Places: How They Influence Us

Experiences, Thoughts, Travel

Within the last couple of years, I have transformed; mentally and emotionally. Some of the things I did before the pandemic were unhealthy and questionable. I mean very mentally and emotionally unhealthy. I was around people who were just not good for me and my mental and spiritual health was on a decline because of it. During the pandemic, and with tons of time to be alone I had an epiphany of sorts. After realizing I had almost wasted my life with an individual who was completely toxic for me, I realized that I truly wasn’t living my life the way that I should have been or could be doing. Realizing that, I decided to make the most out of my 2021, once many COVID restrictions started to lift. 

Last year I went on some truly amazing adventures and discovered so many new places and met some lovely new people. At this point, I’m not a stranger to traveling alone. I find that traveling alone is extremely beneficial and something that everyone should do at least once in their life. I don’t mean traveling for work either, or something tedious. I mean to go, across the country, or the world – completely by yourself and for only one purpose: leisure. 

Last year, by the power of fate I made it to Iceland twice, Omaha, Nebraska (Nebriowa), and St. Louis, Missouri. I feel like I’m forgetting something, but if I remember I’ll be sure to come back and write about it. I did go to Roswell, but that was for a family visit and something I’ll discuss later on. Traveling for me is all about exploration of the world and exploration of myself. It might not seem like a lot to some, but the places I went to and the things that I saw last year have given me memories that will last a lifetime. Traveling makes you realize just how tiny you are in this giant and overpopulated world. 

Seeing Mt. Esja, among many other beauties in Iceland for the first time, was breathtaking. I did, of course, see some epic waterfalls, ate fermented shark (and didn’t puke, haha Gordon Ramsay!), and even saw one of my favorite artists perform. On top of that, I even went to Álfaskólinn, the official Elf School of Iceland, and was lucky enough to sit with a historian and listen to stories of magic and folklore (my favorite!). 

Sitting on Mt. Esja, Iceland

When traveling to Nebraska, I stood in two states at the same time while on top of the Bob Kerry Pedestrian bridge where I witnessed a marriage proposal at sunset. It was so romantic, and I was thrilled to have captured photos of the moment. (The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge is a 3,000-foot footbridge across the Missouri River between Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Omaha, Nebraska.) I did send the photos I got to the couple after their special moment. I rode a bicycle up and down the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. The feeling of connecting with nature and history brought me such pleasure and it’s a magical place I’ll never forget. On the trail, I slowed down so I could witness a musical performance taking place on the side of the river. I saw the Durham Museum and listened to stories of military men and the brave Standing Bear. I was shocked and heartbroken at learning things about Standing Bear and his people, that they never would teach us in school. At the Joslyn Art Museum, I discovered an epic Dutch painter, Maria Van Oosterwijck. I ate the best fish tacos I’ve ever had in my life at Voodoo Taco. I wish all of the time, they’d open one up in Chicago. 

I rode all over downtown Omaha by myself on those little stand-up electric scooters and let my hair blow in the wind as I cruised the streets, examining the architecture and statues of pioneers and buffalo. Somehow I managed to make my way to a concert of roughly 70,000 people in the middle of a field that looked more like a valley than anything. It was one of the hottest days of the year, and I had no idea how I’d get back to where I was lodging. Luckily, I met a beautiful Princess in the crowd who was from Lake Okoboji. She told me about where she was from, and how people always looked confused when she said “Lake Okoboji”. It is a glacier lake that was formed 14,000 years ago by the Wisconsin Glacier and has a maximum depth of 136 feet, making it Iowa’s deepest natural lake. Bri, or Bree, if you ever read this, just know that I think you are a genuine and beautiful human being. It’s mysterious that we never exchanged contact info after hanging out and demolishing curly fries after the concert. Thank you for helping me get back into town so safely. In my mind, I’d like to think it’s because we are both Midwestern chicks who were looking out for each other that night. She initially came up to me and started chatting because, for a moment, she too was in the crowd alone. 

Somewhere, Iowa

For my son’s birthday, we drove to St. Louis. The first time we saw the Gateway Arch, it felt incredible. Seeing things in person that you’ve only read about in books or on the internet gives you this indescribable feeling! It’s like yes, we finally made it. My son particularly loved St. Louis and Missouri in general. Especially when we drove out to the Meremac Caverns and learned about the hideout spots of Jesse James. Seeing the caverns all lit up felt like being in a dream. We got to explore a part of the earth that so many other people haven’t been able to see. We also spent time at the City Museum, and it was one of the most interesting places I’ve ever seen. Everything constructed at the City Museum comes from old pieces, parts, and random works of art that were once part of the city of St. Louis. Inside the City Museum, which is both equally fun for adults and children, you can investigate the unthinkable.  I rescued a toddler while there who had apparently gotten lost. I found her crying in some loft (there are literally secret compartments all over that museum). Thankfully, her parents found her once I brought her back to the front desk! It was still wild though, considering each child gets a wristband and their parents are supposed to write their phone numbers on them! There was no phone number on hers, which made me super disappointed. My mom instincts kicked in super hard!

St. Louis, MO
Gateway Arch National Park

The City Museum is a hundred-year-old warehouse where artists have recycled the remains of the past to create miles of tunnels, slides, and climbers as well as bridges, castles, and other structures. There are secret caves inside, giant halls, and more tunnels than you can ever imagine. On top of the building, there is even a school bus on the roof and a Ferris wheel. Some of our time was also spent at the Magic House Museum in Kirkwood, MO. The Magic House is a non-profit organization that provides hands-on exhibitions and educational activities that are tailored to the specific interests and requirements of children and their families. In addition to field excursions, STEAM evenings for families, scout programs, and summer camps, the Museum provides a range of interactive learning opportunities that encourage and inspire kids of all ages toward becoming successful learners.

City Museum, St. Louis, MO

This is just a tiny snippet of what I’ve experienced last year in my “free time”. The point is, all of these places shape what I know, who I am, and how I see the world. Every time we discover a new place, we discover something about ourselves. We discover something about humanity. As much as humans seem impossible, experiencing new things and new places gives you a chance to discover the good that is left in humanity. In St. Louis, I was shocked at the hospitality we received at one restaurant. It was genuine, it was real. It wasn’t that fake smile or fake voice that many servers here in the city pull. 

In the city, when I was growing up one of my favorite hideout spots was the Montrose Bird Sanctuary. The Montrose Bird Sanctuary is a quiet preserve that is home to a diverse range of migrating songbirds and butterflies, and it also has a skyline view. When I was younger I thought it should have just been called the Butterfly Sanctuary. The last time I was there, sadly, I did not see so many butterflies. There were plenty of tall grasses and trees to hide in and around. Maybe I loved the spot due to my obsession with nature which I’m going to blame on books of my childhood like, “The Giving Tree”, for example. Or even “Goodnight Moon”. Growing up with books that taught about nature, the stars, and altruism – one shouldn’t be surprised that a favorite hiding spot of mine is just next to the shores of Lake Michigan where you can easily hide in trees. It looks much different now than it did back then. Even though it’s changed so much, it will always be one of my favorite spots. I went back and visited last year, and found a single rose floating in the lake. I considered it as a message from one of my most loved and missed friends. 

Near Montrose Harbor, Chicago IL (I promise you, I did not put that rose there!)

I’ve been incredibly lucky to experience so many things. This year, I can only imagine what else I will find. Taking none of this for granted is critical to the importance and the extent of my appreciation for all of the magical things in this world. 

Roswell, NM 2021

I Don’t Remember His Name, But I Do Remember His Face

Experiences, Thoughts

Here is a short excerpt of a blog that I will publish later this month.

TRIGGER WARNING – Do not continue reading if you are sensitive to sexual/domestic/violence issues.

One day, I was inside of a breakfast restaurant filling out a job application far on the north side of Chicago. Most of my time was spent on the Northside to be fair. This restaurant was almost on the outer limits of the city. I was around 18 years old at the time.

A man sat alone at a table near me and was eating his breakfast and drinking his coffee. He was a tiny little guy and spoke Spanish to the waitress. He saw me at the cashier counter of the restaurant filling out an application. Back then we actually had PAPER applications for jobs. What a wild world it was! Some of you will remember, and some of you will imagine.

I was writing down all of my information on this paper application and the man approached me. He asked me if I was looking for a job. Obviously, and clearly, I was. Of course, I said yes, and I asked why? Why did he ask me? What did he want? Back then I was rough around the edges. I mean, I still am. But my sassiness back then was much more vicious than it is now. I think so at least.

He slid a business card over to me and told me that he owned a nightclub in Lincoln Park. (Lincoln Park has been one of the most popular nightlife destinations in Chicago for a long time.) He said he was looking for a hostess. At the time, it sounded like a dream! He told me that I could start the next night. He told me to dress for the occasion. I was so excited. I picked out new outfits, even spending the money to do so. My mom helped me prepare. She said I looked beautiful.

I wore a small black mini skirt, black stilettos, and a white blouse that was a bit low cut and sleeveless. My hair was put up in a giant long ponytail before the Ariana Grande ponytail was ever mentioned. I wore a black cardigan to cover the tattoo on my back.

I remember it so well. I remember thinking how lucky I was to just have a job fall right into my lap, and not just a job, but one where music would be played all night and people would dance all night. The only thing I would be responsible for was to help collect tickets at the door and put roses on the tables and light the candles. “Make it feel romantic.”, he told me.

Ah yes. I will never forget. That is exactly what I did!

The first and only night there at the club, I thought I scored big. After the tickets were all collected and everyone was inside, I danced with the customers! I danced all night! Luckily for me, the guy who hired me, who now I can’t even remember his name, also danced. It was a big party and I was the luckiest girl ever in the world because I got paid for it! I was offered drinks and shots multiple times, but I never drank back then. It worked in my favor.

Finally, the night had to come to an end. The nameless man told me that I’d be able to leave around 1 am, as the local bars closed around 2 and everyone would be heading home around that time. At the end of the night, I approached the mysterious boss man and asked him for my pay. It was pretty good money too, for being so long ago, and it was in cash. As a teenager, it was a sweet deal to me. He told me that my money was down in the basement. He wanted me to follow him down there in the basement of the club, right to his office.

I can’t remember now if I thought anything of it. Naturally, as an older adult now typing this and reading it, you can see how shady it sounds. We got to his little room (“office”) in the basement of the club. It was summertime and extremely hot. The fans in this little room did absolutely no good. My feet were definitely killing me at this point and I just wanted to go home.

Now, remember, I told you he was small. Smaller than me, and I’m a whopping 5’3 and must have been at least 5’6 with those heels. I remember asking him for the cash and telling him I needed to leave. He kept fiddling around with paperwork and money. I was standing near a desk, or a wall. I cannot remember now.

He kept telling me how good I did. But that’s when it started to feel awkward because in reality I hadn’t done shit (compared to other jobs) but light some candles and make an atmosphere that was romantic, with roses. You can’t forget about the roses! I collected some tickets from people who didn’t even speak the same language as me.

He kept telling me my greatness, and how beautiful I am. He had the envelope of money in his hand. He handed the envelope closer to me while his mouth wouldn’t stop talking, and I snatched it from him (out of instinct because I felt what he was about to do) as he pushed me against the wall and pressed his lips on mine. He tasted like sweat and alcohol. He tasted like FILTH. I pushed him off of me so hard when he did that and ran out of that place like I was running from a blood-thirsty animal. F*cking a**hole, I thought to myself. I ran towards DePaul University, the train stop was right near there. Fullerton. The feeling of wanting to escape is something that still haunts my dreams and I’ve felt it so many times. Not just this time. I remember actually, once I was far enough from the club I took those heels off and ran barefoot to the CTA train hoping not to step on any glass or needles on the ground. I never saw that guy again. Not once. And I hope I never do. I can’t remember his name, but I do remember his face. 

He did fall backward when I pushed him. That is how I will remember his face. Because the look of shock on his face has stuck in my head like dried jelly on a jar. He must have thought I was weak. Did he think I would let him? That is never the case. It will never be. My only thought now, is what if he was bigger? What if I did not escape? What could have happened? And the worst part is, this is only one story. 

I’d never been myself if I didn’t knock him on his ass that night.

And this is why you shouldn’t talk to strangers.