Monday, October 20, 2008


Last weekend (these Monday posts are all in reverse chronological order from actuall occurrence), I went on an Academy of Art sponsored trip to Yosemite. For those of you who don't know, I attend the Academy. In San Francisco. California. With all the gays, hippies, and tech geeks.

Sadly, my school is lacking in all of those interesting characters. In my opinion, the composition of my school could use a bit more colorful variety. For an art school it has a very traditional student base. Previous art pun was unintended.

Well, despite their lack of colorful characters, the Academy puts on some ridiculously great activities. Ridiculous because I pay a ridiculous amount in tuition, and I imagine a huge chunk that goes to mixers, parties on boats, free pizza, and booze. Golly this is a post for digression!

Anyway. $65. A weekend in Yosemite. Covers travel, lodging, and most meals. How can you not do that? I tried talk ing my friend, Claudia, into coming but she was all tripped out. Er. She had already been on too many trips that month. I decided to venture alone. Surely I could make a few friends on the trip, right?

So the morning of the trip, I of course was running insanely behind, trying to do laundry, go the gym, do some last minute shopping, and drop off a cd at a friend's house. All by 11:30. Ha!

My hoodie was still damp when I headed to the Academy Admin Building. We ended up waiting two and half hours for the bus to arrive to pick us up!

That two hours could have been wisely spent schmoozing up to a new group of friends, but I figured there would be plenty of time for that and decided to read instead. Also, I felt incredibly awkward because most of the kids were freshman. Yes, 26 year old John surrounded by a bunch of teenagers. Isn't this the part where I am supposed to be like teaching them or something? Yeah. I just coudln't bring myself to be the creepy older guy trying to befriend the youngins.

So bus ride down I also read (thank heavens for ginger root and its magical anti- car sick properties). We got there super late and were assigned cabins. Dang it! Why didn't I try and put myself out there more? Now I had no idea who to sit with at dinner.

I got in line at the lodge for dinner. I was pleasantly surprised by everything. The cabins were reasonably decent. The lodge was really nice, and the menu was totally California poshy (you know with loads of arrugula, blue cheese, polenta, and crap).

Still unsure of where I would sit, the woman who took my order just lumped me in with the kids ahead of me and assigned us all to a table. Awkwaaaard!

They were actually pretty cool, but after covering everyone's majors, it became painfully clear we were in SUCH different places in our lives. They were still getting used to being away from home and college, I was getting used to thinking about how I am seriously going to balance this prospectively demanding career and raising children. What drove the point home even more, I was the only at the table with a beer. I don't drink with every meal (or even many meals), but I had ordered the pork roast and I thought beer was better option than the fruit punch.

As soon as dinner was over, I quickly retreated to the safety of my laptop. Thankfully, there was WiFi at the lodge! Ah. Modern technology. The night passed with out much event. We were all in bunk beds and the guy in the bunk above me woke me up when he came in at like 2 am. And woke me up every time he shifted in the bed. He was a pretty big guy. Oddly enough, I still have no idea what he looks like. I never saw his face.

The next morning we were supposed to take a shuttle in to the park and then we were free to go wherever we wanted. We were encouraged to stick in groups. Great. Still no group. At breakfast, a very sweet Asian girl came up to me and boldly asked, "Did you come here alone?"

Sigh. "Yes. I did."

She marveled at my bravery. I marveled at my desperation. I figured at this point everyone must know about the freak here alone; the pariah with the computer bag and recent issue of Conde Nast Portfolio (who brings a computer bag and business magazine on a camping trip?).

Sitting around the fire in the lodge, I realized time was running out. I sat by a trio with whom I had some cordial conversation a few times thus far. I hoped they would bring it up, but they did not, so I screwed up my courage and asked one of the hardest questions I have ever had to ask: "Would you mind if I join you guys on your hike?"

Sandra, the angel that she is replied, "Of course!"

And like that I was warmly welcomed into the group. They are really so great. The trio consisted of Sandra, a fashion student from Mexico, she is a bit older than me, also Adrianne, another fashion student, from So Cal, and Adrianne's boyfriend, Radi, from Kuwait, who just so happened to be getting his undergrad in Advertising.

They were interesting and easy-going, and actually offered some helpful advice, which is how we ended up at the Yosemite General Store hunting down a fleece sweater for me. Fleece. I hadn't owned anything fleece since 1999, and that was with a great deal of reservation. It is my own humble opinion that one should avoid synthetic fabrics as much as possible, unless they are quite intentionally ironic and/or vintage. But it was the late 90's, the Backstreet Boys were hot, and sometimes we made fashion choices with total abandon and disregard for good taste (witness the proliferation of skunky highlights at the time).

Anyway, there I was hunting down a fleece sweater that would not incite my gag reflex. I also purchased a walking stick, which is perhaps my favorite purchase of the last six months! I have been meaning to purchase one for a long time now. As many of you know, my arthritis burns like a mother sometimes when I go hiking, and being able to redistribute some of my weight to my upper body, would be a dream. Sometimes, when my knees would be hurting so bad I wanted to rip off my own legs and beat myself with them (only a mild exaggeration), I would like at hikers with those cool ski-pole-looking walking sticks with envy. I didn't buy one of those. It's just a simple wooden staff with a rubber heel. I will never go hiking without it again. Next hiking investment: those ski poles.

So the hike was great. My new friends were really awesome. We got some great pictures (which I will get around to posting on Facebook sometime this week). We hiked up to Vernal Fall.

That evening, back at the lodge was nice. The fire was crackling, there was a live band that came to perform (mostly Radiohead covers), and we decided to play a game of Uno. I had not played in a while, but it's Uno. Totally simple game. Wrong. Apparently, every human being on the planet has their own rules for playing Uno. We all tried to be amenable to suggested ammendations, but the game became one those interminable games where you stop caring who wins anymore. I think we had to shuffle and renew the draw deck 5 times. Maybe six.

Finally Radi won. Although that could be contested. I worked on an assignment for Art Direction for a while. I showed some of my work to Adrianne, Radi, and Sandra. Radi enjoyed chiming in on the assignment I was working on. He showed me some cool new little tricks on Photoshop (which I really should have known already).

I decided to unwind with a glass of red wine before bed. It was perfect. So satisfying.

And then the craziness began. Once the band finished their last set, I went to go put back my empty glass of wine, when the Academy coordinator offered me another glass. Apparently he and the owner of the lodge were good friends and the owner was opening up bottles left and right and the vino was flowing like a pagan festival. Let us please keep in mind the author of this story had but two glasses of wine. That's it. Two. For those of you who have imbibed with said author, however, you know two is all it talks for our light-weight writer to get drunk off his patootey.

I was fine, though. It was everyone else! The coordinator got super drunk and started spouting some very interesting stories about previous Academy trips. The lodge owner ended up ripping his own shirt (I guess in some mock display of anguish over a departing guest??). Then there was the event which I had never before witnessed in all of my life: the rafter race.

A lodge tradition, apparently two people race across the rafters under the vaulted ceiling. I guess the winner gets to keep both of his legs intact.

A bit later, as we are all clearing out, one the of students (a kind of older guy from Czechoslovakia) who clearly had too much to drink about three hours ago, boldly declares he is going to harass the girls' cabin and "make sure they are okay". Oi veh. We chase him down. Three times. And convince him to just go straight to bed. One of his friends made sure of that, I trust.

Meanwhile, the lodge owner must also be chased down before he gets into his car and drives drunk. Here I am, not sober enough to be entirely sure of my own footing trying to flag down this guy who is tripping over his own feet. He got angry that I tried to help him, insisting he knew the place better than I did because he owned it. I bit my tongue to keep from saying that he was so drunk he probably couldn't find his way to the nearest tree.

Afterward, I listened to the coordinator ramble for a bit and then managed to finally bow out and return to my own cabin. Whew! I hate having to take care of people that don't know how to moderate.

The next morning I found out our lovely Czech friend had left a fun surprise for everyone in the bathroom. Vomit. He had been vomiting throughout the night, and the bathroom and adjacent area reeked. Rather than venture into the bathroom myself, I chose to gather my belongings and high tail it to breakfast. Sandra was pretty pissed at the Czech guy.

The drive home was pretty quiet. I think a lot of people were hungover. I just wanted more sleep! I had been running on next to no sleep for weeks now and this weekend was not helping, going to bed well after midnight and waking up early in the morning.

It was wonderful to get out of the city. The trip was worth it just for that. San Francisco really is its own bubble, and it was an experience just to see suburbia on the pit stops we made. Yosemite itself was wonderful. I love trees, and thought of my dear friends Sara Black, Nathalie Staffler, and John Kovalenko who really understand what it is to commune with the trees and feel their spirit. I wished they were there with me. I wished I could find friends like them in San Francisco. It would be a wonderful gift if I could. I don't know how many people really experience nature in that way.

When I returned to the city, however, I was also glad to be back home. For better or worse, this city has become my home.

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