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.





Time to Trust

9 02 2010

I’m still kind of surprised the officer pulled us over. It was really nasty outside. Bitter, bitter wind and freezing temperatures. But we did have a Florida license plate — good Ol’ Bay County for all to see.

The officer was of Hispanic descent and in good shape. Hell, he had to be — just to be standing out in these conditions. My sneezing had not gone away. The officer asked for Jim’s license and proof of insurance. Jim had it ready.

Now, I’ll have to admit, I have a lot of respect for men in uniform — and women too for that matter. I’m not sure if this guy lived in Vaughn, but if he did, I sure felt sorry for him.  It was pretty desolate and all. If the economy was puttin’ a hurtin’ on Vegas then it had damn near killed Vaughn.

Downtown Roswell

The officer returned to his patrol car with Jim’s information and I continued to blow boogers into my supply of Kleenex, which were starting to run low. I’m here to tell ya, I felt like Holy Shit. Flagstaff seemed like last month.

As we waited for the officer to return, Jim didn’t seem too put off by the state of affairs. He’d been pulled over before on this trip, he said, but that was in Texas. I wondered what ol’ Gabe did? I doubt his powers of persuasion and cock sure attitude work too well on law enforcement.

“I’ll just pay the fine,” Jim said.

And that’s what he did. When the officer returned he handed Jim a ticket and explained the speeding infraction. He also explained that if Jim wanted to contest this decision that another trip to Vaughn was in store.

“We’ll pay,” Jim said.

To his credit, Jim tried to politely engage the officer in conversation, asking how many inches of snow had fallen the night before.

“About nine,” the officer said. He didn’t want to make small talk and I don’t blame him. It was damn near frigid outside. The wind was blowing sand and sheets of snow across the highway. This officer was a real trooper indeed.

So, we left Vaughn a little lighter in the pocketbook, but grateful to be close to Roswell and the cozy confines of another Holiday Inn Express. The place was like an oasis by the time we finally arrived and thankfully a drug store was not too far down the road. Once we got checked in, Jim drove down to the drug store and bought me a pack of antihistamine. It was a mighty noble thing for him to do. Those kind of drugs aren’t real cheap. They do, however, work and my sneezing began to subside.

I’m sure that made Jim happy. Nobody likes to be around someone sneezing all the time. I remember when I was in grade school and would have those sneezing fits. Mom always said I didn’t know how to blow my nose.

That night we had dinner at the Applebees next door. As usual, Jim headed straight for the bar and, like clockwork, we got top-notch service. We both ordered the chilli and a few rounds of beer. The bartender was a young skinny fellow with a slick, freshly cut head of hair. He asked me for my ID.

“You got to be kidding me,” I said. “It’s back at the hotel. You’re not going to make me go outside again are ya?”

“What year were you born,” he asked me.

I told him and he left to get my beer. And that, my friends, like the speeding ticket in Vaughn, is what we call … Trust.





Here we come Vegas!

20 01 2010

We left for Las Vegas early the next morning. I did not bore Jim with the details of my Canyon excursion with Stallone. It really wasn’t that enlightening.

We loaded up the car ourselves and paused briefly for coffee in the lobby and I dropped a few postcards in the mail.

The Hoover Dam was our next stop and it would be a special one. Jim, the engineer, marveled at this true testament to American might. We both took a lot of pictures.

Dam Right

“You couldn’t build this today, with all the environmentalists,” he noted as we walked through the inner-workings of the Dam.

The Dam was built during the Great Depression and although it was not in my lifetime, the Great Depression felt very real. To construct this monster wall, the Colorado River was diverted. It was sheer power.

Many men lost their lives during the project. Many others were provided work and in turn were able to provide for their suffering families. It was a government program.

During our visit, Lake Mead was nearing a record low. Water is still a major commodity in the desert and ‘Bling-Bling’ Vegas requires a lot of it.

From the Dam, we made the short drive to Vegas, which would be our turning around point. Jim didn’t care to go any further West, despite the allure of California.

That was fine with me. I had visited the Golden State several times before. On my last trip to Los Angeles, I almost missed my return flight, having skipped out on a journalism convention and gotten bogged down in the  West Hollywood club scene.

Fast forward a few years and I was about to make my first-ever visit to Las Vegas…Sin City. Temptation was everywhere. Gambling, hot girls, muscle studs, booze, drugs, tattoo parlors…the works.

We would stay two nights at The Sahara. It’s an older casino, but still an anchor on The Strip. Jim had been coming here for decades and was on a first-name basis with many of the staff.

Bill, the bellhop, gave Jim a big hug and warm greeting when we arrived. A black man from Mississippi, Bill was close to Jim in age and you could tell they had a special bond. Jim’s arrival seemed to boost Bill’s spirits, although he was quick to bemoan the local economy.

“They’re dealing 50-cent blackjack in some of these casinos now,” Bill said.

Once settled in the room, Jim handed me a twenty dollar bill and told me to have fun gambling. I held my own on the blackjack table for a few hours and disciplined myself to leave with money in my pocket.

Just walking through the casino was entertainment enough. The rodeo was coming to town and the Strip was beginning to take on a decidedly Brokeback scene. Toby “I Should’ve Been a Cowboy” Keith was scheduled to perform that week.

Wanting to make the most of our one full day in Vegas, we retired early that first night. As we bunked down for the night, Jim asked me about a trip to Key West with R.C. and Bob — a trip I had made about four years ago. R.C. and Bob, God rest their souls, are no longer with us.

“I’ve never been to Key West,” Jim revealed.

“It’s nice,” I replied. “A lot different than Miami…you’d like it.”

“I’m sure I would,” Jim said.

On that fateful drive to Key West, I remember R.C., a jolly man who could pound vodkas with the best of them, describing South Florida as “God’s waiting room.”

I got the feeling Jim wasn’t ready to make that trip just yet. No sir. Vegas was on deck.

And we were ready.





The After-Hours Tourist

10 01 2010

John wasn’t about to kiss and tell in the Canyon …. there is a code among Nerds, one that is sometimes solved by Queers.

But Gabe was another story.

“They can’t grow grass up there,” he said, in his thick Jersey Shore accent.

We were back in Panama City, comparing notes on the trip with Jim and Gabe was unveiling his turf research. John, admittedly, was envious of Gabe’s youth with that baby face that would never be kicked into the streets — at least for very long.

In Vegas, Jim had even encouraged Gabe to walk The Strip, but the youngster keenly stayed inside the casino’s cozy atmosphere.

The Canyon was a different climate, entirely. “How can you stay inside a place like that?,” Gabe declared.

The workers in the park rarely mingle socially with visitors. Tourists, despite being their life source, were usually held in contempt at “after hours” get-to-gethers.

And I was about to get my first taste of Canyon “after hours.”

Stallone, the twinky Hawaiian server, invited me back to his apartment after dinner to meet some of his friends and Jim gave me the green light, offering up the keys to the Murano.

It was cold that night and very, very dark. I drove slow and tried to remember the way, knowing the drive back would be a solo affair. Stallone was a friendly fellow and his language skills impressed me… and then he surprised me, “You don’t have a joint on you, do you? Because I would really like to smoke a doobie.”

Wow.

The answer, of course, was no and this seemed to solidify park workers’ biggest complaint.

“You tourists,” Stallone said, shaking his head with a sheepish grin.

We arrived at Stallone’s apartment before the herd. Stallone introduced me to his roommate, a short lesbian who liked football and beer. I don’t recall her name as shortly after introductions the apartment began to fill with Canyon people, all workers in the park and all with vastly different personalities.

Still sporting my blazer and khaki pants from dinner, I was overdressed for this soiree, but still my ‘Southern Good Ol’ Boy’ wit attracted quite a crowd. The girls seemed to like to hear me talk. So did Stallone, who grew more girlish by the hour.

A whiskey bottle was passed around and inside Stallone’s living room people huddled on the floor and lounged on couches, conversing about Canyon life. There was a young Asian girl there who dispensed the trouble with housekeeping and her beef with management.

Her comments made me wonder why Jim always tipped the bellhop but never the maids.

There was no music playing and nobody was dancing. I guess you could say it was a drinkin’ party…and since I was the token tourist in the crowd, an outsider, I wasn’t offered any mind-altering substances.

And that was cool with me. The decade of decadence was coming to an end. Stallone probably would have had more fun with Gabe.

After a few hours of spin the bottle, I said my goodbyes and returned to the El Tovar, driving ever more slowly through the dark park. A steady wind made the cold air slightly bitter.

On the way, I came upon a large elk, casually walking a long side of the road. There was no fear in this magnificent creature’s eyes as I passed by. Back home, that elk would be a welcome addition to many walls. My trophy, however, was seeing this beast roaming free.

Something only a “tourist” could truly appreciate.