It all seems the same

by Steve Brock on February 14, 2014

I have this friend whose taste in music pretty much coincides with the popularity of bell bottoms and the culturally appropriate usage of the word, “Groovy.”

With the exception of maybe a few later Neil Young and Grateful Dead albums, his perception is that nothing good in music has been created post Watergate.

The funny thing is, when I play some more recent albums for him, he doesn’t say, “I don’t like that.” Instead, he condemns the current music with a casual, “It all seems the same.” He detects – or claims to – no discernible difference between The Black Keys, Mumford and Sons, Switchfoot and Vampire Weekend. I guess they all have male singers and guitars, ergo they all sound the same.


I find it much easier to be baffled by my friend’s rather limited taste in music than to examine areas of my own life, but alas, I too have plenty of closed doors when it comes to the unfamiliar. I once read an art history book which captured it best. The author commented on how most people, when confronted with contemporary art reply, “I don’t know art, but I know what I like.” The author noted that a more accurate statement would be, “I don’t know art, but I like what I know.”

We’re all that way to varying. We like the familiar. How much we’re willing to embrace something new has to do with our sense of openness, or, as psychologists call it, our “openness to experience.” As Wikipedia defines it, openness to experience “involves active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity.” To me, it’s really about how willing you are to try something new.

Some people are always open. Others, rarely so. The majority of us are somewhere in the middle. When it comes to popular music, my friend is about as open as an NSA report.

OpennessSo what about you? How open are you to listening to new music? Trying new food? Visiting new places? Meeting people who may be very different from you?

Why it matters is this: Without being open to the new, you may never discover what God put you on this planet not just to accomplish, but to enjoy. That may sound like a grandiose statement, but I think it’s true. I think a lot of people  go through life and miss their true lives by not being willing to stretch beyond the familiar.

What’s the number one regret people in their later years of life have? That they didn’t take more risks. They didn’t try new things.

Don’t wait until you’re too old to try something new. Practice openness. Do something different this week, whether it is taking an alternative route to work or school, trying a new dish, listening to a new music station or talking to a stranger. Just try it. Be open.

Because when you do, you may find something very curious about your life.

It doesn’t seem the same.

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Driving in Paris

by Steve Brock on July 30, 2013

View from the top of the Arc de TriompheDon’t drive in Paris.

That’s the advice we had from every guidebook, travel site and traveler’s forum we read before heading to the City of Lights this summer. Whatever you do, they say, don’t drive in Paris, France. Why?

  •  The traffic is horrible (true, but so is it where I live and grew up).
  •  There are scooters and motorcycles cutting in and out all over the place (true, but patience and a car with good visibility help overcome that).
  • Paris is a warren of one-way streets built for horses, not cars (true, in certain areas like the Latin Quarter but the main streets are quite wide and modern).
  • You’ll never find parking (pretty true, but for us, we found a garage, parked our car there for the entire three days we were in Paris and used the metro or our feet to get around town).
  • The drivers are incredibly aggressive (true, but they are consistent and I’ll take on a good, aggressive driver any day over a wishy-washy one who speeds up and slows down for no apparent reason).

So let me amend the advice of others to say this:

Don’t drive in Paris…alone.

I was with my family and my 18-year-old son, Sumner, served as navigator. Armed with directions and most of all, my smart phone with Google maps, he guided me into and out of Paris like a charm. We even made it around the Arc de Triumph.

If you’ve not been to Paris, you may not realize what a triumph that feat was. One guidebook even suggested visiting the Arc de Triomphe, (Napoleon’s enormous victory arch to himself) surrounded by Place Charles de Gaulle (a traffic circle of equally dramatic proportions) just to watch the fights between drivers and the horrendous traffic jams during rush hour (the photo above was taken from the top of the Arc de Triomphe at midday during “light” traffic).

For us, however, it was almost surreal. When it was time to leave Paris, we departed from our apartment near the Eiffel Tower, fetched our garaged car and prayed for safety. We crossed the River Seine and, because it was mid-morning, encountered relatively light traffic as we plodded up the famed Champs Elysees (the street shown in the photo). And then, almost before we were expecting it, we were in…and through…the circle around the Arc de Triomphe.

It was, as my wife noted, like Moses parting the Red Sea. We entered one end of the circle in a miraculous break in traffic. As we did a half orbit of the Arc de Triomphe, the cars to our right were held back from entering by a nicely timed red light. Thus, we scooted in one end and out the other without a loss of speed like a leaf floating on a slippery current.

Could I have done all that on my own? Maybe, but with greater stress. Having Sumner’s excellent navigation assistance and God’s grace to get us through it all made all the difference. Plus, having my whole family with me turned it from a white-knuckle act of endurance into a shared experience and story.

You’ve probably already figured out the life metaphor implicit here. But it was a great tangible reminder to me of how we’re better off together than when we try and do something alone. The results – and the experience itself – improve when we involve others, rely on them and make them part of the adventure.

So if you’re ever in Paris with a car, it’s OK to drive there if you have to.

Just don’t do it alone.

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Traveling hungry – Part 2

by Steve Brock on June 19, 2013

My brother once told me there is no such thing as bad pizza. There’s great pizza and okay pizza, but rarely if ever do you find pizza you can’t eat. The same goes, in my experience, for teriyaki chicken, or so I thought. Which is one reason we’re at this out-of-the-way teriyaki restaurant after an unsuccessful attempt to find lunch elsewhere on a day trip less than 100 miles from home.

My son Connor stays in our car, practically the only vehicle in the parking lot. I enter into the restaurant. As I look around the desolate interior, I hear the whistle-like theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly playing in my head. I expect a tumble weed to blow through at any moment.

Instead, from the back of the restaurant comes a man who then stands behind the counter. He looks at me but says nothing. I examine the menu on the wall above and behind him. It’s the usual mix you find at a teriyaki place, the names of the dishes aided by helpful pictures and summary letter/number combinations. I decide on L5: teriyaki chicken with noodles.

“I’ll have the teriyaki chicken with noodles, please,” I tell him.

He gives a short grunt as he writes down the order. Then he looks at me. “No ice,” he says.

Alright, I think. That’s a good thing. Cold teriyaki is right up there with cold burritos. But ice and teriyaki isn’t a common combo, so I figure I’m missing something here.

“Yeah,” I say. “Just the teriyaki chicken with the noodles.”

He nods his head and makes a slightly different pronouncement: “No lice.”

Now you may be scratching your head for a number of reasons. But to me, I suddenly know what he’s saying.

Since the majority of teriyaki restaurants I’ve visited are run by people of Korean descent all serving up Japanese and Chinese food (I’ve never quite figured that one out), I’m on safe ground to assume my order taker here is also Korean.

Just a few weeks ago at the ESL class I teach at my church, one of my students explained that there are no “R” sounds in the Korean language (or in Japanese for that matter). Being from Korea himself, he can’t, for example, say “rerun.” We made him feel right at home because my Spanish-speaking students can’t pronounce the word “thought” and I can’t roll my R’s. I always get a laugh when I attempt to say the Spanish word for railway, “ferrocarrilero.” It comes out sounding like a herd of wild cows.

So, based on this, I quickly deduce that the gentleman behind the counter means that this dish has noodles only and “no rice.”

“No rice, just noodles,” I say in confirmation. “That’s fine.”

He nods with a sharp grunt and rings up to total. I pay and he gives me a receipt. He then takes the order off the pad he’s written it on, turns around, places it on the counter of the little window that opens into the kitchen.

He then walks to the small corridor, turns, heads toward the back and emerges a few seconds later in the kitchen. He walks to the window, now on the other side of it, picks up the order, reads it as if it contains some new information. He then proceeds to cook up my teriyaki chicken and noodles.

Several minutes later, I look up to see the man carry a Styrofoam container from the stove area in the kitchen over to the little window. He sets it there. He then does his previous routine in reverse, exiting the kitchen going forward and coming around to the counter area. He picks up the box as if it is a surprise, closes the lid, sticks it into a plastic bag and gives another of his little grunts.

I come over and thank him and take the bag. He actually says thank you in return.

I go out to the car and decide to eat it there rather than trying to eat and drive at the same time. Connor (who decides to share in my meal) and I dig in.

As we eat, I explain the chef/waiter’s procedure to Connor. We surmise that maybe playing two roles makes him less lonely. All I know is that while it’s not the best teriyaki I’ve ever had it’s pretty good. And more than anything else, I’m just grateful to find something on this day when food choices seemed about as plentiful as “R” words in Korean.

For a quick meal on a trip, it turns out to be just right. Even without the ice.

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Conflict, story and trips that matter

by Steve Brock March 28, 2013

Too often, our travel stories lack interest because they lack conflict. Just like too many of our trips themselves. Maybe it’s time to change that…

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Indicators you may want to eat elsewhere

by Steve Brock December 15, 2012

Knowing what to avoid in a restaurant on a trip can be as important as knowing what to seek out. Especially if tour busses or rodents are involved…

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Top 5 life lessons from mountain biking – Lesson 1

by Steve Brock October 2, 2012

In the first of five life lessons from mountain biking we learn that sometimes, going faster – and taking risks – can be the safest approach to biking, travel…or life.

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“…notstop looking”

by Steve Brock August 28, 2012

The movie “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” provides some amazing insights on how to travel; both through the world and through our pain.

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