Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #18

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Fly in a two seater.

I was 20 years old and sitting shotgun in what felt like a small pickup truck with wings. We were parked on a short runway somewhere in northern RI. As she prepared for takeoff, my 19 year old pilot-friend was giving commentary on her actions, but my attention was fixed on comprehending this little hunk of aluminum taking me thousands of feet into the air and then safely back to the ground.

When we had first walked up to the plane, I touched the wing and it almost knocked the thing over! At this, I knew I was in for a different kind of flight then the ones I’d taken before.

When the engine started, it sounded like a 2 stroke lawnmower at first. Eventually it smoothed out and the nearly deafening sound of the wind competed with my thoughts. With a little alpha beta wacka data clearance from the “tower”, we were bouncing down the runway. If you’re ever gone too fast in a golf cart, you know how it felt.

About half way down the run way we were up….then down. Then up again! Then down a bit! Then up! Oh man.,..this was fun. I’m smiling, I’m laughing, and I’m tearing the leather off the seat with my clenched fists. It didn’t even feel like we were going that fast when we finally took off…maybe 80mph or so, but nevertheless…we were airborne.

We cleared the trees and imagined what they would feel like coming through the windshield. We drove over a road and imagined having to use it as an emergency runway. We took a sharp turn and I saw myself falling out the door, which may have well been paperclipped shut it was so rickety. yes, it would be safe to say I was a bit scared.

That faded quickly though. Once I got use to the gusts of wind blowing us around like the plane was made of paper, I was able to enjoy the views and the awesome feeling of flight. It’s a feeling I’ve never had in a jumbo jet, or even a small charter plane. In bigger planes, the restricted view makes it feel more like watching a TV screen than flying.

We climbed, we dove, we turned sharply…I even took the controls for a bit. The response of the craft was surprisingly quick. With a slight push, I could inject the sensation of falling into my stomach.

My absolute favorite thing about flying, which is the same even from the window of an airliner, is the perspective it gives me. Being so high above the earth, with everything looking so small….reminds me that it is.

It was easy to imagine that it was only me there, flying alone…having complete control over what clouds to aim for, which way to turn, how long to dive.

Often the question comes up, “if you could have one super power, what would it be?” I always answer flying. And this might be the closest I’ll ever get.

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #17

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Jog across the Golden Gate Bridge.

First of all, the Golden Gate is the freaking hugest bridge I’ve ever seen. It’s massive. The walkway is wide enough for the hundreds of people that walk, run and bike across it everyday.

Since it was so high above the water, jogging across this bridge gave me a weightless feeling. On top of that, I was moved by the massiveness of the steal and concrete. It was like the ability and perserverance of humans to create such a thing was pushing me to run faster.

I could have just as easily walked across the bridge, but for some reason I like to go for a run when I find myself in famous locations. I think maybe it helps me feel like a local.

No doubt, not having a camera or an ear to the tourist’s chatter, gave me a unique memory of one of the man made wonders of the world.

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #16

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Teach high school.

Six years after I graduated high school, I was back in the classroom I took Physics in during my senior year. Except this time it was chemistry…And I was the teacher.

Like almost everyone else I know, college left me with a degree and no direction. One of the many things I tried was teaching. I went up to the state’s education department in Providence and got myself a substitute teaching certificate.

At the beginning of my second week, I got a call from the school department in the town I grew up in. They offered me a long term position covering for a chemistry teacher who had just had a baby. So with literally two days experience teaching high school, I was given about 100 kids, a curriculum to follow, and my own classroom.

Chemistry is the least favorite and most difficult class in high school. Nevermind the fact that most kids aren’t interested in learning anyway. I faced lots of challenges beyond the subject matter though. Like keeping the crazy kids under control, getting the lazy kids to work, avoiding the faculty drama, and staying motivated to do actual work for a meek $50 per day.

Like any job environment, I found there to by a ton of wired drama between all the teachers. I’d always wondered what went on in the faculty lounge. Now I was eating lunch with the same teachers I’d had six years ago. And guess what they were talking about? The students! Oh and of course each other too. I’m sure I was the topic of conversation in the faculty lounges many times. It was basically the same crap that the kids talk about in highschool. It’s funny, it’s like the faculty is just an older version of the students, except they eat lunch in a different place and sit facing the class.

The pay was way too small for me, so as soon as the regular teacher came back, I resigned from my quick stint of teaching.

Even though I was only a teacher for a couple of months, it was pretty rewarding to see kids come to understand something due to my explanations and see the ones that weren’t doing any work, respond to my motivation. Of course there were kids who were impossible, leaving me with a feeling of an unconquered challenge, but there were others who thanked me and praised me. These small rewards left me with a desire to return to teaching kids in some way, somewhere, someday.

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #15

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Bomb a hill on a skateboard.

The last time I skated it was the 4th of July in, I think, 2001. I had just come home from one cookout to change before going to another. At the time I was still in college and living with a bunch of friends. My roommate Dave suggested we bomb the hill on our street. I was hesitant to do it at first, but I said what the hell and grabbed my deck.

In case you don’t know, bombing a hill on a skateboard means just going down it as fast as you can. In case you haven’t ridden a skateboard, there are two fears when you start to reach high rates of speed.

1. Truck Wobble – When the board starts turning left, then right, then left then right on it’s own, because the trucks (wheel axles) are not designed for high rates of speed.

2. Death Pebbles – Little rocks, about the size of a pea, of which millions and millions exist. These tiny rocks act as instant stopping mechanisms when they come in contact with a skateboard wheel.

Dave went first. He took off fast, but he was more skilled than me…so I got off to a slow start. Starting slow didn’t matter. After about 50 feet I was freaking flying. Luckily I didn’t hit a death pebble. Unluckily, when I hit about 30 mph, truck wobble set in.

There is a point when you’re bombing a hill on a skateboard that you know you’re going to fall and there is nothing you can do about it. When the truck wobble became violent and I had reached that point, I jumped off the board, but humans can’t run 30 mph. They can try…but I only got about two foot stomping, knee cracking strides in before the upper half of my body did an unavoidable forward roll into the hot pavement.

First my elbow hit. Then my head. Then my back. Then everything else. I could smell the flesh burning off me. In slow motion I could feel the death pebbles I had missed embed themselves into my skin. When i stopped skidding my deck was still rolling down the hill. By itself. Just bouncing along…all innocent like. Dave wasn’t even in site and my head was ringing. Blood was making my clothes stick to me. It was pretty vicious.

That was the last time I skateboarded. My interest in it had been fading anyway. I wasn’t getting better any quicker than I was getting injured. Don’t get me wrong, bombing hills is a lot of fun. In fact, I recommend bombing the bus tunnel from the east side of providence to downtown. Preferably at night, so you don’t get flattened by a bus.

The best part about bombing that hill near my house and tearing my flesh off as a result, was learning to be more careful with my decisions to test my ability. I still take risks…lots of them, but since that 4th of July, I think they’re a bit more calculated.

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #14

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Eat pasta and pizza in Italy.

I was only in Naples for a day, but when I was there I had my first authentic Italian pizza at this place called Pizzeria De Michelle. Surprisingly, yet refreshingly, the place with arguably the best pizza in Italy, was an ill maintained and dimly lit diner type eatery. They had two options for pizza. With sauce and without. No authentic Italian pizza has cheese on it. They served me an entire pie to be eaten with a fork and knife. The crust was thin, so I fit the whole thing in my stomach pretty easily. It’s not even fair to compare this pizza to the slop of sauce, cheese and bread we eat in the states. The freshness and flavor was immense. It really made any pizza I’ve had in the states seem like junk food in comparison.

The day I arrived in Florence, I found a small restaurant called Mario’s. Mario sat me at a small table with an older man already eating at it. Sharing tables with strangers is customary in Italy. I ordered the lunch special and Mario promptly returned with a glass of water, a small piece of fresh bread and four ravioli’s. Every meal but dinner, is a light one in Italy. The ravioli’s were filled with cheese and spinach. I’ve had fresh pasta before, but they must have cut the vegetables that day and made this dish on the way to my table. Better than any pasta, pizza or food I’d ever had. I can still see, smell and taste it. Mmmmmm.

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #13

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I don’t write nearly as much as I enjoy it. Nowadays, most of my writing gets done while I’m travelling, since at that time I have no distractions. I plan to take a laptop with me on my year long world journey. I’ll be sure to write plenty then.

I don’t write nearly as well as I believe I can either. Most of the writing I do is on this website, which I basically consider free writing. Despite the emailed corrections from my Mom, I hardly ever check grammar or spelling.

One of the best ways I’ve found to organize my thoughts and feelings is writing. Sometimes my mind winds in so many directions, I don’t even know what I’m thinking until I use a keyboard to sort it all out. Through writing in short bursts on my website, I’ve found it to be one of my favorite things to do. I seem to get recognition for my photography and writing more than anything else I do, which I won’t deny helps make it enjoyable.

One of the best examples of this was having a story I wrote published by Lonely Planet. I have always admired Lonely Planet and everything they produce. A few years ago, I was posting some of my writings about my backpacking trip in Italy on their message board. I called the story “Waking up to Winter“. One day I got an email from an editor at their main office in Australia. She had been reading my postings and asked if I would allow them to print it in an upcoming book. Of course I agreed.

My story ended up being the longest and featured story in Lonely Planet’s first anthology of short stories called “Rite of Passage: Tales of Backpacking ‘Round Europe“. It keeps me motivated to write when I go into bookstores all over the country and I see my name and writing on the back cover of a book by my favorite publisher.

If I can move people to think about the world, about themselves, about life…If I can communicate the way things make me feel through pictures or words…I feel like I’m giving something back. I have this desire to give back and slowly I’m coming to believe that writing and photography may be the best ways for me to do it.

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #12

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Buy a house.

I’ve bought a bunch of different houses in the past couple of years, but buying the first one was the most memorable. I’m not really sure why, but there’s something rewarding about owning a piece of property. It’s probably the fact that I was raised in America, where land ownership is held in high regard. There’s just something awesome about having your own tiny slice of the planet.

On the flip side, it was awakening to learn that my freedom to do what I wanted with my property, was very limited. Have you ever noticed, maybe when flying in an airplane, that all the places people live in are generally the same shape? That all these places are generally evenly spaced apart from each other? Have you ever noticed that, say, fences in peoples yards are all about the same height? That houses are different, but moreso the same? Yea? Well, that’s because there are about a million laws deciding what we can and can’t do on property, which we suppposedly own.

By buying a house, I learned that ownership didn’t mean I was in charge, it just meant I spent less money. Yet still, if I didn’t pay my taxes, I’d find out who really owned my property. And if I didn’t follow the laws, I’d find out who really owned my property. The government. No, even better, the Dollar.

The dollar owns our property, just like it owns us. It’s not new news that our freedom only goes as far as our bank account can stretch us. If you don’t plan on escaping the grips of the machine anytime soon, then buying a house is still, hands down, a good move. Just don’t plan on digging a mote around your house or lighting a bonfire in your backyard without a hell of a hassel from your friendly city government.

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #11

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Learn to defend myself.

I’ve trained different forms of fighting and self defense arts since I was twelve years old. Most of my training was in Kenpo, which I attained a black belt in. During college I tried some Capoiera and Ju Jitsu and more recently I’ve been training an art called Vee-Arnis-Jitsu.

I’m not invincible and there are probably a ton of situations that if I got into, I would be in some serious trouble. However, for the most part, I’m comfortable with my ability to defend myself against the average attack. Whatever that is.

The more comfortable I become with my ability to defend myself, the easier it is to walk away from confrontation. I see fighting as a product of fear and insecurity. Today I train only to defend myself against an unwanted and unwarranted attack.

Hopefully I never need to defend myself, but in an uncertain world, knowing how at least makes me feel a little better.

I guess it’s kinda like wearing a helmet 😉

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #10

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Go to college.

“Will you ever use your degree?” I get asked that a lot when I tell people I have a BS in Physics. Investing in real estate and starting businesses doesn’t exactly necessitate an understanding of advanced calculus or quantum theory. Actually, it has no direct benefit.

College is not about the direct things.

For me it had nothing to do with getting a degree. Come to think of it, I don’t even know where my degree is. I put it in a box somewhere shortly after receiving it in the mail. Getting the degree was important to me, but having it wasn’t. Physics was interesting to me, but I had no plans of working in research or going to grad school.

College is about the indirect things.

For me it had everything to do with all the challenges I faced, all the skills I gained, all the stresses and failures I learned to deal with. It was about learning to bullshit my way to an A, learning how to speak to crowds of people, learning how to fit 100 hours of work into 75 hours of time. Physics taught me ways, and made me determined, to solve problems. Lots of problems. Hard problems. And not just physical problems. All kinds of problems.

The list is endless, which makes going to college worth so much. I know a lot of people who feel they wasted time going to college. Maybe it’s true, but I say it’s their fault. Struggling through college, with eyes fixed on a degree, will assure that everything of value passes by in the periphery.

In fact, without a wide view and a glass half full, anything that takes effort is a waste.

Top 100 Things I’ve Done – #9

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Live in a tent.

The summer after college, I filled a big duffel bag with books, music and clothes and shipped myself to the middle of Oregon. I was working at an adventure camp for teens (another experience which will appear in my Top 100). When I found my new home, an old tent sitting on dirt patch in a lightly wooded area next to a farm, I was pretty uncomfortable with it.

I had never even been camping before this. At first I tried desperately to keep my things clean. Everything man made was to stay inside the tightly zipped tent. Clean quickly dissipated as even a remote possibility, for sand and dust was constantly blowing around over everything. Oregon is dry, and that summer it was the driest. It was the summer they had all those forest fires. I got so dirty that summer, dirtier than I had ever been. My finger nails were black. I was always barefoot, so my feet were actually stained from the dirt. I was a true hippy.

It was hard to sleep at first, but I adapted. A week in, my one inch thick pad and purple sleeping bag was as exciting to get into as the full motion water bed I left behind was.

Waking up to the sounds of strange animals in the night was intimidating at first, but after awhile it just brought me a sense of peacefulness.

Having everything I owned and needed right inside my tent, made it feel like home pretty quickly too.

When I returned home at the end of the summer, it was nice to be clean and comfortable again. I realized cleanliness is largely a relative term. When I was living in the tent, everyone around me was dirty. Everyone had dirty hands and dirty clothes. Even now, when I go camping I don’t mind being covered in filth…But when I’m home in a modern clean environment, I’m Mr Hygiene.

It was also nice to have more space and stuff when I came back, but I can’t say that I was any happier. The peacefulness that came with the simplicity of living in a tent, challenges the happiness that modern options and comfort brings. I guess I am sold on the modern lifestyle, but the alternative is pretty sweet too.

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