Saturday, August 6, 2011

Go Find Your Own Top Ten

Every time I turn to my twitter feed there's somebody, or several somebodies, or one hyperactive somebody, tweeting relentlessly trying to outdo all the other somebodies, linking to an article or a blog post centered around a numbered list: Top Ten Mistakes New Tweeters Make. Seven Kinds of Shoes You Should Never Wear to a Job Interview. Thirteen (13? Really?) Words You Need Right Now To Get You More Traffic!

I hate these lists, partly because I read them knowing full well they are written because research shows most people gravitate toward numbered lists when they want information, advice or more traffic. And I hate being most people. Sounds snobbish I know, but Yogi Berra wasn't like most people and look, people still remember and repeat his advice. I doubt anyone is going to remember WebBizMan for all those great numbered lists he tweeted to his 152,804 followers (149,934 of whom he himself follows, very closely no doubt). Given the choice, I'd much rather be Yogi Berra than WebBizMan.

Despite my curmudgeonly wishes, these Nine/Top/Best/Most Dangerous/Sexiest Whatevers to Get You That Job/More Hits/Fired lists seem indeed to draw the attention of the masses. (Christ, even pieces about lists have lists.) And it isn't just your blogosphere pseudo-savants. Time magazine flushed their dignity down the drain about five years ago, putting out a piece of rubbish - thrown together I'm willing to bet by someone's idiot nephew who should never have been offered an internship in the first place let alone been handed a pen - on the 100 All-Time Albums (their apparent disclaimer to intellectual liability or possession being they didn't include an adjective). The trolling hoi polloi were in an uproar. 'Backstreet Boys? Are you kidding me?' 'Where the @#%& is Janis Joplin?' 'Burn in hell, Kansas haters!'

A much more appropriate response might have been something like '100 All-Time Most Moronic Time Articles: #1 - 100 All-Time Albums'. Or, alternatively, 'You forgot Levelling the Land by the Levellers.'

The catalyst for this, my latest in a long and distinguished (and un-numbered) list of diatribes, was, as you might imagine, a top ten list. I found it thanks to the folks at Yahoo, who are above writing articles of lists but are fine with linking to them ad nauseum. The article, found here, gives a run-down of the (ostensibly) ten best restaurants to watch a sunset - according to someone who, it can be reasonably assumed by the photo credits (Xoopla, Flicker, TripAdvisor) and the descriptions that scream Lonely Planet, has never been to any of them.

To be fair the article starts with a rather promising entry: The Oasis restaurant in Austin, Texas, an apparently semi-swanky joint that sits above a 450-foot cliff overlooking Lake Travis (yeah that sounds like Texas all right). Personally I didn't think there was anything that high in Texas since Yao Ming left town (unless you count Ron Washington but that was only temporary). Sadly, perhaps predictably, the list swiftly turns antiseptic. San Fran, Maui, San Diego? Seriously, you could find a McDonald's in these places with fantastic sunset views.

I refuse to be fed such uninspired drivel spewed out by self-appraised champions of the best anything whose experience begins and ends with search engines. And I know you feel the same way. That is why I've decided to offer my own lineup of superlative somethings - compiled from actual experience, in the order they pop into my head, limited not to a number but to my bedtime, and unfettered by whether you agree with my reasoning, because I don't much care.

The Best Places I've Ever Sat and Watched the Sun Set.

-  Sakurajima, Oga Peninsula, Akita, Japan -
Despite the typically unattractive parking lot, this gem along the East Sea on a hook of land crossing the 40th Parallel is one of my favorite spots in all of Japan. There are no amenities outside of the decidedly pungent public bathrooms and the trash can that needs to be emptied, but once out of nare-shot the place is paradise. Pine trees dominate the (unbelievably) free campground that overlooks the water splashing lazily against the rocks below. Pick a spot, set up your tent, settle down (carefully) on your cushion of pine needles or, if you prefer, one of the few park benches, and take in the cool, quiet evening. I've been to Sakurajima twice, and both times the sunset has been spectacular, with no loud obnoxious and/or drunk foreigners to ruin the atmosphere since Sakurajima is not listed in the Lonely Planet - or wasn't at the time. If you have the chance, walk down to the rocks. Just don't go barefoot, those suckers can be sharp. In August the water is impeccable for swimming. March is a different story.

- Some Old Dock in Nice, France -
How quaintly touristic you say? I would agree with you if you were correct, which you are not. Much of the Riviera might be reserved for the wealthy and unimaginative, this I will grant. But commandeering your own rickety dock as the sun hits the hills to the west, letting your feet dangle over the water, rabble-rousing and passing around the bottle of Southern Comfort you and your comrades spent an hour searching for and thirty-five dollars acquiring is the very definition of la belle vie. Until a certain age I suppose.

- Essaouira, Morocco -
The walls of the Medina loom high above the rocky coast in this important and increasingly artsy-fartsy fishing town, located about seventy-five miles north of the hoity-toity beach resorts of Agadir. The stone promontory is still decorated with cannons resting on their wooden bases; the walls are plenty wide and therefore safe to stand on even in the strong evening gales that will blow your one-year-old clear over into the Sahara if you don't hold onto him. A big plus here up on the parapet is the girl with the straw basket of homemade cookies. For about a dollar, slightly more if you haven't already indulged in a grilled cow's brain sandwich, you can fill your belly while watching the waves crash on the rocks as the gulls fight over the leftover fish down at the port. If you have a cheap camera it's easy to get great silhouette shots of you and your traveling companions posing on the wall in front of the setting sun.

- South Rim, Grand Canyon -
Are you kidding me? If God is anywhere, He's here at sunset.
(Tip: Push anyone who can't keep their mouth shut for it over the edge.)

-  Arctic Circle, From 35,000 Feet -
Totally mind-bending experience to witness the sun's light reaching over the top of the Earth. Trust me.
Pop Quiz: It is Summer. You are flying high over Anchorage, Alaska, heading due east. The sun is low in front of the plane, at about eleven o'clock. The sun, therefore, is directly over...?

-  Atacama Desert, Chile -
Okay, we didn't witness the actual setting of the sun because if we'd waited until dark to try to find our way back we wouldn't have. Nearby Valle de la Luna is a spectacular alternative - and you can't get lost for all the tourists with their flashlights heading back to the bus. Of course the downside here is having to share the sunset with a scattering of yappy tourists and it is difficult to push someone off a sand dune.

-  Ban Lai, Koh Chang, Thailand -
The main road on this soon-to-be-detroyed-by-developers island off the coast of Trat in the northeast part of the Gulf of Thailand takes you up over a steep pass and down into the glazed resort area around Million Dollar Beach or some such name reeking of dignity and historical distinction. Keep pedaling and you start hitting, after more hills, villages that are striking in that they don't look like Club Med. Ban Lai, close to the southern end of the island, offers cheap bungalows connected by dirt and sand footpaths and natural-smelling outhouses that sit defiantly devoid of toilet paper. But the real draw is the fantastic bamboo and grass deck that reaches out over the water. There are no chairs, only low tables and triangular pillows to avail yourself of as you sip your colored coconut drink and watch the sun tumble over India and the Bay of Bengal beyond - while perhaps wondering how long they'll let you hang out before you have to go back to your bungalow next to the outhouse.

- The Sundowner, St. Croix -
This place is right in line with the greatest establishments in the world; it consists of a wooden shack at the edge of the sand on the west coast of this, one of the three US Virgin Islands. Drive north (I think) out of Frederiksted, park along the lightly-traveled road, amble up to the shack, grab a drink from the guy and settle down in a plastic chair or right there on the sand. La belle vie indeed.

I think that's eight. But it doesn't matter.

For some of these, it was the circumstances surrounding the sunset as much as it was the sunset itself that made it memorable. None of them included a tablecloth. All of them were outside. (Likewise, the glass-encased corporate box at the stadium was cool, but I had a much better time out in the bleachers.)  But if fancy hotels and fine dining and postcard views from a window are your thing, great, go for it. Just don't let anyone tell you what the best place for anything is - particularly if they've never even been there themselves for criminy's sake. Hit the road and go put together your own list. Then let us know what you found.