2016 is the year that kept on delivering misery. The Election was a dark cloud looming over the entire thing, while numerous untimely deaths, mass shootings, genocidal atrocities, economic turmoils, and other daily occurrences had many, many people, myself included, anxiously awaiting the end of this horrible, terrible, no good year from hell. It’s been trendy to hate 2016 since pretty early on, and somehow it never did let up.
Personally, it has been a very full year to say the least, with relatively low lows but some pretty high highs. Some of the lows on my end include the continuing collapse of my employer, or I should say soon-to-be ex-employer, as well as the all-encompassing gloom of a summer without sun combined with the struggle for my next professional advancement. But that’s the bad, or the tough, as it were. For my growth and development as an adult, 2016 was a trying time, but I feel my struggles in this year will pay off down the road. Adversity breeds perseverance and strength — and there was certainly no shortage of that.
While that sucked at the time, it should end up being viewed somewhat better in hindsight.
I had an idea (and apparently, everyone else did too), to make a special note of the good that happened this year. What didn’t suck for me in 2016? So much. So much that I need to write it down to remind myself that this year wasn’t a black hole of despair and ruin. I guess I’ll start in January and go in a meandering, vaguely structured, non-chronological direction from there. This will be long, but should more than make up for my lack of personal blogs this year. Strap in!
2016 in Comedy
This year started with the ever-wonderful annual arrival of San Francisco Sketchfest, which is rapidly becoming the reason to look forward to January. In 2015 I’d attended one show — a live recording of Pete Holmes’ podcast You Made It Weird, featuring Charlie Sanders, Cameron Esposito, Rhea Butcher, and the legendary Emo Phillips. I even had a chance to chat with Pete afterward about what made him laugh the hardest so far in 2015 (answer: it’s this). But that was last year.
2016 Sketchfest was a step beyond, in both my involvement (now as a resident of the city) and in the variety of shows I was interested in. In 2015, I dove headfirst into the Earwolf network of podcasts, leading to an expansive familiarity with some of the best comedy names in the business (many of whom most people wouldn’t even know of, myself previously included). With that established, I went to a smattering of shows in 2016, including the fantastic live podcast Spontaneanation with Paul F. Tompkins, featuring special guest Jon Hamm (!) and performers Craig Cackowski, Matt Gourley, and Janet Varney. For someone who’d only started listening to Spontaneanation toward the end of 2015, this was a month-long dream realized.
I also had the pleasure of seeing Jeff Goldblum perform with his jazz band, the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra. I was one row from the front and even made some brief eye contact with the man himself as he chatted with the audience. (I was also sitting right in front of Kevin Pollak, which I didn’t know until Jeff decided to have a conversation with him during the show. Fun stuff!) He’s such a cool guy, if a bit quirky and enigmatic, and his piano playing is outstanding.
Among other shows I’d attended were a conversation with Patton Oswalt, a personal hero of mine; a panel featuring some of the cast of Futurama with a live episode read-through; and a live version of Improv4Humans with Matt Besser, featuring Jon Gabrus, Mary Holland, and James Adomian. I saw a lot of talented people performing their craft for laughs in my home city and I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to do this every single year as long as I’m here.
I have tickets in hand for nine shows at SF Sketchfest 2017 — I can’t wait.
In assorted comedy shows, I had a few more outside of the confines of January. My other favorite podcast Comedy Bang Bang went on a live tour during May, stopping in Oakland at the start of my birthday week. Scott Aukerman hosted the live podcast, featuring Paul F. Tompkins as the Bay Area’s Len Wiseman, Lauren Lapkus as Scott’s nephew Todd, Tim Baltz as basketball comedian Skipp Dribbles, and an opening act of Mike Hanford as John Lennon, complete with white suit, long hair, beard, and trademark glasses. It was a riot. The episode, along with all CBB 2016 Tour shows are available on Howl.fm, the widow Howl-app.
In early November, I had the tremendous privilege of seeing John Cleese and Eric Idle perform in San Francisco. I went in not knowing exactly what to expect. What they delivered was an absolutely wonderful, emotional, hilarious, sentimental variety show. It was a lot of things: an extended oral history of the Monty Python story interspersed with photos, film clips from before the early days of Python, the Flying Circus, and the films, as well as live sketches and songs. The show renewed my love of Monty Python and fomented my appreciation of their continuing legacy in the world of comedy. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to witness these two living legends while they’re still here with us. They closed their show with a heartfelt tribute to Terry Jones, their Python mate who is suffering from dementia, singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” If you’ve never heard a full theater of people whistling in unison, you’re missing out.
I usually see at least one stand-up act each year. With the end of the year approaching and none having been attended, I decided to see Greg Proops again at the Punchline last night, on a beautiful, cold night among the city lights. I’d seen him there once a couple years ago, as well as on the road with Whose Live Anyway? in 2014, where I actually met him and Jeff Davis afterward. He’s hilarious, although he can be quite crass, and sometimes his smugness/condescension is a bit too much to bear. Nevertheless, I’ve always nearly doubled over laughing each time I’ve seen him, and I like enjoying a couple cocktails at a comedy club far too much not to have a good time. (Plus, I always get pizza afterward, as is tradition.)
The comedy podcast scene this year was outstanding, with my favorites being the aforementioned You Made It Weird, Comedy Bang Bang, and Spontaneanation. Each had numerous hilarious episodes that I used to occupy my commutes, idle times, and wanderings through the city. I’d also be remiss if I left out a “new” favorite, Adam Scott Aukerman’s U Talkin’ U2 To Me?, a podcast ostensibly about the band U2, whose 2014 series run filled my lengthy flights to and from India in September. Spoiler alert: it’s not really about U2, and that’s the best thing about it.
There may have been misery in 2016, but there were plenty of laughs to help balance it out.
2016 in Music
Music is an omnipresent part of my life. Each year I make a smart playlist in iTunes to keep track of the songs I added to my library that year that I played the most. This year, it wasn’t all that long of a list to be honest, though what I did include was more than enough to satisfy me. Hang in there, because I have to save that part for last.
Since I live in San Francisco, a major city in a major metropolitan area of the country, I am fortunate to have numerous artists and bands come through the region each year on tour, and this year was no exception. I typically make it out to a few concerts a year, usually a band I’m very familiar with, though sometimes I’ve seen an unfamiliar artist or set and return home with new music in my library.
I saw six shows in 2016, which simultaneously feels like a lot and not much at all. I finally saw John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats) in person this past February at the Swedish American Hall in the Castro. It was just him, an acoustic guitar, and a piano. He’s a very talented multi-instrumentalist, a fantastic lyricist, and his between-song banter is top notch, if a bit aloof. My issue with him is I don’t know enough of his repertoire, having not been able to find interest in his more lo-fi early albums; his set had about four songs I did know, and two or three that are not on any of his albums at all. Still, a show definitely worth seeing.
In May, the night after the live Comedy Bang Bang show and right in the middle of my birthday week, I found myself in an exceptionally familiar situation: waiting outside Slim’s as Hank Green, Driftless Pony Club, and the Perfect Strangers arrived to play for their Tour Because Awesome. I did this very thing in 2014. Back then, it was great to finally some of my favorite YouTubers in person. This year, however, I took it to the next level. Living in the city, I was under no obligation to escape from the venue, so after the show (which was pretty much the exact same as the first one, with only minor variances in setlists) I hung around and got to chatting with these guys in more depth. Like when I met Andrew McMahon four times in two years, each time I felt more comfortable and less starstruck. The ease with which they speak with me, though, really shows how wonderful they are with their fans. While the concert was a rerun (still fun, though), it was the interactions afterward that made my night.
Also, the whole show was recorded in full 360-degree view and broadcast live. I’m at stage left, just like I was last time.
A scant week later, I had the pleasure of finally seeing The Hush Sound live, having missed an opportunity to see them in 2013. The hiatus of Gold Motel around the same time nixed one of the perks I got with their self-titled album back in 2012, but hold that thought. I’d been listening to The Hush Sound since college, where I was introduced to their music by one of the a Capella groups on campus. Well, it only took eight years to get here. Their set was a straight run-through of their 2006 album Like Vines, followed by a sampling of other songs too. To hear the album in its entirety was special, as that was the first of theirs that I’d listened to. Indeed, this was their Like Vines 10th Anniversary tour! After the show I met each of the band members and had them sign my copy of Like Vines. I also brought my Gold Motel necklace, part of the deluxe album package mentioned above, to show to Greta; a key to gain access to the band, had I been at one of their shows while they were still around. I suppose it worked eventually!
In July, I finally saw The National. Lots of “finally”s in 2016! They came through Oakland in 2013 but I didn’t really get to know them until later that year and into the next year. They were easily my band of 2014, so I was elated to see them do their thing in person. The show was in Berkeley at the Greek Theater, an amphitheater built into the side of the hills on the east side of the bay. The show was phenomenal. The visuals were incredible, and the music amazing, including a handful of new tracks coming on their next album, presumably. I had a really hard time enjoying it though, due to other things on my mind, but mostly because the crowd was aggressive, with people encroaching upon my personal space for two or three songs at a time. I would love to see The National again, but it will not be in the middle of the crowd.
In August, I treated myself to a new tradition as of last year — grabbing Chinese food in the Richmond, finding a seat at a tall tree near Spreckels Lake in Golden Gate Park, and eavesdropping on the headliners at Outside Lands. Instead of paying a boatload to sit in a sea of people for hours, I get to chill and listen from a distance. This year, the Saturday headliner was Radiohead. Holy crap. I’d never imagined I’d get to [hear] Radiohead live — even from afar, it was an incredible experience. I’d love to see them next time, but just overhearing made me happier than I thought it would.
Later that month I finally (okay, enough) made it to one of the other annual festivals in my neighborhood: Stern Grove. Nestled in the depths of the forested canyon between Wawona and Sloat is an outdoor concert venue that hosts free shows every Sunday in the summer. I’d never gone because none of the names really appealed to me. This year, however, the season finale was The New Pornographers, a band I’d heard of but never listened to. I decided to go, for once. It was great! They played a long set, mostly hits (as I discovered later), but I nevertheless found their music afterward and added it to my collection. I should go to more free concerts.
Finally (d’oh!), and this hasn’t happened yet, I’m going to see Sleater-Kinney at The Masonic tonight! It’s been almost two years since I discovered them (holy crap, really?) and they were easily my band of 2015. I was lucky to snag a front row balcony seat a few days before they played in San Francisco last year, and this time I got a similar seat the moment tickets went on sale. I’ve wrapped their music around my thoughts of San Francisco, so integral they’ve been to my life here. I’m beyond excited to see them again, especially for a one-off night like tonight rather than a tour. Should be an awesome time!
There was a decent collection of new music that came out this year, though somehow I added barely over 400 songs to my library during this time. Of bands I’d already been a big fan of, two put out releases I felt compelled to write about (Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails). Of the new music I discovered, there are two in particular that made my musical year great, the latter of which was my soundtrack for the past six months and will probably be for the foreseeable future
The first, thanks to Saturday Night Live, is Courtney Barnett, an Australian indie singer/songwriter. She released her debut album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit last year, but not being big on the new artist scene, I missed it. When she performed on SNL in May, I immediately downloaded that album. It is so good, and quickly became my soundtrack for the summer. I walked down to the beach to it, sat in the yard reading to it, enjoying the warmth (while it lasted) and soaking up her sound.
I love her lyrics, her phrasing, her choice of topics, her accent, the instrumentals, all of it. It hits me in a spot I didn’t realize needed hitting until it was. My favorite song of hers, “Elevator Operator”, features a cameo from none other than Sleater-Kinney in the opening scene of its music video. It was also on President Obama’s summer playlist for 2016. Good choice, Mr. President!
Speaking of presidents, 2016 was the year I got into Hamilton, and I have to give it a lot of credit for helping me through the latter half of the year.
The smash Broadway hit that’s sold out forever was never really on my radar, even as it slowly began to permeate my pop culture bubble. It took until February for me to hear my first songs from the show, the hook from “You’ll Be Back” and the first verses of “My Shot”, albeit sung a Capella by Ben Schwartz and Scott Aukerman in the Comedy Bang Bang Solo Bolo Trolo Olympic Song Challenge. (*inhales*) Here it is set to music by the incredible Michael Hartigan; the songs begin around 2:20.
It took until the end of June, and another podcast reference, this time an episode of Spontaneanation, for me to finally cave and give the album a shot. Long story short, it dug hooks into my brain and has been rooted there for months. I wake up with songs stuck in my head almost every day. I sing them in the shower. I own two books about the musical — the Hamiltome, and the available piano sheet music. I know far more of the lyrics than I thought possible.
I will probably never be able to see the show live, so I, uh, “found” a video recording of the original cast performing it on Broadway. The choreography is stunning and moving , the acting is superb, and the costumes and set are gorgeous — that turntable floor is mesmerizing. Knowing the music beforehand adds to the show rather than taking away. After listening to the full 46 song album over and over, I know I enjoyed it much more deeply than I would have without having done so. Indeed, there are even a few unexpected extras in the show that aren’t on the record.
The music is outstanding. I don’t even know where to begin. I’ve spent hours pouring through the lyrics on Genius, reading annotation after annotation illuminating both the references to rap and hip-hop culture, and the numerous historical facts and speculation built into the songs. Each track is a work of art; every single line has meaning, either to an external influence, or to another part of the show, be it a callback or foreshadowing. As with the lyrics, the music references numerous outside inspirations, as well as continuing established leitmotifs and themes within the context of the play. No single piece of music has elicited such a strong, sustained emotional reaction from me — it’s so powerful I can barely bring myself to listen to certain pieces.
The cast is so freakin’ talented it’s hard to not get lost inside this masterpiece. I feel that there aren’t a lot of things in this world that live up to the hype around them; Hamilton is absolutely one of them. I may not have discovered that much new music in 2016, but, as I mentioned before, I’m satisfied with this.
Did you see that? I made a Hamilton reference. I swear there’s a Hamilton lyric for every situation.
2016 in Media
I consumed so much good media this year. We’re still living in the Golden Age of Television, and while 2016 continued a great many terrific shows, it had some impressive debuts as well. I got rapt up in the drama of American Crime Story, the grungy sci-fi darkness of The Expanse, and, of course, the intriguing mysteries of Westworld.
No, I didn’t watch Stranger Things.
I had a chance to catch up on some shows I’d been meaning to watch. One of these was a necessity after having been featured on one of my all-time favorite podcast episodes. I speak, naturally, about Orphan Black. It’s a terrific show that’s best left unspoiled, but I can say that Tatiana Maslany is a tour de force throughout and she was overdue for the Emmy she finally won this year.
Speaking of Emmys, I also watched the entirety of Veep through the fall. I must say, it too is more than deserving of all of the Emmys it wins. It just sucks we have to wait a bit longer for our first female POTUS.
On a lighter note, have you seen BoJack Horseman? It’s an animated show on Netflix with Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Aaron Paul, and omnipresent podcast hero Paul F. Tompkins, who I’ve brought up so many times already in this post. I started watching it a few weeks ago. About it I will say only this: while the cast and plot are funny on their own, the best part about the show in my opinion are the myriad sight gags that appear throughout scenes, transitions and interstitials. Think of the great Simpsons sight gags, like “Sneed’s Feed & Seed (Formely Chucks)” but in almost every single scene. It’s a show that demands complete attention, and giving it thus pays off tremendously. I’m working through the most recent season now and eagerly await the next in 2017, as well as the return of all of the shows I mentioned above and more.
I would have liked to read more books this year. The book series that The Expanse is based on is on my list, though I don’t own them yet. I did finish Carrie Brownstein’s memoir “Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl” and flew through Sara Bareilles’s series of essays “Sounds Like Me,” which I’d bought together late last year. I might have to blame the weather. Last year I’d done a bit of reading on the beach in the summer — as noted, the midsummer in western San Francisco was a bust in 2016.
I don’t typically see a lot of movies in theaters. This year I saw four: Independence Day: Resurgence, which was bad; Star Trek Beyond, which was good; Arrival, which was phenomenal, and Rogue One, which was back to good. About other 2016 releases I’ve heard good things. There was even one week in the middle of December, I think, when every top box office film on Rotten Tomatoes was rated fresh — that’s pretty extraordinary.
2016 in Gaming
I spent a lot of time playing awesome video games this year. Maybe too much, to be honest, but I’ve also been starving for escape given the mental toll this year has taken on me.
I played basically four games this year. The most time was devoted to Rocket League, which at this point might be the game I’ve played most in my life. I have about 800 hours recorded on Steam, which is insane, since I only started playing at the end of August last year. The game is that addictive. Just about every game is different, and the skill ceiling is absurdly high. In the competitive scene, this year I achieved a promotion to the third tier of ranks, the blue star level, which has been a long time coming, but just seeing how good people above me are is humbling. Rocket League is a great way to satiate my desire for fun combined with the fulfillment of successful teamwork, and has been a bit too effective in satisfying my social needs outside of my career. Maybe next year I’ll fizzle out on Rocket League, but I haven’t yet.
In a weekend in July, I bought, beat, and went back to 100% the new DOOM. It was that much fun. Continuing the DOOM legacy is a tough one, given the historical importance of the original viral first-person shooter, both in the video game world, and my own life. I was playing DOOM before I could do long division. The plan to revive the franchise in 2016 was met initially with skepticism, but they did it. DOOM is a hell of a good time. The graphics are fantastic, though my computer couldn’t quite perform once you leave Mars. The devastated world of the Mars base is so fleshed out that it stuck in my mind for a long time. Something about the mechanical feel and the futuristic aesthetic inspired me to understand more about my own engineering field. The gameplay is incredible, fast-paced and challenging. All of the classic demons return reimagined, with a more expansive, customizable weapon set to take them down. I haven’t played since I ran through it, mostly because of my computer struggles, but when I upgrade my components, hopefully next year, I’ll be sure to give it another go.
At the end of August, a long awaited project was released by the team behind Myst. Obduction is set in a lonely world full of mystery and puzzles, much in the spirit of the original Cyan creation. The environments of Obduction are absolutely stunning, and they ran extremely smoothly on my machine, enhancing my immersion. The puzzles themselves weren’t the most challenging, and I beat the game in a few days, but I did find incredible satisfaction in solving the puzzles on my own. I played Myst when I was little so my analytical brain wasn’t ready to tackle that level of difficulty; having grown up just a bit, I can see why I had no trouble with Obduction. But that’s beside the point — even though I found the game easy, just the experience of being in that world was incredible.
Finally, and in the same vein, for Christmas I bought one of the consensus best games of the year after reading about it in a recent review of Obduction. Another puzzle game, I’m talking about The Witness. Like Myst, it’s set on a lonely island in which you know nothing but are faced with an increasingly complex series of line puzzles. Exploring the world of The Witness is magical. The mechanics of the puzzles are either taught by a sequence of simple variations, or they’re absorbed from local clues. You don’t need to know anything going in; all of the information you need is provided for you — you just need to be observant. The goal of the game is never made clear, so it’s entirely up to the user to add their own importance to their mission. And like Obduction, it’s incredibly beautiful, although stylized in a rough 3D manner, almost like Team Fortress 2. It’s tough to write about The Witness without taking away from a potential reader’s enjoyment of their own discovery, so I’ll end with just a little teaser. I reached the end of the game about three days after I started, but I didn’t complete it. No, there’s a massive difference between beating the game and finishing the game. I’ll be returning to The Witness over and over as long as circles and lines dance in my head.
2016 in Work
My once amazing professional life took a dive in 2016 as my company imploded. However, there was still some good that did in fact happen. I got to jet around the western United States for a few months early on. I spent a few days in Southern California in early February to visit a substation control building manufacturer in the Inland Empire.
At the end of March and beginning of April I was flying back and forth to Cedar City, Utah almost weekly to attend project meetings and review the construction progress on three of my substations. The last time I was there I even decided to fly into Las Vegas instead, opting to drive up I-15 through northwestern Arizona. I was in California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah each for two days in a row, which might be some kind of personal record.
I also spent a week onsite in Pueblo, Colorado to do a final commissioning walk-down of a 120 MW substation. It was a lonely experience on the edge of the mountains, even with people around the project — a week might be too long for me to be away from home in such a relatively remote location.
In February I decided to work my way into a business trip to Mississippi. I’d never been to the southeastern United States before, and Jackson is nearly the very heart of the deep south. It was an experience. The weather was temperate, like a northern spring but a few months early. The terrain was forested, hilly, and green. It wasn’t so different from home, I thought, especially since rural Western New York is agrarian and not particularly populated. The people I met with were all quite nice. We had a business lunch at a buffet featuring lots of fried food, chicken and fish, along with tooth-rotting sweet tea. Folks around were dressed in camouflage, wearing trucker hats, sporting mustaches; mainly white dudes. It was almost a cliché how southern they were. My coworker was the only Asian guy in sight; I wondered if he was the only Asian guy some of these people had ever seen… There was a slight bit of tension, though it could have been imagined. I felt like my Californian winter tan may have turned some heads. Nevertheless, I enjoyed a brief bit of southern comfort.
With some downtime, I took the rental car up I-20 to Vicksburg to see the Mississippi River and set foot in Louisiana. That was a different experience entirely — the swamps and bayous of the edge of the river are insane. The causeway for the bridge across the river starts miles away, rising over a flat, boggy expanse thick with rising trees. A “town” made of nothing more than trailers sits nestled near the edge there: Delta, Louisiana. I drove through to find a spot to see the river, which I couldn’t do. It felt like an episode of True Detective. I didn’t linger. I don’t understand how people can live in such a dreary place, and I try not to think about it at length.
In the middle of July, I was lucky enough to spend a few days in Toronto. It felt nice to be so close to home in the summer, for the first time in years. I’d forgotten how humid it gets, and it turns out I’d arrived in the middle of a heat wave. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to sightsee while in Canada, but I did get to see my parents who came up from Buffalo for dinner one night. Very sweet 🙂
Early in 2016, I finally got up the nerve to ask my boss for a raise. Considering my field and experience level, I’m a bit underpaid. He was receptive and I anxiously awaited a new salary at the start of Q2. Well, the bankruptcy put a stop to that, and by that time said boss had already left the company. Thankfully, my new boss (my previous grand-boss) had put in a word for me with the project teams, and I received a handful of close-out bonuses as my projects finally went operational and were sold. I was able to afford a trip to India, a PE study course, and something I’ll talk about at length below. Thank goodness for small favors.
Of course, the capstone of my professional career was my pursuit of a Professional Engineer license. It began as an idea for a blue chip goal for 2016, but I still lacked confidence in myself enough to think it nothing more than a good placeholder. Once the date of my two anniversary at work came and went, my quest transformed from a pipe dream to more of an inevitability. I’ve written about the process in detail already, so I’ll spare repetition, but I must put this here to remind myself of my greatest achievement in 2016. It had been a difficult November from a psychological perspective, and this was the big win that I needed.
2016 in Sports
I went to two San Jose Sharks games this year: the first being my traditional Sabres vs. Sharks matchup, which the Sabres always win, and they did again of course; the second being my first NHL playoff game ever, Game One of the second round against Nashville, which was a spontaneous idea with one of my former coworkers. The Sharks made it to the Stanley Cup Final this year for the first time in their history, which was an incredible, unexpected run. To keep things positive, it looks like they’re finishing 2016 at the top of the Pacific division. Not bad at all.
In other NHL news, the Columbus Blue Jackets are one of the best teams in the league right now. I’ve been pulling for the Jackets for awhile, just waiting their inevitable breakthrough to finally come. Well, the first half of the 2016-17 season has certainly put them in a decent position for potential greatness.
The Golden State Warriors won 73 games this past season! That’s an NBA record! They are the greatest team of all time. Surely, they have a championship ring to show for it, right? (Yes, but it’s from 2015. Does that count? No? Sigh… I hope you’re enjoying yourselves, Cleveland.)
The Chicago Cubs won the World Series. How crazy! The 108-year long drought is over. The Curse of the Billy Goat is no more! I don’t care about baseball but I had to pay attention to this run, both because they began by knocking off the San Francisco Giants, and because it was so very improbable in the face of that century-long albatross around the team’s very existence. Game Seven was the night of the Cleese and Idle show; before the show and during the intermission I spied folks in the crowd watching the game on their phones. During the second half, Eric and John would occasionally give updates on the score. It was weird, but I guess they knew we had to know. Again, I don’t care about baseball, and even I had to know.
Slightly less notable, the Seattle Sounders won the MLS Cup! I’ve been to two Sounders games ever, both against San Jose in San Jose (and both 1-0 wins by the home team), and I couldn’t care less about the Earthquakes. There’s just something that draws me to Seattle’s sports teams. Of the Cascadia Cup teams, the Sounders are definitely my favorite team, followed by the Portland Timbers (last year’s MLS Cup champions), with the Vancouver Whitecaps finishing the trio. I bet it’s sacrilege to even like all three of those teams, but I don’t care, I have a Cascadia flag hanging in my apartment. Viva Cascadia!
2016 in Serendipity
Let me tell you a story: One day I was feeling down. It was early November, so there’s no real secret as to why. I decided to take a walk to nowhere in particular, and I ended up at the meandering foot/bike path alongside the Great Highway by Ocean Beach, directly west of my apartment. I sat down on a bench, unmoving and silent for what felt like hours. I think I was listening to music, though I cannot remember which artist(s) it was. Sitting soon turned into people watching as the repetition of the Pacific’s waves and the horizon failed to hold my attention.
It was then that I saw a few cyclists whiz by and something inside me clicked — I needed to buy a bike. It was the answer to The Fitness Question that I’ve been grappling with since last year, when I ran my ankles and knees into borderline failure. An intense, but low contact, aerobic sport, that also acts as a mode of transportation, a potential commute option, and a thrill. I bought a bike that weekend.
Also, I didn’t know how to ride a bike. It would be easy, I thought. At Sports Basement in the Mission, I took my chosen velocipede to the parking garage to test ride. I couldn’t figure out how to get it moving for five minutes. I bumped into a car. I almost rode into the wall. It took twenty minutes before I figured out how to steer. This was … harder than I was expecting. The next day, I brought my new bike down to the same path as that fateful walk and gave it a go. I fell every time I stopped. Ten minutes later, my legs were burning. I was out of shape, but making progress at a notably swift pace. I managed to make it all the way up to Golden Gate Park and back. The next day, I did it again, cutting fifteen minutes off my previous pace. Later that week I decided to go all the way from home to across the Golden Gate Bridge and back — this was foolish, and though I did make it across and back, I stopped very frequently, walked my bike up some hills, and struggled with a mass of oblivious tourists on the bridge itself.
Today, I zip around the west side of San Francisco, thinking less about how to use the bike and more about how much my legs still burn, but again, I’m making progress. The point of it all is, I think I might have found a healthy hobby that sticks. I really enjoy riding, beating my previous route times, and watching my paces increase along with my mileage. And all of this comes from some buried thought that surfaced at the right time. Also, I’m really glad I didn’t do that mountain biking leg in Peru after all — I would have fallen off a cliff.
(Aside: I also got into yoga in 2016. I’ve found it difficult to stay on schedule with it, but I really enjoy it when I do it.)
2016 in Social Life
This has been my first full calendar year living in San Francisco, and I’m quickly approaching my two year anniversary of moving here. I love it so much, for all of the things I mentioned above, but also because of my friends here. My social life has always been a tricky thing to navigate, with changing jobs and moving staggered throughout my five years in California. I don’t go out every weekend — I don’t the energy or will to do that, so the times I get to spend with friends scattered throughout the year are always occasions I look forward to. There have been numerous parties, hangouts, get-togethers, sporting events, shows, and holidays to bring me closer to others throughout 2016, and I’m grateful for everyone in my life. I’m hoping to have so much more of this next year.
2016 in Global Love Story
Leaving the best for last. I can’t believe I have the privilege of writing this section. My girlfriend and I celebrated our one year anniversary this year, which also happens to be the first one I’ve ever had. The fact that she lives across the planet makes this even more incredible. Even with the distance, I can’t picture my life without her in it, and I’m looking forward to our future together someday.
In 2016, we did our best to make it happen. Our adventure in Peru was just the beginning, as it concluded at the very end of 2015. Throughout the first half of the year, we continually discussed how we were going to meet again. I was thinking about Europe, maybe Switzerland and Austria, or perhaps Sweden? How about Iceland while the northern lights are still visible?
It took a few months, but we settled on Japan. It wasn’t my idea — and it was a brilliant one. I didn’t need much effort to be convinced. In early May, I flew across the sea and landed in the future. We met in Tokyo. We rode the Shinkansen down to Kyoto. It rained. We walked among torii. We stood beneath a five-story pagoda. We ventured into the shade of a bamboo forest. We ate udon and dumplings.
I drove on the left for the first time. We went all the way down the Kii peninsula to Nachi Falls, a place I had my heart set on visiting the first time I saw the temple and the waterfall in a photo. It was raining and foggy, but the fog cleared enough for me to snap the photo I’d come for. We made it back to Kyoto to catch our train, but it was the wrong train. When we finally got to Otsuki, the train was gone and the station was closing. We slept under cover of a bus stop while the rain poured around us.
We arrived at Mt. Fuji the next morning, after the train station opened again, bleary eyed. We had a traditional Japanese hotel room. There were blankets on the floor mats. There was a short table and a big window looking over the lake. We did nothing that day other than having a big lunch of curry and naan, being confused at Japanese television, and soaking in our first appearance of Fuji from the hotel fire escape.
We walked around Lake Kawaguchi to catch Fuji while the water was still calm. We took in the pink flowers of the Shibazakura festival. We walked up a series of stairs to the Chureito pagoda. We ate a lunch of udon at a home restaurant where nobody spoke English. We rode the cable car up to the top of Mt. Kachi Kachi and hiked to the Shinto shrine at the local summit.
We stumbled back to Tokyo via train, hungry and tired, and temporary unhappiness ensued. In the city, we walked from our hotel to the Imperial Palace. We took the train to Akihabara and the famed electronics street. We almost made it to Tokyo SkyTree on foot but it was farther than it looked. We watched the sunset from the second-tallest building in the world. Crowded streets, the pagodas at Asakusa, an oasis of a park and shopping in Shinjuku filled our last day in Tokyo. We gazed at the city skyline from a patio at Haneda. Our last moments together were at a boarding gate, as is tradition. It was a wonderful, magical, sometimes stressful, sometimes difficult experience and I wouldn’t trade any of those moments for anything else.
But that’s not it. In August, I did my best to find a way to visit her in India. India is challenging, for a variety of reasons, but we made it happen again, again. I’m still planning to write about my experience in India at a later date, so I’ll forgo the details here. It was one of the most unique adventures I’ve ever been on, and again I’m extremely fortunate, this time to have had my travel companion by my side during the entire saga.
Finally, finally, for Thanksgiving, after weeks of my begging, she made her way back here, on a crazy city-hopping half-business half-vacation trip. I flew up to New England to visit my family for the holiday; I met her in Boston, and we spent the next few days all of us together, playing games, eating, drinking, and generally having a time. Everything is better when she’s around.
We met up in San Francisco after I made it home and we spent our last few days together in 2016 around the city. We ice skated in Union Square, went on a date night at Exploratorium After Dark, and later we hiked the tallest hill in the city. We spent our last morning on a sunny Hawk Hill, during one of the most beautiful days I’ve ever seen.
She’s been an inspiration, a pillar of support, a teammate, and a companion. Of all of the good that happened to me in 2016, and apparently it’s quite a lot, she was the easily best part. ❤
Here’s to more good in 2017.