Category: Personal Stories

Since I’ve started this blog, I have had many personal experiences that have been rewarding, eye-opening, or inspiring. Some have been heartbreaking. Here I’ll share those personal essays.

10 Things to Do in Jackson Hole with Your Wife

Over the last few years, my wife and I have been interested in vacations that combined stress-destroying nature set in culturally rich places where adventure and great food were as common as the wide-open spaces, and Jackson Hole (we recently discovered) is clearly one of those places. I’ve been interested in visiting Jackson Hole since I saw a photo of the Grand Tetons, and every day we had in the Hole was an absolute pleasure. Below, you will see 10 things to do in Jackson Hole with Your Wife.

1. Be Beary Aware

bear

All throughout Grand Teton National Park, Teton Village, and Jackson Hole, it’s impossible to ignore the signs that read: “Be Bear Aware.” The signs are pretty self explanatory, but they want you to be on the look-out for bears. Well, Heron and I were terrified of bears yet incredibly intrigued by the prospect of seeing one. (We actually preferred the slogan “Be Beary Aware.”) So, when we were hiking to Amphitheater Lake, we actually saw a bear as we were coming around the corner of a switchback. He was young and ravaging through the huckleberry patches. It’s quite a sight to see, especially if they’re not about to eat you.

2. Buy Bear Spray

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When I was hiking and we approached switchbacks, I always reached down for my bear spray, just in case some hungry Grizzly wanted to have a French and Irish snack. I really recommend buying the bear spray at the supermarket — or asking your hotel to borrow some — but it does feel essential, considering I talked to a couple that needed to use it.

Ask people in the hotel you’re staying at if they have a good bear spray story. The best one I heard is that some people commonly interpret bear spray as a bug spray. One of the hotel employees told me the story of a father lining his entire family up against a wall, the bear spray in his hand, and dousing his entire family. From what I hear, the pain of mace to bear spray is like comparing the heat of a campfire to the sun. This poor family must have lost all faith in their father.

3. Huckleberries

Thistle bison

Huckleberries are a treat for bears…and humans. (Not pictured above.) It’s not right to let all the bears get all the good stuff. I recommend finding a huckleberry patch and searching for the delectable berry. Make sure that the plant has alternating leaves on the stem. If you have time, then try and find some huckleberry dessert at a local restaurant. I recommend Westbank Grill or Gather.

4. Morning Sunset on the Grand Teton

Grand Teton 2

Get up early in the morning and try and find the alpenglow.

5. Take a Safari

Pronghorn

For some reason, I never imagined I could take a legitimate safari in America, but in The Grand Teton National Park, you certainly can hop in an SUV and see incredible wildlife that truly make you understand “where the buffalo roam.” Heron and I took Eco Tours, and we were lucky enough to have Laura “the Legend” as our tour guide. I call her the legend because every other tour guide that met her along the way had a story about her. Here are two of my favorite:

  • Stalked a bison for 20 days
  • Killed a deer in the middle of winter with a bow and arrow and carried out the carcass on her back

Overall, EcoTours was fantastic. We drove around in an SUV, drank fresh coffee, and saw incredible wildlife and parts of the park we would never have found on our own. For instance, we saw bison, elk, a coyote, a badger, pronghorn, and more.

6. Dance Like a Cowboy at the Silver Dollar Saloon at the Wort Hotel

Buffalo Two Trip

I grew up in Massachusetts, and I wish I could actually say that I was close to being a real-life cowboy. I can’t, however….mostly because I tend to glamp instead of camp. But I can claim to dance like one. I recommend heading over to the Silver Dollar Saloon in Jackson when the live band is playing and figuring out how to cut a rug like you know how to herd cattle.

7. Peresphone Bakery

Bison with birds

When I first decided to book a vacation in Jackson, I never expected to find such incredible food. We ate at several great restaurants, but my favorite spot was Persephone bakery. They had great coffee, a peaceful outdoor patio, and spoons on the wall. Go there for great breakfast and Intelligentsia Coffee.

8. Hike to Amphitheater Lake and see the Elephant eye

Elephant Eye Amphitheater Lake

Heron and I love to hike, and before you die, you need to make sure you get as close to the Grand Teton as possible. I recommend hiking to Amphitheater Lake. It’s a difficult hike, but the views are intense, and the sense of accomplishment is even better. When you get to the top, you can wade in glacier water so refreshing, cool, and clean, you’ll almost want to go swimming. But then you’ll remember the cold part. Plus, you’ll get to see the rock that looks like an elephant eye. (At least that’s how I see it.)

9. Walk with the wildflowers

Hiking in the Wyoming Flowers

In Wyoming, the state flag is a bison, but I would argue that it should be the wildflower patch. Take some time to walk through a meadow and appreciate these colorful planets buzzing around your feet.

10. Fly Fish Down the Snake River

Snake River Jackson Hole

With all of the above said, it’s easy to say what our favorite part of the trip was in Jackson Hole: Fly fishing down the Snake River. I don’t claim to be a master fisherman, and neither does my wife. In fact, I have never been fly fishing before in my life, but we couldn’t miss the opportunity to try something new. We booked “Fish the Fly” with Tristan, our guide, and he took us down the Snake River in his boat, prepared all the rods, and hosted us down a river that was as large and glorious as the West. My wife was the only one to catch a fish, but it was worth it just to float down the river and catch site of the Grand Teton Mountains behind us and watch bald eagles and osprey zoom over head. Plus, we saw two golden eagles that stood taller than I could ever imagine. Being able to float down the Snake River in Wyoming, well, it gave us a reason to always return.

Why I Finally Decided to Join Snapchat–and You Should Too

At the beginning of 2016, I read an incredible piece by Joanna Stern, a Wall Street Journal reporter, on why Snapchat was about to have a “Facebook” moment–a term she used to describe a social network when it reaches a massive audience and becomes a part of the collective conciousness–and she encouraged people 30 and over to join a network known for being used mainly by tweens. The article really struck a chord with me, because she offered the first real reason why I should join Snapchat. She said Facebook was for major life updates; Twitter was for keeping up with live events and news; and Shapchat, well, “is for bearing witness—telling stories in raw, often humorous, behind-the-scenes clips or messages.” As someone who has built a career and creative life on the ability to tell stories, I jumped at the idea of seeing Snapchat as a medium for my storytelling–a way for me to easily use videos and focus on sharing my personal journey in a new and innovative way…an almost extension of my blog.

Of course, I didn’t think that way at first. Like most people my age, I initially thought Snapchat was for dick-pics and bored tweens who wanted to send photos of their lunch like it was a freaking Joseph Sudek photo.

Joseph Sudek Photo
Joseph Sudek

I thought Snapchat was another form of social media that would pull me away from the real world and further apart from my own creative life. I thought it would further pull me out of the moment and into a matrix of likes and retweets, entangling my conciousness in a rabbit-hole obsession with my analytics. But I have actually found several reasons why joining Snapchat was a great idea, and I think every single person who has a smart phone should join the social platform, especially if you work in a creative field. See my reasons below.

4. Snapchat is Changing Storytelling

I work in a creative field and tell stories in many different forms–marketing, journalism, public relations, podcasts, blogs, and fiction–but I also tell stories in a social setting as well–stories at a bar to friends or just through social media. Using Twitter, Facebook, or even this blog is a form of storytelling. But Snapchat’s stories are unique in the sense that I can tell the story of my day through video and photos in a format that is easy, quick, and immediate. I have often tried to enter into video, but I have failed because I’m too big of a perfectionist. I want the video to be so top notch that I refuse to send it out into the world. But with Snapchat, I don’t have to worry about any of that. It’s all shot on your phone, so it’s raw and straight from the moment. I love that ability to share stories that don’t have to be carefully constructed or edited.

3. Snapchat Discover is the Zeitgeist

The Open Road in the Western United States
Original photo, Joseph Lapin, somewhere on the open road

If you’re in the creative world and you rely on staying up-to-date with trends and cutting-edge content, then Snapchat Discover is essential. When you’re creating content that is designed to interact with the largest amount of people or land publications at some of the best publications in the country, it’s important to have an understanding of the zeitgeist–the spirit of the times–and know what news is breaking and what trends are popping off. Of course, Snapchat is not the only tool I use to ensure I’m tapped into the zeitgeist (I’m an avid reader of the Wall Street Journal and other publications), but watching the WSJ, CNN, ESPN, and BuzzFeed in the discover section really helps keep me in the know as much as possible. If you don’t believe there is value to the snap stories from a creative and professional perspective, then let  Bill Adair, Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University and the creator of PolitiFact, describe to you his experience with Snapchat:

After a week with Snapchat, I went back to the Times and the Post to see what I had missed. I found that the Discover providers had covered many of the same stories that got prominent play by the big papers. The Snapchat channels even had some good enterprise stories that explored politics and business news in some depth.

2. Stay Connected with Your Friends

I hate text messaging. It annoys me. I’m still the type of guy that would prefer to hop on a phone to talk with their friends, but I still have a hard time finding the energy or the time to jump on a call. I’m not entirely proud of my lack of effort toward my friends, but Snapchat bails me out. It’s so easy to send what you’re doing or a quick message to a friend you haven’t seen or heard from in a while. It’s an efficient and scalable way to maintain friendships with people, especially if you have moved around the country. For instance, I have a great buddy back home in Clinton, Massachusetts, and we’re not the type of guys to get on the phone and talk about our days. But almost every week, I receive a Snapchat from him, highlighting his new job site or what new trick his gigantic great dane figured out. Snapchat brings you into the room with your friend; it brings you into their day; it brings you closer than the carefully curated algorithm of Facebook.

1. Future of Broadcast Journalism

If you have ever seen the Snap Story “Good Luck America,” then you have seen the future of television and storytelling. The Snap Story is hosted by Peter Hamby, a former politics reporter for CNN and Snapchat’s head of news, and it exhibits how Snapchat is going to disrupt the very idea of how we watch “television,” and it provides us with news that is wired for the digital-media brain in a way that I don’t think I’ve experienced before. Of course, BuzzFeed started disrupting the story with the list and videos that are almost candy for the brain, but the way Hamby tells a complex story using cut aways, animation, and humor makes a lot of sense to my generation, and it feels like something that could have only come out of the Snapchat movement.

 

Follow me on Snapchat by taking a screenshot of the image above.

 

My Trip to America’s Most Extreme Haunted House, McKamey Manor

In the May/June 2016 of the Huck, a London-based magazine that is “refusing to be civilised since 2006,” released their new Freaked Out Issue, and I had a profile appear within the issue on McKamey Manor, America’s most extreme haunted house. As you’ll see in my piece, I drove out to Rancho Peñasquitos to talk with Russ McKamey and a group of actors who run McKamey Manor.

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Before I went to visit the manor, I conducted some preliminary research, and the videos I saw of the haunt truly freaked me out. The videos showed Russ McKamey and his actors dunking their “guests” heads into toilet bowls, shaving their hair and making them eat it, and mentally torturing people to the point where they would break. If you’re brave enough (I’m not kidding; these videos are fucking crazy),  then you can check out their YouTube Channel. In his videos, Russ McKamey seems like a madman–someone who was only interested in sadism and torture, but when I actually went and visited McKamey Manor, I was able to talk to Russ, get to know him, and understand him a bit more. The way I learned to see Russ was more as an artist whose medium was fear.

Please give the issue a read to learn more about my experience at America’s most extreme haunted house. But just know that you might have nightmares. If you’re interested in reading more of my horror writing, then I suggest checking out my writing samples and reading my story, “The Castle on the Hill” — or learn how I ended up burying a body in my backyard when I first moved to San Diego.

How to Turn 30-years old

I’m turning 30-years old on Saturday, August 15th. That means I have been alive for 10,950 days and 262,800 hours. Now this nice round number approaches, and I’m being asked by friends how it feels to be old (some in jest; some young people in fear that they will one day feel old, too). So, of course, it causes me to think about my life, my career, my direction. Anybody who tells you that when they turn 30-years old that they don’t consider what their life means is probably lying or just not very great at telling time. So I started to think about the best way to turn thirty years old.

Joe's Birthday Freak out

5. Freak Out: When I married my wife, I wrote in my vows that I will never let her feel old. Women deal with age in different ways than men. There is just so much more pressure on women to look young, to have “flawless” skin, to never wear mom jeans. While that’s unfair in many ways, it also hits men. I promised myself for years that I would never allow age to worry me, but sure enough, as that birthday approached, I felt something start to rise in the back of my mind, and it was the sense that I was getting old. It was the feeling that I perhaps haven’t done enough with my life. It was the thought that I have failed because I don’t have a novel out yet. I looked in the mirror, and I thought: Perhaps my hair is receding. I brought my wife into the bathroom, and I said, hey, look at my hair. Has it always been like this? She looked at me confused, and she examined my hair in a very serious way. She seemed to be measuring it with her eyes. She touched my scalp and felt my hair and said: “I don’t think so.” Well, that sent me over the edge. Her doubt scared the shit out of me. Could I actually be losing my hair? Isn’t this what made me who I am? Oh my god, I thought, I’m getting old. I started to look at other guys’ hairline and see if it was just perhaps the way my hairline was shaped, and I spun into a dangerous cycle of doubt and insecurity. Yeah, I know it’s lame. 30-years old is not old. I have so much life ahead of me, and I eventually came to that conclusion, but I realized that it was okay to freak out about your birthday. It’s just normal. Just don’t let it consume you. (I also realized how much of prima donna I am about my hair. Shit, that was embarrassing.)

Credit Joseph Lapin
Credit Joseph Lapin

4. Stay in Shape: I remember when I was 24-years old, living in Miami, Florida, and I thought I was hot shit: A young kid in graduate school on his way to a career as a “famous” author (which is still the plan), teaching classes at Florida International University and playing basketball within view of the beach after class. I used to play basketball with my massively tall friend, who was a bit older than me, and he sometimes would complain about his knee. He would have to sit out a game or two, and he sometimes wouldn’t come play ball, citing knee problems. I used to give him a bunch of shit. He was 30-years old at the time, and he used to say: “You just wait until you’re my age; you’re going to be hurting just the same.” I never believed him. I told him I would never let that happen to me. Well, sure enough, I started playing basketball again several weeks ago, and after the first game, my knee hurt so bad that I could hardly jump nor hit my deceptively sweet jump shot. I wasn’t feeling myself, and my wife told me I had to wear a brace. I officially felt like the old man at the Y. But I didn’t stop playing. I just realized I had let myself get out of shape, and if there is one thing I learned about turning 30, it’s that you have to work harder to feel young. You can’t allow age to set into your bones. You have to try — even though it’s impossible — to out work time.

Road along the beach in Del Mar

3. Take a Day Off from Work and Drive: I’m planning on taking Monday off from work, and I’m just going to drive into the desert. That might sound like a metaphor, but I mean that literally. In my twenties, I prided myself on my adventurous spirit. My goal is to write novels, and I knew the only way that I could ever have anything to write about would mean that I would have to travel. So I went to school in Florida; I traveled in Europe; I moved to Detroit at the beginning of the Great Recession; I went West with my wife; and I fell in love with a tremendous woman and promised her my life. I’ve taken a lot of adventures, and they were all accompanied by some sort of actual voyage. I have to remind myself of that the spirit for adventure, for the open road, for just driving, and I have to maintain the desire to get lost. Whenever I move to a new city, I always tell my wife when we’re driving home and don’t know where we’re going: It’s important to get lost to learn your way. So I’m just going to drive on Monday, take photos of whatever I see, and enjoy the search.

Hangliders over Torrey Pines

2. Recommit to a Goal: I have a great wife; I have a tremendous dog; I have a lovely apartment; I have a fulfilling job. I want a home, children, and some material objects. Honestly, I’m pretty ambitious. But I don’t know how I could ever wake up in the morning and feel alive if I didn’t have a goal that I was striving toward. I am writing a new novel that I hope to publish. I’ve written 45,000 words, and I actually feel good about it. (I know all first drafts are shit though.) Every day I have to write at least 500 words or I am miserable. I mean I felt like I just wasted my day and I should probably beat myself with a belt. (Hyperbole, of course.) But I am more committed than ever to write a great story, and I want to spend the rest of my nights and the rest of my birthdays writing other great stories. I think the only way to turn 30, 40, 50, and on and on is to find a way to breathe life again into the promises we made when we’re younger, because growing older is a conversation with our younger selves: Is this where I wanted to be by now? Is this who I wanted to be? Do I like myself and the person I have become? These questions are essential for turning 30-years old, and the way that one can answer yes is by staying true to the promises. One shouldn’t let the things we say when we’re younger just be empty promises.

Credit Joseph Lapin
Credit Joseph Lapin

1. Make a Legacy: I don’t have children yet, but I think the essential part about turning thirty is finding a way to leave a legacy, to leave something behind, so your image or your memory keeps on ticking long after your own heart stops. This is why I write, and this is the same reason that I’m going to have children…soon. Maybe a person’s legacy doesn’t have to be children, but it has to be something that burns, something that is full of life, even if it’s not alive. I think that’s the real important part of growing older: Finding a way to make something that is bigger than yourself.

10 Things to do in Kauai, Hawaii, with Your Wife Before You Die

Credit Joseph Lapin
Credit Joseph Lapin
Just over a month ago, my wife Heron and I returned from our first trip to Hawaii. We stayed on the island of Kauai, which is the fourth largest of the islands on the archipelago, and it’s nicknamed the “Gardens Isle” because it’s filled with rain forest, beautiful hibiscus, and incredible birds, including the Brazilian Cardinal. It rains quite a bit, but the weather is pleasant (I’m sure some entrepreneur could bottle the air and sell it to snowbirds), and the ocean is refreshing. If you look at a weather report or the North Shore, then you’ll probably see that it’s supposed to rain all week, but it rains somewhat like Florida: on and off. Kauai also has an extensive cinematic history. Jurassic Park and a scene from Indiana Jones were filmed here. According to local legend, Ben Stiller lives in Kauai and runs around the island, and Peter, Paul, and Mary wrote “Puff the Magic Dragon,” when they came and visited the “Garden Isle.” Because I loved the place so much, I decided to write a top 10 list of things to do with you wife before you die. Since I’ve had such fun experiences with lists and dying, I thought I would try it again. Here we go.

Credit Joseph Lapin
Credit Joseph Lapin

Hike Kauai with Erik

We wanted to hike, but we wanted a guided tour — someone to walk us through hidden spots and tell us about local culture — and we were lucky to find a great guide (Hike Kauai with Erik) on travel advisor who brought us to some interesting locations that most tourists probably wouldn’t get to see. He took the photo above.

Credit Joseph Lapin
Credit Joseph Lapin

Zipline at Koala

Before Hawaii, I had never been zipling, and it’s something I have wanted to cross off the bucket list for years. I finally convinced my wife to join me, and we ziplined on the property of Steve Case, one of the founders of AOL. The property was also used for filming the newest Jurassic Park. It was a rainy day, but the rain doesn’t stop you from zipling. As the guide said: “It’s a Hawaiian blessing.”

Credit Joseph Lapin
Credit Joseph Lapin

Rainbow Joes

Wonderful food truck. Definitely off the beaten path. It’s kind of in an industrial complex. The owner is crazy energetic, and the food is unique and fresh. Don’t miss.

Credit Joseph Lapin
Credit Joseph Lapin

St. Regis

The photo above is the view from the St. Regis. It’s expensive to stay there, but I recommend at least stopping in for a drink and watching the sunset. By the way, would you say the mountain looks like a dragon? That might actually be puff.

Credit Joseph Lapin
Credit Joseph Lapin

Na Pali Coast

The Na Pali Coast is considered one of the deadliest hikes in the world, and we ventured about two miles along the path. The photo above is taken from a spot on a ledge. The wind was blowing so hard that I lost the cap to my lens. I did not venture down the ledge to find it. The hike is actually slippery and, at times, treacherous. But don’t let fear stop you from witnessing all the beauty out there.

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin
Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

Paddle Boarding in Hanalei

In Hanalei, which is on the North Side of the island, there is a river that runs into an animal sanctuary. We rented a paddle board right near the center of Hanalei and paddled into the animal sanctuary. We saw a family of turtles resting on a log and heard countless birds that we could not name. If you think of the word animal sanctuary and you’re worried about being in the wild, then keep in mind that Hawaii has no predatory species. (Nothing that will hurt you.) At least, according to Erik, our hike guide.

Photo Credit Joseph Lapin
Photo Credit Joseph Lapin

The Prime Rib Night at the Westin 

We stayed at the Westin Hotel on the North Shore the first two nights, and I took the photo above from our balcony. Our room overlooked the golf course. It was pleasant. The best part about the stay, however, was their prime rib night. I believe it was Thursday, and it was probably the best prime rib I have ever had.

Credit Joseph Lapin
Credit Joseph Lapin

Friday Night Festival in Hanapepe

On Friday nights in Hanapepe, the home of the most western bookstore in the United States (you’ll have to buy a book if you have to take a piss), the town closes down the main street for a fair. They have incredible food, including hot dogs with lechon, and many other delicacies served from food trucks and carts. They have music and are so friendly. This is on the south side of the Island, so I suggest pairing it up with a trip to Waimea Canyon if you’re staying on the north.

Waimea Canyon

9. Waimea Canyon 

On the south side of the island, the landscape changes, and you will find what Mark Twain called “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” It’s a far drive to the south side from the north side, but you’ll be grateful you made the trip to see the site above.

Bianca on top of the mountain

Breathe

While there is a lot to see in Kauai, just make sure you find some time to reflect with your wife. You only have one life, so I suggest you take the time to be in the moment before it’s gone. Breathe in the fresh air from the top of a fucking mountain and be in love. Do it!

Big Kahuna