Salt Lake City, UT

The last time I was in Salt Lake City, I must have been 12 or 13 years old. My father took us there on vacation, I don’t remember much about that vacation other than swimming in the Salt Lake. We went to a touristy beach area, which seemed a bit desolate, probably because the day felt sort of gloomy.

I remember the weather being warm despite the sky being overcast. The water wasn’t necessarily warm, but swim-able. We could walk distances from shore and the water never came above our waists. Brittany taught me how to make a flotation device out of my shirt by tying the bottom and sleeves in knots and holding the neckline tight, trapping a small pillow of air inside (if, in case, I was stranded overboard and needed this survival tip in the future one day).

We played at the edge of the lake as preteens do. I cupped water in my hands and brought it up to my face. My father told me the only living organism able to survive in the lake is a certain type of brine shrimp, because the water is so salty, nothing else is able to thrive as they do. When I looked closely, I saw them, little red creatures swimming – literally – in the palm of my hands! Brine shrimp are interesting lil buggars; I believe they’re the same creature dubbed as “sea-monkeys,” but if you’ve never seen one, they’ve got a flexible spine, thin as a line, with a feather-like body, the entire being no larger than a grain of rice.

And that was the extent of my memory of Salt Lake City. Until last weekend.

I happened to be in town for a music festival, which allowed us to do some exploring during the day, since the show was during night (feel free to read about my festival escapade)! The only fact I remember about Utah from American history class in high school is the state is majority Mormon, since that’s where all the Mormons migrated (for a reason I can’t remember, but historical enough to end up in high school history textbooks, I guess).

jFaull travel tip #11: Using rideshare allows you brief periods of time with locals to get the inside scoop of the land, while getting where you need to go.

One of my bestfriends, Malyks, and I met in Salt Lake, our planes landing within five minutes of each other. We didn’t rent a car, so we took Uber everywhere, which I almost prefer. JFaull travel tip #11: Using rideshare allows you brief periods of time with locals to get the inside scoop of the land, while getting where you need to go (find my first 10 silly travel tips here). Why is this ideal for traveling? You get answers to causal questions, or The Know on local secrets and hidden gems, without having to spend too much time with strangers. Using rideshare is private transportation and better-than-traditional-travel-research bundled in one.

One of our first Uber drivers suggested hiking since there are loads of trails on the surrounding mountains. I looked out the backseat window to the hills on the edge of town. I speculated the low lying mountains would require an hour or 2 to summit (at my current fitness level haha). Unfortunately, Malyks and I were prepared for the festival, not to hike; thus, didn’t pack any sort of workout attire.

Another Uber driver suggested we visit the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, which has a fine dining buffet on the 10th floor and a 360 view of the city. I absolutely love restaurants on top floors and who doesn’t appreciate a good view?! However, the restaurant opened at 5:00 pm, the same time as the festival grounds. We decided The Roof would be top of our list the next time we were in town.

Speaking of restaurants, I believe it was the same Uber driver who also told us about Lion House Pantry. The story goes something like this: Brigham Young was a famous guy (Mormon, no doubt), who also happened to be the governor of Utah. He had a lot of wives and a lot of children and they all cooked and ate in the same place. This place was known as The Cafeteria. So, this is sort of a historical landmark, which had been preserved, and is now – ironically – a restaurant for the public! I found this to be so incredibly fascinating that I was actually really bummed we didn’t have a chance to eat there. If you wanna check it out, you can visit their website here.

Now, I know you’re wondering, if I didn’t do any of the things I just mentioned, what the fuck did i do? LOL. Let me tell you. We did visit Temple Square, gorgeous place really. There’s a temple in the middle of town that’s beautifully detailed, surrounded by an open garden. We weren’t the only ones. There were countless families there, dressed in their best, taking photos in groups and in couples, because each family was celebrating a wedding.

After walking around Temple Square with our jaws dragging along the ground from witnessing the beauty, we went to the Saturday Market downtown, which was quite impressive. Vendors were selling almost everything imaginable: jewelry, knives, art, honey, trinkets, you know, the usual commodities you see at street fairs. We bought essential oils, homemade lip balms and lotions. There was a stand with peach samples, we couldn’t resist. The sliver of peach we tasted was so sweet and juicy, we picked out 2 for breakfast the following day.

We spent the rest of the afternoon on an outdoor patio of a cute bar called Lake Effect. We sipped sophisticated cocktails and caught up on life. See, Malyks recently moved out of state and there’s so much to converse about, as we’ve been getting used to this time apart, growing older, and adjusting to the transitions in our lives. It’s an interesting feeling, the one where your close friends are no longer is close vicinities and accepting that, as we age, we separate physically, as our lives lead us in different directions, down roads alone or with the company of significant others.

Sunday morning we took our time packing up, preparing for our separation and departure. Malyks was flying back to Colorado and I was flying back to Cali, it felt like our last supper. We headed to Gracie’s to get a drink (or 3) and some food. Gracie’s is a dope joint, with a second floor balcony, to soak up some vitamin D and booze. I suppose we ended up dining roof top, didn’t we?

I know there are other cool spots in Salt Lake City we didn’t have a chance to hit, but with the brief period of time we had, I’m stoked we saw what we did! I’ll have to make another trip out there to experience the rest the city has to offer.

What awesome or unique things have you done in Salt Lake City, UT?

Das Energi 2018

The lighting cracks in front of us, bright, like an instant picture, vivid white. In a flash, the bolt disappears and the sky is grey. The clouds are gradually getting darker as we chug along a four lane freeway due west to The Saltair. White sand and sparse tall grass line the exit toward the lake as the shuttle crawls amongst the other vehicles. The driver hears muffling on his radio and sticks the receiver up to his ear.

“They’re evacuating the grounds due to the storm,” he repeats back to us.

This is how Das Engeri, Day 1 begins…

Das Energi, Salt Lake City, UT.

We’re enroute to the festival grounds for 2 days of killer line up. We’re ready for DJs and dance floors, but the only thing I hadn’t planned for is Utah weather…We’re on the shoulder waiting for the rain to pass, and, as luck would have it, we get news they’re letting eager ravers back in!

Let me back up, I don’t necessarily consider myself a “raver,” but I do enjoy the scene (my favorite 2-day I’ve attended is Countdown 2016). I go to more music festivals than raves, but have never written about them, so this will be a new experience. PSA: this isn’t a critique per se, but more of a causal account of the weekend. Wanna know more about Das Energi 2018?! Read on

After the venue is re-opened, the first frustration is getting in. The VIP line doesn’t have as many staff as General Admission and is taking a little longer. Luckily, they’re letting in as many people as fast as they can and security isn’t too strict. The main entrance leads you into Synergy Station, one out of the three stages on the festival grounds and the only one indoors.

Synergy Station is a rectangular venue with the stage at one end, the dance floor in the middle, and a balcony going all the way around, acting as the VIP Lounge and bar. Upon entering, I immediately recognize that the VIP perks promoted on the website don’t match up to what I had envisioned. Although we receive VIP merch (Das Energi branded fan and fanny pack), there isn’t lush seating upstairs, nor VIP bathroom indoors (the VIP Lounge outdoors had an isolated group of porta-potties).

The only food on the entire festival grounds is on the bottom floor of Synergy Station. Side note: a majority of the festivals I attend are in California and I’m accustomed to multiple vendors of varying cuisines. I am stunned to discover the food is simply stadium food: burgers, hot dogs, fries, etc. (second side note: bring tampons because they charge a dollar if you need one. Yes, they sell tampons and Advil at the concession stand).

In all fairness, this is Salt Lake City, not San Francisco – this festival ticket (even at VIP) is less expensive than tickets back home.

To be completely honest, I shouldn’t have been surprised because Utah is just different than Cali (like how I tried buying a bottle of duty-free gin at the airport and wasn’t allowed because I had just landed – they only sell alcohol duty-free if you’re leaving – “Utah State Law” the clerk said).

Next to the concessions is a merchandise display and I ask the woman if I can buy the jersey, who tells me I can’t because it’s a display and points me to outside. I don’t make it to the merchandise tent on Day 1, when I return on Day 2, they’re already sold out of the jersey! I end up back at the display booth and ask for the jersey, the same woman remembers me from the day before, and let’s me try it on. It just so happens to be my birthday and, I swear, it’s that birthday luck that the jersey fits perfectly. The not-for-sale, display jersey is the last of it’s kind and now on my back. Oi oi Happy Birthday to me.

The opposite entrance of Synergy Station opens to Energi Field, the main stage outdoor stage, where headliners play on the left and an upbeat crowd dances on the grass to the right. Beyond the stage is the Flats, which are closed on Day 1 due to the storm. On Day 2, entrance to the venue is much more seamless (although security does a more thorough check of your bags), but the Flats are open!

There, you can find the outdoor VIP lounge, bar, art, and vendors. The 3D light sculptures are absolutely amazing! They shine bright in the darkness, beautiful in an array of colors, shapes and sizes. More photo opportunities exist with the inflatable rainbow light arch and light up Das Energi letters. The Flats also feature local vendors selling trinkets, clothing and accessories. Beyond the art and vendors, you can dance your way over to the third stage.

By far, the Galactic Flats is my favorite stage! It’s a walk from the other stages, through Salt Lake sand, well worth it. Lesser known DJs jam to a smaller crowd, we’re all just vibing to the funk, but when the beat drops, the pillars surrounding the stage in a full circle billow with enormous flames, hitting the rhythm and keeping the half-naked ravers warm.

All stages are lit. Day 1: Whatsonot and Joyryde kill their sets and the venue stays open till 3 am because of the closure earlier, so Dillion Francis and Kaskade can close the night! Chris Lake is an amazing start for Day 2, but I fall in love with Rezz’s set. Deadmau5 is chill, but I enjoy the Snails and Nghtmre back-to back set much more, as they keep the crowd jumping with their trap.

Overall, The Great Saltair is a really unique venue to host a festival. The proximity of the stages is ideal and this year’s line up is top notch. Raves aren’t for everyone, but if you can get down to this music, definitely check the line up for next year. If you’re a Utah local, I highly recommend hitting up Das Energi!

Quarter Life Reflection

It’s August 17, 2018 and I’m driving to the airport, Salt Lake City bound. I’m off on another trip to celebrate my birthday, reflecting on my 24th year of life, looking forward to turning 25. When I was younger, I used to think about what my life would be like when I was “all grown up.” The strange thing is, I would fantasize life at 35 to 50, sometime when I was old, wise, established. It’s funny how as you age your perception of old changes, when 35 doesn’t seem so old anymore, when you’re 10 years away from being established, wise, old.

I’m alarmed I’m turning 25 because I never imagined I would ever hit my “mid-20s.” Life moves so quickly that I couldn’t picture my life at 25 because I was so engrossed in being 24, 23, 22, or so on. As your teen years pass, quick as they may, you stumble into this really influential period of life. It’s this era of your twenties, when even a single year exposes you to quantum experiences, and decisions you make now have the ability to define your immediate future, or the rest of your life. You’re changed in leaps and bounds, exponentially…until you hit your mid-30s or 40s; then, life seems to settle down.

I felt like my 20s proposed a choice: I conform and live as I was raised or how I think society would accept me…or I choose who I will be for the rest of this life, free of predisposition and fear of judgement.

This is the threshold between who you used to be and who you choose to become.

That’s a pretty big decision to make. It took half of my 20s to figure this out. What’s even more alarming is: the older I get, the more unpredictable life seems to be. I thought I’d age, and things would become clearer, when, in fact, I feel as if navigating life has become increasingly more difficult.

This doesn’t necessarily mean I’m afraid to age. Actually, I’m rather fond of growing years older, because with each passing year, I am a better version of me than my previous self. What I’ve been through changed me in ways I wouldn’t even want to predict, not knowing is half the fun of living. This uncertainty is exciting, refreshing, enlightening. What I am most certain of is life’s infinite uncertainty.

the only constant is change

The older I get, the more I understand the only constant is change. We’re in a constant state of change. We’re constantly trying, failing, learning, experiencing, transforming. I don’t know who said it but I wish I could give credit to whomever once quoted “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” If one thing dawned on me during this quarter life reflection, it would be that.

I am celebrating life at a quarter century. I’m looking forward to my half century reflection. I hope we all make it to 100!

PRIDE

Iconic rainbow flags, rainbow socks, rainbow unitards, rainbow tutus.. blouses.. headbands.. pants.. dressesrainbow-everything flicker my eyes in different directions. Rainbows fall from clear-blue skies; rainbows sprout up from underneath Market Street; endless colors adorn me me gaily. If you haven’t guessed already, it’s Pride Weekend in San Francisco.

I step off Caltrain with Giants fans heading to AT&T Park in jerseys, baseball caps, and black-n-orange with a mix of colorful and eccentrically dressed parade-goers walking the opposite direction. As I get closer to downtown, people in face paint, boas, and flags used as capes become more plentiful. I’m wearing the same tie-dye sports bra I made for last year’s parade with black high-waisted velvet pants. Pink, gold, and purple glitter shines above my left eyebrow down to my cheek bone, accented by transparent sequins. Face jewels are enough to draw interest from strangers and a couple people ask to take pictures with me. Of course, I oblige – “Happy Pride!” [our salutations].

Searching for my friends in the crowd is only challenging because I’m distracted by beautiful people and the fun everyone is having marching and/or onlooking. One of my best friends is dancing  in the middle of the block with a crowd of her colleagues, all wearing uniform Tesla pride t-shirts. A talented Tesla employee DJs on a podium at the back of a hand built trailer, pulled by the Model X. As we approach the start of the parade, we jump aboard the make-shift stage, our bodies in unison with the rhythm of the music.

The trailer emerges on Market Street and we jump higher from the energy of the crowd. We didn’t even make it one block. The front wheel of the trailer breaks from everyone dancing too hard, so we jump ship. Not being on the trailer allows us to run, skip, dance our way down the street, hollering and shouting, waving to the people pressed against the barricades on the sidewalk and handing them mini rainbow flags.  Paper confetti shoots out the back of the car and I truly feel like a celebrity.

Pride month means a lot to me. I used to love attending the parade as an ally to the gay community. I’ve trekked a long and [at times] unforgiving road through self-discovery; eventually, surrendering my resistance to whom I was forcing myself to be, to who I actually am. It’s hard to explain to straight people that “I didn’t know I was gay until I knew.” In fact, the topic has so many layers of complexity I could write an entirely separate blog post about the epiphany of my sexuality (and probably will sometime in the future). At first, I didn’t want to be known as “The Lesbian” to my friends or strangers. I was under the impression that the term would be the only descriptive feature one learns about me during first impressions, as if it has an undesirable connotation. Yet, in time, I realized that being gay is such an integral part of who I am as a person that being “The Lesbian” isn’t something I should shy away from, but be proud of.

As much as I’ve overcome obstacles, being gay is still difficult (maybe only gay people understand how I feel), which is why Pride is such an important event in my life. June is the month that this community shines in a spotlight, as if we are allowed to creep out of the shadows discrimination. Sometimes I feel estranged or lonely because I’m different, almost like alienation (most of my close friends and others I know are straight). I love this particular weekend of the Pride Parade in San Francisco when I can take public transportation without a shirt, glitter all over my face, and not receive confused or distained looks. Above dressing up (or down) and the superficiality of what everyone is wearing, Pride Parade brings together people just like me. I am surrounded by openly proud and extremely gay strangers, but they make me feel connected; these are my brothers and sisters. I feel less alone.

This is my third year attending the parade as a self-accepted lezzer but the first I was able to march the entirety of. This parade is not just a march, it’s a massive city-wide celebration. This is a fucken party to rejoice in acceptance of ourselves and revel in the support from our allies. We celebrate how proud we are to be who we are, or what makes us different than the remainder of the population. To me, this is more than a two-day bender just drinking and dancing in the streets. Being here is the reason I’m alive; it’s times like these that keep me alive; this is a lifeforce.

Dancing in this year’s parade isn’t happiness, no, better…this is NIRVANA.

Dykes on Bikes

pride.JPGWomen in bright t-shirts stand in front of barricades blocking the streets surrounding Dolores Park. The green of the grass is almost unseen as people stumble over blankets, bottles, umbrellas, beer pong tables, and popup tents covering the field between 18th to 20th Street. A female MC, with a soft afro and denim overalls hooked on one shoulder, introduces the next guest on a small stage near the lower west side; speaking into a microphone, her voice hardly travels to the middle of the park over the music, the commotion, the party.

The public rager continues to attract more festive attendees as the Saturday afternoon progresses. By 4:30, the park is lightyears past maximum capacity as people spill over the sidewalks, pour onto streets, drunkenly flooding the three blocks along Dolores. This is when the rev of motorcycle engines begin to roar and echo off houses between the Castro and Mission district. I throw on a neon-yellow safety vest and follow the sound, lining up along a bus disguised as an old-fashioned trolley. Behind me is a street-wide banner held by countless women and a crowd behind them, holding signs, blowing whistles, spreading love and cheer.

Believe it or not, this beautiful pandemonium is a day-long rally ending with a march known as Dykes on Bikes. (Hence the motorcycles).  The Dyke March spans Valencia to Castro Street and a couple blocks in between. This year, I volunteer as a safety monitor, keeping an eye on the jubilant crowd. Volunteering is not new to me; I began volunteering at a young age, an experience I love for being “hands-on,” and sharing my time with people, communities, and organizations in need. What I love most about volunteering at events by myself is the opportunity to meet new people.

Since it’s my first year volunteering at the Dyke March, I’m paired with a volunteer-veteran named Emma (if you’ve volunteered for a few years, you’re assigned a walkie-talkie and headset). We monitor the crowd and I stay on Emma’s left side so she can hear the communications on the headset in her right ear and hear me with her other. She explains what to look out for and the other duties we have as floaters.  As we walk the park, Emma tells me about experiences she’s had being trans and about how the Trans March doesn’t get as large a turn out as the Dyke March, but (of course) always loves going. We make it to the perimeter of the north side, where a vintage firetruck is parked and a small crowd of pedestrians and firefighters in uniform are gathered. Emma says “there’s the Fire Department recruiting every year at the Dyke March…they’re looking for strong women,” I giggle in agreement. Emma repeats a new report on the headset, a child has gone missing. As the safety team, we search. Luckily the missing child was found shortly, playing in the sandbox. After this tense bit, we retreat to the volunteer tent to take our break, resting our feet and snacking on pizza.

My second volunteer shift I’m paired with an energetic twenty-year-old named Kaleigh, who exclaims June is her most favorite month. Why? It’s Pride Month (duh, she adds). Kaleigh and I roam the park, each holding one side of a giant bucket with dollar signs written with thick sharpie. Kaleigh enthusiastically informs people that the Dyke March paid eleven grand to clean up the park after last year’s kick-off; we raise forty-six dollars in donations in merely thirty minutes. I’m not sure if it’s encouraging people to clean up their trash or Kaleigh’s slogan that drew money out of people’s pockets…She went around shouting “if you’re not gay, you owe us a dollar!” Some may not have donated, but they definitely laughed. If we aren’t collecting money, at least we’re entertaining.

Volunteering allows me to walk at the front of the parade to maintain order (what little order there is at an enormous gathering for gays). This, by far, is the best feeling, dancing in a line of volunteers, waving to the crowd, and being part of the human race, who have so much in common, but the immaculate similarity here is positivity and homosexuality. Accepting myself has been one of the most challenging aspects of my young life, but now I stand as an integral member of the lezzer community. I’ve never been so proud to be myself, never felt more connected, than I do now marching.

This is what happiness is. Spending the day volunteering for an event, which supports a cause I am deeply passionate about. These are the moments I live for; meeting and gathering with people who extinguish the feeling I have of being the alone or different. We are all one in the same. These moments are so exhilarating that I’m drained! Although I’m completely exhausted from all the walking (26, 003 steps in total), the amount of joy that fills me witnessing such amazing support from the LGBTQQ community and our allies gives me life. I have enough adrenaline to walk another five blocks to Mission. Nachos and cerveza replenish my body for the journey home and an even larger fiesta the following day…