On going kind of viral

Over Memorial Day weekend we drove from Utah to Montana and back, 10 hours each way, to visit my brother’s family. We had a great time even though the visit had to end with the apology “I’m sorry my dog killed your chicken.” I grew up sleeping during long drives, but most of our five kids are road trip insomniacs. (Number four once made it from Atlanta to SLC without sleeping a wink in the car. It was super fun for everyone.)

On this trip the second-born passed her time making lip sync videos. She showed her favorite to her mom during the last 30 minutes of the drive. My wife has a great laugh and I couldn’t help but laugh at her laugh as I drove along the normally humorless Interstate 15.

I watched it that night and then sent it to my family. My brother said, “Wow!!! Prepare to have it go viral.” I got her permission and then posted it to my Facebook the next morning. Here it is:

Within a few hours it was spreading quickly among my sizable extended family. I have a lot of cousins, but before long I could tell that more than just my cousins were watching. Facebook view counts are easier to come by than YouTube views because of the auto-play feature — everyone who scrolls past it in their feed counts as a view. But comments and shares indicated that a lot of people could relate to being trapped in a van with oblivious family members, kept sane only by the music you love.

KSL was the first news outlet to contact me. They did a great little article (“2-4-6-0-Fun!”) called
Have You Seen This? Utah teen makes hilarious ‘Les Mis’ video during family road trip.

It was locked in an intense popularity battle with the story of a moose giving birth in the Lowe’s parking lot and then took over the #1 spot for a day or two.

Their Facebook post was shared over a thousand times.

KUTV came next. They didn’t contact me, but an editor with the amazing name of Cimaron Neugebauer, wrote up a small article based on the limited details in my Facebook post: Utah teen makes epic Les Misérables lip sync video on 10-hour road trip.

My wife and I were endlessly entertained by the overwhelmingly positive comments. Seriously, there were only like four jerks out of thousands of comments, which is a new experience for me on the Internet. A KSL commenter expressed her surprise as well that Utahans were actually being civil about a KSL story on Facebook.

Utahans being nice

Here are a few of my favorites:

Parents can’t resist giving each other online advice, so we had one mom who took the time to let us know she would prefer it if our kids had spent all 20 hours gazing out the window:

And another mom whose watchful eye would never have let this activity go on unnoticed:

A reporter with the Idaho Statesmen contacted me and posted a short article on their website. A few minutes later they figured out that my dad is an Idaho state senator and quickly added a local spin to it: Video by Idaho senate leader’s granddaughter goes viral.

This is where the trolls started to come out but they were few in number, at least. It was difficult not to feed them.

After about a week views reached 200,000 on Facebook and the pace slowed. Then Deseret News picked it up for their UTubers feature: Utah teen makes ‘Les Miserables’ music video during 10-hour drive. They linked to the YouTube version instead of Facebook and pushed it to about 6,000 views.

Some more attention came from Familyshare.com – Girl takes the internet by storm with her hilarious rendition of ‘Les Mis’

And it even made a minor appearance on reddit.

The video is now two weeks old and its 15 minutes of fame are just about over. It never approached the view counts of cute puppy videos and my daughter is still unrecognized in public. Ellen never called. The Les Miserables Broadway Facebook page liked the video but didn’t call us with free tickets and airfare. But it was pretty fun while it lasted and I’m happy it brought at least a few minutes of joy to most people who saw it.

I spent entirely too much time on Facebook over the past 15 days and need a social media cleanse now. Maybe a long road trip.

Galta Monkey Temple

The first time I went to India, in 2008, I picked up the paper and read about monkeys that were raiding villages and stealing food and medicine. I’m pretty sure I read that they were stealing human babies, too, although now that I try to find an article online about it I’m having a rough time finding a reliable source. Jet lag was pretty bad that first visit, so maybe I invented that part or I was reading the Indian National Enquirer.

32nd Milestone Hotel

I was staying at the 32nd Milestone Hotel in Gurgaon, a few miles from New Delhi. As I settled into bed, a leopard gecko scurried up the wall. On my way back from breakfast in the morning, two monkeys were blocking the hotel entrance until someone chased them off with a broom. That’s when I knew I would be back to visit often.

Monkey god Hanuman

Monkeys are fed and protected at temples dedicated to Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god. One of the most famous of these is Galta Ji in Jaipur, a few hours’ drive southwest of New Delhi. National Geographic has a series called Rebel Monkeys (Monkey Thieves in some countries) about the troop of 60ish rhesus macaques that live at Galta and maraud Jaipur.

We had trouble finding it — there were no tourist signs (which was great because we were the only tourists there) — but our driver asked a guy on a motorcycle who led us there several miles through the rain. Better than GPS.

Monkey oversees camera rules at Galta

We bought a bag of peanuts at the entrance and paid 200 rupees (about $4) to be able to use our cameras. The buildings were cool and there were a few monkeys wandering around. It was pretty ok, but not amazing.

Then, we heard a bell ring.

Suddenly, dozens of monkeys appeared from the rocks surrounding the area and rushed down the hill. It was feeding time. The priests distributed fresh fruits and vegetables as monkeys lined the steps and chomped away.

They mostly ignored us as our camera shutters clicked furiously. Once the fresh food was gone, some of the monkeys would pull on our pant legs to get peanuts from us.

Monkey grabs pant leg to get more treats

It was exhilarating, a highlight of my time there. The monkeys were very accustomed to humans, so I don’t think it was much more dangerous than a petting zoo, but it felt like they could go King Louie on us at any moment, which added to the excitement.

Photo gallery –

Angels Landing

Angels Landing is a tall rock formation in Zion National Park in Southern Utah. It’s an awfully fun hike. It’s about 3 hours roundtrip and the views get progressively more impressive as you go. The last half-mile gives amateurs like me a little taste of the thrill of the mountain climbing I’ll never do. It’s just the right amount of dangerous. There are huge chains to hold on to and there’s only one short section where you can see straight down both sides of the trail.

Adding to the excitement is a sign that informs you of six deaths on the trail since 2004.

6 deaths since 2004

If you’re curious, you can find links to articles on each death at Wikipedia.

My first ascent was in about 1995 when I worked at Jacob Lake Inn at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I took this photo of my feet dangling over the edge and displayed it in the convenience store as “Photo of the Day” for a couple of months. I miss those shoes.

Still “Photo of the Day”

A couple of years ago, I met up with a couple of old friends to celebrate surviving 40 years on earth by risking our lives on the hike. The most dangerous part ended up being almost missing the last shuttle of the night from the trailhead back to the campground.

In 2011, I went with the young men from our ward and encountered a rattle snake on the trail –

On the last visit (May 2015), I found this guy playing the didgeridoo at the peak –

You should go. Just be careful when you back up for photos.

 

More information:

National Park Service

zionnationalpark.com

utah.com

Flash Floods & Falls: Deaths & Rescues In Zion National Park

 

Not dying in Delhi traffic

There are four things I remember from reading Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) –

  1. Never make eye contact at an intersection in Mexico City
  2. Late merging is actually the most efficient use of road space even though it infuriates everyone else
  3. Risking your life to teach a bad driver a lesson is illogical (you’ll never see them again) but it may benefit the rest of society
  4. One in 10 traffic fatalities worldwide happens in New Delhi, India

That last point is of particular interest to me because I visit New Delhi once or twice a year for work. Traffic there is fascinating! I pretty much hold my camera out the window the whole commute, trying (in vain, generally) to capture some of the chaos for later.

Tourist photographing roadside monkeys

You desensitize to it slowly over time. After a dozen trips to India, the driver will still suddenly stop so I can get a picture of another pig in the road. “No, I’m good. Enough pigs,” I say, pointing to my camera to show where all the digital pigs are stored. I think he’s a little sad it has become routine.

Much of the danger and excitement of New Delhi traffic is due to the variety of road users. On a U.S. interstate, you might have variance of 10mph across vehicles sharing the road. In India, you have cars, motorbikes, scooters, pedal bikes, pull rickshaws, bike rickshaws, auto rickshaws (tuk tuks), big trucks, buses, cows, buffalo, pigs, dogs, and endless pedestrians.

Bike helmets are required in big cities (“even for women“, the signs say), but you rarely see them. If you do, it’s only for the driver and not the passenger. It’s common to see a full family on one scooter or bike, with an infant on the lap of the driver.

So much honking! It almost makes you laugh how incessant it is. Honking is a signal, not necessarily a warning. “I’m coming up behind you” or “I plan to pass” or “I don’t plan to stop” or “I notice you have an American tourist in your car”. I’m starting to notice nuances in the length of the honk — there seem to be nice ones and mean ones. Most of the trucks have beautifully-painted “Honk Please” and/or “Use Dippers” (flash your brights) on the back.

Some road signs plead “Lane Driving is Sane Driving” (or the less-rhyming “Safe Driving”). Drivers tend to use the middle of the road when it’s clear, moving to the left only when oncoming traffic requires it. I see a lot of lane-straddling on multi-lane roads.

When a road widens before an intersection, vehicles spread out to consume all available space. Even though they’ll have to squish back down to a lane or two after the intersection. And it works fine. I can’t see this working in the U.S. without gun shots.

Throw in some police barriers, pot holes and sink holes, and you have the makings of an entertaining daily commute.

Road repair

What strikes me most is the lack of anger and frustration. I’ve seen one fist fight and one fender bender in a dozen visits, but their scrappy driving methods work surprisingly well. You can get very resourceful when rules are just guidelines. When a one-way side road backed up due to a wreck, a couple of drivers ran to nearby shops for scrap metal and created a ramp so cars could drive over the median and borrow a lane from the other-direction road. The other drivers just shifted over — it was no big deal to have hundreds of cars driving the wrong way.

I used to play the video game California Speed at a friend’s house and had to concentrate on the drive home to suppress the urge to jump ramps and mount sidewalks like you could in the game. That’s how it is when I get back from India. Here in the U.S., roads are for cars and sidewalks are for pedestrians. And you can only honk when you really have something to say (and when your wife is not in the car). How boring.

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)

Three minutes as folk-rock stars

Way back in 2010, the band Good Old War had a YouTube cover contest. The winner would get to sing on stage with them (they didn’t specify where). I learned about the contest at 9pm on the final day. I pulled my daughters out of bed to try to throw together an entry with our version of Coney Island. Here it is –

You had to submit your entry via Twitter, which I’d never used before. So, I set up an account and tweeted my first (and close to my last) tweet. I realized just before midnight that the post was private, so I made it public just as the contest ended.

The band told me later that they’d already picked a winner, but they couldn’t resist putting the girls on stage when they saw our entry. So, they invited two winners.

The only problem was they had intended for the performance to be at a concert at Drexel University in their native Philadelphia. We lived in Atlanta, 800 miles away.

But what’s a 12-hour drive (each way) in the grand scheme of things? We arranged to drop the toddler off with family in North Carolina, and hit the road.

My brother and his family drove down from Vermont to see us and my aunt and uncle in West Chester let us stay at their home.

We rehearsed backstage a couple of times with the band and I tried to adjust to the higher (original) pitch of the song –

We walked around campus and people actually recognized us from YouTube. Little celebrities! The concert had several openers, so it was after 11pm before we went on stage. My exhausted son threw up on my brother around 10:45 and we rushed to the bathroom to clean up. Some got on my sleeves, so I rolled them up for the performance.

A fan (of the band, not us) caught it on her phone –

I was crazy nervous. My son may have sympathy vomited. The audience started singing while I was still playing an intro I didn’t realize I had added to the song.

It wasn’t a stadium, the invitation was more about my adorable girls than me, and you probably haven’t heard of the band, but it was one of the highlights of my life. “Remember that time we drove 12 hours to Philadelphia and sang with Good Old War?” Yeah, I do.

Good Old War and the Hills

See also:
www.goodoldwar.com