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It's What's Next

Stories 101

Insurance Plot

Evelyn found a half-wit patsy that she could manipulate into doing the gruesome deed. However, the
insurance carrier had their own take on the event and did not pay off.

This is one out of a huge collection of Pulp Fiction Covers that a gentleman on PBASE has put together.  Take a look at his collection, some are really funny!

Our 48 Hour film.

Well, the 48 hour film festival is over.  I have been up for the last 40 hours straight and I am tired.    It was fantastic fun.  I assembled a wonderful team of people and am very proud of the work that we did.   I would love to make a feature film!  There are a few things I would do different, but not many.  I would mainly do the same things next year but be a little wiser. 

Our film Genre was Silent Movie so there could be no dialogue.  There could be music and sound effects.  I chose no sound effects.  (with the exception of a record screech and a video game coin sound)

Please leave a comment!


Space Shuttle Atlantis, Launch Day, Mission STS-132

Space Shuttle Atlantis, fueled and ready for its last voyage, May 14, 2010

Today was one of those days that are almost beyond description.  I have been dreaming of going to a shuttle launch for five years at least.  I was in Miami last year and missed one by just a few days.  Since then I have been trying with some earnest to see a launch.  As you may or may not know, the shuttle program is coming to an end after just two more launches.  The program has been very successful over the last 30 years, but the fleet of shuttles is aging and the program is drawing to its inevitable conclusion.  With that in mind, I decided a couple of months ago to attend this launch of the Shuttle Atlantis on its last voyage into space.


Atlantis, moments after lift-off, May 14, 2010

Tickets to see a launch have always been hard to come by.  The spots on the causeway frequently sell out within minutes of them going on sale.  This year it has been much harder due to the dwindling number of launches and subsequent increase in the popularity of the remaining missions.  About three weeks ago the tickets went on sale on the internet and I spent two hours trying to get tickets, unsuccessfully.  Evidently the ticketing program had a malfunction and after two hours they closed down the ticket website and said there would be an announcement for another day to buy tickets.  The makeup ticket sales day sold out all the tickets in 37 minutes and I was unable to buy tickets.    Myself and two friends were going to Cape Canaveral without any tickets to see the launch.  (we had heard that you can watch it from less prime spots that did not require tickets, and that was our plan).

Atlantis, Moments after lift-off, May 14, 2010, HDR

I have written in previous posts that I almost always couchsurf when I travel.  I love having a local person to stay with that knows the ropes and really understands where they live and what makes it special.  The accommodations for this trip was a wonderful person in Cape Canaveral named Kim.  We arrived at her place yesterday and within in a couple of minutes we were treated to the most wonderful surprise we could imagine.  Kim, our excellent couchsurfing host is an engineer for a company that is contracted by NASA.  She is an employee of the space center and as such has great access to the launch.  She took us out to get pictures last night and then took us to the causeway today for the main event.  (The causeway was the same spot that I had spent four hours trying to get tickets for.)  It was a wonderful day and it was very exciting to watch the Atlantis take-off.  Being with Kim was like having backstage passes to the best concert ever.  She was a wonderful host and it was an unbelievable day.  I took a lot of pictures, and these are my favorites so far……..

The launch was really spectacular.  The shuttle lept off the pad in a blaze of fire and smoke and a few minutes later the roar of the engines hit me in the middle of the chest and did not quit hitting.  The shuttle rose quickly into the sky.  It was easy to follow it until the separation of the solid rocket boosters and then it became a glowing dot in the sky that slowly disappeared, leaving an appreciative crowd (and Mark Miner) with a memory to last a lifetime.  Thanks, Kim for being so gracious and showing us such an incredible time.


Launch Day


This is our golden ticket.

Countdown to the launch. It is 9am here in Cape Canaveral. We have had breakfast and we are pumped for the launch. According to the news everything is a go at this point. We are going to head to the causeway around 10:30 for the 2:20 launch. Everyone is so excited here.


Mission Patch for STS-132

Every launch has a different logo or “Mission Patch”. this is the mission patch for this launch. (STS-132)

Night before the Launch……..


Night Before Shuttle Launch, May 2010


I am in Cape Canaveral. We have excellent tickets to the launch tomorrow courtesy of a wonderful couchsurfer here. It is the night before the launch. This photo was taken from approx 13 miles away, as close as we can get tonight. From this distance, the shuttle is just a small dot in the center of the frame. It has been greatly enlarged to make this picture. Tomorrow we will be on the causeway which is six miles from the shuttle. At that distance, the image will be four times larger in the camera than it is tonite.

Community Supported Agriculture, (and more portrait HDR)

Two weekend’s ago I had a couple of couchsurfers in town. They were from the San Francisco Bay area. They are currently trekking across the country to start a new life as CSA farmers. CSA stands for community supported agriculture and they made it sound pretty great. They hope to take over a farm from an ailing couple in Michigan and start a CSA program there.

The basic idea of CSA means individuals buy a ‘share’ of a farm at the beginning of the season. For this, they receive a weekly basket or box of fresh vegetables from the farm as the season progresses. Participants also get special trips to the farm, fresh flowers in season, etc. In return the farms get a good cash flow at the start of the planting season when they could use it most. It also helps to spread the risk. In a drought year, people who bought into the farm help absorb the decreased production. To me what CSA really does is connect the community to the plight of agriculture in a more transparent and fun way.

Learn more about community supported agriculture.

About the pictures.. I noticed that they had their lives packed into this car and thought it would make a great photo. We got back from hitting downtown and they ‘posed’ in the garage for a few pictures. They have been HDR’d because, well, I really like HDR.  They are Matthew and Molly.


Matthew Benjamin, HDR, Des Moines 2010


Molly and Matthew Benjamin, HDR. Des Moines 2010

French Onion Soup in Des Moines

Tonight I braved the crazy cold and mind numbing boredom of a Monday night in wintertime Des Moines in search of a good bowl of French onion soup. Before I even left the house, I entertained the idea of making my OWN FOS by hitting up google to steer me towards a recipe that would make kick-ass food. I found one without difficulty, but the recipe called for over two hours of preparation before I would actually be tasting the goods. So, out I went. For some reason I had it in my head that River Mile would have good French onion soup, nope. I hit five or six other places on Court Ave, no luck. My big break came at Zen’s where I stopped to have Sake. The bartender, a helpful chap, said that Django would be the place to go. (Django is about fifty yards from my door at home. How was I to know?) So Django, and a very apt bartender named Elizabeth hooked me up with a FANTASTIC bowl of the good stuff with broiled cheese, bread crumbs and excellent onions. (Django is an upscale place and Elizabeth seemed right at home there) Great soup and two Newcastles later I was headed for home, happy. Now I know where to get the goods when it is crazy cold outside in Des Moines.


Three weeks of Life 3.0 – Driving the Pacific Northwest


I made it. Me and the mighty Pacific

Some pics from the trip.

Trying to boil this three week trip into a comprehensive synopsis may prove difficult. It was a trip that had been loosely on the drawing board all summer long  (since somewhere around the time of the southern US driving trip.)  My main goals of the trip were to visit Portland, drive the Pacific Coast Highway and visit my dad in Pahrump, Nevada. To that end I accomplished those goals. The wonderful bonuses of the trip were all the things that I did not anticipate going into the drive. First and foremost I LOVE the solitude of driving by myself. I am perfectly happy inside my own head driving with an audio book letting new vistas wash over my eyes through my windshield. It is a Zen-like experience for me. I tend to get bored easily, but not while I am driving. At no point was I weary of driving even with the 5500 miles of it on this trip. Also unexpected on the trip were the beautiful things along the way that I did not know existed. Twin falls in Idaho, part of the Snake River Canyon, was breathtaking. It was not really tourist season and the temperature was cool along my route. This actually made the trip better for me. There was a huge parking lot for visitors at Twin Falls and I was the only car there. It was as if the whole thing was just for me. Other unexpected natural wonders came during the last 45 miles into Portland, driving the Columbia River highway (US 84). The highway snakes along the Columbia River valley with mountains flanking both sides of the river. Numerous waterfalls emerge from the mountains along the route. I had no idea all of it was there.

Couchsurfing also played an integral part in the success of the trip and although I have surfed a lot before it never ceases to amaze me how wonderful people are everywhere. I met some very interesting people along the way and glimpsed into the lives of people who are very different than I in so many ways.    Equally unforeseen was how long it would take to get down the PCH with the sightseeing involved. Ultimately San Francisco and Los Angeles were culled from the trip. (It WILL be a separate trip). My original plan was to head from Las Vegas back up through Denver and cut across the middle of the United States to get back home. Due to some winter weather I detoured to a more southerly route that included Phoenix, Albuquerque and Tulsa. All unplanned, yet wonderful, stops in my journey. Thanks to this detour I met a couple of hitchhikers in Santa Rosa and took them to Henryetta, Oklahoma. They were fascinating people and the 500 miles that we rode together certainly flew by.

The things that I expected to be wonderful, were. Visiting Portland with Christine was delightful. She was a wonderful hostess and lives in a really kick-ass town. She promised me micro brews before I even arrived and instead delivered a frickn winter micro brew FESTIVAL that was fantastic!   It was downtown Portland and had a wonderful assortment of beers from all around the Pacific Northwest. She has a great little apartment in a suburb called Lake Oswego with a wonderful couch. We also hit Multnomah Falls (the picture with the bridge across the waterfall). Local bars in Lake Oswego had great beers on tap and were lively.

PCH, which I expected to be a cornerstone of the trip, certainly was. I drove it from Tillamook, Oregon to Eureka, California. It was beautiful every bit of the drive, and pulling over for the ‘scenic overlooks’ was practically mandatory. I shot close to an hour of video from various places on the coast during frequent view stops. Visiting my dad in Pahrump, Nevada was great as well. The atomic bomb museum in Vegas was fantastic and they had a stupendous collection of ‘ground zero’ artifacts. The south detour through Phoenix, and then New Mexico was uneventful and did not have a lot of scenery as compared to the rest of the drive although I did manage to get a sunset picture just outside of Albuquerque.

The cost of this trip was nominal considering the three weeks of entertainment and lifetime of memories involved. I averaged 27 miles per gallon for 5500 or so miles for a total of 203 gallons of gas. Approximate average per gallon rate during my trip was $2.60 for a total of $530 worth of gas. I couchsurfed or stayed with friends or family all but three of the nights. (Three nights were hotel nights, 35 dollar/night average for the hotels including a 33 dollar stay at the Excaliber in Vegas) so 105 for hotels. I ate peanut butter and honey on tortillas one or two meals a day and when I ate out it was inexpensive. I probably checked out of the three weeks for a total of less than $950 and had a spectacular time of it. 

I am not sure where my future plans will take me although I am thinking a one week stay in Washington, D.C. and a one week stay in Manhattan will be in the next trip, couchsurfing of course….

Thanks for reading

Mark Miner

My buddy for 5500 miles.

My buddy for 5500 miles.


The final route

Day 20, Branson to DSM! (HOME SWEET HOME)

Home today from the 5500 mile plus trip. It was Fantastic. I will write a synopsis soon….

Here are some pics… some are similar or the same as ones from the blog some are completely new.  All are redone.


Day 19, Tulsa to Branson, Missouri

Today was the shortest drive of my trip. I woke up late in Tulsa and drove to Branson, Missouri a total of about 220 miles. I have a friend who’s family has a timeshare in Branson and they had a four day stay that was going to expire at the end of the year so they let me stay here. The place is huge and ultra-modern, and I have the whole place to myself. I bummed around Branson last night (Thursday night). There was not a lot to do, this is the slow season. Evidently Friday nights are better. I am now only 400 miles from home. I am either leaving Saturday or Sunday for home. This has been a great trip! I will try and find a picture or two from Branson today.


Day 18, Tulsa


cough graphic blatantly stolen from the internet

Day 18 was kind of a lay low day. The cough that has been hitting me for the last four days really kicked my ass and I slept poorly. On a better note, I woke up today and the cough is about done. I think I have coughed three times the whole day. (what a wonderful blog, “My Cough”, by Mark Miner)

Day 17 Albuquerque to Tulsa, Oklahoma

Today was a 650 mile drive that would probably have been a little monotonous if not for the hitchhikers… En route from Alb to Tulsa, I passed two hitchhikers in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. Their sign read OKC (Oklahoma City) which was directly on my route and still 500 miles away. I gave them a ride. David is a 19 year old student at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He decided to hitchhike home to Nashville for Christmas instead of flying. He told his parents about his plan and his dad flew out to meet him in Colo Springs and hitchhike back with him as a bonding experience. Red (David’s father) is a forestry service fire fighter of many years. He is also very involved in deliberate burning of forests for ecological benefit. They both had very good stories and were excellent for making the ride go much more quickly. I made the whole crew peanut butter and honey tortillas at a gas stop. It was a great day of travel, but not much photo ops.

Day 16, Phoenix to Albuquerque


Near Sunset, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Today was a great drive that took me from Phoenix Arizona to Albuquerque New Mexico. I am starting to get jaded a little bit by all the scenery. It takes more to impress me than it did at the start of the trip. (I am sure that one week in flat Iowa will cure that).

About halfway through the drive today I spotted a sign that said crater national monument turnoff was ahead. It also said tune to am radio 1610 for information. So I tuned in and they told me lots of info and hyped it all to hell. They did not mention the price, the announcement just said “all this for one low admission price”, that made me skeptical, but it said it was “just five minutes off the highway” Actually six miles at thirty miles an hour = twelve minutes off the highway. So twelve minutes later I get to the crater and they want fifteen dollars to see it. Sorry not in the budget. I did tell the manager that the sign for the radio announcement should read ADVERTISEMENT, not information. The manager said that they don’t mention the price so that they can get more people off the highway into their place. (yeah and I hope these travellers take a big crap in their parking lot and then leave).

I got to Albuquerque without a Couchsurf host for the night. I had sent out a few requests but no replies. I was in the parking lot of a super8 when I checked my mail one last time and found that I had a place to stay. (Helen and Lester in Albuquerque) They were great hosts and we went to see the movie Vampires Assistant together. The one picture with this post is close to sunset just outside of Albuquerque. Tomorrow is Alb to Oklahoma City, a drive of about 540 miles.

Day 15b, Pahrump to Phoenix

After hearing some really bad reports about the weather in Flagstaff, I decided to detour south through phoenix instead. I got on the road about three p.m. and drove the three hundred miles to PHX. It was good trip and it passed over the Hoover Dam which was great. Lake Mead is very low though. I posted to the Phoenix Couchsurf group before I got there asking for an emergency couch and I ended up staying with a great gentleman who recently moved to Phoenix from Chicago. He was a CS ambassador there. I had great food and beers and took off for Albuquerque, New Mexico in the morning for a five hundred mile drive.

Day 13, 14, and 15, Pahrump, Nevada

The last three days have been in Pahrump, Nevada visiting family. My dad and my stepmom barb have lived here for sixteen years. Pahrump is about fifty-five miles from Vegas through the mountains and into another valley. We toured some fun stuff in Vegas and in and around Pahrump. It was a great time and a lot of catching up took place. One of highlights was the Atomic Testing Museum  in Las Vegas. There were many exhibits with artifacts, video and a crazy amount of pictures. It took a little over two hours to get through it.  I took plenty of pictures but they are not easily edited on my laptop.  I have a lot to do when I get home.

Tomorrow I’m back out on the road to Flagstaff, Arizona. Evidently they got two feet of snow in Flagstaff so it will be a fun drive.

Day 12, Las Vegas, Nevada




Ok, after all of the beautiful nature made scenery of this trip, I arrived in Las Vegas yesterday. It all seems so mundane compared to everything I have seen on this trip. The blah, blah, Bellagio, Planet Whatever, and the crazy ass people were not really doing it for me. I still walked the strip for an hour last night and got some photographs. Today I am going to my dad’s house in Pahrump for a couple of days. We usually take some pretty scenic drives while I am there. We are also going to drive back to Vegas to go to the Atomic Bomb museum.

Day 11 Crescent City California to Bakersfield


Part of the "Elk Roadblock", Crescent City, California


Pacific at Sunrise


Giant Redwoods flanking Highway 101

Frosty start to the morning, northern California

Frosty start to the day, northern California

Today was day eleven and the last day of PCH. I got an early start just before eight a.m. and headed back out onto California highway 101. As I hit the last of town there was a traffic jam because of elk crossing the road. As I went past I rolled down the passenger side window and got a good elk “head and shoulders profile” shot.

I got out of the car a couple of more times for photos and video before getting off of 101. The second picture is the pacific ocean crashing the beach just after sunrise.  The third is a  couple of giant redwoods on either side of the highway.   The final picture is a house that still had frost on the roof, ground, and trees.

I ended up covering about 700 miles today total. I am skipping San Francisco and Los Angeles because I spent so much time in Portland. SF and LA were only going to be two days each and that would not have been enough anyway (good excuse for another drive).  Tomorrow a leisurely 300 miles to Las Vegas.

Day 10b, Pacific Coast Highway to Crescent City California


Pacific Ocean, Oregon Coast


Pacific Ocean, Oregon Coast


So far on this trip I have covered the daily distance that I intended. This was not the case on the PCH. There are excellent turnoffs and state parks what seems like every five miles, and I stopped at a lot of them yesterday. I put in twelve hours on the road and still only made it about 360 miles. Around every corner and over every hill there were miles long stretches of beach with crazy rocky or evergreen covered cliffs. The waves were cresting fifteen feet and the spray was going twenty-five feet in the air. The sound is this low bass rumble that you can feel in your gut. I understand why people are drawn here.

Today I have a lot of miles to cover. The goal is Fresno, California. Part of the trip is Pacific Coast Highway, then I turn inland for the rest of the drive.

Day 10a – Today’s Drive


Today’s drive takes me from Portland over to Tillamook where I will catch the Pacific Coast Highway for the next 380 miles south to Eureka, California. Do a google search for Pacific Coast Highway Images. Crazy beautiful. Clear skys are predicted!

Day 7,8,9 Portland, Oregon


Dry Suit Surfing, Pacific City, Oregon


Pacific City, Oregon

Day seven and eight were touristy uneventful days. Spent a lot of time catching up with Christine and checking out Oregon nightlife which is great. Today, December 7th, we drove to Pacific City in Oregon on the coast. It is a beautiful town on the pacific with great oceanscapes. The temperature was twenty-nine degrees so cold was the word of the day. Even though the temperature was not agreeable there were still hardcore drysuit surfers making it look warm. Tomorrow morning I am hitting the Pacific Coast Highway, (highway 101). It is supposed to be one of the most picturesque drives in America.

Day Six – Portland, Oregon


Multnomah Falls



Chess, downtown Portland



Classic Mercedes



Christine, Portland Streetcar


What a fantastic day. The first indicator that yesterday was great is that I am blogging today instead of last night. Anything that I would have written, like just about everything I said after midnight would have been jibberish. Alcohol played a big part in this and I love it for the effort.

We started the day yesterday by hitting some non-starbucks coffee shop that was great. It was a converted mechanic’s garage that had a good atmosphere and great java. It was a doubly good idea considering the chilly climate in Portland at this time of year. I wanted to go back out to the scenery along highway thirty just outside of portland and Christine was game. We went to Multnomah falls and it was fantastic. The scale was immense. There were two waterfalls, the biggest drops 620 feet from Larch mountain to a collecting pond before going under a scenic bridge and over a second falls. The bridge and second falls is pictured.

Next was downtown Portland. P-town has the largest number of microbreweries per capita in the nation. The huge selection of beers was well showcased in the Winter Ale Fest that was going on in the heart of downtown. For twenty dollars I sampled ten different beers along with some specialty cheeses. My favorite beer was Stone Brewing company’s Arrogant Bastard Ale. It was a rich dark beer with complex flavors. We hit Powell’s bookstore downtown as well. It is three huge stories of books books books. Every weird person in Portland was there!

Christine just moved into her new place and she had no groceries. I brought the pans and recipe to make stuffed pizza with me on this trip so we collected the ingredients and made stuffed pie. After a great meal of spinach ‘za we hit some bars here in Lake Oswego. There is quite a collection of eclectic watering holes here and they were all serving up the Jameson. Irish whiskey was calling my name (chanting it really) all night and I rose to the occasion. I slept well and now find myself here….

The pictures are Multnomah falls, two kids playing one side of a chess game in downtown P-town, a classic mercedes, and Christine chilling on the streetcar.

Day Five – Portland, Oregon


Winding Highway 30 scenic drive, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon


Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Oregon Scenery is the best so far….

Today’s drive was 430 miles from Salt Lake City to Portland Oregon. I got started a little late and then got behind some kind of pilot car that was driving twenty miles an hour for forty-five minutes. It had traffic backed up for ten miles. Then I hit the Oregon state border and the speed limit went down to sixty-five and I thought it was going to be a shit day of driving. What I didn’t know is how beautiful I-84 in Oregon would be. It was fifty miles of driving along the Columbia river gorge that saved the day. The road winds next to the Columbia river with mountains shooting up both sides. I pulled off on scenic highway thirty and got a couple of pictures. The first is looking back at the twisting road, the second is overlooking the valley and the Columbia river. It was definitely the most beautiful part of the drive.

Day Four – Boise, Idaho


Still water above Shoshone Falls, Idaho


Shoshone Falls, Idaho

Sometimes it’s who you know…

Last night there was a comment on my blog from Jen Campbell from St Lukes ER telling me that if I was headed to Boise I should check out Shoshone Falls on the way. I sort of thought about it while I was driving today and then I saw the sign for Shoshone Falls – nine miles. I got off of I-84 and made it to a beautiful spot. What a great tip and I would not have gone without Jen’s good advice. I got a few pictures there. The first one was in the still water above the falls and then second is from the falls overlook.

The drive was only about 350 today and it was smooth. Again minimal speeding and no tickets.

Boise Idaho is great. Staying with a couchsurfer Lea Rainey. She is a crazy busy IT consultant who works from home. Her place was comfy great and she knew a great Sushi place downtown. Boise was cold but a well placed coffee shop did the trick. Back at her camp we walked to a local spirits place for some great microbrew beer. I worked on these pictures and now I am getting sleepy. Tomorrow is a 430 mile trip that ends in Portland, Oregon. Portland is one of my main destinations. I am visiting a friend from St Thomas who lives there. I don’t have to drive again after tomorrow until Sunday morning…..

Day Three – Salt Lake City


The Hip-Hoppin_Hippies.....

Great day no driving….. Hung out in the SugarHouse area of SLC, walked around and had a great morning exploring. I hit a kick ass thrift store and bought a couple of “new” shirts. The place was crazy cool. It was housed in an art deco modern building with three floors of used goods. It is run (very efficiently I might add) by the mormon church.

Afternoon, two movies and hangin’ talking about couchsurfing and life in general. Evening time and Zak pointed us to a great burger joint with a one sandwich feast called a garlic burger. It was definitely tied for the best burger that I have ever eaten. (Tied with Shipwreck’s bleu cheese burger in St Thomas). Next was Maggie McGhee’s with pool and dollar fifty beers. I bought us a round of micro brew beers for the two of us. It came to three dollars. I told Zak that she did not charge me enough. “That’s the price on Tuesday nights”, he said. “f’n-a-right.” says me.. Last stop was a bar called “A bar named Sue”. I had a beer there called the Bohemian Viennese. It was an awesome beer.

Home and time to crash, right?… Wrong!… Zak purchased a random bag of crap from that just happened to arrive today. Evidently you pay eight bucks shipping and they send you a box of what-the-cus-ever. So we were drunk, and we opened the box and there were a lot of items that were semi-cool. The item most interesting to a drunk person was a collection of battery operated animated figures called the “Hip Hoppin Hippies” There were five in the set and they were individuals except that when one started playing they all played. I broke out my video camera and got some great footage of three of them playing together. Totally campy but funny. It will be the fotali background when I get home and make it so. It was totally a fun night. I took a picture of three of the hip-hoppin-hippies and made it the photo of the day. When I get home, will have them for a video background….