Road Tripping

On September 26, 2012 my New Jersey state driver license expired. For months leading up to this day anxiety had been seeping in.  I doubt I’ll ever drive again, I thought.

It began back in 2006. Yes, I know, 6 whole years ago! I cleaned out the interior of my Hyundai Elantra hatchback, parked it at the top of the drive, locked the doors and barley looked back. Mere hours later I was on a plane to London where I’d live for the next 12 months. Public transport became my haven. It felt like nearly every other weekend I was catching a bus at 4 am to a remote airport to fly a budget airline to a random European city where I would hop on a train to get downtown where Id ride a ferry down the river to admire the views and then walk back to my hostel. Yes, public transportation very much so became my haven.

Salzburg Airport

Arriving at Salzburg Airport in 2006

I returned to the US in April 2007 and took my good old hatchback for a few spins around southern New Jersey while painfully interviewing for jobs. But just one month later I relocated up north, and became one of them city folk. A Car! What car? All I heard amongst the sirens and horn beeps was hassle.

City parking meant street cleaning on the 4th day at 3rd hour of the week each month. And who wants to move their car every week? Or drive around the block 15 times until your head explodes and you start imagining that your car is smaller than it really is and maybe, just maybe it will fit in between the yellow lines very close to the fire hydrant but really, what are the chances they’ll need to use it today? But it doesn’t fit anyway. No way I say. See you for good Hyundai Elantra.

So I got a bike. And I loved it. And I rode it to work every day. Up the hills, on the sidewalks, to the bars, and safely locked it out front of the gate next to my brownstone’s stoop. And nearly every other weekend for someone’s birthday, engagement, shower, wedding, fiesta, just because I’m your friend/related to you I was on the Bolt Bus traveling from 34th and 8th in Manhattan to the parking lot of Red Lobster outside the Cherry Hill Mall. It costs $12, has leather seats and free Wi-Fi, and beats battling my own personal road rage. Back in town though I took the subway, and cabs, and my own two feet when not on bicycle. And it worked. For four whole years.

Beach Cruiser Bike

My sweet cruiser

Then in May 2011 I arrived in Brisbane. And I said again, a car, no way! Not me…I haven’t driven in years. You don’t want me driving on the other side of the road anyway. So I take two buses to work. It takes 30 minutes, but if I walk home it takes 45. I also take the train, rarely the ferry, and too often a much overpriced cab. And it seems to go okay.

Why Not Street Brisbane

Why Not Street Bus Stop, West End, Brisbane

But then September 26 started approaching. I searched high and low the New Jersey DMV’s website and it seemed impossible to get a license renewed when living abroad on a foreign visa. So then then I thought I’d renew it when back in the States last, but then I realized I’m ‘technically’ now a resident of Pennsylvania, and that’s a whole other piece of sticky red tape. So, I came to terms with the fact that I may never drive in the foreseeable future. Or at least, in order to do so I may actually have to take the driver’s test again. Gulp.

Who knew though, apparently the people who informed me did, that getting a Queensland driver license was as simple as pie? It’s okay that I haven’t driven in 6 years, and have never driven on the left hand side of the road, and cannot drive a manual car. I walked into their Department of Transport, handed over my passport and nearly expired New Jersey license, paid $250 for a 5 year licence, and wallah! I am still a licensed driver for the next 5 years now under an Australian driver’s license. But, you’re not allowed to smile. They’re very strict about this one element of it.

Next week the true test comes into to play. I’m traveling to South Africa, have a reservation booked for Avis rent-a-car and will be road tripping the Garden Route from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth with a friend. A friend, who very similarly moved to London in 2006 (pictured with me at the Salzburg airport in fact), and has been living in Manhattan ever since. What I’m getting at is that we’re in the same boat. The good news is they say it’s just like riding a bike, something I’m proud to say I am very good at!

Stay tuned to hear all about it…


Say It Ain’t So

The existence of tomato sauce flavored chips is about as foreign to me as tomato sauce flavored chips. Gross! Apparently lots of things come in tomato sauce, aka ketchup, flavor.

I just found this new delicious restaurant slash craft beer bar not too far from my apartment called Bitter Suite. Beers are awesome, and expensive, and awesome. Yum Sunshine Coast Brewery Porter! Also, the food ain’t too shabby. Pork belly with succulent crackle, mmm whah (like a smack on the tip of your fingers). I just returned from there. Love that the owner recognized me and my love for Porter’s from a few weeks back. Yeah girlfriend.

I fly to New York in less than one week from today. I was hoping my killer tan would impress everyone, I’m not sure if it’s so killer anymore. I was told to not forget my roots when inquiring about how freezing the temperature actually is. Damn’it, its freezing! Back to the beach. Not sure if I can squeeze a last minute sesh in, however would like to point out that the last two occasions I was at the beach, my bathing suit bottoms, known in Aussie slang as togs, were on inside out. Twice! Yes, twice I’ve been lazily tanning and minding my tanning business to have someone point out, “Oh hey dude, you know your bottoms are on inside out!” Uh…twice, really?!?!

There is a rule many folk may be familiar with which states “no shirt, no shoes, no service”. I would like to tell you that that rule does not apparently apply in Australia. No shirt, no problem. Boys don’t wear shirts, a lot. Actually, if they do, it’s probably a singlet, which is what they call a tank top. Which I hear only Californian surfer boys wear, and FYI no one on the US East coast would ever be caught dead in. There is also a tendency to not wear shoes. Like a lot, again. Most often I see this in grocery stores. Service is all of a different standard, so no problem.

I’m back in time a bit, but as the much anticipated Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part I was released, I was pleasantly entertained at the Blue Room Cinebar in Rosalie, a cute suburb crawling with eateries of all cuisine and alfresco seating, displaying much cuteness in every direction (apparently I’m not one with words this evening). Anyways, Blue Room, tickets cost an appreciated $11 in advance, they have a swinging bar to socialize in before the show, and you order bevies and food prior to taking your assigned seat in the small 50 person theatre and they feed you as you watch the movie. Another wine? Press the button and it magically appears while I stare into Edward Cullen’s dreamy eyes and imagine running my hands through his bouffant.

In the US there is this fabulous reality TV show called Beauty and the Geek where they pair “beauties” of super hot chicks who aren’t meant to be fairly intellectually challenged with even the basics of life, with a “geek” who has most likely never a kissed a girl and is unaware of pop culture phenomenon’s. Heaven must love TV series creators! They were smart enough to run Season 2 of Beauty and the Geek Australia, thank G, and although it has expired I had intentions of blogging about its addictive nature months ago, as the Geeks got sweet makeovers and all the sudden turned hot. Just saying, download that for some amusing entertainment, hello Gilly!

Spike, the damn lizard who has lots of relatives that sprawl all over Brisbane, is technically a Goanna. Just thought everyone should know.

While working in Hoboken, New Jersey from 2007 to 2011 my local bar was called The Dubliner. It was an Irish pub that served awesome cole slaw till the management changed and annoyingly took the cole slaw off the menu. I would just say to Ben, the bartender, side of slaw and Yeungling please! And could sit there for hours. Things changed over the years, but that was the gist of it.

The “pub” next to my work now is called The Coro. There is no weekly Thursday HH (happy hour) like there was in Hoboken, but on the occasion that we do go there all bottled beers are only $5, even deliciousness like Leffe. The toilets are see-through until you press the lock, then it goes cloudy so people can’t see you doing your business. These are the vast differences of the Dubliner verses the Coro. I still secretly favor the Dubliner in the old days, where you could sit there with a pint of Guinness by yourself and listen to the Fratellis. Luckily a new boutique beer bar called Scratch just opened in the Milton neighborhood that may soon to be the Coro replacement.

I’m going to quote my friend Anthony who said at the Coro “I’m pretty sure Australia created the plastic currency that’s now used around the world, except in America because your money is made from paper.” Have a think about that.

From Melrose Place to Bohemian Rhapsody

I’d like to tell you about a little game called Bogan Bingo! Whodawhat? From Wikipedia, “The term bogan is Australian slang, usually pejorative or self-deprecating, for an individual who is recognized to be from a lower class background or someone whose limited education, speech, clothing, attitude and behavior exemplifies such a background.” Think of Brittany in her un-glory days.

So, I’ve previously mentioned that Wiley does complimentary Friday night drinks. Yup, there’s a beer fridge! Anyway, the social committee had organized a company called Bogan Bingo to come in and do their thing. It literally was the
highlight of my week leading up to it as I didn’t have much going on, and I
thought what a great way to make friends, while dressing up like an idiot.

Luckily, my fanny pack (sensitive term here) made it in the final cut of my packing! Everyone’s costume was hilarious and it was awesome to be able to have a casual chat with people I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet yet and some of the people in the “school” division. I didn’t win Bingo, or the best dressed, or the air guitar contest, but it was still great fun. In fact, the head of HR hurried over shortly after the event ended to make sure I wasn’t offended by any of the evening’s antics and wanted to assure me it wasn’t always like this. Bummer, but I told her I’ve worked for Wiley for a while and it takes a lot more to offend me.

After all the Wiley sponsored booze was gone I ended up at a bar called the Paddo, in Paddington, you think? with a group of people from work and the boys who ran Bogan Bingo. It was great a night, so great that I’m pretty sure, no surprise there, that I yapped everyone’s ears off and woke up with a killer headache. Unfortunately, that kept me from meeting one of my new friends at Roller Derby Saturday evening. Talk about Memorial Day weekend fun!

But now its Sunday and yay, I have a house! Well, an apartment! Woo hoo. What a relief to finally escape the Cosmo Hotel. I mean, I actually enjoy staying in hotels. There’s a novelty to it and I quite enjoy just feeling free in a place that isn’t mine. But, two weeks in the Cosmo on Park Rd and I was ready to settle in.

So here I sit in my new flat. Samm, one of my new roomies is slaving in the kitchen whipping up some delicious smelling eggplant parm. Apparently he enjoys cooking and I’m more than happy to buy the ingredients and be served. Liam, my other roomie, kindly picked me up from the Cosmo this morning and helped me lug my gigantic suitcases up 4 flights of stairs, took me shopping to pick up some last minute items, and helped me wash my new bed sets. I’m feeling pretty good about all this.

The place has a real colorful feel. I went from Melrose Place to Bohemian Rhapsody…well not exactly. Samm’s artwork hangs around the flat, Asian paper lanterns dangle from the ceiling, plants line the balcony while the kitchen is painted bright blue and tea lit candles are scattered around all sorts of nooks and crannies. Today we were on the balcony and giant beautiful butterfly just fluttered right in – apparently that happens a lot.

Tomorrow I have a 4:30 am rise to catch a flight to Wagga Wagga. I’m sure it has its own tale to tell so I leave it at that.  Is dinner ready yet?

These two eyes are making a move. What they’ll see is still unknown. But before they go…

They’re staring at the brick warehouse where young artists paint murals on the red brick. There is no rave tonight, no low murmur of drum beats coming from the window. They stare at the “unfinished furniture” sign staring back at them. Four years smoking on this front step – having a staring contest, just me and the warehouse.

They run along Sinatra drive hugging the Hudson. Again, what’s with the starring contest Empire State Building? You’ll always be taller. And you can see farther. I’m just running along, taking it all in, trying not to get stepped on.

They walk down Washington Street one last time. Thinking about the places where the food consumed the person more than the person it. Then what about all the others? Always “saving” them for another day, another special something, but it seems it was saved for nothing.

They straddle their green bike and ring that grey bell. No-one moves out-of-the-way but they keep going, up the hills that make up this small town. They stop to read a book on a bench, pet a pup, and listen to the ice-cream man’s music fade out.

They take a walk to the back streets. Yea, the back-back streets where just the locals goes. Or at least they used to before everyone found out about the best damn bar in this town. These two eyes saw them coming, and sure as heck didn’t like what they saw. But they went anyway, said hi to an old friend, took a sip of an accomplice, and didn’t look back.

They’re going places now. They will see things they never imagined they could see. They’re wide eyed from the excitement and shut tight with the fear. They’ll be back shortly though to tell you all about it!

Frozen Monkey makes me feel alive

I initially started this post on a torn piece of paper from the back of the current book I’m reading, a collection of travel stories from the year 2002. My moto today is anything is possible if you make it happen.

I get great satisfaction eating at the Frozen Monkey cafe in Hoboken. The service is terrible, and no, that is not a typo above that I take great satisfaction in eating here. There tend to be long waits for simple a menu to be dropped on your table, your order of eggs takes as long as making mashed potatoes from scratch, yet lately it has been friendly and not as daunting as I recall from the past.

Maybe this is because I eat often by myself and don’t notice these subtle nuances anymore. I like it here because its one of the few places in Hoboken with character. That’s not to say the various bars and restaurants plastered all around this small city don’t  hold true to the northern New Jersey joints most would picture in their minds; they do exist. But this place represents the character that shouldn’t exist and isn’t expected to.

Local, contemporary art hangs on the walls – changed every few months to support the local artists. Bright, vibrant shadows drape the walls in lime green, blood-red orange tables and chairs fill the room, and a coffee counter sits in the corner as retro as a 70’s polyester suit. I come here, despite the service, because the food is flat-out good, healthy, and cheap.

I make eye contact with a cute boy with shaggy hair and blue eyes sipping coffee at the table across from mine. They play music that I would listen to in my own apartment or at least would be interested enough to want to. I ignore the screeching laughs of the university girls who come in to gossip and the nannies who wipe spit from the spoiled children’s mouths while their parents are off working at investment banks in Manhattan.

It’s Sunday and I’m bored. It’s sunny but cold. The snow is shoveled against the curbs, occasionally missing someones head as it falls from the apartment window sills above on Washington street. Today is my day in Hoboken and I feel alive.

April showers bring May showers

It must be raining for nearly two weeks straight. With April showers over and May slowly crawling into existence, I wonder to myself if Hell has frozen over and global warming really is changing the world at an accelerated rate.

There is nothing like walking down Washington Street in Hoboken, NJ when the sun is shining. College students and young professionals seep out of open doored bars, aimlessly stroll boutiques and gather for some touch football in the various parks that scatter around the mile-square city. I wonder to myself, “where are you Mr. Sunshine?”

It’s now early May and looking at the 10-day weather forecast no hope is in sight. I know I shouldn’t believe as its failed me miserably in the past but for some reason…I believe him this time. I wonder if I was better off when I lived in the UK – but then again, I wonder that frequently. Another work week quickly comes and goes, rotating between feelings of importance, frustration and damned boredom.

My little rain boots, painted thin with tiny terriers wearing pink bows, slowly start to make the bottom of my feet ache. I’m unsure how many times I can take my umbrella being blown inside out from the strong winds coming off the Hudson and dream about the summer days I’ve struggled through this endless winter waiting for the cold and dreariness to end. My thoughts are engulfed daydreaming about what should be; days of picnics in the park over lunch, working out on the pier, sipping pints on sidewalk cafes and sweating on the subway.

Oh Mr. Sunshine, please do hurry and come out and play.

Zack’s Oak Bar and Restaurant

Enter through plush, forest green curtains into this cozy eatery and there’s no doubt you’ll be greeted with warm smiles. Because of its size, Zack’s offers a feel of exclusivity without the pretentions. A honey-comb tiled floor, oak-panels, and long mirrors line the bar with pictures depicting Hoboken’s early days. Although located off the beaten path, Zack’s isn’t missed by the locals. Some even go as far as to call it Hoboken’s own version of “Cheers”.

With only ten small tables in the dining room there can be a wait on weekends but it sure is worth it. The intricate ceiling, painted blood-red, contrasts the warm walls and tea lit table-settings inviting couples to nestle against lush corner pillows and talk intimately over French wine.

Aside from the nonchalant ambience, the true reason to visit is the food. You could call it American with a twist of everything. Favorites include the Stuffed Chicken (stuffed with asparagus and a drizzled with a soy based 5-spices sauce), the Lentil Salad (with balsamic and topped with warm goat cheese), and the Turkey Burger (a local favorite). In addition to their standard menu, new specials are offered daily from hearty, healthy pastas to fresh fish and juicy steak. Choosing a special off of this menu never fails.

With funky, indie-rock music flowing softly from the speakers, Zack’s is divey enough to make you feel comfortable at the bar sipping a few pints (from light beer to imported Belgian drafts) or watching the game on one of their four TVs. Yet at the same time will make you feel elite snuggled in the tiny dining room amongst your closest friends – who most likely are soon to include the staff.

In the summer months al-fresco dining proposes a nice alternative for people watching and on the weekends brunch offers all the favorites. At Zack’s it’s a win-win. It won’t drain your wallet and will leave you feeling at home with a smile.

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