Journal Entry # 32 - Road Entry#22 (Mama's House - La Canada Flintridge - 8:17pm - August 26, 2010)

Embrace.

[Smiling as I write this]

I like hugging right now. It is a simple gesture that I just recently rediscovered. Opening up my arms to those I have a relationship with and expressing my happiness through the embrace. Bliss.

I reveal my new addiction to this physical expression based on my love for travel, friends, family, and these past days.

The phone rings at 5:45am. It is a damp Friday morning in Alexandria, VA - after the rain, thunder, and lighting acted as my 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound System to my dreamscape in David and Nancy's home. It's Kenneth - or Ken for short. He tells me that he is roughly 45 minutes outside Alexandria, VA on the way to pick me up. I rise from bed faster than I do after a being jolted from a nightmare. I start frantically packing the rest of my stuff and jump in the shower for a quick rinse-off. The reason for my urgency... the day I get to see Sam in Charlotte, NC.

I luckily found Kenneth on the rideshare portion of Craigslist two days previous. He is picking me up at the Hampton Inn near the interstate. David wakes up around 6:00am to the sounds of my scurrying downstairs. He is taking me over to the Hampton Inn for the drop-off and just to size up Kenneth in the last minutes before I ride off with a complete stranger once again. I had a consideration about riding with him because most of my communication with him was actually done through his girlfriend - Nannette Simmons. It seemed strange to me that she was his agent in ironing out the details for the trip south (I-95 to I-85) because it was a new experience for me; dealing with someone other than the driver on the rideshare.

Kenneth was punctual in our meeting time at the Hampton Inn and was driving an '88 Maroon Dodge Caravan. He later told me on the road trip that he got it on Craigslist in Virginia for around $500 dollars. I said my final goodbye to David and got in the car on my way down south to Charlotte, North Carolina.

The ride down with Ken was spectacular! We first started the morning ride by getting to know each other and our life stories. He obviously had me beat on life experiences since he was 28 years older - but we did share some central themes in life experiences which was nice He had a lot of personal and professional advice for me that I was open ears and mind for! I sincerely appreciated his viewpoint and knowledge. We also got to discussing some music genres we enjoy - Soul, R&B, Funk, Jazz, etc... He actually introduced me to a great smooth Jazz group that goes by the name "The Crusaders". (I am actually listening to their stuff on Pandora as I write this blog post!)

The 7 hours with Kenneth flew by! We made a couple of pit stops along the way - in Richmond, VA and right outside Raleigh, NC. He used his Garmin GPS system to drop me off at the Charlotte downtown public library so I could use WiFi and get settled until Sam got off work. I was in the newly built library when I realized I had one other acquaintance in Charlotte as well!

I met Jeff Attila a couple of times in Oregon at school through Sports Marketing events. He is now in Charlotte working a summer internship for the Charlotte Bobcats NBA team. I didn't have his number so I used Facebook to see if he was available for a lunch around 2:30pm. I was lucky to meet up with him for a bite after he quickly responded to my last-minute Facebook 'wall-post'. We sat in the food court of the Bank of America mall to share summer stories and more life stories. We also discussed our running experiences since the Eugene Half-Marathon we ran back in May. Jeff is actually a great Nike+ supporter and friend of my in the running community.

Jeff and I then went back to the arena where he works for a little private mini-tour. He showed me around the concourse and the main arena seating area with no one in the building. A major desolation feeling came over me as Jeff and I just looked throughout the 20,000+ seat arena. That feeling immediately went away as I walked out of the arena back to the library with Jeff going back to work. Jeff also agreed to host me in Charlotte when I get back there in September.

I got back to the library to sit down and start writing when I was abruptly interrupted during the second paragraph of my blog - "The library is closing in 15 minutes, please finish your reading and quietly exit the building." So much for using free WiFi at the library...

I walked next door to a place branded with a cafe sign - "Cosmos Cafe". I figured it would be like the cafes I went to in Montreal - free WiFi, coffee, pastries, etc... I walk inside to find a hostess seating patrons for a full restaurant and bar type atmosphere with beautiful decor. Rachel the hostess was kind enough to let me sit at the bar and use their uncharacteristic WiFi to write my blog. I sat there for an hour or two until my father called - wanting to talk and check-in with me. I gave him a complete run-down of my previous week and talked about what shenanigans Sam and I were planning on getting ourselves into for the weekend in Charlotte.

Next thing I know it's almost 7:30pm and I have a call-waiting from Sam because he is back from work. I let my Dad go and pick up the call to arrange a meeting place for Sam and I. I walk from Cosmo's Cafe up the block to Dixie's Bar and wait in the parking lot. Sam drives up in his used, "but new", Toyota Camry, his business professional attire, and his glasses (something I'm definitely not used to with Sam Johnson).

I gave him a great big 'ol bear hug, got in the car, and rode with him straight to Harris Teeter market to get some beer. CLASSIC.

We got back to Lindsay and his' apartment at the Alpha Mill complex with my hunk of a bag and grumbling in our stomachs. I make dinner for Sam and I - using the ingridients that Lindsay left Sam in the fridge and freezer. Lindsay, his fiance, is in Las Vegas with all of her girlfriends, her mom, her aunt, and cousin for the Bachelorette/Bridal Shower weekend. We sit down to the table to eat and play catch-up because we haven't seen each other since Chad's wedding in June. I give him the run-down of my travels as we kick back the brew we bought earlier.

We take our final brews up to the rooftop deck of his apartment building while talking and then plan our night out in downtown Charlotte.

We start walking to Connoly's Irish Bar downtown because they have a bunch of live music this weekend. There actually happens to be an Irish summer festival going on this exact weekend! So we have a great time listening to some Irish jigs and throwing back a beer (or two?) before bar hopping over to the second stop of the night "The Old Tavern?"

As you can see by my question marks - the night started to get a bit fuzzy and I don't remember all the little details like I do when I'm sober. There was $1 beers at this next bar and $2 shots - so Sam and I got more liquored up and then it's all one big blur - DANCING, DRINKING, DANCING, WALKING HOME, COUCH, PASS OUT, middle of the night awakening, BLOW UP AIR MATTRESS, SLEEP MORE, SLEEP MORE, WATER, SLEEP MORE.

Now it's 11am the next morning. I get my running shoes on while Sam's still sleeping and I attempt a 5 mile run. I made it 2.71 miles before cramping/hurting. I get back to Sam's apartment to find him still sleeping! These are the good 'ol times when Sam slept every day in college until 2 in the afternoon.

I wake him up though and make him go to the gym with me. Sam has a workout room in his apartment complex that is pretty good. We didn't have any real plans for this Saturday but just lay by the pool and "dump around" as Andy Peterson would say. (Andy Peterson is a former college roommate of mine and a best friend). After completing the basic 30-40 minute workout, we get some food and more beer from the Harris Teeter market. We take some brew to the pool and relax for couple of hours. Within those hours, Chip came to meet us at the pool. Chip is a friend of Sam and Lindsay because Chip's fiance works or goes to nursing school with Lindsay. Chip is a chill dude that was sipping on Jim Beam all day. Both Sam and Chip convinced me to join their NFL Fantasy Football League and pitch-in $20 for the season to "make it more interesting".

The interesting pool conversation made it's way back into Sam's apartment where we sat down and watch some PGA Championships 3rd round play for a bit. We hang around the apartment for some time before heading off to Wild Wings for dinner. Wild Wings is like Red Robin but their specialty is chicken wings. By the time we got to Wild Wings, we were starving and they were closed. The hostess did give us the recommendation to walk over to Mortimer's Bar and Grill for dinner, drinks, and the pre-season football game because that was exactly what we were looking for.

Mortimer's was a dark old english pub in the vicinity of Wild Wings where we had dinner and a beer. Well Sam and Chip had a beer while I stuck with water. The service was sub-par as we order some nachos as an appetizer and the waitress and management forgot to ring it in or bring it out. As a collective, we barely left 15% tip on our bill. The next move of the night was up to Blackfinn Saloon.

Blackfinn is the location of Sam and Lindsay's rehearsal dinner! We got to see the main floor bar area and then moved up to the saloon bar area upstairs. Sam said the dinner on September 3rd would be held in a private room we couldn't see at that exact moment. Nonetheless, this place had a great "feel" to it - dark, oaky, musty, and somewhat exclusive. We found a bar-stool-table in the saloon area with a beautiful waitress. This time I ordered along side Chip and Sam and we enjoyed a "man's" conversation with our refreshing brew. The first order turned into another order of beer and then we closed out our tabs thinking that we would move on to another bar in the area.

As soon as we sign our checks, a bachelorette party walks through the saloon and I declare that we should stick around this bar. Besides the fact a bachelorette party just walked-in, this bar had a great feel to it and the ratio of men to women was pretty much spot on - maybe slightly skewed in the men's favor. As we stuck around, the bar continuously started to get more and more crowded - to a point where the bouncers actually had to start removing tables and bar-stools from the area. Chip and Sam encouraged me to get out and around the bar with all these bachelorette parties and single. They used the "sniper" metaphor for my engagement in conversations with women. They would be my "spotters" and I would nonchalantly approach women with my boy-like charisma and charm.

Fact: There were too many women to meet that night. Yes, I would lie if I said I wasn't selective with who I approach, but I do enjoy meeting all types of people as I travel. It is the purpose of my life and adventure.

At one point actually, Chip and Sam acquire a target of 3 girls for me to engage that were at my "5-o-clock". I turned around a walked over to the first group of 3 girls I saw in that direction. They honestly weren't the most physically beautiful bunch of girls in the bar - yet I still started a conversation with them. Jema, Brittany, and Michelle were there to celebrate Michelle's birthday and I got to know them a little bit before excusing myself for another beverage. When I got to the bar, Chip and Sam sandwiched me and said that I talked to the "wrong" 3 girls because there were "cuter" ones behind the ladies I talked to. They thought it was hilarious that I would just talk to 'almost' any girl at this bar.

So b this point Chip and Sam are drunk and I am tipsy because I have been casually ordering Sprite's with lime between every 3 alcoholic drinks from this cute bartender. I told her I was driving so I needed pop breaks in between the alcohol. We were moving and grooving around this bar. Clockwise - Counterclockwise. It was really fun!

Then I meet Marielle and Martha near the bar and strike up a conversation with them. They are recent college grads from Queen Charlotte University and were celebrating Marielle's 23rd birthday. Martha was a college tennis player and Marielle was a world traveler because her father was in the oil industry. They were two interesting people to talk to!

The night continues in Blackfinn.... a total of 5 hours spent at this Saloon!

We are the three caballeros at this point and having a blast. We decided to take a picture on Sam's Blackberry so I tapped the nearest beauty at the bar. Amy was kind enough to take our picture but the Blackberry didn't have a flash on it - so the moment was lost. The next moment wasn't lost though as Amy started talking to Sam and her friend Megan got friendly with me. We stood around this one spot of the bar for the rest of the night.

Megan, Amy, and Kacey were all friends from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. They were just out on the town having a girls-night in the same way we were having a boys-night out. I think they all lived in the suburban parts of Charlotte and had been friends for a long-time (5+ years) - or they at least acted as if they had been long-time friends. We ended up at one point switching conversations to where I was now talking to Amy, Sam with Megan, and Kacey and Chip. I actually found this out later but Amy and I were the only single ones there and we got along with each other the best because of this. Serendipitous.

The six of us felt like we closed the bar at 2am and all walked out together. Amy and I were engaged in our conversation for the last 40 minutes or so in the bar - so I asked for her number and will be playing tennis with her in Charlotte when I return in September. She said she was really competitive so I challenged her to a game with the loser buying "Chick-Fil-A" as a meal because I still haven't been to one in my life (they insisted I go because it is "sooo gooood").

We all walked to the Pita-Pit a couple blocks away. Sam and Chip wanted to get pizza, the ladies wanted Pitas, and Amy and I weren't hungry. I stayed with the ladies and Amy as we endured the madness that is Pita-Pit at 2:14am. While sitting in the Pita-Pit, I received a text from Sam saying that he and Chip were almost halfway back to the apartments and a "goodnight". Amy offered to give me a ride back so that I didn't have to walk - so sweet of her.

I said goodnight to the ladies to then find Sam sprawled out on the couch like a paint-splatter. He was barely watching Transformers 2 and was absolutely hammered-drunk. He actually passed out on the couch after I made him and I a late-night veggie burger snack.

I went to bed shortly thereafter...... - Next up - The dreaded Lazy Sunday....

I woke up sober and fresh at 10:30am with Sam now in his bedroom, unconsciously dreaming. I got on the computer for a couple hours before Sam's grateful awakening - doing some e-mails and research on the Bahamas and other Caribbean destinations. I also filled out a DJ application job for a cruise ship for an hour. But at the the end when I pressed 'submit' - the page had an internal error and all my information I filled out was lost. I gave up after that because it pisses me off so much.

Sam and I went out to lunch at Cabo Fish Taco's around 1pm. Their food is amazing and the decor was modern and fun. Sam was basically incapacitated from the night of drinking - so we relaxed around the apartment and watched TV. We then went down to Allison O'Brien's (nickname AOB) apartment to see her and Kristen Brown (nickname KB). AOB and KB are former lacrosse players for the University of Oregon and friends of ours back from school. AOB and KB had a productive Sunday collecting and buying furniture for AOB's apartment. KB was actually sanding a dresser they found on the side of the road and AOB was interior decorating when we got there. AOB moved to Charlotte by-way-of Austin, TX and Denver, CO for a job with ESPU. KB is working up in Washington DC now and she is originally from Hawaii. Sam and I had a great time catching up with them, setting in our wedding plans, and looking around AOB's apartment. She moved in less than a month prior and was still getting situated.

Sam and I retreated back to his place after dusk and discuss legal matters on his rehearsal dinner location. He is having problems with a former location where he booked his original rehearsal dinner (not Blackfinn). I also got prepared for the next morning as I was flying out of Charlotte to Los Angeles - back to see and spend time with my family! Both Sam and I were stuffed from Cabo Taco so we had a veggie burger patty for dinner.

Sleep tight - Don't let the bed bugs bite.

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