Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Sometimes it's hard to put your heart into a new relationship when you're still struggling to let another one go. Even if you know that things will never be the same between you, hope dies hard, and it can take a toll on any of your future efforts until you find closure.

I'm talking about cars, of course.

Four years ago I begrudgingly traded in my 1996 Nissan Maxima. We'd been together for over five years, and had logged nearly 100,000 miles together, back and forth to Vegas, to Yellowstone, all over, really. I don't know how many dates I went on in it, or how many times I dropped her into 4th gear, changed lanes and blew past someone on the freeway. We had some good times.

It was my longest relationship in a long history of memorable auto-owner partnerships. Before the Maxima there was the '64 Mustang, the '63 Dodge, and of course, my first ride, the '83 Honda, the Bluesmobile. I had some good times in those cars too, but none of them could boast the longevity of the Maxima.

Still, after five and a half years of V-6 powered cruising up and down the Wasatch Front, time took a toll on my beloved Nissan. After tolling up two grand worth of repair bills in less than six months, I knew it was time to move on. I hated to do it, but I knew it was the right thing to do. That's how I wound up over at Rand's Auto Sales in November of 2005, trading in my Maxima for a black 2002 Honda Accord Coupe.

At first I tried to tell myself I was getting a great deal, upgrading to a car with a leather interior and a paint job that finally fit my personality. I even tried calling it The Batmobile in the hopes of forging a quick bond. I tried to look to the future with optimism, but deep down I knew I was having trouble letting go. Trouble that reared its ugly head every time I tried to downshift and gun the engine only to be reminded that a four-cylinder Honda can't jump like a six-cylinder Nissan.

For nearly four years I've cursed the Accord for its performance shortcomings, chafing with frustration because it seems so absurd to be ungrateful for a car that otherwise boasts so many luxuries. But all I saw were the weaknesses, and as a result our relationship has been alienated, strained at best. Only the specter of the '88 Prelude carries a more woeful ranking in my automotive past.

But somewhere along the Pacific Coast Highway, all that changed. Maybe it was while I was looking past a hazy shore at an ocean sunset, or while I was trying to stretch out in the passenger seat and get some sleep in Big Sur State Park, but at some point along my 2,500 mile journey, I made peace with my Honda. It doesn't move any faster, doesn't respond any quicker, and the plastic front bumper still pops out of its clips on the right side every once in a while. But the car just feels different. We've gone places together now. We have history. We've blown across Nevada deserts, up coastal highways, and wandered through the Haight-Ashbury District in San Francisco. We've looked up at the stars in Big Sur and wove through the Redwood forests of Northern California. We just crossed her 100,000 mile mark together, and even though it would be nice to pick up a new ride with a bigger engine and all sorts of new features, I think I'll be OK for a little while longer. For the first time, I think I may be ready to let the Maxima go and make a serious commitment to my Accord.

Either that, or I really need to start dating.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Iron, Wine and Cheese

Best thing about last night's Iron & Wine/Okkervil River concert at the Gallivan Center?

-Having a friend arrive early and stake out a spot ten feet from the center of the stage.

-Thoroughly enjoying the opening set by Okkervil River, instead of just glaring at them for 45 minutes wishing we could just get on with the headliner that (in all other cases) I had paid to see.

-The arrival of a 40-ish stoner, clad in sweaty tie-dye T-shirt, mystic necklaces and clutching a copy of the dictionary (naturally) as he twirled around madly, high on any number of illegal substances, screaming "I'M HERE" over and over only inches from the four disgusted teenage plastics who had seen their crafty effort to cut up to the front of the crowd thwarted by his unbridled odorous enthusiasm.

-The constant look of bemusement on the bearded face of Sam Beam as thousands of fans pushed, struggled and bounced beach balls at him while he made his way through a set of intimate acoustic favorites.

-Finally seeing the battery light start blinking on the camera the 6'4" surfer doofus kept holding up in front of me the whole night.

-The moment halfway through the Iron & Wine set when the 5'0" girl next to me grabbed the 5'3" girl who was trying to cut in front of her (and drag another friend through with her) by the shoulders and shoved her back into the crowd with extreme prejudice.

-Listening to a beautifully minimalist take on "Flightless Bird, American Mouth," knowing that half the crowd was having daydreams of vampires and high school dances, and the other half was cursing the fact that they ever used that song in the "Twilight" movie.

-The fact that the entire spectacle came free of charge.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Return to the Bully Pulpit

I've wondered in recent months whether I should change my blog identity, since I haven't actually taught a college course in nearly two years. Now I guess I don't need to worry about it. I'm back on the wagon.

Next week I'm scheduled to take the lofty helm of two English 1010 courses for Salt Lake Community College. According to administration, they're already filled, so any readers hoping to jump in on the Josh Experience will be sadly disappointed.

The decision came for a number of reasons. One is that I like paying my bills. Another is that I've put in for a tenure track position with SLCC, and it makes a lot more sense to be warmed up and in the groove if I want to justify my application. But mostly I just missed teaching. It's one of the few jobs I've ever had that felt truly redeeming, if only in a "I totally made those kids listen to Right Said Fred as part of a writing exercise" way.

It is time to pray for the academic youth of the Salt Lake Valley.


About three years ago I was sitting on the front row of an Elder's Quorum meeting up at the University Institute, preparing to pinch hit as an EQ instructor. As I sat going over the day's lesson, a familiar figure came up and sat next to me.

"Hey Dave," I said.

Dave was impressed that I remembered his name. He shouldn't have been. There were at least four Dave's in his English 2010 class up at Utah State two years earlier, the one that I taught. Apparently Dave had swung down to visit some friends, and decided to come say 'Hi' when he noticed a familiar face on the front row of class.

"I wanted to tell you that I'm just about to finish an English degree," he said.

I was happy for him, but a little confused.

"Weren't you an engineering major?" I asked. I remembered him hauling around these miserable math books all the time.

"I was," he said, "But after I took your 2010 class I switched over to Technical Writing, and I've been getting A's ever since."

This poor kid was going to be unemployed for the rest of his life, and it was apparently my fault.

"Congratulations, man," I said.


Of course, if anyone is worried about my influence on America's Youth, Wounded Mosquito Productions is still going to be running full bore while class is in session. If you overwhelm me with business over the coming months, I will have no choice but to set aside my Bully Pulpit and hole up in front of my computer working in PhotoShop. Or you could go solicit publishers on my behalf and sell them on the action-packed memoir I've been working on for three years now. There's a little something everyone can do. Think of it as a political campaign.

Just do it for the children.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Going Coastal: San Diego

The impetus for my mega-road trip was the long-awaited marriage of my old friend Brandon, who was getting sealed in the San Diego Temple. The whole production was a raving success, from the Bachelor Party (Ribs at Phil's BBQ and a viewing of "Hot Rod" in Brandon's hotel room), to the sealing, to the dinner later that afternoon (a burrito/taco buffet that featured some of the best beef and salsa I've had in some time).

In between the sealing and the dinner, a few of us swung down to the beach to hang out while Brandon and his new bride went to go take all their pictures. As it turned out, Brandon wasn't the only one with wedding bells in his ears.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Crossing a Fogged-In Golden Gate Bridge

For your random video clip file...

Here's some raw footage I shot while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge on my road trip last month. I'll probably integrate some of it into this year's Epic Summer entry, "Going Coastal: The Lazy Outdoorsman's Guide to Unemployment."

Stay posted...

Friday, August 07, 2009

A Double-Decker Romance

My sister has a theory that girls pay a lot more attention to song lyrics than guys do. I'm inclined to agree. After all, I was the guy who claimed "Jumping Jack Flash" as his favorite song for ten years before I even knew what the lyrics to the last verse said. I've also thought on multiple occasions that I'd like to have Procol Harum's "Whiter Shade of Pale" played at my funeral, though aside from a generally understood notion that the song is a metaphoric interpretation of a wild party, I have no clue what the song is about. Whatever the reason, guys like me just seem to evaluate songs by sound over meaning.

Anyhoo, last week I caught the new movie "500 Days of Summer" at the legendary Cinedome in Hollywood, and once I got home I downloaded a few selections from it's most excellent soundtrack. Two of the tracks were from The Smiths, a band that in traditional fashion I have embraced about twenty years after their demise. One was "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want," the other, "There is a Light That Never Goes Out," a song I favored for the catchy melody of its chorus.

Then I actually listened to the lyrics of said chorus:

And if a double-decker bus crashes into us,
To die by your side would be a heavenly way to die.
And if a ten-ton truck kills the both of us
To die by your side, well the pleasure-the privilege is mine.

Now I've gone on record as saying that I would prefer to go in dramatic fashion when my time comes, perhaps in such an auto-related event. But the lyrics still made me laugh a little bit for juxtaposing such a dark theme against a whimsical melody.

Maybe I'll start paying better attention to the lyrics from now on...I might be missing out on some classic ironies. And that would really be tragic.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Hello Dolly...

This morning I was going through some things in an effort to find a spare set of contact lenses that have become misplaced in the aftermath of June's big move. I can't use the original set anymore, you see. It's kind of a complicated story, but I'll just say it revolves around a poor decision to rub my eyes while cutting up onions and garlic for the summer's first round of fresh salsa.

But that's beside the point...

While looking through my stuff, I peeked into my backpack, and noticed the glint of a CD reflecting back at me. I reached down to grab it, thinking it might have been one of the backup CD's I burned in California to make sure I didn't lose any of my 1,300 photos to an erratically behaving laptop.

But it wasn't an image CD. It was a Dolly Parton CD. My Christmas gift to Breto has been returned.

The game is back on.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Funky Festival Days

My friends Paul and Karlie have been ripping it up on the local folk-acoustic-indie-ish circuit lately. A few weeks back, they asked me to come shoot a few pictures of their performance at the Farmington Festival Days. A chance to pull out the telephoto, do a little people-watching and listen to some music? How could I say no?

Monday, August 03, 2009

Summer Lovin'

One of the things that has kept me busy this summer as I try to make the transition from "unemployed and bored" to "self-employed and datable" has been to work up a couple of wedding videos for two of my old roommates. Unlike last year's video for my sister, both of these projects lacked any raw video material (for one I was able to get together with the couple and shoot some pick-up footage), so my challenge was to bring a little life to your otherwise typical stale LDS wedding slideshow.

Here's what I came up with:

The First Wedding Shoot...

A little over a month ago I did my first official wedding shoot. (There were lots of 'unofficial' ones, where I would just take my camera to weddings for people I didn't know and just start taking pictures of them, but that got a little awkward after a while, and I wasn't meeting nearly as many girls as I thought I would.) Here is a sampling of the results. Not surprisingly, some of my favorites are the ones that aren't very likely to wind up in frames.

Though they should be...

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Stuff I Learned on My Road Trip to California

A few things I noted while logging 2,500 miles in 10 days through Utah, Nevada, California, and a little bit of Arizona:

1-The single greatest threat to Californians are fresh cherries, even if they were originally grown in California.

No reason for native Cali's to worry, though; the nice man at the inspection blockade confiscated my three-pound Costco bounty. I was worried there would be another checkpoint on the way out of the state, but fortunately they were only stopping inbound traffic. I did find it ironic that the I-80 checkpoint is located in Donner Pass, though.

2-Highway ignorance knows no state boundaries.

Contrary to my previous assumption, Californians struggle with the "yield the left lane" concept every bit as much as Utahns do.

3-The San Diego Temple lives up to its reputation.

It seems the designers of the San Diego Temple came from the same "let's make this thing loom up over the highway and scare the crap out of everyone" school of thought that the DC Temple designers did. The first time I saw it as I swung south on the I-5 coming into San Diego, I could only wonder what goes through the minds of non-LDS folks when it springs into view.

Driver: "What on God's green earth is that?"

(sound of brakes squealing)

Passenger: "Funny you should use that expression, Earl. That happens to be the Mormon Temple."

(car horns blare)

Driver: "Mormons, eh? Aren't they the ones that drive buggies and raise barns with Harrison Ford?"

(the crunch of distant bumpers)

Passenger: "No dear, you're thinking of the Mennonites. I don't think the Mormons are very tight with Harrison Ford. Though I think Robert Redford lives among them."

(an SUV bursts into flames)

Driver: "Oh, kind of like Sigourney Weaver in 'Gorillas in the Mist.'"

(a dog barks in the distance)

Passenger: "Yes, I imagine so."

4-You should always carry cash in California.

There's a saying that suggests any trend that starts in California will eventually spread to the rest of the nation. If that's true, then debit cards are on their way out. It felt like half the time I tried to make a purchase out there I found out the vendor only accepted cash. The strangest encounter took place on Santa Monica Pier, where I stood at a table full of the typical tourist crap and prepared to buy my customary fridge magnet. When I asked the owner of the kiosk if he took cards, he grunted at me and said, "Cash only. Money talks, man." For a moment I wondered if I should let him know that debit cards ALSO constitute an exchange of money, but then I figured that it would be a waste of time to argue economics with a man who chose to make his living selling fridge magnets on a pier.

5-It is possible to sleep in my car. Not probable, not effective, and certainly not comfortable, but possible.

On two different nights during the trip, I was faced with spending a night in my car. At my $25 slot in the Big Sur State Park campground, I also had the option of sleeping on a nearby picnic table. Sadly, that wasn't very successful at all, partially because of the hardwood table, and partially because the foam pad I'd brought along was approximately 2.4 millimeters thick. Actually, the worst thing about the table was that it sat only 50 feet from the glowing windows in the bathroom complex, which meant that everytime someone tried to use the can all night, they walked out the door to see a glowing bald head sticking out of a sleeping bag on a nearby picnic table.

6-Shark tastes a lot like fish.

Last time I came through San Francisco, I had shrimp that came in at two inches WIDE. (That partially made up for the fact that it cost me $12 to eat four of them.) This time I decided to walk the wild side by ordering shark at a spot on Fisherman's Wharf. It wasn't too bad, really. I think the coolest thing is the feeling of machismo that comes from eating one of the ocean's most notorious predators. Nothing establishes dominance of one's foes quite like eating them.

7-Two of my best friends from grad school live in Endor

During the back half of the trip, I spent a couple of days visiting Jordy and Anna, two friends from grad school who live in a small forest community an hour and a half north of San Francisco called Guerneville. Guerneville is located at the tip of the so-called "Emerald Triangle," where copious amounts of clandestine doobage are grown and distributed every financial calendar year. This small forest community also happens to be the place George Lucas and Co. filmed all the Endor footage for "Return of the Jedi." And speaking of Ewoks...

8-Guerneville is a lot like Island Park, Idaho...if you swapped the cowboys and trading posts for palm readers, organic produce stands, and an annual influx of 33,000 hairy musclebound homosexuals.

Apparently my late July visit immediately preceded the yearly "Bear" gathering/festival/convention/massive nightly bonfire. According to Jordy and Anna, "Bear" is NorCal-speak for a large, hairy gay man.

9-It never occurred to the Utah Department of Transportation that eastbound commuters on I-80 might want to exit the freeway onto a convenient turnout and photograph the famous "Utah Tree" on the salt flats, just like westbound commuters can.

Actually it did. That must be why they posted all those "EMERGENCY STOPPING ONLY" signs on the eastbound lanes.

10-Music still provides a lot of the best moments on the road.

Exhibit A: About a half-hour west of Reno, well after my iPod had run out of power and I had switched over to the half-dozen CD's left in my changer, The Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil" played on the stereo as I drove into the eastern horizon, which at 11:30PM is pretty much like driving straight into a black void. Given the scope of my circumstances, I'd say Jerry Garcia's little road ballad was quite appropriate.