Looking At Something

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When you spend a year doing one thing and not much else, you go a little nuts.

At least I do. If I don’t get to write or take pictures, I get seriously crabby. I start thinking of projects. I declare to no one in particular, with much defiance, I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU SAY, BY GOLLY, I WILL MAKE STUFF.

It doesn’t even matter what it is as long as it’s something. Which is how I started a winter break blog about being on winter break, or a blog about pups in sweaters, or PROBAATD.

It’s how I, an aspiring copywriter, started Franco Looking At Something — a wordless, writing-free, un-captioned photo project.

The concept is simple. There are cool things everywhere. You just have to look.

Sure, that’s easy to say when you’re in an awesome city. Even then, though, we’re subject to Getting Used To Everythingitis.

Everything on FLAS is taken with an iPhone 4S and Instagrammed. I’d toyed with the idea of using DSLR pictures, but the iPhone’s portability allows for more spontaneity and, let’s face it, it’s the camera I have with me at all times.

Sometimes the city’s so beautiful I do nothing but press a button. Other times I capture the mundane. My favorites are often the ones nobody likes.

The most popular so far? This one.

Take a gander. Hang a while. Raise yo hands in the air and wave them like you care a lot.

Because it’s important.

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Chinese Takeout

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My favorite type of travel is the long, lingering kind. The kind that sees the best of somewhere as well as the not so best.  The kind that lets me sit, study and hang.

It’s how I ended up in Staunton, Bristol and Fredericksburg. Their one main attraction, aside from a guaranteed paycheck, was that they weren’t Richmond.

When you stay in one place too long, the awesome becomes the norm. I remember arriving in San Francisco a few weeks ago and marveling at the big blue sky. “Oh yeah,” Franco said. “I guess it is pretty blue.”

It’s strange to think you can get used to this. But you do.

You develop a routine. You find your favorite coffee shop. Your Chinese restaurant. Your greasy breakfast place. It’s inevitable and yet deceptively satisfying.

Look at those tourists, you tell yourself. You’re not one of them.

Because they don’t stay in one place long enough to look past the big blue sky. They don’t know you don’t walk until the light tells you to walk. Or to order first before finding a table. Or to know the difference among what’s trash, what’s recyclable and what’s compostable.

You notice the absurdity in finding system and order in a place the ‘60s became the ‘60s, where cyclists wear helmets and nothing else, where nudist communes are just around the corner.

But you suppose when you’re free in most aspects of life, you can afford some structure.

Back East, there’s nothing but that.

You live to work. You know the endless grind that frustrates and disappoints, so much so that you take it out on people you’ll never see again. You push and you shove, fighting to be first to sit on the train, to walk 4 seconds faster, that your line is better than theirs so they should get behind yours.

You know it’s never really about the dude slowly crossing the street so much as it is about that shitty thing your boss said or that shitty thing your landlord pulled or that shitty thing that happened on the subway.

Just a year ago, I was that person. I remember visiting law firms in San Francisco and being more dressed up than the lawyers. Lawyers who did things. Who went home to their kids.

Who had lives.

It fascinated me so much I decided to go back this summer as a jobless wandering wanderer.

Because here, a late night means dancing past midnight. A commute means walking under the big blue sky. And a hectic afternoon means having to go to three coffee shops on the same block before settling on one.

It’s a glorious existence because it isn’t forever. Soon, school will start, the days will run together, the nights will blur, the end will come.

And so will the grind.

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To the ends of land

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I don’t have a hometown. Or at least I don’t have just one.

Saying Richmond feels untrue. By the time I moved there, I was a fully formed human being. Saying New York feels incomplete, because I spent a good chunk of my formative years in the Philippines. Saying the Philippines only touches on the beginning. And makes people ask what happened to my accent.

If home is where your heart is, then I’m a citizen of nowhere in particular, which is just another way of saying I have no real identity. I’m a mishmash of sorts, and for this I feel I can assume whatever personality I need at any given moment. I can blend in, use and lose my accents, one of which often emerges in a drunken haze.

“Where ees my MACdonalds?” I might say to you in slurred Taglish (Tagalog + English).

It’s one of the few remnants of my time on the other side of the world. That and my propensity to think I have some kind of survival skills in the outdoors. Like, if I happened to be left alone in the wild I’d be able to rub two sticks together and make fire. Or dip my index finger in my mouth before pointing to the sky and saying: NORTH.

It’s how I end up in these situations.

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On one of those San Francisco days when you can wear a T-shirt without having to pretend to be warm in it, I ended up on a leisurely hike. Leisurely, that is, as defined by avid outdoorsy people and He Who Kicks Ass For A Living.

As for me, I’d spent the last year walking three blocks to and from school and biking when necessary, like when I was in school super late and it was way too dark to brave the elements on foot (which, in downtown Richmond, is all the time).

Whatever dudes, I said to my imaginary naysayers. I can do this.

And do this I did.

I climbed some steps. I stood next to a wall. I walked on an incline so steep those 75-year-olds walking their Chihuahuas had no chance to get past me.

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The best part was seeing the many different shots I could take of the Golden Gate Bridge. The farther I walked, the more it revealed itself. There it went, behind a branch. And then between some shrubs. And then between some other shrubs.

I stopped every time I saw it, forcing the San Franciscans to surely roll their eyes. By the time I got to a clearing where the bridge was in full view, it suddenly was no longer picture-worthy. It wasn’t even trying anymore.

I tried quite a bit. I panted up some steps and paused somewhere mildly steep. I thought back to a dark period shortly post-undergrad when I ballooned and, upon stepping on an elliptical, immediately got tunnel vision. I now suspect there was a strong correlation between my beer pong prowess and the size of my stomach.

But that’s all in the past. I’m now in late 20s territory, where drinking is observed in moderation. Things come in dishwasher-safe glasses now, and I know just how long until I roll over and fall asleep (Not that I drink in bed alone or anything, ever).

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I even climbed atop a rock overlooking certain doom into more rocks. None of those pictures are here, of course, because I was too busy enjoying the view. But if some do happen to emerge and I appear to be crouching on all fours seemingly uttering a yelp of some kind, know that that was a momentary lapse of bravery.

I was very, very brave.

Meanwhile in Twitterville, vol. 1

Nevada sunset. Photo by Marco.

In case you missed it on my Twitter, here are the top 10 links that people have clicked on this month so far. I excluded all the links to this blog (I figured there’s room for only one narcissistic act of self-linking, and that’s going to be to my tumblr).

As you can see, it’s a pretty random list, which means people who read my tweets are just as random as me. I dig.

1. Always read the terms and conditions
2. Possibly the next engagement-photo craze
3. Who are the 1 percent?
4. I’m not as smart as I thought I was
5. I’d hire him
6. Outliers: The kind of book a Canadian would write, living in America
7. Why I love New York
8. Five resolutions for aspiring leaders
9. Sixth and Mission, illustrated
10. PressPausePlay

What you didn’t click on but should have: The Paris Review’s excellent interview with Maya Angelou (such great nuggets, e.g. “One of the great arts that the writer develops is the art of saying, ‘No. No, I’m finished. Bye.’ And leaving it alone.”) and neat quotes by scifi author Bruce Sterling on following your weird.

Happy Tuesday!

Bagnapper’s delight

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5 o’clock shadow. Chicago.

Just in case you were mystified by my lack of updates, let me direct you to my Twitter.

Long story long, I’ve been a tad preoccupied with a major research project at work, on top of being gone for nearly three weeks for Thanksgiving and meetings in Toronto, Chicago, San Francisco, Silicon Valley and San Francisco again – in that order.

I just got back last night and have quite a few pictures to post. Much of them I’ve already tweeted (giving you non-Tweeters the side eye yet again). I’ll try to post the rest, stories attached, over Christmas break (Yes, I’m referring to it like I’m still in college).

For now, here are some highlights:

This experience aside, Torontonians are lovely. I’m told there’s this thing on the CN Tower called the Edge Walk, in which you’re suspended above the cityscape with nothing between you and the hard, hard concrete but a flimsy-looking cord. It’s only open in the warm months, and I’ve been invited to do it should I return in the summer.

I think I’ll pass.

Chicago is an awesome city.  This place is delicious, and the aquarium was fun. Jellies are always my favorite, because ain’t no party like a cnidarian party.

For my first stint in San Francisco, I stayed in the Tenderloin — a result of coming into the research process quite late and having limited time to book and schedule meetings. Upon dropping me off, my cab driver asked why the heck I was staying there. He also answered my questions of “Am I going to die?” with things like: You’ll be fine. Pause. If anyone comes up to you, just walk away. Pause.

Cab peels away the second I close the door and I’m left standing there with my luggage, a lone tumbleweed rolling by.

Silicon Valley is a neat, smart town. Lots of tech companies and charming downtown strips. There, I saw the Apple Store Steve Jobs frequented, Stanford in all its splendor, and the mighty HP shed where it all began.

I was almost the victim of The Great Bagnapping Disaster. Granted, half of it was my fault for not paying close attention to the carousel (My name is Karen, and I’m a Tweetaholic). But that had never happened before, even when I used a very generic black suitcase, so I figured: Why now?

Sure enough, I looked up from my phone long enough to realize I was the last one standing at baggage claim while a sole red suitcase that kind of but not really resembled mine rolled past.

I lifted the noticeably empty suitcase and checked the tag: Blank.

It was time to panic. I debated between running to SFO airport security and fruitlessly filling out paperwork or hunting down the bagnapper.

I decided to go a-hunting.

Potential Bagnapper #1 was a girl in her late teens or early 20s. I could tell she was creeped out by the little Asian girl chasing her down. “Excuse me?” I said. She walked faster. “Excuse me?” She stopped once she realized her ride hadn’t arrived yet. She was cornered.

Me: Hi, I can’t find my suitcase, and I just wanted to check if (looks down to see her identical red suitcase has a big black tag on the handle. Internal monologue: “Crap. That’s not mine. Or is it? She could have just added it really fast. But it looks like it’s kind of hard to add and remove quickly. Or maybe –“) you might have taken my suitcase by mistake.

Her, not amused: It’s mine.

Me: Yeah, I just noticed the tag. Well, thanks anyway; I wonder where mine went.

Her, still not amused: Well, this is mine.

I walk away, muttering expletives.

Potential Bagnapper #2. Mom standing by the curb waiting for pickup. She’s with some kids, possibly hers, and totally not the bagnapping sort. I approach anyway.

Me: Hi, did you just fly in from Chicago? (Looks down at suitcase. No unidentified tag to be found, and it appears as plump as mine).

Her, friendly: Yes.

Me: Well, my suitcase looks just like that, and I was wondering if it might be mine. Can I just see the tag?

Her: …

Me, not waiting for a response, already looking at the tag tucked into the backpocket: It’s mine.

Her: Oh my God! I’m so sorry. Here you go. We just bought a new red suitcase just like this.

Me: It’s on the carousel. I’m just glad you’re still here.

Her: I’m so sorry!

I run to catch a cab, aneurysm averted.

Now, I tend to be discerning of people and their intentions, and she very well could have been a tired mom. Except for one big discrepancy: The suitcase on the carousel was empty. Mine was nearly 50 pounds. There was absolutely no way she could have mistaken mine for hers unless she happened to possess Buffy-like strength with the inability to gauge weight.

Somehow, I doubt that.

Final Score —

Me: 1

Attempted Bagnapper: 0

The Undead: Eternity