Adventures in Mendocino + Mormon Country

Over Thanksgiving I experienced the pure majesty of having six paid days off for a total of 10 calendar days away from the office, a.k.a. my kitchen table. The fruit stand that I work for shuts down for the full week of Thanksgiving, and we were gifted Monday 11/30 off as a thank you from our team’s leadership. Last year for the holidays I was a contractor, so actually getting paid time off was a really big deal.

Since I’d been holed up in my 400 square foot San Francisco apartment since March, I decided to book some travel. A much needed and long overdue trip up the California coast to see one of my ride-or-die homies in Mendocino, and a flight out to Utah to visit my aunt for Thanksgiving. Certainly some huge risks I was taking, but I weighed it, and decided that I needed to just bite the bullet and see my people. Plus I did a solo Thanksgiving the year I’d just gotten back from my Eurotrip, and it was the pits. My pets and I ended up eating a lot of turkey.

HemiTime

The Mendocino trip was definitely a #TreatYoSelf situation. Since I sold my car this time last year, I had to book a rental for the drive up. Normally I’d just book whatever the cheapest car was, which would typically end up being a Kia Soulpatch or a Nissan Versa, which is essentially a roller skate with a steering wheel. But this time I scrolled down a bit and found myself lingering over the Dodge Challenger. Since it always says “or similar,” you never really know what you’re going to get when you get to the lot, but sure as shit, when I walked onto the Mission Enterprise lot, I saw two gleaming Challengers sitting right next to each other just waiting. A few years back I toyed with actually buying a Challenger (my brother bought me an SRT Hellcat hoodie for Christmas that year), so this was a bit of a dream coming to life.

The agent walked up, checked me in, and asked if I would like to rent the V6, or the V8 R/T Hemi for my roadtrip. Is that even a question? While I was waiting, another agent asked if I’d been helped yet. I told him “Yeah I’m waiting on the Challenger.” He asked which one. “The Hemi,” I replied casually. He paused, looked me up a down for a split second, and shrugged “Ok” as in “I see you.” Just hearing the throaty monster fire up with the push start was pure happiness.

After not having driven a car since my last rental six months ago, I was pretty nervous driving off the lot. Especially on the roads surrounding Enterprise, which strongly resemble an M.C. Escher drawing.

I briefly thought, Crap, this might be too much car for me. But that was a fleeting thought. This land yacht was disgustingly powerful — and perfect. Opening her up on the highway, listening to the gears shifting, changing lanes, it was intoxicating. I’d been warned by folks before about the Challenger’s blind spots and hot damn, were they right. But as my brother joked when I told him about the adventure, “I guess there’s no need to check blind spots when you’re doing 140 miles per hour.”

I was responsible, but I did have some fun driving on 128, the 70 mile long stretch of two-lane highway that carries you from 101 out to the coast. It was a breathtaking drive, you pass grapevines and vineyards, farms, cute country storefronts, then you pass through cool, dark, spooky redwood forests, and finally get spit out onto Highway 1 hugging the twisty coastal cliffs. I took about as many pictures of the car as I did of the trip itself, natch.

That first night I got in to the AirBnB, my friend came over and we drank some wine, smoked a spliff, solved the world’s problems, and soaked in the hot tub to this view.

The next day, we loaded up in my friend’s truck and set out for adventures. First stop was a little Mendocino headland hike and a visit to the tide pools and scenic cliffs. Stella was wound up, so getting her to stop and pose for a picture was damn impossible.

You get the gist.
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Eurotrip: Barcelona & Athens

Last month I had the extreme privilege of attending an international user experience (UX) research trip with my team. The locations were Barcelona, Spain and Athens, Greece. Some from our team also attended a third leg of the trip in Casablanca, Morocco, but I wisely planned on only two countries for this trip.

As I wrote this on a plane over the Adriatic Sea from Athens to London, I was completely exhausted after averaging 3-5 hours of sleep per night, was braindead after days of intense focus, observations, note-taking and discussions, and I missed my bed and animals. The experiences of traveling abroad are beyond compare, but the idea of returning to the comfort of home is intoxicating.

So what is UX Research?

Many companies in virtually every vertical do market research. User research is a little different, so here’s my informal definition.

tech research, user research, UX research, UXR, in person research

Tech companies that design products like apps and websites should not design and build them in a vacuum. They should be making decisions around a number of factors, two of which include data (logging how people actually use the product and drawing conclusions from that data) and user experience research (UXR), which just means talking to regular non-techy people about how they use our app. UXR encompasses a vast arsenal of techniques such as focus groups, on-the-street intercepts, in-home interviews, lab studies, usability testing, A/B testing and much more. The general goals are to understand how people perceive and use our products, and to get feedback on what they like, dislike, would change about our concepts, and how their ideal products would look and function.

So we did this work! For two days each in both Barcelona and Athens. We worked hard and gained a ton of useful insights.

Now for the Fun Stuff

I should be upfront that this was (gasp!) my first trip to Europe, so a lot of things I observed may seem run-of-the-mill to seasoned travelers, but I found them interesting, hopefully you will too. The following is a collection of my thoughts, observations and experiences from the trip.

British Airways Wants You Good and Drunk

plane flying, british airways plane, british airways, drunk on british airways Continue reading

Welcome Home to Seattle

I recently moved to Silicon Valley to work at Facebook which has been an incredible experience. One of the perks of my job is that I’ll get to travel all over the world on user research trips. I also support a team located at Facebook’s Seattle office, which I visited two weeks ago.

nostalgist, seattle

My face when I’m judging bearded douchebaggery on Instagram. Credit: Jennifer Hanson

Seattle has been on my travel bucket list ever since I first obsessively listened to Nirvana’s “Nevermind” in my room as a kid. I should also mention that I’ve been dressing like this for the better part of ten years, so it really did feel like, as one bartender put it, “Welcome home.”

(To make it even more meta, I’m wearing a Nostalgist shirt, which is an amazing Seattle-based noir shoegaze band).

In a nutshell, the trip was dope. I got to reconnect with an old roller derby teammate and met a bunch of cool people while I was out and about. According to several sources, making friends in Seattle is not a terribly easy thing to do; the struggle is so common it’s been dubbed the “Seattle Freeze.” My only explanation for this is that over the past few years, I’ve discovered that I’m at my best when I travel alone. I’m more interesting, I’m funnier and apparently better looking. There’s also a little bit of magic in knowing that you may never see the people you meet again. Who cares?  Continue reading

I Smoked Weed in an Uber

Yesterday I had plans to meet a friend for drinks at a German joint called Der Biergarten in downtown Atlanta. Not wanting to deal with downtown parking or driving after a few steinfuls, I booked an Uber to pick me up from my house in Cabbagetown. Immediately after hitting “Request UberX” the driver calls me.

“Hi! This is Jared, your Uber driver. How are you?”
“I’m good, and you?”
“I’m great. So how are you?”
Pause. “I’m fine,” I say hesitantly, having not the slightest clue what is happening.
“I wanted to ask if it’s OK if I have a friend riding with me.” No explanation as to why.
“Yeah that’s fine,” I reply. My first thought was that he’s simply giving his friend a ride somewhere and is doing double duty. My other thought was that it’s probably just two dudes riding around like we used to do when we were in high school and the only things to do were drive around, or hang out in the Walmart parking lot or in the woods. I found out immediately that it was the latter. Continue reading

An Open Letter of Hate to the Woman in 12A

Dear Woman Sitting Behind Me in 12A on This Flight to Vegas,

For the last two and a half hours I’ve been suppressing a distinct and snowballing hatred for you. You insist on squawking at full volume on and on about all the mundane things that come to your mind. Dismal proof of your repressed suburban life. Mindless chatter that sets those subjected to it back decades of intellectual years when heard at normal volume, but at your chosen decibel level, it’s simply unbearable.

And of course, you have a Southern accent which makes your inane yammering sound, if at all possible, more vapid.

As if that was not enough, after one and a half Shock Tops you’ve taken to laughing at everything you say. Your favorite topic has been how ridiculously hot it is on this plane. When the flight attended asked you if you wanted anything you requested air conditioning and then threatened to “strip down to your skivvies.” I got a good look at you when you went to use the lavatory, and seeing you in your skivvies would be an event so unholy, I would sell my own mother into white slavery to keep your clothes on. Continue reading

Knoxville: Sorostitutes, Daydrinking, and Bone Luging

pollen sad faceSpring is my favorite season in Atlanta. Just when you start to forget what leaves look like and you’re about to lose all hope, the dogwoods begin to bloom. You can put on chapstick and rest assured that after walking three feet, your lips will be yellow and gritty with pollen. The best part about spring, however, is that on April 1 the PTO days at work reset.

UT Knoxville logo, university of tennessee logoAfter a whirlwind trip home to Florida for a wedding and setting a new personal binge drinking record, I came back to ATL for the week only to head to Knoxville the next weekend. When I think “vacation” the state of Tennessee doesn’t usually pop into my head, but a good friend of mine who’s a UT alum wanted to show us around her old stomping grounds. I’d never been, so I figured what the hell?

After working all day and then driving three and a half hours through torrential downpour and multiple tornado warnings, we arrived in Knoxville. Our destination for the night was Cumberland Ave, “The Strip” of college bars located within walking distance of student housing. After stopping into Half Barrel for a Mickey’s and a shot, we walked over to the oasis of Docksiders, filth and regret known as Tin Roof. Continue reading

Charm City Trip: Murals, Records, and the Sexiest Chicken ‘n’ Waffles Ever

Last week I took a trip out to Baltimore to see some family for Christmas. I flew out Christmas morning and had the pleasure of enjoying the soothing sounds of a screaming baby for the first 30 minutes. And we all know how much I love children.

A Little History

I was born in Baltimore at St. Agnes hospital. It was around the time of Independence Day and my mom told me that she could see fireworks over the Inner Harbor from her hospital window.

Baltimore's Inner Harbor

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor

My parents moved us down to Florida when I was three months old, but I would fly up to visit my grandparents in Baltimore every summer starting at age nine. Continue reading

Adventures in Mormon Country

A few months back I took a trip out to Salt Lake City to visit my aunt and uncle.

Salt lake city utah, SLC

Much to my surprise I did not burst into flames after stepping off the plane. Continue reading

The Joys of Moving

It’s that time of the year, folks: Moving Season. I have a question, why the fuck does everyone wait until it is 106 degrees outside with humidity to rival the Amazon to move? Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about that in Atlanta.

Atlanta heat wave, Hotlanta, atlanta weather map

Oh, wait.

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Book Review: “The Sex Lives of Cannibals”

I recently finished reading a great book called “The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift In the Equatorial Pacific” by J. Maarten Troost.

sex lives of cannibals book cover, sex lives of cannibals, j. maarten troost

This book, which is sort of a travelogue-meets-memoir about a guy who travels to “the end of the world” with his girlfriend and lives there for two years, had me laughing out loud every time I picked it up. Continue reading