I visited the University of Southern California

After spending a lot of time with my friend Doug Wreden in the Seattle Metropolitan Area this past summer, I headed out for the next leg of my road trip journey in September. Two months later (i.e., earlier this month), we were reunited in Los Angeles, California after I had arrived in town to set up my temporary base camp for the winter at the Tempo headquarters in Long Beach, and Doug flew in for a few days for an unrelated matter to attend an in-person event at the Galen Center at the University of Southern California.

We met up in Hollywood to get lunch together at a ramen restaurant with two of our mutual friends, then headed over to the University of Southern California campus so we would be nearby and he wouldn’t be late for his event. Event parking was US$40.00 in the main lot, but we managed to get the best luck possible by finding a side street with free weekend street parking.

We headed into the USC campus and wandered into the California Science Center, a museum with free admission.

This was one of the strangest museums I’ve ever been to, and I probably would not have been too happy if I had to pay to get in.

After we went up the escalator, one of the first things we saw was an exhibit dedicated to COVID-19. It already wasn’t exactly the most exciting thing to see in a museum, especially considering that we had just finished surviving a pandemic and most people probably want to take their minds off of it and want to resume normal life, but the mood and tone of the exhibit was a bit apocalyptic. It had the number of deaths prominently displayed on a digital screen, and the messaging still strongly pushed masking and social distancing. Confused, Doug and I chuckled a bit and went to the next section of the museum.

Next up was a section that was designed as if you were walking into a woman’s reproductive organs. Deep into the “uterus,” there was a video playing de­picting a woman giving birth in graphic detail with great clarity. There were a few small children eagerly watching. Further confused, Doug and I de­cided that was enough learning about reproduction for one day, and we walked through a tunnel (which I imagine represented a fallopian tube) to exit that sec­tion.

On the way to the next section, we took an intermission to watch a short film. The longer we watched, the more confused we got (as if we weren’t in­com­pre­hen­si­bly confused at this museum already). We realized that the film wasn’t actually a film, but rather, just a bunch of stock footage stitched to­geth­er with random words (like “water,” “desert,” “mountains,” “life,” etc.) overlayed on top of the footage. This is one of those “you had to be there to get it” moments, but if you have any experience editing video and you caught onto this, you probably would’ve also found it ridiculous.

If you thought it ended there, you would be sorely mistaken. The next exhibit was about avian life, and there was an interactive game I tried out where you would feed a ball into a tube and use a lever to shoot it out, and it was supposed to reflect something related to birds and how they evolved to sur­vive. I never found out what that was, though… because the ball just got stuck in the tube and I couldn’t get it out.

By this point, I had solidly awarded this the worst museum I have ever been to, and during my year-and-a-half road trip, I have been to a tremendous num­ber of museums.

It seemed like the main attraction of this museum was the area about space, and even this wasn’t that incredible.

The weirdness also didn’t end. There were a set of worn-down tires on display and a sign that said “Touch the tires!” but it was safely behind a barricade. The most prominent display of this entire area, directly in the middle of the space, was a movie and explanation of how astronauts defecated in space, as well as a physical model where you could climb up some steps and see what it would feel like to use a space toilet.

In a neighboring building, the Endeavour was on display. It was interesting to me that, as a space shuttle adorned with United States flags that was part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, an agency associated with United States federal government, they decided to spell Endeavor with a “u.” My best guess is that it was named in honor of or named after something British, but I never found out for sure.

After we decided we had enough of this museum, we decided to go for a walk around the campus some more, first taking a stroll through some rose gar­dens that were not in bloom because it is December, and then walking through a field with a ton of chipmunks. It seemed like the university students treated them well and fed them a lot, because when I stooped down and extended my fingers, the chipmunks walked right up to me, presumably because they thought I had food.

Here is a fountain. (I like fountains and waterfalls.)

Something I found intriguing about the USC campus was how there were random single palm trees planted in random places, at an average density of one palm tree per few blocks. Usually, you’ll see a row of palm trees lined up along pathways or organized in a cluster in open areas, but USC seems to have decided to put single palm trees right in the middle of other trees and buildings.

With my adoration of dogs, I of course had to take a picture with George Tirebiter. This is a bronze statue of the dog located at the intersection of Bloom Walk and Trousdale Parkway, just off West Exposition Boulevard, in between the Marshall School of Business and Zumberge Hall of Science. It was erected in 2006 by Michael Davis and is titled “Mascot/Fan.”

By coincidence, I had great synergy with the dog because I was wearing a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department K-9 hoodie.

Oh, and here is Doug who, after I passed my phone to him and asked him to take a photo of me with George, instead used the wrong-facing camera and ended up taking a selfie of himself (though, knowing Doug, I am guessing it wasn’t entirely a mistake).

After our adventure, we walked towards the Galen Center together so I could bid Doug farewell and head back to my truck. Of course, with my fantastic luck, the route we took led us onto West 34th Street, and we did not realize that its intersection with Figueroa Street right in front of the Galen Center was blocked with a closed vehicular gate and a locked pedestrian gate. … We solved this problem by just climbing over the fence.

I wasn’t really a fan of my undergraduate university years, and I feel like my exposure to the University of Southern California was probably the worst it could’ve possibly been considering the circumstances, but I still enjoyed spending time with Doug and exploring the campus, and it still brought back a bit of the nostalgia of being a younger college student.

 

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Hello, Idaho State Capitol Building in Boise

When deciding what cities to visit, I generally look at bigger cities with larger metropolitan areas that are easily accessible off major interstate highways. This ensures I have a wider selection of hotels to pick from, which means the competition keeps nightly rates low. It also increases the like­li­hood of there being plen­ty of good tourist activities for me to do during my stay.

Capitals aren’t necessarily the biggest or most attractive city in the state, so I don’t always end up visiting each state’s capital. Out of my road trip since June 2021, the only capital cities I’ve actually visited were Salt Lake City, Utah; Denver, Colorado; Springfield, Illinois; Indianapolis, Indiana; Atlanta, Georgia; Cheyenne, Wyoming; and Helena, Montana. Out of those seven, the only capitol building I’ve toured was in Springfield.

My current visit in Boise, Idaho is the eighth city to be added to that list, and also became the second capitol I toured. Interestingly, the Idaho State Cap­i­tol was one of the higher-rated attractions that I saw on travel websites, so I added it to my list of things to check out while in town.

I entered through the main entrance and was assisted by a canine officer who recommended I start my tour at the bottom-most floor. I climbed down the stairs and went to the visitor area, but the help desks and gift shop were empty, so I grabbed one of the self-tour booklets and started walking a­round.

This was called the “garden level.” The center had a lot of posters and a few interactive placards that explained how the government works. It also showed diagrams of how the three branches of government keep each other in check to ensure a balance of power, as well as a timeline of how new bills are passed into law.

On either side of the informational exhibit were the Senate Wing and the House Wing. These hallways mostly just had rooms and offices, as well as pho­to­graphs of past Senate and House members.

I continued upstairs to the rotunda and interior of the dome, which was nicely decorated for the holiday season.

A majority of the first floor was occupied by the Legislative Services Offices, but the south­eastern corner housed the Treasurer’s Office. This area was turned into more of a museum exhibit area, and one of the vaults was left open so visitors could see how the doors work.

The Legislative Services Offices had sections for administration, research, and audits on the western and eastern wings. When I headed to the north, I came across an employee who asked if I was on a self-guided tour, then offered to show me around a bit in the ref­er­ence li­brar­y.

On the way into the library, we saw an antique elevator, which was apparently used to pri­vately transport judges directly to the Idaho Supreme Court Chamber two floors up.

The reference library was very interesting to me, and it brought back memories of when I used to work for the police department. Because I was so efficient, I frequently ran out of things to do during my working hours, and would end up going to other areas of my vil­lage’s government services to assist there. One of the tasks I did was digitizing a lot of the old papers in the Village Hall.

When I told the state employee this story, and about how all these books and archives reminded me of my first real job, he took me to the back room and showed me hand­written bills and meeting minutes that looked nearly identical to what I had been tasked to scan nearly a decade ago.

Something unusual I noticed, not only in the library but also throughout the capitol build­ing in general, was how much they seemed to trust the public. There was minimal security present, visitors were allowed to just wander and roam around, and the library had im­por­tant written pieces of history just laying around and accessible to anyone who happens to stumble in.

I spoke quite a bit with the various state employees working in and around the reference library; I shared a lot of anecdotes from my travels, and we talked in-depth about the differences in culture between a place like Boise and a busier major city in a place like California… though Boise is also very rapidly increasing in population.

On my way out of the library and to the second floor, one of the employees offered to take a picture of me in front of the session law books from the late 1800s and throughout the 1900s, which is apparently something that is popular to do among new law school graduates.

For the next part of my self-guided tour, I worked my way up to the Executive Branch floor, which had the offices of the Attorney General, Secretary of State, and Lieutenant Governor.

And of course, an Executive Branch floor wouldn’t be complete without the Governor and his support staff. The current governor of Idaho is Bradley Jay Little, who has been serving as the 33rd governor since January 2019. Prior to being the governor, he also served as the lieutenant governor and a mem­ber of the Idaho Senate as well.

Unfortunately, the third and fourth floors weren’t that interesting. The third floor had the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee and the Senate and House Chambers, all of which were closed to the public. The fourth floor had public galleries from which you could look down on the chambers… but those were also closed.

While on the fourth floor, I peeked out some windows from Statuary Hall towards the Frank Steunenberg Statue for a nice view straight down Capitol Boulevard.

I know I regularly make fun of the United States government because of how inefficient government agencies tend to be, and I usually don’t have too many positive things to say about government, but I thought this visit to the Idaho State Capitol was great. All the people I met were very pleasant and looked like they wanted to go out of their way to answer my questions, teach me something new, and make sure I enjoyed my stay in Boise.

Some of the staff did mention that, with the growth of Boise, access to some areas of the Capitol were being restricted from the general public (which I guess was already going into effect on the upper floors). If you’re interested in learning how the state of Idaho is run (or just want to get a general idea of the baseline structure of how any state government is run), I think now is a great time to do it—better sooner than later.

I was originally expecting this to be a quick half-hour stroll, but because of all the great conversations I was having with everyone, my visit ended up lasting a few hours.

Oh, the two people you see on the steps? The man was taking photos of the woman, who seemed to be an influencer posing for thirst traps. 🤦

 

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Hello again, Mina the domestic shorthair cat; and Alki Beach Park in Seattle, Washington

Last month, I met Mina, a domestic shorthair cat. Before heading out of the Seattle Metropolitan Area to continue my transcontinental road trip, I had a fi­nal opportunity to visit and play with her one last time.

Earlier that day, a few friends and I went exploring at Alki Point, an area near the West Seattle neighborhood in Seattle, Washington. One of the friends I went with was Doug Wreden. We took another “typical Doug and Parkzer”-style photo in front of the Seattle skyline.

I wore long pants because I brought my point-and-shoot camera and I wanted sturdier pockets to hold it, but it was perfect shorts weather. The sun was shining but not too uncomfortably hot, and there was a light breeze coming from the water. The views were great, and we went on a weekend so there were a lot of other people out and it was fun people-watching.

We got some lunch from Marination Ma Kai. I ordered an entrée of four miso chicken tacos and a can of strawberry-lilikoi-flavored Hawaiian Sun. The food was great—the chicken was high-quality, the tacos weren’t excessively seasoned, and the garnish perfectly complemented the meat without being too sour.

After eating, we walked along the coastline to the Alki Point Lighthouse (which we later discovered was closed, as the tours only operate until La­bor Day), then we found some rental scooters and rode them all the way back to our parking spot. The last time I had used one of these scooters was way back in 2019 when I went to St. Paul, Minnesota, and I hadn’t ridden a scooter, bicycle, or anything of the sort since then. It was fun riding one again, especially because Alki had a separate, designated bike lane that I was able to use.

Overall, it was a very enjoyable trip.

 

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Hello, University of Washington in Seattle

Back when Tempo was an esports and gaming content creation company more than the game design and game development company that it is now, we had a content director named Glen Tokola who took over the editorial department after me. After Tempo phased out those departments, the Glen tran­si­tioned his career to a different position, and is now the Esports Manager at the University of Washington.

With my stay in the Seattle Metropolitan Area soon coming to an end, Glen wanted to give me a tour of the university campus before I left and con­tinued on my road trip, so I headed over to check out the football stadium and some of the university buildings.

The tour started at Husky Stadium. One of Glen’s co-workers who handles sales for the football team showed us around and was able to take us to some of the more exclusive areas.

We eventually made it to the upper-most floor, where I stepped outside and was able to see unobstructed views of the entire field.

This area of the stands also had amazing views of Union Bay and Lake Washington.

We also got to take a peek into the presidential suite. Apparently this is a coveted place from which only the highly privileged are able to watch the football games. To me, it just looked like a normal room, but I took our tour guide’s word about the prestige of the room, so I snapped a photo.

After a thorough trip around the stadium, we headed to the main campus area. At the end of a long, grassy strip of field was Drumheller Fountain.

From this point, we walked around some more and I wasn’t quite able to keep up with exactly what buildings we were entering, but we saw some in­ter­esting libraries and even peeked our heads into some empty classrooms, waiting to be occupied by students in the upcoming and soon-to-start ac­a­dem­ic year.

Finally, Glen took us to the new esports room, which is basically like a LAN center.

I already played a lot of video games when I was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, though I was somewhat limited by the fact that my laptop wasn’t very high-end, so I lagged a lot. I’m glad that my school didn’t have some­thing like this when I was a student about a decade ago, or else I feel like I would’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time in it.

Here is Glen in his office.

The University of Washington campus had a lot of husky statues scattered around. I pet all the ones I came across, but decided to take a picture with one before I left.

For the record, I thought Glen would zoom in and capture just my face with the face of the husky, which is why I am standing in a way that makes it look like I learned how to use my legs yesterday … I did not realize that he was going for a full-body shot.

Overall, our tour was a little over three miles (the GPS tracker shows less distance because I started it late and it also didn’t keep track of movement very accurately inside some of the buildings). It got a little warm towards the end, but it was a pleasant trip, and it brought back some of the nice memories from when I was still an undergraduate student.

 

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Eating a whole salmon in bunny costumes with Doug Wreden for charity

On August 26, 2022, my friend Doug Wreden ran a charity fundraising event for the Monterey Bay Aquarium in celebration of Rosa the sea otter‘s birth­day. The US$90,000.00 stretch goal was for Doug and me to eat a whole salmon while wearing bunny suits. The event ended up raising US$104,327.89.

With my stay in the Seattle Metropolitan Area soon coming to an end, we decided now would be a good time to fulfill our promise. Yesterday, we went to a local seafood store looking to purchase a whole salmon.

We asked the fishmonger what the smallest whole salmon would be, and he said it would be around 12 pounds (5-6 kilograms). He went to the back to grab one and came out with a 17.87 pound (8.11 kilogram) salmon, saying it was the smallest one they had available.

We brought it back to Doug’s house and stored it in the refrigerator. It barely fit.

This morning, we extracted the salmon from the refrigerator to prepare it for cooking. We were considering putting it on a tray, but then realized that would be completely pointless.

Here is a picture of Doug next to the salmon, for scale.

We covered the inside of the oven with tin foil and placed the fish inside. It was too big to comfortably fit in the oven, so we turned it diagonally and curved the head and tail upwards so it would fit.

After about an hour, the salmon was more-or-less done cooking, and it had a nice, golden brown crust.

We went into this knowing that it would be completely unrealistic to actually eat the entire fish, but we had our estimates—I thought I would be able to eat about 2 pounds, and if Doug does the same, we’d finish about a quarter of the fish.

Oh, and also, my inflatable bunny suit was aggressively large.

I ended up underestimating ourselves, because we finished about half of the salmon. If we account for the head and tail that we did not consume, as well as the weight of the bone, I think we might have eaten about 3.5-4 pounds (1.5-1.8 kilograms) of salmon each.

This was the aftermath. We took the leftover salmon and stored it in containers to finish consuming another day.

By the end of it, I had eaten so much pro­tein and fat that my stomach was upset and I felt physically exhausted, but I ate some popsicles high in sugar, and that neutralized some of the weird feeling in my stomach and made me feel much more refreshed.

This is by far my favorite stream that I’ve been a part of. Not only was it just an absolutely absurd, ridiculous, and insane concept, but it was tied to a great charity event, the audience was very happy to watch and was looking forward to it for over a month now, and it went surprisingly smoothly from a logistical perspective.

I’m glad I got to participate, and now Doug’s community just needs to convince him to eat a bunny while wearing a salmon costume…

 

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Hello, Mina the domestic shorthair cat

Last night, I met up with some friends to get dinner together and walk around Volunteer Park for a bit. After our adventure, I stopped by and visited her condo to meet Mina, her new cat.

Mina is a domestic shorthair that was originally a stray cat with some severe health problems, but she was able to be nursed back to health. Now, Mina is an extremely active, agile, and affectionate cat—probably one of the friendliest I’ve ever met. We suspect Mina is about a year old and has reached cat adulthood, but she still has the size, youth, and energy of a kitten.

It was a bit tricky to get some good pictures of Mina because the lighting wasn’t that great and she was always on the move, but I still got a handful of decent shots, especially after she had calmed down a bit and started grooming herself on the couch.

For the record, I’m not actually as tan as it may seem from this next photograph… Mina’s white hair just radiates light, so when I edit the photo such that her hair no longer blinds you, it ends up making my skin look pretty dark.

 

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