Category Archives: Places

Deborah

I saw a zebra once while driving. That is to say, I’ve seen a zebra once, while being driven.

I was not driving. I was in the car while it was driven and I, therefore, being driven.

To the Tyrone Mill, just outside (or inside, depending on where you’re coming from) Bowmanville, Ontario. That’s where I saw the zebra.

Pronounced: zee-bruh or zeh-bruh (therefore rhymes with Deborah, like in the song by T.Rex [as featured in the movie, Baby Driver]).

You know the song?

 

Oh Debora, always look like a zebra

Your sunken face is like a galleon

Clawed with mysteries of the Spanish Main, oh Debora.

 

Oh, Debora!

The zebra was gazing in a paddock close to the mill. It was a quick glance, but undeniable. There it was, a real, live zebra somewhere in and/or around Bowmanville, Ontario.

I would swear to it, and I would pass every test, every lie detector, withstand any interrogator (military or otherwise) who pressed me on it. And I would be right. And I would be wrong.

Because I was right; I am wrong. Mostly so. Either way.

Zee-bruh. Zeh-bruh.

According to the clerk at the Mill – who is friends, it turns out, with the daughter of the people who own the properly with the field in which I saw the zebra – I did and did not see a zebra. The zebra. Because the zebra is a horse, the horse (the mostly white horse), cloaked in a zebra-striped horse blanket.

The zebra…it was a horse, of course (dressed as a zebra).

Now, surely. You can understand my mistake, which is not so much a mistake, I think, so much as a calculated misunderstanding (done by me on someone else’s behalf…who dresses up a horse as a zebra, and a mostly white horse at that, without expecting people to see a zebra where there is no zebra but a horse dressed like a zebra?).

A horse, of course, of course, and not a zebra but the guise of one.

Zeh-bruh. Zee-bruh.

Tomayto. Tomahto.

And Deborah.

Oh, Deborah!

 

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Communications, Interruptions, Movies, Places

Reliable Witless

One of my aunts once tried to sneak up on a peacock at the zoo, in a vain attempt to pluck one of its magnificent tail feathers, a souvenir to remember the day by. We were in the picnic area eating our packed lunch (day-old pork-chops and corn brunt on the cob); the peacocks wandered among us, free-range. Squatting on her haunches creep-creeping along, a wicked smile on her face (or perhaps a wide grimace) she extended her hand, fingers grazing a fringe of iridescent feathers of blue, green and gold. I watched. I could not not watch…

…then I realized that the memory actually occurred to me during a dream, in which I was walking through Chinatown looking for cutlery and came upon a store display with peacocks feathers for sale for a buck a piece. The memory of the zoo was part of the dream and upon waking and right now as I’m typing, I cannot say whether the memory in the dream was a real-world memory, or a dream of one. I don’t remember. I can’t distinguish.

I could ask my aunt, but if she lied I wouldn’t know the difference anyway. I don’t know if she’d have any reason to lie, especially about something as seemingly harmless as this (of course, for this to be true, we’d have to set aside the peacock’s POV because I don’t imagine it would consent to such mistreatment), but confirm or deny the matter nevertheless remains, crucially, beyond me.

A memory in a dream, or a dream of a memory. It happened, one way or another.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Birds, Childhood, Dreams, Family, Food, Places

The Coyotes Have It

The City

In the place where I live there are raccoons in the streets, skunks in the driveways and possums in just about any alleyway you dare to imagine. Pigeons abound during the daylight hours, coo-coo-cooing as they bob their pigeon heads and flap their pigeon wings. There are falcons and hawks in the crooks and crannies of the skyscrapers, who swoop down from nowhere to pick off a pigeon here and there.

Coyotes creep the margins, stealing food and eating the scraps given to them by imprudent humans. They have are often believed to be the killer of pets (small dogs, the occasional cat), and then hunted down for the transgression. This is done to keep the public calm – to keep people from freaking the fuck out about something probably overblown and which in any case they have very little control over.

The coyotes are not interlopers.

No. They are not.

 

The Not-City

In the place where I used to live there are also raccoons and skunks, possums and pigeons and hawks, but not as numerous and not nearly as brazen. Country creatures to the city ones, although of the suburbs (a close and yet infinitely distant second). Furtive creatures, mostly keeping out of the way, mostly keeping to themselves.

Mostly.

There are also coyotes. These are ghosts, seen in passing along the periphery of one’s vision. Pets go missing thanks to the coyotes, or so the story goes. Nothing new there.

But the coyotes here are not the solitary rogues of the city. These coyotes amass, forming family groups; forming packs. They amass and they scream. So much screaming sounding in the night from the patchwork of green spaces and tumble-down woodlots scattered about the suburbs. Bloodcurdling screams that go on and on into the night, laying territory over property, calling each other home again.

 

The Non-City

Once I found a coyote den, long abandoned, in the woods. Nearby was a scattering of bones and among those, one pristine coyote skull. Here it is, I thought. Proof.

At last.

 

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Birds, City Life, Dogs, Family, Nature, Pets, Places

Ride Along

1. The pony was shaggy, overworked thing, all knobby knees and sagging skin. And even though it was still nursing its tiny foal, they saddled it up and give me the reins. The baby followed us, tying to keep pace with its mother so it could nurse, while the guide, a terse man with thin lips, pulled us along atop his own stead, a horse and not a pony. It was wide-eyed and better fed then its companions – that’s about all I can say about the horse. The pony tried to stop to fed the foal. I didn’t mind, but the man sure did.

 

2. The elephant ride happened a few years before the pony, at a circus that came to town once a year. At the end of the show, once the lions had been wrangled back into the their cages and the clowns, mercifully, exited the stage, parents lined up with their children, and for a small fee, bought them a seat on the elephant’s back. The “saddle,” such as it was, was more like a playpen, capable of carrying about a dozen evenly-sized kids at a time. We were then taken around the perimeter of big top. We went around and around and around, then stopped and disembarked.

I cannot say the elephant enjoyed giving rides for a living. It also did tricks – balancing on its front legs, sitting only on its hind legs, trunk curled high in the air waving a baton (the secret of tricks: the more antithetical to the nature of the beast the more impressive the trick). Elephants must earn their keep at the circus. As for me, I remember staring intently at its cracked grey skin, at the coarse black hair growing there, sticking out in all directions, something you don’t ever see in cartoons or storybooks depicting elephants. Something I did not know was even possible before that day, but which I’m sure I could have easily looked up in a book.

 

3. A friend decided to surprise me with a camel ride at the zoo, buying the ticket while I roamed elsewhere, unawares. There was no line and few people out that day. It was nearing the end of summer, the beginning of their off-season. The camel seemed annoyed at having to work on such a light day, but it dutifully carried me along a well-marked path, its keeper guiding it using a halter attached to its head. It was a Bactrian – two humps, not one. My friend took our picture: it is of me giving her the finger as I ride the camel. This was all after the elephant, years and years. I didn’t say anything during the ride, not to the camel and certainly not to its keeper. Our relationship was strictly transactional.

***

Bactrian camels live up to 50 years in the wild, and between 20-40 years in captivity. So it is likely the camel at the zoo is still alive. Elephants live up to 20 years in captivity, and anywhere between 60-70 years in the wild. There are no more elephants in zoos in Canada and elephants have been banned from circuses (or rather, circuses have been banned from using elephants). I doubt the elephant I rode is dead, and I hope it went somewhere that was more in line with the dignity of elephants. The pony is surely dead.

That any one of these creatures allows us to ride on their backs seems preposterous, perhaps because it is.

It just is.

***

While on vacation one year we stopped at an unnamed tourist trap offering ostrich rides. Living, breathing ostriches, $20 bucks (American) a ride. Speaking of the preposterous, and not forgetting too the sheer lunacy to be found out there, literally anywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Birds, Childhood, Places, THE PAST

Bowlerama

There’s a bowling alley in a strip mall near my house.

Or at least there was.

The strip mall is no longer. It has been devoured by a colossal hole, which will serve as the foundation for a new building. By its scale and scope (not to mention depth), the size of the work crew and the recently mounted cranes now there, I’m guessing an office building or (more likely) a condo.

Lots of condos in this city.

I haven’t done much bowling in my life. A few get-togethers with friends, a birthday party or two. A school trip once – a reward for good behaviour and nice (but not spectacular) grades. Five pins and ten; big balls and small.

I never went to the strip mall, let alone the bowling alley in the strip mall. The street was always seemed too busy to cross, and the strip mall didn’t have a convenience store or coffee place or restaurant. Nothing to entice someone out, say, for a mid-day stroll.

But I always liked the idea of having a bowling alley near me and that it was in the strip mall (a rather odd though innocuous thing to have in the neighbourhood, and therefore not without its own charm), and, admiring it from afar, I thought I might go someday. The hole reminded me of all that and confronted me with the fact that it’s too late for any of it.

Come to think of it, I actually never really ever enjoyed bowling, good grades or no. The lighting, the sound of constant thudding. Those shoes… Not that I begrudge anyone those things. Besides, not liking something is not the same as hating it. Nice enough, but not spectacular. Good to think on.

Then again. My friend lived in a condo that had a bowling alley as one of its amenities. The two are not mutually exclusive. Maybe it’s not too late after all.

This is probably the most time I’ve ever spent talking about bowling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Change, City Life, Entertainment, Friends, Hobbies, Places

The Blue Pill

Unless The Matrix starts with the scene with Neo evading Agent Smith, ducking behind cubicles and office furniture, desperately following Morpheus’ orders, the movie doesn’t feel real to me.

The first time I saw The Matrix I was in a car with a bunch of friends of a friend, at a rundown drive-in parking lot somewhere on the outskirts of Calgary, 1999. We got lost, arrived late. Caught the movie beginning at what reminds in my mind as that pivotal scene.

I have since seen The Matrix two more times (maybe three), and in its entirety.

Neo has an apartment? Look at those people standing there in the hallway! Trinity first speaks to him at some aboveground underground latex night club? Really.

Really?

Each time since 1999, Calgary, everything before Neo in the Office is a new movie, a different Matrix from The Matrix as I know it. I am aware that this Matrix is the real Matrix (The Matrix as it has always been, if there is in fact to be a Matrix film), but I can’t convince myself that that is so, memory and sensation in this case overriding fact.

Never mind the red pill.

***

2009. A transcontinental flight from Canada to Vietnam. Malaysian Airlines in flight movie.

The Watchmen.

It is the case that sometimes (and likely much more often than you think) countries will edit foreign films for domestic consumption. They revise the material, edit for content, blur things out, cut scenes containing, for instance, sex and/or violence (or interpreted as such…and let’s face it, hardly anyone makes cuts when it comes to violence).

Enter Dr. Manhattan.

Have you seen the film? Read the graphic novel? Then you’d know: the good doctor is naked, full frontal, a lot of the time.

Except where I was, fifty thousand feet in the air somewhere between Toronto and Ho Chi Minh City. From the hips down – way down – down past his cobalt thigh and down to his cerulean knees, there was a mass of pixels, pixels, pixels overlapping each other like crude geometric barnacles. They (the proverbial they) blurred it, and took extra just to be sure.

I found out about that extra later when I saw the North American (adult rated) release of the movie.

Imagine my disappointment; picture my surprise, however underwhelmed it was destined to be and inevitably so.

***

  1. My aunt’s house. A bootleg copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Hello again, Keanu.

Whomever got to this movie before me had a grand ‘ol time with the edits they employed. Bootlegging it, apparently, was not enough to satisfy.

All sex, all whiffs of it were cut from the movie’s 128 minute runtime, as was most of its violence (again not all, I saw much blood, a few stabs and, I believe, a beheading, if not the acts that lead up to them or even followed).

The final cut made no sense or rather, it made the kind of sense you’d sense in mediocre dreams and poorly-constructed nightmares. Dialogue cut mid-sentence, absurd time jumps from one scene to another, characters that simply appeared and/or vanished without explanation. Or reason.

The whole movie was 20 minutes long, if that. And it was the first time I’d ever seen or heard of a movie called Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

It took me years before I saw the full, unadulterated movie.

And yet. Both versions remain valid, the one being so far removed from the other that they are different things entirely, things quite impossible to compare, one way or the other. No need to vouch or even speak of quality or control here.

Too much has changed. Not enough remains the same.

Hello again, Keanu.

And again, but not really.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Characters, Childhood, Movies, Places, Politics, Pop Culture, THE PAST

Found Objects

There are quite a few things in my house that I literally picked off the street, things people left out for other people to take…unless no one does, and those then things become garbage.

My former neighbourhood (two neighbourhoods before this one) was great for found objects; weekly treasures that sprang up with the morning dew like mushrooms. Most of the things were gently used, some were brand new (i.e. still in the packaging); others, decidedly not.

My former neighbourhood (one neighbourhood before this one) was pretty good for found objects, though they were more seasonal in nature, appearing like the harvest moon or showering the streets like meteorites.

My current neighbourhood is OK for found objects. They appear often enough, but not always, like good (or bad) weather, seemingly blowing in with the wind itself. Timing is key here.

Then there are the random neighbourhoods I pass through with their own rhyme, reason and rhythms for found objects. Timing is everything, in these places.

My current take from the streets thus far includes (but is not limited to):

  1. A sturdy red (seldom used) TV tray.
  2. Books in varying condition (mostly good, mostly celebrity autobiographies, cookbooks and textbooks with interesting pictures, maps and diagrams).
  3. A detail of Michelangelo’s “Birth of Man,” in a gilded frame.
  4. A metal, Tiffany-esque lamp (the kind with three settings…bright, Brighter, BRIGHTEST).
  5. Coffee mugs (more than a few, some of them funky).
  6. THIS MAGNIFICENT TWIN HORSE LAMP.

    IMG_9347

  7. A wooden owl. Decorative?
  8. Big-ass sea shells!
  9. A working Magic 8 Ball (found by my sister-in-law and generously gifted to me). Yes – definitely.
  10. Carabiners!
  11. An ornate black resin picture frame, of the kind you’d find at your great aunt’s house, or failing that, an off-the-beaten-track Winners.
  12. Like, so. Many. DVDs (including the an entire season of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer).
  13. A kitchen mirror (non-haunted).
  14. Two 1,000 piece puzzles (one of doughnuts, one of shoes).

Will I ever stop finding things on the street and taking them home?

Hm.

There are…other ways to live, I’m sure, that don’t entail picking things off the street to use and enjoy in your home – ways involving, I dunno, yachts and oversize vases that accent the Roman pillars holding up the front entrance of your foyer. Or not.

There are places with foyers. And places without.

There are ways, certainly, like that.

That is very, very true.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Birds, Books, Hobbies, Places, Routines, Thrift

Stranger Encounters

They happen.

At times and in turns unsolicited, unprovoked, utterly unreal.

 

1. Flower Market, New Delhi

Random Man: “You there! You are at the flower market and you can’t smile?”

 

2. Dog Park, High Park, Toronto

Dogwalker [runs up to me and Lou]: “Look at him! Him? He’s beautiful. Lovely bone structure. You’re lucky to have him. Congratulations!”

 

3. Coffee Time, Kitchener

Woman Steps Through Front Door: “Dang, dang! Y’all got none of them there cheese cussiants, do ya?”

 

4. Beaches, Toronto

City Garbage Worker [jumps off side of moving truck ]: “Hey! [points to truck driver] He’s Filipino!”

 

5. Ben Thanh Market, Ho Chi Minh City

Vendor [referring to Stephen]: “He has such a gentle face!”

 

6. Beaches, Toronto

Random Man [points to Lou]: “Heinz 57! Heinz 57!”

 

7. Downtown Kitchener

Random Man [blocks my path, bows]: “Ni hao, ni hao, ni hao!”

 

8. Calgary, Alberta

Random Man [yelling from driver’s side of parked pick up truck as Stephen and I walk down the street]: “Got him walking on the outside of the sidewalk! Good man you got there!”

 

 

 

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Filed under Communications, Dogs, People, Places, Plants, Uncategorized

Please Select That Which Best Applies

If I do not know the ordering procedure of a particular eating establishment, I will:

a) Decide to go somewhere else.

b) Eventually convince myself that I am not that hungry after all.

c) Stare on in puzzlement until it’s officially socially awkward for everyone involved.

d) Turn heel. Run home.

e) b & d

f) a & c

 

Your puppy:

a) Is the most adorable thing I have ever seen. Your puppy has therefore ruined my life.

b) Is the absolute best.

c) I WANT A PUPPY.

d) I cannot afford a puppy right now.

f) All of the above.

 

What That Guy Said?:

a) “Old.”

b) “Ode.”

c) “Auld.”

d) “Bald.”

e) “Sassafras gonads.”

 

PUNCTUATION THROWDOWN:

a) .

b) !

c) : OR ;

d) c OR Both

e) c & d

f) How come no one cares about ampersand?

 

Discreet Flatulence:

a) Acceptable.

b) Diabolical.

c) You ruined it by calling if “flatulence.”

 

Book or Movie:

a) Book.

b) Movie.

c) Both is not an answer.

c) Both.

 

You’ll be in:

a) My heart.

b) My thoughts and/or prayers.

c) Deep shit.

d) Shallow Paraguay.

 

I would love to:

a) Help.

b) Be able to help.

c) Consider helping.

d) Consider being able to help.

e) b, c & d

f) Never a.

 

Choose Your Fighter:

a) Emperor Penguin.

b) Death Cap Mushroom.

c) Giant Spider.

d) Tiny T-Rex.

e) Haunted Waterslide.

f) Ugly American.

 

Nonsensical:

a) “Owning the Libs.”

b) “I can fix them.”

c) “I’m sorry if…”

d) “All lives matter.”

e) “Books are dead.”

f) All of the above (plus a few others, TBA).

g) All of the above (but e especially).

 

Good answer:

a) Yes.

b) No.

 

Best answer:

a) No.

b) GOD NO.

 

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Books, Communications, Dogs, Interruptions, Mind and Body, Places

Shamone (Part 2)

We had veered off the TransCanada highway ages ago, deciding instead to follow the backroads that lined the providence – a network of ragged capillaries that spread out and fed the small places that dotted the landscape.

(There’s more of them than you’d think, these places; places such as these.)

Places that could not rightly be said to compare to the big places elsewhere, but which offered a break from the monotony of the road, nonetheless.

Places whose existence by the wayside remained contingent on their ability to attract the curious, the eager and the weary, and to capture their attention for just long enough, for that crucial moment, or two.

Places whose particular claim to fame included tours of forsaken industry (mines, factories, mills), offerings of historic (or historical) points of interest (a fort, a trading post, the birthplace of some local notable, fictional or otherwise), and (my favourite) roadside attractions toting otherworldly monuments invoking hometown character or charm, standing resolutely in place and steadfastly against time. The quirky, the bizarre, the aberrant, unabashed, on full display, for all the world to see:

WITNESS! Bow Island’s orange-footed, sheriff-hatted, cartoon-faced statue of one “Pinto MacBean,” smile askance, holstered gun at the ready, gloved hand a great, keyhole-shaped oven mitt forever waving to passersby. Erected 1992 to signify “the importance of the dry edible bean industry to the area” (so says Pinto’s commemorative plaque).

 SEE! The World’s Largest Dinosaur in Drumheller. Purportedly the largest. I never verified (it’s not the kind of thing you verify). A nominal fee lets you climb the staircase embedded in this T-Rex’s fiberglass flesh so that you can peer out of her open mouth at people standing not all that far below (you can then, like Pinto, wave to them). Erected in 2000, she stands 25 meters tall and can fit up to 12 people in her mouth at a time.

 EXPERIENCE! The (slightly deranged) whimsy of the stuffed and mounted rodents at Torrington’s World Famous Gopher Hole Museum. The critters are plentiful, and are outfitted in cute little costumes as they engage in various hometown activities, like going to church, frequenting the local pool hall, or street brawling with animal rights activists. Admission also just a nominal fee away (two dollars, but that’s 2009 pricing). Established 1996.

 Witness! See! Experience! Between work, between school, between the responsibilities and expectations of everyday life, between us, we had all the time in the world to explore these places; places such as these where MJ had manifestly refused to materialize.

Now, though.

I found myself quietly singing along here and there as the pavement rolled on under the rusting carriage of Terry’s ancient Corolla, and there was nothing much else to do but stare up, into that enormous Alberta sky, out there, at clouds as big mountain ranges and a blue so intense it made you feel somehow flattered, and somewhat ashamed.

Stephen woke up with a start, then drifted off to sleep again. He kept doing that, never fully waking, not entirely sleeping. It got to be unnerving. “More MJ?” he asked. “Still MJ?” he breathed, then dozed.

Mae pulled back from the window and tilted her head towards the radio.

Terry drove.

No. Nothing much else to do at all but surrender to the vastness ahead and MJ’s omnipresence within, hovering over us, god-like, and with such measured indifference for all his omnipotence that always seemed to me prerequisite to being one amongst the gods.

The songs flowed, one after another as Terry flipped blithely from station to station, managing somehow to prompt no apparent break in the music, failing to rouse a voice from the ether to break the spell and confirm or deny what it was (whatever it was) that was happening.

The whole world has to answer right now, just to tell you once again,

Don’t want to see no blood, don’t be a macho man,

Cause we danced on the floor in the round,

Inside a killer thriller tonight,

A crescendo, Annie.

Celebrity, unleashed! MJ in all his glory, in all his incarnations, from Off The Wall (1979), to Bad (1987), to Dangerous (1991) and HIStory (1995), and on to Invincible (2001).

Thriller (1982).

We should have known.

But since we were drifting anyway, and with no particular destination in mind as the towns blurred together and it became difficult to know for certain which name belonged to which place, which attraction meant what, and to whom, it was, admittedly, kind of nice to have something familiar along for the ride.

We found the Birds of Prey Sanctuary more than we discovered it. Just east of Lethbridge, off Highway #3. Established 1982.

The clerks inside the gift shop were friendly and politely curious. Attentive in the way that clerks are when the arrival of patrons means a long-awaited reprieve from the dusting of pristine shelves and the wiping down of spotless countertops.

“Where you from?” one of them asked.

Terry and Mae and Stephen answered easily. “Ottawa,” they said. “Thunder Bay.” I hesitated, and then answered “Toronto” and then we watched as the clerks’ faces changed accordingly, as if something had fallen into place for them. I suppose they took that as their right. I guess, anyway, that it was at least their prerogative. This is such a big country.

It was by now late afternoon.

Did they not know about MJ?

“Toronto, eh?”

***

We stopped at a place not too far from the sanctuary for dinner. It was famous for its Italian-Canadian fare (that’s what the guy at the gas station said), but it was particularly prized for its gigantic pizza bread: great slabs of hot dough, the rough size and heft of a decorative pillow, leaden with shredded, multicoloured cheese and finished off with a spray of light green parsley not at all unlike the trimmings fired from the backend of a lawnmower.

(The description above, I assure you, does not do justice to the taste).

We settled in, ushered to a booth by an unnamed hostess. Someone looked up.

And there he was again.

Only this time a vision dancing in perfect synchronization with his sister, Janet, in the legendary Scream video, two figures effortlessly swaying, pop-locking and pivoting in zero gravity on a screen affixed to an unassuming corner of the dining room, close (but not too close) to the bathrooms.

“Look!”

The Incomparable Jacksons. The Immaculate MJ. Just east of Lethbridge, off Highway #3.

“Here too!” exclaimed Terry, pointing, eyes no longer heavy-lidded.

Our server, a man with a shining forehead, thick arms and little patience, may have heard the urgency in Terry’s voice. We were, if memory serves, agog. Certainly, I was and Stephen too.

“Don’t you know?” barked the server, snapping us to attention. “You don’t know?” he added more gently when he realized he had it. “He died. Michael Jackson’s dead.” He eventually left us with our food, carefully arranging it before us on the heavy, water-stained table.

“Died?” echoed Mae. “Dead?” she said, tasting the words.

Despite everything, given everything he had been and done and had become, MJ had never done that, never been that before.

It shouldn’t have been possible: Michael Jackson was dead.

Pinto MacBean, however, remained.

Remains.

Annie are you okay? Will you tell us that you’re okay?

It should not have been possible: something of the permanence of life as we knew it had shifted under our feet and left us stumbling for purchase. As sudden as it was, therefore, absurd. It was more than enough.

It was time to go home.

Time to head back and, if possible, redeem ourselves.

“I’ll drive,” Terry said finally, attempting a laugh around a mouthful of bread.

 

END

 

 

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Filed under Celebrity, Change, Death, Food, Friends, Music, People, Places, Pop Culture, THE PAST, Travel