How I Wrapped Up My 30th Year in New York City

While cranking out some sort of work article one afternoon, a random text message appeared from the void that read something like this: Hey, we’re road tripping to New York in a couple days to see The Unicorns’ 10-year reunion. Join us?

In a couple days? So soon. No way. Well maybe. Don’t be lame. Could be fun. Remember, this is a self-employment perk. Screw it, why not?!

The text came from one of my longest-time childhood buddies, who through all sorts of weird life events, has been my constant best friend for two and a half decades. At that particular point in time, he was halfway between a relocation from Japan to Ireland with his new(ish) wife (who I would have my stolen away as my new friend even without her marital ties). They were making lots of American pit stops along the way, and I was fortunate enough to be able to tag along.

And if convincing myself that spontaneous road trips were an essential occupational perk wasn’t enough, the trip was planned over my birthday weekend – a weekend that I had planned absolutely nothing. That sealed the deal, and off we went…in a Mustang!

In photos, here’s how I wrapped up my 30th year on this planet with two amazing travel companions in New York City.


A scenic vista in Pennsylvania beckoned the Mustang crew to pull off for a photo op and a leg stretch.

backseatwork‘Tis the rough life of a traveling freelancer. Over the past year and a half, I’ve pretty much mastered the fine art of switching on my work focus at the drop of a hat…or in this case, at the drop of a convertible top. Thank the Lord Almighty for tangled-hair-prevention bandannas.

hollandtunnel1$13 to drive through the Holland Tunnel? You’ve GOT to be kidding me. And I thought Chicago tolls were bad. hollandtunnel2The tunnel was pretty futuristic-rad, snapping pics in the backseat with the top down. But seriously, $13?nycThe sights, sounds and er, smells of NYC as we entered Manhattan through Chinatown. bridgedrive

(singing) New York bridges falling down, falling down, falling down. Fortunately not today.


Our first Airbnb experience: We stayed in a nice 1-bedroom apartment/condo in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. It completely suited our needs, especially since all we did here was sleep and stash our stuff.

walkingbrooklynWandering around Brooklyn with no destination in mind…my favorite way to explore a new place.

brooklynThis was my fourth trip to New York City, so I was more interested in exploring random neighborhoods that revisiting the crowded tourist circuit. Brooklyn was perfect for experiencing that sort of local, unpretentious vibe, with plenty of creative street art along the way. Brooklyn gnome muralThis photo goes to show that I have the uncanny ability to uncover gnomes absolutely ANYWHERE. You can’t imagine my surprise when I strolled past a garage door painted with climbing and roller skating gnomes. These particular gnomes belonged to a craft studio, Baked in Brooklyn. crappypretzelsStreet side dining has a nostalgic appeal that often sounds better in our heads than tastes in our mouths. Exhibit A: crappy soft pretzels in the park. sodabear#peopleleavingdrinks – I never found out what this bear did to warrant incarceration, but at least he seems to receive a steady flow of soda.
creepyfencecreaturesI have no idea why this exists, and I find it wonderful. miscellaneousbookstoreOne of couple Brooklyn bookstores that deserved a bit of browsing time.

oldcheeseAfter hopping on a subway with the Lower East Side and East Village in mind, we wandered around a few unique parts of Manhattan. The oldest cheese store in America apparently exists in Little Italy. I’m still curious how old their oldest cheese block really is though. shoe shopThere’s no time for a busted flip flop in New York City. Rj patiently waited as an aggressive cobbler ripped a dying flip flop in half before making it whole again. mosaic trailAlthough I was only able to follow the Mosaic Trail for a few blocks before getting distracted by something else, I’m sure it leads somewhere really colorful.
weirdasianstuffCreepy scenes never cease to amuse me. Anyone: what’s a “crust jacket”?

Brooklyn Bridge pic

After what seemed to be a never-ending journey to stroll across the elusive Brooklyn Bridge, we found it! Skillful photo credit goes to Sarah for capturing our next album cover.

Arcade Fire picSpeaking of album cover, the entire point of the road trip was this concert! Equipped with not-so-real tattoos x3, our photo booth shot was nothing shy of epic.

theunicornsThe Unicorns! Those mythical creatures do exist! Apparently this indie band hasn’t performed in a decade and reunited, at least in part, because of a 2004 “joke song”  called “The Unicorns: 2014.” The lyrics go a little like this:

“I looked in into my crystal ball – See gummies in the sunny – Riding moonbeams into money.”

DJ Dan DeaconAfter dancing our way through The Unicorns set in sadly empty stands at the Barclays Center, a DJ named Dan Deacon took control of the back stage. The highlight of his performance was when he called out the “people dancing to the Unicorns way up in the stands”. THAT WAS US. Five seconds of fame were OURS and no one else’s.

Dan’s crowd-interactive dance-off circle was fun to watch as well…a distant second highlight.
ArcadeFireThen came Arcade Fire, which was a ridiculously glitzy stage set with no less than a dozen people on stage at any given time. I knew a good number of the AF songs from radio play, some more catchy than others. But ultimately, they put on a super entertaining performance up down there.
expensiveboozeGetting too concert-drunk was a non-issue because one mixed drink cost a whopping $14.75. I expected to find chunks of gold at the bottom of my Jack & Ginger, but alas…nothing more than a few chips of melted ice.


Hellooo, Jersey City!

And in the true spirit of a whirlwind journey, we were back on the road again in the blink of an eye. So what if we spent nearly as much time going below speed limit on the interstate and taking rest stop breaks than actually in the heart and belly of New York. Road trips are about the journey more than the destination, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

About a decade ago, Rj and I attempted to road trip from Arthur, Illinois to Canada. However, we didn’t even make it past Beloit, Wisconsin. So in that regard, I consider this trip a huge success.

I loved getting to know Sarah over these quick and random road trip days and meeting her welcoming friends who kindheartedly fed us snacks and wine and engaged us in clever conversation one evening in their flat. A trip to visit the newlyweds in Ireland next summer is definitely on my travel to-do list.

Rj and SarahAnd for my birthday? At the stroke of midnight on August 24, 2014, I was half passed out in the backseat of the Mustang rolling through uber-depressing Gary, Indiana. But at that point, I had already celebrated to my heart’s content and had no idea that another adventure was planned for me back in Chicago when I returned home.

howoldareyouWhile passing through a middle-of-nowhere town in Ohio on the return journey, I popped into an antique shop in search of you guessed it…gnomes. Although I didn’t find any, I was entirely amused by this antique cloth print that read, “How Old Are You?”

Although 31 sounds like a totally insignificant number, I’m determined to make it an incredibly significant year. So pour me a glass of brandy and keep the adventures coming!

Gnome-Painting…at a Craft Studio near You!

While traveling along America’s West Coast and East Coast this summer, I was reminded that gnomes (and the people that create them) are absolutely everywhere.  I always enjoy scouting out gnomish trends across the globe, and I recently discovered a new breeding ground for our little friends…local pottery craft studios!


I was exploring the trendy stop and restaurant scene on Alberta Street in Portland, Oregon one evening when a gnome in the window caught my eye. The window belonged to Mimosa Studios, a paint-your-own-pots ceramic studio and handmade gift gallery that was promoting a traveling gnome contest.


To kick off the summer, Mimosa Studios encouraged gnome, art, and travel enthusiasts of to paint a gnome (eight sizes available!), receive a gnome adoption certificate, and snap traveling gnome photos to enter and win prizes.


I spent an afternoon painting this little beauty with a suitcase and a fistful of dollars, who I promptly named Pennifer Pennypincher. To start building up her travel portfolio, I invited her to join me on a hiking expedition in California’s Lava Beds National Monument for a little photo shoot and caving adventure.lava beds

Just a few weeks later while strolling the streets of Brooklyn, New York, I glanced over to see a beautifully painted mural. Now there is plenty of street art to observe in Brooklyn, but this particular one was special because there were gnomes in it! The mural belonged to a ceramic craft studio called Baked in Brooklyn in the Williamsburg neighborhood.

Brooklyn gnome mural

Along with a lovely array of mugs, plates, and bowls, this studio has gnomes available to paint inside. Unfortunately, the studio was not yet open for business when I stumbled upon it, but I made sure to have my friend snap a quick picture of me excitedly pointing at the mural gnomes.

So when you have some time this fall, browse your neighborhood to see if any local craft or pottery studios are hosting gnome painting events in your area. They seem to be popping up all over the place these days and they’re loads of fun for all ages of gnome fans!

*A version of this story is scheduled to be published in the upcoming International Gnome Club Newsletter!