Some say it's the Promised Land...

Ahhh...Manhattan, Kansas.

Known for its purple pride, wide-open spaces and okay, maybe an occasional whiff of cow, there is something about the small-town charm of my alma matter that just can't be replicated in big city living.

I realize much of my fondness for the Little Apple hinges on the quality relationships I built while experiencing life as a college student and not particularly on the settings in which this chapter of life occurred. But something about this springtime weather has me itching to drive west and hit all my favorite hot spots, including (but not limited to) the following:

*Note: This is by no means an all-inclusive list of why I think Manhattan is fabulous. I don't even mention the Derb, Kenny Ford Hall, anywhere near John Schwartz, Call Hall, So Long Saloon, etc. etc. etc.

...in no particular order...

1. Bob's 24-Hour Diner. Now, you may be thinking, "Really? A 24-hour truck stop? That sounds more than sketch." And, to be completely honest, it is. But the Bob's Diner experience at 12 a.m. is guaranteed to give you something to talk about for months. And before you know it, this rite of passage may just worm its way into your heart and keep you coming back for more than just heartburn. Quirky? Yes. Shady? Probably. Worth it? Definitely.

2. Top of the World. Okay, so it sounds like a cheesy make-out point... and maybe it is (but aren't all scenic overlooks? I mean, really...). At any rate, if you're looking for an excellent storm-spotting location in Manhattan, Top of the World is the place to be. In fact, I think it's one of Manhattan's best-kept secrets. You can quote me on that.

3. The Blue House. This ultimate bachelor's pad is hands-down one of my absolute favorite places in Manhattan. Sure, a hideous Native American carpet adorns the wall (it kind of grows on you, I swear) and yeah, you are taking quite a social risk by using the bathroom that notoriously locks unsuspecting users inside, but there is always something going on at The Blue House...and if not, just camp out in the living room and watch Seinfeld. Just don't move the hot pink stapler.

4. Java. [cue the Cheers theme song] Ross and Rachel had Central Perk. George and Elaine had Tom's Restaurant. And for much of my college experience, my friends and I had Java. Over coffee (okay, lattes with lots of Splenda) and gooey cinnamon rolls, we allowed each other to peek into our crazy, mixed-up lives. And somehow, by the time that coffee cup ran dry, the world seemed a little brighter.

5. Here and there and everywhere. Next to coffee talks, my favorite memories of Manhattan consist of the various power-walking adventures I had while exploring the streets of the Little Apple. It is how I learned the city, but more importantly, how I formed some of my strongest friendships. My travels took me from Manhattan Hill to University Gardens, from City Park to Old Stadium and countless Dara's stops along the way. I wore out more than one pair of shoes on the sleepy streets of Manhattan, and I am more than okay with that.

So, if you are lucky enough to find yourself in Manhattan for any period of time, please enjoy one (or all) of these for me.

If you doubt that Manhattan, KS can provide anything close to entertainment, I will prove you wrong with a guided tour...as soon as I finish planning a hometown showcase of Topeka. But that's another story.

--And yes, I am one of those people that still calls it Java instead of Bluestem Bistro...and probably always will.

p.s. If you'd like to give a shout out to your favorite Manhattan location that didn't make my list, feel free.


One With Nature

I dash home from work, throw on my sweatpants and hurriedly lace my shoes. I glance furtively at the overcast sky and plead for the brewing spring storm to withhold its fury for just 30 more minutes.

I click on my mp3 player and sigh as I discover it is out of battery.

I begin walking. But without any music to distract me, I find myself lost in my own troubled thoughts and unable to squelch an elusive yet rising panic.

So I start to run. And suddenly, it's just me and the gravel crunching beneath my feet. With each straining step, it becomes harder to concentrate on anything but placing my next foot forward, and I am finally able to find a momentary escape from the never-ending swirl of questions bouncing around my distracted mind.

Lungs burning and breathless, I eventually slow to a walk and instantly become very aware of the silence.

My senses heighten and I begin to notice the little details of my surroundings that had previously escaped me. The bees eagerly buzzing around my ankles. The smell of freshly-mowed grass. The laughter of neighbors as they christen spring with their first barbecue. The cluster of quaint park benches nestled under a nearby shade tree.

I turn my attention to those sharing my path. The old couple out for an evening stroll. The middle-aged man huffing and puffing miserably as he makes his way down the trail. The young mother pushing her cooing infant. The giggling teenage girls squealing as they try to untangle themselves from a mess of leashes.

And before long, I begin to see the beauty of a near-forgotten world that values silence more than endless clamor and even find myself resolving to spend more walks engaging rather than escaping.

And just as I am really beginning to soak up the experience and bask in the glory of all things nature...


Huge bug. Directly in the eye.

Happy freaking Earth Day.


Tip of a Hat

It was a typical Tuesday morning, which meant that I inevitably was running late.

I flew out the door, tossed my over-stuffed bag in the car and quickly scrunched my damp curls. As I pulled out of the drive and took off down the street, I made a mental note of all the things I should (but probably wouldn't) accomplish before a new day dawned.

I brought my car to a hurried stop at the end of my street and waited impatiently for an opening in the sudden surge of traffic. As I prepared to join the snaking train of over-caffeinated 9-to-5ers (yes, I just made that a noun...get over it), I saw him approaching the nearby crosswalk and inwardly groaned.

A pedestrian. Naturally.

He was a small man with slow movements. Old but not feeble. A bristly white beard poked out from under his hat as he ambled in front of my car.

Then suddenly, just as I was releasing a small sigh of frustration, he turned towards me with an appreciative grin, tipped his gray hat and continued on his morning stroll.

His face will soon fade from my memory and mine is likely already gone from his. But for a brief moment--a mere blip in our journeys--we allowed each other into our worlds.

And suddenly my to-do list really didn't seem that important.


Out of my element

Expressing myself through writing is not an anomaly in my life.

In fourth grade, I was determined to dazzle the world with a best seller. Unfortunately, my drafts never made it past four hand-written, labor-intensive pages on lined notebook paper, complete with arrows and various scratchings that even I can no longer decipher...but the dream was planted nevertheless.

As a junior in high school, I began the almost-nightly ritual of scribbling away in a journal. Snuggling under the covers in the soft glow of my bedside lamp, my pen would come alive as I struggled to make sense of an increasingly complicated world.

About a month ago, I decided to explore this new form of communication I know so little about--blogging. It has allowed me to re-discover my love of language and the power of communication. It has introduced me to a new facet of people I thought I knew. It has allowed me to push my own boundaries as I willingly opened myself up before an unknown audience.

However, in talking with a friend, I realized there is still much to learned about this postmodern venue.

For example:
1. Say someone comments on your post and you would like to respond. Are you expected to respond on your same post or choose one of theirs and type away? Is there a courtesy length limit to comments? (if so, I guarantee I broke it repeatedly)
2. Is my blog totally lame if I do not include several links to other sites and/or audio/visual content? (if so, I apologize for my lack of technology skills)
3. How do you tell people you have a blog? For some reason, I found this to be very awkward and quite presumptuous--as if I thought what I had to say was really that important. (In fact, I still have yet to tell some of my very good friends that this even exists out of some self-imposed lack of confidence. Weird. I know.)
4. This one is especially for aforementioned friend: is it ever appropriate to mention someone's blog in public?
5. Is it breaking some cardinal rule to blog about blogging?
6. Is it breaking an even bigger rule to attempt to make rules for this communication form whose entire identity is based on existing outside previous conventions? (I can't help it! I like guidelines, okay?!)

...Have I mentioned that I tend to over-analyze everything?

Maybe I should just buy this.


From T-town to Tinsletown...High-five!

Brace yourself, ladies and gentlemen. I am about to reveal some ridiculous news. Even for me.

First, a little background.

My uncle hails from the great land of Topeka. (jealous? I know...) By day, he works at Hallmark. By night, he is a taxi driver. I'm not sure why he chose to pick up this as a part-time gig, but his interactions with the Topeka night life has certainly spiced up our family Thanksgiving dinners. Let's just say that taking taxis in T-town is a little more than sketch.

Anyway, I was home visiting a few weeks ago and my dad mentions offhand that Uncle Jay has been asked to be in a German documentary. As you can imagine, this strikes me as quite unusual since a) Topeka doesn't exactly seem like a logical filming location for such an endeavor and b) my uncle (though German) isn't who I would consider a prime source for said documentary. Needless to say, I was quite intrigued.

A week or so passed and over Easter break, I again was home. As we're sitting around the living room, my dad tells me he has quite the update with Uncle Jay. I snapped to attention immediately. And I was not disappointed.

It seems that Uncle Jay had been in the lobby of the cab business when a woman walked in looking lost. My uncle offered his assistance and she proceeded to tell him she was looking for someone to be in the aforementioned German documentary and that, in fact, he would be a perfect candidate. My uncle wasn't initially thrilled with this idea, but after a bit of persuasion, he agreed to the interview.

Originally, the interview was scheduled for T-town. But some bug hit the film crew which caused them to reschedule and before he knew it, my uncle was headed to KCI Airport to meet the elusive documentary crew. In a parking lot. By himself. (apparently he missed out on McGruff growing up)

So, he's waiting...and waiting...and waiting. And the parking lot is pretty much deserted and he's kind of getting ticked because time is going by...when suddenly, two 15 passenger vans arrive out of thin air and a flurry of activity follows as people are jumping out of vans, setting up cameras, mic-ing my uncle (is that a word? mic-ing?), mic-ing each other...it is all Uncle Jay can do to keep his head from spinning. Within a few minutes, he finds himself in his taxi with a European man in the passenger seat who appears to be the interviewer, a European gentleman hunkered down in the backseat with a camera and another European tech guy who tells him to drive slow and follow the van ahead of them so they can get it all on film. And so the adventure began.

As they're driving along, my uncle grew increasingly frazzled. His German passenger would pepper him with questions then break into rather heated German exchanges (or what my uncle thought was German) with the rest of the crew, leaving my uncle almost constantly bewildered.

To make matters worse, his strict orders to drive slow was not exactly winning him friends on the road. As he found himself going 45 mph on the highway and causing a snaking line of angry travelers behind him, he tried desperately to distract himself. Being a big fan of pretty much anything with an engine, he called out at one point, "Oh, check out that '53 Chevy!" to which the entire carload of German passengers erupted in almost sheer panic. "THE PAPARAZZI! IT'S THE PAPARAZZI!" the interviewer shouted, ducking down frantically. Completely caught off guard, my uncle paused as he tried to explain that the paparazzi certainly wasn't common in the middle of Kansas, and furthermore, there was no evidence that anyone in the Chevy was paying any attention to the Topeka taxi. But the Germans were quite convinced, shouting again, "THE PAPARAZZI! THEY ARE ALWAYS AFTER US! QUICK! YOU MUST TURN HERE!" The camera man, now curled into a ball in the backseat frantically tapped Uncle Jay's shoulder and insisted he take his next left. Realizing he was in the company of completely irrational though albeit very passionate strangers, he finally obliged.

Headed back towards the airport, Uncle Jay struggled to remain civil. His nerves were ragged. His patience was wearing thin. And to make it worse, his interviewer kept referring to his clothing and what famous German designer he was wearing. To which my uncle most certainly had nothing to say as he clenched his jaw and continued to drive.

As he pulled into the parking lot, he had the most maddening exchange with his feisty passenger yet.
Crazy Interviewer: Now I'm sure you don't know this, but I am actually famous in my country.
Uncle Jay: Oh, really? That's nice.
CI: Yes, I make movies. And I am famous...but I am sure this does not interest you.
UJ (absentmindedly): Mmhhmm. Wow. That's great.
CI: In fact, I have won many big awards for my performances. But you probably do not care.
UJ: Yeah...Oh, no, I mean, that's cool. Congratulations.
CI: I actually have these awards here. Today. In the trunk. But I am sure you do not wish to see them.
UJ: What? Oh. Um...sure. I mean, yeah. I guess I'll look at them. (trying to mask his annoyance at such leading questions)

The trunk was opened and lo and behold, several large, impressive looking awards are sitting there bubble-wrapped. Uncle Jay is not only expected to "oooh!" and "aaah!" but is also asked to take several pictures with said awards as his passengers continue their German exchanges.

Finally, Uncle Jay reached his breaking point.

"Look fellas," he said, "I am cold. I am tired. And it is getting late. Can we just wrap this up so I can get the hell out of here?"

Within minutes, the party is over and my uncle headed home, head spinning, as he tried to make sense of the madness he just experienced.

The next day at work, Uncle Jay is relaying this surreal experience to his co-worker, who, for reasons still unknown to me, gets an idea.

"Wait a minute," his co-worker said. "This sounds like something straight from Borat."

My uncle gives him a blank stare.

"You have seen Borat, right?" his co-worker asks.

My uncle shakes his head no.

They jump on a computer to google and pull up photos of Borat and his alter-egos, including Bruno, a gay Austrian fashion show presenter (at least according to Wikipedia. I am no Sacha Baron Cohen connoisseur).

Suddenly, my uncle gasps.

"That's him! That's the guy!" he says, pointing at the photo of Bruno. "That is the German passenger that interviewed me!"

Yep, that's right...as it turns out, Sacha Baron Cohen is following the success of his 2006 hit Borat with a similar film using--you guessed it--his Bruno character. So the interview Uncle Jay had for a "German documentary" was actually footage for the upcoming Bruno. And the pesky "German" interviewer was actually Cohen himself.

Which means, my friends, that in a few short months my uncle may be hitting the big screen (the movie is currently slotted to debut in October 2008).

Uncle Jay is currently racking his brain to remember exactly what he said. My brother is currently the coolest person in his frat house. And I am currently holding my breath and praying that Uncle Jay's big debut is not completely mortifying.

Holy. Crap.

I couldn't make this up if I tried.


Death and taxes

...And games that never amount
To more than they're meant
Will play themselves out...

["Falling slowly" from Once. See it if you haven't.]


Change. It’s not a dirty word. But sometimes it sure seems like one.

I naively assumed that once I graduated and settled into the "real world," life would magically fall into place and this roller coaster ride of transition would suddenly become a gently winding Yellow Brick Road (what? I'm from Kansas. Aren't I supposed to dream in terms of Dorothy?).

But life doesn't seem to work that way, as it turns out.

There's the whole job thing, for starters. After the painstaking process of choosing a major and earning that expensive piece of paper, I am quickly realizing that I am no more certain about my life direction with a degree and than I was without it. And while I can definitely appreciate the cash flow that comes with life in the working world (or perhaps cash trickle is more appropriate), I still recognize this as a mere stop along my journey and not as a final destination.

With the new job came a new roommate in a new city among a new community--at times it feels like a whole new life. And it can be exciting to venture out into this new place and discover that even someplace so initially foreign can eventually start to become home. But just when I begin to think I am settling in and gaining acceptance from this big city, I take a wrong turn. Which turns into another. And another. And another. And suddenly, I am lost and alone and feeling very betrayed as the harsh city lights offer little comfort. And I am left with a sinking feeling that perhaps I will never really belong.

But all of this would be manageable if change didn't bring with it such a never-ending string of goodbyes. I know that friendships are different--that some are a short burst, some are for a season and some will remain throughout the journey (that's a bumper sticker phrase if I've ever heard one). But it is still painful to realize that one minute the very person that is walking next to you may reach that same fork in the road and choose a different path. And that your journeys may never again converge.

My search for the certain has left me empty-handed. But maybe that's okay. In fact, maybe that's how life is supposed to be lived. Because living amongst uncertainty keeps one from getting comfortable. From becoming stagnant and stale. From losing sight of one's dreams. From giving up hope.

And ultimately, from living a life that has no need for faith.