Stories from my 14-month study abroad in Buenos Aires, my 16-month post-college move to Miami, and my get-me-the-hell-out-of-Miami move to Denver

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Denver is...wait for it...Amazing!

I've been in Denver for just over 6 weeks now and I can honestly tell you one thing; Denver is (almost) the best thing that has happened to me! Buenos Aires still ranks up there, but who knows, maybe Denver will overtake it in the coming months. 

This city is absolutely amazing. I'm not even sure where to begin. Don't expect any sort of uniformity to this post, it'll be stream-of-consciousness for sure.

Denver is an outdoorsman's paradise. In the past six weeks, I've already hiked two 13,000 foot mountains, with many more 14ers on my list for the summer. I've driven past pristine rivers, dotted with the occasional fly-fisherman casting for trout amongst the rapids. I used to fly fish in high school and will be restarting come Fall. I've already connected with the local paragliding scene and should be flying 2-4 times per week in Boulder once I get my own car in the coming weeks. I've biked over 100 miles and done my fair share of foothills hike.

If you're an outdoors enthusiast, Denver is the place to be. I'm sure one could live even further into the mountains, perhaps in Vail or Breckenridge, but I prefer being located in a big city with nature at my fingertips, and Denver is just that.

Connected to the outdoorsy aspect of "Why Denver Kicks Ass" is the use of pubic space aspect. There's a park, Wash Park, located in Southwest-ish Denver. It's about 3 blocks wide by 10 blocks long, and it is brimming with people hanging out, jogging, picnicing, throwing frizbee, playing volleyball, and just all around enjoying life. It doesnt matter what day of the week it is, as soon as 5pm rolls around, the park starts filling up with people. Miami was severely lacking public parks (minus the beach) and those parks that were there were hardly utilized like the ones here in Denver.

What's next....the beer culture. I'll write a whole post of this when I have a minute, but I'd just like to point out that good beer is EVERYWHERE and it's woven into the culture of the state/city. I don't think I've seen one city social event that wasn't sponsored by a local brewery that happily shows up and gives out free pints of their newest seasonal.

People here often times ask me, "So why did you ever move to Miami?"

After four fun years in the Twin Cities, I was done with them. I knew I needed a change.

I still had a few good friends in Minneapolis during my nine post-college months, but I could foresee that the post-college years would be quite different.  Two were planning on moving to (and currently live in) Taiwan, one was still in college and planning on getting engaged (I'm standing up in his wedding in two weeks) and the rest of my friends (mostly from study abroad in Buenos Aires) were scattered around the US. I didn't feel like I was connected to the city in any way, and I felt it was the perfect time to get the eff out!

So, why Miami?  It seemed like the polar opposite of Minneapolis/St.Paul and it had a bustling Spanish-speaking population. I, naively, thought it would be like a North American Buenos Aires, and I was totally wrong (as you can read here). So, I packed my bags and flew to MIA.

However, I can't say that I'm upset that I moved to Miami and lived there as long as I did. As I said, I needed a radical change from the Midwest. I was tired of it and wanted something new. Miami was just that, something completely new.

Had I moved to Denver directly after finishing college, hearing myself say "Wow, Denver is so similar to Minneapolis!" would have had a negative inflection, as opposed to a positive one. This phrase now, however, comes as one of the highest compliments I could possibly bestow upon a city. I have a feeling that Minneapolis/St.Paul and Denver had their initial population booms at the same time, because the three cities looks eerily similar. Besides the foothills in the distance, it'd be hard to tell the cities apart. Lots of red brick houses, old warehouses, and a similar rolling landscape. Only difference, Denver is wickedly dry and a bit brown, and the Twin Cities are rather lush and green.

I never learned to appreciate Midwestern values while I was living in the Midwest, because it was all I knew. However, after spending 16 months in Miami and finding myself constantly surrounded by some very unscrupulous individuals, I have a new found appreciation for the strong morals and values of Middle America.

Obviously there's a "honeymoon phase" whenever you move to a new city. There was definitely one when I moved to Miami, but looking back, I see that I was more enthralled by the fancy cars, big houses and other status symbols, as opposed to values of the population. I would bike through nice neighborhoods and see nice cars and think "Wow, how can they ever afford all of this?" Now I know, they couldn't. ;-)

I'm not impressed with the houses or cars of Denver, there's nothing too shocking to see.  What I am impressed with is the active lifestyle and friendly demeanor of the general population.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Truth About Spirit Airlines Carry-On Baggage Fees

Since I fly Spirit so much, I feel like I have to be their one lone voice of defense in the world of the airline industry.

Want to know why I love Spirit? I'll tell you why.

I'm moving to Denver in 10 days, and I just purchased a one-way flight AND two checked bags for $100. Show me any other airpline where a similar flight would be possible. You can't, only Spirit can or will offer prices like that.

Though I understand that people get upset with Spirit because of their baggage fees, you have to understand, they have purpose, to increase efficiency.

Let's look at the carry-on fee that everyone complains about.

"$45 for a carry on? That's robbery!" scream the masses.

It's only $25 to check the same bag, even a bigger bag for that matter.

Did you every wonder why they charge MORE for carry-on luggage?

It's really quite simple, carry-on baggage slows down both the boarding and unboarding procedures and therefore reduces the possible number of legs a given aircraft can fly in a certain day, cutting into an airline's already slim profit margins.

Ponder this, how many times have you got called to board your flight and found yourself waiting in the jetway for 15 minute, wondering why there is such a hold-up?

I'll tell you, it's because of the people that are dragging on huge carry-ons, trying to get them to fit in the overheard bin, re-adjusting them, and overall slowing down the boarding.

By the time they even started the boarding process, all the checked baggage was already loaded into the aircraft. They start loading departing baggage the second they get the arriving luggage out of the cargo hold. Therefore, by encouraging people to check their luggage, instead of carrying it on, they can streamline boarding.

Case in point:

Imagine, for one minute, if no one had a carry on. People would walk into the aircraft, find their seat, sit down (and do the obligatory seat shuffle), the doors would latch and the flight would be taking off on time, if not earlier.

However, when every Tom, Dick, and Harry has a carry-on that they NEED to bring with them, they delay takeoff by 30 minutes by hindering everyone else from getting into their seat. Multiply that by 6 flights per aircraft per day, and carry-on loading time has added three extra hours of wasted time to the aircraft's usable hours. Those three hours could easily accommodate one more Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta flight for the day, adding a few more dollars to bottom line.

I can hear it already, people complaining that they don't feel like airlines should be able to make a decent profit by adding additional flights per day at the expense of carry-on bag fees, etc. Maybe you're one of those that is against the airline making a profit. You're perfectly entitled to your opinion.

However, are you also against landing before your scheduled arrival time?

Do you enjoy waiting for 20 minutes in the jet-way, when you could have already been taxing to the runway?

I didn't think so.

Please look beyond an airline making profit. Look at the fact that all those people with carry-on baggage are slowing down your flight.

So, the next time you're complaining about how horrible it is that Spirit charges for a carry-on, think about the fact that by getting people to check their luggage, they're helping ensure that you arrive to your destination on time.


PS- Just so you know, I have no affiliation with Spirit. Since I enjoy travel and fly them quite often (since I live in South Florida), I've just become sick and tired of hearing the complaints about them.

My last rant:

Don't like Spirit's lack of amenities during your flight?

Do you want "free" inflight food?

Do you want "free" refreshments and maybe some "free" entertainment?

Great, go fly another airline and pay the extra $150 for all those "free" in-flight amenities.

I'll happily take the $150 that flying Spirit saved me and go buy a nice four-course dinner when I land, on time, in my destination city.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I Must Say, I Love Spirit Airlines

I'm at the airport too early, like always; the story of my life.

Growing up in a family where Dad always insisted that we arrive at the airport three hours early, even pre 9/11, I find it's hard habit to break.

So here I am, eating some half stale pizza in Orlando, waiting for a flight to Fort Lauderdale that hasnt even come up on the "Departures" board yet. I've got some time to burn. But hey, at least I know I'll have plenty of time to make it through security this time.

The line itself looks miserable, and the faces on people when they first see how the long the line is makes my stomach turn. I've been there, once, and it's a feeling you never want to have. It was in Fort Lauderdale a few years back, when I just made it onto my flight by the skin of my teeth.

Word to wise, if you plan on traveling from Miami Beach to Fort Lauderdale International Airport, and you're cheap enough, like me, to use public transportation, do yourself the favor of giving yourself more than 3 hours!

I have never missed a flight, due in part to my Dad's well-instilled "arrive early" value, but it was close that day. They saw the despair in my eyes when I told them my flight was leaving in 15 minutes and I had to catch a bus to Minneapolis, my college town, as soon as I landed in Chicago.

You're probably thinking,

"He flew JetBlue, they're so hip and love to help customers."


"Surely it was SouthWest, they're such a quality airline." 

Well you'd never guess it but the airline that won me over that day is the one everyone whines about, none other than Spirit Airlines.

Since that hot, South-Florida-sweaty(it's a special kind of sweaty), stressful day back in 2009 when Spirit customer service turned my horrible day into jubilation, I've been a loyal customer and I think they're one of the best airlines out there.

This post will tell you the story of Fort Lauderdale, and the next will tell you why I think Spirit is great, beyond the customer service.


I've been on various forms of public transportation for nearly 2.5 hours and I finally start to see the airplanes taking off out the window of the train, but I know I'm still 15 minutes away from checking in, and my flight leaves in an hour.

My stomach starts knotting up. If I miss this flight, I'm not getting back to Minneapolis for at least 3 days. I've got a bus waiting for me as soon as I get off the flight in Chicago, and from there it's an 8 hour ride to Minneapolis, my college town.  I NEED to make this flight.

I get off the shuttle from the train station, crash through the doors of the airport and my stomach falls out. The longest security line I've ever seen. An hour, minimum, just to get to security. I'm finished. I'll never make it. I have one hope, customer service.

As I patiently wait in line, two Long Island accented women are verbally destroying the poor customer service girl for Spirit. They're angry about the wait, they're angry about their luggage, they're angry about the airport's temperature, and in their eyes, it's all this poor girl's fault.

Being raised in the Midwest, where values and morals are instilled from an early age, I can't believe what I'm seeing. They're treating her like less than a human, and no one deserves that treatment.

It's my turn to talk with customer service. I take a deep breath and just be the nicest possible person I can be. I acknowledge the fact that I'm aware that I'm VERY late for my flight, but I also express my distress about the situation. I might not make it home if I don't make this flight. If she can help in any way, it would be greatly appreciated.

Having just dealt with such poor examples of the human race, I don't think she could even believe her ears when she heard me say please and thank you. She could see I was in need of help and she knew she was the answer.

As a smile sprang to her face, she asked, "Any bags to check?"

"None, just my carry on." I reply.

"Let's go!" was all I heard as she grabbed my hand and started leading me toward the outrageously long security line.

On her radio I hear her say, "Gate 23, I have the missing passenger Jones, I'm personally leading him through security." 

What would have been an hour wait in security and a guaranteed missed flight turned into VIP treatment.

She personally led me past the security lines to the metal dectors and sent me off with a big smile and a "Now go catch your flight!" 

As I ran towards the gate, another Spirit employee was waiting for me with a smile and a "We've been expecting you."

I stepped foot into the airplane, the door was closed, and we were pushing out of the gate before I could even sit down. Nearly to the minute of the scheduled departure time.

I wish I would have gotten her name, the Savior of Fort Lauderdale, because she deserves a raise. That kind of customer service is hard to find, in any industry, let alone the airline industry, and she is a model for others to follow.

This is also a lesson to all you people who immediately resort to insults and accusations as your way of expressing anger and grief. I'm sure those Long Island women missed their flight, and with how they treated that customer service girl, I'm okay with saying that I think they deserved it. A smile and some polite words might have gotten them on their flight like it did for me.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Don't Move to Miami, Plain and Simple.

"What's it like living in Miami?"

Since moving here over a year ago, I've heard this question numerous times.

Do you want the real answer? If so, read on my friend, read on.


I woke up this morning to an email alert from Blogger about a new comment (seen below) on an old blog post:
How's it going in miami. I'm the random dude from NC who stumbled onto your blog and commented occasionally last year. Just saw this bookmark and thought I'd see how your experience has gone and how your opinion has evolved.

Do you still like Miami? Are you jaded on it like so many message board posters seem to become?

For several years now I have experienced and ongoing fascination with Miami. Not sure whether I want to live there, but it continues to intrigue me. Problem is I have a good career in nc. My wife does, too. Since the great majority of online opinions on living in Miami area pretty simplistic and shallow, it's pretty tough to form a meaningful opinion on whether an eventual move is even worth considering. But your posts are generally insightful. I hope you get notification of this comment and post an update on your experience after having been there quite a while now.

What's it like to live in Miami?

Wherever shall I begin...

Miami is not the city I thought it would be. I moved to Miami, expecting it to be like a North American Buenos Aires. This blog was started years ago when I moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina for a year long study abroad. I resurrected the blog when I graduated college and decided to move to Miami.

Miami is a wonderful place to visit. Coming down for a week in the middle of a cold winter would be great. You can go to the beach all day, eat a great dinner, and then stay up all night partying and watch the sun rise over the ocean. However, living here is another story. The culture shock I have experienced from moving from Minnesota to Miami is 10 times the culture shock from when I moved to Buenos Aires. 

The only thing that Miami and Buenos Aires have in common is that they both speak Spanish as their first language. Beyond that, as you'd say in spanish, "las dos ciudades tienen nada que ver", meaning something along the lines of "the two cities have nothing to do with one another."

Miami has jaded me. I'm not the same person I was when I moved down here. I'll explain.

I read the forums and blogs before I came to Miami and told myself that I would have a different experience. I'd break the usual "Miami sucks" mindset that most out-of-towners have and find a group of great young people to hang out with. Well, approaching my one-year anniversary with the city, I can tell you that I have 100% turned into the jaded out-of-towner who moved to Miami for a change of pace, and now dearly misses where I'm from.

I'm not impressed with fast cars, fake breasts, ungodly big watches, and snobby attitudes. Some people come to Miami and fall in love with it. It's all about flash, money, and perceived status. Coming from the Midwest, none of these values were instilled on me by my parents, and I'm glad they never were. Someone driving a Ferrari in Miami doesn't mean they're a successful person, it just means that they've either saved up the money to rent it for a day and pay the $5000 to appear rich, or they don't get enough attention in their daily life, so they purchased a car they most likely can't afford.

In Minneapolis, if you saw someone driving a Porsche, it was a BIG deal. I probably saw one or two per year, so when I did see one, it was really cool. The person was probably very successful in their life. Down here, I don't even blink when I see a sports car anymore. I can sit on my balcony on any given night and watch, at a minimum, 2 Lamborghini, 3 Ferrari, 5 Maserati, and uncountable Porsche drive by. How many of the people driving them can afford them? Few I'm sure.

I met a Spanish woman who worked for a Spanish bank in the Brickell neighborhood. She also lived down there. We were talking about where I was from and what I was doing in Miami and she told me, slightly paraphrasing, "Don't fall into this lifestyle. I have a secretary that drives a BMW, she can't afford it! I pay her wage, I know how much she makes. I know she can't afford to drive that car!"

When people first come to Miami, they assume everyone is wealthy. That is not the case. Yes, there are some very wealthy foreigners who use Miami as a base of operations. However, in my opinion, the majority of the wealth is just front, or in my words, "All flash, no cash." I could easily drive a Porsche in Miami, if I took out an insanely unwise 10-year loan. However, I was raised in a place where it didn't matter what type of car you drove. The richest family in my hometown drove a new Suburban. Your social status didn't revolve around the car you drove. Here, it's different. People would rather have a car they can't afford, but appear to be wealthy, than drive a car they can afford and make the monthly payments. As my friends and I joke, we've always wanted to yell at some of the douschier guys in Miami, "Hey, why don't you sell your BMW and use the money to move out of your mom's basement."

I used to be a very trusting person. I didn't have to deal with many schiesty people on a daily basis in Minnesota. Most people weren't trying to pull a fast one on me. Here, it's a different story. I feel like everyone has an ulterior motive in their actions. If someone is talking to me about my business, I've come to think that they're internally scheming for a way to take business from me, or just all around trying to pull some con on me. I've given up on trusting people. My good friend from Miami jokes around with me that I'm too friendly/trusting of a person. I think it's sad that locals don't know what it's like to live somewhere where you can actually be nice to people and trust them in your daily doings. It's almost an issue of pride with locals about how hard skinned they are.

However, don't taking trusting and friendly to mean naive. I'm by no means naive. This ain't my first rodeo. I can still tell when someone is trying to pull a fast one on me. I'm not going to fall into the scam of going to cash someone's check because they're having trouble with the ATM, kinda thing. I have street sense when it comes to these issues.

By trusting and friendly, I mean having a conversation with someone and not having to worry that they're somehow figuring out how to make money off you. Now that my business is successful, I can't begin to tell you how many people love to come to me with ideas about how they can help me make more money. Everyone wants a cut of the next guy's success. My question for them, "Where were you three months ago when business was going poorly?" There are so many shady dealings and dealers in Miami that I feel the average citizen has internalized the fact that everyone is trying to scam you.

A good friend of mine recently moved from Miami to Denver, and she commented on how she was initially really weirded out by how friendly everyone was. I feel her pain, and I know it's happening to me too. She said it made her really nervous when people would just talk with her and ask her questions, with genuine interest, about where she was from and what she was doing in Denver. She said she felt really "on guard" because she thought they were somehow trying to scam her or rob her. In reality, they were just being friendly and showing interest in someone else's life story. That does NOT happen in Miami. I had a kid start making conversation with me at Starbucks a few weeks back, and the whole time, I was on edge, just waiting for him to "make his move." Was it going to be to ask to work for me, or tell me he had really good ideas for my company, or something. Nope, he was just interested in talking to me while we drank our respective coffees.

I have a friend who works at the restaurant I worked at for 6 months down here. He's also from Wisconsin, and we always joked around about the vanity of the women in Miami. He's dubbed this city "The Fake Titty City" and its a dead ringer. I didn't know ass implants existed until I moved to Miami. I remember seeing a girl in a bikini in Minneapolis that had breasts implants and being somewhat shocked. Like, "Wow, did you see that girl's boobs?!?" I now think it's strange to see a woman in Miami that has REAL boobs, and normal, not-filled-with-collagen lips. There's natural beauty, and then there is the "Miami 10". This is the term I've coined to describe the women down here that have done everything possible to be considered pretty. Fake boobs, ass implants, face lift, collagen lips, platinum blond hair, etc. The men gawk at them because they're a life-size barbie doll, but under it all they're still not pretty. They've created their "beauty" as opposed to being comfortable with the body/face they were born with.

There is one aspect of Miami that I love, the weather. I've never lived in a place with better climate. It's the middle of January right now and currently sunny and 80 degrees outside. You can't ask for better. I can bike, fish, and be outside year round.

It's probably snowing and miserably cold in Minnesota right now. However, I wouldn't mind being in a St.Paul coffee shop right now, reading a good book, watching the snow fall, and having a good conversation with the stranger sitting next to me. There aren't coffee shops in Miami, only Starbucks. As much as they try to create a great environment, Starbucks can never replace that locally-owned coffee shop with a revolving bookshelf of free-to-read books, a stack of boxes of well-used board games, and some good indie-hipster music in the background.

So after reading all of this, you're probably wondering, "Why the hell is he still in Miami?" The answer is...soon I'm moving. I've decided on Denver. Also a place known for endless sunshine. I can handle the cold winters, as long as snowboarding and sunny skies await. Plus, people who live in snow and bitter cold temperatures are just better people. A Midwestern wakes up at 6am, shovels their driveway so they can back the car out of the driveway, and still makes it to work by 8am. That says something about a person.

Wow, it felt really good to get these thoughts in writing. Is that the answer you were looking for Dustin?

If Miami has taught me one thing, it has taught me what I DONT want in the next city I call home.

It has taught me that my values are great, my moral compass true, my work ethic envied and that growing up in the Midwest wasn't half bad.