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

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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

 

 





Interrogated and Admitted

30 10 2013

The bus driver stared through the glass doors at me, looking down every so often at his watch. He was waiting on me — and so were 20 some other people sitting on the Cantrail bus.

Meanwhile, the border patrolman continued his interrogation.

“John, you sell your stories, right?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied, and then I began to give him more background on my career before he stopped me again.

“And what are you doing in Canada?,” he asked.

Again, I had no plans. This trip was more of a whim. I was this close, staying with a dear friend in Seattle, why not? Actually, I had always thought my first excursion into Canada would be into Quebec or Ontario. British Columbia, however, was proving to be difficult.

I told the officer I was planning on seeing two new friends for dinner that night in Vancouver. I had never met these gentlemen and that was part of the intrigue. One being a Canadian citizen, the other from Indonesia.

“How did you meet them?,” the officer asked, now sitting down in front of his computer behind the counter, no friendly expression on his face. To my left, through the glass doors, the bus driver began to pace. No doubt pissed with this situation and probably hankering for a cigarette.

“I only know them through the internet,” I explained. “This will be the first time we’ve met.”

At the border

At the border

This ticked off the officer even more. He demanded the address of the restaurant and immediately looked it up on his computer. It was a pizza place near the bus station.

“You don’t have a hotel reservation, you can’t tell me who you are here to see and I don’t know how you are getting back,” the officer declared. “I don’t know, John, this all sounds suspicious.”

He wanted my airline reservation back to Florida, but I was not letting him into that e-mail account. He then went for the holy grail — Facebook.

“Let me see it,” he said, demanding the i-phone. “I have one of these too.”

Suddenly, the bus driver came through the glass doors.

“How much longer we got here,” he asked the officer, while another Canadian guard, a black man about my age, walked past me and into the office behind the counter. He stared at me while he passed. I smiled and he continued on his way, but I did not want to see where he was going and I had had just about enough of this situation.

“I wanted to write about your beautiful country. This is my first time here,” I said.

The officer told the bus driver a few more minutes and turned his attention back to me. “I’m sure, John, if I was to come to Panama City you would want to know about me,” he sarcastically said.

“I would welcome you,” I said. “We are allies, after all.”

This was the one time during the course of his interrogation where we agreed. Scanning through my Facebook account, he asked what I wrote about in Panama City. I recalled one of my last assignments at the News-Herald when I reported on a murder case at a bayside motel. I told the officer I had always maintained a professional and courtesy relationship with the police.

“Why don’t you join them?,” he then asked, again with a sarcastic, yet serious tone. I had no answer.

He didn’t need one.

“Okay John, I’m going to let you in,” he declared, getting up out of his chair and handing me my passport back. “But make sure you don’t miss that flight back to Florida.”

Some welcome.

He then gave me my i-phone back, remarking “It looks like you like to hike a lot.”

I felt so defeated. I met the bus driver outside and we walked to the bus together without uttering a word between us. I was greeted by a strange silence as I climbed aboard the bus again. Some glances thrown my way but no one spoke. Before I could take a seat in the back, the driver loudly announced, “Next stop, Vancouver.”

At the station, I waited for the driver to unload everyone’s luggage before approaching and giving him a nice tip. He smiled and shook his head, “That’s the world we live in, kid,” he said.

Politically, tensions abroad were running high as the United States weighed its military options on Syria while a covert war raged across Africa. My first order of business in Canada was to the Greyhound Bus terminal to purchase a ticket back to Seattle. I would have less than 24 hours to celebrate Canadian liberty and I was damn determined to make the time count.

Keep Exploring

Keep Exploring





Seattle First Report

22 09 2013

I’m in Seattle. Gloomy clouds linger over the skyline. I have a perfect view from my friend’s flat in Capitol Hill. Ryan and I are former colleagues in journalism from my time in the Florida panhandle. Ryan did four years. I stupidly stayed 10. Glad to be reunited in Seattle. This is my first visit and the city is quite amazing, its terrain much like that of the hilly layout found in West Coast neighbor San Francisco. I have had no problem hiking this concrete jungle, rarely getting winded. Yellowstone has prepared me well.

Ryan has been taking me to some of Seattle’s unique nightclubs and already I have encountered interesting characters. The Queer community here is strong and appears to be well organized. Ryan usually spots a friendly face. I have experienced similar reactions during my daily patrols of the city. People here seem to strive to be nice. I have seen quite a few gestures of kindness and goodwill toward fellow man. While waiting for Ryan to finish work at a smoothie shop in Queen Anne (the rich neighbourhood) I saw this eldery man attempt to drive his vehicle the wrong way on a one-way street. He didn’t get too far. Thankfully. Another man came off the sidewalk, hands waving and yelling for the car to “Stop!”  It did, thankfully,  without incident and was able to turn around and continue on.

Walking in the city has been my mode of transportation. I am reminded of how Stephen Ambrose described Merriweather Lewis as a good explorer, writing that he had “long legs” which allowed him to cover much ground in one day. While not near the level of Lewis’ Oregon Trail journey, my time here is one of discovery nevertheless. My dear Ann is in Chicago, staying at a hostel at last word. I pleaded with her not to go to the south side where there is so much violence and death reported. She probably thinks I’m being an overcautious daddy. She might be right.

I have perused the Pike’s public market these last two days. Fresh fruit, chocolate, cheese and fish in abundance. From the docks you can take a scenic cruise into the bay or beyond with a chance of seeing whales. Everyone here seems happy. It is quite touristy, but the workers do a good job of entertaining. An old hippie playing a wooden piano in the center of the market earns a good living. Music is a major part of Seattle. While still a baby compared to its European contemporaries, Barcelona and Krakow, perhaps, Seattle is definitely an emerging travel destination. Rooted in a grungy style of rock & roll with favorite sons such as Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix, Seattle, certainly, has its place in sound. So far I have only experienced those talents of a record dee-jay although I hope to see a band perform soon.

Despite its socialist tendencies, Seattle does require money to live in as I’m finding out. Ryan works two jobs and lives in a fabulous neighborhood, neatly mixed with brick apartment complexes and wooden row houses. The locals call it Capitol Hill or “The Hill” for short. There are pretty coffee shops and retail shopping nearby as well as that big bank bastard BofA. I like the bus stop just a few blocks down le rue. Lots of cultures here as one bus ride will tell you and it takes a true talent to drive one of those things up and down some of these hills. On my ride down to the Space Needle our driver must have thrown at least five people off the bus. Just by his driving alone. He looked like a crazy mad scientist type, just back from resurrecting Frankenstein.

Gotta go. Write later.

Pike's Place

Pike’s Place





Leaving Los Angeles just a Shadow of Myself

6 05 2013

I almost missed the train back to Arizona. “John, what time is your train?,” Normen asked as Joel and I browsed the sales racks at the Gap store in Hollywood.

“Oh yeah, the train,” I realized, pulling out my iPhone to check the time. I had one hour till departure. “We better go.”

And we did, briskly walking through the heavy crowds of people gathered on the sidewalks outside the Chinese Theater and down Hollywood Boulevard to where we had parked the car. On the windshield, a parking ticket courtesy of the City of Los Angeles greeted us. Union Station wasn’t that far away, but the traffic was thick and it was almost five o’clock. We would never make it, I thought.

Normen gives the victory sign, as Cheng Yew and Jastine figure out the parking meter.

Normen gives the victory sign, as Cheng Yew and Jastine figure out the parking meter.

Crowds packed Hollywood Boulevard.

Crowds packed Hollywood Boulevard.

The guys were staying a few extra days in LA before driving up to San Francisco then flying across country to New York before departing back to Singapore. It would be one of those trips they would remember for the rest of their lives. I had made a similar journey to Europe as a teenager and those memories are still very much alive. I was thankful to have been a small part of their American experience.

Somehow we made it to Union Station with a few minutes to spare. Jastine and Cheng Yew accompanied me to tracks, where we said our goodbyes and had our hugs. They asked me to visit Singapore one day and promised to show me around. I said I would and thanked them for our friendship — a friendship developed over the course of living and working together for the past 10 weeks in the isolated, desert climate that is Grand Canyon. I would miss them. A lot.

The ride back to the Canyon was depressing. I was alone again — with still two months of work to go. Despite a nearly full train, I was the only one who made late dinner reservations in the dining car. The food was fair, the rolls hard as rocks, but the service was super. I enjoyed chatting with the Amtrak employees and conductors. They all were approachable and friendly, unlike those stuffy 50-something flight attendants often pushing the drink cart on a Delta plane. Most of the crew were in for the long haul to Chicago. One of the conductors asked me where I was from. “Florida,” I said and then he grinned and replied, “Interesting Governor you got there.”

Elected in 2010 during the Tea Party wave that swept me and many other Democrats out to sea, Florida Governor Rick Scott made a name for himself as an ideologue, hellbent on fighting the Obama Administration every step of the way. So when the federal government offered funds to the states to construct a high speed rail network, Scott refused the program and the money went elsewhere.

“They’re building a new connection from LA to San Francisco with your money,” the conductor gleefully said. “It’s projected to be the fastest route in America.”

“I’m sure it will be,” I replied, adding just a tinge of sardonic wit.

Florida was very much on my mind during those last months I spent working at the Canyon. I knew it would be a battleground state in the upcoming Presidential election and polls were showing Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, to be leading in the Sunshine State. My break from politics had been refreshing and reinvigorating. Nature had truly heeled a lot of old wounds and now I was ready to return to the game.

I spent the remainder of my time at Grand Canyon hanging out with my roommate Brian, who was eagerly anticipating the start of the college and pro football season. We traveled down to Flagstaff on one scorching Saturday afternoon to attend Arizona Cardinals training camp. The crowds were enormous that day and it was quite clear the people of the desert southwest were starved for a good NFL team.

Arizona Cardinals training camp in Flagstaff.

Arizona Cardinals training camp in Flagstaff.

When I wasn’t working or hanging out with Brian, I would go to the employee recreation center to lift weights, write, read the New York Times and visit with the international workers. I had gotten fairly close to a few of the Turks. One, a shaggy haired teenager named Ozgur, had become my table tennis buddy. He was quite gifted with the paddle. His English speaking skills were another story. I helped Ozgur with his English and he, in turn, taught me a few key phrases in Turkish. I would learn to say “Merhaba” and “Arkadas” with an Istanbul accent. Ozgur wanted to come to Florida with me after his work was finished. I really didn’t know what to say to this request, afraid he would not be able to understand my world back home.

I had not been entirely honest with my co-workers and friends from the Grand Canyon about circumstances involving my being there. But September was on the horizon and I would soon be stepping out of the shadows.





Decompressing

13 12 2010

Hello All!

Just returned from vacation again with Jim. This year we were stronger, wiser and mucho mucho happier. I feel as if I grew up emotionally on this trip. I saw Las Vegas through new ideas. I met people with different perspectives, from different backgrounds and enjoyed our discussions.

At 74, Jim managed to drink me under the table. A former pilot, he adjusted to the altitude well. The Southwest continues to amaze me. The landscape so beautiful and the natives very hospitable.

It’s a newer America, wide open spaces, visiability for miles and miles. People live on ranches with large tracks of land. We city dwellers back East tend to forget just how close our quarters can be.

Monroe, Louisiana was the first stop again. An eight-hour drive from Panama City. It was the night before Thanksgiving and the city seemed quiet. There was a wedding party at the hotel and the festivities eventually spilled over into the bar.

This is where our adventure begins.

 





Gordon’s Moon

31 03 2010

A lot has happened since Jim and I returned from that vacation.

I now live in a house with three other people. Still waiting on that check from Uncle Sam.

I talked to Gordon today on the I-phone. Wonderful product that I-phone.

“Who is this?,” he asked.

“Gordon, it’s John,” I said. “John McDonald.”

“Oh, John, thank you for coming over to see the play,” he said.

I had just returned from Jacksonville, where Gordon was directing the Eugene O’Neill classic “A Moon For The Misbegotten.”

'Moon' Set

O’Neill’s work tends to be gut-wrenching and Gordon’s adaptation was proof. Not many director’s are up to this kind of challenge.

“Your show made me come away thinking,” I told Gordon.

“Good,” he replied. “That’s what we want.”

He then proceeded to run down the theater scene in Panama City pretty good and I couldn’t say that I blamed him. It leaves much to be desired. Still clinging to hillbilly musicals and cross-dressing comedies.

These days, if one is to be truly intellectually challenged by the theater, they must hit the road — or take a plane  — and get the hell out of Panama City.

And Gordon was doing just that when I called,  heading back to Jacksonville — by bus.

“How ya like riding that Dirty Dog,” I asked him, remembering my most recent experience taking the bus to Atlanta. Some of those stations can be pretty scary.

“Oh it’s fine,” he said, in a reassuring tone.

I told Gordon that when he returned again from Jacksonville, we must meet for lunch. I had several questions about O’Neill’s play and it had been a while since Gordon and I dined out. I missed him.

Last night, I joined a group of nine at one of Bay County’s best waterfront restaurants. The chef personally made several trips to our table.

The conversation started with sports, shifted to business, inevitably moved into politics, then Hollywood, and ultimately ended with that tired game of “Who’s Gay.”

Don’t get me wrong, it was an entertaining evening, the food delicious, and I got to wear my skinny tie from New York. The one my Japanese friend Keita bought me at the American Apparel store on the lower East Side. I so enjoy dressing up for dinner.

Theater didn’t come up much at the table. I did mention seeing the O’Neill play, but only one other person seemed interested, so I didn’t spout off too much. After all, it was a pretty depressing story.

Intermission Mingling

Still, I marveled how, in Gordon’s “Moon,” words such as “Queer” and “Limey” and “Shanty” were tossed about and no one flinched. The crowd was so obedient that night. The actors clearly had many in the palm of their hands.

Above all, the performance made you think. Think about a lot things — overweight women, poor dirt farmers, alcoholism. And there were times when you wanted to look away.

That, my friends, is powerful theater.

And I don’t see anything wrong with that.