A-Tay NOT in America

Well, here I am, at the end of my five week trip/vacation in Jordan: my first time leaving the country.  A few people have been repeatedly asking how my trip has been/if I am going to write anything about it.  So I gave my usual stock answers about how great everything is, accompanied by vague intentions about possibly writing something.  But, there is probably no better time to write down a few quick thoughts than that awkward period of time between when you finish packing everything up and when you actually have to leave for the airport.

A quick note: the thoughts and opinions expressed in this post are strictly my own. This means that I’m going to try to avoid the subjects that every American who has ever traveled to Jordan and written something about it covers.  If you want to hear about how crazy the roads are, how colorful the markets are, how quickly you get used to the call to prayer, or anything along those lines, simply google “American abroad in Jordan.” I’m sure you’ll find plenty of descriptions of these things. 

Also, I make no claims about people actually wanting to read anything I write.  It would be against the spirit of this blog to do so.  But that being said, if you’ve even read this far, you must really care about me.  So thanks for that.  (Or maybe you’re just bored at work. That’s fine too.)

On Leaving the Country for the First Time

As previously mentioned, this is my first time leaving the country.  After studying Arabic and the Middle East for five years, I landed an internship in the West Bank for 5 weeks.  I was thrilled; my mother was somewhat less than thrilled.  I spent months convincing my mother that my wanting to travel to the Middle East was not some outrageously convoluted plan to get myself killed and finally bought my airfare.  The next morning, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped.  The rest, as they say, is history. Escalation ensued, my internship was canceled, and I changed my airfare to come to Jordan instead, with absolutely no plans for how I would spend my time here.  I was still thrilled; mother dearest still wasn’t.

22 hours of flights and layovers later, I touched down in Jordan, and my adventure began! I arrived at the apartment I would be staying in, made some smalltalk with my roommates, decided that they would do for five weeks, and collapsed on the tiny little bed in my room.  The next morning, I woke up, and for the first time in my life, I found myself sincerely wishing that I had traveled abroad on some sort of nice program. What a luxury that would have been!  To have other people be responsible for almost every aspect of my life.  Because, simply put, I had no idea what I was doing.  I didn’t know what to do, where to do it, how to get there, what to say when I got there, how to tell if I was getting ripped off, how to tell if I was lost, how to contact someone if I got lost…. The list goes on.

Then I simply said “screw it,” put some clothes on and walked out the door.  It might take me a little bit longer to figure things out than if I had several people telling me what to do, but I had all the time in the world. I had nowhere to be: no appointments to be late for, no classes to miss, no fixed meal times.  It was great.  I spent five weeks walking all over Amman, finding hole-in-the-wall cafes, falafel joints, bookstores, and more. I kinda feel like I learned to ride a bike without training wheels. There were some falls (getting lost in a city as hilly as Amman in the dead heat of August isn’t tons of fun), but in the end, whether I not I had training wheels didn’t actually matter.  Because it turns out none of this is very hard.

Plus, now if I ever travel abroad on a program, it’ll probably seem much easier.  Or I’ll hate how structured it is. Turns out five weeks with nothing to do (in a good way) was just right.

On Language

So, this was in no way an immersive experience. I never planned or expected it to be, which is for the best, as that would have been nearly impossible.  Too many people in Amman know English quite well and would simply prefer to speak to me in English as opposed to my extremely broken Arabic, and I can’t blame them. Speaking to someone with my poor speaking/listening/comprehension skills is probably infuriating; I wouldn’t have the patience for that either.

“But Alex,” you say, “you’ve been studying Arabic for 5-6 years now. Surely you can speak well. You’re just being modest!”

No. Arabic has a severe case of “spoken-language-much-different-from-written-language-itis.” I’ve spent my time studying Arabic mostly studying Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), the language in which almost all Arabic is written.  It’s also used in things like news broadcasts, government speeches, etc. To prove to you that I’m not just being modest, I’ll go right ahead and tell you that I’m pretty damn good at MSA. While here, I read about 700 pages of Arabic.  I know grammar rules better than many native speakers probably do. But they know native speaking wayyyyy better than I do. In spoken Arabic, the grammar changes, the pronunciation changes, the vocabulary changes, and you no longer get to choose the rate at which you are presented with information (I get to read as quickly or as slowly as I please).  And the best part? Pretty much each Arabic-speaking country has its own variant.

So when I get in a cab and word-vomit the short phrase needed to get me where I want to go (and which I have been practicing under my breath while I wait for a cab), often the cab driver will start speaking to me in Arabic.  Despite the fact that I knew this was coming, I find myself unprepared and have to ask the man to repeat himself. Strike one.  When it is eventually my turn to speak again, I word vomit a little more; mispronunciations and grammar errors abound.  Strike two. Finally at some point, I will find myself repeating “I don’t understand” again and again, at which point the cab driver will revert to English or, preferably at this point, silence for the rest of the ride.

The most effective way to learn the spoken form of Arabic is simply through practice, but that shit is hard. Everyone mumbles.  Everyone interrupts each other. There is constantly background noise. It isn’t impossible. I’m sure I’ve gotten a little better while here, but trying to learn under these circumstances has made me marvel at the capabilities of the human brain.  Because I know that when working with English, it’s no problem if someone mumbles.  When people speak over each other, I can understand both people. I even prefer there to be background noise in most cases. But hey, I guess that’s what 23 years with a language will get you.  I still just a five year old in Arab years.

Other Random Thoughts

-I am a creature of habit through and through. I would say that while here, 95% of the time, I ate at one of five places.  They all know me now.  They all know my order (of course I order the same thing every time). And they are all sad that I am leaving today.  I would say that their books will show a slight slump in their business, but I would frankly be surprised if any of them keep real records. More like, “How much falafel did we sell today? Lots? Good, I’ll just remember that we sold lots again.”

-The ability of Arab men to simply sit in a chair for most of the day, doing nothing but occasionally drinking a small cup of coffee (fetched for them by some young lad), is truly a beautiful thing.  They don’t seem to have a care in the world.  Or maybe they have too many cares and have decided to give zero fucks and just sit in a plastic chair on the sidewalk all day.  Either way, these guys know what’s up.

-It turns out a have a very strong aversion to looking like a tourist or doing touristy things. This almost came to be a real problem. I was this close to not going to Petra or Wadi Rum. And that would’ve been foolish.  Wadi Rum is the coolest place I have seen in my entire life. So, note to self: don’t write off touristy things immediately.  Maybe there’s a reason why everyone does it.

-I think every shopkeeper in Amman learns the phrase “Hi, wel-come to Jordan!” as some weird hazing ritual or something. Because they all say that as you walk past.  Although I suppose that’s better than the 15-ish year-old punk who walked past me one night, turned and said, “Hi, wel-come to Jordan! Fuck you!” and then walked away snickering with his buddy.

-If there is such a thing as too much falafel, I have not yet reached that point. Five weeks of eating falafel for at least one meal a day is not too much falafel. One gentlemen at the divine little falafel place named Abu Mahjoub even started giving me a falafel to eat while he takes 30 seconds to make my sandwich.  Now that’s customer service.  Imagine if a restaurant gave you a slider to enjoy while you wait for your full-sized burger. That is a restaurant that I would frequent.

-There is something incredibly empowering about people asking you for directions.  Even more rewarding is being able to give them accurate directions in Arabic. Only happened once – yesterday – but it was a moment of triumph. Then gentlemen in the car did try to convince me to convert to Islam. That’s how good my directions were.

-I don’t think I ever got truly ripped off while here. I may have paid a bit more than I really needed to once or twice, but I don’t think I was swindled. There were two definite attempted swindlings, but I think I handled them.

To Wrap Things Up

You’re still reading! That’s great!

Looking back, this trip has been pretty great.  It was a bit underwhelming at times, but even my laziest, quietest days contributed memories or small triumphs.  I saw a lot of great places and sites, met a lot of good people, ate a lot of falafel, and even got some reading done too.  I got a lot out of the trip. I can’t quite offer a more concrete description of what exactly I got.  But I think it’s important that the best part about my time here isn’t that I’ve finally been to the Middle East.  

Anyway, if you’ve read this far, you are probably a close friend or family member.  In which case I’ll probably see you in NY or NC in the next 20-something days.  Feel free to track me down and hassle me for better answers to whatever questions you may have.

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Yes, I’m Still Here…

Ok, so after four years of talking about leaving the country, I still haven’t managed to do it.  Big woop, get off my case! I mean, I graduated from college, if that wasn’t the time to reward myself with a summer spent doing nothing but watching battlestart galactica, playing settlers of catan, and house-sitting for the professor across the street, I don’t know what is! Oh, and I guess I worked like 3 days a week too, technically. 

But life goes on, and here I am at grad school, and you know what? I HAVE NO MONEY! Seriously though, it’s one of those things that make my brain hurt when I think about it.  Sure, I have a long time to pay off  these loans and whatnot, but the looming thought that I have negative dollars will always be there.  So I try not to think about it.  You know, because it makes my brain hurt.  Then again, so does everything:

-How do they get peanut butter into the jar?  HOW?  I’m not an idiot, I know they obviously inject it, or whatever, but peanut butter isn’t like soft-serve ice cream!! (Great, now I’m hungry). I have this image of people in hazmat suits using those little spatulas (spatulae) that cement-pourer dudes use to smooth new cement.  Or trying to use peanut butter jars to simply scoop as much peanut butter as possible out of  GIANT vat of peanut butter, but always coming up a little short, cause it JUST WON’T WORK.  This scenario continues to play out in my mind.  Maybe there’s a planet out there made completely of peanut butter where peanut butter is less viscous and just flows right into the jars and then they ship it to earth in bulk using spaceships with a low carbon footprint, because, you know, our universe’s ozone layer is really hurting…

-Unaware walkers.  You know EXACTLY who I’m talking about.  The utterly clueless schmucks who walk this earth, oblivious to their surroundings, weaving randomly back and forth across a narrow sidewalk as if they’re drunk, even though it’s only 9AM in the morning and you’re running late for class, and all you want to do is pass them, but they keep stumbling directly in front of you, probably thinking about how big a puppy has to be before it becomes a dog, or staring at that cloud up there that look just like a fucking CLOUD. MOVE, PERSON. And don’t you dare look offended when I blaze past you muttering under my breath and taking a large gulp of coffee that is WAY too hot to calm my ever fraying nerves.  

-Wisdom teeth.  Yeah, these assholes make my head hurt in more than one way.  Up until recently, I had succeeded in tricking my body into thinking that it had no wisdom teeth and therefore not ordering my wisdom teeth to grow and whatnot.  But by doing so, I guess I was inadvertently alerting my brain to the presence of “wisdom” teeth in my mouth, because lo’ and behold, one of them is currently in the process of wreaking havoc on the inside of my mouth and making life so, so unpleasant.  Seriously though, what kind of genetic screwup caused these teeth to think they wouldn’t be needed until a quarter of the way through a person’s life? IF I WANTED FOUR EXTRA TEETH, I WOULD’VE DONE SOMETHING ABOUT IT.  Ordinarily, I would be all for ripping the sonuvabitch right out of my mouth, but I am a strict anti-dentite, and there isn’t enough anesthesia in the world to make that ok.

-Cable/Internet service providers: a case study.  When is the consumer going to reclaim control of the royally fucked up situation? I move into a new apartment? It’s 20-freaking-13, so I need internet (couple more years before it’s a basic human right, I guess), so I call my dear friends at comcast and set up an “appointment” for my internet to be set up.  An appointment.  For some vague time between the hours of 1:00 and 5:00.  HOW IS THIS OK? We as a people need to set the standard that it actually is not.  We let them become this way, and only we, the consumers can change it.  Because it gets worse.  When “Craig” finally showed up at 4:45, he told me that my apartment was getting 0 (ZERO) signal via the building’s wiring, so he would have to call the higher up cable god powers and have someone else come by and redo my wiring.  Fine, whatever, Craig, just get out of my way so I can go to the pub and have a beer so I don’t push you off my rooftop (oh yeah, I have a rooftop!).  That was thursday so on tuesday, in comes “Earl” (my “appointment” was between 8am and noon) who tests my cable and says that I have an incredibly strong signal in my apartment, considering that I’m on the 8th floor.  “Craig” had lied to my face.  And “Earl” just told me that to my face, completely unapologetically (that is now a word).  Can we please start a grassroots movement to change the entire game?  When they tell us they’ll come between 1 and 5, can we start telling them, “Great, I’ll be home between 1:55 and 2:05!”?  Who’s with me??!

-My elevator. Asides from the being the slowest elevator in the world, with weird scratchy carpeted walls, and a strange, cigar-ish smell to it that seems permanent, it doesn’t even go to my floor.  Sorry, my penthouse.  But I’m ok with all that because it’s one of those cool old school elevators with the metal cage that closes in front of you, and you can watch the floors go by as you go up, and laugh at the poor souls waiting to go down because the elevator is gonna take you all the way up before it goes back for them.  Every floor has a large heavy door that closes between the elevator cage and the hallway, which is held closed via electromagnet magic until the elevator stops at that floor.  BUT.  In theory, you could still open the cage while the elevator is moving.  It wouldn’t even be possible to fall down the shaft.  The gap is only like an inch wide.  I simply HAD to know if you could open the cage, for some god unknown reason.  So one day, as I watched the 3rd floor door slowly creep past me, I pulled at the cage and VOILA! It opened!  And then the elevator gave one of the most heart-stopping lurches ever and stopped, just like that.  Reminding everyone in the elevator not to panic (yes, I was alone), I promptly closed the cage, praying to the great mechanic in the sky that the elevator would resume its climb to my floor. And it did.  But at about 1/100th of its usual pace.  It took six minutes to get from between floors 3 and 4 to floor 7.  So, lesson learned, don’t open the elevator cage door.

-The difference between apple juice and apple cider.  Because every fall, apple cider pops up in every imaginable place, and everybody freaks out because it’s so delicious (lets be honest, it is).  And it’s so much better cause it’s made with, like, real apples! Whoa!  … Pump the breaks … What the hell is apple juice then? And don’t get all “high fructose corn syrup!” on me, cause somewhere out there is healthy apple juice.  Up until I looked it up (for some reason, the answer is on Massachusetts’s website), I had no idea what the difference is.  What is apple cider? Well, it’s super fresh juice pressed out of apples and put into gallon or half gallon jugs, and it goes bad faster than apple juice, and sometimes if you drink too much of it, you get a stomach ache and stuff.  Turns out the actual difference has to do with grinding up the apples, and pressing them and filtering and whatnot. The filtration part is key.  Kinda makes me think that I could start calling orange juice with pulp “Orange Cider” though.  Maybe I will.  Who knows.  

My fellow readers, if there are any of you left, that’s really all I’ve got for you.  I leave you with a few entertaining videos to consume:

-A video about what Massachusetts…?  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvUMV1N7eGM

-A video to get you in the mood for halloween/the next episode of Walking Dead (Luke, if you’re reading this, don’t watch…) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKyyBsu2u8w

-2, count ’em, TWO Nick Offerman videos about mustaches, to get you in the Movember spirit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6z6VFJw5WTY             

   http://www.youtube.com/watch?annotation_id=annotation_1253918201&feature=iv&src_vid=6z6VFJw5WTY&v=8w1p5UI7Siw

-AWESOME bluegrass cover of Royals http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7gUfyhBYoI

-And a Bad Lip Reading of Game of Thrones http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Krz-dyD-UQ

Until next time,

Alex (Yeah, nobody really calls me Atay anymore and I’m not completely sure what to do about it…)

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#R2R2013 [Also #R2R2R]

If there were ever a time to rescue a semi-defunct blog from the depths of the internet, I suppose it would have to be two weeks after graduating from college.  It’s been a real two weeks, though, and having finished the new season of Arrested Development, I find myself with lots of caffeine running through my veins, and very little to do.  Time to reflect of one of the greatest/stupidest things I’ve done to date.

As many of you have probably noted, I have the strange tendency to do something to the extreme with little to no preparation and then put it on the back burner.  In 2010, I trained for a half marathon, took two weeks off from running, ran said half marathon, and then essentially dropped my running hobby.  In 2011, I signed up for a 200 mile bike ride, having never ridden a road bike before.  I went on one practice ride on Wednesday, rode 100 miles on Saturday, and rode another 100 miles on Sunday.  Since then, my longest ride has been Jamieson to Summit.  All great experiences, without a doubt.  They’ve given me countless memories and stories and helped me push my limits, blah, blah, blah.

Recently, however, I topped all of those endeavors.  4 days after graduation, I hopped in a car with 3 fellow Summit baristas, drove 30 hours non-stop to the Grand Canyon, camped, hiked ~24 miles from the South Rim, down into the canyon, and up to the North Rim, camped, and drove 30 hours non-stop back to Davidson.  And that was an abbreviated version of what I had originally planned on doing.  To tell the story right, though, I need to rewind about six weeks…

It all starts at Summit, my home away from home.  My 200 mile bike adventure also began here.  After that, I swore I would never let my co-workers talk me into more crazy shenanigans.  Oops.  There is a strong running core at Summit – several members of the Summit family have run multiple marathons, the Blue Ridge Relay, Palmetto Relay, Summit’s own road races, and more. So with Jon’s marriage coming up in October, he and Brian began looking for an adventurous running event/challenge that they could carry out over the course of a weekend as a sort of “bachelor’s weekend.” Or something like that.

They soon discovered that it isn’t all that rare for people to run from rim to rim at the Grand canyon: roughly 23 miles of running with 10,000+ feet of elevation change in one of the most beautiful places in the country.  There was only one problem: that seemed too easy.  Now folks, this is where my understanding of the thought process ends.  Because my mind is fully incapable of understanding how that could possibly not be challenging enough for any human being.  They liked the idea though, and after a little digging (maybe no digging at all? I’m extrapolating a little bit here…) they discovered that a much smaller number of runners occasionally ran from rim to rim to rim. R2R2R. About 50 miles.  20,000-something feet of elevation change. And it’s supposed to be fun, too.  But hey, they felt up to the challenge.  Power to ‘em.  This is where I come into the picture.

I learned about the plan while pouring my traditional pre-French cup of iced coffee one morning.  I laughed.  Honestly, I was glad they had picked a trip to ridiculous that I knew I wanted nothing to do with it.  Until it occurred to me that this may be my only chance to camp at the Grand Canyon, a place I’ve wanted to experience for a long time, having listened to my father’s stories about the rafting trip he had gone on several years ago, back before the days when you have to reserve such a trip years in advance.  So, wanting to earn my space in the car, but wanting nothing to do with all the running, I offered to operate a base camp for the runners.  I would drive out with them,  help with tents, cooking food, making sure the cooler is always stocked with beer – all the important things. Then, when they left, I would simply drive to the other rim and meet the guys there.  I thought it was a great plan.  I would get to camp at the Grand Canyon and maybe even squeeze in a short day hike or two.  The others would get to go on their crazy run and show up to a camp that’s already up and running, with cold beers and a hearty meal waiting for them.  Everybody wins.

Of course not.  Phase 2 of the plan (the plan changed quite a bit) had everybody camping at a place called Cottonwood.  Cottonwood is about 4,000 feet below the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  So this put the Kaibab kibosh on my plan to drive around the canyon and meet everybody at the opposite rim.  Thing is, Cottonwood is only about 16 or 17 miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Long story short, I got talked into hiking to Cottonwood from the South Rim, with the additional plan of hiking back to the South Rim the following morning, for a total of about 34 miles of hiking.  It didn’t really sound too absurd to me, though.  I’ve done quite a bit of hiking in my day, and although this was well outside of my comfort zone, I felt that it was within my ability.

So I signed on to the new plan.  Remember how about 2 paragraphs ago, I mentioned that in order to book a Colorado River rafting trip these days, you have to make your reservation several years in advance? Well – funny thing – it turns out that this also pertains to making reservations at the campsites in the Inner Canyon.  We learned this about two weeks before our trip was scheduled to start.  I had begun to mentally prepare myself already, and had told enough people about the trip that I was committed.  Begin Phase 3 of Operation R2R2R.  A new plan is born.  We would camp at the South Rim on Friday night.  Wake up at 4AM.  Brian, Jon, Spencer, Will, and Chris run to the North Rim.  I hike to the North Rim.  We camp “at large” at the North Rim; this just means backpacking-style.  No running water, restrooms, or nice box of soft earth in which to stake down your tent.  Then, we wake up at 4AM again, run/hike through the Grand Canyon again, hop in the car, and drive 30 hours back to Davidson.  No sweat.

It was about this time that I started to worry that the hiking would be slightly beyond my ability.  Because, you see, back when I did that impulsive half marathon in 2010, it left a mark on my right knee in the form of IT band issues.  Long story short, it hurts when I go downhill.  This posed a significant problem, as hiking across the Grand Canyon and back would involve about 13 miles of hiking down hill cliff, to the tune of about 10,000 feet of elevation.  But they Canyon called to me, so I convince myself it won’t be too bad and continue preparing for the trip.

Phase 3 of planning was by far the most long-lived.  In the weeks leading up to the trip, which were also the weeks leading up to Graduation weekend and all shenanigans appertaining thereunto, I slowly and surely gathered the gear, apparel, encouragement, and other items I would need.  Sure, I didn’t train at all, but what, was I supposed to train for the Grand Canyon during Beach Week? Probably.  I assembled a set of trekking poles from collected pieces of older broken trekking poles, purchased a highly detailed map of the Grand Canyon, pieced together a first aid kit, made sure I had sunscreen (I did, but I forgot it in the car), and gathered the various sources of fuel I would need: pop tarts and chewy bars for calories, beef jerky for protein and sodium, 2 power bars (1 for each day), and some Gatorade powder, because Gatorade has convinced the world that electrolytes are by far the most important thing in the universe. But more on that later.

Graduation weekend comes and goes, I move into the teeny tiny house, I’ll be living in for the summer, and before I know it, the trip is upon me.  We gather at Summit at noon on Thursday, and, after listening to a few more people tell us we’re crazy, we set off.  The four of us (Me, Jon, Brian, and Spencer) set off on I-77 in a Ford Fusion (we were pretty furious that we didn’t get a Prius, but it was probably for the best), listening to Howard Stern interview Zach Braff on Sirius radio.  Ahead of us lay a 30 hour non-stop drive over 7 states.  The trip is all a blur now, so I’ll just recount some of the highlights in bullet form here:

  • Tennessee is a big state.  Especially if you’re driving across it on I-40
  • Tennessee is also very green in May
  • Arkansas…yeah, not much to say.  Lots of bugs hit the windshield.  Almost sounded like it was raining…
  • HOW could the Pacers take out Hibbert in game 1???  We listened to sports people over analyze this question for probably about 5 hours.
  • Oklahoma is another very long, very boring state.  If you can take measures to avoid having to drive through it in your life, you probably should.  Especially if said driving would be at night. Just don’t do it.  They call it fly-over country for a reason, folks.
  • I’ve finally been to Texas now, although Amarillo is a pretty sucky place.
  • Speed limit jumps to 75MPH in Texas!! Woot!
  • Satellite Radio: maybe not totally pointless…
  • Orange traffic cones/cylinders: who makes them? Who owns them? Where are they kept? How many exist?
  • New Mexico! Finally some positive things to say!  NM is incredibly beautiful, although never-ending
  • There’s a fair amount of land for sale in NM and AZ…what does one do with land there?
  • Arizona is home to the Grand Canyon.  By the time we got there, that’s about all we could comprehend… 

We push on, getting closer, and closer, and closer, and closer, until finally, WE MADE IT! We fall out of the car, excited to stretch our legs a bit, and walk over to the rim.  Now, it is my opinion that until you have been to a place like the Grand Canyon, you really shouldn’t be allowed to describe something as “breathtaking.”  The Canyon is just so massively impressive that it to fully drink it in. Despite all the training that we the others had put in, Spencer’s first reaction was, “We may have bitten off more than we can chew…”

Just happy to be out of the car...

Just happy to be out of the car…

When we were done gawking at the Canyon that we had designs to run/hike across, we set up camp, ate dinner, set our alarms for 2:45AM, and went to sleep.  “Morning” comes, and we crawl out of our sleeping bags, pack our things, get dressed, and drive over to the parking lot where we will be leaving the cars.  Shuttles from this lot to the trailhead exist, but we weren’t sure of their timing/availability and didn’t want to “taint” our trip with a ride on a shuttle bus alongside people in Hawaiian shirts clutching their disposable cameras, so we decided to just hike the two miles from the cars to the trailhead.  After all, when you’re about to hike 22 miles with 10,000 feet of elevation change, what’s an extra 2 miles over flat ground?

We leave the parking lot sometime around 4AM.  Sunrise was 5:16 or something like that, but by the time we got to the trailhead at around 4:45, it was bright enough that we had all turned off our headlamps.  We ask two strangers to take our picture at the top of the South Rim, proudly displaying the Summit flag, excited for the adventure we were about to begin.  Then, next thing I knew, the other 5 took off down the trail, and I mean TOOK OFF.  As they ran/flew/tumbled/slid/screamed down the beginning of the trail, I took one last gulp of water and set off on my own.

Rarin' to go!

Rarin’ to go!

It quickly becomes clear that we weren’t the only ones who knew that the time to start hiking to the bottom of the Canyon was around 4 or 5.  Moving quickly, I frequently passed other hikers – a Swiss couple, some group of about 20 people who didn’t understand how to hike without taking up the whole trail, and another large group that was dispersed along the trail using walkie talkies and codenames to communicate.  Once I had hiked/jogged past them into the clear, however, I had the first of several of what I now call “Canyon moments.”  When I stopped for my first water/snack break on an exposed ridge line, with the sun rising over the walls of the Canyon to my east and the full moon setting behind the walls of the Canyon to my west, I experience complete silence for the first time in my life.

Moon setting, sunlight on the rocks beneath it...

Moon setting, sunlight on the rocks beneath it…

A beautiful sunrise

A beautiful sunrise

IMG_3143There was no whispering wind, no rush of water, no crunching of footsteps.  I couldn’t hear a single cricket chirping or a lizard scampering over a rock.  I stopped and stood and tried to listen for any noise – even the far off sound of a car driving by.  There was absolutely nothing.  I stood for a few more seconds, got some serious goosebumps, and, because I still had about 20 miles to go that day, set off down the trail once more.

Even the trail itself was impressive.  Steep would be an understatement, as would beautiful, and covered-in-mule-shit.  Every morning, a mule train heads down the South Kaibab (KaibabKaibabKaibab) trail, headed for Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Canyon, one of only two places in the country that still uses mules to send and receive mail (as well as all its other supplies).  It’s a nice added challenge to have to dodge the clusters of softball-sized dungballs as you fly around another hairpin turn, to say the least.  Fortunately, the pungent odor emanating from said dungballs served as an effective warning system.  I couldn’t wait to make it to Phantom Ranch and move past this zone to wait I believed would be a mule-free zone.

I pushed on, winding my way down the trail, stopping every 45 minutes or so to drink water and have a bite to eat, being truly overwhelmed by the Canyon.  Not necessarily in a bad way; it just became incredibly clear that I was only going to survive if the Canyon wanted me to. I witnessed beauty like I had never seen before, physical challenge like nothing I had endured, and – in retrospect, the most interesting – solitude like nothing I could have imagined.  I realize that it seems somewhat storybook-ish to go hike across the Grand Canyon immediately after graduation.  And maybe it was, but I didn’t realize it until afterwards.  I had just graduated and was (still am) enduring lots of talk about the next “chapter” of my life: people asking if I’m sad to leave Davidson, what I’m doing next year, what I want to do with my life, etc.  I had put it all off for a long time.  I formulated responses to every possible form of the question, and most of them were even true! (One of the barbers at Great Clips thinks I’m a history major, because I didn’t want to deal with the “Arabic-major-conversation” that day…)

Hiking through the Canyon, I didn’t find an answer to all those questions.  I realized that they didn’t really matter to me at all. I got to do a lot of thinking while solo hiking across the Grand Canyon (mostly in the first 3 hours, for reasons that will become clear later), and I’m proud to say that most of it was about the Canyon itself.  Thoughts like “Could I climb that rock?” or “How am I ever going to climb back out of this?” ran through my head for hours, topped with a constant appreciate for the endless beauty around me.

Probs not...

Could I climb that rock?

I made it to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Canyon, roughly 7 miles into my hike, in about 2 hours and 25 minutes.  I felt good about how quickly I had done the first leg and rewarded myself with a ten minute, two chewy bar break under a tree at Phantom Ranch.  I took a good long look at the map, trying to steel myself against the challenge presented by hiking up to the North Rim.  When I felt ready to move on, I packed everything up, took 3 Advil for me knee, and set out for The Box.

The Box is an aptly named section of trail about a mile or two past Phantom Ranch.  Here, the Canyon walls press right in on the trail, shooting straight up around you, making it seem like you are hiking through a massive crack in the Earth, rather than one of the most vast natural wonders of the world.  The Box is also hot.  Much of the rock in the walls here is black metamorphic sun which, when combined with sunlight, can turn the entire section of trail into an oven.  A friend of ours had talked to a park ranger friend of his and warned us that temperatures can reach up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit in The Box during the day.  (We checked: the hottest temperature ever recorded in the US is 134 in Death Valley).  We still got the picture, though: The Box would be hot.  Fortunately, I hiked through The Box around 8AM, so temperatures were only in the low 90’s.  In fact, second only to the hike down the South Kaibab trail, hiking through the Box was the most enjoyable part of the hike for me.  I was able to push my pace, since there isn’t much elevation change there, and soon enough, the walls moved apart, revealing an open desert before me.

The Box

The Box

That which comes after The Box

That which comes after The Box

This section of trail was definitely the most deceiving and also very challenging. The trail wound its way through high grass and over rolling hills, and the unrelenting heat made the 8 miles from Phantom Ranch to Cottonwood feel more like 16.  There were no water stops to be seen, and shady spots were few and far between.  By this point, my knee was throbbing with pain; stopping to rest wasn’t an option though, since stopping in the sun would be pointless.  Finally, I was pretty sure that Cottonwood lay right around the corner, so I stopped a hiker going the opposite direction and asked for confirmation.  His response?  “Cottonwood? Oh. Well, Ribbon Falls is just a half mile or so further and then you have about 2 miles after that to get to Cottonwood.  But yeah, you’re almost there!”  I did my best to keep my face from showing my disappointment and tried to kick it back into gear.

Along the way, I passed two middle aged men who, judging by their attire, had been running across the Canyon.  One of the men had a pretty serious limp/shuffle going for him, and the other was there for moral support.  As I hiked past them, with my own limp/shuffle in its infant stage, the injured man shouted an encouraging, “You go brother! You own this Canyon!”  I couldn’t really tell if he was talking to himself or me, but I pushed on until finally, I saw a sign for Cottonwood.  I found the water source, dropped my bag to the ground, and sat down on the bench right across from the spigot.  Five minutes later the two men showed up.  The slow/injured/shuffling one lay down on the bench next to me while the other took a few minutes to thoroughly douse his companion with water from head to toe.  A minute or two later, I got up to refill my water bottles, douse my own head with water, and move on.  As the woman ahead of me filled her own bottle, though, the water stopped flowing.

Almost all of the water at the water source spigots in the Canyon flows from the same source up by the North Rim.  Apparently a water main had burst earlier that day in the Canyon (It was in The Box, as a matter of fact.  A section of trail had been flooded…), so they had to shut off the water to most of the water stops for the rest of the day.  So with six miles to go and 4,000 feet to climb, I knew I had another 4.5 miles before I could refill my bottles again.  So I set out with the 2.5 liters I still had.

Broken water main on the trail

Broken water main on the trail

So began the main struggle of my Grand Canyon adventure.  My right knee was now barely functional, and had, in fact, given out completely once already that day.  Shade was almost non-existent, as it was around noon, and my legs were getting to be plain old tired.  I managed to figure out a way to walk that took my knee pain from a 7 to a 5, and fell into a rhythm.  Never stop in the middle of a switchback.  Never stop in the sun.  Food every 30 minutes.  Water every time I stop.  Left foot.  Right foot.  Left foot.  Right foot.  Left foot.  Right foot.  The two men I had passed earlier were clearly in a rhythm of their own.  My hiking pace was a touch faster than theirs, but they didn’t stop.  So every time I stopped, they would pass me, and then I would pass them back when I started hiking again.  Turns out the two are brothers, Bill and Dan Bradley.  Bill (the limping one, nicknamed “The Tortise”) lives in northern California, and Dan (a.k.a. Dan the Man) lives near L.A.  Bill quickly nicknamed me “The Hare,” and our sorry little company kept on going, although not really hiking together.  We picked up a fourth member, too – a cute girl, maybe about my age, from San Diego who Bill cleverly nicknamed “San Diego.”

The scenery was still beautiful, but I was much less aware of the environment around me at that point, and much more aware of the pain in my right knee and the cramping in my left leg.  But still, I pressed on, channeling the spirit of Thomas the Tank Engine with every step.  Much to my dismay, it turned out that the trail from Cottonwood to the North Rim was another mule zone, so every few minutes, I had to fight the urge to vomit when slapped in the face by the stench of another pile of dungballs.  As Bill and Dan passed me during another of my brief stops, Bill announced that we only had 1.3 miles to go, according to his GPS watch. So I crammed 3 Pop Tarts down my throat, dumped the last of my Gatorade powder for the day into what was left of my water, and started hiking again, convinced that I wouldn’t stop again until the top.

The Tortise

The Tortoise and Dan the Man

IMG_3179I stopped four more times. Finally though, I heard Bill’s voice echoing from up ahead on the trail and figured he had made it, and sure enough, I broke through the trees into the trailhead parking lot 5 minutes later.  I took a quick picture with Bill, Dan, and San Diego (I don’t know her real name…) found the other members of my crew, and promptly lay down.  I was done in every sense of the word.  I had made it in just under 12 hours.  I wasn’t sure my knee would ever work again.  In fact, the only thing I knew for sure was that I would not be going back through the canyon the next day.  Which leads, of course, to Phase 4 of the plan.

After some discussion, we have a new plan.  Brian, Jon, Spencer, Chris, and Will would set off back down the trail for the South Rim at 5:15PM that afternoon. It was about 4:30 PM when I got there.  They only got a few hours of rest.  So, while they ran/hiked back across the canyon, I shuffled the last 1.3 miles to the campsites, got my tent mostly set up, and fell asleep face-down on top of my sleeping bag at about 7PM.  The plan called for me to wake up at 4:30AM, and meet the others at the lodge at 5AM, after they made it back to the South Rim and jumped into the car and drove to the North Rim to pick me up.  At 4:30, I got a text that they wouldn’t be there until about 9AM, which was fine with me.  So I slept a few more hours, woke up, got all packed up, shuffled the 1.7 miles to the lodge, and met up with the guys.  Their experience going back across the canyon and (even more so) driving 4 hours to the North Rim to pack me up had been harrowing to say the least.  But they somehow did it.  All the kudos in the world to them for not leaving me at the North Rim.

So I jumped behind the wheel, more than happy to take the next driving shift in order to let them sleep for a bit, and we set off for Davidson. Some notes from the ride back:

  • Jon doesn’t like condiments.  Don’t EVER put condiments on anything of Jon’s.
  • Baconators taste even better after conquering the Grand Canyon
  • I really should’ve worn more chapstick while hiking
  • Jon slept a lot
  • Those “Wing Street” Pizza Hut’s are weird.  Imagine Pizza Hut.  Now make it a full restaurant, but a kinda Applebee’s kinda place.  Also it was in Amarillo.  And nobody was there except 10 folks at the bar. And they were all smoking.
  • Oklahoma still sucked.  Yep, even at night!
  • Ever seen a deer in two pieces on the road? I have.
  • Apparently there are some gas stations in the world that arent’ 24/7!
  • Who else but Udonis!
  • The ESPN radio announcer called Mario Chalmers “Rio” for the whole game.  What are you, his childhood pal? Stop it!
  • Mere coins can provide endless entertainment during car rides.

It really felt like it would never end for a bit, but we finally pulled into the Summit lot, had a celebratory beer, and dispersed.

Thus ended the great R2R(2R) adventure of 2013.  A week later, my knee still hurts, but I think it’s getting better.  It was a great trip, and I don’t regret it one bit.  But I don’t think I’ll ever do it again…

A more complete photo album is here.

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Don’t Call it a Comeback…

Yes, today is the day you’ve all been waiting for.  A-Tay in America is once more up and running!
A lot has happened since I last wrote to the internet.  Spring semester came and went, along with its fair share of shambles, memories, personal learning, and such. But now it’s the summer, and the summer is pretty great.

Summer has a different meaning for folks.  For many of my super-ambitious friends, the summer is nothing more than an opportunity to score that sweet internship which will ensure that the rest of life goes exactly as planned.  Some people go home and bum around.  Lots of people travel abroad, gettin’ mad credits and some stamps on the ol’ passport.  But if you really know what you’re doing, you stay at Davidson.  That’s right, just stay where you are. Next post will be on life at Davidson: Summatime, but first, I must address that one aspect of summer that we would all much rather forget: wasps.

Fuck wasps.  There, I said it. And no, I don’t mean White Anglo Saxon Protestants.  If I had beef with those WASPs, I should probably just get the hell out of the South.
No, I’m talking ’bout THESE wasps:

Fuck ’em. Fuck ’em all.

At this point you’re probably saying, “Oh, Alex, are you allergic? Will you die if you get stung?”  No. I’m not. I just get stung all the freaking time. I’ve been swarmed by bees, attacked by wasps in a stairwell, attacked by wasps on my own porch, threatened by yellow jackets on my own porch, destroyed several wasp nests, and more.  But despite the fact that I seem to be coming out on top in this long, drawn-out war of attrition between me and the wasps of the world, wasps terrify me.

Seriously, I cannot stand a wasp being within 10 feet of my person.  Any closer than 5 feet, and I most resemble one of the naked mannequins that are currently hanging out (heh) in the new campus store.  Why am I so terrified of wasps? I’m glad you ask…

I think a lot of it has to do with what a wasp is to begin with.  Because bees don’t frighten me nearly as much. But if you get swarmed by bees (been there, done that) you can at least have the satisfaction of knowing that each searing-hot sting guarantees that there will be one less bee in the world in a short matter of time.  If a bee gets ya, the bee loses that fight. Wasps, on the other hand, will continue to sting you until they feel like stopping. Or you convince the wasp to stop. With you hand or foot or a book or a can of wasp killer (a man’s best friend during the summer-months). So one wasp could easily sting you a whole bunch of time before you can scream “Jesusfuckingchristgetitoffame!”

Reason number two that wasps are terrifying? SO many different kinds. Let’s take a look at just a few.

  • We  begin with your run-of the mill wasp.  Yellow or red, these are the kind that build those papery little nests under your gutters, in wholes in houses, outdoor stairwells, and right outside my door. These guys are possibly the least frightening wasps in my opinion, but that still leaves them more terrifying than almost everything.  They aren’t truly all that aggressive most of the time.  They are excellent examples of the leave-them-alone-and-they-will-leave-you-alone variety of stinging nasties. UNLESS they set up camp in your stairwell and ambush you one pleasant summer afternoon. They build their nests early in the summer and are only truly aggressive when their young hatch, and the mature wasps will go ape-shit on anything that tries to get near their babies.

Vespula Germanica – Latin for BAMF

  • Next, we have the yellow jacket.  I won’t spend too much time here, as they are similar to most regular wasps, but they build their nests underground. And they are known to get pissed with things vibrate their nests.  Like footsteps.  So because yellow jackets exist in the world, nearly every square inch of exposed soil is a potential explosion of pain and anguish while these guys are active. They have not, however caused me any harm to this day, although I had some close calls earlier this week.

Vespula Squamosa – Kill it! Kill it now!

  • So if you take ordinary wasps and add crazyness, you get black wasps.  First of all, they’re black. No bright colors = no warning.  they just look like weird flies. They’re not.  They build nests in the ground, in crawl spaces, or in my case, the crack between the floor and the wall on my porch.  They even have traffic laws.  I’ve found 2 access points: one serves only as an entrance, the other, an exit. Shit.  Do a little more research, as I did, and you will discover that these wasps have been known to not give a shit when you spray them with wasp killer.  What? Think about that. WE now live in a world in which wasp killer no longer kills wasps? So yeah, black wasps.  If you start to see lots around, be wary. But more importantly, be grateful, for they are allowing you to live.

Death on wings.

  • Lastly, we have the cicada killer wasp (CKW for short). These are those monstrously huge wasps that pup up during the summer and start decimating local populations of cicadas, which the CKW’s ruthlessly slaughter and store in their underground burrows so they may be eaten later. In years gone by, yelling CKW during the summer had just about the same effect as yelling, “RUN, RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!”  Now that I am somewhat wiser (but no less fearful), whenever I encounter a CKW, I stop. And I make sure to go nowhere near the thing.  Even if it means changing my route. The sting of a CKW is quite painful, and I wish it upon nobody, so here are some things that you should avoid: trying to plug their burrow with a rock, parking your car on the entrance to the burrow, trying and failing to shoot one out of the air with wasp killer, hitting one with a broom, being a human.  That being said, there are proven techniques to destroying one of these behemoths. Here are a few: trying and succeeding to shoot one out of the air with wasp killer, dropping a brick on one from a height of about 12 feet, a good ol’ fashioned stomp (with shoes, please), winter. The only thing worse than these is the Japanese Giant Hornet.  Watch the youtube if you want nightmares.

WHY WOULD YOU LET IT LAND ON YOUR HAND???

So there you have it.  An extensive discussion of my fear of wasps.  If you share my fear of them, start making friends with dragonflies, spiders, small birds, and other natural predators of wasps.  But enough for now, there’s a certain freckled dog pub calling my name.

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Time To Wrap Things Up

Everyone please note the Christmas pun in the title…

Anyway, the semester has come to a close, so I figure it’s only appropriate to try to sum things up as best I can. First, some highlights, with a feeble attempt at correct chronology:

  • I got an epic fortune in a fortune cookie that read, “Only listen to fortune cookie, disregard all other fortune telling devices.”
  • Living in G204.  More on this later.
  • Earthquake in Davidson!  Everyone remember that? I didn’t either until I traveled back in time via facebook.  It really wasn’t all that exciting.  It only felt like people were having an awesome party on the floor below me.
  • Fun party memories.  More on those later as well.
  • Osama bin Jarel, the Golf Course Nazi.  ‘Nuff said.
  • Getting stuck IN my room.  Kinda scary actually, and Tim thought I was just drunk. Shame on you, Tim.  See previous post titled “What the F*ck?” for more on that.
  • Taking a studio art class.  Possibly the stupidest decision I made all semester and that’s really saying something.  Fortunately, it’s over, and I’m fairly certain I didn’t fail it!
  • Playing my music for all to hear in the library because I incorrectly plugged in my headphones. #embarrassing
  • Working my ass off at Summit.  Pretty self explanatory, actually.
  • Hanging out with non-junior folk. Some sophomores.  Some seniors.  Even some freshmen.  And some juniors too, come to think of it.  Just hangin’ out.
  • Free BBQ.  It started as a drunk idea at F.  It turned into the most epic night ever. Check out our facebook page.
  • Finding out that some people actually read my blog.  Weird.
  • PJ party.  If you were there, you know how epic it was.  If you missed it, you missed it.
  • Star Wars marathon over fall break. Other fall break shenanigans.
  • Watching SO much 30 Rock with Tim.
  • Growing a mustache.
  • Having a mustache.
  • Owning webtree.  Again.
  • Harry Potter Marathon
  • Harry Potter Marathon
  • Harry Potter Marathon
  • Recovering from the Harry Potter Marathon
  • Finishing the semester!

Yea, it’s been a crazy semester.  Life in G204 is just plain old ridiculous. I do my best to be a terrible influence on the others by encouraging them to watch lots of TV and partake in various forms of debauchery.  Last week, we had a pizza delivery race.  We ordered Dominos, Pizza Hut, and Papa Johns at the same time.  Dominos won.

Free BBQ.  Words do not suffice. Y’all will understand just why that is soon enough.  To be perfectly honest, the ultimate highlight of the semester is a tie between the We <3 Live Music Event and the Harry Potter Movie Marathon.

I tire of writing this post.  Thought it would be a little more interesting than it turned out.  I was wrong.  Farewell!

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‘Tis the Season! Finals Season, that is…

Well, here we are again.  Sunday night and I have a paper due again (in Arabic this time – 10 pages), but I would rather do anything but study, so I’ll write another blog post for y’all because as Karl Marx said, “A-Tay in America is the opium of the people.”

To catch you all up to speed, change is in the air here at Davidson College.  “Do It in the Dark” has ended, thus marking the beginning of “Lights on Davidson,” Davidson College’s least sustainable policy that nobody ever complains about.  Maybe instead of having crappy low volume faucets in bathrooms we could just turn of the lights every once in a while?  Who am I kidding, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever said.  Christmas in Davidson has come and gone (hallelujah) and left behind it a fine layer of garbage blanketing the ground of Davidson like the first snow of winter.  The big Christmas tree is up in the union, and the fireplace is lit more often than not.  As much as I hate to say it, I think winter may finally be here.  It was a frigid 62 degrees today.  I thought I was going to get frostbite!

And, most importantly, tomorrow marks the beginning of that dreading period of time at the end of every semester when every day is the same, because you don’t have class (yayyy) but instead have mounds and mounds of work to do every day (awwwwwww).  Your life, once an exquisite display of academics, extracurriculars, physical activity, shenanigans, bad habits, and good times, boils down to the very basics: wake up, coffee, work, coffee, work, eat, work, coffee, work, facebook for 2 hours, coffee, work, work, work, very little sleep, repeat.

I’ve already covered procrastination in this blog, so I won’t go into too much detail; let’s just say it is increasingly rampant and increasingly unproductive.  I have, however, developed a new form of procrastination: stroking my mustache.  Yes, I participated in movember for 4 weeks, and since I spent 4 weeks growing this mustache (it’s just starting to gain some momentum now) I’m gonna damn well get my money’s worth.  So the mustache stays, and on top of that, I’m naming it Iskandar the Great.  It’s pretty awesome.

The library is stranger than ever.  There are lego’s and Mr. Potato Head’s, and other games.  The kids at the next table over think they’re the shit cause they just finished a jigsaw puzzle.  I’m not impressed though;  maybe I’ll go mess it up in a few minutes.  Kinda seems inconsiderate to finish the jigsaw puzzle put in the library for everybody to play with. Almost like easting all the free food at an event before anyone else can have some.  And while most people are working very hard here, the library is actually kinda loud as the result of sheer numbers, the new layout, and inconsiderate jibronis having obnoxiously loud conversations.

Anyway, I should get back to writing this paper.  And of course, by “get back to,” I mean, “begin.”

Headphones: check.

Vince Guaraldi’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas”: Check.

Blank paper: check.

A-Tay out.

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Second Wind, Baby! LLLLLLLLLLLLLLet’s GOOOOOOOOO!

Welcome to the first in a series of finals/crunch-time themed posts!

The Second Wind.  It’s a blessing and a curse.  That moment in the dead of the night when your body stops fighting you and accepts the fact that yeah, you’re gonna be up for a long time.  If your second wind comes thirty minutes before you finish your work, you have have some trouble getting to sleep.  But a well-timed second wind? That, my friends, is a thing of true beauty.  I’m just hitting a second wind now, perfectly timed between finishing my reading for a paper I have to write and beginning the paper itself.  I’ve got a large cup of mediocre union coffee fueling me, and a general disdain for schoolwork which inspired me to write a blog post rather than a paper.  But I figure: hey.  If I’m gonna do this Davidson Blog thing, I might as well do it right, which involves making some sacrifices.  So here you have it: the late night union study sesh breakdown.

Let’s start with the basics.  What makes the union such an ideal place for an all-night academic endeavor? Essentially, the library’s inherent shittiness (beware my bias) that forces all these bright students to slave away in this puzzle of a building.  The library, which the school continually struggles to make even the least bit appealing, closes at one.  Unless you don’t have a soul and therefore don’t mind working in the 24-hour room.  I’ve been in that room once, and I don’t plan on ever going back.  So now that the library, generally accepted as a place of relatively quiet study, is closed, the union begins to undergo a strange transformation.  Right about 1:00, a wave of former library dwellers descends upon the union like a swarm of turkey vultures, snatching up all the good study spots and distracting those who had already set up shop here.  As if cued by these vulture-esque studiers, students start leaving the union in droves, likely headed to their beds, lounges, cardboard boxes, etc.  This transformation normally lasts about 30-45 minutes, and by the end of it, the union has achieved late-night-study-place status.

Now that everyone here is doing schoolwork, several more changes occur.  First, the weak cave under the pressure and retreat to their beds, telling their friends that they’re just going to take a nap.  They’ll be up in 4 hours, don’t worry.  Fools.  Arrogant fools.  I used to try this all the time, and have since realized that it NEVER works.  That’s why I’m still up.  After the weak scamper away with their tails between their legs, only a few remain, and they generally gravitate towards a few areas:

  • Public Computers: These students can’t be bothered to use their own computers for schoolwork, so instead they use the public ones at the union, often leaving the computer for hours at a time without logging out.  Everyone hates these people, at least until they do this themselves.  We’ve all been there.
  • The Fireplace: These students fall into two categories: those who sit in comfy chairs right next to the fire and inevitably fall asleep and those who distance themselves from the fire and are probably only there because of the concentration of electrical outlets near the fireplace.  Right now, I’m the latter.  Sitting at the big rectangular table next to the fireplace.  I know better than to sit in a comfy chair.
  • Awkward Small Tables By the Bathrooms: I’m not sure why people sit here so often, unless that many students are interested in the frequency and length of the bowel movements of others.  To each his/her own, I suppose.  But there are always students at these tables!>#R$!
  • Ground Floor Couches: A rare, and somewhat risky choice.  You will have no friends to distract you here, but the lack of movement/life around you may lead to you falling asleep prematurely in your comfortable seating.
  • Small tables by the railing on the top floor: A smart choice for any student who really wants to get work done.  There is only room for one other student to join you and distract you.  You do, however, run the risk of dropping something over the edge and watching it plummet, in slow motion, all the way to the ground level of the union.  You then try to rationalize not going down there to get it.  We have the honor code, you say, nobody will take my mechanical pencil. But then you realize that despite being a college student, you only own that one writing utensil and have no choice but to walk all the way down to get it.  You try to break up the trip with some small talk with your fellow late-night-studiers, but realize you don’t know any of them.  Be sure to take the appropriate steps to avoid eye contact.
  • Larger tables on the top floor: These tables are great!  If you don’t mind reading at the pace of one paragraph every two hours, or the equivalent of whatever kind of work you are doing.  These tables, while a more social option, are the bane of productivity.

So everybody settles into their study zones, and because of M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Distraction) nobody dares venture into the space of another.  Come around 4AM, students really begin to hunker down, as they all begin vying for the title of “last student in the union,” also known as Grand Supreme Overlord of the U.  As desirable as this title may seem, it’s more awkward than you would think.  Once you’re the only one here, and you still don’t move, therefore making the custodians clean around you, that shit’s just awkward.  But stay strong, fellow seeker of knowledge, Summit opens at 6am.

Anyway, I really should get crackin’ on my paper before my second wind wears off.  The wait between second and third winds is brutal.

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