So Far So Good in Philly

After 21 hours of being awake I am finally in Philly.  And now that I’m here, it’s time for some exploration.  Needless to say, I am not currently on speaking terms with my body.

First off, a little recap.  The News Record asked me to sacrifice the tail end of my spring break (watching Star Trek on my Clifton apartment couch) to traverse across the nation (three states really) and capture the essence (a couple dunk shots, crowd cheers, and some tears) of the NCAA tournament in Philadelphia, PA.  

I leaped from my couch, turned off my Trek, donned my photographer’s uniform, and departed at maximum warp!  

Starting the trip at midnight in Clifton was an interesting challenge.  But it was either that or wake up super early Friday morning to be able to make it to the 2:45 p.m. game.  Armed with Red Bulls, 5-hour Energy bottles, and beef jerky, the sports editor Josh and I headed out.

We met very little resistance in the way of speed traps.  Really I think midnight and into the morning might be the best time to travel.  Not only are there very few cops out to grab you whilst travelling at high speeds, but there is also very little traffic to deal with.  Plus when you do stop at those weird 24-hour places, you run into the most interesting of characters.  Josh and I ran into a woman working at a Burger King who blamed a lot of things on cell phones.  I couldn’t understand everything she said, but so long as I received my bacon, egg, and cheese croissantwich at 5:30 in the morning, I found her to be pleasant as a peach.  Apparently fake IDs and computer lock-ups are in cahoots with cellular devices. Who knew?

After some driver-swapping and some nap-having, we made it to Philly around 9 a.m. Friday morning.

5 hours and 45 minutes until game start.

We were able to convince the parking attendants that we were “THE MEDIA” and attained a prime parking space.  Hopefully our car will be there when we return.

Life in the press box is really interesting.  After going through the casual bag check, we got our credentials, media packets, weird arm band, and headed to the press room to snag a spot to drop our gear and do some preliminary exploring.  But first, more coffee.

The press room is an interesting place when in full-swing.  Imagine a room full of journalists… cause that’s exactly what it is.  Both photographers and writers are hanging out and talking about assignments, swapping stories, writing, editing, blogging, tweeting, getting free food (best perk of the job), and generally having a good time.  It’s a gossiper’s dream.  So much information is flying around, I had to put noise-cancelling headphones on just to think straight enough to write this.  

Anyhoo, more on this later, I’m off to explore!  With all this caffeine and no sleep, I’m getting a little antsy.  Go ahead and check out my twitter feed (right side of the screen if you’re viewing the desktop version of my blog) @Pdidion for some little inbetweener nuggets (thoughts, pics, jokes, things).  I’ll post some Basketball pics later too I think. 


A Warm Up

Hey all, just letting you know a few things things.  Two really.  First and foremost, I am going on a new trip tonight.  I shall be headed to Philadelphia to cover the NCAA tournament between UC and Creighton.  Secondly I’ve recently purchased a smartphone and to justify this purchase I’ve decided to use as many features as possible.  This means that you (those who go to the full webpage) will see a second twitter account above @QuotesByPhil which is my personal twitter @pdidion.  Aside from the random tidbits of general life commentary, you will also see little updates from my trips so please read, enjoy, follow if you like what you see, and as always thanks for reading.  

Also, I’m a little behind on some posts so expect a few more adventures popping up in a few days alongside the Philly trip.

High Tech Culture Meets Olde World Ways (Work (and title) in Progress)

Up the mountain I climbed, pushing through the crowded streets. My destination was the water temple, a wish to receive, my prize. The summer sun beat down upon me, my brow drenched in sweat, my energy in decline. Oh that I might find my way into the temple’s basin shrine, to taste its magical waters, and replenish my pride. The hills and stairs I had climbed followed me, revealing that just as much I had left behind, lay before me still.

At last I reached the top and began my forward trek into the behemoth wooden structure. No nail resided in the wooden beams or floorboards, making friction and gravity the only forces keeping me atop the mountain at this time.

Passing gardens and prayer shrines, I felt the magic and wisdom of ages reverberating in the walls and halls around me. I prayed that no silent guardian was waiting to halt my quest. Dragging my feet across the ancient floor, I saw a sign that my journey’s end was near, for before me was a stone stairway leading down. Down, down, deep into the basin it went. Its descent was only slowed by the uprising plants and flowers growing ever upward from the pools and streams that flowed below.

Toward the fountain I fell, my thirst at its peak. I came to a pavilion built into the wall of the mountain with three streams of water flying off its roof and plunging deep into the ponds of the basin. I grasped for the clear liquid only inches out of reach. I found that the waterfall, Otowa-no-taki, was reluctant to share its life with me.

A cup then did appear before me, attached to a pole, so that I may reach out to catch the falling water and receive my wish. From under the pavilion I stretched my arm and extended the cup, interrupting Otowa-no-taki’s flow for a brief spell.

Staring into the cup, I saw the crystal clear magical water and smelled for the first time the mountain’s scent. The air grew silent before me as I brought the cup to my dried lips. In those seconds, a silent prayer was said. A final wish had left my lips before they were washed over by the contents of the cup. I felt Otowa-no-taki’s life flow through my veins and a sense of peace began to bloom in my chest.

A soft and humble hum emanated from the wall behind me. I turned to face whatever temple dweller I had awoken from an ancient slumber, or whichever spell had been broken from my trespassing into the shrine.

“Thank you for visiting Kiyumizu-dera,” a woman said while smiling and reaching out to take my cup. “Please check out souvenir shops on the way out and visit again soon,” she took the cup pole and placed in into the glowing humming ultraviolet cleaner that had been set into the wall.

Yanked out of my mystical warrior mindset, I realized something: Japan is a weird place.

Saturated in centuries of storytelling and ancient ways, Japan is known for having a culture of traditions and magic. Simultaneously, it is one of the world’s leading countries in technological advances.

In my two-week adventure across Japan I encountered many instances where these two key points were completely integrated, just like in the somewhat exaggerated retelling of my experience at Kiyumizu-Dera (the water temple). I found this to be extremely fascinating while traveling because you get to see an extreme dichotomy living out before your eyes. Even a ride across the countryside embodies this split when you consider the rich stories of samurai battles, Shogun take-overs, demons and gods, farmers plotting the land, and the blood that runs deep in it, all the while speeding across it onboard the Shinkansen (or bullet train as we know it), one of the fastest trains in the world. Now this doesn’t mean that all of Japan has been integrated, there are secret and secluded places where traditions are kept alive and technology hasn’t been able to make its viral bite.

My stay in Koya-san was more of what I was expecting out of middle of nowhere Japan. Secluded in the mountains and accessed by a series of zigzagging trains and rope cars, Koya-san is home to a very spiritual part of Japan. The highlight of the trip was that we got to stay in an actual Buddhist temple. We got to eat their food (all vegetarian, mostly unknown substances), bath in their hot springs (perhaps awkward at first, but super rewarding later), and wake up early to attend their prayer service (surprisingly awesome at 5:30 in the morning). All the spiders aside, it was a very humbling experience rich in Buddhist culture. The most advanced piece of technology I might have seen was their fax machine. Other than that, it was all natural baby.

One of my favorite parts of Koya-san was Torodo, the Lantern Temple. It was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen, unfortunately, photography wasn’t allowed. Perhaps the owners had seen Terminator and were afraid of the machine take-over.

After entering though, I understood why. For one, it was a graveyard. For two, it was a place so untouched by time that I felt a reverence for it I’ve felt very little in life. The ancient trees towered hundreds of feet above me, allowing a few scattered beams of light to penetrate the thick canopy onto the moss covered gravestones and still pools of water that littered the ground. It all had an eerie beauty to it.

Japan is the perfect place for me because it’s just as eclectic as I am. For as beautiful and traditional as Koya-san was, Akihabara was equally beautiful and non-traditional. Akihabara, aka The Electric City, Mecca of anime nerds, was something my sister warned my parents to sit out on.

It was our last night in Tokyo and my sister and I wanted to have our own adventure. Being a fan of animation, my sister told me Akihabara was the place to be. Plus it was home to the Gundam Café, a café based off of a popular anime that had been exported to America in years past. So we took a late-night train to see the electric city and discovered it was aptly named.

Lights. Lights everywhere. Lights on the buildings, lights on the cars, lights worn by the people, lights even in the air. Seriously folks, the lights were everywhere. Alongside all the techno cafes and five-story porn shops, were some of the craziest things I’ve ever seen. There were photo-booths that altered your appearance to that of a make-up-spackled anime chick (don’t ask for the photos for I’ve locked them in my underground bunker never to see the light of day again), casino’s full of video games, Yugioh and Pokemon card duels, and young attractive Japanese women dressed up in some of the craziest costumes, enticing men to enter their shops and buy their company. After a couple passes around the blocks we decided to settle for electric sapphire and ruby cocktails at the Gundam café, home to one of the greatest toilets I’ve ever seen.

Yes, among many things, Japan is also leading the technological toilet revolution. I’m not going to get into it too much but here are some things to note America: Wireless remotes (not sure why but cool), seat warmers, courtesy flush noises, and even an information display, all in the palm of your hand. What made the Gundam Café’s toilet so wonderful? The fact that the flush button actually started up the Gundam sequence (Gundams are giant mechanical suits used for fighting). The lights would dim and a pair of Gundam eyes would glow as the room was quickly enveloped in the Gundam start-up sounds. Oh and the toilet would flush.

On that note I would like to reiterate a previously mentioned statement. Japan is a weird place. But it’s also a beautiful place full of majesty, mystery, wonder, and some awesome toilets.

The Japanese have managed to handle their transition from land of ancient magics and stories of warriors to the technological super-power that it is known as today. The major cities have found a way to integrate centuries of lore and legend into modern day living, without sacrificing any advances. What does this say about them? I’d like to think that it shows that they will hold steadfast in their past but at the same time will never be afraid to move forward to the future. That is something I have a lot of respect for and look forward to experiencing whenever I return to their land one day.

A Night at the Museum

     I don’t know much about Union Terminal/ The Museum Center other than that it is a terminal and a museum center.  But what I do have are memories; nothing substantial nor quantifiable but memories none the less. 

     When approached with the task of exploring the terminal for a Travel Writing assignment, I knew I wanted to do something special.  My spin?  Visit the museum center at night when all the shops and exhibits were closed and all that was left were the travellers seeking a getaway in the middle of the night, that last train going anywhere.  I could see it now, I would sit in the grand hall of Union Terminal clothed in the ambient reds and yellows flickering down on me from the domed ceiling, it’s mouth locked open above me.  I would be surrounded by the echoes of travelers past as they ricocheted around the terminal.  I suppose I would have gone off on some lyrical adventure in attempt to manifest this idea of trapped memories and stories.  I could even share some of my own stories like the time I went there for high school prom and won the vice prom-kingery.

     But what really happened on my night at the museum?  I got rejected at the door.

     Apparently, no trains come through on Monday nights so the terminal remains closed, leaving those travellers stranded in Cincinnati.

     So while I sit outside the terminal (which oddly looks like the Hall of Justice), I bundle up to fight the cold and write about my non-journey journey, all the while listening to a security guard playing on the organ inside.

     It’s a cold night in Cincinnati.  With only a couple hundred feet of parking lot separating the terminal from the city, its surprisingly and refreshingly quiet (aside from the previously mentioned phantom of the terminal playing his music of the night).  No echoes out here.

     The Terminal looms over me, its face is wide and worn down, showing its age by the small cracks and water stains scattered about.  The ancient feeling of the building is marred by the neon-lit linings of the large clock that sits atop its brow.

     This place tells a story, though it’s home to many. 

     It’s time for me to go.  Over my shoulder stands the city of Clifton, lights and feelings of home flicker in the windows of familiar buildings set on top of the hill. 

     It would be nice to hear trains off in the distance.

The Field

     When I usually write about traveling it’s about a place I’ve been to relatively recently with camera in-hand.  This time, due to an inspiration brought about by a class activity, I’d like to travel backward to a memory and explore a staple from my childhood: The Field.

     Outside of my suburban St. Louis childhood neighborhood was a large stretch of field which we simply referred to as “The Field.”  This title didn’t come about due to a lack of imagination but on the contrary, it was an open invitation.  To give it any other name, code word (as was likely back in those days), or any other designation would imply a specific purpose or meaning.  The Field was whatever we wanted it to be.  Baseball field one day, Nerf battleground the next.  During the summer nights it was reserved for flash-light tag and in the spring, hot-air balloons often landed there, a spectacle  worthy of banging on each childhood friend’s door and quickly biking back to greet the skyfarers, begging for the possibility to board their skycraft. 

     All imagination aside, The Field wasn’t just a rectangular stretch of land.  No really, it had no defined shape that I can describe.  Rather, we described it in its separate sections.  It had it’s large open field portion, the one we’d use for the aforementioned baseball games and tag, but also a lining of tree’s we’d known as “the forts” used by the “teenagers,” a clan of people whose culture was unknown to our youthful nature. It was also a place where they smoked pot, whatever that was.  But most mysteriously was the place known as “the swamp” which rested on the outer rim of The Field and was essentially a mud-hole with an overturned cart of some sort which had been put in and sunk into the mud with only a corner peaking out which taunted us continuously. “What is that?” we would ask.  “Where did it come from?” we would wonder. 

     Despite having driven all about and around St. Louis County, this field served as a frontier to us children.  Something so familiar and nearby was thought about with such reverence and given the embodiment of exploration and thought of as the physical plane of imagine. 

     I wonder often, if the adjacent neighborhoods were home to children who thought the same way about the unclaimed stretch of land connecting our communities.  I hope they shared in the adventures and wonders of the land given to us (probably due to the over-lookings of some home-building company).

     Sitting in my Clifton apartment some seven years later, I entertain the thought of whether or not my life might have been changed by spending this time within proximity to my childhood home of imagination. To this day I feel a connection to that place.  Perhaps it birthed my creative nature.  Maybe it it was just a field.  Either way, the times were good.  And maybe that’s all I could have asked for from The Field.

The Trip to Tipp City

     The Plan: Drive my friend, classical guitarist, Andy Wygant, to Tipp City, Ohio where he would be performing a concert in the city’s Hotel Gallery.  This concert would help him to raise money for his expenses while studying abroad in Brussels.  Not the most exciting sounding of road trips, but you’d be surprised.

     We were to meet at the Stab N’ Grab, or as non-southern Cliftonians call it, the Stop N’ Go.  And by “we” I meant Andy, myself, and our friend Austin who decided to come along just for the ride.  The appointed meeting time was 4 p.m. and they were late.

     I shut off the engine of my 2008 Chevy econobox and went into the store to waste time and money while waiting for my comrades-in-travel to arrive.  Upon entering, I noticed that behind the counter stood Stab N’ Grab’s iconic clerk with his bald head and long red beard.  The look on his
face very rarely resembled the cartoon depiction of his person posted in, around, and outside the store.  That’s false advertisement right there folks.

     Grabbing three Snickers and a bottle of water for the road, I left the shop with my driving survival kit and headed back to my car.  It wasn’t long before Andy and Austin showed up.  After some friendly greetings we tossed our belongings into the car and I distributed my recently purchased candy bars equally before hitting the road.

     With merely an hour or so of road-time between Clifton and Tipp City, the drive went by unburdened by boredom, bathroom breaks, and bothersome questions like, “Are we there yet?”

     Rolling into town with the various small businesses and old style lamps lining the street, you get a peek at the community and artsy vibe that permeates Tipp City.

     After finding a place to park, we exited our vehicle to survey the small friendly town of Northern Dayton.  Although alien to Austin and myself, Andy had lived in and around Tipp City for most of his early life. So while we took in the atmosphere, Andy hustled and bustled to the Tipp City Hotel Gallery.

     The former hotel, now an art gallery, is owned and run by Steve and Sally Watson.  After having sold all of their possessions, the Watsons purchased the historic hotel and turned the old three-story building into a beautiful art gallery where one can purchase just about anything contained in the maze of long hallways filled with rooms of candles, pots, pans, photographs, frames, tables, blankets, and more, all taken care of and created on a regular basis.  The Hotel Gallery is also home to music, both the performance of and the listening to.  The gallery’s Tippacanoe Room, named after the city’s old name, is the home of the gallery’s events.

     Living in Tipp City for 5 years, Andy played at the Hotel Gallery weekly for tips, beginning his career as a performing guitar player and befriending the Watsons.  Now he had returned for what might be his last concert in Tipp City ever.

     We were welcomed into the various connected shops, starting at the one of the Hotel Gallery, a jewelry and accessory shop, working our way through art rooms and clothing stores until eventually entering the Tippacanoe room.  It was a long room with walls covered in brightly colored carpets with designs that crisscrossed, wrapped around, and intertwined lines of fabric into beautiful tapestries.  The covered walls caused the sounds in the room to dampen, leaving you feeling like you were in a recording studio.  We went straight to work setting up mics, recorders, and amps.  Although classical guitar sounds best unaltered by electronics, the crowd of mingling middle-aged listeners would need the assistance in the packed gallery room. 

     The concert went well, the wine flowed heavily, the hors d’œuvre flew off the table, and the music was fantastic as always.  Despite living with Andy and hearing the same pieces played six hours every day, the concert atmosphere brings each piece new life.  That or it was the wine and/or the bourbon I brought in.  Hey, they said byob.

     Our stay at the Hotel Gallery ended with the congratulations and well wishes to Andy, conversation about our own art, music, and selves, and a tour ending with a backyard bonfire, witnessing a working water well that was over 100 years old, and listening to the sounds of trains traveling off in the distance.

     After saying our goodbyes to new friends and acquaintances, we headed out for a night of pizza, laughs, and reflections.  The trip to Tipp City was actually quite  fun after all.  I got to hang out with friends, check out a new town with a cool community and a fun vibe, and I got to listen to great music with free wine.  Who can complain?


Video evidence coming soon

Taste of Cincinnati

     Very few times am I proud to say I live in Cincinnati.  Not for any particular reason, I don’t hate the place or anything, but it never really felt any different from St. Louis where I grew up.  Well yesterday was different.  As I wondered the downtown street that hosted the annual Taste of Cincinnati event, I saw a major part of Cincinnati’s culture and community bonding together and celebrating good food, good beer (although Budweiser and Miller did make an appearance, bleh), and good times.Taste of Cincinnati.  Photo by Phil Didion.Taste of Cincinnati.  Photo by Phil Didion.Taste of Cincinnati.  Photo by Phil Didion.Taste of Cincinnati.  Photo by Phil Didion.Taste of Cincinnati.  Photo by Phil Didion.Taste of Cincinnati.  Photo by Phil Didion.Taste of Cincinnati.  Photo by Phil Didion.Taste of Cincinnati.  Photo by Phil Didion.Taste of Cincinnati.  Photo by Phil Didion.Taste of Cincinnati.  Photo by Phil Didion.Taste of Cincinnati.  Photo by Phil Didion.Taste of Cincinnati.  Photo by Phil Didion.Taste of Cincinnati.  Photo by Phil Didion.Taste of Cincinnati.  Photo by Phil Didion.Taste of Cincinnati.  Photo by Phil Didion.Taste of Cincinnati.  Photo by Phil Didion.Taste of Cincinnati.  Photo by Phil Didion.Taste of Cincinnati.  Photo by Phil Didion.Taste of Cincinnati.  Photo by Phil Didion.Taste of Cincinnati.  Photo by Phil Didion.

     If you guys didn’t go this year, I highly suggest checking it out next time (or today if you can hurry down there!)