Monday, August 30, 2010

Scott quartet

Deb stitched together this series of photos from our Saturday stoop sale. She is a master of the photoshop arts, a dream weaver spinning her Inceptionesque web to create this mosaic parallel universe Brooklyn populated by four Scotts.

Deb and I have been discussing our travel plans and fine tuning our plans for travel. We had never planned to check bags on this trip. We always travel light, so not bringing bags to check will be easy for us. But Deb is aiming higher and I am intrigued. Can we do it with just a backpack each? And I'm not talking about big hiking backpacks, I'm talking small enough to fit in the overhead compartment.

When I was in Europe long ago, I'd arrive in a new city and plop my big backpack into a train station locker so I could roam the city unburdened. Do airports even have storage lockers anymore? For that matter, do American train stations? I know train stations in movies have them; whenever there's a mysterious key it inevitably opens a locker in a train station. And inside of that locker is a duffel bag full of money, a severed limb, or a dirty bomb, the discovery of which drives the plot into the third act.

We'd just like a square box to store our clothes and toiletries for a few hours while we walk around the city. I think we're on our own.

every trip ends in Baltimore

With just over a week before we go, it's time to make a list. Actually, it's time to make a lot of lists. We've done pretty good so far because Deb and I work well as a team. We already received my passport back from the passport maker and it took even less time that we thought. When something like that occurs, part of me wonders if we even needed to pay the extra money to expedite it and laments the fact that we delayed our international destination by a week. Then a second part of me gets annoyed and tells the first part to shut the hell up and be thankful that we have both our passports in hand and will be free to travel abroad.

I recently got a phone call from my father letting my know that, when Deb and I are in Montana, he'll have some other visitors as well. My aunt and uncle will be making their way up to Big Sky Country and my sister will be there too. My little sister is a Master Sargeant in the Air Force, a veteran of two wars, and notoriously busy as her demanding job affords her little time off. I'm very happy that she's going to be there.

So after Deb and I fly into Seattle, we're renting a car and heading due east; and upon our arrival there'll be an impromptu family reunion. If I added up the time it's been since I've seen my father, my uncle, and my aunt, the total tops 50 years. America is a such an enormous country. This never would've happened if we were all Belgian.

At the end of our 30-day ticket our last flight will be New York-to-Baltimore. We are heading down there for the wedding of Deb's oldest sister; a wedding in which Deb is a bridesmaid. So included in our 30+ days of travel, we'll have two big family events in two unique corners of the country. It promises to be interesting—families always are. We are also looking forward to seeing glaciers and eating soft-shelled crab.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

can I offer you five dollars?

Two full days of selling our stuff on the street and we are wealthier and wiser. Perhaps wealthy and wise are overstatements; but we do have many more monies to fund our impending trip and we know a lot more about what people are willing to pay for old dvds and cds. Apparently they're both available for pennies on the internet.

It's a strange thing to have a themed stoop sale and to try to give people a reason to buy your stuff, a reason beyond offering them something they want at a price they're willing to pay. To sell the sizzle and not steak, as Hank Hill might say. The end result had us enthusiastically listing our itinerary to everyone who asked and then solemnly watching as they slowly walked away empty-handed. One nice lady talked to us for quite a while, asked a ton of questions, then smiled broadly and offered us a third of our asking price on a dvd boxed-set.

I don't mean to sound bitter; I'm not. The stoop sales were a rousing success and no one who asked to hear our traveling tale was under any obligation to buy anything. Though after chatting with friendly folks about what a wonderful thing it was that we were doing and being offered the best of luck on our travels, it was sometimes surprising when those ebulliently supportive folks didn't spend a buck or two.

It was fun talking to random people all day, it was fun making deals, and it was fun trying to make those deals financially beneficial. My favorite customer was a middle-aged man who came by yesterday and bought two dvds and three cds at face value. Then he asked about my Ray Charles box-set and promptly paid the asking price. That box-set was the first gift Deb ever gave me on our first Valentine's Day together (my gift to her was the first thing we sold online and the subject of an earlier post).

Bringing in lots of three to five dollars sales really adds up over the course of a day. When a single customer spends $75, however, you think about what that particular sum of money will buy on the trip: a nice dinner in New Orleans, a motel room in Las Vegas, or an upgrade to a convertible in Seattle. The convertible was a travel tip from a friend of ours about how spending a little more money in the right places can improve a trip tremendously. So the more stuff we can sell in the next week, the more travel tips we can take, and the more upgrades we can afford to make.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

it has been three day since my last blog

It has been a busy time. A trip to the doctor. Deb's birthday trip to The Cloisters, followed by sushi and lots of sake. A day of organizing and pricing for another stoop sale. And a day selling on the stoop. And three days without a blog entry. I will do better. I have to do better—36 people are counting on me.

A man came by with a camera booth contraption atop a makeshift wheelbarrow. The "Brooklyn Mobile YouTube Booth" I believe it may have been called, if I'm not mistaken. Deb and I recorded a video for a quarter. When the sale was over we counted up our day's receipts and went online to see our video. It came out backwards:

I think that it has to do with a mirror system the booth's proprietor must've used a mirror to bounce the image to the camera inside the booth. I suppose most people he films aren't holding signs bearing URLs. But if you are reading this blog now from deciphering the address from that video; then kudos to you! And despite the video being backwards, it's still a pretty damn good deal for two bits. That much dough once got you a shave and a haircut, now you need 50¢ just to buy plastic jewelry from the machine at the grocery store.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

freddy's dead

Yesterday was our day of rest.

We tidied up the apartment and went to Target. On the way, we saw construction workers tearing down a building with a huge back-hoey thing wielding a pincher-claw that cut through a steel support beam like butter, bringing down an entire floor. In front of us was the empty space where Freddy's once stood.

Freddy's was the best bar in the neighborhood; an old school establishment where curiosities, trophy heads, framed photos, and statuary decorated the cluttered bar. The windows were lined with books and board games, and the bartenders possessed a potent mix of friendly and surly. When I used go down to watch the Mets playoff games I could also watch the avant-garde video art that played endlessly at the other end of the bar. Freddy's was almost the only bar in the neighborhood when I moved in 11 years ago. Now there are bars-a-plenty and many of the buildings between my apartment and Freddy's are being razed (via Eminent Domain to put up the new arena home for the Brookyn Nets.

And Freddy's dead.

I'm not much of a drinker, and neither is Deb. So that last time we were there was March 17th, 2008. I mention Freddy's here not because it's a bar, but because it's the type of place that we hope to discover on this trip. Places that are of where they are—that is: unique to, and a product of, their surroundings. Places that the locals not only frequent, but revere. They are hard to create and impossible to replace.

We're lucky then, I suppose, to be able to spy on the cities we intend to visit and mine for their local treasure online so that we can make the most of our short time in each place. It's hard to get a sense of a city in a day. Sometimes it's best not to try so hard. Just find a good place to start and then wander.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

a case of the mondays

Today was most definitely a recovery day. After four days of movement and planning, we successfully booked our tickets in the wee hours of Monday morning. In addition to a formidable lack of sleep, both Deb and I have only eaten about one meal's worth of food all weekend. We were both so nervous about getting the trip details locked down our bellies' could only handle a few bites. But enough about our gastroenterological dilemmas; it's nothing a little oatmeal can't fix. On the plus side: we both lost five pounds.

I'm not usually a person who likes to over plan the details of a trip. My trips are usually on the road, so it's impossible to know when I'm going to be too tired to go on or for how long an irresistible roadside attraction will distract me from my destination. This technique worked well on solo trips, but had produced diminishing results during drives with exes. Deb and I, however, travel exceedingly well together, and even the strain of looking for a motel in the middle of New England at 2am could not break us up.

When I was 20-years-old, I was having a conversation with some friends about what you would do if you found out you only had 30 days to live (that old chestnut). My answer was to go traveling through Europe. It seemed crazy to me to wait until such dire news to embark on such an endeavor. So I cashed in some of my aforementioned wise investments, and two weeks later I stepped off the plane in London, Eurail Pass in hand, and eagerly heading toward the first ferry to Amsterdam. The thing I remember most of all from that summer was standing in a Berlin train station and gazing up at the schedule board in utter disbelief. Practically, every city in Europe was listed, like rides at a theme park: Paris, Rome, Prague, Tilt-A-Whirl. I remember the overwhelming sense of freedom as I realized I could pick any train I liked and wake up in the city of my choosing.

Sometimes, when I mention a detail from that trip to Deb, she'll lament that she'd never taken such a leap. Now we're going on such a trip together. True, it's much more structured; it won't have that day-by-day freewheeling aspect. And while that trait certainly has it's advantages, it also leaves you sleeping in parks, on train platforms, and on the edge of the occasional seaside cliff.

I'll be damned if my fiance will be forced to sleep on a cliff. And thanks to diligent internet research, we won't have to. I'm not selling off my possessions to sleep on concrete.

I read a recommendation today from someone who had done the AYCJ ticket last year that suggested you shouldn't book seats next to your traveling companion so you don't always have to wake up next to the same person. For someone traveling with a friend, that sounds like good advice and would create opportunities to meet other travelers. But if I'm going to survive the taxing parts of this trip I'm gong to need Deb by my side. I look forward to waking up next to her as we arrive in each new city exhausted and hungry.

Which reminds me, we need to buy two of those inflatable neck pillows.

Monday, August 23, 2010

the gauntlet, and then some

At the stroke of midnight, jetBlue's All-You-Can-Jet booking site opened up and only one of us was able to buy tickets: Deb. I was locked out of my page which had been "deactivated." We called the 1-800-number as instructed and blanched as all the tickets to Aruba on our planned dates sold out in minutes. Speaking of minutes, 50 minutes of static and muzak later, a woman came on the line but informed me that I had to speak with an AYCJ operator and that she could not help me. I protested, explaining that I had pressed 2 as directed, to no avail. She transferred me to the correct line, only to be greeted with "an expected wait of more than 60 minutes!" (The exclamation point is from me, the recording was surprisingly blase. Actually, it might make you feel a little better if even the recording was like, "Holy shit! You've gotta wait another hour. That's crazy!")

After two 1/2 hours (which felt like five), a woman came on the line (a very polite and helpful woman I might add); and as I was explaining my plight, Deb refreshed the page one last time and I was in. For the next two hours we frantically booked flights, and transfers, and seats. When the dust settled we came out pretty good: we secured all of the domestic flights we sought, then we swapped Costa Rica for Aruba, and filled Costa Rica's slot with Jamaica. We both had our heart set on Aruba, but perspective is important. If anyone ever walks up and complains to you that they have to go to Jamaica for five days, it is your right, nay, your obligation, to punch them square in the mouth.

I will say that the process was a nightmare of unnecessary inconvenience and frustration. jetBlue has done a very cool thing offering these unlimited passes, but the bloom is off the rose. I still like jetBlue, but I'm no longer in like with them. The people I really feel bad for are the ones who made the mistake of going to sleep last night because they were told to wait for an email, but may awaken to very limited options.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

waiting is the hardest part

After draft after draft of our thirty-day flight schedule, we think we've cracked the code. We drew up calendars on the big blackboard we have in the kitchen. Repeatedly trying to leapfrog our Friday/Sunday blackout days and really trying to avoid getting stuck in Orlando. After I was done finalizing our blueprint on nineteenth century technology, Deb brought us into the twenty-first with a lovely computer spreadsheet. We'd thought we could start booking our flights when our E.S.T. clock struck midnight. Now it seems we must wait for an email from jetBlue to free us from our anticipatory cocoon and let us complete this butterfly metaphor.

stoop sale #1

Yesterday's stoop sale was a rousing success: cloudy skies, cool weather, and ample foot traffic. We made lots of sales, cut lots of deals, and brought in a respectable amount of cash for our trip. It was such a whirlwind of a day that we both passed out the moment we got upstairs. This morning we awoke to the reality that we have to start booking our actual trip at midnight. Shit just got real.

A stoop sale in Brooklyn gives you the rare opportunity to talk to all the passers-by that would normally just pass on by. Some folks were amazed by our plans while one lady seemed to actually scoff at the idea (New Yorkers are notoriously difficult to impress). I wrote our blog address on 3x5 cards and gave them to anyone who made a purchase, so they could see the trip they just helped fund. Since I don't read a lot of blogs myself, my feelings didn't get bruised when people refused our URL.

We met a tough as nails mother-in-law with an impressive bruise on her arm from her first skeet shooting contest (which she won). We met a young punk rocker who refused to pay more than $7 for his "favorite" movie. There was a nearby neighbor who went back to his apartment and returned to give us a Costa Rican coin to spend when we're there and a woman who gave us the names of the best restaurants near Wrigley Field. Even our upstairs and downstairs neighbors supported the cause with purchases or their own. I spent the day talking to everyone foolish enough to break stride; telling them about our trip and trying to entice them with details of the wonderful special features on the DVDs they were eyeing.

Today's rainy weather is a blessing in disguise as we need to spend the day cracking the intricacies of jetBlue's flight routes. Good thing we have a big blackboard in the kitchen...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

the claw

Our living room is in disarray. Stacks of CDs litter the floor. The coffee table is hidden by towers of books. I've sorted and priced all of DVDs and split them into categories and separate boxes for easy shopping. I've even sorted seven sets of dominoes into seven sets of dominoes (see photo) priced to sell. And now my hand has curved into a horrible claw from making a half-dozen exquisitely designed and meticulously hand-drawn signs to advertise our inaugural stoop sale tomorrow.

Friday, August 20, 2010

the first sale is the deepest

We made our first sale on our new "Thirty Days of Flight" Amazon account:

Deb posted it last night at it sold within hours. It was the very first gift I ever gave her on our first Valentine's Day together. (I'll pause here so the studio audience can go, "Ohhhhhhhhhhhh.") It was the most romantic gift I could think of: the complete DVD collection of the Nickolodeon series "Invader Zim." It was a lucrative sale and she got more than double what I'd paid for it. I guess it's out of print. Am I going to try and sell what she got me? Yes, but not out of spite. We are going to sell it for the same reason we're selling everything else: to pay for our spiritual jour---to pay for our trip.

Maybe it's symbolic, maybe it's coincidence, maybe it's dumb luck, but it's certainly something that gave me pause. And it gave me a topic for this blog. The point of this project is to trade old for new, to exchange a cluttered apartment full of stuff I've been collecting for 30 years for brand new experiences with the woman I'm going to marry—experiences that we otherwise couldn't afford (because we don't have jobs) on a trip we wouldn't have the time to take if we did.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

does anyone have change for a button?

The planning for our journey got complicated quick—luckily, we are problem solvers. Deb just tackled my passport renewal and $200 later (good thing we can sell those six stocks to cover the cost) we are hoping that it will arrive by Sept. 7th. But we're going to book a domestic destination for the first couple days, just to be safe. We were hoping to trade NYC's grey concrete for white sand and blue water, but we can ill-afford to incur the monetary wrath of jetBlue's change/cancellations fees. So we're thinking New Orleans.

I don't know jack about HTML, so I tackled the task of adding buttons to this blog. And after nearly two hours, and a string of increasingly frustrated emails to my tech savvy friend Wes, we have both a [Follow Us on Twitter] button and a [Donate] button. Another friend wanted to help us with our journey financially but didn't really want to buy anything. She suggested that others might wish to the same. Now, thanks to PayPal, that dream has become a reality. And, as an added bonus, anyone who contributes $10 or more will receive a personalized postcard from the road!

Deb just said the trip is gonna be "epic." I concur.

She also wants me to quit calling it a journey.

DVD extras: all the gin joints in all the towns

I've got "Casablanca" on the TV ("You played it for her, you can play it for me"). I figured we should watch it one last time since we're going to be selling it. Deb is at her computer looking up passport information for me and visa information for her so we can take full advantage of these tickets and hit at least one international destination that isn't across the falls from Buffalo. Looks like I'll have to spend some dough to renew my passport in time for our impromptu trip, but if that means an island with clear blue water, it'll be worth every penny.

The easiest thing to sell is media; at least that's the easier thing to sell to me. I misspent my youth working in record stores and accumulated quite the collection. And as an avowed movie fan I've cobbled together a respectable collection of DVDs as well. Now it's time to let them go—to trade them in for travel and adventure. But what do you sell and what do you keep? How do you decide which items have become necessities? Are any of them really necessary? Which movies and albums can you simply not live without?

The DVD collection is a fraction of the CD collection so it gets tackled first. And I don't have digital backups of my movies, so when they're gone they're gone. I made a list of all of my DVDs and then started removing the ones I felt compelled to keep. A lot of heavy hitter, 2-disc sets that I was excited to purchase didn't make the cut (how many times can I watch "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane"?), neither did most of my coveted Criterion Collection discs. What did make the cut? Comedies mostly and stuff like the two-disc "Fight Club" and the "Star Wars" DVD with the 1977 theatrical cut. The movies I watch over and over again, the ones I play like albums when I clean the apartment, and the ones I'm not sure I'll be able to buy back.

My loss is your gain. I've opened an Amazon account (also called 30 Days of Flight) and will be posting offerings soon. While they're priced to sell, I'm not giving them away either. This is a telethon of sorts, except instead of spending $100 for a tote bag so you can support public television, you buy a DVD at a reasonable price to support a young couple's wanderlust. This whole process would be simpler if we stilled bartered and I could show up at the passport office with a stack of DVDs.

I'm new to blogging, in case you couldn't tell, but I'm keen on the idea of writing every day. And intrigued by the thought of having folks read about our adventures.

unexpected dividend


I bought stock in Merck back when I was 19 with money I saved by working two jobs and dropping out of school. 19-year-olds are renown for their fiscal responsibility and I was no exception. I held on to them for years, saving for a rainy day. But nothing makes it pour like moving to New York City, and after six months at unpaid internships I sold it for rent money and ended my relationship with Wall Street.

A decade later, my fiance Deb put my name into one of those unclaimed monies websites and we discovered that I hadn't sold it all. Now, those six elusive, decade-old shares are worth $261.

Time to sell.

the first 24 hours

It has been just over 24 hours since my fiance and I made the snap decision to purchase two of jetBlue airline's "All-You-Can-Jet" 30-day unlimited flight tickets. After happening upon a Yahoo news article about the golden tickets and realizing that we had enough on our credit card to cover the $1000 combined price tag—we pulled the trigger before we could change our minds, or wise up. The whole process only took about 20 minutes, and afterward we looked at each other and realized the gravity of what we'd just done.

A half-hour ago we hadn't even know that these tickets existed, now they were ours; with all their promises and our reality in stark contrast. The reason we can even embark on such a trip is that we are both unemployed. But since we are both unemployed, we don't have a lot of disposable income laying around. We had a mason jar of cash with $250 in it that was going to go toward paying for our wedding, but now the wedding will have to wait.

We also have 25 years of acquired items that line the walls of our tiny Brooklyn apartment, items that must now be sold so this already paid for trip can become a reality. And after sitting around the apartment for months, the thought of trading in our possessions for experience seems like a rare opportunity rather than a grim obligation.

We have a few days before we are able to book the first of our flights and have spent hours drawing maps, researching cities, and locating which friends are willing to let crash with them. We are also trying to unravel the intricacies of jetBlue's airport system without the benefit of a advanced mathematic degree. We're striving to come up with the perfect itinerary: one that keeps us moving about the country for a month without having to fly back to NYC every other day for a connecting flight. I also need to renew my passport if we're going to take advantage of the jetBlue's international options.

We have many puzzles to solve before we can make this improbable vacation a reality. Now I must get back to the job at hand; cataloguing DVDs & CDs to sell on-line and on our stoop.