Nobody can agree on a name for this decade. I am not here to debate this matter. So far as this page is concerned, it’s the aughts. The aughts are really the ideal name for this decade, because it ought to have been good, but largely failed. Any decade in which somebody like George Walker Bush is the unquestioned most important person is a categorical failure. However, I am not here to debate this matter either. There are plenty of other blogs out there about what an abortion the aughts were politically, written by people that, say, read real newspapers. Today, I’m here to self-indulge, a longtime specialty of this space.
As I write this, it’s December 30 and I’m drinking $2 red wine, a variety foul enough to earn the name “Jinro,” made right here in the ROK. It tastes a bit like children’s grape cough syrup, a not horrible experience to be sure. The aughts began much like this. At the close of the nineties, I was fresh off my Euro study abroad adventure, had some sort of life plan, a girlfriend of sorts, and was generally at the top of my game. By the time the Superbowl rolled around in Y2k, the girlfriend thing was over, my roommate and buddy Dylan had taken off to Jersey, my mom had moved to Baltimore, my childhood home sold, and I had developed an unhealthy interest in a drink called Kentucky Deluxe, which is to whiskey what Jinro is to wine. The aughts had begun.
The Year 2000 got better, of course. I moved out of the horrible converted garage that Dylan and I lived in and moved in with a platonic ex-girlfriend. I stopped drinking 18 packs of Milwaukee’s Best by myself while watching The Price is Right. In May, my buddy Daniel moved back to Lawrence, followed by Dylan two weeks later. In June, I succeeded in picking up a foxy bartender named Jaimie (sp?), then had a short-lived relationship with a supercute but trashy girl that I worked with named Shelly. I took some trips, including the infamous Ozarks weekend and my second Euro-jaunt for New Years. Then, for some reason, I moved to Florida.
In Florida, I had no friends. I made $150 a week. I drank Silver Thunder, which is to beer what Jinro is to wine and Kentucky Deluxe is to whiskey. I didn’t have cable, couldn’t afford it. I drunk dialed people in Lawrence pretty much every day. If the person I was calling’s roommate answered the phone, I would often keep the unsuspecting roommate on the phone for half an hour. This couldn’t last forever, so I moved back home to Lawrence and picked up where I left off.
I left Lawrence again in the early summer of 2002. I embarked on a four-month, 30-state road trip. I planned to move somewhere new at the end. Chicago was the choice.
I love Chicago, but the Chicago era would prove to be the bane of the decade. I came to Chicago with two nickels to rub together, a Nintendo, and high hopes. My standard of living was just above gutter level my first year there. After a while, I carved out something resembling a real life. I had a “real” job. I became a member of the art museum. I got high speed internet. I bought a real bed. Things were looking up. Then came late-October-early-November 2004. The wheels fell off on another girl situation. I got passed over for a promotion at work. Bush got re-elected. All in a two week span. The aughts strike back. I took to drinking Skol vodka, which is to vodka what Jinro is to wine, Kentucky Deluxe is to whiskey, and Silver Thunder is to beer. I didn’t leave Chicago until May of 2006, but I checked out in November 2004.
Again, the aughts were by no means all bad. December 30, 2005 was a turning point of sorts. This was my last day working at my “real” job. The Chicago era was largely a death knell for travel, easily my favorite activity. In late 2002 and all of 2003, 2004, and 2005, I made one trip to Vegas, one trip to Maine, one trip to Florida, one long roadtrip between Kansas and Baltimore, four Christmas trips to Balto, and several trips to Lawrence. Pretty bland. In an over three year period, Maine was the one new place I went to, and Vegas and Indiana Beach were the only other places I went without the express purpose of visiting family or friends.
I’d long considered the late 90s as my golden age of travel, and though 96-99 still qualify as the greatest age of proper road trips, 2006-2009 easily qualifies as my own golden age of air travel. Over these four years, I’ve hit up (big breath) Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Brugges, Brussels, Antwerp, Aachen (underrated, you should go), Cologne, Rothenburg, Munich, Vienna, Prague, Venice, Chicago (x4), Lafayette, Baltimore (a lot), DC (a lot), Lawrence(x5), Tampa/St. Pete (x5), Seoul, Fukuoka (x3), Hong Kong, Busan (x5), Jeju, Bangkok (x2), Tokyo, Manila, Boracay, Singapore, Penang (Malaysia), Gyeongju, San Francisco (x3), Vegas (x2), Tucson, Phoenix, New York, Philadelphia, and motherfucking Disney World. My flying codes in this latter part of the aughts would be:
2006 - MDW-TPA-MDW, ORD-CPH, CPH-AMS, MUC-ORD, MDW-MCI-MDW, BWI-MCI-BWI, BWI-TPA-BWI, BWI-ORD-NRT-ICN, ICN-FUK-ICN, ICN-HKG-ICN
2007 - ICN-FUK-ICN, SEL-CJU-SEL, ICN-BKK-TPE-ICN, ICN-NRT-ICN, ICN-MNL, MNL-MPH, MNL-ICN
2008 - ICN-SIN-ICN, ICN-BKK, BKK-PEN-BKK-ICN, ICN-SFO, MCI-BWI, BWI-MDW
2009 - MDW-TPA, TPA-BWI, BWI-BUF-LAS, LAS-OAK. OAK-TUC, TUC-ABQ-MCI, MCI-BWI, BWI-MDW, MDW-SFO, SFO-ICN, ICN-FUK-ICN. 27
That’s a lot of capital letters in a row. For the aughts as a whole, I’ve been to 20 countries, 44 U.S. states, 38 airports, and 24 major train stations. I’ve ridden on 30 city transit systems and flown on 14 airlines. I’ve flown business class for free to Tokyo and Copenhagen with miles. I’ve ridden bullet trains and motorcycle rickshaws. I drove through that tree in Northern California that people can drive through and walked across the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, both lifetime goals of mine.
I’ve had 12 different jobs during the aughts. The longest was for over three years. The worst one was selling art out of my car for 100% commission. The best one is my current gig. I’ve lived in 13 different apartments or houses in 6 different cities. These statistics are probably more telling than the travel stats as to why I’m so rootless and directionless. Yet, come tomorrow, I will have lived in one apartment in one city with one job in the teens.
Finally, a note on pop culture. The aughts have developed a reputation for a dearth of it, particularly compared to the truck full of awesome that was the 90s. In many respects, I agree, but the aughts have two saving graces - the internet (as in teh internets !!!!!11!!) and TV. I would argue that no decade could beat the aughts in the TV realm. The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Arrested Development, Family Guy, 30 Rock, South Park, The Office (when it had its fastball two years ago), and Scrubs crush any decade you put them against. Plus, there’s a whole slew of shows that I haven’t gotten into yet but I know I will love, like Friday Night Lights, Dexter, Breaking Bad, Always Sunny, and of course Lost.
If you are me (and I am) then this was a horrible decade for sports - almost. Nearly every team that I care about lost every year, usually badly. The highlight for the Royals was finishing in 3rd place and going one game over .500 in 2003. The only teams that I follow that won championships were the 2009 Kia Tigers and the 2008 Kansas Basketball Jayhawks. Yet, the Hawks saved the decade singlehandedly. The Jayhawks winning the title in grand fashion (lambasting North Carolina followed by an overtime win against Memphis in the best college hoops game of all time) was not only the best moment in sports in the aughts, but most likely the Greatest Moment In Sports In My Lifetime, Past And Future. Of course, I ended up witnessing this by watching the game on the internet, alone in my apartment in Korea. That’s the aughts in a nutshell. Despite a few of the greatest times of my life, it ought to have been better.