National Parks Tour

Earlier this month I was fortunate to go on a small National Parks tour with a good friend of mine. We started in Yosemite, and then drove east through Death Valley, and finally ended up in Zion. It goes without saying that this trip was incredible. Not only for the amazing natural beauty that we saw, but also for personal reasons. I've got stories and stories and stories from this trip, but one of the biggest accomplishments was overcoming a fear of heights that I've had for over 20 years.

Below are some images I captured in the parks. All of these are available for purchase, feel free to contact me for details.

John Muir Beach

Mono Lake

Half Dome 1

Half Dome 2

Half Dome 3

Yosemite Parking Lot

Sentinel Dome Trees

Devil's Golf Course, Death Valley

View from Angel's Landing, Zion

Pismo Beach

On my west coast trip I got to visit Pismo Beach! Deja Sue and her husband took me out for a wonderful dinner and an amazing sunset over the ocean.

Thanks for checking out my photos. Here is a metal flower this woman offered me at Pismo, I didn't have any place to put it, so I took the picture instead.

Alan Hawkins! West Coast Trip Part 3


My final stop on my west coast trip is Seattle. One of my favorite cities next to Chicago. In fact, if I didn't love Chicago in the way I did, Seattle would be my choice. I saw Independence Day the day it came out at a theater in Seattle. But more awesome than that will be seeing my friend Alan Hawkins.

Web graphic Alan created for our podcast "The Doomed City Podcast"

Alan knows how to wear a suit! 


I don't know what year Alan and I met. It was during a particularly fuzzy part of my life. I had stage fright, but I could still tell stories. My friend Chris Biddle had gotten the go ahead to remount a Chicago show called "The Sickest Fucking Stories I Ever Heard" and asked me to co-produce it. It was the perfect show for me because I could tell terrible stories from my experiences and not feel that dread of having to make something up on the spot. And we got to play poker while doing it. Our shows never brought in that large of an audience, but one night after a show Biddle introduces me to this bald giant who'd just moved to town from Los Angeles, Alan Hawkins.


He looked like he had come straight off of good behavior at the Cook County lock up. In fact, I think I made it a point to avoid him that first night. I didn't know what to make of him. He said he might have some good stories and after talking to Biddle we scheduled him for our next months show.


Well good stories he had. I can't divulge any of them on this blog, suffice to say you should get to know Alan better. Because that boys seen some shit.


Along with being a good story teller, Alan is an incredibly creative graphic designer. Ninety percent of the graphic design you see on my web site, or my farms website, is from Alan. He did most of our show posters, and if I posted a cool photo of something, Alan would always jump in and throw something creative on it. 


Over the years we became close friends. I ended up moving into his neighborhood which gave us more opportunities to hang out. Every once in awhile I'd get to watch his dog, a tiny pekingese. Perfect foil to a bald giant. 

Alan, Biddle, and I on Michigan Ave. Photo by John Dart.


One day Biddle, a longtime fan of the movie Ghostbusters, said he wanted to have a proton pack. Alan immediately said "I can build that". Alan had a background in prop building while living out in Fresno and LA. He doesn't see things as impossible. He immediately sees opportunity. So we decided that the three of us would go as the Ghostbusters for Halloween (at that time still a few months away). We would set up build days at his house or in my garage and work together. Laughing, telling stories. All while wiring Christmas lights into pink housing insulation.
Our first packs were admittedly a little ramshackle. But we did it. We went to Deja Sue's Halloween party (an annual affair that she went all out for). We partied, said a couple lines from the movie, and then went home triumphant.

Alan, Red Rum, and myself at C2E2

Proud to show off my original Hawkins!


But for Alan that was just the beginning. He started joining online Ghostbuster communities and saw just what was possible with pack building. He got in to pepakura (folding paper and then putting a strong bonding agent on top to seal it and make it hard like plastic) and made his next GB pack entirely out of paper. Then he found other techniques and slowly started building a new pack for me and new props for Biddle (who had bought a pack from another GB by that time). Alan is really good about sharing and posted the entire build process for my pack online for other Ghostbusters to follow. And consequently, when walking around conventions sometimes people will recognize my pack as a "Hawkins".

Ranger Smith ain't going to like how much I love Alan Hawkins.


Almost a year ago, Alan and his family picked up and moved to Seattle. His wife got an awesome job out there and they've got room to grow out there. But every day I miss having Alan around. He's been a great. Alan I love you. I'm so excited to see you again.
 

Michael Davenport! West Coast Trip Part 2


I've been hanging out with Deja Sue for a couple days now. We've hit San Fransisco for two burlesque shows. I've gotten tattooed. Photographed two tattoo shops. Seen Pismo Beach. And now Deja and I are driving to Sacramento which brings us to my next good friend, Funny Mike D, Michael Davenport.

Mike and I in a booth at the Pick Me Up Cafe in Chicago. Photo by Steven Townshed, with whom we were discussing art, women, and... that was probably it.

Mike always had good facial expressions. He's often compared to Jim Carrey.


Mike and I met in our first improv class at the Annoyance Theater. This was the same class Deja Sue and I were in. We all met at the same time.


Mike and I fell right in together. We'd do improv scenes and we absolutely could not keep from breaking. Every scene. It was terrible. I don't know if that means we were really funny, or just terrible actors. Probably somewhere in between.


I was dating my first girlfriend around that time. Deanna. Mike was a dog walker and used to walk a dog near my apartment. Every other day he'd come by with a dog and we'd walk and talk life, improv, and girls. He gave me the false confidence that when Deanna and I broke up I'd be just fine. I wasn't. But I had Mike. And honestly, with how long we've been friends, I got the best end of the deal.


Mike and I took every class in Chicago that we could. We'd often set a goal to break an instructors lesson. That sounds like dickish move, but it was really effective and helpful. The premise was, whatever the instructor asked us to do we'd go way over the top with it. If the goal was to find "objects" in the "space", we'd go around touching everything. If the goal was to play an emotion hard, we'd take it as far as one possibly could. If the goal was to have no silence between dialogue, there was no silence. We were always pushing. Trying to be as good as we could. 

There is nobody I trust more to push the boundaries than Mike Davenport.


We had one class with Susan Messing and everyone had to get into pairs to do a longer form two person scene with a Q&A in character with everyone in the class. Immediately we snapped into what would become a recurring set of characters for us. Jack-O and Landrover. Our characters cooked meth in our grandmothers basement, and every scene ended up with us wrestling on the floor. Basically we invented Breaking Bad.


At some point, I started getting stage fright. I could no longer perform on stage. I started pulling away from the community. I was ashamed and didn't know how to handle my anxiety. Mike never stopped believing in me. He would often ask me to direct, or take part in whatever he was doing. That led to the greatest directing experience of my life. Melange. We did a short run at The Second City on the ETC stage, and that group killed it. Every once in awhile during rehearsals I'd jump in and play. I never felt uncomfortable with that group. And Mike was a big part of it.


But hat only paints part of the picture. Mike was also one of the biggest fuck ups I ever met. He would drink until he was passed out in someones lawn. He lost several jobs, and had to move around a bunch. There was a brief time while unemployed that Mike would board the CTA in the morning during rush hour and tell jokes for money. I don't know that he ever made back his train fare, but he hustled.


After a few particularly bad benders, Mike came to live with me. I lived in a two bedroom place at the time and had recently broken up with my second girlfriend. Mike and I became roommates. That was a difficult time. Mike had an abscess in his *mouth and his body was literally poisoning itself. Mike would have loud nightmares. Or he would come home absolutely shitfaced. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a difficult time to be his friend. Every day I dreamed of kicking him out. 
But Mike was my friend, and if I have a fault it's giving my friends a really, really long leash.

*Eventually Mike got his tooth fixed and wouldn't you know it, he started feeling a lot better.

Before Mike's wedding, we dragged him down to a river and baptized him. Ray did the honors, being the minister/officiant. 


Eventually Mike moved out, and then decided he was stagnating in Chicago and needed to move for a new challenge. He picked up and moved to Oakland. "A dumb idea" I thought at the time.
We would talk on the phone about some show he was trying to put together or some improv team he was trying to join. I remember after he had burned some bridges with a local group he decided to form his own theater. He put together some improvisors and found some jazz sax player and a poet to perform at an art gallery. That sounded interesting. Then Mike started talking about going to kinko's and making flyers and how he was walking all over town promoting this show. He'd talk to everybody.


And slowly that became a thing. Mike worked his ass off promoting, teaching, and performing until he finally had The Magic Jester Theater. He had a troupe of people following his lead. With the distance between us, it was harder to notice subtle change. All I saw was Mike going from a crazy uncontrollable force, to a focused mindful artist.


He would eventually meet his wife through that theater. That's a phrase I never thought I'd write. But it's amazing. I'm so happy for Mike, as I was standing up at his wedding.

Mike and his wife Jessica on their wedding day. I stood up for this guy!


Eventually his wife got an amazing job in Sacramento. Mike had to leave his theater behind, but he's unstoppable. He started another theater in Sacramento that is growing. Morpho Theater. I couldn't be more proud of my friend. Mike, I love you. We've been through so much together, and I look forward to going through more.
 

My friend Mike and his wife Jessica. I love them both so much.

My Eagle Spread

Baddeck, Nova Scotia is a wonderful and unique place. Two amazing things happened to me in Baddeck. First, I met and got to spend nearly 30 minutes talking to Gil Grosvenor, former head of National Geographic (and descendant of Alexander Graham Bell). We talked about Nat Geo, horses, maps, but mostly we talked about people. And about how empowering people and believing in people can lead to wonderful things. He told me a wonderful story about Jane Goodall that I'll share in the future.

The second amazing thing was out in Bras d'Or Lake on Cape Breton Island. We were on a small sailboat cruising around when a couple of Bald Eagles put on a show for us. Enjoy. (click on any image to view in a lightbox)

Bald eagles can have up to a 7ft wing span and weigh up to 15lbs. 

Eagles choose a life mate after they are about 5 years old, and then can live to be 20 years old.

Bald eagles are found throughout North America, mostly near bodies of water.

Eagles can use thermal currents to climb to 10,000ft in the sky. When they dive to make a kill they can reach speeds of 100mph.

Eagles prefer to eat fish, but have been known to eat other waterfowl (mostly ducks), muskrats, and even turtles.

The oldest bald eagle in captivity survived to be 48 years old.

In 2007, Bald Eagles were taken off the endangered species list. However conservation efforts cannot stop. As people move to shoreland areas, cutting down trees can severely impact their habitat.

Eagle imagery was often used in the Roman Republic which led to the founding fathers of the United States of America adopting the Bald Eagle as our national symbol June 20, 1782.

And here is me and Gil after one of the most impactful conversations I've ever had.