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In my 1,000th performance in my 50th state on my 32nd birthday, I shared the journey of what it was like to live as a nomad, why I did it, and what I learned from the experience.

A big shout-out to Civil Beat in Honolulu for letting me tell this story and for putting on an incredible storytelling event.

To learn more about the journey, check out my other travel posts.

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butt sketch artist

Do you think you can be anything you want to be, as long as you set your mind to it? I didn’t used to think so. I mean, people are limited by education, environment, and circumstance.

And then I saw something, or rather someone, who changed my mind.

The Butt Sketch Artist

I was sitting at the closing event of the Women’s Foodservice Forum in Dallas, TX. Earlier that day I had delivered two breakout sessions to 400 aspiring women leaders on the topic of humor in the workplace and was now celebrating the end of the incredible conference.

To my left was a VP of Coca-Cola. She was telling us the story of those “Japanese coke machines” that allow you to pick any flavor you want that in no way started in Japan. To my right, was a VP of Starbucks. She had recently helped improve the food selection that sits in those glass cases along with the delicious marble loaf.

In the middle was a very distracted me. Despite our interesting conversation and the fact that these were two very powerful women to know with regards to business, I couldn’t help but focus on what was happening directly across from our table:

A man stood drawing on a white easel. One woman posed off to the left. A line of ten women stood off to the right, awaiting their turn. The man was not a caricaturist, nor was he a painter, but he was an artist, specifically of drawing women’s backsides.

For each volunteer, the Bob Ross of Butts would give a warm greeting, turn them around, and then help them pose in a fashion to accentuate the lines of their tookus. He would then sketch their butt, sign his name, and and give the drawing to his butt subject. The process took one to two minutes and then the next volunteer would step up.

I was fascinated. A butt sketch artist. I had never heard of such a thing. Immediately I wondered: how did this all come to be?

I’ve dwelled on this a lot since then and have come up with three theories:

1) Failed caricaturist.

My first thought was that he was a failed caricature artist. I imagined he went through art school and was decently talented but he could never draw faces. Like he’d get the frame right but then butcher the nose or draw the eyes lopsided. Eventually he said screw it and drew what he was good at: curves.

2) Artistic integrity.

My second theory was that he was actually incredible at drawing faces, so good, that he would include the blemishes and flaws of his clients to the point of insulting them with his accuracy. The only way he could get around making his clients happy while not offending his integrity as an artist was to turn them around.

3) Passion to profit.

My third, and what I considered the most likely theory, was that he had recently attended a motivational seminar. In it, the speaker asked, “What are you most passionate about? Find a way to make money doing it.” The guy thought to himself, “I like looking at butts. How can I profit from that?”

Like most businesses, I’m sure he started with a few ideas that wouldn’t work. Create Yelp for butts? Too offensive. Become a casting director for Victoria Secret? Too hard to get into. Do caricatures but instead of drawing faces, draw butts? Perfect.

Part of me wishes I had gone up to the man and asked him how he started his business. Part of me thinks the speculation is way more fun. All of me wishes I had gotten in line to get my own butt drawn.

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walmart parking lot

11 May 2015. Somewhere outside of Portland, ME

I awoke at 06:30 in the morning. It wasn’t the most restful sleep I’d ever had, but that’s somewhat expected when you are sleeping in a Walmart parking lot in a Ford Fiesta.

I had done a standup show in Montpelier, VT the night before and had driven through state of New Hampshire on my way to Maine, and decided to stay the night in my rental car. I certainly could have gotten a hotel room, but I was curious about what the “car in a parking lot” experience was like. That and it did save me a bit of money.

I had done a little bit of research online before attempting the non-luxurious slumber, at least enough to learn that Walmarts were among the most popular car-sleeping destinations. They’re typically a safe spot to set up car camp as they’re regularly patrolled and have a policy that allows for overnight stays.

Despite my research, I had made a couple of rookie mistakes, the biggest being that I had forgotten to confirm that the Walmart was of the 24 hour variety. This one wasn’t.

I had been surprisingly productive before going to bed. Thanks to the mobile hotspot on my T-Mobile plan, I was able to send emails and catch up on a few things that I’d missed during the day because of all of the driving.

Around midnight, I looked up for my work just in time to see some employees locking the front doors to customers. I hadn’t brushed my teeth yet and needed to use the bathroom, so I had to start the car and find a nearby gas station.

Once arriving at the gas station I decided to skip the “brushing my teeth part” for the night as it somehow felt dirtier to open my mouth in the bathroom than just letting the night go by without a rinse.

I finished up and headed back to the Walmart parking lot, trying to find a spot that was reasonably away from other vehicles, not too directly under a light, but also not so far away that it was easily accessed by creatures of the night.

I had woken up a few times in the night to turn the car on briefly to get the air going a little bit, crack the window some, change positions, use my hoodie as a blanket, throw it off as a blanket, try it as a pillow, try other things as a pillow, etc. But in between those moments I actually got some rest. Again, not the most restful of sleeps but it did seem to suffice.

In the morning, as the sun shined through the windows, I awoke. I got out of my car/hotel room and made my way into the now open Walmart so I could brush my teeth, go to the bathroom, and grab a box a Pop Tarts for breakfast.

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brussels shopping center

25 April 2015. Brussels, Belgium

I cringed slightly as I took the picture. Up until that point, it was the creepiest picture I had ever taken. Sadly, in less than an hour, it was going to become the second creepiest picture I had every taken.

The picture was of Manneken Pis. I was in Brussels and my companion, friend, and tour guide, Sebastian, a fellow 8th Floor alumni, was showing me around his city.

As we walked around the downtown area, Sebastien shared with me what he had learned in the two years that he had lived in Belgium.

Neither French Nor Freedom Fries

He shared the various Belgian foods that were popular: beer, chocolate, waffles, and my favorite, French Fries. Although to call them French Fries in Belgium is quite insulting.

I was told that fries were invented in Belgium, and it’s clear that today they are still a big part of their culture, with their tiny forks and myriad of dipping sauces to choose from.

The story goes that, during World War II, American soldiers came to Belgium and fell in love with the fries.

However, the Americans weren’t very good at geography, so they assumed that because the Belgians were speaking French, they must be in France. And thus upon their return to the states, referred to the delicious potato treats as French Fries… something the Belgians have not yet forgotten.

Maury Povich of Statues

Brussels BuildingAnother great story, though one likely made up by high school students, was that of a series of statues in one of the squares. 

There, atop one of the buildings, is a statue of a woman holding a baby, but instead of looking at the baby, the woman is looking at another statue.

Supposedly, she is looking at the other statue, that of a man, as if to say, “you are the father of this baby.” That statue, however, is pointing to a third statue, as if to say, “No, he is the father.” Statue #3 is pointing to a fourth statue, who’s looking down, to say, “Yes, he is in fact, the father.

At this point, I started to wonder how true these stories actually were, but ultimately didn’t care as they were thoroughly entertaining.

The Story of the Weird Statue

However, my favorite story brings us back to Manneken Pis and the awkward picture I had just taken.

The great story attempts to answer the question: how did a 3-foot bronze statue of a little boy peeing become the icon of an entire city?

And when I say little boy, I mean little. Not a 10-year-old but a 4- or 5-year-old. And when I say icon, I mean it’s a place where tourists flock with their selfie sticks to take pictures of themselves with a boy peeing in the background.

Mannekin Pis

I don’t know if that just speaks to the uniqueness of the statue or perhaps people’s lack of imagination for other things to do in Brussels, but alas, here I was still in front of the peeing boy, still taking a picture.

The reason for the iconic statue isn’t exactly known, but there are plenty of stories to say why it’s so important, and that’s what I love about the statue.

Some stories are more mundane, such as a witch found the boy peeing on her property so she turned him into a statue, or a father, who had lost his son, promised to erect a statue of his boy in whatever pose he found him in.

There were also a number of stories turning the boy into a hero. One story suggests that the statue was meant to honor a boy who had discovered an effective way of warding off enemy soldiers: by standing in a tree and peeing down on them. Another said that there was a bomb in the city and the little boy had peed on the fuse to prevent it from going off.

But my favorite story was a little bit more elaborate. It claims that there was a great fire way-back-when in Brussels that tragically happened during a great drought. The townspeople didn’t have any water and so they had no way to put the fire out. The town was doomed… until this little boy decided to put the fire out by peeing on it.

Now of course the boy didn’t have enough pee to put the whole thing out, duh, so he had to constantly drink beer so that he could maintain a steady stream to extinguish the fire.

Not only is it a hero story but also one that includes the Belgian beer.

One other great tidbit about the statue is that at one point, French soldiers stole the statue from the town. Later, Louis XVI decided to give the statue back, and as a way to apologize, gave the statue a metal honor. Meaning, anytime a French soldier passes the statue of the little boy peeing, they must give it a salute.

But alas, the tale does end there. For the last stop on our tour of downtown Brussels was where I took the new creepiest picture I had taken, of yet another statue.

This statue depicted a little girl peeing in a squatting stance, weirdly behind a fenced-in area. It was a companion piece to Manneken Pis, but for obvious reasons, wasn’t nearly as popular. It also sadly didn’t have any cool stories to go along with it, other than, “I guess we should make a girl one too?”

Jeanneke Pis (and the Weirdest Picture I've Ever Taken)

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amsterdam canal at night

25 April 2015. Amsterdam, Netherlands

My boots landed with a heavy thud as I ran down the Amsterdam street. With every step I took, every move I made, I was missing Biggie Smalls… but also making my way closer to Central Station in Amsterdam.

I had just finished a standup show at Boom Chicago in Amsterdam. It had gone really well; the audience was a mix of expats and Dutch people and they had enjoyed my nerdy brand of humor. I had spent much of the time after the show conversing with people and talking with a few booking agents about possibly coming back to Europe to do more shows.

Those conversations delayed me till after midnight and I was now 12 minutes away from Central Station with the next train leaving in 10 minutes. If I missed the train, I was spending the next 90 minutes or so in Central Station waiting for the train to Utrecht.

I was staying in the Amsterdam suburb because I had discovered on AirBNB there was a houseboat that I could stay on, and I figured if I’m in Amsterdam, why stay in a regular hotel when I can stay on a boat in a canal.

The houseboat itself had been really nice, the bed was small but the shower was surprisingly bigger than the showers I experienced in other spots in Europe so far. The problem with the boat was that it was 40 minute train ride from Amsterdam Central Station, and and even longer wait if I missed the next train.

So my boots hit heavy on the ground as I continued to make my way towards the station.

As I ran, I’d take a few pauses to cross streets against the traffic lights. Not to avoid cars but to avoid getting hit by one of the way too many bikes that were still out on the street even though it was after midnight.

The number of bikes in Amsterdam was crazy. Everything that people normally do walking, people in Amsterdam do while cycling: hold hands, carry umbrellas, take up too much space on the sidewalk. Everything.

So I made sure I was cautious in my hurried movements. At one point, I noticed a nice picturesque view of a canal. It was my first night in Amsterdam so I stopped to take a picture, thinking that even if I miss the train, it was probably worth capturing the moment. Maybe (said picture is at the top of this post).

I then picked up the pace on my jog the Central Station, arriving with two minutes to spare but still in need of getting a train ticket. Luckily I had been in the train station quite a few times and knew the process, but as I arrived, I saw only crowded ticket kiosks.

I decided to take a calculated risk and got on the train, sans ticket (sorry, Mom). In my previous trip from Central Station to Utrecht, no one ever checked my ticket. And I figured that if I was caught, I could plead ignorance as a dumb American and hopefully get by with puppy dog eyes.

Fortunately I didn’t have to use these lyin’ eyes as I made it all the way to Utrecht without incident. I had successfully left Boom, crossed a bridge, and made it to the boat.

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top of preikestolen

20 April 2015. Preikestolen, Norway

My feet hung over the cliff, where 600 meters (1980 feet) below, the blue water of the Norwegian fjord settled like blue concrete.

My right hand held a Kvikk Lunsj chocolate bar (basically a Norwegian Kit Kat) as my left hand held on for dear life. My friend and travel companion, Harald, took my picture as I tried to look as relaxed as was possible while sitting at the edge of a 600 meter drop.

I was at the top of Preikestolen, aka Pulpit Rock, named the #1 most breathtaking platform by the Lonely Planet.

My travel companion, Harald, was the reason I was there; not just there at Preikesetolen that specific day, but also the reason why I was in Norway to begin with.

I had met Harald three years ago at The Humor Project in Silver Springs, NY. He was there to improve his own humor education and I was presenting on how to effectively use humor at work. We connected afterwords over a shared love of standup comedy and stayed connected after the conference via the Facebook.

A few months after that, a friend of his was visiting New York City and he put the two of us in touch. She happened to be the producer of a comedy festival in Norway and was looking for talent from New York City. We hit it off and six months later I was in Norway for the first time to help her kickoff her production company.

Now, in 2015, I was back for the second year of her comedy festival which had taken place over past weekend. Harold had offered to take me to Pulpit Rock and I agreed. He even took the day off so he and I would be free to make the journey, and a journey it was.

To get to the top of the rock required a 3.8 km hike (2.3 miles) up 334 meters (1,095 feet). And though the temperature was 10°C (50°F) down on the ground, the trail still included quite a bit of snow once the elevation increased.

Preikestolen Route

During the climb, Harald and I caught up, talking about a wide variety of things, from nature to comedy to having kids to the hike itself (“Whoa, this is more strenuous than I thought.” “Yup.”).

We eventually got to the top where we took in the stunning view. There were quite a few other people hanging around, including a group of Frenchmen who were preparing a slack line to cross one of the gaps between the two rocks.

I had started off very cautious at the top, army crawling my way to the edge. My confidence slowly grew until I finally felt comfortable enough to sit at the edge (while holding on).

Sitting on the edge of a cliff while feeling a slight breeze as you eat chocolate has a way of making you think philosophically.

I thought about how spectacular view was. I thought about how so far on my journey, some of my best experiences had taken place in the company of other people, despite the fact that I consider myself very much an introvert. And I thought about the nature of effort and reward.

The view was naturally stunning. But it felt even more amazing because it had to be earned. There was no driving up to the top, there was no tram, no shortcut, no elevator. It required a somewhat strenuous hike that included ups and downs, wide rock landscapes and narrow snowy paths, easy strolls and hard climbs.

The hike up had taken 90 minutes. The hike down would take another 90. Depending on how long you stayed at the top, you might spend more time getting to and from the destination that actually enjoying the destination itself.

The same is true for setting goals in life. It’s not just about the end destination, it’s also about the journey to get there. And most of time, there’s more work to be down, even after you’ve reached the top.

My grip on the rock loosened ever so slightly as I took another bite of the Norwegian Kit Kat. I had enjoyed the journey up. I would enjoy the journey down. But for the moment, I was enjoying being at the top.

Peering Out

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norwegian harbor

19 April 2015. Stavanger, Norway

I swallowed the last of my homemade ice cream and set the spoon down.

I was seated at the kitchen table of a near-stranger’s home, with two near-strangers as tablemates.

To my left was Amanda, a Vietnamese woman who had recently moved to Norway for a job. To my right was Tina, a Norwegian woman, whose home we were currently in, and who had prepared not just the homemade ice cream we had just consumed, but also the fish dish I ate prior to that.

I was there in the Norwegian home because the night prior, I was performing at the touMAZEing Comedy Festival. After one of my sets, the two had come up tell me that they enjoyed my jokes.

We talked and I discovered the two were close friends from work and had come to the festival because they thought it would be fun for an entire group from work, but rest of them had already left.

They decided to stick around and saw me perform in the Random Room, a stage setup for “random comedy.” I had decided that “random” meant I shouldn’t perform anything pre-planned, so I did an improvised set using a suggestion from the audience and the text messages of one of the audience members.

It went well, mostly thanks to years of improv training and having played a similar style game of “Texts from Last Night” while in ComedySportz.

While talking after the show, I brought up being from Ohio. Surprisingly they had heart of it; unsurprisingly they had never been. I told them that if they ever went, they should go to Graeter’s ice cream because it’s some of the best ice cream in the world and one of the best things you can ever put in your mouth.

Tina, the Norwegian and more talkative of the two, mentioned that she herself made homemade ice cream. I was impressed as that was was something I didn’t really think you could do, or at least something people did.

She said that she was a very good cook and she and Amanda often got together; Amanda would host while Tina would cook.

I said, “That’s crazy because while you may be very good cooks, I’m actually a very good eater.”

I said it jokingly to make small talk, but Tina took it as a possible invite. She replied, “Amanda and I were actually thinking about getting together tomorrow to cook. You’re more than welcome to join us if you want.”

I had decided recently that I was gonna try to say yes more, especially during these travels. Having talked with a fellow comedian who had a number of ridiculously fun stories, he had mentioned that they all came about because he was willing to say yes. So I thought, “why not?”

Sure, it might be a little bit strange, to go over to a complete stranger’s house in a foreign country… but they seemed nice enough and homemade ice cream was up for grabs.

Now, having finished that ice cream, I was happy that I said yes.

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fishing rod

19 April 2015. Stavanger, Norway

I casted my line out into the water. The lore made a “plop” sound, much like an Oreo does when you accidentally drop it into your chocolate milk.

I’d finally gotten the hang of fishing without a bob after many many attempts. I was in Norway, enjoying a gorgeous day, standing on the side of a pond. It was private property, but I was assured that the owners (probably) didn’t mind we were there.

There were five of us comedians total. We had all performed in the touMAZEing Comedy Festival in Stavanger. A few people had wanted to go fishing, and on a last-minute whim, I decided to join them. I didn’t have anything else that I needed to do that day and hadn’t been fishing in at least 10 years, so I thought, “Sure, why not?”

The other comedians with me were hilarious people. Two of them were Norwegian natives. Tom Weum specializes in musical comedy, known for his ability to work with kids and also the creator of great song parodies. The other Norwegian, Pål Espen Mulder Kilstad, is an actor and dad in the area and was quite the outdoorsman.

Comedian #3 was Tim FitzHigham, a British comedian known for sailing across the English Channel in a bathtub. And #4 was an Argentinian comedian, Adrián Minkowicz, now based in Norway.

So there we were. 5 comedians, fishing for 4 hours, using a total of 3 rods, in 2 different locations, and we caught… 1 fish. Not even a big fish, a small trout about 6 inches long.

Fishing in Norway(The one who hooked the fish? Adrián.)

Afterwards, we took the fish back to Tom’s house where his sons were already cooking some delicious burgers for us. We threw the fish on the grill along with the burgers and I had an internal battle as to whether or not I’d eat some of it.

I’m not much of seafood person; I don’t like the texture, taste, smell, or sight of fish but other than that… And still, I decided I had to at least taste the spoils of our hard work.

I took a small bite of the trout and was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t taste too fishy (which has always been a little weird to me, the taste of a good fish is that it doesn’t taste like fish).

Prior to this outing, I had always considered fishing to be on the more boring side of leisure activities, right up there with watching plants grow (aka gardening) and watching plants die (aka gardening). But when you’re out with four other comedians making jokes and doing bits, time certainly does fly by.

Maybe that’s what made the fish taste better. I didn’t want to think that I wasted four hours outside and got nothing in return. Instead, I picked up great tips, great stories, and a whole bunch of laughs from the other comedians.

I’m told the next time I come back to Stavanger, I’ll be treated to a proper game dinner with reindeer that’s freshly been hunted, prepared the right way, that takes a day to make, and a couple of hours to thoroughly enjoy.

I’m already looking forward to the return trip.

Comedians Fishing

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