Hermosa Beach, Summer 2004

I recently found an old journal documenting the beginnings of an epic summer of fun in Hermosa Beach, CA more than 10 years ago. I’ll copy it for now and then try to fill in the blanks as best I can. The basis of our trip – myself, my brother Tyler and Dave Russ – was to spend a summer accomplishing nothing. Our original plan was to work and save enough money so that when we got to Hermosa from New Jersey, we could spend the summer doing anything but working. Here’s how it began…

Hermosa Part 2

The summer kickoff was Tyler’s 21st birthday. We all went to the Sun Tavern in Fanwood to celebrate. By the end of the night, Tyler and his buddy Matt were arse over elbow into the bushes outside the bar. Off to a good start.


On the walk home, Tyler, Matt and another friend, Lucas, rampaged sleepy Fanwood with a fully exposed streaking episode. They successfully generated NINE phone calls to the police. The nudists mercifully made it home without being detained. Tyler’s friends visiting from New Hampshire – Andi and Matt Dolan – did not. Drunk, lost and disorderly in someone’s backyard, they were given a cop cruiser ride back to 154 Herbert.


Upon arriving at the homestead, me, my sister Caroline and Tyler’s friend Gary had to wake up the Mother unit for some “please don’t arrest these clowns” conversations. When one of the friendly local cops mentioned reports of streaking, the sideways look I received made it VERY difficult to keep a straight face. For obvious reasons but also due to the fact that Tyler and the Nude Crew were hiding in the backyard bushes snickering the whole time.


The next night at midnight, 4 of us hit the road – myself, Tyler, Dave and Matt Dolan. We were given use of my parents’ 1995 GMC Suburban. The perfect vehicle for a 3,000 mile road trip with 4 surfboards on the roof. A generous gift. We had about 20 hours to our first planned stop at my Aunt Bonnie’s place in Conway, Arkansas. But we didn’t get there quite to plan.

Hermosa Part 1

Somewhere in Tennessee, the Suburban started bucking in bumper to bumper traffic. To our elation, there was an exit just up ahead and a truck repair station right off the highway. The gentleman running the place was a little squirrelly but happy to help. Hooking up a scanner, he learned the throttle position sensor was out of whack. Incredibly, a GM dealer 10 miles up the road had the part and our new friend agreed to make the fix if we could be back in 2 hours. Foot to the floor, we said a collective prayer for the ‘burban.


The old beast made it there and back without much bucking, new part in hand. It was then that we noticed the beer cans in our savior’s hand and the engine sitting on the floor. He happily explained that was the motor he blew up earlier in the day “fixing” it. Hmmm. With no other options we pressed on. The guy got our new part in but wanted to check his work. This involved stuffing his hand in the engine bay and revving the hell out of it. If you’ve never driven a Suburban, they’re not exactly rev-happy machines. Satisfied with this abuse, he prepped for a road test as final engineering sign off.


I hopped in the passenger seat, armpits sweating, as he wheeled us to a narrow, hilly side road. At 100 mph, I casually suggested we wouldn’t be hitting these speeds. What with the 4 surfboards on the roof and all. He chuckled and quipped about hoping the brakes had enough lining since the end of the road comes up quickly. We did get back to the shop in 1 piece and apparently we only paid $22.00 for this service. I also paid with 22 years off my life but we were on our way.


For Part 1 of this tale, click here 

On the ground in Budapest with no idea where to go or how to speak the language, I have a shockingly distinct recollection of our first decision – find a bar. While wandering, we saw an ATM and realized money might come in handy too. On my PNC ATM today, I can choose at LEAST 10 different languages to display my options. This Hungarian version, back then, came only its native tongue. Kevin, displaying our vast collective intelligence, noted that the lower left hand option was $20 at home so that should work. Super. Off to the bar, cash in hand. Winning even. It wasn’t until a day or so later that we realized the tip we left was roughly $100 USD for 2 beers a piece. Winning indeed.

Here are my initial notes from our first few days –

  • “This first week was awesome”
  • “Everything is really cheap”
  • “The cars are really tiny”
  • “A beer only costs a dollar or two (290-420 Forints)”

A window into the mind of a genius.

That first week or so, we stayed at Hotel Griff Junior which I’m pretty sure was more of a hostel. Back then, Trip Advisor wasn’t on our radar but judging by today’s 11 different ratings of Terrible, my memory isn’t completely shot. In my notes, I see we shared a room with a “guy from South Korea who seems to think we’re nuts.” Fair assessment.

We also had our first experience of real, actual culture, something I can comfortably say most of us had not yet been a part of. One of the radical city castles was hosting an international wine tasting. Buy your tickets at the door and taste away! Given our newly discovered economic advantage, we may have gone a bit overboard on the ticket buys. I don’t recall how badly we stuck out in the crowd of wine connoisseurs but I do recall guzzling wine, by the bottle, at the end of the night; perched on the castle walls. We may have been speaking loudly at this point as well. Maybe.

By the end of the week, we had secured an apartment for a whopping $80 USD/month. Phinney, myself and 5 other UNH Rhodes Scholars were set to share a 3 bed, 1 “bath” arrangement. Bath is in quotes for the following reasons –

  1. The shower did not have a curtain.
  2. There was no shower head. Only a wand. Hanging from a limp hose. With no method for attaching it to the wall.
  3. The hot water was created by a tiny boiler mounted on the shower wall. Turn the hot knob. Watch the pilot light explode in fury. Scald the SH*T out of yourself for 5 seconds. Shiver in misery for 30 seconds. Try to rinse. Consider a repeat. And God help you should you clip the exposed pilot light with errant water.

A favorite memory of mine from this bathroom was the ever escalating game of “Throw Stuff At The Poor Slob In The Shower”. I believe it started with a snowball and ended with slices of bologna and squirts of mustard. More memories are being released as I type. Stay tuned for Part 3.

Life Instructions?

Life InstructionsI had a hilarious conversation with my brother, Tyler, the other day about glossing over details. He’s moving into a new place and was relaying to me the lease process. There’s always those nitty gritty details – who cuts the grass, who pays for sewage, where should I dispose of my beard husks.  Once it’s all wrapped up, the question posed to Tyler “Do you have any questions?” is then met with a blank look and something like “Uhh, nope, looks good to me!” Now, bear in mind, Tyler HATES to read so there is no way in HELL he gave this paperwork even a cursory look.


I suddenly realized I do the exact same thing, which I shared with Tyler. I thought perhaps it was some sort of genetic defect but he corrected me.  We are genetically defective but he traced the birth of this trait back to our childhood video gaming days.  Our parents forbade TV of any sort, video games included, during the week (I may have that wrong but it sounds right). So playing video games as a child is what stuffing my face with a double cheeseburger and chocolate porter is today as a large child – HEAVEN.


Whenever we got a new video game, there were of course instructions on how to play. Tyler and I would hold them up in the air, look at each other, shrug our shoulders and FLING them across the room.  “Just press all the buttons!” was our mantra.  This method of throwing the instructions away and winging it has mysteriously followed us throughout life.  For example:


When spending a summer in Hermosa Beach, CA, Tyler and I signed a 1 year lease even though we were only going to be there for 3 months. Did we read the fine print. Nope. Did the dump we lived in being the size of my left foot matter? Nope. Did it all work out? YES. We spent the summer there in a haze of Pabst and then subletted the joint to a local weirdo we’d crossed paths with.


When I went to Budapest to study abroad in college, I arrived in Hungary with no paperwork to guide me.  And guess what.  Neither did my partner in Moron Affairs, Kevin Phinney.  We had just flown to the Eastern Bloc, disembarked like a couple of boobs and were utterly clueless as to how to proceed.  Did we speak the language.  Not even close. Did we have cell phones back then.  Uh uh. Did we somehow make it our destination, albeit with a bar stop?  Oh yeah!


One day, I suddenly had a wonderful daughter.  While her car seat came with instructions written by the CEO of NASA, she in fact, did not. To make matters worse, my wife, Sarah, and I were lulled into a sense of “this is pretty easy” during our 3 days in the hospital after her birth.  The nurses were so NICE.  They come in and check on you.  If you’re overwhelmed, they’ll just HANDLE it. Then it’s time to leave.  And you have to strap in your suddenly VERY dependent infant into her space shuttle captain’s chair and GO HOME.  Oh. Sh*t. How to manual? Yeah right. Clues on what to do? Few to none. Did we make it? You know it! We even had 2 more 18 months later!!  If that doesn’t prove you don’t need instructions on life, what does?


Where does this innate feeling of knowing it’s all going to work out come from? It must have come from our parents.  I’d say they imbued us with the kind of confidence required to handle situations such as these.  More than likely, they hoped it would serve us in important life decision ways – like having kids of our own. I doubt they connected the dots of this madness when we hopped in the old Suburban and drove 3,000 miles with 4 surfboards on the roof and NO plan.  But hey, it worked just the same!  I think the parentals get a point on their scoreboard for this one – maybe two.

photo credit: Navy Blue Stripes via photopin cc

A Semester Abroad in Budapest: Part 1

I started this post about road trips because of the epic trips I’ve been fortunate to be a part both here in the States and abroad, including Budapest. But I quickly wrote 2 articles worth of content and realized the need to spread the love. Here we have Part 1 of oh, 13 or so just on Budapest.

This little project came about when I stumbled upon a photo album from my “studies” in Budapest during college. Though the album is only 13 years old, it’s pre-social media and insta-everything so the images are scans of real, actual printed images. #Weird. Another reason for writing this is my discovery of several notepages from this trip stuffed in the front. Finally, there’s the trove of photos that left me in stitches of laughter. Here goes.

How does one end up in Budapest? By studying abroad there in college. When the possibility of going overseas as a junior coed arose, the first available location was Australia. Done, thought I. Surf my face off, wrangle reptiles like Crocodile Dundee and drink lots of Fosters because that’s what Aussies do. Not so fast. Going to this remotest of locales meant effectively losing a semester’s worth of credit as I would be unable to take classes for my major — mechanical engineering. My parents, understandably, scoffed – loudly.

Turned out the only option for maintaining a graduation schedule was Budapest. My school maintained a partner program with a university there so if you were in engineering and wanted to go across the pond, Eastern Europe was it. I believe my initial reaction was like that of a balloon deflating. BUDAPEST? SOUNDS. TERRIBLE. I could not have been more wrong.

After speaking with some friends who were thinking about going, we got together after our flute lessons, poured some Merlot and discussed the merits of immersing ourselves in a new culture. Oh wait, nope, we got wasted and screamed about how AWESOME IT WOULD BE TO GET HAMMERED IN BUDAPEST!! I sometimes thank a god that social-media-photographic-proof of everything did not exist back then. In the Stone Ages. Or 2001.

I was fortunate to fly with my good friend, Kevin Phinney. Our respective parents issued a final declaration before boarding – “Do your best to avoid sticking out over there.” As we would learn upon arrival, flip flops and shorts are about as far from blending in as possible. Not learning a single word of the foreign language turned out to be a poor decision as well. Looking back through my notes, it’s bizarre seeing that we flew on September 3, 2001; right before everything changed.

On the voyage over, we learned that this international flight involved unlimited booze. So we abstained and read A Tale of Two Cities instead. Once on the ground in ‘Pest, I asked Phinney where we were going. He shrugged his shoulders and said “I thought you brought all that crap.” I did not. What I’m saying is that neither of us brought a scrap of paperwork, directions, information or otherwise details of what we were doing there or where we were going. Off to a great start. See you in Part 2.

Kids Win Every Time

This conversation, noted by my wife Sarah, pretty much sums up the ability of kids to be so outrageously persistent that your mind ends up in knots as you attempt to “win” the conversation.  Trust me, you never will.

  • Sarah:  Peanut, please don’t ask me to watch Dora again.
  • Milan:  Momma, want to watch Dora PLEASE.
  • Sarah:  Milan, since you asked me to watch Dora again after I asked you not to, it means that you won’t be able to watch it.
  • Milan:  Momma, you need to say sorry.  Momma, don’t tell me no.
  • Sarah:  Milan, I’m not going to apologize for asking you not to do something.
  • Milan:  Momma, you have to be nice to us kids.  We can’t be mean to the kids.  Momma you can’t say no because that’s mean.
  • Sarah:  OK Milan.  But you need to listen to mommy when I tell you no.
  • Milan:  Momma, you need to say sorry to me.

From Sarah to me: How is it that she wins all of the time?  She’s 2!!!!

Persistent Peanut

Persistent Peanut

Answer: When she puts on a snow suit that’s 12 months too small and butterfly wings on a 70 degree day while walking around licking a spoon, it’s pretty tough to keep a straight face and say no.

The Boogeyman

The other day, I was talking with my sister Caroline and we ended up on the subject of sprinting up the stairs.  Why would anyone sprint up the stairs?  From sheer terror of course.  Terror of the BOOGEY MAN.  As we laughed at ourselves for the individual quirks on this topic, I realized there a few versions of the Boogey Man that required sharing.


We’ll start at the top with the Fred also known as Dad, Richie, Poop A Doop and other words that are NSFW.  He didn’t share this story with us children until we were adults (which we’re not really) so we find it hilarious – now.


GremlinThe house he grew up in was, I’m going to say a Cape Cod?  The attic had been renovated into living quarters for, I want to say his parents?  To get up there required a steep climb ending at a landing with a window right in front of you.  Now I’ve never heard him say anything about sprinting up stairs from Boogey Man terror but when you hear his tale, you might wonder.


I’m going to flat out make some of this up because, ask anyone, I have a terrible memory.  But climbing those stairs as a small Richard, he would swear to seeing a tiny gremlin – outside the window – looking at him.  I don’t believe the gremlin ever came inside or chased Richie around – just looked at him.  But I’m getting creeped out just thinking about it.  I don’t see a crazed, gooey, monstrous goblin.  More of a small, weird, green thing with an unsettling smirk.  Whoa.


Caroline didn’t give me a specific Boogey Man or gremlin from her memory.  But we both share the deep seated need to race up the basement stairs with complete disregard for life or limb.  I’m not talking about taking 2 at a time or hustling.  This is flat out, terrorized BOLTING.  Heart POUNDING, get the EFF out of my way NOW.  Which ends with looking over your shoulder, verifying no one SAW what just happened.  And then laughing at how completely absurd it is to be over 30 years of age and running around like a maniac with a chainsaw is after you.


Now, in fairness to Caroline and myself, this ludicrous act has subsided some over the years.  And frankly, it’s not as common in our respective homes – today.  The same cannot be said, however, for ye olde homestead in unassuming, happy Fanwood, NJ – site of The Basement.  This is where we grew up.  Where we lived in fear of GOING INTO THE BASEMENT.  It is here that we both learned the art of going up 17 stairs in 0.3 seconds.


You see, this wasn’t any old basement.  THIS basement contained an old closet with a DOOR.  And this closet was in the far, back CORNER.  What little light there was in this terrifying space shone NOT in this corner. When you OPENED the door, there was an old, defunct TOILET.  Ok, ok, I may be overdoing it a HAIR but when you hear what else resided in this old bathroomy closet, you’ll be on my side.  A POSTER OF WALT WHITMAN!


Walt WhitmanNow, I can’t find the exact poster online but it was a profile of the MAD MAN you see here plus a poem running down it.  Just look at this guy!  He’s got Appalachian Cannibal written over his face. Which, based on my extensive research is not too far off the mark.  He is credited with some prose containing the words, and I quote “our very flesh shall be a great poem” – CANNIBAL!  Imagine, being around 6 years of age, opening a creaky old door and discovering this mug looking down at you.  SCARY. AS. SHIT.


Ok, I’ve caught my breath and am no longer writing this from inside a closet.  It’s now clear where this primal urge to bat-out-of-hell it up the steps originated.  Because Walt Whitman.  So what about the real, actual Boogeyman?  My vague memory of this scary fellow involved a guy with some kind of cloak rising out of a vacuum cleaner – which thanks to The Google is not so hard to find.  Because when you search The Boogeyman, one of the options is a movie from the 80’s.  Sounds about right.  Until you click on it and realize it’s some gruesome, supernatural fright fest.  Pretty sure we didn’t watch that at the age of 6.


A little more digging yielded this GEM – Mr. Boogedy.  I found some lengthy clips from this DISNEY film but the one below is far more entertaining.  I didn’t see anyone coming out of a vacuum cleaner but the absurd BOOGEDY! BOOGEDY! that everyone is saying rings a strong bell.  And I think the weirdo with a green force field is my vacuum guy memory.

Moral of the story?  It’s Walt Whitman and a gremlin that are at fault, not The Boogeyman.

photo credit: Inti via photopin cc

The Druss Road Trip Day 6 – Scottsdale, AZ to Encinitas, CA

Ah, the last leg of the trip, the culmination, the end as it were.  A mercifully short leg of driving at 6 hours or so, we were of course thrilled to land on the West Coast.  On the way, we had some more laughs, especially when it came to the Border Patrol check points.  This day’s travels marked the fourth stop we experienced during the trip.  Here is how they went, in order, with the first being a couple days earlier.

  • Stern dudes with alert canine friend.  Stern dude A asks Dave his citizenship.  As we both agreed later, the answer was unclear.  Is it American?  Or United States?  Dave threw out United States and passed the test.  Turning his hard glare on me in the passenger seat and saying nothing, I stated “Same.”  WRONG answer. “Citizenship?” the man repeated, more sternly.  Stuttering, I spit out “United States” and whimpered.  Again saying nothing, he waved us on.  WHOA.
  • This check point was more laid back.  The 2 agents were visibly goofing around and laughing when we pulled up.
    • “Just the two of you clowns in there?”
    • “Yup”
    • “Have a good one”
  • This was easily our favorite.  With the real agents apparently on lunch break, there was a portly man with a crossing guard vest leaning against the security shack.  With a bored look and chin full of drool, he simply waved every car through, no questions asked. We felt much safer after this check point.
  • The last one of the day, as we got in California was a combination of 1 and 2.  Stern but not angry.  Though they had the mirrors to look beneath cars, just like in James Bond.  Neato..

With only a few hours left, we floored it through desert dunes, windy mountains and fields of produce. Dave also tuned in to the 90’s Hip Hop station on Pandora.  This was epic not only for the tracks being played but for how we must have appeared with the windows down, deliriously belting out lyrics.  We got to Tyler’s place about 4:30, just in time for him to wrap up work and go surfing.  The waves were fun and the ocean felt AMAZING.

For dinner, we met up with Dan and Kim at the Priority Public House in Leucadia.   The following was consumed:

  • Peanut Butter Milk Stout by Belching Beaver – best beer of all time
  • Rogue Dead Guy Ale
  • Omission Lager
  • Green Flash 30th Street Pale Ale
  • Scotch
    • How many of each of these liquids were gulped is unclear
  • Specialty Fries – parmesan, garlic and gorgonzola
  • Sliders Sampler – pulled pork, short rib and spicy sausage
  • PPH Burger – stuffed with jalepenos and chipotles, topped with cheese and house made pickles
  • Blackened Shrimp Po Boy
  • Pulled Pork
  • Mac n Cheese with Crab
  • Mac n Cheese with Bacon
  • And I’m missing something else here.

Also important is noting how awesome the people working there are. From the host to the waitress to the guy bringing out drinks, super friendly bunch.  You should go there.

Dave found a convenient short term place to stay via AirBnb and I shared a bed with Tyler.  The next morning, Tyler claimed his tummy was upset but wasn’t sure why.  I regaled his roommates with the above list – they laughed.  I also suggested they not enter his room for at least 3 days while it was aerated.

Tyler and I did some work on the following day, Friday, while Dave checked out a place to live, scraped bugs off the Audi and got some errands done.  We met for coffee and food and generally marveled, as usual, at the incredible atmosphere and lifestyle of SoCal.  That afternoon, all 3 of us went surfing.  The waves were AWESOME, and we were all fried by the end of the day.  I flew out the following morning and Dave is lining up a place to live.  Overall, a ROCKIN’ trip and with lots of fun had by all.  Wish Dave luck on his new beginnings, I know he’s gonna kill it!