Category Archives: 12 Cities, 1 Year

Posts from Todd and Beth’s “12 Cities, 1 Year” adventure

a new film by Todd Bradley

A few months ago, one of my Facebook friends turned me on to a short film contest that was right up my alley. It was the Real Food Media Contest, and they had a contest to make a short documentary on one of a set of topics related to food and farming. So I took footage I shot in Missoula, Montana when Beth and I were there for a month in the summer of 2012, and edited it into a short. Unfortunately, I didn’t win a prize, but today they announced the winners. If you want to check out what won, here you go: http://realfoodmedia.org.

My buddy Chad Johnson reviewed and critiqued the film I put together. His assessment was that it was a basically good edit and interesting story. But he felt I probably wouldn’t place in the contest because my film doesn’t have the “shallow depth-of-field DSLR look” that’s so popular. Well, he was right; my film wasn’t even a finalist. And if you look at the films that got the top 5 prizes, you can see his comments about the “look” the judges wanted to see were right on the money.

The winners are also interesting stories, so I don’t mean to imply that they won only based on their look. But my traditional video camera’s small imager just can’t produce the kind of pictures that people’s eyes want to watch. It’s awesome for sports, but not for sexy documentaries. So I’m gonna get a DSLR (or something like it) and learn to fiddle obsessively with rack focus. That’s my recipe for success. Just watch me.

Todd’s recollections of Arcata

I meant to write this article shortly after we left Arcata, back in November 2011.  But life soon thereafter threw me several curveballs, and I’m just now getting back to it.  I wrote very little here on “12 Cities, 1 Year” about Arcata, which was the 4th city of our trip.  We were there for just about 3 weeks, not a full month, but I think I got a decent sense of the place.

Since leaving, I’ve learned that most people have never heard of Arcata.  I even mentioned it to someone from California, and he assumed I meant Arcadia (another California town).  Arcata is a small town in the far north part of the state.  It seems largely powered by Humboldt State University, a pervasive cannabis growing and processing industry, and a bit of the remains of the timber business.  There’s a town square called The Plaza that’s pretty quaint, and has a farmer’s market, concerts, parades, and so on.  Being a college town, there are a few coffee shops and more than the average number of mediocre pizza joints.

I got to spend a lot of time with my old friend Chad from high school, who has lived in or around Arcata for over 20 years.  He is a videographer who makes TV and web commercials, and records musical jingles for ads.  He didn’t have the luxury of making up his schedule every day like I did, and had to finish projects for clients.  But when he wasn’t working, we spent some time experimenting with using remote control helicopters for doing low cost aerial video.  Ultimately, it’ll become a service he provides to his video clients, but when I was there he was still working out the kinks in the process.  I’d never flown an RC helicopter before, but the one he loaned me to use was very stable and I only crashed a couple times.  And we often went flying in the redwood forests that northern California are famous for.  The scenery is so beautiful, and we had lots of good times in those three weeks.

The thing I remember most about the town itself is the smell.  Here in Denver, where I’m writing this now, occasionally when I’m walking around I’ll catch a whiff of smoldering cannabis (marijuana).  But in Arcata, it’s everywhere.  People smoke pot all day long in the wide open at The Plaza, right in front of the local cop. I have a feeling that so many people in Arcata have medical marijuana cards that it’s just not practical to even try to bust people for smoking illegally.  Instead of catching a whiff every few blocks like in Denver, when you walk around Arcata you smell pot smoke coming from about every third house or store.  The smell from the houses didn’t surprise me too much, but the fact that people smoke in and around businesses was an eye-opener.  Laundromat, hardware store, book store (pot smell). Liquor store, restaurant, tire dealer (pot smell).  Art gallery, yoga studio, dentist (pot smell).  Unfortunately, unlike Boulder, Colorado (Arcata’s nearest Colorado sibling), the open cannabis culture in Arcata has more of a dark side, in that there are a huge number of stoner bums for such a small town.  It made me sad that there were so many people not really doing anything creative or beautiful or “useful” but just sitting around for hours each day in a daze, often panhandling. Chad told me the big difference between Arcata and Eureka (the larger town to the south) is that while Arcata has stoner bums, Eureka is overrun with tweakers (meth addicts, for those who don’t know the term).  So I guess given the two choices, pot is a way better choice than meth.

I wrote before that our living arrangements were different than we’d had before. We were sharing a house with the house’s owner (who also shopped and cooked for us) and her one housemate.  It was strange, particularly because our landlady was uncomfortably neurotic.  I get along with just about everyone I meet in the world, but she just really rubbed me the wrong way.  One minute she’d tell us to make ourselves at home, but then the next minute she’d follow behind me in the kitchen, cleaning up after everything I did.  One time Beth and I got back home late one evening and found our landlady’s glass pipe and marijuana on the nightstand in our bedroom.  At first we didn’t know who it belonged to – the landlady, the housemate, or the landlady’s teen daughter who had been over earlier that day.  Later, the landlady confessed it was hers, but claimed to have been so “out of it” that she didn’t remember how it got there.  She made up some story about how maybe the dog went into our bedroom and she went in there to get the dog out, but left her pot and didn’t remember any of it (that story never held water because the dog never once came into our bedroom and we always kept the door closed).  It’s weird enough to find that your landlady has been creeping around your private bedroom in your absence, but even creepier to find she’s left her drug stash there.  So after that experience, I decided that for the rest of our 12 Cities, 1 Year journey, we’d have our own personal place, not a shared living space with someone we didn’t know.

Oh, one last thing I should mention about Arcata is just how liberal it is.  It’s not surprising, given they’re home to a liberal arts college and are financially dependent on the drug trade.  But I don’t think I’ve ever been somewhere that far left.  One resident, when he heard about how our next city was going to be San Diego, warned us to not go there because they’re very conservative there – there are actually Republicans in that city!

how to avoid falling back

This post is sort of the flip side of the one I posted yesterday, titled Todd’s December doldrums.  That article was about my sadness thinking maybe we’ve come full circle, and now are right back where we started before we started the “12 Cities, 1 Year” project.  But the fact is that we aren’t the same people we were when we left Broomfield to travel the country. In 2011, we irreversibly changed our lifestyle in a way we’ve wanted to for a while.  Sure we’re not finished yet.  In fact, I sometimes feel like a caterpillar that is stuck half-changed into a butterfly. But we started.

I realized at the start of December just how important it will be to keep from sliding back into old habits and patterns, and so I wrote up these rules.  Here is my quick manifesto to myself. And Beth agrees.

—-

IMPORTANT!!!: Don’t fall back into old patterns. Just because we’re living in Denver again for the moment, take care to not “settle” in to the area. Once Beth is back to good health, we want to resume our location independent lifestyle.

Here are some specifics:

  • Keep our possessions light. Don’t re-accumulate stuff that we’ll have to get rid of or store. Use the “only get something if you give away something in its place” rule if necessary.¹
  • Related to that, only own small important things that do multiple functions. Be prepared to move out and travel given only a week’s notice.²
  • Live in a decent and comfortable place that we won’t grow too attached to. Rent.
  • Take a contract job instead of a regular employment position.
  • Live outside the home a lot. Don’t start hobbies or pastimes that keep us indoors. Instead, do things that get us outside, interacting with people, or exploring.
  • Each month, schedule time to go through stuff, looking for things to pare down.
  • Borrow or rent, rather than buy.
  • Financial goal: Don’t dip into our savings any more, and add at least $1000 a month into it.³

That’s it!  If you’re a real friend, please help us do these things any way you can.

—-

And now, a few geeky notes. I mean, seriously, who puts footnotes in a blog post?

¹ I’ve been calling this “Todd’s Law” since late July, though Beth thinks it’s a little too hard-lined. If you’re an avid reader, you may remember that I mentioned “I decided that we wouldn’t take on anything new unless we got rid of something else of the same size or smaller” back in this post.

² When Beth read this, she said, “Wait, there’s no way we could just give a week notice to a landlord and then leave.” She’s right, of course. But the point is that we could leave within a week. For example, don’t sign a lease on a car, don’t tie ourselves to some project we can’t back out of for months, etc.

³ This one is going to be really tricky. If you took the pay I was getting as a senior QA engineer at Polycom plus Beth’s freelance editing income before we left town, and compare it to our expenses now, we would have way more than a grand each month in extra cash. But taking short term jobs is likely to mean making less money each month.  And Beth won’t be able to work as much as she used to. And I really want to do a lot more videography jobs, which don’t pay as well or as steady. So can we really save an extra $1000 each month?  I hope so. We’re gonna try, but it’s gonna be tough.

Todd's December doldrums

The things I think about when I’m feeling sorry for myself

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We planned to spend another eight months traveling around America, living in another eight new and interesting cities. And then we might settle down into one of them. But here we are back in Denver, with our travels (the “12 Cities, 1 Year” project) put on hold indefinitely until Beth goes through cancer treatment and gets back to good health. I occasionally feel sorry for myself that we’re back here, and a few things over the past month have set me off into a pretty negative space.

——-

In the final stages of downsizing and preparing to begin our “12 Cities, 1 Year” project, I was worried we had too much stuff to fit in our Prius. I assumed we’d need to buy one of those rooftop cargo carriers. But a friend of mine who also has a Prius said, “Don’t forget about the secret compartment.” Huh? She explained how there’s an area under the deck in the hatchback area where you can store stuff. Even after having the car for over a year, I had no idea!

But I popped open the back deck, and found that she was right. We packed our emergency medical and first aid supplies in there, but there was still extra room. So we stuffed our winter parkas in there, too. We didn’t plan to need them during our year on the road, since we picked out our cities so that we’d be in the south in the winter time. But we put the coats in the car anyhow, just in case we found ourselves on top of some high mountain where it was chilly.

As we were driving back cross-country from Los Angeles to Denver the weekend after Thanksgiving, the temperature dropped and dropped and dropped. And by the time we got here, we found that it was winter – snow, ice, freezing. We had to open up that secret compartment for the first time in six months, and get out our winter coats. That really depressed me.

——-

A couple weeks after we got back to Colorado, I finally had some time to do some editing on my film “Kung Fu Sushi Chefs” (KFSC). It’s a martial arts comedy that I’ve been working on for something like three years now. The footage is all shot, and the editor handed the project off to me about 90% edited, with just a couple dozen little things to fix and polish.

I was editing one day at a coffee shop and posted something to Facebook saying that I’m editing KFSC. A friend commented back, “It’s like you never left.” I know it seems like a small thing, but this really deflated me, not just because I was still working on this film so many months after it should have been finished, but because it really does seem to many of our old Colorado friends that nothing changed in the six months we were gone. Have we come full circle right back to where we started?

——-

About three weeks after arriving back in Denver, I had a job interview with the company I used to work for. It wasn’t in the same group, but I would have been working for another group in the same office where I worked for nearly ten years. As I was driving to the office, my mind was running through interview questions they might ask, and I was also thinking of my other main worries – Beth’s health and where we should try to find a place to live.

I pulled out of my reverie about 15 minutes later as the car was pulling into the parking lot. I realized then that I hadn’t really consciously thought about where I was going, how to get there, what turns I needed to take, or anything like that. It was like the navigation part of my brain was on autopilot; I gave it a destination and it subconsciously drove the car there.

Even though I hadn’t been on any of these streets in six months, or even thought about any of these streets, the way to my old office was so ingrained in my muscle memory that it all just came back to me. When I realized this, I chuckled at how memory works. But then I realized how pathetic the whole situation was. I was back in the suburbia I worked so hard to leave, visiting the company I tried so hard to put behind me, interviewing for a job that was a step back in time about five years.

12 Cities, 1 Year is going on hold

Hello, faithful readers. I’ve got some serious and bad news to share. While in Denver last week, Beth had some medical tests on a strange lump that’s appeared in her armpit over the past couple months. We learned on Monday that she has cancer. So, we are immediately returning to Denver, so she can have more tests, treatment, and recovery. Because of this, the 12 Cities, 1 Year project is going on hiatus.

We don’t yet know very much about the extent of the disease. All we know is Beth has a growth in the lymph nodes under her arm, and that it’s metastatic, meaning that the cancer started somewhere else (breast, perhaps) and then spread there. We don’t know where it started yet or how advanced it is. All we know is she needs tests to determine those things, then surgery, and then probably chemo and/or radiation. We’ll learn more starting next week.

Obviously we can’t deal with these things very well on the road or living in a new city every month. Since Denver is where we both have the biggest support network, we’re going back there, probably for several months, if not longer. We both hope that after Beth is back to good health, we’ll be able to continue our location independent lifestyle. I personally don’t think we lived as digital nomads long enough to really get used to it or learn how well it would work long-term for us.

We lived in four cities, and learned something new in each one. Maybe someday in the future we can just pick up where we left off, and go to the remaining eight cities we originally planned. Or maybe we’ll choose another eight. Who knows; we’ll figure that out later, after we deal with much bigger and more urgent matters.

We still have a few videos, blog articles, and photos queued up to post on this blog. So we’ll do that as we have time. And I’m sure we’ll post a few reflections and lessons learned from the project so far. But then this blog site (and our associated Facebook page) will take a slumber for a while. Instead, we’ll go back to posting things at Beth at Home and Abroad and Todd Bradley’s Galaxy, and on our two individual Facebook pages.

living arrangements

We’re currently in Arcata, California, which is the 4th city of our 12 Cities, 1 Year trek. One of the amazing things — other than the fact that Beth hasn’t gotten so sick of me as to resort to violence — is that we’re now in our 4th different type of living arrangement.

In Missoula, we rented a whole house, not counting a tiny mother-in-law apartment in the basement. We had our run of the place, with no neighbors sharing the space or even sharing a wall with us.

In Seattle, we rented a tiny apartment in a single-story apartment building. We had neighbors sharing one wall, but we never heard them. In fact, I don’t think we ever even met them. The apartments all shared a courtyard and a laundry/storage room, but I only met one of the neighbors, an elderly year-round resident of the place.

In Portland, we rented a basement apartment under a family of four. The house was a little over a hundred years old, and the basement was divided roughly in two; one half was storage and laundry for the family that owned the place, and the other half was our apartment. During the day, it was mostly peaceful, but when the family’s boys got home from school it got really noisy, as there was no insulation between the floor of the upstairs living room and our ceiling.

Here in Arcata, we rented a bedroom in a large house. Most of the house is shared living space: the kitchen, dining room, living room, and laundry room. Part of the check we wrote to the landlady is to pay for food, which she buys (and often cooks) every week and stores in two refrigerators for the household. There’s one other woman living here under the same arrangement (plus her visiting friend for part of the time). Also, there’s a separate basement apartment with one person there (and occasionally her friend), but we only met her once.

The only other type of living arrangements I can imagine us having during this trip are:

  1. sharing a home with friends
  2. sharing a home with family
  3. staying in a hotel for the month
  4. camping for the month

I really don’t think #3 and #4 will happen.  #3 would be too expensive and #4 would be too painful. But we’ve got plans for both #1 and #2 later in the journey.

What would it be like to live on a boat?

from Portland to Arcata

I’ve been remiss about sharing our journeys with you, fair reader. So let me try to catch you up to date.

We left Portland the morning of Wednesday October 12. That morning we packed the car, did some final housecleaning of our basement apartment, got our deposit check from the landlord, ate lunch, and then headed south toward Eugene. We found that more stuff had entered our lives than we thought, and so squeezing it all into the Prius was a frustrating chore; I promised to get rid of some things once we arrived in Arcata.

It’s not a long drive to Eugene, and we arrived mid-afternoon. The first stop was Voodoo Doughnut, where I interviewed a roller derby skater who works there. Then we checked into our motel. Beth stayed in the room to get some work done, while I went to junior derby practice to get some shots of the aforementioned skater coaching the next generation.

The next day, we headed west to Florence, a crossroads town on the coast, and then we turned south. It was great seeing the Oregon coast.

We traveled through pine forests growing on top of sand dunes, and then stopped to see the Umpqua Lighthouse. Later, we drove out to Cape Arago, where we saw beautiful rocks covered with sea life. There were two kinds of sea lions, harbor seals, gulls, pelicans, and cormorants.

We then continued south over the eerily-named 7 Devils Road, which eventually led back to Highway 101. We stopped at a couple more scenic areas along the way, eventually arriving in the town of Gold Beach after dark.

We checked into our hotel on the beach. It was nice, and we especially enjoyed soaking in the hot tub to melt out the kinks of many hours in the car. The next morning, we had some continental breakfast at the hotel and then walked on the beach for a while.

click this; I think you'll like it

After that, it was back in the car for more driving down the Oregon Coast Highway. Beth had a work deadline, so I dropped her off at the Chetco Library to finish her editing job, while I drove around looking for a barber shop to get trimmed up. Later that afternoon, we regrouped and hit the road again. We continued south on Highway 101 to Arcata, where we met our landlady and unpacked the car.

That signaled the start of our three-week stay “behind the Redwood Curtain” where we are right now. More on that later.

updates from Portland and Arcata

I just made some updates to the website. The Portland page now has a list of most of the memorable things we did while we were there. You should go check it out. We didn’t write about some of them. I also updated the Itinerary page to show that Eureka got replaced by Arcata as our northern California stop (city #4). And the Current Location link on the main page now points to our house in Arcata.

Portland, City of Poop

Lots of people love dogs, right? And who can blame them. I’d own a dog if I could. Owning a dog in the city comes with extra responsibilities above owning a dog in the suburbs, I’ve noticed. In Broomfield, some of our neighbors had dogs, but everyone had their own yard.  So the dogs generally poop in the owner’s yard, and the owner can make a personal choice whether or not to clean it up. But in the city, people and their dogs don’t have private yards. So owners walk the dogs on the sidewalk or in the park. And the unwritten social contract is that the owners will clean up after their dogs when they poop in these public areas. No problem, right?

In Seattle, I don’t remember this being a huge issue. But here in Portland, for whatever reason, dog ownership per capita seems higher. And so there are a lot of dogs all pooping on whatever public grass they can find. Our neighborhood, designed around 1900 as a residential area, has a hell strip.  That’s the thin and almost useless strip of grass and trees between the sidewalk and the street. I don’t know why anyone ever planned hell strips, especially after learning about good and bad urban planning from the book “Suburban Nation”. Regardless, they’re there. Well, the hell strip is where all the dogs in our neighborhood poop. And because there are more dogs – and maybe because their owners aren’t as conscientious as in Seattle – there is more poop.

Unfortunately, to get into or out of a car that’s parked on the street, you have to cross – you guessed it – the poop-covered hell strip. We discovered this the hard way the first week we were here. In the dark, of course. But then I started noticing it’s not a problem just on our street. Hell strips all over Portland are covered with poop. OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I’ll bet there’s at least one turd per house if you average it all out.

This is one of the things I’ll probably remember about living in Portland for a month. Crap. Yes, that’s a double-entendre. I apologize.