Health insurance and miracles

Today was one of those days when I realize that growing up poor also means growing up in a different world than the people I know now. Growing up poor means not knowing how insurance works. And today, I was shocked when a doctor’s visit and medicine were reasonably priced for no apparent reason other than a magical new card meaning something somewhere to someone.

Recently there’s been a barrage of bad days at work. So today, was naturally the day my body gave up. I woke up with inflamed gooey eyes and a sore throat. I’m falling apart. Period cramps, cuts on my feet, and a headache, it all piled on me this morning.

The sniffles with the stress and “boom,” go visit a doctor because that’s what you get to do when you have a job that allows for sick days and health insurance.

Actually, that’s nice. It’s a shiny bright spot in an otherwise gloomy day.

Then I think about it and I get pissed off. The conjunctivitis is a severe allergic reaction, but I never had health insurance growing up. One kid got sick and all the kids got the same prescription—there’s one doctor in three towns. And you hope to god he keeps up on medicine and takes care of his patients. Maybe he was a good doctor. I don’t know. I only remember going to the doctor once in my childhood, and then I didn’t make it to the doctor. The physician’s assistant saw me since the doctor was in a different town that day. (And yes, my brother who had the same cold took the same prescription as me.)

I feel lucky I have a stable job with a steady paycheck that allows me to pay my bills (the whole mountain of them) and health insurance, and sick days, because I haven’t had it. However a part of me resents it.

Why do I get that? Why doesn’t everyone? What have I done that makes me special enough to get help paying for medicine? Shouldn’t every job allow for paid sick days? Shouldn’t everyone be able to visit a doctor and afford the visit?

It’s such a relief to be in a position where I don’t have to worry about whether or not I can actually afford to go to the doctor when I need to go to the doctor. And yet that same privilege vexes me.

It’s exactly that actually—that American society thinks of health as a privilege, not a right.

Somehow I have to be “good” enough to have a good job that allows me time off to be sick. And, I’m left to wonder how I was lucky enough to land a job that will let me text in late to take a day off because I woke up feeling icky. I didn’t do anything special, and I wasn’t born as anyone special.

I realize the Affordable Healthcare Act is on it’s way to helping everyone get basic healthcare. But I’m starting to think that’s not enough. And we’re still debating this country’s deplorably low minimum wage. It’s not a debate. Minimum wage is far too low. No one who works a full-time job in this country should be living in poverty, yet millions are.

The realization that just one year ago a day like today would have derailed my budget, set me back a month, and most likely added to my debt, pisses me off. There has to be a better way. I don’t have to deal with that now because I’m one of the lucky ones with those “good jobs” that are in such short supply. So now I can think about how much the system punishes the poor for being poor while I drink coffee and shop for a house.

As an addendum, I have a great job–I love it. I’m usually pretty excited to see what new challenges await me at the office. Today was an illustration of problems within a larger system, not at work.

Second addendum, no photos today as conjunctivitis is disgusting and there’s not really anything else visual to go along with this rant. Sorry. Maybe you’ll get a coffee photo next time. 

Take it away

It’s that time again! Travel planning time! This is possibly one of my favorite feelings in the world. The moment when it’s decided to hit the road and explore new realms. Zed and I have (mostly) decided to travel briefly for our one year since we met anniversary.

It’s a travel-bration!

Now that it’s decided we are going somewhere, we need to start planning! First is the budget question. The answer is pretty simple: CHEAP. This means we’re looking at staying with friends, driving versus flying and not too far from home.

Bear Lake, Utah found via Nutrifect.

1. Bear Lake, UT and ID

One thing is for sure, wherever we go we will be near a body of water that is not too salty for life. Zed is sailor-y; and I like drinking on beaches. So…yes.

The perks: Bear Lake is close, an easy drive away from SLC. We could probably stay at a cabin for relatively cheaply. We get to be all old-school with campfires, without the camping part. It’s about the cheapest trip possible. Back of the envelope math suggests we could do this trip for just a couple hundred bucks for both of us.

The downside: It is close! It’s still Utah-ish. (We will totally sneak to the Idaho side for some lottery, beer drinking time.) While Bear Lake would be a new and different experience for me, it’s close enough it doesn’t feel like much of a trip.

San Francisco’s Oakland Bay Bridge. Image found via Top Travel Lists.

2. San Francisco, CA

The coldest summer city in the US sounds like a delightful foodie trip. I love the idea of hanging out in Ghiradelli Square, checking out Alcatraz and seeing Golden Gate bridge for real. For some reason, I really want to hang out in a hotel room drinking wine and watching Hitchcock as well. Plus the city hosts a concert series in the park.

The perks: Another city to cross of the US tour list! It’s a fun new destination for both of us.

The downside: It’s expensive. Proto-budgeting clocks this visit in at about $500 a person before we land. Yikes!

Voodoo Donuts found via Tumblr.

3. Somewhere in the Northwest: Portland, OR or (near-ish) Seattle, WA

Both Zed and I hold a special place in our hearts for the Northwest. Although his reasons have more to do with sailing, and mine have more to do with beer. Whatevs.

The cost for both destinations is roughly the same regardless of flight, drive or hotel. Weirdly. Umm…honestly the only real reason for going to Portland is “Portlandia.” I’ve never been there, but I hear that Voodoo Donut shop is pretty BAMF. Plus I could totally indulge my desire to be a hippy without feeling judged!

Seattle is awesome! It would be awesome catch up with a few bad ass people we know out that way. There are boats, coffee on every corner and more beer! Yay! We could even do a micro-brewery tour. This is sounding more and more like the happy middle compromise trip. Actually.

Perks: The Northwest is always lovely and mostly affordable.

Downside: Not so sure we need another trips to Seattle.

The French Quarter in New Orleans

The French Quarter in New Orleans

4. New Orleans, LA

I am dying to get back to the Crescent City. I love it. I don’t care if we will sweat to death in the stupid swamp. I want to go back. There is a trip scheduled! Why not Nola?

Perks: New Orleans is lovely, beautiful, fun and not too expensive. Since I’ve abused this blog with my love of all things Nola too many times, I’m just going to leave it at that.

Downside: A visit here is comparable to San Francisco in terms of cost. Zed has been less than enthusiastic when presented with this option. He seems convinced we will be the victims of some terrible crime. Gah, this is what I get for making him watch “Treme.”

Nashville skyline at sunset found via Visit Music City.

5. Nashville, TN

It’s possible TV is responsible for most of these options. Are you watching “Nashville” yet? Hmm? You should be. It is awesome! I want to go to the Bluebird Cafe, hang out by the river and eat grits while listening to a local band play under Christmas lights drinking whiskey and lemonade.

Perks: A never been for both of us. TV has me convinced it will be amazing.

Downside: I can’t think of any except perhaps cost, which once again is comparable to New Orleans and San Francisco.

So there you have it. Five possible destinations. What do you think, readers? Where would you go for a celebration vacation?

Falling in love with Nola

PS Click the gallery to embiggen and see fancy photo-ness. Not really, these are pre-pro camera days. 

Around this time last year, I had a glorious time in Nola.

I spent a day hanging out with a couple of boys from Pittsburgh. We went from bar to restaurant to shop to bar meeting locals and chatting about everything except the NCAA March Madness playoffs that were happening.

Most of the time, it felt like we were the only non-Kentucky fans in the city, especially in the French Quarter. It’s a bit strange to stand out in a crowd because you’re wearing any color except blue. Not surprisingly I opted for summer dresses most days.

We met up for mufaletta at a local shop, then we tried out some hurricanes. Next we made our way to a shop selling alligator and beer. Another hurricane and we wandered through the quarter trying our best to leave the party known as Bourbon Street behind us.

It didn’t take much for us to go off the beaten path and find our way to street kids playing songs for money. We were intrigued by the grubby young adults about our same age who had clearly made a life decision to play guitar and sing for a living in the Crescent City. We watched them for a time trying to work out how they got there and whether they or us, the employed, had made a better life choice.

Eventually the questions felt too deep and real. Their wailing brought out the inner-philosopher far too much on this wild night.

We left the singers to their songs. We ventured to the edges of the “safe” neighborhoods and hung around in bars filled with musicians. Our accents giving us away as tourists right off. We drank a few beers and danced to a few songs trying to fit the rhythm of this wonderful city. A bucket passed through the crowd of swaying, sweaty bodies as the band played on. An old woman shouted and cursed kissing and dancing the donors as dollars dropped in to fill the bucket past its brim.

No one wanted the night to end.

We whirled and danced and swayed. Until finally the band called it a night from under the stage lights. We moved on to the next bar and the next song until finally there were no more musicians. Even the bar tenders were starting to wane.

Somehow we managed to find an empty taxi. It felt like the only one that wasn’t already carting off drunken bodies elsewhere. We hurtled through the last of the black night until finally I was at my home for the night deeply in love with a new city.

—————————–

The next morning I couldn’t wait to be out the door for coffee and beignets. It was a street car ride away to Cafe deMonde, but I didn’t mind the slow going. The damp morning felt like a hopeful promise of another day to explore the port city.

At the cafe I had my first taste of black chicory coffee or cafe au lait, it was not at all what I expected and not much to my liking. The beignets however were light, flaky and sugary–the best donut ever. I ordered a second cup of coffee, regular and another beignet. Then I made my way slowly along the promenade following the Mississippi River. The river runs deep, wide and slow. Watching the world wake up that morning, I was struck by just how powerful a force the river is.

Once the day had firmly started with barges moving along briskly and the neighboring Avery Island clearly up and about, I made my inside the mall to a cooking class. It was a simple demonstration of etouffe, gumbo, bananas foster and pralines . The chef was knowledgeable and kind, a delightful teacher who did a great job on selling the group of 10 or so women on nearly every product in the shop. The foods were wonderful. Even now when I eat Cajun or Creole, I think back to this lesson and meal as the benchmark for good.

I’ve since tried my hand at the dishes presented, but sadly without equally wonderful results. A bit of practice, the right tools and better ingredients would make a world of difference. (Do you know how hard it is to get fresh prawns in SLC without paying an absurd amount of money? Ugh.)

Next I slowly wound my way away from the commercialism of the mall onto other tourist quarters like the French Market and Jackson Square. I took my time moving slowly in no hurry for the day to get away from me. Outside a voodoo shop, I bought a ticket for a tour. It was still an hour until go time, so I made my way back through the small streets to another cafe for another coffee and beignet.

The walking tour proceeded along through the French Quarter and along the edge fo Treme. (I was overly excited by the mere mention of HBO’s New Orleans based show and dropped my coffee in happy surprise.) We went through a cemetery where Nicolas Cage bought a plot and built a pyramid for mysterious Cage-y reasons. It stands out as an odd duck in the city’s first cemetery. After seeing it, I can sympathize with the locals who are tired of celebrities buying up bits of the land around them.

Next we moved onto Preservation Hall, it was a nice little museum with displays mostly centered around the music of the city. Then it was time to visit a church and a grotto. I found the church a little less than impressive, but the grotto was intriguing.

Moss covered rocks with crevices stuffed full of rosaries and statues. My knowledge of Catholicism is nil, so I have no idea what all the mementos meant. But clearly this was a place of prayer and rememberance. More saintly in feel than the cemetery, it struck me as creepy.

I was the first tourist out of the grotto and back on the street.

The rest of the afternoon I spent wondering around the city solo. I passed empty building after empty building on the edge of the French Quarter. Finally I found a small market that was open for business. It was next to a museum that warned erratic hours due to understaffing. In the market I found overpriced water, in the museum I found tremendous art work from displaced local artists. Most of them had left during Hurricane Katrina, none had made their way back home. Yet.

A donation box at the door asked for help in bringing artists home.

Keep in mind Katrina happened in 2007, this was 2012. And still people needed help coming home. I was shocked. I asked the lone employee where the artists stayed. She said most were with family in other states or countries. I asked her how long they had been gone for and if they were coming back. She said, “Since Katrina,” to the first question. Then smiled and shrugged to the second.

I opted for the long way back to the Garden District, and walked slowly towards the hostel. I was full of wonder at this place that could survive so much disaster and struggle so much to continue. The city itself seemed to thrive on contradictions: artists showing work who lived no where near, revelers partying into the morning who had never seen a hurricane, locals pouring drinks who never drink. All of the past two days swirled around me and through me. I reached my destination, a small Vietnamese restaurant. I ordered pho and a beer. I reached for a phone and called to ask about renting a building I noticed early in the day.

The end of the story has already been told.

I didn’t move. But leaving Nola was almost as hard as leaving home. I love that city for its grime, for its heat, for its alcohol, for its people, for the atmosphere, for the inspiration, for the insanity.

No where else is quite like Nola; and I can’t wait to go back.

Travel in the Time of Public Transit: USA Edition

I’ve said it many, many times, and I will say it again. I love trains. It is by far my favorite way to travel. Outside of the United States, railroad are accessible, convenient and affordable. Even the longest train ride in Malaysia (12 hours!) was an experience in meeting the locals, eating cheap food and watching the landscape unfold.

I love trains.

And so does Alfred Twu, who came up with this awesome plan for the future of America’s rail lines. I want this to be real 50 years ago. Seriously, how do we not have high-speed rail here?

Look at this map!

US High-Speed Rail System by Alfred Twu

US High-Speed Rail System by Alfred Twu

It’s purty!

We need this!

Sign the White House petition here. And let’s hear from the White House why train travel in the US can’t be more affordable, accessible and convenient. Our infrastructure is failing. Didn’t Obama just say in the State of the Union Address we have “70,000 structurally deficient bridges?” Why not make trains? Please!

It is possible, we just need to make it happen. Someday we’ll be able to go from New York to LA in two days! Without flying! And we could go to Canada! No more long road trips and motion sickness! How awesome!

Cheers to the Daily What for showcasing Twu’s map as a beautiful pipe dream. For more information about Twu and high-speed rail in America, Slate has a nice article about liberal’s dreams for public transit.

Darwin’s Fattest of Tuesdays

Nothing makes me miss New Orleans more than Mardi Gras.

And on this Fat Tuesday, I wanted to share a tiny bit about why I love Crescent City so much.

1. The French Quarter looks like it’s been waiting since the 1800s to meet me.

The pantina, paint and stucco are as warm and inviting as the people.

The pantina, paint and stucco are as warm and inviting as the people.

The French Quarter is beautiful! The colorful buildings bring to mind a different time and definitely say, “You are not in Utah anymore.” It’s easily one of the coolest neighborhoods in the world.

2. History lives here.

A statue at Preservation Hall in New Orleans, Louisiana.

A statue at Preservation Hall in New Orleans, Louisiana.

In the Preservation Jazz Hall you can find statues and photos of the people who made NOLA what it is. It is a place that is celebrated and reviled. It is a place that thrives on a history so palapable it feels like stepping inside a time machine.

Maybe it’s the swamp air, or the bayou’s ability to slowly destroy everything, or the floods, or the fires that have destroyed this city so often. It’s impossible to spend a sober moment in the birthplace of jazz and not feel the love citizens have for the corrupt and broken city. 

3. Life is a celebration.

Even if it weren’t the biggest part of the year right now. Someone somewhere is having a wonderful time in New Orleans. This is a city that is as in love with food and booze nearly as much as I am. They know how to eat, drink, sing and dance.

It’s like no other experience.

And puts New Orleans at the top of every vacation wish list.

Now before we get too caught up in all the fun that is the party of today, let’s remember the most emo of scientists,  Charles Darwin.

It’s his big day today. His birthday! Happy birthday, Darwin! Thanks for thinking great thoughts and sharing them. It’s enough to make me want to visit across the pond. Although I will wait until Jamie Oliver is around and it’s a bit warmer.

And yes, I’m thrilled to celebrate a day of science and debauchery. May I suggest some Evolution Amber Ale paried with etouffee to celebrate this day?

Here we go, here we go, here we go again

Oh man, oh man! Am I excited?!

A weekend road trip is coming! One of the best things about Utah is the easy distances to get away from the city smog here.

I’m super stoked on this next trip because it will expand my backyard experiences to include one of those quintessential Western United States things I’ve actually never done.

One of these weekends, we’re going to Bear Lake!

Bear Lake in the winter, according to Bearlake.org.

For those who may not know, Bear Lake is a pretty little place on the Utah/Idaho border. It’s a popular summer-time weekend destination for boating, strawberries and hiking.

Being the lifetime Utahn that I am, I have never been there.

It’s almost time to pack up my bag, throw on my boots and take a little drive up north to see what beauty awaits. I plan on doing minimal hiking, and not freezing to death next to the fireplace at the cute little bed and breakfast we found.

Hopefully the weather is on our side and we can take pretty pictures while exploring the tiny towns.

I can’t wait!

How To Talk About It

Yesterday I had this brillant idea to write a travel post all about upcoming Hong Kong adventures, mile long escalators and drinks from decks with a view.

Then I remembered it’s September 11.

Should I write about that? Should I mention the way 9/11 changed me, us, the world? What if I talk about the way terrorism changed travel?

The trouble is I don’t know how to talk about it. I remember the world before 9/11. I remember watching the Twin Towers fall on a small TV as I sat shocked in a high school English classroom. I remember the fear, the discussions, the quiet hushed voices that Americans suddenly spoke in to try and understand this rip in their world.

I’m not sure if we’re better. I don’t think we’ve healed. It’s been 11 years, but it was still such a momentous event it’s nearly all we can talk about.

Even though it’s another Tuesday, it’s someone’s birthday, travelers are stuck in airports, families are moving, men and women are starting new jobs, teenagers are plotting ways to skip school because they don’t want to sit through another memorial service for a disaster they barely recall.

Perhaps were finally in that place were we can remember what happened, and we hurt, but we also haven’t forgotten to live. So this anniversary of that terrifying day, I just want to say, “Yes, it happened. It irrevocably changed my world in countless ways. But it’s time to move on, so I’m going to have a beer and pizza while discussing the election of inflection.”

Oh, and finalize plans for that Hong Kong thang. Because three hour security lines and customs aside, it’s not stopping me from seeing the world.