years of our lives.  Maybe we decide that’s not what we want, but then what?  Knowing what you don’t want can sometimes be easier than figuring out exactly what it is you do want.  We’ve moved on from the wide-eyed ambition of the newly-graduated college student phase and know how hard the real world can be and it’s pretty easy to get jaded. We join too many things and don’t care for ourselves enough, or we don’t do enough outside of work and regret the lack of interaction with non-coworkers.

So, how do we avoid the full-on quarter-life crisis? No promises on any of these – your mileage may vary – but as someone who is emerging from a bit of a crisis, I’m guessing some of these will work for others too.

1. Take care of yourself. I don’t just mean eating right and exercising (although that helps). Go to sleep when you’re tired, stay in on a Saturday, or just skip a weekly activity that has lost its luster. Sometimes it’s easy  to commit yourself to so many things that it’s no longer fun to participate in any of them. When you hit that point, recognize it, take a step back and re-prioritize. If a new activity comes up and sounds interesting, drop some of the dead weight you’ve accumulated before diving in to something else. If you’re overscheduled, taking care of yourself usually falls to the bottom of the list when without it, you’ll never make it through every spin class, charity happy hour and indoor soccer game you’ve committed to that week.

2. Take care of others. There’s something to be said for reaching out to a friend that you see reaching this point and offering to help them slow down a bit. When you’re so focused on your own activities, it’s easy to lose sight of friendships that might need a little love or coworkers that might be drowning in their workload. Once you’ve been able to refocus your own activities, those will become much more evident – kind of like when you buy a white car and all of a sudden everyone on the road drives white cars. You know what they’re going through, and whether it’s buying them a drink after work, coming over to help power-wash the deck or helping finish up that project that has been lingering on their desk, they’re likely to feel a huge relief and you’ll feel good too.

3. Make the call. Whether it’s your sister, your high school friend or that guy you used to play in a band with, there’s someone out there that you’ve lost touch with and wish you hadn’t. You got busy, he got busy and now someone with whom you shared a lot is off the radar. It’s easy to feel like you’ve kept in touch because you know what they’re up to via Facebook posts or Twitter updates, but it’s more of that false sense of intimacy mentioned above. Now that you’ve refocused your activities and have a little you time again, send an email or make a call and try to rekindle that friendship. It may or may not work, but at least you tried and it’s no longer hanging over you. Best case scenario? You resume what used to be a great relationship and now have someone to recall that hilarious camping weekend that no one else you know now was there for.

4. Ring it up. Money is always tight, and it always will be. But if you spend all your time working and never reward yourself with anything, where’s the satisfaction? It doesn’t have to be anything expensive – maybe it’s just a milkshake on the way home from a hard day or buying the $12 bottle of wine instead of the $5 bottle. Maybe it’s that adorable vintage dress you’ve had your eye on or a new pair of running shoes. Either way, it’s something that allows you to enjoy the spoils of what you spend 40-60 hours a week doing. This isn’t to say that buying big screen TVs and expensive clothing is a way to make you feel better; retail therapy often ends in buyer’s remorse, which puts you worse off than before. Figure out what gives you an incremental boost – it might be something experiential rather than physical, like a hiking trip or skydiving. Just find a healthy relationship with your money and how to use it most effectively to both save and lead a lifestyle that makes you happy.

5. Take a step back. Are you on a career path that is dictated largely by what you majored in in college, which was dictated largely by what you were good at in high school?  News flash: you’ve probably changed since then.  As Mr. Erikson so keenly pointed out, we may be feeling regretful about decisions and have a general feeling of uselessness right about now. An informal poll of my fellow engineering students in college revealed that many of them already knew engineering wasn’t for them but were on a path and felt compelled to complete it. It’s never too late for a total change – figure out what calls to you and then figure out how to do it. A great example of this can be found in VaxTrac, a company started by twentysomethings who wanted to use their varied skill sets to do something more meaningful. (Full disclosure, one of the founders is a college friend of mine.) It may not pay as well as your current job, but if you feel satisfied at the end of the day, isn’t it worth the smaller paycheck? Some might say no, and that’s everyone’s individual prerogative. Even if that is what you decide, at least take some time to evaluate where you are, geographically, career-wise or otherwise and decide if you still want to be there in 5 weeks, let alone 5 years. It may be as easy as keeping your current job and volunteering at other types of organizations outside of work. Closeted veterinarian? I hear animal shelters are always looking for help. Always wanted to teach kids? Look in to after-school tutoring programs or Big Brothers/Big Sisters and become a mentor.

Or, you could just follow the wisdom of Jamie Cullum.

Love ain’t the answer, nor is work
The truth eludes me so much it hurts
But I’m still having fun and I guess that’s the key
I’m a twentysomething and I’ll keep being me

By The Numbers

If you’ve never gone on a road trip by yourself before, I’ll just say this – if you get the opportunity, do it.  I just got back from 9 days on the road with no companion besides my music and my thoughts, and not once during the week did I feel lonely or wish I had someone with me.  Sure, I would have had fun if others had gone too, but there’s something to be said for not answering to anyone but yourself for an entire week.

I kept track of the trip mainly through Twitter, which you can find either through the feed to the right or directly at twitter.com/angraor, if you want a recap that way.  I don’t want to just rehash the entire journey so here’s my trip exclusively by the numbers.

Miles Traveled – 2458

This is probably the most impressive number of the trip, or at least the one with the most digits.  My journey left KC and headed to Madison, WI, then to Green Bay, followed by the Michigan cities of Manistique, Traverse City, Grand Rapids, Mears, Holland and the metro Detroit area.  Several quick stops along the way, but those are the big ones.

Breweries Visited – 6 (Beers Sampled – 16)

Unintentionally, this ended up a pseudo-beer trip.

Vintage Brewing Company – Madison, WI.  Black Mirror (Double Black IPA) and Woodshed IPA.  Both tasty, but the double black IPA was outstanding.

Titletown Brewing Company – Green Bay, WI.  Hopasaurus Rex (IPA), Loose Caboose (Belgo-American IPA) and One Hop Wonder Sterling (Pale Ale).  The favorite here was definitely the Hopasaurus Rex.

Right Brain Brewery – Traverse City, MI.  I only had the cask-conditioned Dead Kettle IPA at this stop because I didn’t realize until I got there that they didn’t serve food.  Oh well, the beer was tasty and I bought a growler of the regular Dead Kettle IPA mainly because I really liked the growlers.

Founders Brewing Company – Grand Rapids, MI.  Centennial IPA, Devil Dancer (triple IPA) and Blushing Monk (cherry beer, almost a lambic).  This place was probably my favorite physical location of all the brewpubs.  Great indoor and outdoor space, excellent food and great service.  The Devil Dancer was my favorite beer on the trip that I hadn’t already had prior to visiting the brewery, and I bought a bottle of that to bring home.

New Holland Brewing Company – Holland, MI.  Imperial Hatter (imperial IPA), Smoked Hatter (smoked IPA), Dragon’s Milk (strong ale), El Mole Ocho (Mexican spiced beer) and regular old Mad Hatter (IPA).  I’d been here before, but it’s another great space in downtown Holland, which is a very walkable and friendly area.  I didn’t care for the Mexican beer, but it was worth trying.  The Imperial Hatter was excellent, and I bought a bottle before I hit the road again.

Bell’s Brewery – Kalamazoo, MI.  Two Hearted Ale (IPA).  I met a friend for lunch at the Eccentric Cafe and just stuck with an old standby on this visit.  I did purchase a couple bottles of the Double Cream Stout to bring with me.  The beer garden, which was a new addition since the last time I had visited, was delightful and spacious – highly recommended!   I had the pulled pork sandwich for lunch which just further proved to me that no one compares to Oklahoma Joe’s. 🙂

Jolly Pumpkin Cafe and Brewery – Ann Arbor, MI.  This opened after I moved out of Michigan and I hadn’t had the chance to make it over yet, so I jumped on the opportunity this time around.  I had a great dinner with the family and had their Wanderer IPA.  It was tasty, but the iO Saison that I purchased a bottle of and brought back was incredible – brewed with rose hips, rose petals and hibiscus, I wasn’t sure I’d like it but it was fantastic.

States Visited – 5

Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois.  Pretty straightforward.

Interesting People Met – Lots

Traveling by yourself, you end up talking to people with whom you might never strike up a conversation if you had travel companions.  You can collect stories like…

…the guy from Louisville who had flown to Seattle to ride his bike across the country – more about his journey on his blog.

…the couple at Right Brain who were heading back to Indianapolis the next day but were just as regretful that they had to leave the lake as I was.

…the couple from Omaha at the campsite next to me in Holland who used to live in Michigan, and the guy used to haul Clearly Canadian (remember that stuff?  I didn’t until he mentioned it, and then it all started flooding back!  And they still make it!).

…the bartenders at each of the breweries who had their own interesting stories, like the one at New Holland who was killing time after returning from the service while waiting on jobs at various police departments around the country.

…or the couple traveling across the country from Ontario in their modified pickup truck who I met at a scenic overlook. They told me I sounded Canadian, which told me it was time to leave the UP.

Everyone has a story, and it was great to be able to have a schedule flexible enough to stay and chat!

Fuel Mileage Average – 26.5 mpg

I wasn’t sure how this would turn out given I was traveling with a bike on the roof, but I’m pleased with the mpg.  There was enough city driving in there to bring the average down a bit, especially with an accident in Iowa on the way back and tons of tourist traffic through places like Traverse City and Petoskey.  For a 9 year old domestic vehicle, my little Ford Focus served me pretty well on this trip.

Most Extended Visit at a Planned Stop – 1 hour anticipated, 5 hours actual
(National Railroad Museum)

Seriously one of the coolest museums I’ve been to.  Lots of old trains available for climbing on, photographing, reading about and generally being impressed by.  It was right near my hotel in Green Bay and was my first stop when I got into town.

Hours Spent on the Beach in a Single Day – 9

On Wednesday, I went for a dune ride in the morning and spent from around 2:30pm until sunset (around 9:30pm) at the beach in Holland.  It was one of the most glorious days of the trip.

I won’t wax poetic about the introspective opportunities a solo trip gives a person, but they are well worth the time spent on the road.  Thanks to everyone who followed along with me and commented on my tweets and photos I uploaded when service was available – I appreciated every one, and it helped to know there was some kind of audience for them!