There’s Magic in the Air

Occasionally, I get asked what part of the week I actually write the blog.  In the past, it was as early as Monday.  As of recent, I wait until Sunday.  You know why?  Because I never know when magic in life may occur.  Case in point, today.  I was in Atlanta with my family watching the Braves play the Padres.  That alone was exciting, but I just never know what is around the corner.  The Braves pitcher, Julio Teheran, pitched 6 no-hit innings before he was pulled for an elevated pitch count.  His replacement hit 100mph on the radar, which you don’t see every day. We thought about leaving because it was hot as hell.  But I don’t like missing magic.  In the 8th, Braves catcher Tyler Flowers hit a bomb to straight center field, right in front of our seats to put the Braves up 4-1.  And then Nick Markakis ended the game with a superb diving catch in right field.

F495FACB-F774-4A5D-9388-2277BAA17047Meanwhile, my new friends in Mexico were busy upsetting Germany in the World Cup, and the Swiss surprisingly drew with the Brazilians.  Pure magic.  See, I’m pulling for Mexico.  Team USA didn’t qualify.  The folks in Mexico City treated me like gold a few weeks ago.  Boom!  I’m pulling hard for them.

Meanwhile, the US Open was finishing up.  It is my favorite golf tournament (no questions asked) because it is the most demanding and rewards the best.  Not the most popular.  Not the trendiest.  The best.  In modern society, we often reward the strangest things now.  I just like to see the best.  I like to see the golf course swallow these legends whole and spit them out.  I like to see who is left complaining and who is left standing.  We got a show this weekend. Phil Mickelson lost his mind Saturday. The USGA lost the course Saturday. And we saw a magical 63 from young Tommy Fleetwood Sunday. In the end, the best (Brooks Koepka) was left standing. Back to back champion. Magic.

My dad loves golf. Like really loves it. And I  actually did not get to see him this Father’s Day, but I had a chance to play golf with him in March where we discussed how much the world needs magicians and geniuses.  As you might imagine, we were talking Tiger, but it applies everywhere.  Think about it.  We all know people who just provide something a little different to this world.  Something this world needs.  Something to make you get out of your seat.

EEC0E35C-BAB2-45D9-B7B9-FEEA1B3C24BASpeaking of which, my son is a bit of a magician in my eyes.  He makes me get out of my seat. There’s a sparkle there. I have been pondering all year what the most important things are that I want to teach my son.  Last year, I wrote about keeping that beautiful smile on his face .  This year, I tweak that slightly.  My main focus now is to instill in him a huge sense of self-worth and self-esteem.  If you read regularly, you know I harp on the importance of self.  It all starts with self.  I want him to be armed with confidence.  I want him full of resilience and not afraid to make a mistake.  Because he will, and I want him to know oftentimes the people who move this world forward the most are those who crash, burn, and then bounce back stronger than ever.

782DE005-5F86-4946-B424-260E4387C959Long story short, there is an immense amount of great stuff going on in the world right now.  Amazing talents.  Deep passion.  Unreal skills.  You personally may not be a professional golfer or soccer or baseball player, but I guarantee you that you possess some piece of magic.  In your field of work.  A hobby.  A skill.  Something.  The world needs it.  The world craves it.  Whatever it is, use it.  Make your dad proud.  Make your son proud. But most importantly, do yourself proud.

Have a great week.-Benj

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Starting from Scratch

0BC72335-CD0E-414D-AC95-C025FFA62A3ALet me tell you about the latest incarnation of Benj, in the hopes that you can glean something valuable from it. Let’s call it Benj 9.0, for simplicity’s sake. Benj 9.0 has a basic annual schedule now. Today through the first Sunday in November is racing season. The first Sunday in November through today is eating season. God, I love good food. 

On November 5, 2017, I ran the NYC Marathon. On November 4, 2018, I will run it again. Between now and then, I will run at least 3 other races in yet to be named places. Today, I started training. In the past 7 months, I’ve basically just eaten. And I’ve loved every second of it. But it’s time to get serious, and I want to share a few things with you. 

Today is an arbitrary day to start training. There is literally no importance to it, except I just picked it. I woke up this morning, ran a hot shower to loosen my joints up, put on some shoes and shorts, and headed to the track. I then proceeded to run a whopping 2 laps around the track. Can you believe that? Wild man, I know. Then I grabbed 5 pound dumbbells and worked out my arms, followed by a 10 minute core workout. I am literally starting over from scratch. Out of necessity and out of choice. 

E0A9D25D-9E14-4E91-917B-2FA50D11AA2CMy body can’t take constantly being in marathon shape, so I listen to it. My hunger for life and for literal good food is a choice I make. So I eat and I savor and I don’t care for a good part of the year. But then I crave a stern test that requires discipline, patience, and self awareness, and that’s where today comes in. 

I share this with you because I know how difficult it can be to want to do something (an activity, a passion, a challenge) and not know where to start. We tend to build up in our head some excuse that prevents us from taking the plunge that ends up being just that, an excuse. 

Over the past year, I wrote down 6 activities that I have interest in doing. They are: write, design, golf, invest, coach, teach. I am well on my way writing. Just started designing. Haven’t tackled the other 4 yet, but they are on the horizon. You know how I started writing? I freaking wrote something. You know how I started designing? I freaking designed something. “Being too busy or life getting in the way” is a lousy excuse to not do the things that you really want to do with your life. Real talk.  

29020294-69D5-425B-8A03-C6C902C5D807If having the country club membership or competing with your neighbor or being comfortable is important to you, go nuts. I’m not a hater. But if there are all these wonderful things that you personally want to do with your life that you are not doing, let me give you some advice. Walk your proverbial ass down to the proverbial track. Start with 2 laps. And see where it takes you. I had to learn this. Man, I had to learn this. But you know what? I ran 2 laps today. In a few months, I’ll be able to run 104 freaking laps. And along the way, I’m going to savor the journey once again. (And probably a few pizzas and burgers as long as y’all don’t tell.)

Have a great week.-Benj

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Special Occasions Call for Special Style

Let’s start with a couple of questions this week.  First, has anyone ever gone to a 3 day party with good family and friends?  Maybe some of these people are younger or more energetic than you?  Maybe they don’t have kids?  Maybe many are soccer players from foreign countries, and the pub is like their second home?  If just maybe you have encountered this, you can understand why the blog came out today, and not last night.  It would have been incoherent.

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Next, has anyone ever been to an event that felt “different”?  I personally seek out and love different events, but I usually don’t put weddings in this category.  Sure, they are fun.  Nice.  Beautiful.  A few drinks.  Maybe a round of golf.  Some banter.  Not this one.  This one wasn’t nice.  It was absolutely awesome!  The whole damn weekend was.  I’m still buzzing.

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Let’s start with the people, and of course, the two most important people first.  My friends Junior and Kellen, as reiterated over and over this weekend, are just fabulous people.  They are interesting, kind, passionate, and super fun.  Put them together, and that just doubles.  Junior hails from Cameroon and Kellen from the great Union County, NC, and they both went to Wingate University.  I tell you this because the guest list was as diverse and fantastic as you can imagine.  Folks from Africa and Europe.  I heard a gentleman was in from Kazakhstan.  Wingate people.  Union County people.  All mixing and mingling and having a great time.  I met new people and thoroughly enjoyed reigniting old friendships.  Being around good people is the foundation for a good time, but then some unique activities turned it from good to great.

7E61AB92-2809-46C4-843A-DFA7EBD4A0FCFriday night, there was a welcome party.  If you’ve ever been to a good party, I don’t need to say anything else.  Saturday morning, 40-50 people gathered on the beach for a wedding day yoga session.  Now this was new to me.  I had never done yoga.  I had never done yoga on a beach.  I had never done yoga on a beach on a morning after a welcome party.  Now I have.  And that was 48 hours ago, and I am still sore. But it was awesome!  After that, the afternoon was wide open until the ceremony at 5:30.  My wife and I ended up joining the legendary Wingate coaching staff of Gary Hamill and Joey Calandra for brunch at this local joint that was terrific.  We grabbed a table outside and ate and talked.  Before long, my mate Clarkie and his wife Jo came walking by, and we summoned them up to join us.  They had a drink, and before long we migrated to a wine bar about 5 steps away.  Fast forward some 5 hours later, and the stories that had been told and the bottles of wine that had been drunk were the perfect intro into wedding night.  (Let me remind you, that afternoon piece was totally impromptu.)  The ceremony and reception were great, followed by an after party on the beach under a pretty cool orange moon over the ocean.  And finally, Sunday was beach day, which for me ended with a 5 v. 5 soccer match on the beach.  I play soccer all the time, but usually not on the beach, and definitely not when the only language being spoken is French.  That was pretty cool!

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Last but certainly not least, we must talk about style.  First off, the bride and all of the women were gorgeous, and I will just leave that there.  But the guys certainly held their own, with some terrific custom suits, plaid suits, panama hats, linen pants, among others.  It was a stylish crowd, and judging by the amount of random spectators on the beach watching, people were curious.  If you recall, I had the privilege of working with Junior on his wedding outfit a few months ago.  It turned out perfect, and he wore it like a boss.  The picture below is my favorite shot I got.  Now I personally know that they had just been pronounced husband and wife when I took this, but I’ll be damned if he could have also been simply auditioning to be the next James Bond.

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Interesting, diverse people.  Cool, unique activities.  Style for days.  That’s a really good recipe for an unforgettable weekend.  This weekend was electric.  It was awesome.  It flowed perfectly.  It was different.  And if you’ve been following along for a while now, you know different is good.

And if you want a look like Junior’s for a special occasion or just every day wear, message me.  I would love to help.

Have a great week.-Benj

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Golf, Gators, and Gumbo

76CAFCA8-EBAB-4D8C-8ABE-72780EE022BEI returned back home for the first time in 11 days today.  I was originally going to do a cross country drive, but that got rescheduled. Then I was going to fly to LA for a little design inspiration, but I canned that.  I eventually found myself in Southern Mississippi, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, being a good ole Southern boy. Can anyone think of two more different places than LA and Mississippi? Maybe NYC and Wingate? Maybe Heaven and Hell?

I was reading one of my favorite writer Tom Sorensen’s most recent column last week about the new Carolina Panthers owner. In it, he states that every city has its own personality, and that it is on the person to get to know the city, not vice versa. Got me thinking…

3CDADE6F-3A68-4374-BFBD-F955FAF68E95As with any place, the Mississippi Gulf Coast has its own personality. I imagine the majority of you have never been, so let me enlighten you. The pace is slow. Like cook in the crockpot all day slow. That piece tests me, because I’m like zap it in the microwave fast. But otherwise, I dig it. One of my favorite things about the people down there is that they know how to do stuff. Filet a fish. Fix a boat. Build a house. Catch shrimp. Cut timber.  It’s fend for yourself and help a neighbor territory, and it is fascinating. I try to blend in the best that I can, but who am I kidding? I can barely plug the microwave in. However, I do like to think that I can adapt everywhere, but then again, I also don’t know that I really fit in anywhere. 

D714E31F-39BB-4E85-960B-C4AA58BEAAE5We had ribeyes at Donelle’s, a place so good it doesn’t have or need a website. BBQ at The Shed. Fried Oysters at the Tiki. Burgers at Huck’s. My son went crabbing. We all went fishing. I learned how to drive a boat. We looked for gators and snakes. I got 4 rounds of golf in. 

1FA79F8B-9F23-4D53-A02E-228DE579A0D2The Gulf Coast is good because it forces me to let my hair down. I shower every 4th day. I rarely change clothes. I keep my shirt untucked at the golf course. No one cares. There are no rules. Except slow down. Relax. Enjoy. So I try. As Mr. Sorensen reminded me, I have to adapt to their way of life, not vice versa. 

The common denominator of all these activities is being outside. It is good for the soul. I’ve made a pact with myself to be outside as much as humanly possible going forward, in some pretty cool places, wearing my unique clothes and hats. 

EC1FE242-3C85-4C19-973A-FEB97DAABA7EI think I turned a TV on twice, once to show my father in law the opening scene of Spectre in Mexico City, where I just was.  And the other last night to watch LeBron prove why he is LeBron. I opened up my phone a few times to read and share some pictures, but otherwise it was closed for business. 

850A8D8C-941E-4BDB-9477-BF63E329DA3ASo what can the folks of Mississippi teach us? Life is right in front of you, with great food and golf and boating and exotic animals and sunshine and family and friends and fixing stuff and generally being present. Lots of enjoyment and lots of learning this week. 

I may not even unpack my bags tonight. Back on the road Friday. Stay tuned…

Have a great week.-Benj

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Don’t Miss Life

I turned 36 on Friday, which really doesn’t mean anything.  But anything but khakis turned 1 on Tuesday, and for that I am very proud and thankful.
So this is the one-year anniversary blog.  You’ve seen everything I’ve done, so I won’t regurgitate.  I want to share with you everything I’ve learned in the past year, so strap in.  By a country mile, the number one thing I learned is this.  Figure out yourself and what really matters to you, and then focus the vast majority of your time and energy there.  Take time for yourself.  What do you like?  What don’t you like?  Do this daily.  Meditate.  Doesn’t have to be cross-legged at 6am.  It can be your style.  What really matters?  Family?  Travel? Learning? Being kind? Being rich?  Having the nicest car? Being a good parent? Wearing cool shoes?  You see where I’m going.  Whatever these important things are to you (no one else), that is your focus.  The rest is noise.  95% of the world right now is noise.  Get it out of your life.  Don’t allow others to monopolize your time and energy.  What energizes you?  How can you make a difference?
I discovered that I love writing.  Originality.  Variety.  Freedom.  Spontaneity.  Weirdness.  I have a tough time with the same ole status quo.  I like dorkiness.  Imagination.  Self awareness.  Imperfection.  Effort.  Individuality.  People who are interesting.  Personal challenges that provide fulfillment.
The second major learning was the importance of keeping an open mind at all times.  People are raised differently.  Think differently.  Behave differently.  Have different life circumstances.  Are often going through something you and I have no frame of reference for.  We are certainly entitled to our opinions, but we weren’t put on this earth to judge.  Take a deep breath next time…massive learning for me personally.
My mate Junior helped coin the line for the blog “Own your life story.”  Own it!  Good, bad, or ugly, it’s yours!  Being human is okay…it’s kind of the definition of who we are.
My favorite podcast of the year helped me decipher 3 categories of life:  plain ole fun, intense personal growth, helping others.  If you are spending a good amount of balanced time on these 3, you should be good.  Spend a little extra time on the last 2.
“Always in style.”  This isn’t a fashion blog anymore, but we here at abk love good, unique, personal style.  Having said that, I gave away or consigned half of my wardrobe this year.  I made friends with and now support local Charlotte stores, which I had never done before.  I got a little more casual.  I learned how to relax.
I came up with my favorite travel quote in the back of an uber in Mexico City.  “Rarely to escape.  Sometimes to recharge.  Always to enrich.”
I collected custom pieces from my travels.  I designed and bought proper hats any chance I got.  I explored the edgy crevices of the world that you will never find on TripAdvisor, but are as real as real can be.  I started becoming a citizen of the world.
C7EA6E2B-260D-45EA-83DC-8EC946ED9D6EI am now a completely different human being.  It took one year.  I’m not nearly done yet, but the foundation took one year.  I was out of my comfort zone every single day.  It looks like I played all year long.  Incorrect.  Not even close.  Immense, in depth work on myself, just in cool locations and in cool clothes.  I haven’t rested all year long (other than my nap in Mexico  lol).  I logged over 35,000 travel miles.  Had to put in the work.  It’s big stuff.  It’s little stuff.  And it all bleeds together.  It’s a new way of living.
I hope you know by now that this is not just words, it is a bona fide call to action.  Year 1 of the blog was about building a foundation.  Family, friends, acquaintances, and a few strangers who hopefully got some value out of the unique written word, pictures, clothes, ideas, or behaviors.  Year 2 is going to be about collaboration.  More trips with people.  Designing custom clothes.  Brainstorming new ideas about life.  I want everyone doing what fulfills them and what they find important, not worrying about stupid stuff.  Myself included.  It’s noise.
I worked daily to try and give you all something of value.  Something to think about.  Something to act upon.  In return, I got so much more.  It’s cliché, but it’s true.  I offered my unique perspectives.  You all offered me some of yours.  Messages and podcasts and articles and videos filled my inbox.  Really, really good stuff.  And I thank you!  Good God, I thank you!
I also want to thank my right hand woman Ros for the title this week.  It has an explanation, but I’m just going to let it sit with you.  You’ll get it.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you all for Year 1.  But that is now in the past, and I need you in the present.  More importantly, you need you in the present, focused on whatever it is that really matters to you.
Have a great week.-Benj

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Three Moms and a Little Baby

Let’s start with the little baby, who is not in our presence today, nor is he a little baby any more.  I know this because a few months ago, he told me he wanted to go to California.  I said, oh yeah, anything else? He said that he would like to go in a helicopter.  Sure, anything else? He was thinking about Texas and Mexico too.  (He must be reading the blog.)  Then two weeks ago, I caught him packing for his grandparents’ farm in Mississippi.  He was ready to vacation.  For three weeks apparently.   And so today on this Mother’s Day, at the ripe old age of 3, he is 625 miles away from his mother.

44CD2EFC-C770-4AF6-9C0F-1AC8A95AB011Next is Mom # 1, the above big guy’s mom and my wife, Christy.  First off, the above idea was hers, and that is ridiculously selfless.

Second off, a quick story.  I got shot this week. Yes, you read that correctly.  Not by a real gun it turns out, but still.  Google the paintball wars going on in the streets of America right now.  Walking home from dinner Wednesday night, a car passed in the other direction and unloaded six or seven times, hitting me twice.  I was stunned and visibly shaken, unsure if I had been shot for real or what was going on.  I DO NOT RECOMMEND THE BEHAVIOR THAT FOLLOWED, but it is the point of the story.  As I stood there, I turned around and saw Christy chasing after these clowns.  I don’t know what she was going to do if she caught them, but those boys better be glad they got away! Passion. Intensity.

Mom #2 is Suz, my little sister.  She understands and tolerates my uniqueness like no other. She is 5 years younger than me, and I have proudly seen her raise her two little girls, for which I have no frame of reference and never will. I cannot personally imagine having two in such a short period of time in my twenties. Respect.

F8FF38E1-EF17-4915-B962-A453BB81FB61Mom # 3 is my mom, who I am so happy to see today. She is both my biggest doubter and biggest supporter, which we laugh about all the time. When I got a dog some 12 years ago, the first thing she said to me was “What do you know about raising a dog?” Turns out, you learn. When I decided to run a marathon last year, the first thing she said to me was “What do you know about running a marathon?” Turns out, you learn. She’s quick to pop that question to me, but even quicker to throw her unwavering support behind any of my unusual activities I have decided to take on. She knows I’ve got this, and if I mess up, I’ll figure it out. What she may not know is that a good portion of the swagger I have comes from her quiet unwavering support. I’ve written this before, but never for Mother’s Day. She is genuinely the nicest person I have ever met, but is secretly super competitive. She is having a 2nd knee replacement surgery this week, and I love her attitude about it. She’s just ready to get on with it. Do what needs to be done. Sort it, so she can get back to living life. I love that attitude because of what it signifies. Sometimes life gets you down. Sometimes you need a new knee. Process it. Focus on it. Sort it out. And get back after it…stronger.

I’ll never have any clue what it is like to be a mom, but from everything I have learned, it must be the hardest yet most rewarding job in the world. Today, I sit with one whose only child is halfway across the country.  One who has got her hands full with two little ones. And one who needs a new knee. And that just perfectly sums up life I think.

Make sure you drop a kind word to your mother today, or for that matter, any mother. Selflessness. Passion. Intensity. Respect. Strength.

Have a great week.-Benj

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An American in Mexico City

5998330A-70BF-4449-B6E8-37CB97C3026EThe first thing I did when I arrived in Mexico City last Friday was accidentally send my uber driver to the zoo instead of the airport. I had a good laugh to myself, but as much as I believe in respecting other peoples’ cultures, I knew I needed to get my act together quickly.

4D17A0A0-46B3-4EBB-A303-AA67EB19A5A0Leading up to the trip last weekend, I felt like people thought I was going to North Korea or something. The amount of pushback was staggering. It was Mexico City, and if you get some insight from people who have actually been there before, you would know it has become quite the cultural destination. A little edgy as is every city, but otherwise, awesome. Sounds like my kind of place.

0B5B8B50-0B8C-41B9-A219-44281667AA3FThe city is gigantic, super smoggy, and at a staggering 7,000+ feet above sea level, the altitude will pop you in the face. So I got to my hotel (Winston Churchill stayed there previously), dropped my bags, and took off on foot immediately, per usual. My first Mexican meal was very ordinary. I then walked a good 5 miles to explore the historic part of the city. I attended Catholic Mass (I’m not Catholic!). I went to the square of the opening scene in James Bond’s Spectre. I bought a new “Zorro” hat from Mexican legends Tardan. And then I met up with my friend Drew and his wife Sarah (who were randomly in Mexico City the same weekend) for a Friday night on the town. We drank local cervezas, 70 year old tequila, and had Cuban cigars. We laughed, and the conversation was super interesting…just 3 Americans enjoying Mexico City from a rooftop bar. We got wind of this excellent hole in the wall taco place some 2 blocks away, and we decided to go. It was roughly 11pm, and it was packed. We squeezed in, ate 12 of the most delicious tacos between the 3 of us, and then said goodnight shortly thereafter. That would be all I would see of them.

53FC43FC-B4A5-49AC-A6C7-83ACBA8502E0Saturday, time to explore some more. I walked the SoHo of Mexico City and the Rodeo Drive. In between, I hit some less glamorous places. Always enjoy that. I did some vintage shopping at this store called Void that is one of the coolest stores I have ever been to. I walked through their Central Park. I got what is sure to be the most unique bathing suit for this summer, and ate vina rosa ice cream that was unreal.

211EFB0C-89CC-4F8E-B2C5-4F0CDDBE3D51If I am honest, I was a little worried about Saturday night. I was headed to the magnificent Estadio Azteca for Club America vs. Santos, where rumor has it sometimes Americans have bottles of urine thrown on them. So I did my best to blend in with the crowd. Keep mouth shut, check. Be aware of surroundings, check. Have 5,000 military police with machine guns around at all times, check. What a cool experience, and what a thrill to successfully navigate the 2 metro rides, the 1 train ride, the acquiring of my ticket, watching the game, and getting back to my hotel safely at midnight. Score! Or better yet, gooooollll!

7524062C-E215-4F08-8D42-A49D4CB601EFI wasn’t worried about game # 2 on Sunday at noon. Broad daylight. I had navigated the first one so easily. Wrong. Here’s the deal. I bought my tickets on the international version of a StubHub type site, but in Mexico you don’t actually take possession of the ticket until 2 hours before game time. You have a meeting place (Starbucks). A name and telephone number (too many digits). Worked perfectly Saturday night at Azteca. Not so much Sunday. My phone apparently doesn’t dial phone numbers with like 600 digits. Good to know. So I had to be flexible about an hour before game time, when it became apparent I wasn’t going to get my ticket. I calmly got another uber, made my way to the stadium, and bought tickets there. No problem. The atmosphere of game 2 (Pumas vs. Queretaro) was much more fun, although I did get beer poured on my head. I then took in the legendary Frida Kahlo museum, Casa Azul, before I was officially whipped. In 48 hours I had walked probably 15 miles in the Mexican heat. Ate. Drank. Shopped. Played. And I was literally done. So I went and took a nap at my hotel. Yes, you heard that correctly. I flew to Mexico City and took a nap. And then I awoke, watched sunset at El Angel, and called it a night.

42E76821-4F43-436C-8038-2B5FB9A58BEDTakeaways? Everything is ridiculously inexpensive. 25 cent tacos and metro rides. $5 ubers anywhere it seemed. $20 handmade silver. Montezuma’s Revenge is real. The city has loads of energy. The people are kind and warm and simply want you to enjoy their city and country. It’s bright and colorful, and the culture is electric. I felt more unsafe at the gas station back in Charlotte Tuesday than I did at any point in Mexico City. You probably want to be a bit of a seasoned traveler and do your due diligence to make this trip, but if you are, it is right at the freaking top of the list.

5DD73AD5-9592-4998-AC7A-2AEA0EB6B3EAOne thing niggled at me the entire trip. Prior to, so many people were telling me everything bad about Mexico City that I assume they had heard on the news or some other BS communication. And I just kept wondering how much life do people miss by listening to all of the noise, all of the time? Because if I had heeded the noise (which wasn’t true at all), I would have missed out on navigating one of the biggest, most culturally fascinating cities in the world. What an absolute thrill!

PS-apologies to the nice young lady at the restaurant who asked for my name for the order, and I gave her my phone number. Oops.

Have a great week.-Benj

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