Wellness Reads

17 04 2016
Des Moines Microsoft

Des Moines Microsoft

It had been so long since a woman of striking beauty had spoken to me. The South Florida bubble I had been working in certainly skewed in another direction.

Ms. Svokos did not seem threatened or put off by my approach. We were sort of thrust together, taking the last two seats at the bar. Wellman’s Pub was packed that night, the New Jersey Governor scheduled to speak and his advance team was busy setting the stage. Ms. Svokos and I bonded immediately, journalism our common craft.

“What kind of books do you read?,” she asked. I was caught flat-footed, unprepared for such a question. I was so obsessed with following the election, there was no time to get lost in a work of fiction. No time to relax…and no vacation.

A young lady behind the bar took our orders. I had a burger. We both had beer. The pub was filling up fast, one of the television camera guys came up behind me and ordered an “Arnold Palmer” … I asked him what was in it, but he seemed annoyed by my question and never disclosed the ingredients.

Ms. Svokos described her beat as ‘millennials’ focused. Mine, I said, was more centered around retired ‘boca babes.’

She seemed to enjoy my company and I was thrilled to be chatting with such an intelligent writer from New York.

Ultimately, our conversation turned to business. I pitched a story idea, she signed me up for the Elite Daily snapchat feed and we went on our own merry ways right before the Governor came downstairs. It was my first time I had seen Christie in action. He was introduced by Iowa’s Governor and U.S. Senator. His wife, Mary Pat, ever smiling by his side.

“We are not electing an entertainer-in-chief,” Christie said that night.

My how times have changed.

The Iowa Caucus adventure had been a quest to see how the parts were assembled. Connecting with Ms. Svokos was one of the highlights. I left Wellman’s Pub in West Des Moines that night, surprised by what I had seen. Republicans seemed to perform better in suburban environments. The crowd was almost entirely white and preppy and dressed in business attire. That wasn’t so surprising. The fact that I enjoyed myself was.

I have corresponded with Ms. Svokos since returning to Florida. I’ve been texting Billy in Chicago too. Such a Bernie bro that one.

Christie has since dropped out of the race and backed Donald Trump. Florida went overwelmingly for Trump and Hillary Clinton. I caught a glimpse of Hillary and her husband, President 42, Bill Clinton, in Miami. Both events were in majority black, African American precincts. Both events much more rigid and cold than that night in West Des Moines. I covered the DNC debate in Miami too and there began to understand the influence of a large population of Hispanic and latina immigrants and its significant presence in Florida. Miami-Dade County might as well be its own nation.

I think about Ms. Svokos and her favorite books question and I wonder what the summer has in store.

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Spring Awakening at Christie’s

18 03 2016

There’s a spring awakening happening all across this land. Back in Fort Lauderdale there is plenty of water to go around for those content with retirement. Florida is great this time of year. Always was.

A month after Iowa and my strength has returned. Word to the wise, it is stupid to walk along the shores of Lake Michigan in freezing temperatures. Know your limits.

Billy was impressed. I drank straight whiskey that night. It unplugged my sinuses and allowed me to breathe again and offered just the slightest amount of resistence to Billy’s very vocal brand of democratic socialism.

Iowa had been a disaster. It was clear early on the mainstream media and various campaigns were in bed together. This level of collusion, however, was never before so apparant. A tiny older man from Springfield, Illnois was trying to pass himself off as Jewish in the lobby of the Marriott in downtown Des Moines.

The man was selling kippahs with the Presidential candidates’ name etched into suede fabric. I asked the man how much he was asking for one. He said, ’10 dollas.’

I replied, “Will you take five?”

“Sold,” he said, with a smile.

I chose the Bernie Sanders kippah. It was was gray, unlike the blue of Hillary Clinton or the red of Jeb Bush. I bought it for Jerry, my rabbi friend back in Pompano. It would be a nice souvenir and Jerry was a Bernie fan.

The salesman, whose name escapes me, had just returned from a function attended by Carly Fiorina, the ousted Hewlett-Packard CEO and lone female Republican Presidential candidate. I was intent on seeing both sides of the story in Iowa and the lobby of the Marriot is where I found a lot of GOP surrogates.

Interestingly enough they were not as scary as depicted in the media. Some where even friendly. I had a pleasant conversion with a middle-aged woman who was involved with the Chris Christie campaign. Christie, the Governor of New Jersey, was once considered a favorite for the nomination. That, of course, was before the Trumpnado twister hit the party. The woman informed me of Christie’s upcoming campaign stop and I gave her my card while expressing a desire to report on the event. It turned out to be a pretty fun outing at a pub on the westside of Des Moines. I got there early and shopped the nearby REI outdoors store. Great products at REI but way too expensive for me. This is what happens when the Chinese are not consulted, Donny, I thought.

One of the REI employees said she was a single working mother voting for Bernie Sanders and the other one who approached me declined to endorse a candidate. At the pub, I ordered some food at the bar while Christie’s advance team set the stage. That’s when I met Ms. Svokos, a Manhattan writer from an elite publication. Young and beautiful. We got the last two bar stools available. It would be a very interesting evening.

Wellman's Pub West Des Moines, IA

Wellman’s Pub West Des Moines, IA





The Caucus and The Camaro

20 02 2016

The jet took us from Miami to Chicago in just under three hours. It was a new frontier in traveling.

Yes, I packed all of my stale cliches into a couple of bags and boldly charted a course to Iowa, site of the first in the nation caucuses for the United States Presidency. I’m still trying to figure out just what the hell a caucus is?

Before Iowa, I spent a few days in Chicago, catching up with an acquaintance from the Florida panhandle. Billy is one of those online friends, who you meet in a club one night and become virtual buds. He is intelligent, handsome and 10 years my junior. I see some of myself in Billy, having been through emotional relationships and escaped what can be an intolerant Southern culture. Billy is dating a young man from Philadelphia and seems happy with life when we meet for brunch at the Golden Apple Diner on Chicago’s north side.

I ask him if he is in love and without hestitation he says yes. He is also quite passionate about a certain U.S. Senator from Vermont. Yes, Billy is a Bernie Sanders supporter. He spouts statistics about income inequality, criminal justice reform and big banks. He agrees with socialism and plays Modest Mouse records on a vintage turntable in his living room.

Knowing his political knowledge was strong I had asked Billy if he was interested in traveling to Iowa with me. He said he couldn’t get away from work, but wished me well. After crashing on his couch, I got up the next morning and motored into Iowa. The guy at the counter of the rental car company had struck up a friendly conversation with me about Pompano Beach. He upgraded my ride and I bought some insurance off him. I’d be rolling into Des Moines in a sporty red Camaro.

ChiCam

ChiCam

The Camaro was fast and fortunately the roads were not slick or covered with snow. It was late January and it was cold. I felt it in Chicago, the wind…. the chill. It had been quite some time since I had felt real wintery conditions. On my first night in Des Moines, I had dinner in the bar of the Bennigans near the interstate. There, journalists and politicos gathered to drink and discuss the day. I noticed a table full of Rand Paul supporters, four dudes, lots of testosterone and tattoos. Next to them were two European journalists who had been following around Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum. After my dinner, I approached their table and asked for their thoughts on the election.

“They are all fake,” I said trying to get the Swiss cameraman to show his cards.

“Sure,” he said, appearing somewhat surprised by my pronouncement and seeming bored with me already.

“Who do you think is the most geniune?,” I asked, in my best Cajun French accent.

“Trump,” he said.

This surprised me. The Swiss journalists said they had been at a Cruz event earlier in the day and one of the men boasted of his one-on-one access to Santorum, a former Pennsylvania Senator and stauch crusader of the religious right. Both men also mentioned their wives.

“People must come to their senses sooner or later,” I said, offering a distain for the campaign up to this point. The Swiss said nothing. I went back to my hotel across the street, but before going to sleep, I decided to check the weather forecast for the weekend.

Sunny and clear for the next day but a snowstorm was approaching out the southwest.

 

 





Readying For Iowa

23 01 2016

One week before Iowa. I have worked a lifetime for this chapter. A U.S. Presidential election in full swing and the first votes to be cast.

“Do you really want to be disappointed?,” I remember Rich distinctly saying.

Rich was a red bus driver at Glacier National Park. He was a bizarre man in that he was almost child-like in his behaviors. He gave me the impression that he had never grown up. We shared the same room at Lake McDonald in one of the nicest dorms in all of the park — quite a long way from Grand Canyon’s shabby Victor (aka Victim) Hall. Yes sirre, at LMD, Rich and I were not roughing it.

Rich had worked some 30 years at Glacier, driving red buses and putting on an act for the tourists. There were times, though, when Rich would — how do I put this nicely — over act in dramatic scenes.

Despite his quirks, Rich was full of local knowledge and knew the hiking trails inside Glacier well. It was on one of our many hikes into the backcountry that Rich began to needle me about my politics. Rich, you see, was staunchly libertarian and believed very strongly that the government was watching his every move.

At night, in between episodes of The Simpsons and Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Rich would usually find some sort of conspiracy video to play and then launch into a vocal position of how wars and crises are usually inside jobs. This was his line of attack as we hiked to Hidden Lake that day with fresh snow melt, mountain goats and marmots all around.

Hiking with Rich

Hiking with Rich

“You know Obama is former CIA, right,” he said. “He’s just like all the rest.”

I had mentioned to Rich I would like to cover the next presidential campaign which had triggered a sour response and Rich’s questioning me if I was prepared for what he viewed as certain disappointment. Rich’s first instinct was to always reject my first proposal. It was the essence of our labor/management dynamic that I was oddly enough placed into that summer. In hindsight, I should have moved out of that room early on, but the entire ordeal at Lake McDonald was about proving to the masses that no matter how tough it got, I wasn’t going anywhere. Not even a few steps into a different room down the hall with a less antagonistic roommate.

So fast forward a year and here I am getting ready to head to Iowa and thinking about Rich and as weird as this sounds that asshole might just be right.

I’ve followed all the candidates closely up to this point and scoured their backgrounds like a fine tooth comb. I’ve paid attention to the electorate and trends across this great nation and concluded both parties are full of shit. In Florida, particularly, the bullshit runs knee-deep.

Maybe it has already been decided. Perhaps, as Rich believes, big brother is controlling every move in a pre-destined way that leaves only Mother Nature to chance. Maybe that’s why Rich loves Glacier so much and keeps coming back year after year to drive those antique red buses. He’s clinging to a past and a special place that is quickly vanishing from this planet.

I’ll soon find out the mood of America’s political power on the ground in the heart of the midwest, a region I am none too familiar with. It will be another adventure into the great unknown — that is if we are to believe our nation’s election results are a true reflection of the will of the people.

Are you ready to hit the ground…running?

If you are interested in helping me in this independent effort, please make a small donation to my GoFundMe account here: https://www.gofundme.com/6sd4nbjg