30 April 2012

Warm beer & the metric system: A simple plan for British/American unity

Sometimes I kind of hate social networking. Other times, I find it a peerless forum for transnational dialogue, an international gathering ground and exemplary resource for cross-cultural dispute resolution. I know, I know: high-minded statement, that. Go ahead, roll your eyes. Meanwhile, Pam Mandel (a.k.a. Nerd's Eye View) and David Whitley (a.k.a. Grumpy Traveller) and I will be resolving the Very Important Matter of negotiating a British-American cross-cultural exchange and agreement. If any countries would like us to mediate dispute resolutions, we're available for a nominal fees. We'll be at Camp David next week.

This conversation happened a while back, but I've been distracted by, you know, stuff. Also, the sun was in my eyes and, uh, the ball took a bad hop off a pebble.

Anyway, the discussion/world-peace-creating starts with me, asking, on Twitter, about proper spelling and accenting of the word "resume" (the thing you submit with a job application). And then we got into the heart of the matter. The tweets below are reprinted verbatim minus the inclusion of our respective Twitter handles in the responses.

i like the accent. otherwise, you're just continuing after a pause.

I knew there was a reason we call it a CV rather than resumé. Less accent-based confusion.

Yeah, let's just do that. I'm in. (And while we're at it, we oughta finally start using the metric system.)

 If you can start including tax in the stated price of everything, that'd be nice too.

And play football with your feet. In return, we'll install mixer taps.

can we also work out something around the s/z issue and all those extra "U"s?

Certainly. I'll pop a proper dictionary in the post* for you all. (*Mail. Ach, damn, this just gets tricksier).

Fair trade all around. Also, if we cut back to 2 ice cubes per drink, will you please give us at least 1? Thx.

Done. And if we put our beers in the fridge, can you make yours taste of something?

if we can resolve the ice issue, the three of us should go to camp david next and settle the middle east.

now david, did i not take you to a place that has REAL BEER? i'm wounded.

OK, OK. Make the *cheese* taste of something.

 Also, we promise to install air conditioning if you'll let us open a window every now and then.

Pam, the man has a point about USA beer *in general.* But we're working on it. And keep it out of the fridge!

i think we're making some good progress, but i won't let a brit lecture me on "cuisine".

AC, windows. Deal. Also, we'll teach you to make a proper doughnut if you'll teach us to make a proper scone.

@douglasmack: [in response to @nerdseyeview's comment about Brits and "cuisine"]
Quite. I was just about to get to this "full English breakfast" business ... ;)

oh, i DO like a good scone. rather.

All the world's problems should be solved like this. Proper bacon in return for more than one breakfast option?

Someone call the Nobel committee. Okay, you're in charge of bacon, we're in charge of WARM toast.

Also, we'll stop ruining fish with batter if you promise to discover the 'vegetable'.

Done, but we might offer you some tips re: preparing "the vegetable"--canned mashed peas don't count!

 i'm really unclear on which US you visited, david. are you sure you actually left britain?

The southern US. I think the vegetables may have been obscured by the freeways and parking lots.

14 April 2012

Two-Hour Tourist: Portland

My first impression of Portland, when I was there a few days ago to read at Powell's, was this: Portland is satisfyingly Portland, in the same way that Rome is satisfyingly Rome. Except that where Rome has its gelaterias; its ancient ruins; its manic drivers; its Gucci-wearing, impeccably coiffed, effortlessly glamorous passersby, Portland has its brew pubs; its green space; its fixed-gear bikes; its stripe-wearing, elaborately tattooed, calculatedly disheveled citizens.

There was a sad lack of flannel and beards at my reading,
though. Photo by Jessica Spiegel of WhyGo Italy.
I didn't have much time to be a tourist and see the sites, just a few hours. But it's not a big city, and I had a ringer to show me around, my awesome friend Celeste Brash, Lonely Planet guidebook writer, blogger extraordinaire, and all-purpose good company. She picked me up from the train station and said that she was working on a downtown Portland walking tour for an upcoming Lonely Planet book. Would I like to walk the route with her as she planned it out? Um, yes. Please.

I won't list everything we did and I won't reveal the particular walking route—obviously, I don't want to poach her guidebook material. But if and when you head to Portland, do go find the latest Lonely Planet and follow her suggestions. The itinerary really does make for an excellent introduction to the city, hitting the waterfront, downtown, and the three major food groups: beer, caffeine, and grease.

In the spirit of my earlier Two-Hour Tourist post, about Chicago, here's my own suggested list of things to do if you only have two hours in Portland.

First of all, get downtown. The Max light rail is your best way into the city from the airport, and to connect to various points around the city. It's always better to spend a limited amount of time exploring on foot and getting a snapshot of a particular area than trying to hop around the city by train or bus or car, seeing things only for a few fleeting moments. So: downtown.

Start your tour with some fortifications and a glimpse of a true stereotype-fulfilling Portland-ness at Voodoo Doughnuts. The line can be long—Celeste and I were there on a Friday around 3pm, and even then the queue ran out the door—but the time passes quickly because the scene offers some stellar free entertainment. There's the people-watching which is extraordinary—lots of the aforementioned stripe-wearing, elaborately tattooed, calculatedly disheveled citizens, plus all manner of other people whose attire and hairdos makes mild-mannered Midwesterners instinctively mutter, “That's interesting.” There's also the rotating case of doughnuts (like the rotating case that displays pies in an old-school diner), which include your standard raised glazed rings but also others covered in Fruit Loops or topped with bacon or filled with mango. There's a voodoo doll doughnut, naturally—a Long John with little appendages and filled with something red, served with a pretzel stick in lieu of a needle—and another called the Cock and Balls (not kidding and not asking for any more details). Throughout Portland, you see signs and bumper stickers that say, “Keep Portland Weird,” and Voodoo Doughnuts seems like the standard-bearer for that weirdness—and just to be clear, I love it so for that very reason.

And how are the doughnuts? Oh, right. Good question. They're outstanding: pillowy and not overly greasy or cloyingly sweet. If they'd been part of the Doughnut Quest a couple of years ago, I suspect they would have placed just behind the Doughnut Plant in terms of pure deliciousness. Plus, you know, style points for the performance-art bizarreness of the menu and a certain portion of the staff and clientele.

Moving on. Your appetite sated, waddle over to Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park for a stroll along the Willamette River. Sit on a bench and watch the parade of passersby. (Actually, what you should do is get your doughnuts to go and then eat in the park. I can think of no finer introduction to a city; in fact, without even planning it, when I'm in a new place, I somehow always find myself in a park eating a pastry.)

After you've gotten your fill of nature, wander back into downtown, through Pioneer Square—a public space that functions as the living room of the city—and end up at Powell's. You know Powell's, yes? The huge bookstore? It's … well, yes, huge. Enchantingly so, like an endless magical forest of books. They shelve both new and used books together, so there's a wonderful mix of literature from various eras, like at the library. Seriously, it's mesmerizing, the way the rooms and shelves and books just go on forever. The travel section alone is the size of many small bookstores (and since you asked, my book is in the “Travel memoirs—Europe” section …).

Your time is probably getting short now, so move along to one last stop. If you live in a major American city, you've probably noticed that food trucks are becoming, officially, A Thing. I don't just mean hotdog carts and jingle-blaring vans from which sketchy-looking dudes sell melting Bomb Pops. I mean mobile kitchens proffering actual food, restaurant-worthy food. Anyway, in Portland, food trucks are a genuinely big deal, more than just a passing trend. They're ubiquitous, and there are even some places around the city where there are five six or a dozen or more parked more or less permanently on an otherwise vacant lot, forming a food court far more eclectic and affordable and delicious than anything you'll find at even the most offbeat mall. I got some delicious tacos for $1.50 each, after considering other trucks proffering burgers and Indian curries and pad thai and crepes and—not making this up—escargot and foie gras. Yeah. From a food cart.

It's a weird and wonderful place, Portland. Truly.

09 April 2012

Easy Rider Meets Werewolf In a PBS Station Lobby (a true story)

My sister and I are sitting in a PBS television station lobby in Tacoma, Washington. It's very 1970s. Wood paneling. Blaring television (PBS, natch). Regional magazines on the coffee table. It's ideally nondescript; it feels like it should be a dentist's office in a Coen brothers movie. To one side of the room, four or five employees are having a low-key meeting about programming.

I'm waiting for a producer will come out to get me--they've invited me to be on one of their shows to talk about my book. I rehearse my stock answers in my head, over and over.

A guy walks into the lobby, a guy who definitely doesn't fit your standard public broadcasting archetype. He's your classic Harley Davidson rider, wearing a denim vest with a Harley logo and the word HAWKS on the back; on his legs are black leather riding spats. He is a presence.

The meeting falls silent. My sister and I eye him, wondering what's about to happen. One of the employees in the meeting finally pipes up, her voice pert and professional and irrepressibly Church Lady-like. "Are you here for one of the shows?" she asks.

Thus begins one of the most amazing conversations I have heard in my life.

"I'm looking for the editorial department," he brays. I wonder what his complaint is. I wonder if he's packing heat. I wonder if the upholstery on my chair might, just maybe, conveniently, be made of Kevlar.

"I need to drop off some video," he continues. "I just shot a video of an actual werewolf!"


What do you say to that?

Answer: You let the guy continue.

"Seriously," he says. "I know you think I'm crazy, but you've gotta see this, you're gonna freak out, man. And I got footage of a mother sasquatch nursing a baby. I ain't even kidding! We gotta get this on the air right now--people are gonna flip!"

Church Lady: "Well."

Pause. Everyone blinks a dozen times. My sister and I nearly bite through our lips to avoid making a sound.

For real: What do you say to that?

Church Lady continues, finally: "Well, you can drop it off here and we can give it to the program director."

"ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME? No, man, this is too important! I can't just leave my video. I gotta explain some things, tell you what's going on. And just trust me, as soon as you see this, you're gonna flip and put it right on the air."

"Well, the program director is busy right now and ..." Church Lady looks around to her colleagues for help, but they are all still dumbstruck.

She's trying her very best not to sound too patronizing, not to laugh, not to tell him he's crazy, not to tell him that the station is, you know, PBS, and not exactly the sort of venue for werewolf footage, even if it is the real deal.

"Aw, you're KILLING me!," the guy says. "I got a werewolf on camera! An honest-to-God werewolf! I wanted you guys to have it--I'm not gonna go to Seattle and give it to 4 or something. It's all for you. A werewolf! I'll wait for the program director." He sits down emphatically, sending his message. "Go get him out here."

"Well, I'm sorry, I ... I just can't. He's busy. But there's a form that you can fill out for dropping off video."

"For real? This is legit, man! A freaking werewolf on tape! Okay, okay, where's the form? I've gotta write down some long stuff about what you're seeing and what to look for and stuff."

He's not angry, not really--just deeply disappointed, let down by the world, incredulous, unable to fathom that no one believes him. A freakin' werewolf, I ain't lying.

He gets to work. Some ten minutes later, when the PBS producer calls me back, the werewolf hunter is still hunched over the desk, sribbling furiously.

When I return to the lobby after filming the show, he is gone. I wish I'd given him my card. I wish I'd asked him to show me the footage right then and there.

It's the kind of story that you know is great--not the werewolf per se, I mean, but the guy. He's so earnest, almost adorably so, kid-like in his sincerity, in his efforts to make us believe. What's his story? Is he the type who spends hours in the woods looking for this sort of thing, an amateur cryptozoologist on a Harley?

You know there's more of a story there. Gotta be.

Scenes from a book launch party (+ the reviews are in!)

And then one day you wake up and realize that you have not only written a book but the book is now available everywhere and is, like, official, which makes you a real, legit author.

Oh. Man. 

So. The book is here, as of April 3rd! (Available everywhere, including IndieBoundmy favorite indie storesAmazon, and B&N ... just sayin'.) And various people have been saying various nice things about it. Like:

“An amusing and a wonderful read.” - Arthur Frommer
(on the radio show Rudy Maxa's World; listen to his full glowing review here.)

“Refreshing in its intelligence, candor, good-humored self-deprecation, and insightful redemption of the much-maligned tourist, Mack’s account is a trail-reblazing testament to the transformative power of travel in the modern world, and to the enduring richness of those well-trod places where authenticity, history, culture, and fame compose their own never-ending narratives.”
- National Geographic Traveler

“A genial companion for the armchair traveler.”  - Kirkus Reviews

For more coverage, including yours truly on Minnesota Public Radio, my television debut on KARE 11, and interviews in the Detroit Free Press, MSNBC.com, World Hum, and various other places, check out the Press & Praise section of the book site.

And I had a book launch party! Nearly two hundred people (!!) packed into Honey in Northeast Minneapolis. I read a scene about being stalked by creepy Mozart-costumed guys in Vienna and then did an authentic old-school slide show. All while wearing that seersucker suit you may have seen in my book trailer. Photos by my pal career break guru Kirk Horsted

Despite what it looks like, I am not rapping in this photo, I am about to start a slide show.
Question for discussion, though: Should my rapper stage name be D-Mack or Seersucka? Please advise.