After the initial thought, I thought the backpack itself and how technical it has become was simply awesome! The advantage and the reason for the dialogue with backpacks is simply a solution of how to carry a heavy load without compromising your body and its ability to handle such a load gracefully; as well as organization of the various pockets to make it easy to access things without having to constantly unpack and repack the backpack. As I ponder this, I am aware that my wonderful host is doing her morning routine, and getting ready for work.
I unpack my purple duffel bag, and carefully sort out everything by type, and use the couch-bed as a staging surface. Clothes sorted by type / role; then toiletries; supplies; frequent access items; finally my electronics and their power adaptors; some accessories for my electronics; and finally, miscellaneous items. At the foot of the bed were my normal ugly-but-extremely-comfortable-city-slicker-shoes, flip-flops, and hiking boots.
The purple duffel bag has one really useful feature - it packs itself inside another bag, which when empty, serves as a hanging toiletries bag. I proceed to pack the toiletries into this bag.
I then pack according to the packing instructions - fill the bottom compartment with something moderately light and compressible (clothes went here); the heavy and dense stuff above and closest to the back (electronics, accessories, toiletries, and some of the misc. stuff went here); supplies and flip-flops went to the sides. I placed my food provisions at the top. The top lid of the backpack can also serve as a waist pack / belt, so I packed all the frequently accessed stuff in there (primary smartphone and charger, wallet, keys, water bottle, pocket journal, pen, self packing grocery bag). I fold up the purple duffel bag and stuff it in the mesh back compartment of the backpack.
At this point, it is now 12pm, and I haven't gotten ready nor had my breakfast yet. Next step in the packing instructions and manual is to engage all the compression straps. The purpose of these straps is to make the load as dense and compact as possible, in order to control the weight distribution. I do this, and the backpack with its load became a lot smaller. I then used the external sleeping bag straps on the lower backside of the backpack to strap my hiking boots in. Packing is now finished - I resolve to optimize this process and make it much quicker.
(Mental reflection note: I just spent over a page talking about the backpack and packing process - realizing that it did indeed take up a lot of energy and emphasis. Shows you where my priorities are, right?)
My host comes back home for lunch and asks if I had eaten yet. I reply no and she welcomes me to raid the refrigerator. I make myself a spinach and herb green salad with croutons and honey dijon dressing as a lunch, as a holdover meal. The shuttle to Phoenix, AZ comes will come at 2pm, and it is now 1pm. My host then proceeds to drive me to the nearest ATM of my bank; so I can withdraw cash to tip the shuttle driver; and then to the Super 8 Motel, where the shuttle will pick me up. I bid my host good-bye, and promise her that I will send her my website details when it is up.
2pm rolls around and the shuttle from Arizona Shuttle comes. The driver, an older lady, hops out and helps me and one other person load our luggage into the back of the van. We get in, and inside on the passenger front is another lady. I sit by the window right behind the driver, and the other person sits behind me. We pick up a 4th person on the way, who asks everyone if we have a universal usb charger to charge his smartphone with. None of us do, and he proceeds to sit in the back row. There are a total of 4 rows of seats. We drive down for an hour, and stop at a gas station for a bathroom break and refueling stop. I went into the store, find nothing of interest as a snack, use the restroom, and return to the shuttle, and resume our merry ride to Phoenix.
I had designated Terminal 2 at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport as my stop, and the driver asks if Door 5 was fine. I indicated yes, and she drops me off there. I tip her 9 dollars, where I paid $47 for the shuttle fare. The driver was really helpful and even offered me some water. Despite the top notch and white glove type service, they are not paid much. I notified Lawrence via text message of my arrival and drop off location; got a overpriced ham and swiss sandwich, banana, and apple juice at the airport sandwich shop (famished at this point, needed 2nd holdover snack), and in 5 minutes, Lawrence arrives.
Lawrence and I head into town in search of dinner and fun. At Lawrence's recommendation, we head to Lucille's BBQ. We started with a side of breaded and fried Okra, which came in a form of nuggests, with spicy ranch dressing, and another sauce. The bread they served for the table was sugar coated (Good Lord, really?) biscuits served with butter mixed with caramel (doubly Good Lord, really?). If these items were made with white refined sugar, oy vey! Lawrence ordered a sandwich, while I ordered some beef brisket, and some breaded chicken. I sometimes order two entrees if I get the indication that the portions may not be large. We ate the food, I saved about half the breaded chicken for later and had it boxed up. Decent food, excellent service, would not want to consume on a regular basis.
Lawrence is still the same man as I knew him back in college - which is a good thing! Very optimistic, enthusiastic, energetic, and has a touch of spirituality in him where he has this interesting energy / aura about him that is noticeable, and has an influence that can affect things. I have this personal belief that he is able to channel it, but back then, as it is now, he does not have full control of it. The reason I say this is because objects near him tend to get flung around, or drop onto the floor whenever we sit down, and Lawrence is brimming with energy. In the case at Lucille's BBQ, there were a couple of occasions where his utensils flung themselves to the ground and clatter; and one occasion where my fork was inexplicably flung to my right side and down on the floor. I never have this happen to me when I dine alone or with other friends. It is always with Lawrence - and the same was true on occasion back in college in the many times we ate together at the university dining commons. This has always proven amusing for me, and still is. Imagine what he can do when he has better control of his energy! I look forward to this day!
Afterwards, Lawrence suggested that we go over to Dave & Busters, which is a national chain restaurant / bar / game arcade establishment. The goal was to hit the arcade. So we go in, notice it is very lively - the bar was full; the tables for the restaurant were packed; and... not many were at the arcade! Suited us just perfectly. We go over and purchase "chips" which came in a form of a plastic charge card. You pay a certain amount of money, and get X number of chips. Lawrence and I both purchase sets of 135 chips for $25. We figure the chips would go fast, and get us a couple of hours of fun. A lot of the games in the arcade are non-casino versions of many of the games we would find at a casino or carnival. Games that tested our sense of timing; aim via underhand throwing; aim via overhand throwing; coin catapulting; whack-a-mole; air hockey; strength via hitting with a hammer; sheer luck; and games that combine several of the aforementioned elements.
The first few games were the coin catapulting variety. where we swipe our chip cards, and are given a set of 10 coin tokens. We put a coin in the slot at our own timing, and it will catapult the coin in a random direction, and land on the top of two shelves. On both shelves, there are several vertical metal walls that push like a bulldozer outwards towards the edge of the shelf, lift up, retract, and repeat. They always stop 1.5 inches from the edge. There were piles of coins teetering at the edge, and it seemed that you wanted the coin to land flat behind all the other coins, but within the pushing territory of the metal bulldozers, so that while flat, the coin would push the pile by a whole coin's diameter. Coins that fall over the edge go to the shelf below, which has the same setup, except the edge goes to the bottom of the machine, and every coin that falls earns the player a few coupon tickets.
We play a wild west circus themed one; an Elvis themed one; and some other one, which I cannot recall. At one point one of Lawrence's coins causes a delayed coin drop a few moments after the game was over, and the machine had already registered "game over". The coin falls, but since the machine already registered itself closed, Lawrence calls the staff over and explains the situation. The staffwoman smiled and goes over to open up the machine, place the machine in override mode, finds a coin jam, fixes it, and grabs a large handful of coins and plops them into the bin. She closes the machine and leaves the resulting tickets for us. Lawrence takes the tickets and hands me a handful of them. We acquire the first few hundred tickets with these machines.
Next, we went over to the timing based machines where there is a large jackpot of 350 tickets, and a light that is making a circuit around the wheel. We are supposed to hit a palm sized button when the light makes it into a certain spot on the wheel - right in front of the button. Lawrence takes one machine, I take another. Each try requires a swipe of the chip card. My first try was a test run for button to stop lag time. I was off by 7 spots. I notice that for a the most part, the light goes around at a pretty constant rate; with the exception that at random intervals, it will deliberately delay its pace by several milliseconds; so the timing required is precisely "imperfect perfect" timing. By the third attempt, I was only off by 1 spot. I finally got the jackpot on the 7th attempt, which by that time went up to 384 tickets. The jackpot resets to 250 tickets each time, and every failed attempt brings the jackpot up by 1 or 2 tickets. Both of us spend a few more swipes at these machines then moved on to to more aiming and coin catapulting games. Lawrence and I tried whack-a-mole. Lawrence did a great job with that game, where I missed most. We also tried this coin one that was on a spinning wheel, and a randomly curved arm the coin would slide down due to the combined motion of the wheel and arm. We tried a few times with no success, but got ourselves several tickets for effort.
Next were the throwing games. The skeet ball event catches our eye and we each man a lane. It is similar to a bowling alley, except the ball ramps up, and fall into one of several rings and holes. There are 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50 point rings, structured like a bulls' eye, and two 100 pt single holes on either side of the bulls' eye, that require precise aiming or pure luck to get into. There are no aiming aids for those two holes. We get 9 balls per swipe, and the points tally up during the 9 balls. lowest threshold to win tickets is 160 points, and the ticket rewards go up as the score goes higher. Throwing and aiming are my weaknesses, so I score below the threshold after three swipes. Lawrence on the other hand, finds out that whenever he banks his balls off the mirrored back wall, will get a random number of points higher than 100 pts, no matter where the ball lands afterwards. He will always get at minimum 900 pts per swipe, and get some ridiculous amount of tickets. He plays a few games this way, and we try to watch for a defect or pattern other than banking off the back wall. After a while we stop and tell a couple that came after us to try the same with the same machine. They are not able to re-produce Lawrence's trick, and Lawrence tries again, with no luck. That was not a defect of the machine! I think that was Lawrence's energy at work again. This gets him over 1300 tickets or so.
In the meanwhile, I wander to another ball throwing machine, which uses dense balls to throw towards a central milk jug, worth between 250 to 500 tickets. There are many holes worth different point values surrounding the milk jug. Each swipe of the chip card earns you a game with 5 balls, and points accumulate at each throw. On the second swipe, I manage to land two consecutive balls into the milk jug, which earns me about 900 tickets total. We both run out of chips on our cards and head over to the winners' circle.
The winners' circle is a small gift store, where prices are points, and each coupon ticket is worth 2 points. So, we dump our tickets into a bin which weighs the tickets, in order to count (I wonder if there is a skew in the weight to actual ticket count ratio???) the points. Lawrence got 1820 pts, and I got 1160 pts. We go into the store and look at all the knick knacks in the store... wow, I have never seen any gift store that felt had nothing that would be of use or of value to us! We wander back and forth - Lawrence spies a small Dave & Buster's beach towel, worth 2,000 pts. Lawrence noted that I did not have a towel in my poessession and we pooled our points together to get that towel. Lawrence gets a 6-pack-beer ice gel pack cooler, and a couple of useless toys as gifts for little kids to round off the tickets. At one point, we were short 35 points, and Lawrence did not want those points leftover, so we go and purchase $1 of chips, and played a game which netted us 38 pts. We go back and get the last remaining toy and head outside.
Next stop, we browsed a used "bookstore" called Bookman's which apparently also sells used DVDs, CDs, and video games up to 30 years old. That is quite a bookstore! Lawrence spies a DVD set of all 4 seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise, valued new at $40 per season. It is really rare to find all 4 seasons in one place, so Lawrence goes and haggles with the bookstore - eventually getting them at $30 per season. The discs are all in near-mint condition! At this point we conclude the night and Lawrence drops me off at the Camel Backpackers Hostel, which is where we took that self picture at the top of this post.
The hostel is this really nice 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom house converted over - two of the bedrooms are occupied with a 6 bunk set, and a 8 bunk set, respectively. 3rd bedroom contained two queen beds; 4th bedroom became a laundry room. The walk in closet in the master bedroom (8 bunk room) became a supply room. Each bunk is equipped with a small LED light hanging from above via velcro; a small mesh fan perched on the side; and a few outlets from power strips, and a small wooden shelf on the inside. The bunks are basically DYI from heavy wood, finished in black. The common areas were really nicely done - centrally located wi-fi; a camera that monitors the area; flat screen tv with blu-ray /dvd player, Nintendo Wii Console, satellite tv box; couches, daybed, 2 recliners; a really nice dining room that seats 10 people; community fridge; employee fridge; mini fridge with orange juice and milk for breakfast; bowl of fruit; eggs for 25 cents each; a full island style kitchen fully stocked with really nice dishes, cooking implements, and drinking glasses including a wonderful set of 32oz glass steiners - one which I commandeer for iced water consumption until the end of my visit! This has got to be one of the nicest hostels I have ever stayed in. The theme of the hostel from all the art hanging from is the Arizona desert dotted with camels.
There are many nice hostels that offer largely the same amenities, but the difference here is how much attention to minute details the owner (Amber) places everywhere, and how much care the staff keeps the place IMPECCABLY TIDY. To give you an example of one of the minute details, there is a book in the bathroom called "Taking Care of Yourself" that addresses administering first aid to oneself; and a chart right above the toilet that serves as a hydration diagnostic, so one can figure out level of hydration based on the color of the urine. The quality of the furnishings are of the caliber one finds at high end hotels that offer "white glove" service.
With all this observed, and it now being 12:47am, I settle down and sleep for the night.