Tag Archives: travel

It took Ryan Dingler nine rides to get from Eugene to Florence and back.

Weekend Vagabonds

Once used strictly as a last resort, hitchhiking has become a ticket to adventure for some college students.

On the tail end of a fall weekend, University of Oregon students Ryan Dingler and Daniel Beltramo found themselves stranded in Redding, California. Eager to make it back home to Eugene, Oregon, they hastily added the words “class is on Monday” to their dog-eared cardboard sign requesting a ride north. For two hours, they stood on the shoulder of a busy road with their thumbs thrust in the air, praying that one of the blurred vehicles zooming past might pull over. Although some may see this as a desperate situation, Dingler and Beltramo had anticipated it; they had even hoped for it.

 

It took Ryan Dingler nine rides to get from Eugene to Florence and back.

It took Ryan Dingler nine rides to get from Eugene to Florence and back.

Finally, a 1980s van rolled to a stop a few hundred feet in front of them. “Hey get in!” yelled its sole occupant. The boys were hesitant; the ride was questionable. They approached the passenger side of the van with caution. If anything went wrong, they could still run away. But the driver was clean-shaven and wore a nice jacket. The hitchers introduced themselves, asked where the driver was headed, and got in the car.

“When you first get a ride, you’re ecstatic!” says Dingler of the hitching process. For these adventure-hungry students, hitchhiking is not a last resort but a daring pastime, a way to break free from routine. Getting somewhere is not its purpose. Some don’t even choose a specific destination before hitting the road. The purpose, Dingler says, is in the journey.

Dingler discovered his new hobby during a bout of restlessness. “I was feeling bored and stuck,” he says, “I didn’t have anything to do.” Always eager for a new experience, Dingler and a few pals tried biking to Corvallis, Oregon, but bad weather on the return trip forced them to hitchhike instead. “Not ten minutes after we stuck out our thumbs, a truck came by and took us all the way to Eugene.” Dingler knew right away he had stumbled onto something great: recreational hitchhiking. “I knew that adventure was only a thumb away,” he jokes.
Hitchhiking as a pastime has since caught on to Dingler’s group of friends. But, although there are several online resources for hitchhikers (digihitch.com is the most popular), a community has yet to emerge for hitchhiking purely for fun.

 

Dingler and Eddie Ouellette bond with their driver’s wet dog.

Dingler and Eddie Ouellette bond with their driver’s wet dog.

Soon after that first experience, Dingler and Beltramo planned a longer hitchhiking trip: a quest for an In-N-Out Burger. Before leaving, they researched Oregon and California highway laws to make sure their new pastime was legal—which they discovered it was. In California, however, hitchers must avoid interstates and stay near on-ramps to find long-distance rides.

Anticipating the risk involved, the pair also devised a safety phrase to use in a bad situation They decided to use “I threw it on the ground,” a joke from a Digital Short on Saturday Night Live. Dingler used the term once on a ride back from Portland when he noticed their driver drinking alcohol. He’s also found himself riding with a self-professed bank robber and a drug dealer with a trunk full of marijuana. In situations such as these, the safety phrase comes in handy. When the time is right, they excuse themselves and hop off at the first possible stop.

Despite these and other “creepy” experiences, Dingler and Beltramo say the best part of the experience is swapping stories with their drivers. Their favorite encounters involve other wayfaring travelers such as Johan, the driver of the 1980s van that drove them out of Redding. During the long ride back to Eugene, Dingler and Beltramo took turns resting and talking with Johan, a bartender, traveler, and urban climber of buildings and structures in Seattle. According to the two hitchers, most of the people who take a chance and pick them up are adventurers themselves and can easily be persuaded to talk about their experiences. “Sometimes people completely open up to you because they know they probably will never see you again,” says Dingler. “They want someone in the world to know the struggles they went through.”

Dingler hikes up on the beach in Florence, Oregon to head home.

Dingler hikes up on the beach in Florence, Oregon to head home.

But before they can hear the stories, they have to catch a ride. If hitchhiking is the game, then attracting a car is scoring a point. Earning that score is literally the work of a moment. “[Drivers] judge you and your character as they drive past on the freeway,” says Beltramo. “If you look like a nice person, they’re more likely to pick you up.” To win over a passerby, he and Dingler often dance by the side of the road or do “the wave.” Another tip from Dingler: “Make it personal.” When a vehicle approaches, the hitchers do their best to make eye contact with the driver. “Even if you can’t see them,” he says, “focus on the spot where they should be.” Once the vehicle passes, Dingler says, prolong the effect by staring at it until it disappears from view.

When the hitchhikers finally reel in a ride, they rely on etiquette they’ve compiled to make sure the ride is good. “You always approach the passenger side of the car to avoid scaring the driver,” says Dingler. “Ask where they are going, and decide if it is far enough.” And don’t forget to “shake their hand before you get in.” Dingler also takes note of the license plate number before he gets into the car, texting it to a friend, just in case. According to the travelers, the size of the group is also important. Dingler has always gone in groups of two. “Three is too big,” he says. “I want to try one, but not yet.” He recently accompanied his friend Claire Seger on her first attempt, a ride back to Eugene form Portland. “She wants to go again,” he says with a grin.

Although much of this know-how comes from online tips, Dingler says the best sources are found on the road. Tricks of the trade include learning where not to hitchhike, such as less-urban towns like Medford and Albany, Oregon, and what to wear. The ideal outfit makes one look as friendly and harmless as possible without detracting from the idea that the ride is needed. On a recent hitching trip, a homeless man asked Dingler for money. “Obviously I didn’t dress down enough,” he says.

As Johan drove his decades-old van closer to Dingler and Beltramo’s destination, the guys realized what a good time they were having. Johan pointed out a sign signaling the exit to Eugene. But Dingler and Beltramo weren’t ready to leave. Johan was headed to Seattle. In the spur of a moment, the two decided to let their destination fly by. The adventure wasn’t over yet.

Dresden

– Truman Capps

A few weeks ago, I visited London’s Imperial War Museum, which is basically one giant monument to the fact that if you live in the world, England has tried to kill your ancestors (or maybe even you—holla back, Ireland!).

In the basement of the museum was the Blitz exhibit, where groups of tourists were herded in small groups into a little faux World War II era bomb shelter which would vibrate slightly while recordings of explosions played, to simulate the experiences of Londoners taking shelter from Nazi bombs. Afterwards, a little door opened and we were ushered out into a replica of a bombed out London street, which would have been a very powerful moment had the whole thing not looked like it had been built out of cardboard boxes by someone who had never been to England.*

*So as rides go, I’d rate it below Disneyland’s Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, but above everything at Great America.

What I found most interesting about the experience, though, was that a group of German tourists about my age was in the exhibit with us. As I watched them sitting in the fake shelter, listening to the fake bombs dropped by fake Germans, I thought, Yeah. How do you like them apples, bitches?

And when we stepped out onto the fake-destroyed street, in spite of its crappiness I wanted to turn to the Germans and yell, “Look what you did! Look what you did! Go back to your weinerschnitzel and your disturbing pornography; your kind aren’t wanted here! I hope the in-flight movie is Inglourious Basterds!

So even though the Blitz exhibit wasn’t great, it was sufficient to inspire me with blind, ignorant hatred of other nationalities, which is, I suppose, as good of an English history lesson as you’re going to get.

This whole situation got turned on its head when I visited Dresden.

Dresden is a charming little city of about 500,000 along the Elbe in Germany, perhaps best known as the place that got the absolute shit bombed out of it by the Allies late in World War II. It was during this bombing that Kurt Vonnegut, at the time an American prisoner of war, took shelter in the basement of Slaughterhouse-Five, an event which inspired his book, Slaughterhouse-Five.*

*Or, as I like to call it, Not Cat’s Cradle.

Historians estimate that the bombing and resultant firestorm in Dresden, a cultural center that was of very little military significance, killed between 24,000 and 40,000 people, most of whom were civilians fleeing the war. To cap off this grand historical douche-chill, the rail yards and factories on the outskirts of town, which were the only significant elements of the Nazi war machine in the area, weren’t targeted. It was America’s first foray into wartime assholery; fruitful years in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq lay ahead.

While the basement of the Imperial War Museum is a record of the Blitz in London, virtually all of central Dresden is a living record of the city’s destruction at the hands of Americans. At the center of the city, there’s a new cathedral that’s a replica of a cathedral destroyed in the war, partially constructed out of rubble of the first cathedral.

In the museum downtown, there’s a lot of information to be had about just how many priceless works of art and architecture were lost in the bombing. On the February 13 of every year, the anniversary of the bombing, the people of the city come together to protest war.

Needless to say, Dresden was sort of an embarrassing place to visit as an American. Whenever I would sheepishly ask a waiter if he or she spoke English, I always thought I could catch a glimpse of a steely look in their eye that said, “Oh, well—an American, here to survey the damage. Bad news—if you drop incendiary bombs on your currywurst, we’re not bringing you another one.”*

*This could also just be my reaction to the German language. At one point during my stay, I tried to walk into a bar that was in the process of closing. The manager came around the bar and briskly explained to me, in German, that they were no longer open, which was a traumatic experience for me because no matter what you’re saying in German, it sounds like, “I WILL CRUSH YOU!”

The city’s destruction gave Dresden a chance to rebuild, which they did in a variety of postmodern styles that now make Dresden something of an architectural landmark. While they still remember the past, it looks as though the people of Dresden were able to move beyond it and focus on the future. Hopefully the next time I’m looking at a piece of World War II history with a German, I’ll be able to do the same thing.

Do you see what I did there? Metaphor. You’re damn right I’m a journalism major.

Truman Capps uses metaphor extensively on his blog, Hair Guy.

Bath

– Truman Capps

Pronunciation is a difficult issue over here. The English tend to assume that their pronunciations are inherently more correct than ours, so they’ll laugh at you if you ask for a kebab (pronounced keb-ob) instead of a kebab (pronounced keb-ahb), and won’t understand when you talk about aluminum foil as opposed to al-oom-in-e-um.

This was also true during my program’s excursion to Bath, a small town in Southwest England. When English people asked me what I was doing that weekend, I would say, “I’m going to Bath”  (as in, splish splash I was takin’ a), and then, so as to avoid any confusion, add, “Or Bath.” (long A sound English pronunciation). The consensus from most people I talked to was that I was giving the matter too much thought, as I often do.

Bath is probably best known as the site of an ancient Roman bath, situated over the town’s hot springs (which are some of the only hot springs in the whole UK). Romans occupying England back in the day would flock to these baths to socialize, enjoy the naturally warm waters, and argue about whose idea it was to leave central Italy for a cold, drizzly island that was prone to occasional Viking attacks.

Bath still trades pretty heavily on this history, as evidenced by the spiffy museum they’ve built around the ruins of the ancient Roman bath complex, as well as the adjacent gift shop and café built over what I can only imagine are the ruins of the ancient Roman gift shop and café. It was a Friday, so the museum was packed, particularly with a rambunctious group of French middle schoolers, who were living proof that all large groups of middle schoolers the world over are eye-gougingly annoying.

The baths at Bath had religious purposes, as well. What I found most interesting was that angry Romans would inscribe curses against their enemies onto thin strips of lead, which they would then fling into the baths in hopes that the gods would honor their wishes. They had a bunch of these translated curses available on display, and I was struck by the fact that all of them seemed awfully petty for members of the civilization that conquered basically everything in Western Europe. Most of the curses were from people asking the gods to give other people bad luck because they’d stolen some minor valuables or had gotten a bit snippy about who had the best slaves. All I’m saying is, I expected a little more from the people who built the Pont du Gard.

On the way out, they offered us a complimentary glass of water taken from the thermal spring. Apparently the water in the spring fell as rain as long as 10,000 years ago, and then spent the intervening millennia seeping through the Earth, collecting underground, and then getting boiled back up again by geothermal heat – this should’ve been an indicator that this wasn’t going to be one of my better hydration experiences. The water tasted about like water tastes when you leave your Nalgene in the back of your car for several hours on a hot day. So, for the record, whether it’s three hours or 10,000 years, water just does not keep very well.

Adjacent to the springs where large numbers of men used to congregate and bathe together, the Anglicans built a giant church in 1156.

Cathedrals in Europe are like Taco Bell in America – they’re so plentiful that you never have to go too far to find one, and after a while you almost stop noticing them. You can only be totally blown away by high ceilings, fan vaulting, and stained glass so many times. Unlike Taco Bell, cathedrals usually have no drive through, although if you’re willing to wait inside, the Anglicans do make one hell of a Seven Layer Burrito.

We continued our walking tour through the city, looking at the various 18th century buildings and (mercifully) bypassing the Jane Austen museum when it started pouring down rain.

We took shelter in the lobby of the Bath Fashion Museum and one of the girls in our group suggested that we tour the fashion museum while waiting for the rain to stop. The girls all thought this was a great idea; the male contingent was not as enthusiastic. However, the rain refused to let up and we had nowhere else to go, so…

OH YEAH!

LOOK AT THESE GLOVES! DO YOU SEE ALL THESE GLOVES!?

This already wonderful educational experience was not improved by the presence of the same group of obnoxious French middle schoolers, who may well have been stalking us as some sort of urban commando training. They went capering back and forth through the fashion museum, as uninterested in The Evolution of the Scarf as I was, until I bumped into a knot of them in the ‘Interactive Display’ room.

This was a room in which reproductions of Victorian era corsets were available for visitors to try on. In the room in front of me, a few dozen French boys and girls were chaotically doing just that, fighting over the available corsets and struggling to tighten them on to one another, all under the somewhat helpless gaze of a chaperone.

I spent a moment watching French 11 year olds prancing around in Victorian era underwear before making my exit, checking over my shoulder for Chris Hansen, just in case.

Truman Capps has been further documenting his shenanigans on his blog, Hair Guy.

The Texas Embassy

– Truman Capps

When I first saw the building flying a Lone Star flag with ‘THE TEXAS EMBASSY’ written underneath it only a block away from Trafalgar Square, I thought, “Well, that’s it – London officially sucks now.” Then, I realized that it was not an actual embassy but instead a Tex-Mex restaurant right in the heart of London*.

*It’s directly adjacent to a building with big Canadian flags on it which I assume is the Canadian Embassy. And when I say Canadian Embassy, I’m pretty sure that it’s the governmental sort of embassy as opposed to a tourist trap Canadian cuisine restaurant. Although, knowing Canada, it could also be both – you might be able to chat with the ambassador over poutine, Miller High Life, and some smokes (which, naturally, are on the dessert menu.)

I vowed, when I first saw The Texas Embassy, that I would never go there. But I’ve been here for five weeks, nearly six, and Mexican restaurants are so rare that I’ve taken a picture of every one I’ve seen in all of my travels in the greater Southern England area (for a total of maybe three pictures).

In the desert, water is more valuable than gold – the good thing about the desert, though, is that you can fill up a canteen with water to take with you. Fajitas, on the other hand, don’t fit into a canteen very well, and they stink like the dickens before too long.

Thursday had been a rough day for me, thanks to two consecutive delayed trains and an ancient printer making me uber-late for class. Upon leaving school, my entire day stretching ahead of me and a weeklong trip to Europe starting the next day, I knew there was only one thing I could do to lift my spirits before my midterm vacation:

I had to have some Mexican food.

And sure, I would’ve loved to have gone to one of the little Mexican places I’d spotted in SoHo, but the fact of the matter is that London is an easy city to get lost in, what with its winding streets and even windier alleys, and I didn’t remember exactly where these restaurants were. The only Mexican place I knew the exact location of was The Texas Embassy.

God dammit.

I stepped inside and was seated by an Eastern European waiter whose English was not very good. The walls were adorned with big Southwestern/Mexican themed murals – banditos, fiestas, and The Alamo, with a few aged Texas vanity plates (‘HEYHALL’) tacked up for good measure.

When I got back from the bathroom, I found that the waiter had left a basket of corn chips and a little bowl of salsa on my table – this was encouraging, as in London they are very reluctant to give you anything for free. When you order curry, you’re really only ordering the sauce and the meat – you’ve got to pay an extra 2 pounds for the rice, unless you want to sit around eating straight curry sauce like some kind of douche.

I opened the menu as I devoured my free chips and looked over everything. Chips and salsa were listed on the appetizer menu (subtitled, “The first batch is on the house!”, so as to reassure you that they hadn’t already charged you for what you were eating). The menu was pretty small and significantly more Tex than Mex, but when the waiter finally arrived to take my order, I asked for a chimichanga and called it good.*

*When relating this experience to my host family later, my host sister stopped me and said, “Wait – what’s a chimichanga?”

As I sat around, waiting for my food, my drink conspicuously empty yet ignored and unrefilled, I noticed that the music playing the restaurant, which had at first been vaguely Latin, was now some old timey crooner of the Frank Sinatra/Tony Bennett variety, which clashed pretty hard with the Wild West motif on the walls. This furthered my suspicion that, to Englanders, Manhattan is ten miles away from Houston, which is fifteen miles away from Los Angeles.

At long last, my Eastern European waiter came by and dropped off my food, saying, “Here you go, boss,” before walking away. This line sounded about as natural as Carmen Electra’s breasts.

I dug into my food, which, as I had expected, was pretty damn sub-par. The rice was full of frozen pea and carrot squares and the chimichanga was bland overall. What’s more, this little experiment cost me 15 pounds.

I wanted to stand up on my chair and shout to the British people in the restaurant:

Attention, British people! Do not eat here and think that you don’t like Mexican food – this is not what Mexican food is like! For you see, I come from a place called America, wherein one is entitled to as many free chips and salsa as he wants, and the food doesn’t taste like cardboard wrapped in cardboard! They don’t have to force a Mexican atmosphere because actual Mexicans work there, and unlike here, the waiters are so attentive that you barely have time to eat because you’re so busy telling them how good the food is!

Instead, I paid with cash and left. You don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone.

Truman Capps does this twice a week on his blog, Hair Guy.

Tower of London

All national museums in the UK were banned from charging admission more than a decade ago, and they now receive all their funding through government grants and private donations. This is a great thing for tourists, cheapskates, and tourist cheapskates like myself – and it means that if you have to go to the bathroom, it’s cheaper to find one in the building filled with famous, priceless works of art than to shill out 30 pence for a pay toilet on the street.

However, thanks to a fair amount of bureaucracy and red tape, multiple historic sites and museums in London don’t qualify as national museums and thus continue to charge admission. Most notable among these exceptions is the Tower of London. I was quite disappointed a couple of weeks ago when I traveled to the Tower expecting free culture and was instead confronted by guards expecting me to pay 14 pounds for a ticket. I briefly considered trying to sneak in, but given the Tower’s millennium-old reputation as both an impenetrable fortress and an inescapable prison, I gave up on my plan and slunk home instead.

But I returned yesterday, 14 pounds in hand, having reluctantly accepted the fact that if indeed I want to do everything there is to do here, I might have to spend some money along the way.

First, in all seriousness, let me tell you this – should you ever be in London, just go ahead and fork over 14 pounds to get into the Tower of London. The ticket gets you into several different museums within the Tower walls, not to mention an excellent tour by a Yeoman Warder – one of those guys in funky hats who served as a prison guard and now simply condenses 1,000 years of British history into 55 minutes for tourists.

The grounds themselves put me in mind of Disneyland – not just because the whole joint is all ye olde European, but also because it’s full of tourists meandering around with people in period costume. And there are gift shops.

For those of you who, like me before I visited, aren’t totally clear on the Tower of London’s history, I’ll try to bring you up to speed. Basically, in 1078, William the Conqueror, the first Norman king of England, built the Tower as a fortress from which to run his campaign against the resident Britons who didn’t welcome the invading Normans as liberators.

In the intervening thousand or so years, the fortress served as a secure royal residence whenever the peasants got too uppity, and then as a prison, wherein a who’s who of European high society who had run afoul of the royal family were locked up, tortured, and executed. Listing them all would be like listing all the artists on one of those soft rock compilation albums they advertise on daytime TV – Henry IV, Thomas More, Ann Boleyn, Guy Fawkes (as seen in V For Vendetta!) and Edward IV’s two sons, commonly known as The Princes in the Tower, who were sent there by their asshole uncle Richard III and later killed.

They probably weren’t the inspiration for the Spin Doctors’ hit 1993 single ‘Two Princes’, but I like to pretend that they were.

As someone who is not a huge expert on English history, it was refreshing to see that not only is there a country with a history nearly as violent and intolerant as ours in the U.S., but also that the curators and guides didn’t sanitize it at all to try and make the Crown look better, nor did they sugarcoat the 1,000-year orgy of torture and death for the various children on the tour (all of whom seemed to enjoy themselves greatly – in your face, Grand Theft Auto).

They wouldn’t let me take pictures of the crown jewels, but honestly, for all the fanfare, I wasn’t all that impressed. It’s a bunch of incredibly ornate golden plates and crowns, inset with as many precious stones as they could fit on there. It’s mostly a testament to the royal family’s age-old pursuit of bling. What I did find impressive was the fact that they had the audacity to put a collection box and a big sign begging for donations right next to three rooms’ worth of enough jewelry to buy (and giftwrap) Guam.

What I was allowed to take pictures of were some of the highly decorative weapons on display in the royal armory, two of which I’d like to leave you with today. Sure, the Crown Jewels are nice and all, but these are like Crown Jewels that can kill people.

Truman Capps blogs about all the other stuff he’s been doing in England on his blog, Hair Guy.

Beauty and the Bees

– Sam Wotipka

In the rainforest, wonder and amazement can give way to complete terror rather quickly.

The day had started off well enough. We had hiked along the Rio Zuñac for several hours, encountering the usual surprises offered by an eastern montane neotropical rainforest–colorful exotic birds, transparent-winged butterflies, orchids the size of a thumbnail, orchids resembling flies (copulatory mimicry, look that one up), orchids that can’t be found anywhere else on earth, plants growing on plants growing on plants (epiphytes, they’re called), and the like. Not a bad way to be spending spring term.

After a quick lunch that was interrupted by an anteater sighting–they’re endangered and quite rare down here–we had briefly begun to trek up a particularly precipitous slope of the Topo-Zuñac valley before deciding to turn back after finding that a recent landslide had taken a large chunk of our trail with it.

A Southern Tamandua (or an anteater as they´re commonly known) peaking through the tree branches.

Our group was about halfway down the hill when we noticed that there was a substantial quantity of honey bees buzzing amongst us. We ran, some of us faster than others. But “Africanized” honey bees, as they turned out to be, are ultra-aggressive hybrids between the European honey bees that are common in North America and their African counterparts, and they are persistent little shits. They follwed us in swarms for more than three quarters of a mile. Between eight of us, we were stung somewhere around 70 to 80 times. I was only stung once, others weren’t quite as lucky. That honey bees die once they use their stinger provided some minimal consolation for our pain.

Bomarea evecta

Sam is a junior studying English and Biology (he swears that the two are related). Currently, Sam is in Ecuador as part of the Neotropical Ecology program offered by the University of Oregon’s biology department. He is part of a group of 17 other UO students and they are learning about the rainforest–plants, animals, biodiversity, and all of that good stuff.

The Chugchucara

– Sam Wotipka

Latacunga is a small agricultural town of about 50,000 people in the Cotopaxi province of Ecuador with a hopping Saturday market and a heart-stopping local specialty dish called “Chugchucara.” After a three and a half hour train ride from Quito, I arrived in Latacunga this Saturday with an empty stomach and five dollars of Ecuadorian and US currency.

About three blocks from the train station I found what I was looking for and embarked on one of the most peculiar and artery-clogging culinary experiences of my life. A chugchucara consists of mote (hominy), chicharrón (fried pork skin), potatoes, fried bananas, fritada (fried pork), tostado (toasted corn), popcorn, and cheese enfanadas.

I consist of about 135 pounds of skin and bones… It was quite a battle. Ultimately, I emerged victorious, although not without the aid of a few Pilsners. Healthy or delicious, perhaps not. A unique culture experience, certainly.


Waking up in England

– Truman Capps

How can I concisely describe my initial impressions of England without sounding like a total idiot?

England looks exactly like it does in all the movies made in England.

England is distinctly English, if you know what I mean.

Everything in England is different from everything in America – it’s like a whole ‘nother country over here!

God damn it…

Specifically, everything is smaller. The houses in England – even in Harrow, where I’m staying, a bedroom community that is more or less London’s equivalent of Beaverton – are far smaller than any I’ve seen on the West Coast. In many cases the houses are jammed wall to wall in a tight row, and few (if any) have front yards.

I feel pretty lucky, because my host family set aside two rooms for the American students; one spacious and open, and the other one slightly smaller than my walk in closet back in Portland. Because I showed up first, I got the larger room, forcing my housemate to live in a room that makes an elevator look huge and breezy.

My room, which I’m already doing my best to crapify.

Cars are also smaller across the board, because fuel is more expensive    here and so car designs tend more toward fuel efficiency and less toward “just so you know, my dick can be seen from space” like they do  in the United States. Cars are streamlined and compact. There are no  trucks, and essentially no SUVs. Even the police drive the sort of cars  you’d expect someone’s mom to drive, albeit with a pretty garish  paintjob.

On the flip side, though, London itself is huge. The city’s official population is 8 million, but according to one of our professors, that grows to 12 million every day as people commute into the city for work. That’s 4 million people, which is more than the population of Oregon, flowing in and out of the city every day. That means that at noon on any given day, one out of five people in England are in London.

And unlike Los Angeles and the greater LA County area, which boasts a larger population but sports uniformly deserted streets, London actually feels like a huge city. The streets are thick with people – joggers, cyclists, businessmen, families, the elderly, dog walkers, tourists, and ever-ubiquitous maintenance workers (who all wear day-glo yellow reflector uniforms).

One thing London is short on is homeless people – I’ve traversed a fair  amount of downtown over the past couple of days, and so far I’ve only seen  one bum slumped against a building. Compare this to Los Angeles, where  bums are often the only people who aren’t driving, or Portland, where in Old  Town I’ve had rival bums fight one another for the right to panhandle me, or  Eugene, which Matt Groening once described (speaking through Futurama’s Bender) as a candidate for the ‘biggest hobo jungle in the  quadrant.’

The lack of bums could be explained by the fact that everything in London is  more expensive – a fact that even native Londoners such as my host family  agree on. A pub I visited yesterday was charging 10 pounds for fish and  chips, and houses an hour away on the Underground outside the city still cost in excess of four-hundred thousand pounds. The high prices are a double whammy for Americans, too, because currently the pound is worth about $1.50. This results in twofold outrage when at a store – an American sees an unreasonably high price for something he needs and is shocked and appalled, and then multiplies that price by 1.5 in order to figure out how much he’s actually spending.

The pub of which I speak

Over the next few days, I’ll be doing my absolute best not to accidentally spend myself into financial ruin. Then, I intend to do some legitimate sightseeing so that I can write about it, instead of continuing with this Jerry Seinfeld observational bullshit.

Truman Capps maintains a personal blog, Hair Guy, where he posts additional updates from his time overseas.

PDX to LAX

– Truman Capps

A few Christmases ago, my parents got me a little Moleskin notebook—the expensive kind that pretentious people use. The idea was that I, as an aspiring pretentious writer, would need someplace to record all the lofty ideas that came to me during the day.

Today it’s mostly full of fart jokes and three years’ worth of grocery lists. (Is it okay for a man to buy this much Yoplait Light?)

I’ve been at home for the past ten days making the final arrangements for my study abroad trip to England. Currently I’m sitting in the Portland airport waiting for a flight that will take me to Los Angeles where I will interview for summer internships for a few days. Then I will begin my study abroad trip across the massive, iceberg-laden pond to England.

These past few weeks have been largely occupied with extracting myself from my social life here in the United States. In Eugene, my old roommates and my friends from the Oregon Marching Band threw me a funeral-themed party shortly before I left. I am now ‘dead to them’ because I’ll be gone for the rest of the school year. They’ve even christened my subletter ‘New Truman,’ despite the fact that she’s a girl. I’m hoping that they give me my name back when I return home because ‘Old Truman’ sounds like either a Wild West prospector or a guileful catfish in a southern lake that nobody has ever been able to catch.

Eugene is never more awesome then it is when you decide to leave. While I’m gone, Conan O’Brien, my idol and haircut buddy, will be kicking off his stage tour of the United States in Eugene; my favorite professor will be teaching Feature Writing II; and there are rumors that cheerleaders may show up to one of my friends’ upcoming parties. Yes, cheerleaders. I’ve been trying to meet a cheerleader at a party for three years, and as soon as the opportunity arises I have to go to freaking London. God damn it, broadening your cultural horizons sucks.

I’ve heard the study abroad experience described as both the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. If that’s the case, the lows are going to be even lower thanks to the knowledge that my friends back home are doing all the things that I want to do. At this point, it’s easy to forget that going to London is right up there with owning a spaceship on the list of things I’ve always wanted to do.

To that end, last night I wrote three pieces of advice for myself in my Moleskin notebook in a rare fit of confidence—things I want to remember during the lows:

THIS WAS NOT A MISTAKE

DO EVERYTHING

SLEEP WHEN YOU’RE DEAD

For whatever reason, when I see something written down on paper, I automatically put more stock in it (which is why I will never read a book by Glenn Beck). Because I want to be a writer, maybe I’ve got a misguided respect for the written word. Whatever the reason, since writing down my list I’ve felt more upbeat about this trip. Sure, my friends will be partying with cheerleaders, but maybe I’ll wind up sitting next to Zooey Deschanel on the plane.

UPDATE: Well, no luck on the Zooey Deschanel thing, but the seat next to me is empty instead. While Zooey Deschanel is usually preferable to no Zooey Deschanel, I loves me the armrests.

Truman Capps does this sort of crap twice a week on his blog, Hair Guy, where you can find additional travel posts from his time in London and LA.