Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Observations & Thoughts After Visiting Maui

Ka'anapali Beach, Maui

My sweetheart and I just returned from our first visit to Hawaii. Here's some thoughts and observations I generated from our trip halfway across the mighty Pacific.

How to Know You're in Hawaii
In my travels, I've always been interested in identifying landmarks, physical features or manmade structures that can tip me off as to where I am if I were an alien life form cruising on by. Here's some examples:

Los Angeles – an eight-lane highway or the Hollywood sign
Amsterdam – picturesque canals or a plethora of bicycles
Rio de Janiero – Sugarloaf Mountain or Christ the Redeemer
Bangkok – tuk tuks or short non-pervy-looking men saying “You want boom boom?” as you walk by.

Anyway, you get the picture.

After Mari and I picked up our rental car and rolled out of Kahului Airport, the first manmade feature that struck me as Hawaiian were all the shaved ice shops or stands we saw. The first one we saw was a joint called Surfing Monkey Shave Ice.

I knew we'd have a fun trip after I saw that sign.

Hawaii Says Fuck You, Billboards
While surfing around for a list of bodacious beaches on Maui, I came across a fun fact: there are no billboards in the entire state of Hawaii. The state has outlawed them since 1927, the longest such law in the United States. They realized it's better for the human spirit to be surrounded by natural beauty than having advertising smut littering their landscape. Imagine that.

Good for you, Hawaii! (And props to Vermont, Alaska and Maine for also prohibiting billboards.)

Littering Fines
While we drove around west Maui, I noticed highway signs stating that litterers would be fined $1,000. Again, I think this is an example of Hawaiian law demonstrating and reflecting how their people care for their environment. In California we have signs that state litterers may be fined $100 - $1,000, but it's not a concise, steep first-time fine like in Hawaii. And you know what, it shows: the highways we transversed were pristine and clean compared to ones in California. The only other American highway I've seen that was that bereft of litter was Oregon. And guess what?: littering is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $6,250 or imprisonment up to one year in Oregon, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

No Judas Priest in the 808
Maybe it's different on The Big Island or Oʻahu, but they sure love chillaxing, super-tranquil music on Maui. While we took a breakfast pit stop at LuLu's Lahaina on our first morning there, I boldly predicted we would not come close to hearing any music resembling Judas Priest on the island. By then, I had abundant evidence: all the lilting-lullaby-guitar music played on our Hawaiian Airlines flight; the native Hawaiian folk music played through the loud speakers at the airport; and all the reggae playing from Native 101.7 FM, one of the few radio stations we could get a signal from our ride, which Mari dubbed “#1 Super Fun Car.” (More on our car later.)

And you know what, I was right. For the four days and nights we were on Maui, the hardest song I heard that was not from my iPod was Joan Jett's “I Love Rock 'n' Roll.”

Selfie Stick Sighting #1
Our first selfie stick sighting came on our first afternoon in Lahaina. Mari and I were checking out the ginormous pool souped up with waterfalls at our resort. That's when we saw—surprise, surprise—a young blonde and her friend laughing and smiling as they held a selfie stick and what I assume was a waterproof camera in the pool. Mari and I shook our heads. Sure, it's a large pool—larger than any pool I've seen, but really? You booked a stay at the Hyatt Regency Resort Maui to film and take pictures of yourself in a pool? It's just a big fucking hole filled with chlorinated water. Really?

Did she take her selfie stick to the bathroom and film herself dropping a turd into the toilet? I somehow doubt it. Nothing brag-worthy about such pictures, right? Right.

Lahaina = well-earned name
Our Maui Driving Map explained that “Lahaina” means “cruel sun.” “Lais sun, and hainais cruel or unmerciful,” it states.

Boy is it an apt name. Back in August my parents and I visited New Orleans. On clear afternoons the sun over New Orleans was not as mercilessly hot as what Mari and I felt in Maui. That sunlight felt like it was searing my skin—and I'm a brown boy who usually doesn't shy from it. But that shit was serious.

The legends are true: Hawaiians are seriously into Spam!

This mountain, this Endcap Totem to Spam, was sighted at the Safeway in Lahaina. Since we're not regular Spam consumers, Mari and I didn't even know they had all these different flavors. On our first Safeway run back on the mainland, we did indeed see many of these flavors, but nevertheless, we were impressed. Despite being the 40thmost populous state in 'Murica, Hawaii consumes more Spam than any other state.

Selfie Stick Sighting #2
This one was a hoot. Sighting took place on our second day there. Mari and I went out to the beach beside our hotel. I was reading a book when I noticed a Latino couple—a good-looking couple—camped out on towels neighboring us. First, I saw the couple wade in the water for a while, snapping pictures of themselves. About a half hour later, Mari and I saw him filming himself with his selfie stick as he walked along the shore. He had the camera pointed toward the sand, toward us. Mari photo-bombed (that's my first time writing that term) Mr. Hunky-Self-Absorbed-Much? by flipping him off when the camera was pointed in our direction. Perhaps he saw this in replay, which is why he proceeded to continue to walk along the shore to film himself as though he were the star of his own informercial.

Mr. Hunky-Self-Absorbed-Much? in action

Apparently Mr. Hunky-Self-Absorbed-Much? traveled across half an ocean to film himself smiling and walking along the beach. The sad thing is he is not the only one. And this is what our species has degenerated to—traveling not to wholeheartedly see and experience new lands and people, but to get that perfect picture, that perfect video to post on Instagram or Facebook. To get maximum Likes. To present this idyllic front to others—to oneself. This is partly why he traveled to Maui.

Sometimes I can't wait until we're all extinct.

Bitchin' Camaros
Take note, apparently red, yellow and white Camaros are the rental car of choice for vacationeers on the island of Maui. Mari and I saw them everywhere. The parking lots at the Hyatt Regency Resort Maui were teeming with Camaros. Other popular cars included Mustangs and convertibles, which made absolute sense. When in Hawaii, you know...

Parking Spots
On a related note, I noticed that all the parking spots I saw in Maui seemed noticeably small compared to ones I've seen on the mainland. I swear, if I could go back, I'd bring a tape measure to confirm this. I also noticed that natives are adept at backing their cars into tight parking spots, which reminded me of Peruvian drivers. (You get more points in my book, Hawaii!) I hope someone reading this will confirm that parking stripes are narrower in Maui. I'd love to know why this was done because it's obviously intentional and not the work of Bart Simpson.

Bart re-painting the parking stripes one inch shorter
My theory: Hawaiians have narrower parking spots to discourage people from driving large gas-guzzling vehicles. If so, I think it's working because: 1) Mari and I did not see a Hummer anywhere on the island, 2) the largest vehicles I saw was a big pickup truck driven by the proprietor of a taco cart in Lahaina and one of those black Fed-looking SUVs.

If You Like Beer...
pass on the decent but pedestrian offerings from the Kona Brewing Co. you'll inevitably come across on the island. Grab some Maui Brewing Company beer instead. (I, Juan Alvarado Valdivia, pledge that I was not paid for this endorsement.) Their Big Swell IPA is solid but I also tried their Imperial Coconut Porter. Fuck me. That. Was. Good.

Fun Fact About Larry Ellison
If you're a Golden State Warriors fan, you know Larry “Rich Fucker” Ellison nearly bought the team in 2010. During my snorkeling tour to the island of Lanai, 8.8 miles west of Maui, our guide told us Ellison owned the island. Bought it for $300 million. It's a big island. 140.5 square miles of mostly unpopulated land.

Poor Larry. Couldn't buy himself a basketball team so he bought a Hawaiian island instead.

The Hyatt Water Slide
The Hyatt Regency Resort is a fucking production. There's no other way to concisely put it. I've never stayed in a place like that but I will say this: the 150-foot water slide into a pool is pure simple genius. Fun for kids, young adults and old farts alike! Once I zipped into the dark tunnel, I screamed for the remainder of the ride with earnest thrill, zipping blindly from turn to turn until I got shot into the pool.

It's a miracle I only rode it twice in a row.

More Weird Human Behavior With Electronic Photographic Devices
On our last day, Mari and I frolicked in the ocean at the beach by our hotel. Our beach towel neighbors were a middle-aged Asian couple. We were out in the water for quite a while—at least an hour. That couple was there for about the same time. Other than going about shin-deep into the waves, we never saw them go into the water even though they were donning swimming gear. Instead, they waded by the shore taking turns photographing each other. The young bikini-clad woman in particular kept repeating the same shot where she hopped over a teeny wave, smiling at the camera. She must have done that like ten times—not that we were counting. It seemed very curious. Why would you fly out all the way to Hawaii, come out to the beach if you're not going to get into the water? Perhaps they couldn't swim? I don't know. It seemed like their primary purpose was to photograph themselves at the beach since we didn't see them sunbath or read or smoke a cigarette or whatever it is people do on the sand.

#1 Super Fun Car
Now we arrive to the part of my travel post where I bequeath some advice: if you are thinking about renting a car from Kimo's Rent-A-Car, you might want to consider getting a car other than what they call an “Older Compact”—if you care about appearances. It's aptly named. Believe me. Mari and I found out in less than a second when we first laid eyes on the red Toyota Matrix we rented. I'll let the pictures do the talkin'.

Here's a few unlisted features that #1 Super Fun Car sported:
  1. The horn didn't work. (That's got to be against some law, right? After I banged on what is supposed to be the horn a couple of times, I feared we would end up like the Volkswagen van in Little Miss Sunshine.)
  2. The glove box would not open since the handle was broken off long ago.
  3. The driver-side window made this awful screeching sound whenever you rolled it up.
After she first sat in the car and looked at the door handle, Mari's exact comment was, “Am I going to be able to get out of this thing?” And who can blame her for thinking that:

That lump of electrical tape is the driver-side door handle.

That said, the AC worked. The car got us around just fine—and we had no fear whatsoever that any schmuck would attempt to steal it. (If anything, that would've been a hoot and a half.) And it was a nice compact size, which proved helpful time and time again when we parked throughout the island.

Last story about #1 Super Fun Car: on our third day on the island, the “Matrix” sign on the back of the car broke off when Mari merely closed its trunk. We just laughed. We kept the sign. When we returned it to the Kimo's shop, homeboy walked around the car to inspect it for any damage. When he raised the trunk door, I grabbed the Matrix sign. I handed it to him. “This fell off,” I said. “Oh, yeah,” he said, “as long as the fender didn't fall off!”

Inside, I was laughing when he said that. I suspect Mari was too.

And one of the first things he said when we dropped off the car was: “It's an interesting car.”

Truthful Understatement of the Year.

One thing I wish we did but didn't—and Mari and I talked about it—but I wish we had taken #1 Super Fun Car up to a hotel attendant for valet parking. 

That would've been hidden camera gold.

Mari with #1 Super Fun Ride

Sunday, September 6, 2015

My 2015-2016 NFL season preview

Summer is fading out. A federal court ruled against Roger Goodell again. That means it’s time for you NFL fans to set aside, yet again, all the yucky moral apprehensions that come with being a devout fan—like rooting for a league with an inordinate amount of batterers, rapists, and jock asshole motherfuckers who are frequently in trouble with the law; a league managed by a commissioner who earns $44 million per year; a league managed by a bunch of self-serving cunts who have been trying their darndest to mask the full truth about chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) since 2006—the degenerative brain disease that has ravaged the lives of former players such as Mike Webster and Junior Seau and Harvard MBA-educated hard-hitting safety, Dave Duerson, both of whom committed suicide by shooting themselves in the chest. (Dave Duerson’s suicide note read, and the caps and misspellings were in his writing: “MY MIND SLIPS. THOUGHTS GET CROSSED. CANNOT FIND MY WORDS. MAJOR GROWTH ON THE BACK OF SKULL ON LOWER LEFT SIDE. FEEL REALLY ALONE. THINKING OF OTHER NFL PLAYERS WITH BRAIN INJURIES. SOMETIMES, SIMPLE SPELLING BECOMES A CHORE, AND MY EYESITE GOES BLURY… . I THINK SOMETHING IS SERIOUSLY DAMAGED IN MY BRAIN, TOO.”) That’s right—it’s time for the NFL season to begin!

(Can you tell I’ve got October 27th marked on my calendar? That’s the day when the 2015-2016 NBA season begins with the Golden State Warriors hosting former Warriors guru-assistant coach Alvin Gentry and his upstart New Orleans Pelicans. This past season, I fully understood how fun it is to wholeheartedly root for a team and a sport that carries far, far less baggage than the National Football League.)
I can’t lie: I still enjoy football as a sport. It’s such an American sport, symptomatic of our war-like society:

I embrace that about football. Like FIFA, I abhor the NFL’s management, and I find it hard to root for piece-of-shits like Ray McDonald, Ray Rice (another guy giving other “Ray”s a bad name!), Jameis Winston and Michael Vick—people who should have their nuts ripped off and threaded down their throats until they slowly asphyxiate. I’m not going to pretend other sports are rife with upstanding individuals. I’m not the brightest, but I’m not naïve or fucking stupid. But, the modern NFL has an inordinate amount of deplorable human beings in comparison to other major sports leagues. If you’re a half-conscious fan, you can recognize that.

But anyway, without further ado, here’s my predictions:

NFC East
If things break well, this might be the year Chip Kelly’s Eagles shed the contender-pretender label and move into the top three best teams in the NFC. No matter who is carrying the rock or chucking it across the field, this team should field a top offense. Question is: can their defense—namely their secondary—step up their game? Either way, I see them winning this division with Dallas being their fiercest opposition.

A lot of folks had the G-Men as a dark horse playoff team but I don’t see it. And the Redskins are a fucking joke and always will be as long as they have a dumbshit owner. Like Tim Kawakami tweeted not so long about sports franchises: “You are who you’re owned by.”

NFC South

For the second year in a row, I think the regular season will end with none of the NFC South teams seemingly wanting to win their division. Whoever wins nine games takes this division.

I’m leaning toward the Saints because I find it hard to believe that they’ll go 3-5 at home for a second straight year. Their defense just has to be mediocre for them to win this division, and I think that’ll happen. Carolina will trot out the best defense in this division but without second-year wideout Kelvin Benjamin and the ghost of DeAngelo Williams they’ll struggle to score. On paper, Tampa Bay has a lot of talent on both sides of the ball but I think Lovie Smith just might be a bad coach after all. Just as importantly, a twenty-one-year old rapist from Florida State who threw 25 TDs to 18 INTs is hardly a leader. He’s not going to be as bad as DuhMarcus Russell, but I think he will end up being one of the worst top overall picks ever.

NFC North
Ah, the NFC North, the strongest division in the NFC. Unless Detroit’s defense plummets without Ndamukong Suh, I think this division may sport three playoff-worthy teams, but I think only two will make it.

Like most of the folks at, I think the Packers are a cinch to take this division despite losing a top-10 wide receiver like Jordy Nelson. And like Andrew Sharp, I believe Aaron Rodgers is the closest the NFL has to Stephen Curry. At his peak, I’d take Rodgers over Peyton Manning or Tom Brady at their best. My big concern, as always, is their defense.

Minnesota should be a tough team this year. I think Mike Zimmer will continue to improve that defense. With Adrian Peterson coming back and Teddy Bridgewater continuing to improve, they may very well be a team no one wants to face in the Wild Card round.

Detroit should be a physical team with a decent offense. Sadly, Chicago still has this generation’s Jeff George under center, but with John Fox as their coach and two all-star coordinators they’re on their way back to respectability and competitiveness; just not quite this year.

NFC West
Two years ago, this division—without question—was the toughest in the NFL. Not the case anymore. Seattle and Green Bay should remain atop the NFC dog pile. With their defensive line, St. Louis could have a devastating defense if they pick up where they left off during the second half of last season. Even if the shadow of Carson Palmer keeps upright, I think Arizona will continue its slow decline but remain competitive.

You Niners fans don’t need a reminder of how awful this off-season was. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it one last time: it’s hard to imagine a worst off-season for a football franchise. Within one year I’ve gone back to pitying Niners fans—and that’s coming from a long-suffering Raiders fan. But that’s how bad your off-season was, and that’s how shittastic the Santa Clara Niners will continue to be in their $1.3 billion-dollar money-sucking stadium with a piece-of-shit field as long as you have a fucking rich-boy sorry-excuse-of-an-owner handing the reigns to a megalomaniac general manager who is more concerned about running the show His Way instead of winning.

NFC Wild Cards: Dallas and Minnesota

Deflategate Brady & Van Gogh

 AFC East
Remember that whole “You are who you’re owned by” line? Well, here’s your proof:
four Super Bowl victories in the last thirteen years. Robert Kraft has been one of the craftiest (I couldn’t resist) owners in sports. It sure helps having Bill Belichick as your coach and general manager. The Pats will take this division again.

With Buddy Ryan’s most gifted offspring taking the reins, I think the Bills and their ridiculously frightening defensive line will surpass the Dolphins as the second best team in this division. I think both of those teams will be in the hunt for a wild card, but I think only one will make the cut.

AFC  South
The AFC South sports everyone’s sexy pick to unseat the Patriots from their AFC throne: the Indianapolis Colts. If I had to bet a digit on any division winner, I’d probably take them. Losing Arian Foster—my latest atheist crush—to an injury will be a blow, but I think the Texans will continue to progress as a team. Though it’s his rookie year, Marcus Mariota could become one of the more exciting players to watch on the gridiron. Jacksonville will continue their slow glide upward as well but I think they’re still a double-digit-loss team.

AFC North
The AFC North should be the NFC North’s stiffest competition for the title of Toughest Division in Football. This year, I think it’s the Ravens turn to take the division. Ozzie Newsome’s recent drafts and acquisitions may begin to truly bear fruit this season. Coupled with an efficient, low-turnover offense, I think they will again be the one team in the AFC the Patriots do not want to face in the playoffs.

Last year, Pittsburgh was my dark horse candidate to make it to the Super Bowl. Boy, I was wrong, and up until Maurkice Pouncey went down with yet another major injury I was thinking of picking them as a dark horse playoff team but I’m not so hot on them now. Cincinnati still has a load of talent but they still have Andy “Red BB Gun” Dalton behind center. I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs this year, which should spare him from increasing his porous playoff statistics. (55.7% completion percentage, 1 TD to 6 backbreaking INTs and a ghastly 5.5 yards per attempt average.)

Cleveland should be competitive, but not quite a .500 team. It will be interesting to see if Manziel can make any substantial progress this year. And believe me, he’ll be taking snaps at some point this season; how is McCown an upgrade over Brian Hoyer?

AFC West
Denver should take this division again though their recent strangehold on the division is finally giving. Their defense might be downright scary with Wade Phillips taking over as defensive coordinator but I think their offense will continue to weaken. If everything breaks mostly right for them, I think Kansas City can give Denver a run for their money. San Diego’s offense should continue to be a top-10 unit with potential to finish even stronger. But that defense—oy.

And what can I say about my team, the Los Angeles Redux-Raiders, I mean the Oakland Raiders. I think we’re still a double-digit-loss team. At best, I think our offense has the opportunity to be an average offense, which is still a major upgrade in the post-Hue Jackson/Run DMC-was-healthy era. Our defense can be average to mediocre. Probably mediocre, but having Del Rio as our coach should continue to push us in the winning direction.

AFC Wild Cards: Kansas City and Buffalo

Super Bowl Prediction:

Last year I picked the Packers to take it all before the season started, and, fuck it, I’ll pick them again. Rodgers is the best quarterback in the world. Dom Capers’s defensive unit just has to be slightly above average for them to take it. Seattle’s championship window hasn’t shut, but boy last year was their best shot at winning a second one in their Russell Wilson era. Right now, the only legitimate contenders in my book are the Packers, Seahawks, Patriots (of course) and the Ravens. The Colts, Broncos and Eagles are on the next echelon—and that’s it unless Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills reincarnate as a lesser version of the ’85 Bears 46 defense.