More Sights and Sounds from Chi-Town

Last week’s trip certainly wasn’t my first visit to Chicago. I’ve blogged about past Chi-town based adventures including my first-ever couchsurfing experiences, The Passion event, and coverage of the 2007 Peak Antifreeze Indy 300 (actual coverage of the race can be found on DomesticFuel.com).

This time, the U.S. Africa Agribusiness Forum brought me to Chicago for Novus International sponsored coverage on AgWired.com. You know, the event that reaffirmed my inspiration for the “Dollar-a-Day” Charity initiative. (Nope, haven’t forgotten about that!) The Novus crew that I worked with was great. Very welcoming and easy-going. The best kind of people to work with! Jeremy, one of the Novus clients, and I sprung for a “cheeseborger” at the infamous Billy Goat Tavern. The “Gotham city” tavern and the curse of the Cubs was a frequent theme and popular skit for a while on Saturday Night Live. The burger joint dates back to 1945 and is located underneath the viaducts on Michigan Ave near Navy Pier. Our visit came complete with “cheeseborgers” and little, paper souvenir hats.

Anyway, after work I jumped right back into Chicago’s urban playground. As luck would have it, the Taste of Chicago was just kicking off as I got into town. Restaurants throughout Chicago set up booths in Grant Park and offer single-serving sized portions from their menus for a specific amount of tickets. Twelve tickets could be bought for eight bucks. The ticket system meant things were a bit pricey, but hey, when else can you skip around trying dishes from a slew of restaurants?

I managed to track down some couchsurfers who planned a cs outing to the Taste of Chicago the very Saturday I was going to check it out myself, so I had a band of “instant friends” to share the festival with. I enjoyed a wide array of cuisine including African plantains, Indian something or other, gelato, ravioli… and even shark! Shark was an absolute new one for me. Not bad. Tastes like fish, but more dense. Not quite as dense as chicken though. Continue reading “More Sights and Sounds from Chi-Town”

Team Ethanol Wins!!!

Of course, Ryan has to win at a race I’m NOT covering. ; ) Nonetheless, it’s safe to say we’re all esactic about the win… EPIC, Zimmcomm and me!

Ryan Hunter-Reay recorded his first victory in 16 career IndyCar Series races as the Rahal Letterman Racing driver maneuvered the No. 17 Ethanol car around the 3.37-mile, 11-turn course to win the Camping World Grand Prix at The Glen.

Hunter-Reay overtook Darren Manning in the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. car for A.J. Foyt Racing in Turn 1 on a Lap 51 restart and hung on the remaining nine laps. Tony Kanaan finished third and Buddy Rice was fourth. Marco Andretti finished fifth. Dale Coyne Racing’s Bruno Junqueira was sixth and Mario Moraes seventh — IndyCar Series bests for both drivers.

“It’s a dream come true,” Hunter-Reay said. “American kid winning with ethanol on the side of the car. It’s an American team – Bobby Rahal gave me the job and now we’re in Victory Circle. I can’t tell you how happy I am. This is amazing.”

It was the first victory for Rahal Letterman Racing since Michigan in 2004 with Rice.

“I just got a good run on Darren, stuffed it down in there, and said I’ll deal with it when it happens,” Hunter-Reay said. “Then I got to the top of the hill, Darren popped to the outside so I stuck to the inside and we held on to it from there.”

IndyCar Series points leader Scott Dixon, who was seeking a series-record fourth consecutive victories at The Glen, finished 11th. His No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car spun in Turn 10 as he was warming up the tires under yellow on Lap 49 and was struck in the rear by the No. 6 Team Penske car of pole sitter Ryan Briscoe. Briscoe, who led a field-high 37 laps, finished 12th.

Dixon still widened his points lead from 43 to 48. Helio Castroneves, who started from the rear of the field after not recording a time in qualifications because of a steering issue, finished 16th and has 322 points.

Sunrise Over the Grand Canyon

In 2006, my fairytale adventures truly took off. After spending 3 utterly enchanting months living and working in Italy, I came back to the U.S. But, the enchantment followed me home. My uncle Keith invited me to join him on his yearly retreat to Garland’s Lodge in Oak Creek Canyon, AZ. The rustic lodge with extravagant, home-cooked, five-course dinners was our base for exploring the nearby Red Rock State Park in Sedona, AZ.

But, before becoming deliciously fed and fattened at the lodge, of course Keith and I had to make a detour to see one of the most famous American wonders: the Grand Canyon. There is nothing that will prepare you for what you will encounter. After being on the road for hours, we finally entered the national park. But, all I could see was acre upon acre of pined forests. ‘Where is this so-called “Grand Canyon”?’ I wondered. And then, the Earth suddenly opens up before you, as if it’s been split by the hand of God. You stare into its depths with speechless wonder, glimpsing over 230 million years of creation through a chasm that took about 6 million years to form.

Keith and I woke up before the sun every morning so we could catch the sunrise over the Grand Canyon on camera. But, the first two mornings, misty cloud cover kept the colors of the morning awakening subdued. Pretty, but not spectacular. On our final morning, I rolled out of bed as the stars still shined overhead with the hope that this would be the morning for the photograph. As the sun broke over the the canyon though, I was largely disappointed. It wasn’t misty fog that veiled the sky that morning, but a thick wall of clouds. It seemed none of the days first rays would manage to reach the jagged peaks, crags and crevices of the dark, shadowy canyon.

Yet, just as I was turning away to give up, the sun pierced through a gap in the dark cloud barrier with insurmountable determination and flooded the canyon with one of the most spectacular sunrises I had yet to witness. I would venture to say its even one of the most most spectacular sunrises over the Grand Canyon… ever. But maybe that’s just my pride for this picture talking.

Quest to Cycle…

…I have some periods of free time coming up and I’m planning to use that time to visit people across the state of MO and beyond. And, I’ve decided to head out on bike to do it.

Someone asked me why. Here’s why:

to do something I love: traveling…
while doing something I love: exercising…
all while doing something I love: being out in nature
while doing yet another thing I love: new things that lead me to new places

Cruisin Indy Style

Check out this vid of me cruising around in a street legal two-seater IndyCar. Just one of the many perks of covering the Indy Racing League!

I do have to warn everybody now… I’ve got in my head to become an IndyCar driver now. So, I’m going to be making a habit hitting up the local go-kart joints. That along with my Muay Thai boxing training of course!

Anyways, here’s the vid:

Also, check out this awesome shot of Scott Dixon I managed to get after he won the 92nd Indy 500:

If you’re interested, check out my coverage of the race at domesticfuel.com. Just do a search for my name and all my posts should come up.

Learn the Head Fake and Live Your Dreams…

One of my roommates during college just posted this video on my profile in Facebook… It’s a video that EVERYONE should watch. It’s long, but worth every minute. It’s priceless… and it made me tear up.

Randy Pausch Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams

Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch, who is dying from pancreatic cancer, gave his last lecture at the university Sept. 18, 2007, before a packed McConomy Auditorium. In his moving talk, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” Pausch talked about his lessons learned and gave advice to students on how to achieve their own career and personal goals. For more, visit www.cmu.edu/randyslecture.

“Journeys” are special University Lectures in which Carnegie Mellon faculty members share their reflections on their journeys — the everyday actions, decisions, challenges and joys that make a life.

Some quotes I pulled from it with the hopes to get you to sit down and actually watch it – BECAUSE YOU SHOULD:

“I’m dying… and I’m having fun.”

“Wait long enough and people will surprise and impress you.”

“Never lose the child-like wonder.”

“Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.”

“If your kids want to paint their bedroom, as a favor to me, let them do it.”

“Brick walls are there to let us show our dedication.”

“Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.”

Passion in Chicago

The Passion event is touring the U.S. and will soon be appearing at venues across the world. I can say first had the event is time well spent! It’s a weekend of delving into your relationship with God while listening to great music from the likes of Chris Tomlin and Watermark and Matt Redman and others.
Louie Giglio gives one empowering speech after the next and John Piper delivers a though-provoking message as well, calling the youth to rise up and make their stand against the decaying morality of current pop culture. On a complete whim I met up with Audra in Chicago. She flew. I drove and picked her up at the airport. We crashed with my couchsurfing confident Dustin and simply had a wonderful weekend catching up (it’s been a year since we met in Greece!). I’m simply amazed at how knowledgeable Audra is in her faith. She’s without a doubt one of my Christian role models. In that short amount of time, I felt God working with me immensely and I’m so grateful Audra came to share that with me!

Heatin Up in Hotlanta!

Okay. It’s finally time to get caught up on Atlanta… especially since plans are in the works to rendezvous in Asia with one of the incredibly adventurous guys I met while in what’s affectionately known as “Hotlanta.”

I traveled to Atlanta to cover an EPIC E85 pump promotion for race week. The Petit Le Mans was scheduled for the upcoming weekend and this year the American Le Mans Series introduced E10 as an authorized fuel for the league. The pump promotion was great. I met two absolutely down-to-earth ALMS drivers, Peter Dumbreck, one of drivers of the Petersen Motorpsorts/White Lighting Racing’s #31 Ferrari F430 GT, and Tom Milner, one of the drivers of the Rahal-Letterman #18 Bell Micro Porsche. Peter actually races all over the world. He’s from Scotland, but lives in London. I spent much of the afternoon chatting with him about racing, growing up on a small farm in Scotland and just about travel in general. He’s totally sweet and fun to talk to. Tom is just as affable (seriously that’s the word that popped into my head. I’m such a geek!). He’s only 21 and he get to race a supped up Porche at break-neck speeds all over the U.S. Um, yeah. That’s one 21-year-old who’s got it going on! I had a blast kicking it with both these guys for the day! Oh yea, I also managed to snag a couple free tickets to the race (since this time my work with EPIC didn’t need actual race coverage). I was so excited. Especially since Peter’s Ferrari was at the pump promotion, growling and roaring. Up until then I had only seen cars flash by on a circular track. This was an open road race with cars much like the high-end sports cars you can find in the consumer market. My work done… it was then time to play! Tom offered to drive to where I needed to go… how nice was that!

That evening I met up with Arman, the guy I would be couchsurfing with for my remaining five days in Hotlanta. Arman is just awesome. He had just gotten back from a 2-week backpacking trip in the Italian Alps (in fact, he owes me some pics!). Arman is a well-accomplished lawyer with a sweet pad in Candler Park. Although there is no university in the area, Candler Park has a college town feel to it with lots of parks and green space and eclectic cafes and boutiques. Not to mention it’s right next door to downtown Atlanta. Arman lives with his dog Hoya and his cat Dewberry (crazy cat btw!). By the end of five days all of them felt like long time roomies. Hoya would even sleep in my room at the foot of my bed. He’s such a sweet old dog!

That night I went out with Arman and his friend (I’m kicking myself for not remembering her name right now). Anyways we went to a local dive, had a few beers, chowed on some fried pickles and lit up the dartboard. Well, they did. I’m not much of a darts expert. Right from the start, I felt comfortable with Arman. He’s so easy-going and laidback. I found myself wanting to just be around him because he has a knack for making you feel calm. The girl he brought along was great. Super sweet.

I had plans for the next day to meet up with another couchsurfer and go explore downtown. Ben and I met at the Flying Biscuit, which is famed for it’s breakfast and rightly so! It was a delicious start to what would become one awesome day. Right away I knew Ben was of a different breed, my breed. He filled me in on his plans to head to Asia and just hop around, rock climbing and traveling and checking it out. He’s there now. I threw up a post about him earlier. You really should check out his blog detailing his adventures. Anyways, after a yummy morning meal, Ben and I headed downtown with no real plan at first. Somehow, we ended up at small retail art museum hidden in a small street nook. We had read the museum had photos from National Geographic photogs on display, and thanks to Ben’s GPS, we somehow found the place. There were some incredible photos on display. It was not your typical stop, but a treasure nonetheless! Next we headed to Centennial Olympic Park, the once hotbed for Olympic games and events. After milling around a little bit, we decided to head to the CNN World Headquarters building located on the park grounds. Yeah, it’s every bit of impressive. We forked over about $20 bucks for the tour which gave us an inside look at the production and broadcast of CNN programs. We got to listen in to the Control Room, look in on the newsroom, and watch CNN live in action. I also got to show off my broadcast skills at the mock CNN desk they had set up with a cam and prompter. We were with an older tour group, so there wasn’t much of a fight for who would get to try out the anchor’s chair. But, wait. It seems like she’s done this before… after I pretty much nailed it the group erupted in applause. That’s when I owned up to “technically” being a professional… though I’m young, and the “broadcasts” I do are far from traditional and far from anything my broadcast professors would have thought I would have gotten paid to do, even just a couple of years ago. I was expecting Ted Turner to walk down and offer me a job… kidding! The other cool highlight about that tour is getting to ride the longest and tallest free-standing escalator in the world. Pretty cool!

After that, Ben and I made our way to a rock climbing gym. It was Ben’s turn to show-off this time. He’s been climbing since his first trip hosted by a teacher in the second grade. For every one run up the wall I completed, Ben completed two. His routes were much more technically advanced than mine as well. Basically, he’s a stud on the wall. It was so great to be back at it. It had been more than a year since I had climbed. The time we spent at Atlanta Rocks definitely left me thirsty for re-engaging the sport.

Then, it was back to Arman’s to clean up and eat some leftovers. Arman came home and we made plans to meet him out near Piedmont park. Ben and I were headed get an early start in that direction in order to catch the last free improv comedy show for the summer, of course, with a bottle of wine and 6-pack of beer in tow. The whole picnic-in-the-park-with-comedy experience with Ben was a blast. The weather was perfect. The setting was perfect. I really enjoyed Ben’s company.

After improv in the park wound down, Ben and I headed to a local bar/club where Arman met up with us. All three of us had a few drinks and just kicked, chatting about anything and everything under the sun, including an incredibly involved and remarkable story of the kidnapping of Arman’s brother. It was way crazy. The entire day was just random, crazy fun with two absolutely awesome guys.

I spent most of the next day being lazy with Ben, catching some rest after some days jam-packed with tons of fun. We also hit up Trader Joe’s for some yummy eats like chicken sausage and hummus. That evening I just kicked it with Arman, watching the ol tube and getting some down time.

The day after that I played catch up with work and spent most of the day at Arman’s hanging out with Hoya and Dewberry. Then, that evening I met up with an old Israeli soccer buddy from Mizzou who now lives just north of Atlanta. Yevgeni took me to this absolutely exquisite Persian restaurant who’s food that is indescribably savory. It’s actually north of Atlanta in Sandy Springs, but well worth the small commute. Rumi’s Kitchen is a must when dining in Atlanta.

More work catch up the next day until another evening dining out. This time it was with one of my most recent roommates Ashley. She moved to Atlanta with her fiance just after she graduated in May. They both have excellent jobs in the Buckhead area and they just bought a beautiful house in a rather affluent neighborhood. The best part is what I like to call the “Japanese jungle vines” crawling throughout the backyard. Ashley and Josiah took Ben and I out for an excellent dinner at… Rumi’s Kitchen. Trust me on this one… I WAS NOT COMPLAINING! The food there is excellent. My stomach is growling as I write this… Mmmmmm. After dinner we bar hopped a couple of places throughout the Atlanta area and met up with some of Ben’s friends before returning to Ashley and Josiah’s to crash. It was so great catching up with Ash and Jo. I was excited to see how well things were going for them. They are also getting a new cat that can apparently jump 7 ft. I’m going to have to come back and see that one for myself!

On Saturday, it was off to the races! Yevgeni joined me on the trek to the Petit Le Mans – a 24 hour race at Road Atlanta. Good thing it was 24 hours, because Yevgeni and I got a late start, then got totally lost in the exact opposite direction (my fault). It was crazy to see four different classes of cars racing on an open road, zipping around curves and flying over hills. After snapping some pics (didn’t have much time b/c the sun was going down and the light was getting bad), I went to see if I could track down Peter or Tom. I didn’t find either of them. Unfortunately, Peter crashed earlier in the day and his car was out of the race. Tom, on the other hand was busy securing 3rd place despite the three flats his team had to come back from. I did spot Chris though. Chris was is a mechanic for Peter’s team who was also at the pump promotion earlier that week. He let Yevgeni and I step in and get a close look at Peter’s busted car.

Later that evening Yevgeni and I met Chris, Peter and a ton of other guys with that crew out at this western club stuck in the middle of nowhere up North. The guys were a blast to hang out with… Chris and I lit it up on the dance floor. Just being crazy. I’m glad we got to kick it with them.

Finally, Sunday, it was time for me to go home. I didn’t want to… why would you? I was having one crazy awesome time after the next. But, all good things must come to an end. It really felt like Arman and I had become roomies… it almost felt strange leaving. I’m so grateful for his hospitality!

Petit Le Mans 2007