August 22, 2007

Addicted to Rock & Roll

What's up with rock stars, actors, and celebrities being addicted to drugs and alcohol? Why does it seems that such a high percentage of 'stars' have chemical addiction problems? Here's a look at a few potential causes and some thoughts on each.

Money - It's well accepted that athletes, movie stars and musicians are all fairly wealthy. Feeding a drug habit takes a substantial amount of cash that most people can't afford- at least not without this spending controlling the rest of our lives. Wealthy stars can afford even the most expensive of drug habits. While less wealthy addicts need to steal, beg or otherwise spend their days feeding their habit. This cause is probably a contributing factor to many celebrities' habits, but taken by itself would imply that anyone with the enough extra cash would have a drug habit.

Opportunity - Being a 'star' provides many new opportunities that ordinary folk never have. Exclusive clubs, exotic vacations, and privledged access to people, places, and services that most people could only dream of. These opportunities give stars the chance to purchase and use drugs in a nearly consequence-free environment. Stars are less likely to be caught and can obtain the finest in court counsel when dealing with the legal ramifications of their actions. They are also in contact with dealers or other users that could provide them with drugs. If I were to decide to start using hard drugs, I wouldn't even know where to start or even who to ask.

The "Creative Mind" - There has long been an association between drug usage and creativity. Whether addictive substances do truly contribute to the creative process is a question for someone more experienced than I, but there has historically been a connection. Stars are frequently artists in one form or another and depend on creativity to do their work. Musicians, actors, writers, and artists may feel the need to dip into some artificial creativity when they need a new idea.

The "Stress of the Spotlight" - PR representatives, agents and other media spinsters suggest this cause frequently in an attempt to lure the public into sympathizing for -not criticizing against- the chemically troubled star. The idea is that the pressure of being in the media spotlight and the high-stress nature of their jobs drives them to turn to drugs to cope. I don't buy this argument. Sure, there can be a lot of pressure from the paparazzi constantly snapping photos of you as you walk the beach or drive your car, but would this not be offset by the benefits of stardom? The tradeoff between being followed by photographers and having and doing everything you've ever dreamed of is surely weighted toward the benefit side. Furthermore, there must be many jobs that are more stressful than acting, singing or sports. How many brain surgeons, air traffic controllers or CEO's are caught up in drug habits?

Lack of Education - One commonality between many drug addicted stars is the lack of a formal education. Schooling provides more than book knowledge. It teaches discipline, self-control, time management, and even drug resistance. Many stars skipped higher education altogether, and others started their celebrity careers much younger, and therefore were not exposed to formal schooling.

Everybody's Doing It - It's worth considering that perhaps the number of chemically troubled stars isn't particularly high. It's just that because they're in the spotlight, their problems are brought to the public conciousness. If one in ten celebrities have drug related problems, maybe one in ten Americans do too. We just focus on the famous cases- not the crack addict down the street. When you consider how many celebrities you can think of that have drug problems, how does that compare relatively to the amount of celebrities that you can think of at all? This comparison could also be done with drug addicts you know compared to everyone you know, but there's other problems with that analogy. (Mostly because drug addicts befriend other drug addicts, and non-users befriend non-users.)

Publicity - This theory is perhaps the most cynical of all. Stars may induce drug problems (or over-hype them) in a concious effort to garner media attention. With the amount of focus paid by tabloid television shows and grocery check-out magazines, a shortcut to the public spotlight might go through the bottle or pipe. I'd like to think that even the dimmest of stars would have enough sense not to sacrifice their health to appear on the cover of National Enquirer, but I don't put it past them.

Personality - This idea is similar to the "Creative Mind" theory. Simply put, same personality features (quirks and all) that drive individuals to be charasmatic, popular, and likeable are the same features that drive them to the downward spiral of drinking and drugs. I'm no behavioral psychologist, but we've all experienced some type of effect such as the lower inhibitions and attitude adjustment received from food, drugs or alcohol. Perhaps the two are more intertwined than we believed.

The list of stars with drug problems is far longer than the Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears trio we here most of today.

How many drug afflicted stars can you think of?

Wikipedia -List of Drug Related Deaths
CelebGuru -Top 20 Celebrity Drug Confessions -Death by Drugs Quiz

July 28, 2007

Another night in Paris and a trip to the Normandy coast

Upon returning to Paris, I rode the bus from the airport in the middle of nowhere back to the city. It was late- maybe about 11:00 or later by the time the bus arrived in central Paris. I hopped off the bus and was about to head for the subway when I saw the two guys from Notre Dame. Remembering how difficult Paris could be for an unseasoned traveler, I offered them my assistance in getting to their hostel. They immediately accepted my offer and we headed for the subway.

The metro was a couple of blocks away from the bus stop. After crossing a few streets and heading underground, it became apparent that the Metro ticket office had closed for the day. The subway was still running, but there was nowhere to purchase a ticket to ride. Fortunately, I had purchased a pack of 10 tickets while previously in Paris, and I managed to rummage through my bag enough to find 3. We caught the next train and I showed the two Notre Dame guys where to get off at their stop. All they seemed to know that their hostel was 'near the Louvre'. I took them that far, but because I didn't think I'd be able to get back on the Metro, they went off on their own. I'll just assume that they made it just fine.

The hotel for that night for Clay, Charlie and I was on the other side of the city. As I stepped out of the subway, I realized that I had never seen this section of the city before and had no idea where the hotel might be. After some searching, I found my way into hotel, which was poorly marked (of course). So much so that the address I had was actually for a hotel on a neighboring street. When I walked in that building, the receptionist acted as if this happened all the time- and sent me down the street. After dropping off my stuff, I headed back out to the subway stop to grab the guys before they had to search the neighborhood too.

The next morning we left for Bayeux, which is a small town on the Normandy coast. In order to spend a decent amount of time there, we had to leave on the first train out. After a train change in Caen, we made it to our destination. To our surprise, the town wasn't exactly on the coast, nor was it a very walkable place to be. There were a bunch of signs -in English- advertising cab companies and tours. We had French-speaking Charlie and his cell phone with us, so we chose one almost at random. The tour guide picked us up about ten minutes later and off we went.

Our first stop was the American Cemetery. The newly completed visitor center was full of World War II artifacts and exhibits. A lot of it was similar to exhibits I had seen elsewhere in London's Imperial War Museum or in many different American museums. We left the visitor's center and headed for the cemetery, which was one of the most immaculate outdoor locations I've ever seen. Even Arlington cemetery in Washington wasn't this perfect. The landscaping was professionally done, with a tree lined path along the beach and into the cemetery itself. Even the grass was at uniform height throughout the area. We stepped into the main area, which consisted of a arc-shaped monument and reflecting pool on one end and a mausoleum on the other. A path led between the two major features at each end of the cemetery and off to either side were rows and rows of grave stones. Each was an identical white cross or star of David that was precisely in line with other stones in every direction. Nothing looked the slightest bit out of place. The rows were a perfect parallel to the way soldiers would stand in uniform on the parade grounds. We spent several quiet minutes among the graves, appreciating the loss of life that was sacrificed for such a noble cause. Unfortunately, time was becoming scarce.

We went back to the cab and the driver took us to Omaha beach- arguably the most infamous place on the Normandy coast. We walked through the sand and to the water, then looked back up at the cliffs. I could only imagine how daunting of a task it must have appeared for a soldier landing on that beach in 1944. Standing on the sand and seeing the entire continent of Nazi Europe ahead must have made the mission appear impossible. By 2007 however, the concrete emplacements of the Atlantic Wall had been removed as well as the tank traps, land mines and thousands of German soldiers defending their seized territory.

From the beach we returned to the train station and rode back to Paris, taking with us an appreciation of a landmark battle that could only be attained by seeing the site in person. When the train arrived in Paris, we had get across town to catch another train to Bordeaux. It was in the Monparnasse station where we were supposed to meet up with Sean.

Sean was flying in from Chicago that morning and planned on meeting us in the station. We had approximately 45 minutes to find him or we'd miss our train. Sean was nowhere to be found. We scoured the platform for 30 minutes trying to find him, but to no avail. With about 90 seconds til departure, we took off down the track and jumped aboard the TGV to Bordeaux, only minutes before it left the station. We frustratingly tried calling Sean, but with no answer.

June 23, 2007

Rome Part II

I didn't reach my hostel til 1am, thanks to the riot caused by Bush's arrival in Rome. I could actually see the riot going on from the bus as we drove into town. Several exits were blocked as the hundreds of police officers decked out in full riot gear tried to control the crowd. I walked to my hostel and checked in, then asked if Charlie and Clay had arrived. The front desk had no record of their reservation, so we had apparently booked two different hostels. I was staying at the Hostel Beautiful, and the receptionist informed me that there was also a Hotel Beautiful just a few blocks away.

In the morning, I had to find the guys. I woke up early in hopes that I could find their hostel before they left for the day. I know Charlie wanted to try to catch mass at the Vatican, so I had to be quick. I first walked down the street that their hotel was on, but I couldn't find it. I did discover an internet cafe however, so I sent them an email stating that I would wait at a specific place in the train station until noon. I waited near track one at Rome's Termini station for about an hour before I decided I should look for the hotel again. It was only a block or two from the station, so I could make it back quickly if I couldn't find it. This time around, I was more successful.

I finally found their hotel, which was on the fourth floor of the building. The exterior sign was quite small and completely overshadowed by another hotel in the same building. I ran up the stairs, still concerned that I might miss them at the train station. When I got to the reception desk, I asked the clerk if they had booked Charlie and Clay. Before he could answer, a young woman who was also standing at the desk, but was a guest, looked at me and asked "Are you Tyler?" She told me that she went out to a bar with the guys the night before and that they waited for me until 2am near the train station. She also said that Charlie and Clay had already left for the day. I asked if they had internet access at that hotel, to which they replied "yes." With that, I thanked the young woman, whom I never saw again, and took off down the stairs. I started back toward the station when I caught what looked to be a familiar face down the street. I yelled out to Charlie, who was standing outside an internet cafe, looking in to where Clay was checking his email.

I was pretty relieved to find them, and it turned out not to be as difficult as my initial fears. They had gone out drinking the night before, so they were in no shape to go to early mass. Charlie told me later that he tried to think of what I would do if I was trying to find them, and sending them an email (virtually the only telecommunication tool we had) would probably be on the list.


We walked many miles the rest of the day, starting at the Colosseum and working our way through the forum. We saw the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona, and the Trevi Fountain before finishing our evening with some traditional Italian pasta and a bottle of wine.

The next day we went to the Vatican, which required a two hour line outside the building, followed by being herded through the actual museum and Sistine Chapel. At some point this day we decided that when people at home asked us about our trip, we'd reply, "Well, it's hot, there's a ton of stairs, and you have to wait in line for everything." Really though, sometimes we walked up stairs, sometimes we waited in line. Sometimes we stood in lines on stairs, or walked up stairs to get in a line. There was a gazillion people most everywhere we went in Rome. Frankly, with the climate of Italy, I'd recommend traveling there in the spring or fall and skipping the summer rush.

On our third day in Rome, we had to fly back to Paris later that evening. We were really tired from the previous two days of walking and line standing, so we went to the fortress that sits in front of the Vatican on the Tiber river. Our intentions were to go inside, but that quickly changed when we realized it would cost 8 euros. That's about $10. I was on a budget as is, and paying a bunch of money for the privilege of climbing a bunch of stairs didn't sound to appealing. Instead we sat in park area near the fort and relaxed for a few hours. Sometimes it's nice just to enjoy the fact that you're on vacation.

The flight back went without incident. On the flight, I met two guys from Notre Dame who were traveling a bit before starting their summer study abroad program. They were a couple years younger than me and were clearly traveling around Europe for the first time. More on them when we get back to Paris.

June 11, 2007

Rome: Part I

After my last post, Charlie and I went to the airport to pick up Clay. His flight arrived after noon so we easily made it to the customs area of the airport that he would have to come through. Charlie and I held up signs for him- mine simply said "Samsonite". Getting back to the city was easy enough, and Charlie couldnt resist but pull a trick on Clay. We gave him an already used Metro ticket. When he tried to put it in the machine, it would read it as invalid and not allow the turnstile to move. We kept telling him to keep trying, saying that he already "broke France" within hours of arrival.

The rest of that afternoon was spent seeing some Paris sights such as Sacre Cour and the Eiffel Tower. This time however, we went to the top. We went right at dusk, so we were able to see from the tower with and without the daylight. At 10 oclock and every hour afterward, the tower sparkles with strobe lights. We watched from the grassy park below.

The next day, we took the RER out to Versailles, which is the famous palace just outside the city. We took the standard tour that included the king and queens living quarters, the rooms and rooms of art and riches, as well as the hall of mirrors. We had to fly to Rome that evening too, so we didnt stay too long.

Charlie and Clay flew separately from me, because I opted for a cheaper flight from a farther airport. The two of them left a little earlier, then I found my way to thebus stop that would take me an hour away to the Beauvais airport. While it was cheaper, taking this alternate flight proved more difficult than I hoped. On top of it being a late flight, the plane was also delayed. I didnt get to the city of Rome until 1 am, at which point I realized that I was booked at a different hostel than the other guys. I found it just fine, but I needed to find a way to catch up to them in the morning. We didnt have cell phones or any other way to quickly get ahold of one another.

Were going to get some food, so ill finish this story later. By the way, this keyboard apparently doesnt have an apostrophe button.

June 07, 2007

First Days in Paris

I arrived in Paris yesterday morning. I was tired from flying, but it wasn't as bad as it was in previous trips. With some help from a walmart brand sleep aid, I managed to get myself to sleep instead of watching the movie. From the Paris airport, which looks like it was built in 1957 and not touched since, i took the RER into the city. Charlie told me to meet him at the St Michael Fountaine so I navigated the metro to that stop. I got there an hour and a half or so before he would be in town from Bordeaux, so I took the time to walk around the neighborhood. From there, I could walk to Notre Dame and the nearby Latin Quarter. Around 11ish, Charlie showed up at the fountain. It was good to see him- he's been in france since january.

From there we took our things to the hostel so we wouldn't have to carry them. We found our hostel near the train station and went inside. I had a booking confirmation page I had printed from the internet booking service. The woman at the desk was completely confused. She had no record of our booking whatsoever. Charlie conversed with her in French and she looked all over for any indication of our reservation. Everything seemed to be done on paper, which made it a bit mystifiying that the hotel would be listed on the internet at all. That hotel was full, so we left and were able to find elsewhere to stay for only a bit more money. I wrote an email to the hostel booking service and they said they'd refund my money.

After getting settled, Charlie took me on a brief tour of the city. We rode the Metro to the Latin Quarter and walked around the island in the middle of the Seine. From there we walked to the Louvre, which is enormous. It was a gorgeous day so we did a lot of walking. We didn't go inside the Louvre because we weren't ready to dedicate the time necessary to really take it in.

We did go to the Arch d Triumph though, which requires an aggressive stair climb. The arch is gigantic. It really stands out along the skyline, and from the top you can look down all nine roads that lead to the circle in which it stands. You can also see down the Champs Elysee.

For dinner, we went to a local grocery store and bought some cheese and ham to make sandwiches with a baguette. Not the most gratifying dinner, but for the price it was a great choice. We also had a couple beers, which was a nice way to relax after a long day. Somehow I stayed awake til 11pm, which was very helpful to adjust to local time.

Today we went first to the Catacombs, which is where the French put a whole bunch of dead bodies that were causing health problems because they were originally put in a mass grave near the city. After walking through hundreds of yards of tunnels, you get to a section of tunnels that are lined with bones. Lots and lots of bones. Thousands of skeletons worth. There are human skulls, femurs and other parts in rows and rows. Many of them are arranged in patterns of crosses or hearts. The tunnels go on and on, with intermittent plaques with french philosophy on death. It's a really strange place, and by far the creepiest place I've ever been.

After grabbing some lunch (chinese), we walked to the eiffel tower. Which is also bigger than I thought... I'm sensing a theme here. We walked below it and through the nearby park. We didn't go up to the top because it's somewhat expensive and requires a long wait in line. We also toured some of the surrounding area. That brings me pretty much up to the moment.

We got a message from Clay saying his flight has been pushed back an hour or two, so instead of him arriving at 1030 as we previously thought, it could be as late as 1230. Even after checking with Air India, his chosen airline, we're still not sure of his arrival time. Him getting in later might hamper our chances of going to Normandy that day as we previously planned. Hopefully we can move some plans around and still get out there before coming back to the states. We'll see.

In other news, I was offered a job at Southeast. I'll need to call them. Hope everything is going well at home. Feel free to email me, I've been able to check it the past two days.

May 29, 2007

Hypermiling: Update

Late last week I finished my first tank of hypermiled gas. Using the techniques I described in a previous post, I managed 38 miles per gallon. Unbelievable. That's a 20-30% increase over the standard mileage.

The biggest lesson learned is how far the car will really coast. When you take your foot off the gas, the car keeps moving for quite a distance without slowing too dramatically. I've become almost obsessed with seeing how far I can coast and avoiding the brake pedal whenever possible. It's to the point now that I cringe at drivers ahead of me who use their breaks every time they see another car move.

Nevertheless, it's a driving style that I intend to continue. If you haven't tried it yet, do so. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.