Saturday, June 3, 2017

Camping @ Cougar Crossing

"Here's to it, and here's from it, and here's to it again! If you ever get to it, and don't do it, you may never get to do it again!" - Joe Cotter
I heard this one time and it touched me somewhere that if it was 10 years earlier that spot would not have even existed. At that time I was working in the music business and working my way up and thinking this is how it happens, but here it is a Friday night and I have a tent set up in a dirt patch in the middle of 13 trees towering over me like nervous new parents with a baby fresh from the hospital. I say that to say this: Don't let any given moment define who you are. The ups and the downs. Whether you do amazing or do nothing.  There is always time to change, but it doesn't happen by chance. You have to manifest it.
I'm sitting on the bench at Cougar Crossing Campground up by the Cougar Hot Springs in Rainbow, Oregon and it's chilly as the sun has gone down only leaving just a glimpse of blues and reds, the air is crisp with a slight breeze, you can hear the river as it sounds like a standing ovation in a theater. I have neighbors and it's a family of 6. They're doing a short get away from Salem as they just bought an RV and are testing it out. I'm jealous, both in the fact it's freezing outside and I want an RV. Maybe if I knock on their door they will invite me in for pictionary and Goldfish.

I finally get to sleep around midnight after a few rounds with my dog because he seems to not understand how tents work and that you can still hear noises and also not be able to see. That sounds terrifying when you say it out loud. Before going to bed I tried to do some night time photography but I forgot my tripod and none of my other pictures worked out. I now realize I'm not well versed in night time photography. On my way back to campsite a truck is going passed me but since we're on a mountain in the middle of nowhere in pitch darkness the truck is going slower than normal but due to circumstances I think nothing of it. It finally comes to a slow halt and someone asks me where the neighboring campsite was and I explained where it was. A few minutes of small talk later me and my dog end up in the back of their truck going to their campsite to have a couple of drinks and make new friends.
There's roughly 6 of them plus us 2 and so when we get there we grab a picnic table and move it closer to another one so there's enough room for everyone. I end up leaving about an hour into it but I learned that at least one of them works on a current NBC tv show that just got picked up for a second season and another one is a sports agent. A few other people have passed by us but nobody else has stuck around so far. I was even unsure if I would make it as once I got here I realized I didn't have any tent poles. They went missing. I was just at Wal-Mart buying more stakes before coming here and I didn't even think I was missing my poles! So I had 2 options: 1. Drive 2+ hours back home and call it defeat. Or 2. I could drive to Springfield and buy some new poles or tent. What would you do?  Well, you already know what I did; I'm here! I'm glad I stayed as meeting these people has definitely lifted my spirits and put me in a better frame of mind. I was stressing and upset because of the extra hassle of having to drive back and forth as it's not a short commute and time wasn't really on my side. At some point I call it a night and we walk back to camp.
It's 6am and my phone is going off in my ear from an alarm I forgot I had set, so I abruptly wake up but then I'm immediately calmed down because it's amazing how the forest comes alive that early as the daylight spreads and the symphony of birds picks up louder and louder in tempo. I unzip the tent and step outside to grab some coffee from the car and to stretch my legs. The dog takes off down by the river to take care of business and to get some fresh water. My neighbors are still asleep and it appears another car has shown up at some point during the night. After taking everything down and loading it all into my car I hit the road and head east along Highway 126 and making several stops for photo opportunities and to just genuinely see what's up this way since I have never been.
Before 730am I am already on the path to the Blue Pool and by 9 I've only seen 3 other people including a guy running the trail in clothes entirely too cold for this location and time, and a couple with their dog and camera in tow. I catch up to them at the end and find out the guy is a chef. I missed the opportunity to network with him as I blanked out and didn't think about it. He was shooting with a Nikon camera so I had nothing to say to him. (I'm joking Nikon fans, I'm joking!) From my vantage point I'm not able to get a good picture of the Blue Pool and the raging falls that apparently don't happen very often, as the sun is directly behind it and doesn't allow for proper long exposures unless you have the right filters which I do not. I ask the couple if they know if it's possible to get across the river and they explain how to if I'm even able to, so I go to check. It was once a beautiful waterfall, but the McKenzie River changed course at some point and went underground a few miles upstream. The river only flows over the falls a few times a year when while the rest of the time the water emerges from the rocks under the water in the basin of the waterfall pool. I am fortunate to be here on my first trip while it's raging!
I get to the top of the waterfall and it's just a short 10 feet across and the deepest part might be knee deep which is fine for me but we're positioned at the tip of the fall and if we slip then we're going right over. I'm not so much concerned for myself, I'm concerned for my dog. He can't swim as I have tested that a few times, he's awkwardly shaped as he's a mixed breed of dog and his body structure doesn't offer him much flexibility for swimming. We were in Cherokee, North Carolina a few years ago and he was in the river and the current took him and he didn't even try to swim. Well, he tried to do something but it wasn't swimming. Luckily I was able to grab his collar before it took him too far, even though this was a very family friendly river in the middle of town so it gets shallow a few feet down and he could just stand and walk,if not sooner than that. So we make it across this body of water, up the lava rock, back down the lava rock, and down the steep path of more lava rock to get to the bottom of the falls in order to get a perspective of the blue pool and the waterfall itself.
On the way back up we decide to go further up the river to find a more shallow area to cross not so close to the falls out of fear of him losing his balance, and we find what looks like a shallow yet slightly wider area of the river to cross. I stumble a few times but we survive. As I was walking back I turned a corner and suddenly had a surreal image of an old Native American standing in what I would consider traditional garb, long black hair pulled back, reddish brown or spotted poncho, waving his arm except all this happened in half a second and the only motion was the appearance and disappearance of said visual. I've never had that happen before and I wasn't even thinking about the land in that way. I know this area is technically called Tamolitch, and I tried to find some history on the name and to try to get some information on my possible visual, but nothing comes up online. If anyone out there might be able to help me out with this it will be greatly appreciated. Or maybe it was just a glitch in the matrix.
The rest of the hike was fine and uneventful, although I did pass a lot more people on the way out than on the way in. The parking lot was completely void of anyone when I arrived at 730 am on a Saturday, but as I was leaving at 1130 am the parking lot was completely full and there were so many people and families out and about. As someone who doesn't like many people in the way while hiking, I recommend going anywhere early or during the week if possible. On my drive back I stop at one of the only gas stations on that section of road, Everyone's Market, to get gas so I can make the 2+ hour drive back home without any other stops because I am completely tired by now.
I pull in and the guy walks up and asks how much, and just as I am about to talk to the attendant I notice there is the truck from the campsite that I hung out with the last night. One of them is walking back from the store and recognizes me and yells that he's going to cover my gas. I'm shocked, why would he do this? He tells me he wanted to thank me for being so welcoming as they're not from here and said I helped open them up to the experience. I am grateful, grabbed a hug from the guy, we all part ways and I head back on my way home.
10 years ago none of this would have happened. I wouldn't have come hiking, I wouldn't have spoken to a truck full of strangers, I definitely wouldn't have joined them for drinks in the middle of nowhere, and I wouldn't have hiked and saw all the beauty that I witnessed. I wouldn't have gotten my gas tank filled by a stranger I happened to have just met the night before, I wouldn't have taken any of these pictures, and I wouldn't be connecting with you in this article. You're not the same person you were 10 years ago, you're not going to be the same person 10 years from now. So many things will happen, you'll meet people that will change your life, you'll be presented with new possibilities and I advocate that you open yourself up to the changes and allow life to unravel for what it is. Life is beautiful. Go find your adventure.

Bridgetown Comedy Festival

The Bossanova Ballroom is the first room on the first unofficial-but-slightly-still-official night of the 10th Annual Bridgetown Comedy Festival and the artists are performing to a packed house. All the seats are full and there are people against the wall and others scattered about on the floor. People are roaring with laughter, and eating up everything these hilarious 4 comedians are giving them. The host of the show, Bri Pruett, is a Portland native now living in Los Angeles. She's very funny, someone I recommend you check out. It's a non-official show on a Wednesday night and the house is echoing with laughter.
Just as the show cant get any better, surprise guest! The legendary Janeane Garofalo just came out to a standing applause and performed a solid 15 minutes. I haven't seen her since Wet Hot American Summer in the early 2000's but that doesn't mean anything as there are so many movies and tv shows that have been released since then. Still she's funny, topical, and even did some anti-pandering to the crowd that seemed to work really well.
Tom Thakkar, a comedian from Brooklyn, by way of Indiana, comes out slaughtering. His first joke on stage has the audience in the floor, and continues the pace for the next few minutes. His set seemed to be cut short, or maybe I just wanted to see more, as I felt he was just getting started. I catch up with Tom after the show.
Tony: I know you're from Indiana but at what point did you move?
Tom: I left Indiana a couple of times. The first time when I was 22, after I graduated from college I got engaged to a girl who went to med school in Ohio. She begged me to move there, instead of moving to LA. I was going to move to LA with a Jimmy Kimmel internship. I moved to Athens, Ohio and obviously it didn't work out. 10 months later I moved back to Bloomington. 3 1/2 years ago I moved to Chicago, and then to Brooklyn.
Tony: Wait. You're telling me Ohio isn't a hot spot for comedy?
Tom: I swear to god there were some fun shows there. I even started some shows there, I learned a lot about comedy there. I went to Columbus 3 times a week, which is probably what was wrong with my relationship. It's a 2 hour drive there and a 2 hour drive back. So I was doing 4 hours on the road 3 nights a week to do open mics.
Tony: Who did you admire growing up?
Tom: Nick Swardson, Gaffigan, Maria Bamford. Those were my faves.
Tony: Have you gotten to work with them yet?
Tom: I got to open for Maria Bamford. She's just the best, she's incredible. I actually have an insane experience. Maria came through [the club in Bloomington] she did this weird workshop during the middle of the day where she invited all the local comics to come to the club and do their jokes in front of her and you could workshop your jokes with everyone and she would give you notes. Any time you start to think you're doing anything Maria Bamford gave brand new comedians, and lunatics, comedy notes.
Tom has a podcast called Stand by your Band and you can find it on iTunes, or where ever you listen to your podcasts at, where he has different guests bring him their favorite bands and they have to defend them and why. It's a very solid idea and I'm looking forward to listening to it myself. I travel a lot so podcasts get played a lot more in my car than music.
As I'm walking around show to show, venue to venue, a face that I keep seeing is that of David Perdue. A comedian just in town from Atlanta for some other shows but came out to support other comedians during their first show of the festival. We talk between sets until the headliner comes on; Shane Torres. A semi-local who just filmed his first Comedy Central special in New Orleans, Shane is closing the show with jokes about why do we hate Guy Fierei but love Anthony Bourdain. He is very persuasive and I think I might be on his side on this.
The after party is at a karaoke bar called Trio. I can't begin to explain to you how fun it is being at a karaoke bar with nothing but comedians. It's exactly how it sounds.
Day 2 of the festival and I've already caught a glimpse of Patton Oswalt and Baron Vaughn. I've seen many performances through out the first show but the highlights for me were Dusty Slay and Nasser Khan. Complete opposites in appearance and maybe even material, but captivating in their own right and both are names you should be looking up on YouTube and binge watching what they have listed. Shouldering and ducking through the crowd to find my way out, I am now at the smaller club Cider Riot and they're performing to a packed house. It's an intimate room with no seating available. This is a beautiful thing to see: people supporting art, or comedians specifically, as some cities fail to even sell out one show house hold names, much less sell out rooms on week days for artists you may or may not know.
Earlier in the day I introduced myself to a guy with long hair, a beard, sporting a backpack and a smile. He calls himself Dusty Slay and I can tell immediately he's from the south. He doesn't have a real thick accent but enough of one to notice, especially for a southern boy like myself who hasn't heard a southern accent outside of his own since flying back home and talking to his uncles.
Dusty, originally from Alabama, has since moved to Charleston, South Carolina and now lives in Nashville. I have spent time in both cities and I love each of them, both with unique characteristics and beautiful people. The Portland air is thick with humidity during one of the few days of sunshine we have had this year, and with dark skies looming toward us we grab coffee at a quaint coffee shop just across the street from one of the clubs, where an out going lady who seems to be the owner rings us up and gives us some information regarding the area. We head outside to enjoy the weather as he allowed me to bug him for a few moments.
Tony: How many times did you apply for the festival?
Dusty: This is the first time. I think its all about the video. I finally got a good video. I'm just using a handicam and whenever I set up my camera somewhere and i can have the perfect show and I'll go watch it and it's echoey, you can barely hear what I say or someone bumped the camera, or someone sat in front of it. And I finally got a good video.
Tony: Same camera?
Dusty: Yeah.
Tony: So what was the difference?
Dusty: It's the club that I did. It's Crackers in Broad Ripple, Indiana outside of Indianapolis. Its a great club. Indianapolis really gets my jokes.
Tony: Did you start comedy in Alabama?
Dusty: No, I moved to Charleston when I was 21 and I didn't know anybody so I wanted to make friends and I read in the paper about adult improv classes and I was like 'I don't know what that is but let's try it.' So I did that and some buddies were like 'You should do stand up.' And so I just tried it. It scared me to death. I quit for years and then started back again in 2008 and I love it.
Tony: If you could give one piece of advice to a new comedian...
Dusty: The biggest thing to help me was just not drinking. Some people can handle it better than me. For 4 or 5 years I had this 20 minutes that I was messing around with. I quit drinking and I wrote an hour in like a year. I mean it's not been that fluid sense but it's amazing.
Tony: So you could see the hindrance?
Dusty: Yeah just dragging me down. Now to other people it's different things, maybe it's not drinking, but whatever that thing is get rid of that.
You can catch Dusty in Ohio, North Carolina and South Carolina this month. Google and YouTube his name to find out more information.
During the night I jump around to a few different venues to watch the various performers and themed shows that were going on. Cider Riot hosted new faces and festival favorites, the Analog Theater played home to NBC's Superstore actor Nick Santos while the Doug Fir Lounge had Shane Torres who just filmed his own Comedy Central special down in New Orleans. There are dozens of faces running from one venue to the next for their performance or just to catch a show they were looking forward to.
Not all shows are stand up comedy, either, as most of them are themed. You had The New Negros which shined a light on black comedians and showcase them to help depart your idea of what 'black comedy' is suppose to be and it's hosted by Baron Vaughn. You can catch Baron Vaughn as the voice of Tom Servo on Mystery Science Theater 3000 along with other Bridgetown Festival comedians Jonah Ray, Hampton Yount, and Patton Oswalt.
Other themed shows on the line up are Reunited! by Josh Androsky & Bryan Cook about a fake table read of a scripted tv show, Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction (also created by Bryan Cook), Rants off/Dance Off, Picture This!, and Turnt Up with Eliza Skinner. Eliza is another comedian I caught up with during the festival and you may know her as a writer on The Late Late Show with James Corden, an actress on Adam Ruins Everything, and host of the new TBS show Drop The Mic.
Tony: How does this festival compare to others?
Eliza: This festival is more like a summer for comedians. Getting to hangout and see each others work. Portland is such a nice place to come spend time. You got great restaurants, pretty streets to walk down. So it's more of a fun, quality of life thing for comics to do than industry 'This is gonna get me signed some place. This is gonna get me a tv show.'
Tony: Where did you come up with your show? Where did tell hip hop come from?
Eliza: I started it about 12 years ago in New York. It was a show called Beat Down. I came from improv, I did a lot of musical improv, and very often as a part of that there were situations where people would start rapping. And people, because of the way I look, never thought that I could rap so I felt like that I had to prove them wrong. I grew up in Richmond, Virginia and grew up listening to a lot of rap so I had that in me already. I just had to be good at it in order to compete with all of these dudes and so I wanted to start my own show and knew someone who was a beatboxer. So we started doing it and it was great from the beginning.
Tony: I know you've had guests like Reggie Watts and Pete Holmes and even TJ Miller. Out of all your guests, who are your favorites?
Eliza: Thomas Middleditch (HBO's Silicon Valley) was really great. He is very bad at rapping but really good at winning. Donald Glover was fun, also never won.
Tony: Who surprised you the most?
Eliza: I don't know if any surprised me. Some surprised themselves. A lot of the times before the show they say they can't do this then half way through they say 'I'm going to do this!' and start trying harder.
Throughout the festival I seen a lot of the same faces and smiles, a lot of people slapped me on the back as they passed by, head nodded, or just generally acknowledged me as a nod to a familiar face in a city of strangers. Most of the volunteers at the festival are from out of town and have come to work.
The event as part of the comedy scene circuit. One of the dues you pay in order to network, watch, learn, and overall just be entertained. This is the best version of an internship, and while I recognize that there is true work involved I can't imagine a better scenario for someone to volunteer than in a place where people are only around to make your time on earth more enjoyable, to make you smile. Comedy can be self serving for the performer as it can be looked as another avenue for someone to beg for your attention, but at least their only goal is to make you laugh and to enjoy your day even if it's for only 5 minutes at a time.
Friday was my last day and I ended up getting to watch and even have actual conversations with a few of my favorite comedians including Jonah Ray (the host of The New Mystery Science Theater 3000 on Netflix), Dave Hill, and Annie Lederman. These are all names you should already be familiar with but if you're not then I implore you to look them up and find what suits your comedy pallet.
The festival runs from Wednesday to Sunday but due to scheduling I only stayed for 3 of those days. In that amount of time I was able to experience comedy in a way I never had before while also enjoying stand up in its purest form. From themed shows to open mics. From sitcom stars to late night writers to open mic'ers. At one point I even got to meet Matt Braunger, one of the co-creators of the festival, and veteran stand up comedian as well. This was the 10th Annual Bridgetown Comedy Festival and I hope I get to see 10 more! I recommend everyone take at least one night to go check out a show when it comes back in town next year, or just go find your nearest comedy club and check out any performance as it's almost guaranteed you're going to laugh.

Pirates, Ships & Live Music

Nestled in-between some of the famous dunes of Oregon is a town called Coos Bay, a town with a population of less than 20,000 people but a lot of heart. The drive from Corvallis to Coos Bay is a long one so I bide my time with a few podcasts I had downloaded the night before because I expected no signal most of the way, and with 3 hours of driving each way I had plenty of time ahead of me. There aren't a lot of stops along my route for picture opportunities unless you research and go well off the route and if it wasn't for my drive time I probably would've made more stops than I did.
My original intent was to get there at sunrise for some photo opportunities of the ships resting in the morning fog just as the sun started to rise, although I ended up sleeping through my alarm and not waking up until 730 - well after the sun was up. I was fortunate enough to had thought ahead and pack my bag for the trip the night before so I only had a few things to do before I headed toward Coos Bay. For the record, I will never get tired of saying the words Coos & Bay together. Coos Bay. A wine sommelier would use the word mouth-feel, a term describing the way wine feels in the mouth, it's the same way Coos Bay feels when you say it.

The Festival of Sail is a traveling event that goes around the world but it returns to Coos Bay this week from June 1-4, stopping in the old port town before heading up the coast to Tacoma, Washington. This is the first year this specific event has been held in Coos Bay, but it is replacing an old-tradition that was held in town called 'Tall Ship Days in Coos Bay' that was hosted at the boardwalk, but is now being held in the parking lot and dock of the Mills Casino, owned by The Coquille Indian Tribe. The casino overlooks the beautiful Coos Bay and has over 200 waterfront rooms, over 100 RV Sites, bay view dining, over 700 Vegas-style slot machines and table games.
The festival will host at least 5 large sailing ships and 'Mama Duck', the monstrously cute 11-ton inflatable rubber duck that you've no doubt seen in selfies on Instagram and Twitter. Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman is behind Mama Duck. The giant floating toy has made appearances all over the world, from Hong Kong to Sydney. There is a story that even an unlicensed knock-off of Mama Duck appeared, and sadly deflated, at the Tall Ships Festival in Philadelphia in June 2015.

While maritime professionals may cringe at the giant duck, others say it will draw in more people than would normally show up due to attracting more families and kids which will then lead them to the ships themselves. It's marketing done right and people seem to love it. The inflatable ducky measures at 61 feet tall, 50 feet in diameter and weighs around 23,000 pounds. From start to finish it takes two and a half hours to fully inflate. I hope you have strong lungs!
The ships scheduled to appear are as listed:
  • Schooner Freda B, known for its grace and beautiful design;
  • Hawaiian Chieftan, designed after ships that once traded cargo in the Pacific;
  • Lady Washington, a full-scale replica of the famous 18th century ship that has been used in "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Star Trek";
  • Dirigo II, built in 1939 to be sailed in any ocean and in any weather;
  • Bill of Rights, a schooner built in 1971 with "grace of sail" and "lasting strength."
People attending will be able to take a tour of the ships and even sail with them around the bay, though the event may be a little different than it has been in the past. It will host better security and more ships in the bay, but it also comes with an increase in entry fee. In 2015 - the last year the event was called Tall Ship Days - they had walk-on tours for $3, while sails ran from $39-$75. At this year's Festival, tours will cost $12, while sails run from $95-$150. Entrance into the festival costs $9 but comes without access to any of the ships.

I spoke with several people while the ships were gone in roughly 2 hour intervals and giving me plenty of time to get familiar with the event from other people's perspectives. I saw many kids lighting up with smiles and laughs as they lined up to get a carefully crafted balloon animal for their balloon artist, dozens of unofficial pirates walking around, many families pointing at the rubber duck and lining up for pictures for their Facebook accounts, live music and many food and drink vendors putting the final touches on their set ups.
No doubt when you go you will see plenty of security, police, and festival authorities walking around which should give many families lots of ease to know that it's a safe event in as controlled of an environment as you can get. A police man said they were just there for a show of force, to let the community know that they're here if you need them and to share a laugh if you care to talk to them.

I met a volunteer named Brian who walked up to me while I was leaning up against the railing waiting for the ships to return and we ended up leaving and grabbing lunch real quick. Turns out we're from the same part of the country (east coast) and he works as a tour guide in Bandon doing kayak and fishing tours. I had a delicious Italian deli sandwich that I would have no doubt not have found if I had tried to leave and find food on my own.

The ships came back after a long wait and they returned by firing canons at us. They were blanks, but you wouldn't know that by the sound they make when abruptly going off shortly before your heart stops and runs up through throat and then out of your mouth just to get in front of you and punch you in the face. What I'm saying is the unexpected intervals of the canons are nothing short of giving one a heart attack, which must have been a double whammy for people who got hit by real canons back in the day.

The ships are something you behold, I recommend everyone check this event out if you have never been or even if you have been before and have nothing to do this weekend. It's a fun event, it's something different, and it's enjoyable for people with families or by yourself. 5 ships, 1 giant rubber ducky, several vendors, live music, and a casino! Go enjoy, and have fun!