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Welcome to the online blog for traveler/writer/photographer Steven Barber. Come in. Relax. Take off your shoes and socks -- or any other article of clothing, this is the internet. Have a look around. I hope to intrigue, amuse, entertain, and maybe provoke you just a little. I love to find adventure. All I need is a change of clothes, my Nikon, an open mind and a strong cup of coffee.

Monday, November 19, 2012

In Pursuit of the Cool

 Like many people, there are times I find myself all wrapped up in the utterly dumb-ass cavorting of celebrities. A lot of people think that celebrities are cool. That they define cool. That cool is being just like that celebrity, at least in your imagination. 

Not cool
Now, given my tenuous connection to Hollywood and poorly hidden love of travel and glamour, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise or shock to anyone that I spend some time trying to be cool. Yeah, just last essay I discussed getting away from such things and focussing on the free and easy, which usually makes for a much more enjoyable trip. And that stands as both very true and very important. But in life one must have things which burn through and are adventures just simply because there is a cool factor built into them. I am lucky enough to hover close enough to the entertainment industry to get a few castoffs -- leftover donuts and bottles of water-- as well as every once in a blue moon to get a glimpse of what lies behind the gate. But it's less about being a celebrity than it is getting to do the sorts of things we all imagine that they get to do on a regular basis (We're wrong, for the most part, but it's part of the mystique nonetheless.) And many people consider getting behind that gate to be "cool", which gets me to thinking.
Backstage with Savage City 

I like doing cool things. And more importantly, as a traveler getting to do cool stuff just kind of comes built in to the program if I'm doing things right -- getting behind the gate, so to speak. 

Trapped in Space Mountain
A backstage pass is a cool thing. Eating at an exclusive restaurant and being given a tour of the kitchen is a cool thing. Touring the Boeing plant in Everett, Washington is a cool thing. Betting the number 32 on the roulette wheel in Monte Carlo is a cool thing. Sipping at exclusive wines in the middle of a vineyard is cool. Getting your fortune told in New Orleans is a cool thing. Vegas has made a tremendous industry of finding, defining, redefining and creating cool to appeal to visitors of all ages, sexes and incomes. Anyone with a pocketbook, to be precise. Life is full of very cool things to see and do. And that's kind of my point. Don't be afraid to do the cool things.

I know. That sounds kinda like common sense, but it astounds me the number of times people do the sort of thing I did as a young adult driving across country for the first time: press for the goal, not taking the time to enjoy the cool stuff along the way. There are a couple of things which brought this topic to mind.

Being cool in the Yukon

Inevitably, our favorite teams on The Amazing Race -- a program which has unfortunately fallen quite hard from my "respect-o-meter" as a result of the theft which occurred on the show and seems to have gained the tacit approval of the host and the show's producers -- are the ones who actively pay attention to the world around them and take joy in the adventure itself, not just the drive to get to the leg's finish line. Examples are Jet and Cord, The Cowboys, who set a new standard of sincerity when, at the end of one leg, realized they were doomed to elimination and so stopped and savored the moment. Realizing the inevitable, they completed the final task at leisure -- eating fondue in a swiss chalet -- and took the moment just to breathe, enjoy the company and savor the environment. That, my friends, is cool.

Best bud Jim being cool with volcanoes

Cool is being open to adventure, to the travel experience, regardless how small, particularly if it's out of the ordinary and different. Recently my wife and I were caught at the very top of Disneyland's Space Mountain when the ride broke down. If you're not familiar with the ride (and where the Hell have you been if you are not) it's a roller coaster ride though the dark inside of a massive dome. The sensation of being thrown around in near complete blackness is a chilling and yet fun experience. We had just summited the first hill -- always the tallest in any coaster -- and begun the ride when suddenly the lights came on and the car came to an abrupt stop (didn't know they could do that, and it's good information to have). And for ten minutes or so we sat, still kept firmly in our seats by the safety bars, looking down at the cavernous interior of the ride. For anyone who has every been through the Mountain in the dark, wondering about the proximity of crossbars and things which may be lurking in the dark, it's a fascinating thing to be able to see what you've just imagined. And, as I noted to my wife, an adventure in and of itself. It was cool. Not as in "Fez's are cool", but in a genuine "how many people get a chance to do this" sort of way.

On Abbey Road
While most people trapped on the ride were grumbling about passes and how long it had taken for the "rescue" teams to arrive, we sat joking with people in the cars around us, and not entirely having a bad time because the ride was off. And, being at the top, we did have fun at the expense of the poor park employees who arrived huffing and puffing from the five story ascent to retrieve us. But while most people were any and disappointed, we managed to have a good time -- and isn't that the purpose of being in Disneyland in the first place?

So cool is important, even if it's accidental. The true sign of an experienced traveler is to make the proverbial lemonade when only lemons are offered. No, I'm not being Pollyanna here. I get just as miffed as the rest of you when traffic, or flight delays or closures impact my plans. Yeah, it's annoying, but what are you going to do about it? Often, there's really very little, and if you relax and let the flow go it can make up for the inconvenience in other ways. Flight canceled? Don't berate the poor person behind the counter. Take the time to relax them and let them know you're on their side and they can often work a bit harder on your behalf than they would with the 13th irate person standing at their desk. Smile, joke if it's appropriate, and let the course take itself until things are worked out.

The ultra-cool James Moran eats at Philippe's

Cool can also be a preplanned event. Dinner at a cool place. (For the record Bubba Gump, Planet Hollywood and The Rainforest Cafe are not cool. Even the ones in Times Square. Especially the ones in Times Square.) A cool place for dinner -- unless you're willing to part with potentially hundreds of dollars for the Rainbow Room atop 30 Rock -- is the little chinese place you found in Chinatown. Or the coffee house in the bohemian side of town. Cool is a french dip sandwich at Philippe's or a hot dog at Pink's. Cool is not a hot dog at Der Weinerschnitzel or the french dip at Denny's. You can do that at home, so why in the Hell would you eat dinner at The Olive Garden on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach? (I'm not sure there IS one, but you know what I mean.)

Martinis and Jazz
The point of travel is to experience something unique. Otherwise, why bother? Right? The Cool is finding something representative of the place you're visiting. Even if you're at home, every once in a while you need to reach out and do something "local" -- and its finding that thing and doing it which is the cool part. Part of the cool is cultivating your friends and contacts to join in or recommend the fun things. Who is someone you look to for this sort of thing, and what is it they like to do? Is it something you think you would enjoy -- and is it something you're capable of doing? (Surfing Oahu's northern shore is cool, but would break my neck in twenty seven pieces, so probably isn't terribly smart for me to do.)

Do the things that ten years from now you'll remember and will be a mark on your cool merit badge sash of life. Will you remember that "fair" quesadilla at Rainforest Cafe, or will you remember the martinis at the little jazz joint down in the village? Looking back at a trip will you remember the queues at the airport, or the dinner on the water at sunset? Will you remember the hours driving miles on miles through the desert, or will you remember the ten minute stop at the cheesy roadside attraction with the paper mache dinosaurs out back?

Cool is getting a snot-nosed brat behind a counter at a concert asking if you want a straw with that split of wine you just ordered and telling them you do, then walking away sipping. (I saw someone do just this many years ago and it made a profound impact on my sensibilities that far outlasted the concert itself.)

It's a matter of cool, and taking the time to see it, recognize it for what it is and then just doing it. 

Be cool.

Just relax and stay cool

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