Ryan's Journal

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" — David Mitchell

Karaoke, Birds and Whales

Posted from South Atlantic Ocean at 10:20 pm, December 31st, 2005

We rang in New Year’s tonight with champagne and the Fillipino staff singing Abba on karaoke, and while I may be guilty of having slipped away early (or run away…) it was still a memorable way to celebrate the holiday. Prior to the evening’s festivities today was ridiculously good for a day spent at sea. I got up a bit before seven this morning and joined Rod and Jim on the deck of the ship to see what might show up. Birds were flying around in abundance, and despite my limited mental capacity Jim managed to teach me the names of a few more.

The day’s highlight occurred during lunch when Doug came on the public address system and announced that they “might have sighted some sperm whales”. Since sperm whales typically dive for thirty minutes at a time I figured there was time to eat, but shortly thereafter an announcement was made that on closer inspection the sperm whales had morphed into a pod of eight fin whales. Fin whales are the second largest of all whales, and this group stayed with us for nearly an hour. Unfortunately, having run for the decks as soon as Doug said “fin whale” I was protected against the cold and wind by only a light thermal; luckily the adrenaline rush from having a pod of giant whales lunging out of the water as close as fifty feet away allowed me to ignore the frantic messages my body was sending about freezing. Only forty-five minutes later when the whales had departed did the effects of high winds and temperatures in the forties become fully obvious, but I probably can’t complain given that Carter was standing next to me during most of the sighting wearing nothing more than a short-sleeved shirt.

The day’s other activities included a beautiful slideshow by Rod, and my own miserable attempts at photographing birds that were flying by the boat at high speeds. If only giant petrels really were blurry in real life, or if albatrosses without heads were a common sight then I would have some great images, but sadly in the non-bizarro world I think I’ll end up deleting all of them and declaring today’s photo shoot to be practice for later in the trip.

Just a Ride

Posted from Beagle Channel, Argentina at 10:50 pm, December 30th, 2005

After reminiscing with Ted over beers until 2:00 AM last night I managed to get up just after 6:00 AM and join a bus into Tierra Del Fuego National Park. I’ve really missed Rod Planck, so despite my better judgement I hopped on the bird watching bus (which Rod was leading) and spent the next couple of hours with an interesting yet highly obsessive group of folks; until you’ve sat in a field for twenty minutes with two dozen people scrutinizing every visible dot with wings for the sole purpose of discerning whether or not it’s a northern double-crested pileated thrush or the less common (and thus more exciting) southern variety, the experience would be quite difficult to describe.

After a brief bit of time back in town the Polar Star pulled anchor, and the boat slowly set off along the Beagle Channel with birds circling, penguins swimming below, and the occasional sea lion popping up to say hello. The weather was amazing and we sailed under a crimson sunset with picture-perfect clouds lining the skies. And in case it’s not obvious, I was pretty damn happy to be setting out again.

Back in Black

Posted from Ushuaia, Argentina at 11:45 pm, December 29th, 2005

The energy level dropped considerably today during a four hour delay on the flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, with the only entertainment being a mad effort to learn the names of people in the group (at which I failed miserably). Things stayed slow until the Andes popped out of the clouds around Ushuaia, and now despite the late hour my energy level is so high that I’m bouncing off the walls, ready to run up a mountain or swim across the Beagle Channel. This will almost certainly be the last time I have internet access for the next month, but things will only get better from this point forward, and I can’t wait.

Good Air

Posted from Buenos Aires, Argentina at 10:00 pm, December 28th, 2005

American Airlines apparently made the decision that passengers on eleven hour flights to South America need just enough legroom so that a six foot tall person can sit with circulation only partially cut off by the seat in front of them, so the trip down was a bit uncomfortable and I didn’t really sleep at all. Upon arriving in Buenos Aires I retrieved my bag, was too tired to protest when some shyster grabbed my luggage and said he’d take me to my ride (“just to help, it looks heavy”) and of course later demanded a couple bucks, and tried but failed to stay awake during the ride into the city.

Once at the hotel I set the alarm for a two hour nap, and a little over four hours later woke up and headed out to roam around. First impressions of Buenos Aires are that it’s a bit like Paris in that it is filled with beautiful old buildings and narrow streets that are quite pedestrian friendly. They really, really love the tango here, and while a blind, one-legged street performer playing three instruments simultaneously while also riding a unicycle, controlling two lions, and with six juggling monkeys might draw a crowd of ten, two people doing the tango (and there were many such performers) would always have close to a hundred onlookers. Granted, the tango dancers were talented and also pretty easy on the eyes, but I guess I’m more of a juggling-monkey kind of guy.

The plan is to go to bed early tonight, roam a bit more tomorrow, and then catch the flight to Ushuaia early in the afternoon. If I don’t have a chance to make any updates while in Ushuaia then this might be the last entry for a bit, but I’ll continue keeping a daily journal and upload everything at the end of January once an internet connection is again available.


Posted from Dallas, Texas at 4:15 pm, December 27th, 2005

The way the universe works, if I schedule a tight connection I’ll miss my flight, but when, like today, a few hours are scheduled for the connection the plane will not only leave on time, but I’ll be put on an earlier flight and given the gift of four wonderful hours in Texas. That said, from the plane window it appeared that a not-insignificant part of the state was on fire, something that appealed to my sadistic side. With luck I’ll be hopping on another plane soon and landing in Buenos Aires a short twelve hours after that. Stay tuned.

Willie Nelson Said It Best

Posted from 29,000 feet above Northern Arizona at 11:05 am, December 27th, 2005

It will be nearly another four days before the M/V Polar Star leaves the dock in Ushuaia, but the trip has started. Today’s route is from San Francisco to Dallas, with an overnight flight to Buenos Aires. I’m there for a day before taking another flight to Ushuaia (at the tip of South America), then it’s a day there before the boat departs for the Falklands, South Georgia, and the Antarctic Peninsula. On the road again.


Posted from Culver City, California at 2:05 pm, December 20th, 2005

Posted today on craigslist:

Old Tuxedo Needed for Photoshoot w/ Penguins (Culver City)

Date: 2005-12-20, 2:03PM PST

I need an old tuxedo, black and white, preferably very, very cheap, either to buy or to rent/borrow for the month of January. I don’t care if it has rips or a few stains, as long as it will look decent in a black and white photo. What I need it for is a trip I’m taking to the South Atlantic and Antarctica where I’d like to grab a few photos of myself and possibly other passengers from the trip standing in the midst of thousands of penguins wearing a tuxedo. I’m 5′ 11″ tall, 33″ waist, although the tux definitely doesn’t have to fit perfectly.

I’m a decent photographer (see http://www.mountaininterval.org/photos/south_georgia/highlights/ for some past photos from the Antarctic) and have had stuff used in advertising before, so if you own a tuxedo place and would be willing to loan me a tux in exchange for photos to use in advertising then I’d be fine with that. I’ll do my best to take good care of it, but the conditions will likely be muddy and possibly rainy, so please don’t loan anything that can’t get a few mud spots on it — it’s Antarctica after all, and a colony of thousands of penguins isn’t exactly the cleanest of environments!

My internet access is gonna be sporadic for the next few days, but please email with your location, cost of tuxedo, whether you prefer to sell or rent, and a description or (preferably) photo of the tuxedo. I live in Culver City, so it would be easiest if you were nearby, and I can come by to take a look. Thanks!

King Penguins

Results of this (possibly foolish) endeavour should be available in about six weeks.

Home for the Extravaganza

Posted from Walnut Creek, California at 4:25 pm, December 10th, 2005

I got up at 4:45 AM on Thursday in order to miss rush hour and drive home for the Chiropracter Nish graduation extravaganza, and managed to escape the Los Angeles traffic nightmare before I started falling asleep at the wheel and had to stop for a nap. The Goob properly chastised me for being a Meatball (my gym membership expired back in October) before we grabbed Kenny, cajoled a few “Hot Plate!”‘s out of the waiter at Guadalajara, and headed to San Jose. $16 for a double crown, a few nametags, and a speech from Chef Boyardee (“Work hard, and maybe your life will be as fulfilling as mine”) and then the graduation was over and we were ready to be foiled in our attempts to get free drinks from both the UMC Convention and the eBay gathering at Paragon (note to self: when someone asks “Do you need a nametag?” you say YES).

The Nish graduation dinner featured an unfortunate propane incident, some creative photography by the Tall Guy, and a somewhat inebriated Nish crowd diving. Even Nish’s mom got in on the act, giggling so much that she couldn’t hold a camera still. Last night was thankfully uneventful, and today’s excitement has thus far been a quick lunch at PF Chang’s, preceded by a testy exchange on the top of an overly full parking structure. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Big Monkeys

Posted from Culver City, California at 8:50 pm, December 5th, 2005

Felicia scored two preview tickets to King Kong, so at 9:15 this morning I lined up at the Arclight, grabbed a free popcorn and soda (thanks Universal) and spent a little over three hours watching a giant monkey go bezerk. Retirement is fun.

King Kong

Photo from Yahoo Movies.

Post-Thanksgiving Roundup

Posted from Culver City, California at 12:50 am, December 3rd, 2005

Two weeks without an update is very poor form – my apologies. The only excuse I can offer is that the recent move from Studio City (home of CBS studios) to Culver City (home of Sony studios) has been busy. Here’s a recap:


Each day was pretty much the same: wake up, then spend the day helping Audrey sort stuff, move large items, and list crap on craigslist. Afterwards, deal with the two million people who call to ask if they can pick something up, and then meet the four who might actually show up. In fairness I had a bunch of fun with the craigslist minions, and as the previous posting mentioned met a bunch of odd characters.

Thanksgiving Weekend

Drove home, then went with Aaron to look at Toyota Tacomas. Our testing of the vehicle included the “lie down in the back and pretend to eat chowder” exam, and some time driving around the parking lot with a sales guy who kept mumbling something about “my damn Lexus”. Afterwards we met Chi and the Tall Guy at Chow before finishing the night with a game of Balderdash. The Turkey Bowl the next morning was a massacre, with a final score in the 77 to 42 range. Losing Bowerbank before the half killed us, although Nick’s trail of tears play somewhat made up for the embarrassing loss. Kev (who surprised everyone by showing up at Aaron Field at 7:30, almost three hours before kickoff) and Chi joined us for dinner, and Sally again outdid herself. The next morning I woke up at 4:30 so that Aaron and I could chase down the mad dealz at Circuit City, although when we arrived the line stretched across the front of the store, down the length of the parking lot, and onto the sidewalk, so we apparently weren’t the only idiots to get up early. The rest of the weekend was relatively uneventful, although Lynn and I had a nice drive back to Los Angeles, with a much-needed burger stop along the way.


Audrey and I rented a giant U-Haul for Monday, and my job was to find two movers to help out. One of them called to cancel while we were picking up the truck, but luckily there was a group of about fifteen day-laborers standing around outside of the U-Haul office. As we walked out Audrey whispered “get a big one” in my ear, and this proved sage advice as Jose not only worked amazingly hard, but schlepped around items that I thought might be a chore for two people. His constant grunts of “muy fuerte” were both amusing and appropriate. By the time the day ended we had completely filled and then emptied a twenty-six foot long truck, but the new place is great so it was quite worthwhile. The next day was spent piling remaining items from the old house onto the lawn with a giant “FREE!” sign, and while I’m sure this display of communal trash dumping might have upset the neighbors, it introduced us to the special breed of craigslist stealth ninjas, who showed up unseen at all hours to remove completely random items — while our TV cabinet was still on the lawn the next morning, its glass door apparently caught someone’s fancy.

Retirement #4

Posted from Sherman Oaks, California at 12:30 am, November 17th, 2005

So I’m now fully retired again; I think this is the fourth time. Sadly the landlord is selling my current home, so it’s been busy lately packing things up to move. Since my worldly possessions amount to little more than two shirts and a shoe moving isn’t much of a worry, but Audrey has stockpiled enough stuff to supply a relief mission to Uganda and is experiencing slightly more stress. A good portion of her stuff is going on craigslist.org, a site whose purpose is both to assist in getting rid of random junk and also to provide a forum for the world’s oddballs. In the past week craigslist has introduced us to a shopaholic woman who showed up in a tiny Porsche, took everything we had left, forced me to deliver, and then wrote back the next day to see if we had found anything else. There was also a person who wrote about our free CD-ROM drive, but insisted she only wanted something in a nice color. A third fellow showed up with a wolf in his van wearing a cowboy hat, a camouflage poncho, and riding gloves. Before anything else he handed me a copy of his latest film, and then shifted gears completely and did a little dance when I told him that we had two boxes of free stuff (he walked off with two bags full of odds and ends, including a coyote skull). There have also been about fifty bazillion folks who have written about items, set up pickup times, and then flaked completely. Never a dull moment.

The Arctic

Posted from Studio City, California at 9:39 am, November 11th, 2005

A quick political posting. Yesterday the House of Representatives actually voted to remove drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from the budget, which is awesome news. The main argument cited for drilling has been to decrease dependency on foreign oil, which seems suspect given that the same politicans are unwilling to support raising fuel economy standards, an action that would save vastly more oil than ANWR will ever produce. Spoiling one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen for what appears to be simply a quick financial windfall doesn’t seem justified to me when better options are available.

In a similar vein, Exxon-Mobil is now the only major oil company still pushing for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Sierra Club is calling for a boycott of Exxon, something I think is worth supporting. While companies like BP are heavily investing in alternative energy sources, Exxon seems to be taking a different approach. For my part I’d rather see my $3.00 per gallon go elsewhere.

The comments link is available for anyone wanting to argue these points, but please do so with reasonable facts — the best argument I could find online about why drilling was better than raising the CAFE standards was “…raising CAFE standards would not increase America’s energy supply by a single barrel…” Drill = (maybe) find 3.2 billion barrels. CAFE = save a minimum of one million barrels each day. Anyone who can explain why drilling is the better option gets a cookie.

U2 Treasure Hunt

Posted from Studio City, California at 9:55 pm, November 10th, 2005

Aaron called me last week and told me I had to fly home to see U2. The conversation basically went:

“Hey, you wanna see U2?”

“Uh, yeah, of course I want to see U2.”

And thus the evening was launched into action. The concert started at 7:30 Thursday night. As of 4:00, we still had no tickets. The following ad was thus posted on craigslist:

Two tickets needed for U2

We’re heading down to the arena soon to see what’s still available, but figured we’d try craigslist first. You have tickets. We need tickets. Ergo, we need your tickets. Sell them to us. We need two. Not one, or three, just two. Two lovely tickets. And we’ll pay cash and pick them up. Email immediately with your offer.

And yeah, we’ve seen the $168 tickets that are still on Ticketmaster. We like U2, but we like them a little less than $168.

Shortly thereafter two responses arrived, one mocking us for being cheapskates, and the other offering two tickets for $40 each. The catch was that we would have to meet the guy in the South Bay, leaving us barely enough time to make the concert in time; the brothers Holliday were up to the challenge. Decked out in a Museum of Death t-shirt and a Michael Seaver shirt we set out on BART, arriving in Balboa Park an hour and a half later, and an hour after that our treasure hunt ended at the Oakland Arena. Damien Marley rocked for an hour, and U2 put on a hell of a show after that. My enjoyment of the second encore was only mildly affected by complications due to the several beers I had consumed throughout the evening, but thoughts of things like the desert and saltines allowed all embarrassment to be avoided. Waking up at 5:30 this morning to make it to the airport wasn’t the most enjoyable of tasks, but it was a small price to pay.