Notes From The Virus Front Lines

22 03 2020

Where does one start when seeking a literary agent? Who should I approach? Is my story even worthy of book status?

All valid questions. I do think I have lived a remarkable life and walked a different path. I have also enjoyed the privileges of travel and being in place for important happenings.

Mexico was another example.

Play ball

I had pleasant interactions with locals in Oaxaca. In a clothing store a few blocks from the Zocalo, a young man helped outfit me with some Guayabera shirts. He tossed a few compliments my way and we bargained back and forth over the cost.  I wore one of the shirts to church Sunday morning. Ron invited us to a tiny Episcopal congregation where we met American missionaries and Mexican Christians. It was a delightful service in a modest setting.

Unlike the grand temples and cathedrals constructed under Roman Catholic eyes, this tiny Episcopal church felt more like a small, nurturing school. Here, we climbed to the rooftop and got our first panoramic view of Oaxaca. It was a nice moment to share with David.

After a couple of days, securing a tour to Monte Albán became the prime objective. This ancient mountaintop site was Mesoamerica’s first metropolis. It was breathtaking and worth the process of ascending to these sacred grounds. That process involved paying for a driver and guide. We rode in a small van with other tourists up the winding, dusty road to Monte Albán.

At the gates of this world heritage site, we were split into two groups — one for English interpretation and one for Spanish speakers. Getting past some of the vendors was challenging. They swarmed David as we hopped out of the van. At the mountaintop a man appeared promoting his reproduction of an ancient artifact — an Aztec ballplayer. David purchased the little athlete as our guide explained the history behind this long ago community.

Danzantes

Disease eventually came to Monte Albán, our guide explained, wiping out the people of the clouds. Evidence of this suffering is depicted in the Danzantes or rock art carvings found around the temples.

Where did this plague start? Was there no quarantine issued? No social distancing practiced?

The disease apparently was stronger than any medicine. And just like that a civilization disappeared.

As I write this blog post — going back through my notes and photographs — a new disease has its death grip on the world. These are difficult times to say the least.

Trying to describe what I have experienced recently is a hard task. The range of emotions expressed in my daily interactions here at home include stressed out grocery stores, cavalier attitudes by twenty and thirtysomethings, anger from the marginialized, concern for the sick and vulnerable and a lot of fear both justified and irrational.

I have also witnessed hope and courage from heroes. Not the costumed variety of an over-manufactured Hollywood model, but heroes in doctor’s masks and nurses’ gloves. Heroes driving trucks of supplies. Heroes bagging groceries and heroes working in sanitation.

Our better angels are winning. We will get through this.

 

 

 

 

 





The Hunt For A Literary Agent

11 02 2020

The search is on.

If I am to discover the book publishing process, maintaining this blog is essential. It’s time to get some of these stories in print before I lose recollection of them. The adventures are adding up, you see.

We just returned from Mexico, a week-long excursion into the southern state of Oaxaca, a valley community known for its “Day of The Dead” celebration.

Boy, do I feel dead alright.

I’m not sure what I picked up on the plane but three days after returning stateside I felt like I got run over by a tractor trailer. This wasn’t one of those Moctezuma’s revenge illnesses, but more a long the lines of cognitive paralysis.

Couldn’t type, put thoughts together or even rise from my bed for that matter. I was in this state for three days. It was horrible.

And, of course, it was cold, windy and raining in Portland. This is, after all, one of the primary reasons for traveling to Mexico — to see the sun again, near its zenith.

So let’s roll out of bed and retrace our steps south of the border. I worked my tail off over the holidays in order to have a “vacation.” The old days of two to three weeks paid time off automatically are a relic of the corporate past, almost like a supermarket checker.

With time off secured after a busy holiday season, I booked the airfare and going by one simple presentation to a group of seniors, decided Oaxaca was the place to get away to. It certainly satisfied my desire to do something different. Often when you mention Mexico the first thoughts are of the coastal resorts where cruise ships docked.

No, I wanted to go somewhere not yet ruined by ugly tourists.

So off to Oaxaca we went. Ron, our guide from the cathedral, booked us at his hotel. After 14 hours and three flights we arrived late at night. There was a note at the front desk from Ron saying he’d meet us for coffee in the morning. The hotel was certainly not luxurious by American standards, but had cozy rooms with tall ceilings, running hot and cold water and a quaint hacienda style patio feel.  Most importantly, it was in a central location to museums, restaurants and other historical sites.

At coffee the next morning, Ron pointedHotelOaxaca out the important places from the lending library where Western ex-pats gathered to the pastery shop where you could score a delish chocolate crossiant. The Zocalo, he said, is where we would find a browner, more indigenous population.

Ron took us, via the side door, into Oaxaca’s magnificant Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman. A beautiful baroque style structure, the former convent would serve as one of our landmarks for the week, it’s bells often ringing in the dawn and dusk hours.

TemplodeSantoDomingo

Our size set us apart from the locales. Here, we were tall. Ron, a seasoned traveler, said I had the look of a southern European and I did my best to engage the locals in a Spanish tongue, sometimes pulling off the conversation and other times steering the dialogue to Francais, English or letting the local define it.

Wherever we went I never felt like there would be a breakdown in communication. The delicate dance was to be as respectful at all times of the Mexican culture and customs.

And to have a good time. This was our mission.

To Be Continued

 





Happy Birthday, John

18 10 2019

I write this on the eve of my 47th birthday.

Glad to be here.

It’s raining in the autumn in Oregon. We’re in the state’s interior for a few days. High desert country in the fertile Cascade Mountain range.

It’s a needed respite from city life.

Central Oregon features interesting buttes, forests, calderas and caves. There’s also powerful flowing rivers and breaktaking mountain top lakes all in a day’s journey. David found a condominium for rent on Airbnb in the Sunriver community. Sunriver — in a way — reminded me of Baypoint and the St. Joe Company developments in Northwest Florida.

The accomodations, however, would not be the highlight of this trip. No, this trip was more about to determine if David and I could travel together after such a harrowing crash in the Rogue river valley. Could we make the three-and-half hours drive from Portland and back safely and without incident or argument? This was the test.

I took the wheel leaving Portland. Going over Mt. Hood brought back memories for David as he shared stories of Timberline Lodge, Government Camp and Skibowl. We stopped at a roadside diner on the Warm Springs Reservation where respect was given and we were served an excellent breakfast. The Confederated Tribes’ fried bread was delicous.

After breakfast we crossed the Deschutes River and passed through Madras where we were surprised to find a major airport. The Central Oregon area is definitely growing in population and business. We ate dinner in Bend at a tavern along the Deschutes’ flowing waters. Temperatures were dropping. It was getting colder.

Crater Lake

The next morning we made our way to Crater Lake. The park was open but most of the offices and concessionaire operations had closed for the season. It was still an exciting visit as temperatures dropped below freezing and wind gusts picked up considerably. Just getting out of the car to snap a few pictures along the lake’s rim was a daunting task.

And fun. We were indeed lucky to traverse the east rim drive this time of year. The road provides access to those hiking Mount Scott (8,929 ft.), the park’s highest peek. Crater Lake is a beautiful example of nature’s fury. Almost eight thousand years ago Mount Mazama erupted. The volcanic mountain became the volcanic lake before us.

Coming to Crater Lake was an emotional roller coaster, the least of which being David’s driving. This was a park I had hoped to work for but the lodging concessaire went with another candidate. That stung. We got over it and moved to Portland where we find ourselves in year two. The challenges have been great and, for that, I remain grateful and cautiously optimistic.

I am learning and growing and, God willing, developing mature critical thinking skills.

On our last night in Central Oregon we went to the Pine Tavern in Bend for happy hour. We had hiked the upper Deschutes River trail eariler and visited the ski lodge at Mount Bachelor. It was quite cold that day with snow on the ground. The joy of traveling kicked in that night in the tavern.

There we were — finishing another great outdoors excursion in a cheersy bar surrounded by happy people.

Nice way to celebrate another year in the life.

 





Gratefully Injured

11 11 2018

I injured myself. It was bound to happen.

“You’re lifting too much,” Ani said. Smart kid, that Ani.

Yes, my housekeeping duties require extensive lifting and reaching. It’s a physical job and I’m grateful to have it. Aside from cleaning chores, the interactions with co-workers like Ani are important. After years of indepedent contractor work, it is refreshing to be a part of a company again.

Great cities are built by great companies, mind you.

Life in Portland is going just swell. I have been invited on two press tours since my arrival here — Long Beach, California and Puerto Rico. Long Beach was a solo adventure and Puerto Rico a group effort. Both destinations interesting in their own way. Long Beach, in the shadow of Los Angeles, is run by a young mayor. A gay man determined to improve living conditions by implementing new concepts in this coastal southern California port city.

Puerto Rico, still suffering from a barrage of hurricanes, offers beautiful nature and lots of rum. Bacardi is the major player there. I learned how to make a simple refreshing cocktail. Pronounced Die Q Re. It’s basically sugar, superior Bacardi rum and ice. It’s hot in the tropics and ice is a key ingredient.

My tour group in Puerto Rico was a lot of fun. It included seasoned travelers and newcomers. It was designed for the LGBTQ community. There were journalists from Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco there. I managed to connect on a personal level with some of them.

Our group sets sail.

Long Beach seemed to be this vision of what we can accomplish. Puerto Rico offered a chance to relax from the heavy work load, over-reaching and contenious mid-term elections. I knew I was hurt when the luggage became hard to handle at the airport. Perhaps I could have packed lighter. I did not use the laptop, but the sports coat was put to good use.

David gave his blessing on both trips. He stayed in Portland continuing to piece together our studio. We both received influenza vaccinations before I departed to San Juan. When I returned the doc diagnosed me with lateral epicondylitis, aka tennis elbow.

So I’m slowed down. Just in time for the holidays.

Time to reflect on the incredible year we have had. A cross country move. New friends and new challenges. A rennaissance of the soul.

I believe this injury is divine intervention to force my conscience into absorbing the events of the past year. To still be standing and breathing — much less working — is something to be eternally grateful for. I am in a good place in life. Time to cherish that and offer a rum filled toast to even better times ahead.

Long Beach stairs

 





Westward Uhaul: The Drive Begins

12 04 2018

With all our worldly belongings in the back of a Uhaul trailer we departed South Florida on the first of the month.

I do not think I was fully aware of the difficult driving that lay ahead. I was determined on leaving and pushed hard during those last days to meet deadlines while balancing the proper goodbyes. We left the apartment in better shape than we found it. Country club living could be checked off life’s list. We had successfully completed the gentrification process. Many of our neighbors said they would miss us.

“Good luck,” became a familiar send-off.

We hooked the trailer up to the ol’ Jeep. With close to 200,000 miles to her credit, the Jeep had made cross country treks before and she had four new tires for this trip. It was a full trailer and 55 miles per hour was the limit. David followed behind in his jam packed BMW. It was a challenge for him to drive so slow in his beloved sports car. We decided the southern route would be best to avoid snow, steep mountains and icy roads.

The route: Gainesville, Florida, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, San Antonio, Texas Fort Stockton, Texas, Lordsburg, New Mexico, Blythe, California, Bakersfield, California, Redding, California and finally our destination — Oregon. We stayed at the DoubleTree in Gainesville for our Florida finale. The bed was super soft. After weeks of packing and crashing on the couch this was a needed night’s sleep. We were also treated to a complimentary breakfast and, of course, those famous DoubleTree cookies.

We hit the road early the next morning as company buybacks dominated the economic news. Interstate 10 would be the route and soon Florida — and all of its tropical heat — would be in the rear view mirror. We pulled into Baton Rouge just after dusk and were given a handicap room at the Residence Inn. I don’t know why we got this room but it didn’t matter because we were exhausted and sleep was the priority.

The roads and bridges in Louisiana were by far the most scary of the trip. They are old and neglicated. There are long, extremely narrow spans over swamps with steep bridges over rivers and lakes. I spent the early years of my journalism career covering sports and entertainment in and around New Orleans. Some stories from the bayou I prefer stay buried in the muck.

The next day we entered Texas and made arrangements to meet with David’s friends in San Antonio. Driving through Houston was harrowing with the traffic, bumpy roads and shifting lanes that if you are not careful will shuffle you off in another direction before you can put on your blinker.

I called ahead and secured a room at the DoubleTree. We were given a penthouse room with balcony view on the rewards floor and once again those cookies were delish. The next morning we met David’s friends from New York, Joe and Andrea, and toured the riverwalk. David and Joe had worked together on design projects in New York. Joe’s wife Andrea is a credentialed artist and they were wintering in San Antonio where their daughter lived. They showed us some avant garde spots, including a gallery featuring some of Andrea’s work.

Remembering The Alamo, however, was not on the tour.

“It’s a little disappointing,” Joe said.

SanAntonioRiverWalk

San Antonio River Walk 

 

 

 

 

 

 





DC Crisis

7 06 2015
Chocolate growing on Trees.

Chocolate growing on Trees.

No park service this summer, instead I wait, interview and write about sensitive subjects and matters. Talking to people on background and trying my dead level best to avoid any form of controversy.

I know there are traps out there. Each story pitch is analyzed in great detail.

I have recently returned from Washington, D.C. where I visited my friend Horacio for the first time. It had been over a decade since I last stepped foot inside America’s capitol. Much has changed in the nation’s politics since 2005. Horacio, however, remains as sharp as ever.

I was thoroughly intimidated by his younger crowd of friends, envious of how openly the gays live their life there and saddened about my inability to relate. I suppose this is gay mid life crisis.

I was grateful to secure a Capitol Tour through Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s office. Debbie is quite the champion for South Florida liberals and her staff reflects the diversity of the Sunshine state. I met with a nice Jewish young lady who had recently moved over from the State Department. She explained to me the details of the Congresswoman’s upcoming trip to Africa. In a sign of the technological times we are living in, I took no notes, instead recording it all on my i-phone.

I remain intent on discovering Africa. The destination, always, the last hurdle.

“The real value of taking this trip is understanding what the ground really looks like,” said the nice Jewish young lady whose name shall remain anonymous. She said the Congresswoman’s visit to hospitals in Kenya and Malawi would be for women only. This killed my buzz. After visiting with members of the staff and interns, I was escorted on a tour through the Capitol by a nice young man from Miami of Puerto Rican descent. He was very knowledgeable of the details regarding paintings, rooms, statues and other facts of history. The young man knew the rules and was precise in pointing out important areas of the U.S. Capitol.

For the first time, I was admitted into the House observation area. From this elevated view, we discussed how the Congresswoman came to the floor. My guide said seats are on a first come basis and that Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz typically moved around the room to, “make deals.”

After the tour, I thanked the young man and then ate lunch in the cafeteria. It was a beautiful day and I desired to go outside and walk about. The Capitol dome was going through a remodeling effort and, elsewhere, across the avenue was a stoic Supreme Court building bracing to hear historic arguments in our defining cultural times. All was quiet outside on this day, but protests were indeed coming.

Eventually, I found myself inside the botanical gardens. Horacio encouraged me to give it a look. The chocolate trees were interesting as was the apparant ability on the part of the curators to basically simiulate many different forms of climate. And as one walked from room-to-room, those climates, they were a changing. Zing!

My arrival in Washington was, for all intents and purposes, to set the stage for great things to come. I was grateful to be sleeping on a good friend’s couch in the district where power plays. Horacio would show me the way, but it would be up to me to fit in. After months in South Florida relaxation, this would be my challenge.

And, as always, challenge accepted.

Remodeling

Remodeling





Chocolate Surprise

9 05 2015

My conversion with the Cardinal reached many levels. It was a moment in time.

We spoke of the Church and its role throughout history, a dark role, particularly when it came to priests who had abused — in some cases, sexually – young alter boys. I found this part of the Church disgusting. The Cardinal acknowledged a medevial element to the Church and its archaic ways of only men serving in the priesthood and the elaborate outfits they wore and the fact the could not marry or have sex.

We also talked about AIDS and the disease that was taking a horrible toll in Africa and globally. He was working on a film project, a preview of which was presented following the mass we attended in Mayfair. In the film, many Church patrons and clergy speak of AIDS and tell their story of living with the disease. In Africa, sadly, there are many stories.

Some even produce tears.

I left the Cardinal’s flat and returned to the Underground, Oyster Card in hand and minding the gap. On the train back to Victoria station, a young man wearing a American Navy jacket sat across from me. He was younger than I and smaller. On his brown leather jacket was a patch identifying his fleet assignment. I wrote the number down and did the research. They were docked in southern Italy.

We parted ways at the Victoria station. I power walked down the Strand in order to meet JB at King’s College for our scheduled appointment. His office has an incredible view of London with an impressive collection of books and a detailed map of Europe that was distracting to say the least. We walked down to the ice skating rink and discussed Paris. It was cold but the spirit of the holidays made for a cheerful spirit, not to mention we were close to the theatre district.

058

On a previous visit, JB and I had enjoyed the musical Avenue Q, puppets and all. There was no budget for such a luxury this time around. I was reminded just how poor I was when we entered the Burberry store and none of the sales staff would look my way. Eventually, I was able to engage a young lady about the cost of a signature Burberry scarf. She quoted something absurd in pounds which prompted JB and I to depart rather quickly, JB with a subtle shot as we left.

“That’s half the cost of your airfare, John,” he grinned.

We joined Chris and David for drinks that night at the local cocktail bar in Bloomsbury. I explained to Chris the fascinating party I had attended in Paris as the guest of a Moroccan man. There were thousands of men inside the building and I had been privileged to a small sampling of how arabian men enjoy the nightlife. I was guarded with the details as this had been an entirely new experience for me and I was still unsure of what it all meant. I was, however, grateful for the hospitality Chris, David and JB had shown me during my visit to London.

In the morning, I would hop on an American flight back to Miami. First purchasing a gift for Mom at the Harrod’s in Heathrow. I had it wrapped by a local charity in purple colored paper and bows. In Miami, Homeland Security asked what the box contained.

“Truffles,” I said.

“What are those?,” he asked.

“Chocolates,” I replied.

Yes, the holidays in Alabama this year would be much sweeter.228