The Great Migration

18 02 2018

Doors are closing in South Florida. A new world awaits on the West Coast.

We have managed to rebuild our lives to a certain extent following David’s hospitalization. This with the help of dearly loved friends. David is even back to work, although his duties at the church have been re-assigned. This was welcome on my part. He is still involved in some political clubs, which I tolerate, in trust that the endless arguments and debates keep him sharp.

We have decided to give it a go on the other side of the continent — the Pacific Northwest. We have exhausted our search for a new apartment here and the numbers just won’t work. South Florida has taught me a lot about complex living. Real estate here is a tricky business. The building boom has produced a new wave of luxurious hi-rise apartments, shoreline McMansions and expensive homes.

It has been difficult finding an acceptable place. When the next move you make could be your last, you scruntinze and do your research more thoroughly. There can be no oversights in regards to buildings, neighborhoods, associations or landlords.

Palm Aire Exit

I admire David’s strength and composure during this difficult time so much. I wish I could provide more help myself.

“Help does not always come in financial forms,” my friend Billy sent in a text meant to cheer me up.

Ever the socialist, Billy had migrated to the West Coast last year, giving up Chicago for San Francisco. A far off land for a boy from the Florida Panhandle.

One thing I have learned about living in crisis is the pieces of information you trust with other parties can have bruising affects. This goes for family as well. Mother doesn’t need to know every initimate health decision and vice-versa. Gallbladder surgery taught me that.

Government is only a safety net in our lives and even that has holes.

South Florida taught me that naivety will be taken advantage of quickly and exploited for profit and gain. Kindness in this multicultural metropolis is rare and internal community disfunction all too common. There could be a better life hidden somewhere in the Tropics that I, as a journalist, was not privileged to cover.

We were married here. Moments in the Keys did produce love and joy but were fleeting in contrast to horror stories up the peninsula. Stories of hurricanes, violent crime, drug-addled parties, disease outbreaks and other terrible incidents.

Add the recent school shooting to the Orlando massacre and Fort Lauderdale airport attack and you really have to wonder what kind of tourism this state is pitching? Sounds like training grounds for Syria.

I remember how pumped up and ready to take on the dragon I was when we moved here five years ago. Ultimately it became about adaptation — trying to keep some of your core values intact without falling victim to fatal flames.

The dragon is firmly entrenched here, investigative journalists beware. If you look closely, follow the money trail and ask too many questions you may not enjoy what is brought out of the water.

I did make lasting friendships here and my character forever shaped by events too impactful to forget. With Godspeed we forge ahead to a new life.

“We’re not fleeing,” David said. “We’re moving on.”






Complete Collapse

21 01 2018

Writing is therapy they say. Purge the bad.

I really despise hitting bottom. Particulary when you are trying to avoid it at all times. David developed a bad case of the flu. Off to the hospital we went. Not a fun place to spend the new year’s eve. But we did, watching Anderson Cooper from the fourth floor of Holy Cross Fort Lauderdale.

On David’s first night in the hospital, a letter came in the mail informing us we had to be out of our apartment at the end of the month. Insult to injury. The owner was selling and wanted us to vacate. The owner — an 87-year-old gay man from Massachuetts — was easily agitated and on advice from his cardiologist had decided to sell the apartment.

David, working two jobs, was doing everything he could to pay the bills. South Florida is not cheap. The BMW was constantly in the shop and my contributions had been too little. I wasn’t earning as much as I had the year before and by the holidays we had fallen into the gaps.

In mid-December we departed to the Pacific Northwest to see David’s friends and family. It was a stressful trip with a sudden climate change and long flights. I refused the flu shot just before we left. In Port Townsend, Washington, the sneezing started and stayed with us for the reminder of the trip. I was happy to finally meet David’s close friends, Paul and Carrie and his brother Russ and his wife, Shirley. Meeting the in-laws is an important part of marriage, I reminded David.

Paul picked us up at the airport in SEATAC and we drove north into the Pugent Sound region. It was cold, no fresh snowfall, but still plenty cold. The skies were gray and there was a chill in the air. Port Townsend is cute and charming, hilly with old brick buildings and a harbor where boaters take tourists on whale watching tours. We attended Sunday morning’s service at the Presbyterian church Paul pastors and it was comforting to discover a friendly congregation.

Pugent Sound

The sneezing made my visit miserable. It was only the beginning. Paul’s daughter Lidya drove us to Portland, Oregon the next day to meet David’s brother. That was the sickest point for me and it just so happened to be my first time in Oregon. Thankfully, Russ & Shirley took us in. We toured the city the next day and had dinner at Jake’s Famous Crayfish downtown. I enjoyed seeing David interact with his sibling as I imagined what life growing up in Oregon during the 1960s was like.

Meanwhile, I was unaware of problems mounting back in Florida. Perhaps I was consciously choosing to ignore them. Issues in Panama City refusing to go away and traps laid in Fort Lauderdale. Soon it would be too much for David. Feelings of helplessness, anger and self doubt filled me

Port Townsend, WA

as I sat bedside new year’s eve in the hospital. Another round of trial and error and learning who real friends are.

And then that phone call delivering words that cut like a dagger.

“You’ve made bad decisions in life, John.”


Autumn’s Bounce

3 11 2017

Biscayne Bay NP

The cool breezes have arrived at long last in the southern reaches of the United States.

Battered by hurricanes, Floridians are picking up the pieces of a life that seems to consist of at least one dangerous weather pattern a year. The Governor is well versed in crisis management. The Winter White House must be protected, after all.

And at any cost.

Looking inward, a self assessment seems in order. Why is America here? Who decided it would be such a great thing to settle 20 million people in a swamp?

If there are advantages to such stressed living conditons it must be an enduring ecosystem immune to certain invasive species. People do want to come here — for a variety of reasons. I’d prefer to push into South America and learn why that is.

Meanwhile, David says to trust God. He does his morning yoga poses and goes off into the community eager to serve. Working two jobs at the age of 70 while volunteering countless hours to the democratic party. He continually amazes me and I am eternally grateful for him coming into my life — and staying.

I am giving more time to friends who care about our shared health and well being and less to those who do not. That should be automatic but is much harder to practice in reality. I do not think I can make a difference, I know I can. Thus comes responsible action and deeper understanding.

Ah maturity.

Having recently celebrated my 45th birthday, I am aware of how satisfied I should be at this stage of life.

“You are still here,” our couples’ therapist said to me.

Yes, I am still here and it is quite remarkable considering all of the adventures. Coming to South Florida was an assignment in learing how to rebuild and make a way beyond familiar ground. I have learned a great deal about politics, the environment, minority communities, recovery, celebrity culture and the list goes on. I am beginning to learn what marriage means. Raising children is next.

I am by no means broken but very aware that no one goes through life unblemished. The perfect image Americans insist their leaders have was destroyed during the last presidential election. In the world of geeks, it’s Kingpins over Spidermen. Superman is truly a myth and the Jedi have been driven into exile.

Spooks own the hour now. The news still carries at least one mass terrorist attack story a week. But we forget about it after a few weeks and the dead become linked to a city or a school or a nightclub. It will depress you if you let it.

I choose not to. I am also choosing my media, information and entertainment outlets very carefully.

It has been a tough year. For a lot of us. I am thankful the holiday season is approaching and I can decorate the apartment. Maturity brings awareness of how precious life is. Now is the time to cherish our loves.





Paris Protocols

6 05 2017

On the eve of the French elections, I ponder my own fate.

Paris seems like a distant memory. We spent a week in the City of Light for my 44th birthday. It was everything one could hope for — history, food, culture and, of course, love. The weather was mild with cool air and clear skies. At night I went to sleep inside an apartment with an Eiffel Tower view. What more could anyone ask for?

Well, there was a slight distraction as the American Presidential campaign drew to a conclusion. And the vendor operating a tram into the Versailles Gardens would only take cash. Other than that, our glass was more than half full.

Paris will be cherished. I am determined.

Six months after our visit, I am still seeking to publish this adventure. Our apartment company has a nice collection of units sprinkled throughout Paris. In October we stayed on the Left Bank, strolling every morning through the Parc du Champ de Mars with Gustave’s towering Eiffel serving as our guide. This was David’s first visit to Paris and I was glad to be there as his faithful partner.

Our breakfast at Les Deux Magots was a dream come true. We successfully negotiated a table outside in the sun. I bought a New York Times from the newsstand on the corner and as we munched on buttery crossiants and jambone church bells rang out from the nearby cathedral. David — using his fancy technology — would discover culinary jewels later, but on this morning, I let history be my guide and risked getting a touristy result.

It is interesting to see now how some describe the cafe. Wikipedia, for example, refers to Les Deux Magots as a famous cafe that had a reputation as a rendezvous for literary genius and intellectual elites. Now, the free encyclopedia reads, Les Deux Magots is simply a “popular tourist destination.”

When something becomes too well liked does that mean it loses its edge? Les Deux Magots, despite its gorgeous surroundings — and believe me there were gorgeous patrons on the morning we arrived — is no longer avant guarde? Surely, you jest.

The French elect their next President this weekend. I hope to return to see the Republic unite around a new leader. France is a world power. At one time, it’s flag flew over Louisiana, Florida and much of the Caribbean. Like many great nations, it took an uprising by the people to force a new plan of action. In Versailles, we witnessed the opulence of Louis XIV first hand. The Sun King he is known as. Indifferent to the suffering of the people, so the story goes. Eventually the people would rise up. His palace now a museum to obsence wealth.

As a write, I wonder what the future has in store. A restless man in his mid-forties looks at the world in many ways. Having reached understanding in some of life’s fundamental truths, I still seek to make a positive difference for humanity. There is an apartment in Paris that holds the key.



Turning The Corner

15 08 2016

It’s a long, hard slough these summer months in Florida.

The heat is almost suffocating and yet I am aware not to complain, much. David and I are doing our best to provide for one another in the complexity of our current situations. I continue to pursue a career as a reporter, following the local political scene and dreaming of vacations abroad. David splits his time between the church and funeral home, receiving a small supplement from each.

We have no air conditioning in either vehicle presently. This has been a bitter bone of contention in our relationship. The heat in general is wearing us out. We have lived in South Florida for three years now. It has been quite a learning experience.

On a positive note, I am quite pleased with our stamina. I recall the summer of 2008 when in the thrusts of another Presidential campaign, much of the nation took a dip into a financial death spiral. Some called it a crash — others term it a blackout period. Whatever your language, it was not good times for many.

Eight years later, we have cautiously taken steps to prevent such a repeat disaster. David continues to guide me in the right direction and my editors and publishers seem happy with the stories. The campaign has been outrageous, brutal and the news cycle never fails to produce a day of violence and mishap. The Trump phenomenon appears to have played itself out. Anyone who has followed from the beginning must be a cynical mess. I worry about the mental health of those subjected to daily stories of death, despair, doom and gloom.

In South Florida, with its large population, there are many stories involving crime. There are certain neighborhoods which are considered off limits to white boys like me, so I’ve been told.

But I’m not a boy anymore.

Thinking back to France and my last solo trip into Paris gives me hope for the future. At the hostel, I bunked with a Romanian, Frenchman and a man who would not reveal his country. He gave me several guesses and even the region (Middle East) but I still could not detect his origin.

“Saudi Arabia?,” I asked at one point.

“If I was from Saudi Arabia do you think I would be staying here?,” he responded.

It was a good point. The hostel was by no means a five diamond hotel. The man, dressed in all dark blue, never left the room during my time at the hostel. I found this rather strange and so did the Romanian but he was not aggressive so we left him be. On one night he split his can of sardines with me. He was very hairy and did not speak much. I do hope he was able to enjoy Paris.

As the campaign in America moves into the autumn season, I am hopeful a kinder, gentler narrative will surface. Americans have been subjected to a series of horror stories at home — from mass shootings in nightclubs to fears of viruses infecting women and children. When, we must ask, is enough…enough??

American In Paris

American In Paris





Married To Words

5 06 2016

In Key West on a Saturday night in late May. Steamy conditions. I write this post as a married man, embarking on a new and uncharted chapter in my life.

David and I are in this for the long haul. After eight years together, I feel there is nothing that could drive us apart and I do not see a situation that would produce demands for divorce. I wonder if Ernest Hemingway ever felt this way?

Hemingway is Key West legend and I have long been a big fan. I read “A Moveable Feast” during my bitter summer of 2009 and became smitten with his punchy, descriptive style. At a time when I needed simple and direct answers, Hemingway was just the remedy. A war correspondent, cat herder, best selling author and the mulitiple marrying type. That was Hemingway. As the docent giving a tour of his home in Key West correctly noted, Hemingway was proficent in the art of romance — albeit often times conflict based.

David and I married after a long conflict in American society. Last summer’s Supreme Court ruling allowed for our union. In South Florida, we had no trouble finding willing parties and public servants to help. I requested a small, private ceremony and David requested the site — a church in Fort Lauderdale that he has been attending. He started going to the church when I was working in Glacier. That was the summer he demonstrated an unyielding commitment to our relationship. That was when I understood loyalty.

Back in Key West, honeymooning like an old married couple, we stayed at a lovely hotel full of lush tropical gardens and first rate accomodations. Much better than that dreary econo-lodge a longside the interstate highway we stayed in our first Christmas together in Birmingham, Alabama. It snowed that year as I recall.

There would be no such coldness in the Keys. We were fortunate enough to secure seats on the ferry to Dry Tortugas. I had no idea it would be difficult, but with the help of a few local channels we got onboard and sailed away into the Gulf of Mexico. The coral reefs of the Dry Tortugas are, simply put, spectacular. Fort Jefferson is quite a site to take in as well. As the old story goes, if we were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you bring? Perhaps this is a question for the park’s gift shop manager.

Meanwhile, summer has begun. Florida for another year so it seems. The general election will soon be starting.

Will it be “The Sun Also Rises” story or “The Old Man and the Sea” ??

Fort Jefferson NP

Fort Jefferson NP

On the Road to Recovery

14 07 2014

July is here. For seasonal park employees these are challenging times. We’ve been in our new surroundings for almost two months and the novelty of living in a national park is wearing off and reality starts to set in.

And so do the crowds.

Fourth of July weekend ushers in the masses — screaming infants, spoiled brat teenagers and impatient parents. The height of summer is indeed “family time” for better or worse.

The good news is Going-To-The-Sun Road is open — two weeks late – but open nevertheless. The frustration, disappointment and anger I absorbed from tourists in the days leading up to the road’s opening more than justified my salary. A late season snow storm delayed the road’s projected opening, leaving our tour bus operations in a mad scramble to find alternative routing, while appeasing those who were expecting a magnificent ride over the pass. The snow storm came just when David — God bless him — had completed his nearly 3,000-mile trek to deliver me my Jeep.

David’s devotion continues to amaze me. This latest act clearly demonstrates his commitment to our partnership. During his visit we hiked to Avalanche Lake, one of the more popular trails on the west side of Glacier National Park. The trail was very muddy that day, it pretty much rains the entire month of June here and the park’s Lake McDonald Valley is considered a Pacific Northwest rain forest. But we persevered, sloshing through the trees while marveling at the size and beauty of the cedars, black cottonwoods and western hemlocks.

We discussed many subjects on the hike. That’s one of the great things about hiking with a friend. You really get to know each other better as you both march toward an end goal. I told David how surprised I was at my ability to manage the stress of this new job, particularly with the amount of patience I was exhibiting.

Things or situations in the past that were frustrating or caused anger did not seem to have the same affect on me now. Could it be, I wondered aloud, that life’s experiences coupled with the hardships and trauma of the last six years had instilled a coping mechanism that is enabling me to deal with all of the daily troubles and problems.

A lost purse, a blown tire, a missed reservation — all in a day’s work behind the concierge desk. A train running late, an allergic reaction to a bug bite, directions to the nearest location with cell phone service ??? … No problem, I have the answers.

One of our drivers has said I have “nerves of steel” while another declared I have the biblical “patience of Job.” Flattering comments I will more than accept after the harsh reactions to our no refund policy when the road was closed.

Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake

Meanwhile, the hike to Avalanche Lake was certainly the bright spot of David’s visit. He’s back in South Florida now and I, for the first time in my National Park tenure, have my own transportation. I usually load up the Jeep after work most days and escape into the park, looking for that quiet spot to rest my mind and write.

Glacier is indeed beautiful, snow capped peaks atop rugged Matterhorn-like mountain ranges surround you with the Going-To-The-Sun Road cutting a path through the heart of the park. The scenary along the road is breathtaking and I understand now why the demand to open it was so great. It is an engineering achievement of the highest order. Man’s crowning conquest atop God’s spectacular creation.

As I look to build upon my experience here I must acknowledge the last two months have been incredibly hard and the next hard choice I make is whether I should stick it out with no promises that it will get any easier. Perhaps this is where my road to recovery ends. Knowing when to make the right decision.