Category Archives: Life

Utah: A Vegetarian’s Paradise

Wooden BearThe drive to Daniel’s Summit was long and cold. The snowy mountain road was indicative of the opening sequence of The Shining. There was no cell service where we were going and the Wi-Fi was supposedly fair at best. No Internet makes John a dull boy and I was hoping not to fall into a murderous rampage that would surely ruin the weekend for everyone. I’ve been to the area once before at least five years ago, but that trip was for a different reason in the middle of the summer, and even then I remember it being cold. The temperature only climbs so high once you reach a certain altitude, and although this isn’t the Andes or the Himalayas, it is still higher (and colder) than most places I spend my time nowadays. In places like these, the only living things that solely eat plants are the animals whose heads decorate the walls of local hunting cabins. A vegetarian would struggle to spend the winter in a place like this. A vegan could possibly starve. The weekend I spent here was a taste of a world that I forgot existed, void of the “liberal” eating habits I had grown accustomed to while living in New York City. But like everything in life, I made the best of what was available and managed to enjoy myself in the process.

I was going to the lodge for an event that involved many friends, both old and new. I hadn’t really planned out my eating situation, as I am used to having options wherever I go, and therefore, didn’t think I would have to. My wife is usually the one that runs into trouble since she is both vegan and gluten-free, but even with her restrictive diet there is always a solution even if it means talking directly with the chef. Being a vegetarian (meaning that eggs and dairy are still fair game) is not as hard as it seems. Things like pasta, pizza, French-fries, and omelets are technically vegetarian, although not incredibly healthy. These things are generally a last resort, because although I am not vegan, I still try to avoid most eggs and dairy. This weekend, sadly, that was not an option.

Gun LampThe lodge was an isolated building on a mountaintop about 20 miles Southeast of Heber City, UT. There are no services nearby, and without a car of my own, the conveniences of the closest civilization were out of my reach. Truth be told, even with a car, finding a restaurant with a vegetarian menu in Heber is still wishful thinking. What people in the east sometimes don’t realize is that Utah is the contemporary Wild West. Cattle ranches, rodeos, and demolition derbies are very real, very common things.The lodge where the event was being held was a concentrated version of this culture with every square inch bathed in rustic cowboy motif. The walls were a holocaust of decapitated prairie animals displayed for the amusement of its guests. Most of the furniture was made out of logs, antlers, and guns. Yes… guns. The leather that covered nearly every surface surpassed any amount I’ve ever seen. Every chair, every sofa, the pillows on my bed, and even the ice bucket in my room, were wrapped in tanned hide. I like to think that I have a high tolerance for human supremacy being that I grew up in the country, but the amount of carnage that went into decorating our weekend accommodations was outright excessive. Apparently, people like me are not their target demographic.

Gun chandelier

The small restaurant that was attached to the lodge celebrated the same Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show theme. Guns, animal heads, and various signs describing what a woman should be cooking decorated the walls. Needless to say, the options for vegetarians were few. There were two specials of the day – an 8-ounce prime rib and a 12-ounce prime rib. Other dishes included chicken-fried steak, chicken-fried chicken, various meat salads, and virtually every edible piece of bovine. I ordered the French fries for lunch and didn’t Wooden Cowboyinquire about whether or not they were cooked in lard. Sometimes, it’s best not to know. Most of my meals consisted of deep fried food with the exception of a pasta dish for dinner one night. My 12 year-old self loved eating fried side dishes for every meal, while my 33 year-old self wanted to smack my 12 year-old self in the head for eating such shit. But that’s the way it goes for a vegetarian in the mountains during the winter. Eat shit, or starve.

Despite the dead animals and grease running through my veins, the weekend at the lodge was pleasant. The coziness of the wooden building was reminiscent of my parents’ house in Pennsylvania, and the wood-burning fireplace added to that nurturing feeling. We spent several hours next to the fire playing checkers, all the while sheltered from the sub-freezing temperatures outside. Good company always makes a difference no matter the situation. It’s the reason people survive (and prosper) in harsh situations. It doesn’t matter where you are as much as who is with you. I could have a miserable time in paradise or a great time in prison cell – perspective is everything. I made the most of my weekend in the modern-day Winterfell. Blizzards, bearskins, shoddy Internet, steaks, and more steaks – not much can stand in my way of enjoying myself if I don’t let it.lodge


Why I Waited On College

When I was about 21 years old I was a painter in Pennsylvania. I was painting a house one day when the homeowner came outside and started talking to me and my coworkers as homeowners often do. The man led an interesting life. He volunteered his time rescuing stray animals, mostly cats, he worked in construction, and on the weekends, he performed in a KISS tribute band in which he breathed fire on stage. He wasn’t an old man – no more than 45 – and he seemed like he lived a very full and interesting life. He did something different everyday. Some things he had to do – like show up for his construction job (I believe he was self-employed) – but others he wanted to do, such as save cats and breathe fire while dressed like Gene Simmons. I remember saying to my boss who was somewhat of a mentor to me, “I want to do what he does.” My boss looked at me with a puzzled look. “You want to be in a KISS tribute band?!” He didn’t understand what I meant.

In the 15 years since I graduated high school I’ve held many jobs. Following my job (and almost career) as a house painter, I decided to move to Park City, Utah and become a snowboard instructor. During my stint in the beehive state, I worked as a rock climbing guide, a trampoline and gymnastics coach, a facilities manager, a personal assistant, a painter (again), a furniture designer, an IT specialist, a security guard at Sundance Film Festival, and filled in the gaps as a self-employed everything-man. I volunteered at an elementary school, brought people to speak to local drug rehab centers, and taught English. I made a very productive, although not always financially rewarding life for myself. When people would ask me what my long-term plan was, I’d tell them it was to have many short-term plans. I never wanted to get stuck in one thing. I always needed an escape plan just in case I got too comfortable, too bored, or both. My goal was to always have options, and I would fulfill this goal with a lifetime of diverse experience.

I started going to college when I was 28 years old during a low point in my life. I felt I’d run out of options, and therefore, might as well take a class. One class turned into two, then three; before I knew it I was a full-time college student. Many times I felt a bit of shame and embarrassment being that I was the oldest person in my classes, but I fought through it by showing that I was the most dedicated. I approached college with the same meandering attitude as I approached the rest of my life. Each semester I’d take whichever classes I thought seemed interesting with no particular goal in mind except to fulfill general requirements. This (and a long-distance girlfriend in New York City) eventually led me to the east coast to finish my degree. In order to supplement my income while in college, I took a job at one of my favorite retailers, REI. I had zero retail experience, but I was hired based on the time I spent out west. By this point I knew that I wanted to be in business and what better way to learn than on a retail sales floor in Manhattan while attending business school. I think that one day I may have a… dare I say… career in the industry I love. I am still connecting the dots, but starting to see the big picture clearer each day.

Today I am a 33 year-old recent college graduate successfully leveraging the years of experience I built by following a path of whatever intrigued me. I know that this isn’t the life for everyone. Some people don’t like surprises. They need to know what they will be doing everyday for years to come. Each person’s life course is as unique as her or his fingerprint. The one thing I do know is that if I had said I’m going to be an accountant or a web developer or a photographer straight out of high school, I would have deprived myself of 15 years of amazing experiences which turned out to be richer and more formative as any college course. I haven’t found my passion, I’ve found many passions. That is the reward I received from putting off going to college.

That man whose house we painted wasn’t rich by any means, but I know he was happy. As it turns out, so am I.

Graduation Day 2014
Graduation Day 2014 – Madison Square Garden