Fear and Loathing in San Francisco

What does it feel like to be unemployed in one of the most expensive cities in the world?

Terrifying thoughts resonate.  How long before I’m another soulless body rummaging around San Francisco’s tenderloin willing to do cheap tricks for next to nothing?FullSizeRender (6)

But what are you going to do now? That seems to be the first question out of everybody’s mouth.

I’m going to do what I want.  Fortunately for a man who exudes more confidence than numbers in his bank account, I am feeling fantastic.  I know—as I’ve always known—everything will be all right.

But why would you leave your job without having anything lined up?  To put that answer into terms most people will understand: do you stay in a stagnant relationship only until you find your next fling?  Chances are you leave after you’ve had enough, regardless.

Now I’m going to finish this beer and look onward to the future. Hopefully I will find answers at the bottom of this can.

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The Viennese Associate

I almost came into a great fortune, one that would have made my trip that much more exciting.

I was heading to the Hauptbahnhof in Vienna when I passed a lady who had loads of paper flying from her pocket.  At first I thought she was littering, so I judgmentally looked the other way.  As I got closer I realized the papers were different colors, much like Euros.  I couldn’t imagine this lady, let alone anybody, allowing that much money float from their pocket without the slightest idea. Only until the paper blew to my feet did I see numbers on her litter.

Shit, this was money.  Lots and lots of money.  And she still had no idea.FullSizeRender (5)

There were pieces of green paper with 100 written on them and a lot of red ones with 10—so many red notes I couldn’t count.

There was an older man walking opposite me and he began collecting the money.  I think he was oblivious to the situation and thought it was simply his lucky day. Fortunately my German can get me far enough to explain to him that a lady just dropped the money and went into the store.

This man was a good person and didn’t run, even though his 70 years of age wouldn’t have taken him too far.  He followed me into the store, still not entirely aware of what was happening.  Or maybe he already forgot.

He had no idea who the lady was so I tried describing her to him.  But I didn’t have the best idea of who exactly dropped the money.  I just remembered seeing a lady throw her garbage on the ground, or so I thought.

OK, so I remember a lady with darker skin and frizzy hair tied up in a ponytail.  Did I just see Scary Spice?

A 23-year-old foreigner wearing a backpack with a rolling suitcase in tow accompanied by a 70-something year-old Viennese gentleman hardly look like a typical grandfather-grandson duo looking to do their daily grocery shopping.  I felt awkward.

I walked into the store looking for a woman.  After two seconds I realized everybody in the store was a woman.  That wouldn’t get me far.  Next item: frizzy Scary Spice hair tied up in a ponytail.

And there, toward the back of the store, was a lady with frizzy hair, reminiscent of Scary Spice.  I quickly approached her with my assistant closely behind, but I began to have second thoughts.

What if this wasn’t the lady who dropped the money?  What if there was somebody next to her that I didn’t notice?  

Surely I can’t just walk up to a stranger and say, “here is the €200 you just dropped.  Have a nice(er) day.”

Once again my German came to the rescue.  I asked her if she had lost her money.  She looked puzzled, as anybody would if a foreigner butchering your language asked you if you lost money.

Geld?” she replied, reaching toward her pockets—her large pockets that were gaping open.

I saw her heart drop as her hand reached to the bottom of her pocket, finding nothing but the fabric.  This was the right lady.

I told her it was OK, I found her money.  I gathered the €200 my sidekick and I collected and returned it to Scary Spice.   She grabbed the money and thanked me over and over. Her range of emotions stretched anywhere from suicide to gratitude within three seconds.

By now we had a small audience of three nosey ladies, curious to see what was so urgent. After we handed over the money and saw green and red paper—the €100 banknote and the handful of €10s—one let out a gasp.  I heard one say something like, “oh my god that’s a lot of money.”

I didn’t waste time sticking around.  I had a train to catch.  My sidekick and I walked out of the store together, before we continued on with our lives. He walked left and I went right.

I will never see that man again, but for one minute of the thousands of minutes in his life, I shared a bond with him.  We knew nothing about each other before, but after our experience we each learned something from each other.  We both learned that there are decent people in the world.

Things could have ended differently.  I could have taken the money as much as he could have.  We could have split our “winnings” and parted ways, never to see each other again.  But in the end we parted ways knowing that lady will be able to buy her groceries.  We parted ways knowing we did the right thing.

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An Unsuspecting Beggar

I settled for a noodle box.  I was starving and it was just what I wanted.  Greasy noodles and chicken at a fair price.

I sat down outside and began eating.  Two minutes later and almost half way into the box, stomach still growling from hunger, he approached me.  He had the courage to sit right on the table in front of me. He looking into my eyes and I looked into his.table-for-two-1

I wasn’t going to part with any of my noodles to this beggar.  I took another bite, not taking my eyes off him for a second.  He was still there, watching me eat.

His eyes blinked twice and he tilted his head.  I raised my hand to test him, but he didn’t budge.  Surely he was hungry, maybe as much as I was.

I couldn’t deny him something I wanted myself.  I reached into my box and grabbed a single noodle and stuck out my hand as an offering.  He gratefully took the noodle from me began eating.

By this time one of his friends saw he had food and wanted to steal his share.  The bird took his noodle and flew away to safety.

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Football: A game of heros and scapegoats

The Conference Championship games are over and the Super Bowl match up is set.  A rematch featuring the New England Patriots and the New York Giants.

Oddly, both championship games came down to the final play.  The Giants advanced off the right foot of kicker Lawrence Tynes and two muffed punts from San Francisco 49ers’ Kyle Williams.

The first miscue skinned the knee of Williams and was cleverly recovered by the Giants in great field position. The Giants marched down the shortened field to score the go-ahead touchdown.  The 49ers rallied back and tied the game, so Williams adverted being a scapegoat—for the time being at least.

The second fumble was not as forgiving.  Williams lost the ball deep in his team’s territory, putting the Giants into game-winning field-goal range.  Williams set the table AND served the food, waiting only for the Giants to feast and kill the 49ers’ Super Bowl dreams.  Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes put his team on his back and nailed the game winner from 31 yards—a chip shot for any NFL kicker.

But don’t tell Billy Cundiff  a 31-yard field goal is a chip shot.

Only three hours before, Cundiff missed a potential game-tying field goal from 32 yards out.  There is a threshold that separates a chip-shot field goal a kicker can nail 100 out of 100 times from a distance where they might make only 99.  This line lies about 31 and-a-half yards away from the uprights. At that distantce—or any distance for that matter—it is important to put a good foot on the ball.  But not too much, or else the kick will be shanked wide of the uprights.  Cundiff either put too much foot on his kick, or he successfully completed 99 attempts prior to this last-second kick.

In Cundiff’s defense, a successful field-goal attempt from 32 yards at the end of the game would have only sent his team into overtime.

Anything could have happened.  Perhaps New England Patriots’ kicker Stephen Gostkowski would have been the kicker burying his head at the end of the game, too sick to watch the Baltimore Ravens celebrate their birth into the Super Bowl. But that didn’t happen and we will never know what could have.

The largest what-if remains what if Ravens wide receiver Lee Evans would have held onto his potential game-winning touchdown with seconds to spare?   Surely this would have avoided Cundiff’s entrance to the game, but again, we will never know.  What we do know is the ball was dislodged from Evans’ clumsy grip and the burden was reserved for Cundiff only a few seconds later.

Today, three football players made plays they would love to forget, but will probably never live down.

Today, three football players were put on suicide watch.  Taking all things into consideration, nobody had as bad of a day as Joe Paterno.  RIP, JoePa.

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How to Keep it in Your Pants: 7 Ideas to Frugal Your Date

The classic “dinner and a movie” date has spawned a new meaning—four McDoubles from the dollar menu and a movie from Redbox. This is not the most romantic date, but it is an easy alternative to the high-priced theater.

The cost of going to a movie can quickly add up to as much money you make in one day; that is if you have a job.  Despite the high prices, you decide to go regardless and will soon face the consequences.

Two tickets, one large popcorn and a large drink will have you thinking about how much money you just spent. Forget washing down your popcorn with a drink.

Many college students are faced with the same problem—they don’t have enough money to go out on a date.  There are ways you can compensate for what you lack in your pants.

1. Cheap Movies

Tinseltown is not the only place to watch a movie in Chico.  After high ticket prices and expensive food at the concession stand you may ask yourself, “is it really worth it?”  No, it is not worth it.  There are other theaters where you can have more fun.

The El Rey Theatre located downtown, shows classic movies every Tuesday for only $2.  Aside from the cheap ticket prices, El Rey also has cheap refreshments, among these, beer!  Cheap prices and lax rules attract Chico residents like 24-year-old Seth Silvera.

“When else can you go to a movie, drink a beer and not worry about getting kicked out.  It’s awesome,” Silvera said.

The ultimate reward you get at the end of the night is knowing that Tuesday was a success and you are one day closer to the weekend.

Slightly farther from downtown, but just as much fun, the Pageant Theatre is another place to watch a cheap movie.  “Cheap Skate Monday” is a perfect for a date night—tickets are only $3.

Before the movie, you can hang out at Café Flo and enjoy coffee, beer, or wine.  Drink as much as you can before the movie, then order up one more drink to take into the theater with you.  Yes, alcohol is allowed.

2. Go to the “Real Movies”

If old or independent movies are not what you are into, you can go to Tinseltown and still find ways to save money.  Matinee shows are a few dollars cheaper, but between class on the weekdays and fighting the urge to sleep in on weekends, this might not always work.

Instead of spending a fortune at the concession stand, walk across the parking lot to the Dollar Tree and load up on snacks.  There is an aisle lined with various candies, so chances are you will find something sweet.  Don’t forget to grab a bag of pre-popped popcorn and a soda.  Walk in with $4; walk out with a large bag of candy, popcorn and two sodas.  Purchasing the same items at the theater will cost you more than $15.

If you plan your movie date accordingly, you may be able to watch two movies for the price of one.  Find out which movies play back-to-back, or anywhere within 30 minutes of each other, and you can subtly slide into the next screening.  A perfect way to kill time waiting for the next movie to start is munching on that candy that you purchased at the Dollar Tree.

3. Put That in Your Cup and Eat it

A conversation over a cup of coffee can run you anywhere from $8-$10.  Be bold and opt for a cup of ice cream instead.  Not only will this make for an interesting date, you will save yourself money.  Coldstone Creamery offers $1 scoops of ice cream every Monday and Tuesday between 6-8 p.m.  Two scoops, one cup.

Although ice cream in winter does not sound like the best idea, it doesn’t mean it has to be a bad one.  Turn this cold idea into an opportunity to find creative ways to “warm up.”  Here is a start.  Guys: be a gentleman and lend her your coat. Girls: playfully hint that you are cold and could use something to warm you up.

4. Pick Your Poison

Meeting up for a drink or two at a bar does not have to be costly.  Bar drinks can be expensive, especially if you are paying for two, but you can avoid paying $4 for a beer.  Each night, different bars in Chico have different drink specials between certain hours, or throughout the entire night.

If you are looking for a stronger drink, then $2 Margarita Mondays at the University Bar is the place to be.  The University Bar also has $1 pint night for select beers on Wednesday nights.

The fun at the University Bar is not limited to alcohol.  If you have a pocket full of quarters, there are fun games to play that keep patrons like Nate Ferrini, 22, coming back.

“The U-bar is a nice place to hang out, talk, drink beer and shoot some pool,” Ferrini said.

You and your date can enjoy a game of pool, air hockey, or choose from a variety of arcade games.

Try different bars and find out which one fits your style, then figure out which nights will be the cheapest for you and your date.  If you don’t feel like wandering, Duffy’s always has $2 Pabst Blue Ribbons—everyday.

5. Take Me Out to a Ball Game

Take your date out to a ball game and take it out of your pants—your Chico State ID that is.  A valid Wildcat Card will allow you to attend any Chico State sporting event for free.  Technically this isn’t free because part of your student fees pay for this.  Now there is a reason to attend some games.

Basketball games are perfect for a group date.  The loud atmosphere is not ideal for a one-on-one conversation, but it is perfect to get comfortable, let loose and go crazy.  You and your date can share a few laughs yelling obscure things to the opposing team.  The season lasts until March, with about two home games per week, so you will have plenty of opportunities to get out and get rowdy.  Check the Chico State website for the dates of home games.

6. Lights, Camera, Get Some Action

Living in Chico makes it hard to catch a Broadway show.  Settle for the next best thing—Chico State.  AS LIVE! hosts entertainment events such as night concerts, comedy shows and movie nights.   Of course, there are free events, too.

Paying money for a concert does not guarantee that you will see quality entertainment.  A free concert might even give you a better experience.  Lead guitarist for the band MIP, Dustin Rohleder, plays in many free concerts and knows how important the relationship between the crowd and the band is.

“Smaller venues allow the crowd to interact more with the band and the band can feed off of the energy from the crowd,” Rohleder said.  “Free concerts allow the audience to enjoy the show more because they don’t have to worry about long lines or big crowds.”

If you are trying to have the best experience possible, you should consider the quality of the entertainment.  Don’t fail to impress your date by wasting money on a lackluster concert.

7. Bowlin’, Bowlin’, Bowlin’, Keep Those Beers on Flowin’

Bumpers, balls and beer.  Not to be confused with a bizarre sex ritual, this is an ancient act.  One that probably dates back to your early childhood, though drinking beer might have been frowned upon.

Bowling is cheaper than a movie and you don’t have to worry about being quiet; perfect if you are planning on going on a group date.  You can bowl at your own pace.  This is ideal if you plan to go Monday nights, when beer is only $1.  Spend a few minutes between frames to finish your beer, o make a drinking game out of the experience.  What could be more fun than playing two games at the same time?

Even if you aren’t in a relationship yet, you can still impress your date.  Don’t give up hope just yet.  There are places you can go that don’t involve a lot of money.  Like all good romantic movies, you will end up with the girl—or guy—or whatever you are into.



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How to Make Nine-Minute Nachos

You get home from class at 3:00 p.m. and feel a little hungry.  Sitting through lectures all day drains all your energy, but you don’t want to spend any money on campus for food.  You need to rejuvenate immediately, although you ask yourself some questions that will postpone your feast—is it too late for lunch, or too early for dinner?  Will a little snack be enough?  Should I just settle for the taco truck again?

One really quick meal you can make that will leave you content is nachos.  They are extremely easy to make and can be made with just chips and cheese (though you can get creative). Here is a list of materials needed, as well as a list of optional toppings:


  • Oven
  • Baking sheet
  • Parchment paper
  • Cheese grater
  • Tortilla chips
  • Cheese of your choice

Recommended toppings

  • Ground beef
  • Hot sauce
  • Guacamole
  • Sour cream

Now that you have everything you need on the counter, you can get started.  First thing you want to do is turn on the oven to 400 degrees.  While the oven is heating up, this is when you will prepare the nachos.

Place a sheet of parchment paper over the baking sheet.  Begin spreading tortilla chips across the baking pan in an even layer.

Next, begin to grate the cheese directly over the nachos.  It may be easier to grate cheese over the center and then spread the cheese out equally with your fingers.  The amount of cheese you grate depends on how much you desire.

After you have covered the chips with cheese, you are ready to put the tray in the oven.  Before you do so, this is where you would add the meat and hot sauce, if you choose to use add them.

The oven doesn’t have to be heated up to 400 degrees, but at this time it should be hot enough.  Place the tray in the oven and leave for approximately seven minutes.  You can check to see how much the cheese has melted if you are concerned about burning it.

After seven minutes, take the tray out of the oven.  If you decide to add sour cream or guacamole, this is when you would do so.  Add the desired amount and then begin to place chips onto a plate.

Once you have transferred the chips from the tray to the plate, you are ready to eat.  The entire process takes no more than 10 minutes.  This is a great snack to enjoy when you are in a hurry to eat and it does not require much effort.

I learned how to make nachos this way while I was living in Germany.  Mexican restaurants are extremely hard to find and while you may find one, the food is surely to be different than you would expect.  I decided that the only way I could enjoy decent Mexican food would be to make it myself.  Knowing that nachos consist of nothing more than melted cheese and chips, I came to the conclusion that I could do just that—melt cheese on chips in the oven.  This is how I found out how to make my go-to snack.


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Spass am Stint, or “fun on the Stint”, is a night of epic proportions.  The Stint is crowded a street in the small northern German town of Lueneburg that is second in the world—trailing only Madrid—as having the most bars per square mile.  Five dollars and one entrance ticket later, you have access to EVERY bar where you will receive a free welcome drink.  The more accurate translation would be: “you are going to have a really fun night, but suffer a horrible morning.”

A horrible morning one would indeed suffer if they had to catch a train at 4 a.m., followed by a three hour flight departing at 7 a.m. That was my game plan.  After all, there is no such thing as a hangover if you rally through sleep and continue on with the party!

After finishing another week of mediocrity in the classroom Thursday, Spass am Stint seemed a fitting cap to the week.  Early Friday morning I would fly to Edinburgh, Scotland along with my girlfriend. I don’t know if I was more excited that my roundtrip plane ticket was around 45 dollars, or I would eat at McDonald’s in my tenth country.

Despite the long night and the lack of sleep, we managed to make our way to the train station. The train would arrive at the airport about an hour before the flight was scheduled to depart, cutting it just about as close as we could.

When we arrived at the airport a few minutes ahead of schedule and took our place in the check-in line, about twenty people back. Pretty soon the line grew behind us; the extra few minutes early seemed to work out nicely.  After a few minutes, we noticed that the line was moving at a snail’s pace.  The people’s faces leaving the desk were expressionless. Nobody was heading toward the security check in.

More expressionless faces began to leave the counter and NOT head toward security. The people who stayed at the desk for a longer period of time grew impatient with the assistant.  Soon we were close enough to understand the reason behind the long faces.  Today, nobody would be flying.  Not to Berlin.  Not to Frankfurt.  Not to Edinburgh.  I was introduced to Eyjafjallajökull.

Eyjafjallajökull is a volcano in Iceland that erupted March 20. According to the Global Volcanism Program, a second phase of the eruption began April 14, generating ash plumes that blew across to Europe.

When it was our turn at the Ryanair desk, we were well aware that we would not be flying. The Assistant asked if we would like to reschedule our flights to a later day, or get a full refund on our ticket.  None of these options.  “I would like to take my flight to Edinburgh,” I said sarcastically.  I knew it would be a gamble to try and reschedule my flight, so I opted for the wiser decision and took the refund.

April 16, 2010 was the beginning of a nightmare for Europe. For five days, the entire continent was virtually shut down, all thanks to an ash-spewing volcano thousands of miles away. The eruption “resulted in a 20-80 percent decrease of airline flights for as much as a week” (Global Volcanism Program). I became one of more than a million travelers who were grounded.

The European economy was set to take a devastating blow, as well as all airlines operating in Europe. Ryanair had suffered a 24 percent drop in quarterly profits after losing business due to the volcanic eruption in Iceland (London Guardian). Ryanair “took a €50 million ($75 million) hit from the volcanic ash cloud that led to the temporary closure of European airspace in April and May. Almost a week later flights resumed and Europe seemed to dust itself off, literally and figuratively—at least for another month.

Five weeks later, when I was set to fly back home, I found myself in a familiar situation. Eyjafjallajökull became temperamental again, releasing more ash into the air.  As expected, my flight from Hamburg to London had been canceled.  For the second time, the volcano in Iceland that nobody knows how to pronounce grounded me.

I confidently approached the British Airways desk knowing that I was not going to be turned down. Not again. My patience with British Airways was gone, when they almost screwed me out of a return flight home five months earilier.

When I talked to the assistant at the desk, she gave me hope that there might be a way to get home after all. After ten minutes of toying with the computer, she told me there was a way to get home, consisting of four connecting flights. I was set to fly south to Frankfurt, heading around the ash cloud.  Then to Chicago.  Then to Minneapolis.  Then finally on to San Francisco.

After 35 hours of transfers, layovers and a rain delay, I was back in San Francisco. My journey was not over. I still had a two hour drive home from the airport.

My parents greeted me at 11:30 p.m. and we headed to the baggage claim. After 45 minutes, no more bags circled. I did not have my bags. Somewhere in one of the four planes and three connections, my bag was lost.

Somewhere in one of those four airports my bags were there.  For all I knew they could have been stolen or even accidentally routed to China. The only thing I cared about at the time was the fact that I was finally home. It was time for some sleep.

Global Volcanism Program, http://www.volcano.si.edu
London Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk Continue reading

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