This is me being me. I tell a story. It is linear. Blog posts, at best, are reverse linear. At worst, it’s like hitting “shuffle” on an album meant to be played from start to the beginning. I want a linear version of the current travels so people can see it as it was meant to be seen, even if they jump in late. So, here it goes from the first column on.
An outward, solo journey necessitates an inward, intimate journey
Deeper into Aloha (April 3, 2020)
Let’s take the boat out
Wait until darkness
Let’s take the boat out
Wait until darkness comes
…from Peter Gabriel’s “Mercy Street.”
Let’s take the boat out and contemplate the one word in the translation of “aloha” that never seemed to fit, but it seems more and more to encompass the definition.
From Wikipedia: “Aloha (/ɑːˈloʊhɑː/; Hawaiian: [əˈloːˌha]) is the Hawaiian word for love, affection, peace, compassion and mercy, that is commonly used as a simple greeting but has a deeper cultural and spiritual significance to native Hawaiians.”
Love, affection, peace and compassion: I get it. When I say, “Aloha” to you, or at the end of a yoga session, it is what I am offering you. The more I think about it though, mercy is what I am offering myself. And it is what I refuse.
Supplicant. Criminal. Just a broken man. On the floor, with arms outraised to the universe. Tears coursing down my face. Pain compressed into a tight ball in my chest. Expanding. Searing along every nerve ending. Until it feels as if I am in that old torture device, an iron maiden, where I am in the body shaped tomb lined with nails and it closes upon me.
“Just a break,” I scream. “Just some peace.”
But it could just as well be, “Mercy!”
I’ve been there on the floor, and then huddled into my ball. Waiting for the waves of the depressive attack to wash over and through me, waiting for them to ebb, so I could stand again. Waiting for mercy.
But am I waiting for the universe to give me mercy? Or am I waiting for myself to grant me mercy?
Let’s take the boat out
Wait until darkness
Let’s take the boat out
Wait until darkness comes
And the darkness has come. More nights than not now. Aye, I was expecting it. I want to wander the halls of twilight, where I can dance and play, romance and fly. Write. Think. Wander. But the darkness is like a vortex pulling me into the halls of midnight, a darker place, with the demons and imps and the regrets of 49 years.
Mercy? Noun, “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.”
I’m beating the hell out of myself these days. The big three no-no’s of therapy are standing behind me with their cat of nine tails, lashing me as I go about my day. Every time I sit still. Should have, could have, and would have. 16 hours a day to myself during the Covid hibernation, to do anything and everything I always wanted to do and yet?
I actually wrote to the chair of a university’s psychology department today. I just want to do more but need a way to funnel it. The depression makes me lose focus. I can teach and learn. “I don’t think we have ever hired a lecturer that doesn’t have a PhD,” he wrote me back. “And it is very competitive.”
Robin Williams comes to mind, a man who needed to grant himself mercy more than others, in Patch Adams. “Yeah, but you all suck at it.”
I sent him my last post, about dealing with depression. “You sent a very revealing post.” Yes, I did. I feel that if I reveal myself more, people may respond to the authenticity. They do. I try.
Let’s take the boat out
Wait until darkness
Let’s take the boat out
Wait until darkness comes
I need to think about this some more, as the boat rocks in the cool night air on the waves of depression. Contemplate the unthinkable: forgiving myself. Being compassionate to myself. Showing myself mercy.
I bow to you all, and tip my cap: aloha.
The Anti Murphy Checklist (May 7, 2020)
Murphy’s Law: Everything that can go wrong will go wrong–at the worst possible time. At the very top of my “things to do” checklist is to hunt Murphy down and beat the living shit out of him. I’ll chase his ass through New England, the Badlands, Texas, and all the way up to Alaska.
Murphy and I have an old relationship. He hates me and I hate him back. Today is a perfect example. I was going to post a nice pretty picture of the final work I had done on my pond, just a little bit more stone work to hide/cover the tub. It was actually cheap! (FYI: “Cheap” and “ponds” do NOT go together.) Just a few pieces of slate, some river rock and a couple of water plants. I went outside to take the picture and found the pump went. That’s going to cost another $1,000.
So my checklists tend to be more in the range of “don’t impulse buy hams.” What the hell is the point of preparing anything else? I wing it. It’s worked out pretty well for 49 years so why stop a good thing? It’s not like any preparations I make will get past Murphy.
But the items are starting to arrive. The Drive Canada book, the SUV air mattress, and the Yeti Cooler that fits my bottles of coffee creamer really well. I’m just waiting on the sleeping bag, the window nets, and the AC adapter. Yes: the coffee maker and grinder are coming with me.
But there are other things to do and prepare. What to name my car? This is a difficult one as I’ve never named a car. I’m lousy at naming anything. All of the characters in my short stories are named after people I know. But a car needs a name for an epic adventure to hunt down Murphy and find a decent cup of coffee.
I went with “Bob.”
Then there are the playlists to consider. I’ll be working on that over the next couple of days. You have to start a journey with the right song.
For years, as I made the trek back and forth from Miami, from cassette tape to CD, it was the first three songs of Damn Yankees: Coming of Age, Bad Reputation and Runaway. Then I’d go fumbling through cassettes or CD’s, spilling coffee, burning something or another (usually me) with a lit cigarette, as I found “next.”
Damn Yankees has to be somewhere in there. But not at the start. “Stompa” by Serena Ryder? Good choice but I don’t think so. Sting’s “Stolen Car (Take me Dancing)” is really appropriate but only for a nighttime start. If you go by top plays, it’s “Be Good” by Hothouse Flowers followed by “Renegades” by X Ambassadors.
If I just hit “play” I think I have enough songs for a month or two of driving. But then there is the Murphy thing. Yep, that’s the song I have to begin with: Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns and Money.”
It’s the perfect start. One, two, three…then the bass and drum charge intro! “Send lawyers, guns and money: the shit has hit the fan.”
Next on the checklist is sponsors. For the webpage that doesn’t exist yet. This is a tough one as who really wants to sponsor this misadventure? I did reach out to KOA Coffee Plantation. About 20 times. Haven’t heard back. I’ll still drink their coffee.
I did try to promote a company once that I thought highly of. The owner was pretty quick to ask me to remove all mention of her and her company as “my tone did not fit well with her clientele.” Friggin’ uppity Briarcliffe people.
So who wants me? I’m thinking of people and companies that might like me that I like. Until they tell me to please remove all mention of them and their companies. It’s not like they’ll be able to have their lawyers send cease and desist letters.
Www.TracyTayanDesigns.com of course. Buy American! Buy local! Beautiful hand crafted jewelry. Personalized. Hand stamped or laser etched.
Faust Orthodontics in Havertown. Best orthodontist I worked with and he won’t screw you like so many do. And I think he appreciates my sense of humor?
Turpin Landscaping. I like Kyle. He’s hooking me up with the pond work. And he’ll be installing the new pump. He also fixed my pond after I broke it. I like him because I have absolutely no sense of style or décor so I can just say “whatever you think is best” and he comes up with something amazing, far better than anything I had in mind.
I think Vannucci Ltd at www.vannucciltd.com, handcrafted, modern bohemian (whatever the hell that means) jewelry. She’s an annoying pain in the ass to me, but I like her and she does make pretty jewelry and made me my “Live Aloha” mask. –and this is my why I am asked to remove all mention of people and their companies.
But then we can get away from checklists, and that all that other crap I won’t pay attention to anyway. I will not impulse buy a ham on the road. Though I might return with a pet pig?
I have a secret. It’s well known that Murphy f***ing hates me and I f***ing hate him back. A little known fact is I think his baby sister has a crush on me and gives me a kiss from time to time. I don’t know her name, and I don’t know what her law is (maybe it will become a column at some point), but I do know that it is about the simple, the extraordinary, that first blush of a miracle.
It’s about a kinder and gentler universe, a presence that says, “You can kick my brother’s teeth in when you find him, but until you catch up with him, here’s a kiss and something to remind you of possibilities.”
The stories always begin the same way. With a kiss (metaphorical), a smile, and the question “how the hell did that happen?”
It’s about the loose flimsy strings of thought in the universe that connects everything and brings everything together into a whole. It’s about finding a piece of jewelry in a state park and just knowing who it belongs to and returning it to them. It’s about cousins meeting for the first time and making me smile by jointly flipping me the bird. It’s about the chance encounters and the moments of clarity, of finding the extraordinary and the sublime.
It’s about knowing that I am lucky as hell. Even as Murphy sucker punches me.
I’ll find his ass.
And she will find me from time to time.
Stompa Your Feet Revisited (May 7, 2020)
[I wasn’t happy with the one thumb column I did so I figured I’d try to do it justice with two fingers I’ve been using for the last 40 years.]
With a little help from Serena Ryder’s “Stompa”
“When you can’t seem to shake off all the feelings that are breaking
Little pieces of the music that are in you
All the pain that you feel
I can prove it’s not real
There’s just one thing you gotta do”
All the pain that you feel, I can prove it’s not real….
Just seemed appropriate. I really didn’t do well today with the stay at home order. I’m not quite sure where I am, but I’m not there. Everybody who knows me– including former teachers, drill sergeants, and employers–know I don’t do well with staying still. But this all is a bit different.
It’s clamping down on me, particularly at night. I had felt the music back in me, the music that surges forward when I am driving. It left when Covid 19 rounded the bend. I can only do so much electrical work and landscaping and that just gets me through the days. At night, though, the depression is clamping down on me again, all the feelings that are breaking off pieces of the music in me.
Stompa is on my driving playlist, enough songs for a good eight hours of driving. It hit somewhere on the Northeast Extension around Allentown where I was heading east. The music surged forward to push back the darkness.
It’s the bridge of the song. When you can’t seem to shake off…and then she belts out, “All the pain that you feel, I can prove it’s not real…”
Depression is, at it’s heart, an illusion. The pain is an illusion. I desperately needed to remember that.
…there’s just one thing you gotta do.
A couple years back, in the span of four years, I lost the three people I was closest to in high school. And then there was the decade before that where I lost a lot of people who still walk this earth. Life gets overwhelming at times and in a blink, chunks of it are gone.
The greatest gift of youth is immortality. You have all the time in the world and are invincible. You shed that protective shell as you get older until you are left staring at something. I’m staring at the walls of the house that I was supposed to sell, at the map of Italy where I was supposed to be resting after 15 years of forced labor, at the credit cards I’m using to refurnish the house I just unfurnished. As the depression clamps down, and clouds perception, I’m staring once again at a bleakness.
It’s not real.
I think the opening sequence in the movie, “The Rundown” is the greatest of any movie. After beating the hell out of a pro football team, some old fat guy shoots The Rock with a bean bag gun and steals his prize. Man makes plans; God laughs.
What does that have to do with anything?
“Gotta get up, listen to me
Clappa your hands, stompa your feet”
A ride to Masthope, PA. Friends have a house there they have been inviting me to for years. I am not welcome and hope I don’t piss them off too bad. I’m not planning on even trying to intrude on their quarantine. I love Liz to death and wouldn’t think about it. Mamma bear is protecting her cubs and I respect that. But I needed a destination, and my sense of humor got the better of me.
“Gotta get up, listen to me
Clappa your hands, stompa your feet”
So I took pictures of the Masthope sign, hung out in what I imagine passes for the town center, and sent her a few pictures. The sense of humor gets me into trouble all the time. Has for decades. The depression gets me into worse trouble, and has for decades.
“People working every night and day
Never give yourself no time
Got too many bills to pay
Slow down, nothing’s gonna disappear
If you give yourself some room
To move to the music you hear
Gotta get up, listen to me
Clappa your hands, stompa your feet”
No, Mamma Bear, I’m not intruding. But I needed the music to surge forward, push back the darkness. Maybe just for a little while. It’s a long ride back home, to stare at walls in a empty home.
Good tune. I think I’ll start with that one as I make my way back to Chadds Ford. Though that 14 hour stretch to the Maine/Canadian border with the music urging me onward and a new destination is very appealing. I know I won’t be welcome in Canada but after having been at the end of I95 dozens of times, seeing the beginning of it would be cool—in a geeky kind of way.
The Simmering Pot (May 9, 2020)
The motto of the infantry is “Follow me!” Yeah: don’t do that. If we are all in the same boat, put me on a little schooner to myself. I see Niagara Falls ahead and am thinking, “this could be fun? Hold my coffee and watch this.”
O Captain, My Captain!
But I just thought I’d write a little bit about that simmering pot and how we are all in the same boat. Yesterday, a couple posts caught my attention and it reflected a conversation I had with my cousin. The basic gist was “I’m having a really shitty ass day and I have no idea why.”
I know why. The American Psychological Association (APA) knows why but they really suck at explaining it and disseminating information (ever watched Patch Adams?) and my neighbor who owns a string of psych services knows why as he makes money hand over fist.
Whether that boat is heading towards Niagara Falls or just down a lazy river, we shouldn’t be in the damn boat. It’s unnatural. When the lockdown first started, it was like putting on a flame underneath a pot of stew with a lid on it to simmer. Our brains are the stew. My range top shows the effects of what happens if you allow it to simmer for too long—I’ll scrub it all up eventually.
I was going to insert, in bold, the number for the suicide prevention hot line here. It’s a number many need to have on their refrigerators these days. But many are still just at that simmer.
I’m an old pro at this. Battle hardened. I’ve had that flame on high for large stretches of my life. I had one psychologist mention to me that he felt I lived my first 30 years or so in “fight or flight” mode. Imagine what that does to the body? Not to mention the mind. My bad days are a bit different than most. I’ve learned to adapt and work through this crap. But it’s getting to me as well.
Bad days for no reason goes hand in hand with the total inability to know what day it is. Or month. Or hour. Is it nap time yet? A friend, a true battle hardened psychiatrist with tours in Afghanistan, explained that we have all lost our “anchor” events. Going to work, the weekly get-together with friends, the haircut appointments, and things like that kept us anchored in our lives, in our identity.
Me? I started out this lockdown with absolutely no idea who the hell I was. If you have followed my recent events, last year I stripped out of my identities with the final piece flying off at the beginning of February. Perfect timing.
O Captain, My Captain! [Now I see myself in place of George Washington in the famous crossing of the Delaware picture but with me in my birthday suit, holding a mug of coffee. If that mental picture is now in your mind: you’re welcome.]
I’m just tired. A friend once mentioned a long time ago in an efficiency in West Philadelphia that it seemed like I lived 10 years for every one that everybody else did. Another recently mentioned it seemed like I lived more in half my life that many could do in four lifetimes. I’m an old, old man, rocking in my chair, with the stew on simmer and listening to the hiss of the overflow hitting the hot steel of the stove top.
A couple months ago, that stew had the smell of an Italian beach, where I was supposed to be right now, finally getting some rest while I consider if I have anything left in my tank. Nowadays, at night especially, as I sit staring at the walls of the house that was supposed to be sold, it has the smell of an old age home, antiseptic and bleach with the occasional whiffs of the flowers that young people bring to their grandparents on special occasions.
But that’s just the depression talking. There is a lot it whispers to me at night. Just trash talk. Meaningless. Pointless. Forgotten like the mists that burn away with the rising of the sun.
We can start to believe anything is normal if we live it long enough. I’m a pro at that as well. But though consciously we think it is normal, our subconscious is that simmering pot. It knows better. We’re going to start to grind the hell out of our teeth at night. Bad dreams. Panics attacks possibly. The fun ones are the panic attacks while you are asleep having bad dreams. Small things, tiny things, even happy things that we have lived with all of our lives are going to annoy the living hell out of us. We’re going to have shitty ass days for no reason whatsoever. But there is a reason.
This shit ain’t normal.
O Captain, My Captain.
Hell, I guess to be honest the boat I was in was already going over the falls and the virus pulled it back. In many ways, it forced me into healthier paths. Some of my unhealthy coping mechanisms are locked out in lock down. I’m forced to look at myself in the mirror each morning and make a choice for myself.
I hate the fact that many of those mornings are at 4am. But I have my breakfast, establishing new routines. Strawberry frosted miniwheats with vanilla almond milk. Keeping busy, maybe taking a nap, then some yogurt and granola for lunch. –I don’t think I’ve had three meals a day since I was forced to in boot camp in ’88.
This shit ain’t normal: but you are okay. Just a normal reaction to an unnatural situation.
I’m not okay. But that’s been a well established and entertaining fact for four decades now. That chat with my psychiatrist friend recommended that people talk to people who are already screwed up. We’re good at this shit.
O Captain, My Captain.
Be your own captain. Establish anchors in your lives. (I guess that fits in with the whole boat and naked Washington and Niagara Falls theme?) You can’t use the old anchors so establish new ones. Work out—the endorphins are a hell of a natural medication. I personally recommend yoga and practicing mindfulness. Establish a routine and stick with it. Make it a point to keep a calendar and remind yourself as often as you can what day it is so days don’t blend into the next.
Me? I can’t. Long story. I tried. It bothers me. Everything bothers me. More and more. That’s why I am planning on reeling in my anchors and drifting for a while. I’ll keep writing though and you can keep reading.
Follow me on the website. And then follow the new one when I finally get it set up. And don’t read the Whitman poem. Fun words to play with but not the happiest of poems.
Navigate to your safe harbor to weather this storm, knowing that what you feel is natural and that you are part of a huge club. We should have t-shirts made. “I survived the Great Detention of 2020.”
Musings: On the Road (May 20, 2020)
The cap is back and the social distancing tour has begun. People and places. First it was two incredible people I met a long time ago. Brian I met in boot camp and then Tanya Knight-Klimas met him when he was a student at UPenn.
A drive up the NE Extension as I did so many years ago. Has it ever been not under construction?
Then a side trip to Ricketts Glen National Park and then I got lost. How many norths could there be? Now, I’m somewhere in NY.
Packing did not go well. At all.
Musings: Lake Placid (May 21, 2020)
Musings: NY Vs. Vermont (May 22, 2020)
I made it to Vermont. You wouldn’t guess, but it’s tricky finding a state. Something about ferries instead of bridges. Aye, at least I didn’t miss the lake.
PS. If I don’t make it back in time, my Pop needs his 12 pack of water dropped off. He still thinks I’m in PA. I just winged it with him instead of the lecture. Can anybody help a guy out?
Musings: Stowe, Vermont (May 23, 2020)
Papa Bear this is Bandit. Or Renegade. Or Foolish Wandering Cap Guy (I need a better call sign): the package is picked up. I repeat: the package is picked up.
I told you all I was making a beer run. Nobody takes me seriously.
Musings: Welcome to NH; Closed for Renovations (May 23, 2020)
That’s it! Where’s John Candy? He’s letting me in! Welcome to New Hampshire: Closed. (To be fair, the mountain was not closed because of Covid. It was closed because it was still too muddy for vehicles to make it up to the top safely. I’ll be back.)
Musings: Trenton and Bar Island, Maine (May 23, 2020)
Into Maine. I took the wrong way. I’m sure there is a very beautiful, scenic trip. I didn’t take it. Leaving from Mt. Washington, New Hampshire, I entered into a part of Maine that seemed like a dilapidated, faded New Hampshire. Sometimes, I found, the quickest routes are not the best. I should have gone straight south. Eh? I did find my new Christmas Present and a damn good cup of coffee.
Evening with the cousins in Trenton Maine and then Bar Island.
This was just an interesting point to me. I got there at high tide. At low tide, a sandbar is revealed and you can walk or drive across.
Musings: Deer Isle, Maine (May 23, 2020)
I did the circuit around the isle (not island). Maine is different. The sunlight is different. 51 degrees feels like 61. Smells are different. In Bay Harbor, you couldn’t smell the ocean. In Deer Isle, it was there. Steinbeck started out here. He mentioned something about if there is magic still left in the world, it exists in Maine. He also wrote something about, in 1961, how a miserable person would kill you faster than any germ.
Musings: Closed! (May 24, 2020)
All closed. I’m going to bed.
Musings: Cousins! Westfield, Mass. (May 25, 2020)
Breakfast and cornhole with family. Jacob and I made an amazing comeback. And. I think I earned a perfect 10 for form. Now off to Rhode Island.
Musings: Newport, Rhode Island (May 25, 2020)
Can’t say much about the drivers in Connecticut (slamming to a stop on a highway because you don’t know how to merge?) but it got better in Rhode Island. The boat yard. I always said if I could pick up my house and move it, I would. I think I found the way to do it.
A few last shots from the road. Bumper to bumper traffic? Yeah, I’m getting the hell out of here. Nice town though.
The Boys of Summer (May 29, 2020)
For love of youth. For love of immortality. For love of that single pitch that can define the outcome of nine innings. For love of the game.
I always hated baseball when I was a kid. It was boring. I would much rather watch the lighting fast play of football and hockey. I remember being allowed to stay up late in 1980 to watch the Phillies beat the Kansas City Royals in the World Series. I can still name the starting line up. Then, I can’t tell you who even played for the Phillies for the next 20 years.
Even the fights in baseball were boring. They reminded me of a brawl among a bunch of six year old girls. Does anybody ever even land a punch? One fight in hockey equals a couple decades of fights in baseball.
But then the world changed. It slowed down and I slowed down as well. Instead of flying through the 18 hour drive to Miami from DC, racing for the pole position in traffic groups, I started taking my time. It was then I started noticing things. And started noticing baseball.
Baseball might be slow moving, but it’s an intricate game. While I always thought it was just nine athletes taking the field, I came to realize it was more like a chess match, and the pitching mound is where the king sits: the loneliest place in sports. His troops are marshaled around him like knights, bishops and rooks, but it’s just him against the opposing batter.
Kevin Costner helped. His baseball trilogy gave me insights into the game I thought boring, bringing a human perspective to athletes. At the beginning of the game in “For Love of the Game,” there is a monologue that has always stuck with me. It’s the true life announcer talking about a Costner’s character, an aging ace who might be pitching his last game after a long career with one team.
“…you get the feeling Billy Chapel isn’t pitching against left handers, he isn’t pitching against pinch hitters, he isn’t pitching against the Yankees. But tonight, he’s pitching against time, he’s pitching against the future, against age, [against his career ending.] And tonight, he might be able to use that old aching arm one more time to push the sun back into the sky and give us one more day of summer.”
And then we can tumble down the rabbit hole.
The boys of summer will not be here this year. Oh, they will, in some form, in a stunted season with everything changed and empty stadiums. We’ll be watching our boys take the field from our air conditioned homes without even the opportunity to head down to the ballpark.
The rabbit hole can go even deeper. The 1972 book of the same name about the Brooklyn Dodgers moving to Los Angeles. The Dylan Thomas poem that gave the book it’s name. The Don Henley song that borrows from everything about the regrets of youth.
“After the boys of summer are gone…”
They are gone this summer. What will summer even look like? What will it look like in the fall when playoff baseball comes round the bend?
But there are other boys of summer. I was one. With the Georgia ground the anvil and the summer sun the sledgehammer. 1988 and then continued in the summer of 1989. Ft. Benning, Georgia. I think the anvil, sledge hammer and drill sergeants were supposed to shape me into something else. It didn’t. And that’s why I did a lot of push ups. Lots and lots and lots. My stubbornness became the rock that broke the sledge hammer.
A lot of people say boot camp is the hardest time of their lives. For me, it was one of the easiest. Two summers where I did not have to think. I was told when to sleep, when to eat, when to train and even when to use the bathroom. What could be easier?
The hardest thing about boot camp was staying up late. I was part of the last training battalion to go through Harmony Church, barracks that had been built in the 1950’s. No AC. So I would have to wait until everybody fell asleep so I could turn the room fans directly on me so I could sleep.
Advanced training, 1989. Where I would eventually graduate and earn the baby blue chord of the infantry. In a very full life, I still consider it one of my finest achievements, one of my proudest moments. There was a shaping that was done by that anvil and sledgehammer. A bad attitude. A cockiness and confidence. Yeah, I’m from SW Philly. Now add Infantry to that.
A shaping and a tangent. A tangent that can become it’s own story. Brian. I met Brian in Georgia. He was from the Scranton area and was heading towards Philadelphia for college. He would do his one weekend a month up in Scranton with his mortar battalion and I would do mine in Philly with my mechanized infantry battalion.
Things like boot camp bond people. It’s supposed to. Companies pay thousands of dollars for the kind of bonding experiences they can get for free by signing up for the military. The fastest of friendships are born. And then they pass into Autumn, a wisp of memory without the Georgia summer to keep hammering you closer.
Autumn found Brian and I in his dorm room at the University of Pennsylvania. A few Autumns later in a cockroach infested efficiency in West Philly with a cat playground built along the walls and up into the loft. It would also include trips up into Wilkes Barre, long drives up a turnpike that has been under construction since it was first built.
“Fishbowls, Tequila and the Meaning of Life” came out of one those long nights in West Philly. Peter would eventually come along with kendo and karate. Their lovely girlfriends who would become wives would follow, Tanya and Kathy. Friendships that would span decades with little contact for years at a time.
“Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief” is from some long forgotten nursery rhyme? Fishbowls have stuck with me and so has that. Brian became the doctor. Pete the lawyer. That left me to become the Indian Chief. I did my best, boys, but no tribe would take me in, so I became a tribe of my own.
It’s time to be the boy of summer again. This 49 year old body is old and achy. I’m lazy and out of shape. But I’m still SW Philly. I’m still Infantry. I still have that bad attitude. And I am still wondering about fishbowls and the meaning of life—not so much the tequila.
I want to see if I can break that sledgehammer again.
North Cape May, NJ (May 30, 2020)
The plan was to run to the grocery store and pick up some desperately needed essentials: cream and sugar for the coffee. Then to come home and do some also desperately needed weeding and cleaning. But it was such a gorgeous day, I said the hell with it and ran away from home. To childhood.
More precisely, to North Cape May. It was the extension of my world as a child, a long bridge from SW Philly. Grandmom’s house. Going back there is always like diving into memories and splashing through childhood. What is the saying? “Your cousins are your first best friends.”
Dana was closest to me in age, just a couple months older than my brother.It was the three of us, to be joined occasionally by her older brothers: Dave, Doug, Ken and Mike. But it was mostly us three, with the freedom denied us in SW Philly. Did we even have a curfew?
North Cape May was a small, sleepy, little town where the ferries would leave for Lewes, DE., My grandfather bought a house there in 1972 and my Coci (aunt in Polish) would later buy one as well.
In later years, between when I started driving and the advent of GPS, getting lost was a given. I still can’t figure out the streets, a maze of houses with three foot fences and sun-scorched lawns. The water-tower was my point of reference. Both grandmom and Coci lived on streets off the tower, so I would just drive somewhere close to the ferry, hang a left, and then eventually find it.
It was a huge playground for children. Everything was safe and quiet. Days filled with lathering up with suntan lotion and then making the long hike down to the bay. “Saving the horseshoe crabs” by dragging them back into the water. Walking out on the wooden bridges to the piles of massive rocks, the jetties. Sitting on them with the waves crashing against them, wondering if the incoming tide would leave us trapped. Walking along the almost empty beaches to the channel, where the boats and ferries would come and go.
The older cousins would take me on longer adventures. Bike rides, crabbing in the inlets and maybe a drive up to get ice cream at night.
Peaceful, cool nights with the breezes coming in from the ocean. Trundle beds making one huge bed in Grandmom’s room. Or sleeping in Grandmom Gladys’ enclosed front porch across the street.
Away from the city. Away from time. Away from traffic and sounds.
There’s more people there now, with the beaches more full, but kids still playing on the jetties or walking out with their parents to fish for flounder along the channel.
One of oldest memories is splashing in the bay with Coci on the beach. I stepped on something slimy and it came up to stare at me with its one eye pointed upward. Terrified, screaming. Coci! Running up to her. “That was a flounder. You should have grabbed it. It was dinner.”
Coci’s house. The house of smells. Uncle Becky snoring away in the recliner while the Phillies played and the best cook in the family cooking for the army that would descend. Somehow or another, some live crabs would always get loose to chase after little kids toes to be scooped up by Coci right before the crabs found them.
Weighing Anchor (June 4, 2020)
I was just laying there, a 49 year old version of Huck Finn. Stretched out in the tiny boat, with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth instead of a long piece of grass and with my arm around my coffee maker instead of a fishing pole. Somewhere on the Mississippi (sounds better and easier to pronounce than the Schuylkill), just gently rocking in the soft, easy current on the side of the river with the boat anchored on the bank.
Not much to do or say. Not much to write. Just relax. Take in some sun. Take in the absence of things. The absence of things can be as powerful as the presence of things. The absence of a business partner who only wanted to be an employee. The absence of some piece of garbage with no honor or integrity that screwed me out of $35,000…
…think aloha, Chris, breath in aloha. Don’t go there, Chris. Just drift. Bob on the surface. “Keep a nice flow for your mom down in Philly…”
May he rot in…I know, Will Smith, I’ll listen to the song again. “Sometimes people mistake nice for soft,” but back to that boat…
Just bobbing. Relaxing. Taking in the sun. Aye: I was way ahead of all of you. I was supposed to be taking this year off. This is not quite how I planned it though. That first bump of wood on wood had me waking up a little bit. The bumping of the all the other boats got to me. Anybody want coffee? Will you people get back to work and your normal lives so I can gloat a little bit? Oh, you can’t?
And then I sat up, looked around me, and realized I was part of a massive flotilla. I knew what I was doing here but so many people didn’t. And a storm was coming, blackening the horizon. But I just laid back down again, lit another cigarette, and like the sun dreams of beach days, have time swiped away from me. The Great Detention of 2020 had begun.
Cause and effect: quickly on the heels of the Great Detention of 2020 was the Covid hibernation, where days turned into weeks and then turned into months, all meshed together. Time compressed. A day ending before you even knew it had begun. Not knowing if it was Saturday or Thursday. Every day, just a day ending in “day.”
“I’ve lived through a lot,” said one 97 year old woman in an elderly commuity. “The Great Depression and wars and riots and change. I saw a man land on the moon, old Tricky Dick forced to quit, and a host of other things. But this. This I have never seen. Not that I get to see much, being locked in this fucking room.”
With the storm coming, and more boats joining the flotilla, more voices and masks and people not wanting my coffee, I knew it was time. So I weighed anchor, casting off from the gentle current of the side of the river, to bump my way through the mass of boats. Some as simple as mine, some huge yachts, some just simple plastic tubs and everything in between.
We’re all in the same boat, I wrote. I was wrong. We’re all in the same flotilla is closer. Sleep, sleep, said Covid. Just nap for a few more months. And it’s hard not to heed it. I’ve lived through a lot as well, though not as much as that lady, but I ain’t never seen anything like this. My mind can’t wraparound it, can’t grasp the reality of it or the new reality it is creating. It’s as if the old ways are back, fight or flight. But with the inability to do neither, my mind just wants to submerge in the sunshine.
It was time to get into the quicker current. Time to take the tiller and steer my way into that center of the stream, to force myself into action. Or at least reaction. That storm is a coming, I knew, as I crossed from the lighter blue of the river’s edge into the deeper blue of the center, where things move faster. Maybe I could outrun the storm? Or maybe I could head into it? Maybe I could find someone who would like a cup of coffee?
Up through Pennsylvania. Safer waters. Childhood friends and things I knew, like the everlasting roadwork on the Northeast Extension. Something old, something new: Ricketts Glen State Park. A bustling corner store, on crossroads with nothing else on them, serving hoagies, trail mix and sodas to visitors. A bit more quiet than usual. Masks slipping down under noses. “I hate this damn mask.”
Something borrowed. Borrowed memories of cousins and cousins of cousins. I was there once. A long, long time ago. Upstate NY, after taking the wrong “north” and ending up 45 minutes from where I started after 4 hours. Who knew there could be so many norths?
Further north, up the byways and highways to Lake Placid. Home of the winter Olympics and the Miracle on Ice. Up along roads with rivers rushing along them into a small town nestled in the mountains. A different feel to the air and the sunshine. Empty streets, a closed museum, but knowing the forests are teeming with hikers. Rivers of cars parked along the road like a sandbar between the river the and the road.
But further north. A highway. Strange signs that I had never seen before. Montreal: 40 Miles. Unseen but known. At the border there will be a “forbidden” sign. For the safety of our people, you are not welcome. Go back to your virus infected land. I didn’t think my FOP card would do me any good with that and I wanted to head east anyway.
Into the blue, to finish the old saying. Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. The blue of Lake Champlain, the waters both reflecting the sunlight and soaking it in so it scintillates. Back down a highway after crossing into Vermont, knowing I missed something. Finding a hotel. Yes, I was essential personal. Didn’t you notice my “Live Aloha” mask? Aloha is essential during these times.
I would later find I was staying in the largest city in Vermont: Burlington. It just had the feel that it could fit into a suburb of Philly with room to spare. But I had missed something. So I headed east the following morning, by going Northwest. You sort of had to be there. I might never be there again, so with the morning sun and a full cup of coffee, I made the drive up through the islands on Lake Champlain that I had missed coming down. GPS can be fickle things. They don’t understand the current of the river. Yeah, that center path might get me there quicker, but quicker is not the point. So over bridges and a different type of sunlight to South Hero, then to Grand Isle and then to North Hero. Isle La Motte not too far away and then into Alburg and almost bumping into Canada again and the “keep your virus infected ass out of our country” unseen sign. But then finally east on a beer run.
Just rambling and memories for later on. Definitely not Pulitzer material, or even journalistic, but seeds to put into my collection to take them out and pot them when I get home to watch them grow into the memories I know them to be.
John Steinbeck, when first starting out, wrote about the immensity of the country and how could he ever hope to traverse it? My first two days had me thinking how small it was and why I had never been up here? In 1961, Steinbeck had road maps and atlases that showed the crisscrossing highways of an enormous country. I had GPS telling me it was only this many hours. And I was taking the long route.
10 hours and 35 minutes straight through if I chose. To my final destination. I have to find the other quote where he wrote about how you need a destination, even if you never make it there. But the quote everybody knows and uses is:
“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policies and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.
It was just nice to be in the middle of the river again, with the anchor nestled in the boat. Prepared for temporary moorings, landfalls to make forays into America of today.
The X [Ambassadors] Factor (June 5, 2020)
Run away with me
Lost souls and reverie
Running wild and running free
Two kids, you and me
A song that found me on the radio a few years back. Renegades. New music sucks. But this one I liked. I bought the album. I hate sounding like a high school kid making mix tapes. The scene in the movie “Almost Famous” where she gives her brother the album and tells him to “listen to the words” makes me squirm. But I’ll be damned if the album wasn’t talking to me. There was something that was connecting me with something bigger.
It’s our time to make a move
Our time to make amends
It’s our time to break the rules
And I began. Other new music found me. Florence and the Machine. Mumford and Sons. Keleo. ZZ Ward. And I found myself at a concert filled with kids, quickly being escorted upstairs to watch from balcony seats. Good show, but something still tugging at me.
Okay, most new music sucks.
Their new album, Orion. That one really screwed me up. Coming at me with an attitude.
Hey child, hey child
We were born wild
Let your neon lights
Keep shinin’ bright
I found myself in Chicago last year. A concert ticket for the House of Blues. A travelin’ man. What the hell was I doing here? In Chicago. Alone. Traveling alone, for pleasure, for the first time in? Just a few months after asking both my business partner and my wife for a divorce, with my wife taking it far, far better.
Nobody knew who the hell the Blues Brothers were! I’m wandering the Chicago streets, following an online Blue Brothers walking tour. Street sweeper, cabbie, cop, random people. Nope, no idea. In the friggin bar across from where Jake and Elwood were blown up by Carrie Fischer. Chicago Black Hawks but no Blues Brothers. Nothing!
So, I toasted them anyway. Outside of course, having a cigarette on a rooftop bar with Plexiglas separating me from the non lepers. A Belgian blond. A blond came out to join me. –don’t go there. HE was South African, traveling the US before heading to Hong Kong.
“I have no idea why you are taking a selfie while saying cheers,” he said, “but do you want me to take the picture?” Young guy. Edward. He didn’t know who the Blues Brothers were either but promised to watch the movie as soon as he could. We smoked in our leper colony and sipped beer as we talked.
He shot straight up, sloshing beer all over. “You’re kidding? The X Ambassadors are here?!? That’s my favorite band!” –young guys are very excitable. Was I ever that excitable? But he was immediately hitting buttons on his phone. In a few seconds, he looked up smiling, asked the waitress for another round, and said “I have a ticket.”
My feet go boom boom boom
Boom boom boom, boom boom boom
My heart beats boom boom boom
Boom boom boom, boom boom boom
High speed, go zoom zoom zoom
Zoom zoom zoom, zoom zoom zoom
My feet go boom boom boom
Walkin’ away from you.
Edward and I exchanged numbers and parted and I continued my walking tour of the Blueless Blues Brothers city, to see where the epic ending occurred, saying to Edward I would meet up with him at the show.
I hadn’t even told my business partner I was taking an extended weekend—he wasn’t talking to me and I had had enough of him. Boom boom boom. I was still living with my wife. I had gotten a brief, fierce hug as I was leaving for the airport. No boom boom boom there. Just a heaviness, a sadness, things left unsaid as they were unexplainable. But we were still living together. Friendly. Amicable. With neither of our families understanding. I don’t think Tracy and I really understood either.
I arrived at the House of Blue early. Finally!!! The house built by the Blues Brothers. Statues, t-shirts, memorabilia! Someone in Chicago knew who the Blues Brothers were! A friend had hooked me up with the premium package: early admission, open bar and a meet and greet with the band. But there was a catch. I received two passes instead of the one I was expecting. I called the only person I knew in Chicago.
“Edward, where are you at?”
“I was going to be leaving in a while.”
“Get here,” I said, “now. I have an extra pass. Do you want to meet your favorite band?”
“You’re shitting me,” he replied. You could hear it in his voice. He knew I wasn’t. Knew he had to run immediately
“It’s 6:05. Doors close at 6:30. You lose your pass at 6:28.”
I wasn’t in any rush. Meeting the band? Eh. But I did want to hit that open bar. Check the place out in an intimate, private setting. Sip a beer and take it all in. Before I headed up to the balcony seat I had purchased before I knew my friend had gotten me the pass.
6:17. Run, Edward, run! A squat, blonde, bull like South African guy huffing and puffing his way over the bridge.
We were the last in line. I was the oldest. The young women in front of us were positively gushing. “I’m telling Sam Harris I want to have his babies,” the one young lady said. What was I going to say to Sam? Or Casey or Adam? I hadn’t even know their names.
My turn. Everybody had to go in pairs and Edward let me lead the way. Fist bumps only we were told. There was a young lady being drug away by security, screaming something about beautiful babies. I stood in front of Sam.
“Thanks for teaching me that all new music doesn’t suck,” I said.
He laughed, we chatted, Edward gushed a little bit. We had our photo opp and then went to explore the place. The girls had been drug inside of the building instead of being escorted outside and they were nice enough to get us the first round. She was still discussing the very real possibility of having Sam’s babies.
The crowd of kids started to pour in. What the hell was I doing here? I started to scope out the balcony seats, wondering which one was mine. Edward saw me and handed me a fresh beer. “Look Chris, you did me this awesome favor so let me do you a favor. Don’t take the balcony seat. You don’t understand. Look at where we are standing. This is where we’ll watch the show from. Front stage.”
Boom boom boom. The girls were more than happy to share their electronic cigarette, Edward was more than happy to keep bringing me beers, so why not?
What an awesome show! Edward was right.
And then the X Ambassadors got me. Later in the show. Hold me Down.
We’ll be the last ones dancing when the lights go out
When there’s no one to hold you, I will still hold you down…
I couldn’t get my mind around the song for some reason, couldn’t push it away. Something was bothering me about it. I am the savior archetype, holding everyone down, all my life. Holding it together. I was on the verge of flying apart.
You don’t talk but speak so loudly
You smile, but your eyes look cloudy
You say someone left you broken
But I’m here with the door wide open.
“Broken Things” is the working title of the book I am writing on living with functional depression. I set things in motion. Maybe fucking Sam and the band did? My identity was being stripped away. A choice. A difficult choice. But a necessary one. Business owner and husband. Dog walker and cat caretaker. Son, brother. What was left to hold me together? Who would hold me down?
Fast forward to May, 2020. “Breaker, breaker, Papa Bear, this is Bandit. Or Renegade. Or Foolish Wandering Cap Guy (I need a better call sign). The package is picked up. I repeat: the package is picked up.”
I really did make a beer run to Stowe, Vermont. Papa Bear had me on the phone every day. What an amazing area. The ride up and down the mountain with the switchbacks and waterfalls now that ski and snowboard season had passed.
Then down the mountain, across Vermont and into New Hampshire. There was an entire column forming in my head as I made my way to Mount Washington, where you can drive to the peak. The words! The ideas! I could feel the wings unfurling. Great and mighty pinions made to catch the thermals to take me to the high winds, the powerful winds. Far above the lowlands where I was slowly threatening to fly apart.
Mount Washington, like everything else, was closed.
Maine or bust.
Papa Bear: I gotcha, brother. I gotcha. Always keep in mind: though me and Momma Bear love you, you’re the only person my kids like.
Deer Isle (not island) was the first stop on Steinbeck’s journey, the first “destination.” Someone to hold me down was a goal of mine. Deer Isle was as well.
Compass Points (June 9, 2020)
This one got away from me: San Francisco and Maine
Go West, young man! So I did. West to East, but first I had to go north. And then back south. The bus took me to the San Francisco side of the Golden State Bridge. I let it pass. What’s the point? I’ll get off on the other side and walk back.
Winging it does have it’s downfalls. There is no stop on the other side. The bus just went right past it. I watched it pass with my anticipation of an upcoming stop deflating into a WTH? As we slowly started climbing into the hills, I’m looking around. More than a few miles along, I’m thinking to myself, “I’m screwed and this hike is going to be far, far longer than expected.”
A tap on my shoulder. I turn around and an elderly gentleman has a smile on his face. “Happens all the time. You wanted to go to the other side of the bridge?” I nodded. “Just tell the bus driver. We’ll be pulling into a station in about 10 miles and he’ll be able to direct you.”
With a free pass, and directions to tell the next bus driver exactly where I needed to be, I was heading south again.
[Dear San Francisco: Winging it and total lack of planning aside: if it is so common that strangers on a bus and bus drivers have a knowing smile, shouldn’t there be a huge sign somewhere that says “THERE IS NO STOP ON THE OTHER SIDE.”]
After winding my way through a marina, jumping off the bus in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere with directions on a short walk to somewhere or another, I finally made it to the starting point. Sitting there and looking out across the bridge, at the suicide prevention signs, and the bay, I realized it was also an anniversary. Or close enough.
It was early September, 2019. In late August, 1989, almost 30 years ago to the day, I graduated from advanced training at Ft. Benning, Georgia and earned the baby blue chord of the infantry. To commemorate, I posted on Facebook:
“To all those who think I am lazy and out of shape, I am. But I can still walk all of you ‘in shape’ people into the ground. Once Infantry, always Infantry. Hoo rah, my ass. “Follow me” is our motto.”
And I started walking.
The drive east into Maine, well, sucked. My apologies to all of you Mainers out there. I was absolutely sure there is a beautiful and scenic route to take, but going from Mount Washington, New Hampshire, following maps for the quickest route, it is like you enter a dilapidated and dryer New Hampshire, where the colors are fading along with the towns. There was just a unwelcoming heat along the byways I was following. Sunlight that had been so sparkly through the leaves of trees with hints of great mountains in the backdrop turned into a depressive weight. Where the hell was Maine?
It really wasn’t all that far at all. Portland was about 2 ½ hours away, but more south than west. That would have had me hit 95 or the coastal route, the way I came back.
I trudged across the Golden Gate Bridge. To Trudge. “To walk slowly and with heavy steps, typically because of exhaustion or harsh conditions.” Bikes were whizzing by, joggers jostling for lane space, couples and families almost skipping. I trudged. It’s the way I walk. A purposeful gait that can carry me anywhere, far after the non lazy and in shape people would drop.
A destination? That way? I tried to find Steinbeck’s quote on it that I liked, but I couldn’t. But it mirrored my own thoughts on it. You need a destination but don’t have to actually reach it. A destination could be a mid point or an ending point or somewhere way off the map and beyond compass points. My destination as I trudged across the Golden Gate Bridge? Technically, it was where I had been the day before, at Rodin’s The Thinker at the Legion of Honor Museum. Across the bridge, up along the coastal trail to the park and then see if I had enough gas left in my tank to continue along.
My destination? I was already there, trudging across the bridge, out on the west coast. Away. And inward. Aware of the cars and trucks rumbling across the bridge, making way for bikers and joggers. Aware of the boats passing underneath with Alcatraz far off in the bay. Aware that to my right was the great Pacific, a seemingly endless expanse.
I was exhausted. Strung out and pulled so thin I didn’t think I could stretch anymore. And worse was coming. My office manager was about to leave on maternity leave. My partner and employees would do what they had always done: nothing. I should have let the place die years ago. A decade ago. But I needed to hold it up for a few more months while I sold it and get the hell out.
I learned long ago that I could trudge my way through and towards anything, long past where all others would fail. But that day, it was about the coastal trail in San Francisco.
The byways finally ended in Maine and I was on a highway towards Bangor. I would have stopped to see Steven King if I knew where he lived, and if he had invited me—I only like to go where I am invited. I’m funny like that. I was NOT invited into Canada. I really wanted to go further east into Nova Scotia. But I would settle for as far as I could go: the beginning of Highway 95. As a student at the University of Miami, the end of 95 had been a part of my life for 6 years. Long stretches of the highway defined my life between Philadelphia and Washington DC. Between DC and Miami. But I had never been to the beginning. I wanted to see that.
Trenton, Maine was a pit stop. The gateway into Bar Harbor. Out of the way, but home is where family is and my cousin was there.
A pit stop along the coastal trail. It’s the oddest thing. The bridge is far behind you, as are many hills and beaches. Then, the path takes you into a ritzy enclave of houses. It’s weird. You see hikers with backpacks and their water bottles and walking sticks walking along sidewalks next to multi million dollar homes. There was a good granite bench after I had seen China Beach, so I had sit, spread my belongings on the bench, and stared at he house across the street. It was massive, but rundown. Empty.
I knew I could walk another 20 miles at that point if not more, but I wasn’t in any rush to get anywhere. My exhaustion had nothing to do with my feet or legs. It had to do with my soul and spirit. In the sunshine, on the cool marble, I felt a little lighter.
A well dressed gentleman was passing by and stopped. He had to be from the neighborhood.
“Do you know who’s house that is,” he asked, motioning to the abandoned home across from where I was sitting.
“No, sir, I don’t.” –I always found that being polite opened up doorways.
“Look at the bench you are sitting on,” he said. “Have a good day.” And he continued his walk.
I moved my stuff to look at the inscriptions on the bench. And then on the next one over. The benches were dedicated to the memory of the parents of Robin Williams and his wife. I was sitting across from the former home of Robin Williams, whose exhaustion got the better of him.
“I always thought that being alone was the worst thing that could happen to me,” Williams is attributed to saying, “but I realized that the worst thing was being surrounded by people that made you feel alone.”
It inspired a post about suicide that you can find here. It began percolating in my head as I gathered my things and continued my trudge up the hill and back into the forests.
A trailer park in Maine, a gateway to Bar Harbor and Arcadia National Park (closed). Dana and Adam took me down to the town to where they would be working once things opened up. THIS was the Maine I was expecting.
The coast of Maine is like the fjords of Scandinavia. Please excuse me as I get a bit geologically geeky. It has to do with the ice age. When the glaciers receded, they gouged the earth. So, instead of the coastlines in Jersey or Florida, you have “hands” sticking out into the ocean. Think of a spread palm. The “palm” is the starting point, like Trenton, Maine. The “fingers” are the islands and isles. It creates a beautiful landscape of inlets and islands, of sandbars and deep channels where the tide creates entire new landscapes.
I had two “destinations” in my first run up into New England. The first was the beginning of 95. Looking at Google maps, I always wondered why I had never been there. It is only 10 ½ hours from where I lived and yet I had made the 22 hour drive to Miami a dozen times. With the border to Canada closed, though, I decided to make my way to the other first “destination,” Deer Isle, Steinbeck’s first destination.
Deer Isle was as different from Bar Harbor as Maine is from Miami. Bar Harbor is where the cruise ships come in. It was odd to me, but I couldn’t even smell the sea there. With Deer Isle, you knew you were going to experience something different when you first drive across the beautiful bridge. It’s a sleepy little place, made even sleepier with the virus. It was downright deserted. The smell of the sea is pungent in the air. Causeways bring you across inlets.
I got lost. No big deal. It was an island. I didn’t even put a destination into my maps, just looked and saw that the main road takes you on a circuit around the isle and back out to the beginning. The drive had a relaxing feel, with the harbor filled with lobster boats and backyards filled with lobster traps. Steinbeck was essentially bullied into making Deer Isle a destination on his way up to northern Maine. I’m glad I made it one of mine.
I reached my destination in San Francisco: Hero Legion, home of The Thinker. I got there at an ideal time as well. It was closed. I wish I was a better photographer. It was just…perfect. The massive monument of a nude of heroic proportions sits with his chin resting on his hand. It is argued that it was originally made to represent Dante Alighieri, author of the Divine Comedy, but is has come to represent thinkers and creative types, at rest but never at rest. With the park closed, The Thinker sat imprisoned behind a black iron fence.
I’m not really sure where I went from there? On the previous day, I had started here and then hiked the coastal trail south, winding down the cliffs to the old public baths and Land’s End Lookout. I’d eventually have a very expensive cup of coffee that was not very good and then walk down along the beach and then make my way to the beginning of Golden State Park.
I think I just walked right down the hill from the museum to the park and ambled along the edge until I found a place that served coffee, just a corner store wrapping up for the day. It turned out to be a damn good cup of coffee. I sat outside drinking it—they were kind enough to tell me that I could use their outdoor seating as long as I wanted, as they had a lot to do inside. I sat thinking of the The Thinker. Imprisoned. It was the end of another day in San Francisco.
It was tough leaving Deer Isle behind. I stopped at the park before the bridge and just sat there for a while thinking about things with the massive arch my backdrop, that smell of the sea wrapping me with the cooler winds. But I finally set out along the backways and byways to get me to 95. I had a date at a biker bar.
I got the recommended biker bar right at sunset. It was closed of course. Route 1 is defiantly the way to take up through Maine. It is just more relaxing and scenic, connecting all of the “palms.” 95 is great as well, though my damn EZ Pass wasn’t working and I’m still waiting for all of the tickets to come in. I needed speed now.
Rolling through the Maine forests along 95 is picturesque, but I had only planned on making it into Massachusetts and find the first hotel. On all of my trips and travels, I wanted to be in before dark, just take it easy and enjoy the country side. Bar Harbor to Massachusetts was pushing it. I had called ahead. Hotel were accepting travelers, I was told, if you told them you were essential. Isn’t having a place to set up my coffee maker essential? I thought so.
Safe Harbor (June 11, 2020)
…I have a need of wilder, crueler waves;
They sicken of the calm those who knew the storm…
Traveling through the night on a Massachusetts highway, I had a need of a better road, a hotel, and a decent cup of coffee. The way things were looking though, I was ready to settle for any motel and a hot, coffee like substance.
I’m not sure why, but everybody has it in their heads that the journey that I am planning has something to do with campsites, living off the land, and dying at the hooves of a caribou. No. My SUV is outfitted to serve as a camper with an air mattress, sleeping bag, sheets, pillows and even a battery powered fan. I’ll now be adding to that a tent and portable portapotty. The last thing I am expecting to do, however, is use them.
I’m a snob. I like hotels. I like nice hotels with turndown service. I like hot showers and fluffy towels to pat my bottom. For me, “roughing it” means making do with the in-room coffee maker instead of my own.
My normal MO for traveling is to check into a hotel and then find the nearest Wal-Mart and buy a coffee maker, sugar and my Carnation non dairy liquid creamer—original flavor. If the room doesn’t have a fridge, that’s what the ice bucket is for. I bring my own coffee and grinder. At the end of my stay, I leave a note on the coffee maker, “please find a good home for this. It was only used during my stay.”
My journey is about exploration, America and myself: not mosquitoes. But who knows what is going to happen?
I did eventually find a cup of coffee somewhere along the Massachusetts Expressway. The coffee sucked and I did consider just making use of the camping gear, but then I finally found a motel that would take me in—about an hour away and about three minutes away from my cousin’s house. I think my cousins kind of like me, but I doubt that they would have appreciated me showing up at midnight.
My cousin, Doug, handed me a plate of breakfast as soon as I walked in—I guess he does like me? And I had a nice morning of family time in Westfield. Chatting, coffee, teaming up with my younger cousin Jacob for a comeback cornhole win and then I was off for my final “destination” on this trip: Newport, Rhode Island.
South and then east through Hartford and skirting Providence. Going through these “main” cities is always anticlimactic for me. If you blink your eyes too fast, they are behind you. On a map, Philadelphia looks like any other dot. Driving it, though, takes a good 45 minutes. That’s what I’m used to. The massiveness of Washington DC, the long stretch of puzzle pieces that make up Miami or even the spread out super sprawl of Dallas.
It was a nice drive on a gorgeous day, off the main highways and onto the access roads and bridges to take me to a boat building town in the smallest of states. And traffic. I had completely forgotten it was Memorial Day weekend. What the hell had happened to the stay at home order? I mean, I was ignoring it but I’m special—those on a quest are always afforded special status. What were all these cars doing on my road?
I drove into Newport and immediately thought to myself: virus spike. I don’t know if the lock down or the gorgeous day had gotten the better of people, but the place was packed. Taking five changes to get through one light took me to the center of town and I just wanted to turn around and leave. Run like hell?
The restaurants and bars were still only serving take out, but the outside seating was packed. The wall along the cobblestone street had no more room for another butt. The parks were jammed as well. I made my way down to the wharf, a safe harbor, far less crowded. A very nice security guard let me in and I wandered around.
It was closed to traffic, much more quiet, and I could walk out on the piers. Yachts were lined up in the water and I watched a guy and a woman take a self propelled surfboard out for rides. It was getting a good few feet out of the water at the highest speed.
In the boatyard was something I had never seen before, only read about. A boat, easily three to four times the size of my house, was in a cradle on a transport. The transport’s tires were 10 feet tall. I had always said if I could just pick up my house and move it a mile northeast, it would be perfect. Here I saw a way to do it. Can I get a loaner?
But it was time to head home. Part one, the trial run, was over. What awaited me was the worst part of the entire trip. Massachusetts roads might suck, but they were nothing compared to crossing the George Washington Memorial Bridge in New York. Up through the Bronx like a speedway and then choosing to go over or under the bridge. I went under. Wrong choice? Water pouring down on my car, no lanes, weird turns and construction. Never again. I want a shirt that says, “I survived the GW Bridge.” It is really an accomplishment in and of itself.
One interesting thing is the uniqueness of the comparison: GW Bridge to New Jersey. From driving hell to driving heaven: six lanes of traffic, all well paved, straight as an arrow with gentle hills diverting me back towards Philadelphia. Back to the known, back to a safe harbor and home. Back to the calm. Back to fair weather, knowing it would chafe at me soon enough.
Some kind of wrap? 2,000 miles taught me a lot. 1) I suck at packing and organizing. 2) 6-8 hours a day driving each day and take my time, 4-5 hours if I just want to stop and see something. It’s not like I’ll be in any rush. 3) Smaller coffee maker and higher watt power converter. 4) Wilder and crueler waves is the calm.
by Dorothy Parker
This level reach of blue is not my sea;
Here are sweet waters, pretty in the sun,
Whose quiet ripples meet obediently
A marked and measured line, one after one.
This is no sea of mine, that humbly laves
Untroubled sands, spread glittering and warm.
I have a need of wilder, crueler waves;
They sicken of the calm, who knew the storm.
So let a love beat over me again,
Loosing its million desperate breakers wide;
Sudden and terrible to rise and wane;
Roaring the heavens apart; a reckless tide
That casts upon the heart, as it recedes,
Splinters and spars and dripping, salty weeds.
Musings: Baltimore Inner Harbor (June 29, 2020)
Sunset at Fells Point. It was just nice actually socializing with a friend and seeing people out and about doing the same. And finally some damn good oysters.
And then the ride back. Bonnie Raitt. A nice relaxing drive up through Maryland and into PA.
But what can you really do? The person that I get all of my information from is the only person I trust on the topic. Chuck Thompson (Yod–Your other Dad) has been in healthcare for over 60 years. A retired Colonel in the US Army, he’s been a nurse, leader, educator, researcher and is now retired so has the time to really research all of the information coming out about Covid–and he knows how to read it. I’d love to go see him before I leave, but I can’t. Montgomery County, MD is a hot spot, with regular new cases and deaths. YoD and his wife are both immune compromised and older (he is the father of a grade school friend). They have essentially barricaded themselves in their home. It is an option that is not totally unappealing, but also impossible for me and most.
Once Upon a Home (July 12, 2020)
The home of my dreams is no more. I’ll miss the koi. I’ll miss the beautiful landscaping that my wife made happen over the last six years. Not so much the weeding. I found an interesting thing: it was never really a home the past six years. It was only since I sold my business in December that the house felt like home. Without the long days, weeks, months and years of a business partner who was never really a partner, forcing me to carry the place into the new paradigm, the house became something more of a place to sleep and make coffee. I became a willing caretaker instead of a chore doer. A house became a home.
Then, the terrible spring came, the Great Detention of 2020. Lockdown. Locked inside a…home. A trip to Poland, an apartment on the coast of Italy, a friend waiting for me in Greece, and then a walkabout became a scramble for all of the things I had just given away. Spoons. Plates. Lamps. Something, anything, to put inside of the fridge besides coffee and coffee creamer. I even bought beds in case I could rent rooms.
A late winter, sitting in front of the fireplace, attempting to fight off the Covid Hibernation effect. I got busy on my home. I worked on the projects that I could not do for years. When warmer weather arrived, I started working on the pond.
I had hated that damn pond. It’s an ugly thing in the winter. Hibernating fish. Murky water. Overgrown weeds and edges. No running water. Just something that was alive but only barely. Then, it began to awaken. Looking out at the pond, with the fish awakening on warmer days, I began to get the feeling of a child the week before Christmas, waiting my turn for Turpin Landscaping to open the pond.
The guys from Turpin Landscaping finally arrived. I knew there was a problem: too many fish. The koi had been very busy the previous spring and a half dozen koi became 60. A Facebook post: who wants free koi? Come and get them now. 60 dwindled to 12 as the guys power washed everything, dredged it and I got busy tackling the edges. The pond reawakened with a two waterfalls and a stark, barren edge that I knew would regrow.
The pond I hated became my new project.
I broke the pond. Tearing out a 10 foot long, 3 feet wide and 8 inch, 120 lb “weed” shifted all of the rocks out of place. The call went out to Turpin again. Kevin came out to fix it.
“While you are here…” A new light for the waterfall, a new light for the pond, a new pump, and then tackling the eyesore of the basin that fed it, covering it with slate and rocks. The final touches, water lilies, would have to wait until they arrived.
I would sit by the pond every night after that, just taking in the evening and my home. Even as I emptied the house —again— in preparation for the buyers, as everything was sold and given away —again— I’d sit outside with my koi with my foster cat watching from the window.
I became a failed foster and adopted Savannah. In the final week, she was taken to my step father’s who agreed to watch her while I went for a drive. My home, without the meows, became a house again, emptying quickly. I sold a shell, a blank slate, to a new family of four to make into their home.
I hope they remember to feed the koi.
There has to be the question; are you nuts? The mid life cris not going too well? Why not just take the money from the sales and start over?
“No. It’s going fine. Because I don’t want to.”
I left a few things in storage. The car is completely packed. And then repacked. And I probably still don’t have it right. I’ll be leaving soon, hugging Maryland’’s eastern shore to Norfolk, meander my way through North Carolina to Nashville and then Memphis, cut south through Georgia and then down into Miami for phase one.
It’s not easy. Because of my past,”home” has always been my golden grail. Stability. Roots. There’s a certain amount of fear and anxiety. To leave everything I know, safety, for the unknown. The Chris Show on the road, from hotel to campgrounds to friends. Maybe a lab here and there. Packing away my desk top for a lap top was especially difficult. I owned one of the first laptops and I still hate the damn things.
But then there is the statement that is like a strong wind pushing at my back: you’re doing what many, many people wish they were doing. Time and commitments make it impossible. So why not now, before “next”? Perhaps making the now the future? Push the sun up into the sky with this old, achy back for a few more days of the summer of youth.
My adopted cat now has a foster father. My adopted daughter not speaking to me. An old, achy body that is just looking for a beach with one of the funky drinks with a tiny little umbrella. An exhaustion of spirit and soul that goes beyond my skin snd bones, underneath the muscles and veins. An exhaustion that I’ve been pushing aside for over a decade to do what needs to be done. Hoping to find something out there, even if it is just acceptance that I’m just too old before my time. Accept the consequences of 50 years pushing myself to do what needs to be done and be done with it all.
So it’s time. Time to leave the adopted cat with the step father I was left with. Her howls following me out the door, down the steps and to my car.
Elephants in the Room —Coughing
The first elephant in the room is Covid. While most people are hunkering down into shelters and homes, I’m driving into the hot spots, where Covid is raging through the US, spikes, deaths and fights over opening, closing back down, masks, and into the heart of “scamdemic” mentality.
“Into the wasteland” is a line from a song that is on repeat in my head, from the X Ambassadors.
This is not the time to be traveling. This is the perfect time to be traveling. Less traffic. Discounted hotel rooms. A journalist setting forth to see, experience and record this unprecedented time in America.
Covid scares me far less than the divisions in America. Fault lines began to appear under the Obama administration. Trump hammered at them to win the presidency causing a tsunami of what I call the “Trump Effect.” An election on the horizon. The right calls it a fight against the extreme left. The left calls it a fight for the soul of this country. I personally think they are all a pack of rabble. Especially with the US response to Covid, I’m just not proud to be an American anymore. Is this a reality? Or is this the an overly sensationalized and divisive media?
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise Theron; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
What will I encounter as I travel across America? I’ll be the camera and the note taker. You can be voyeurs, living and experiencing vicariously through me if you’d like.
Winter for Koi
Koi don’t eat for six months. As soon as the water drops below 55 degrees, their metabolism slows and they won’t eat, going into hibernation. There is a special food for them in the spring and fall, more plant based and less protein. The heavier food will do undigested as they hibernate and perhaps rot inside of them.
Should have, could have, would have. I had a huge meal of potential and possibilities before the Covid Hibernation. I awoke. And then was forced to return to hibernation, my mind, like others, rebelling against the reality and locking up during lockdown. The road awakens me.
It’s time to begin the next chapter.
Musings: Maryland Eastern Shore (July 13, 2020)
First day on the road: injured and lost, Where the hell is land? But I did find chickens and crabs?
Delaware is an interesting state. Is it north or south? The road signs saying quite nicely, “Practice Corona Courtesies.” But the stretch of land between Maryland’s Eastern Shore and Delaware’s shoreline is a great drive through small towns culminating in a great 23 mile bridge/tunnel passage to get to Norfolk, VA. I really wish I had learned to used my GoPro. At night, it’s all lit up as you traverse the ramps, bridges and two tunnels.
Chesapeake Bay itself is pretty cool. It covers about 2,800,000 acres. The average depth is only 21 ft with over 700,000 acres in the bay where a person can wade across. Interesting story that I heard: a woman woke from a nightmare where her husband was dead. Distraught and terrified, she took her husband’s boat into the bay, tied a cinder block around her feet and three herself over the side. Only to realize she was waist deep. The channels is where it gets deep, with an average depth about 90 feet and maximum 175 feet near Annapolis. The rest is shelves leading to the channels.
Musings: North Carolina (July 15, 2020)
I crossed the line! I went over 95 as opposed to the dozens of times I’ve traveled it to and from Miami. Then, I was a Yankee in the south. Armed with my US Infantry window sticker and coffee set up…
Oh hell, it was a boring day. Just a lot of driving, with some interesting things that I find interesting but others may not. Most may not. Like crossing that 95 line–where I think I spent the night once a long time ago at a Red Roof Inn. Stopping at the rest area in North Carolina. Watching the heat climb to 97 and then plummet to 75 with the storm, along with visibility. Passing through all of the cities I knew by their college basketball teams.
Charlotte, NC. Everybody wearing a mask, except inside at all of the open bars and restaurants? I’ll be crossing over into South Carolina tomorrow (about 10 miles) to meet with an old, old friend for coffee. Then a NW route.
Packing for travel is an art. I’m still scribbling outside of the lines, sort of like a first graders try at Picasso. Trying to whittle down what I need to bring into the hotels. Have to figure out my GoPro for tomorrow–it’s a surprise. A part of me wondering what the hell I’m doing in Charlotte? Still trying to figure out this new computer. Definitely have to stop making hotel reservations until I get to where I’m going because I really don’t know where I’ll end up. Just shaking off the dust, working out the kinks an creaks and snafus.
By the Bays
“It really just wrenches my heart,” he said to me. “This is my piece of heaven. I always want to share it with people. Now, with Covid, I have to say no and turn people away.”
It’s an out of the way little spot on a creek off of the Chesapeake Bay. My cousin’s piece of the American dream. His home reminds me of his mother’s, my Coci (aunt in Polish). A place of warmth, and food, and welcoming. My Coci’s home was in North Cape May, a nice walk to the bay. Her son’s is on the creek that leads to the bay, with a dock for his boat.
At my other cousin’s wedding, I gave a speech, talking about the Zborowski’s. The five of them, Mike, Ken, Doug, Dave and Dana, taught me what it means to be a man. Not by telling me what to do, but by showing me. You want something? Work hard. Plan. Own your mistakes. Move on. Oh, and learn how to take a joke.
Ken joined the navy after high school and then the Philadelphia Fire Department after that. 24 years ago, he bought a piece of land in Maryland and started building a house. He finally retired about a year and a half ago after 30 years and now the house is his piece of heaven, retirement. Ken and his wife Joyce live there full time now, with a daughter and son-in-law an hour away and a son, daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren making their way there from his son’s previous duty station—a move that has been held up by Covid.
What is a piece of heaven? What is home? For Ken and Joyce, it’s a little spot on the creek, complete now with a chicken coop and enough room for a lot of guests. He enjoys taking people out fishing. He enjoys sharing his piece of heaven with anybody and everybody that wants to stop by.
“It really does break my heart,” he said to me. “You know how my mom was. I always wanted people to stop by. Now that we are here full time, I can’t with Covid.”
Sleepy Little Towns
Every travel story I read talks about the “sleepy little towns” the writer passes through. I either have to come up with better phrases or this is going to get very repetitive. The drive from Wilmington, DE to Princess Anne and then to Norfolk is a long drive through small towns along Route 13. I just don’t know how sleepy they are?
Nicer people, a slower life style, a hello and a thank you. Many people awake at dawn to fish or go crabbing. Each town can fit into a suburb of Philadelphia, and is much like a suburb complete with the McDonald’s, Lowe’s, chain restaurants and chain gas stations. The differences are the life styles. And the people who enjoy this life style.
Bait and tackle shops line the roads. In Philly, you see the signs “donate your car for charity.” Along this stretch, it is “donate your boat.”
“I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Ooo, I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay
They know about the tides and the seasons, about when what fish are running and where best to catch them. They talk shop with the older fishermen to learn. They know how to tie ropes in a certain way and how to string lines. And Ken is kind. He knows enough to know that I don’t know anything. I’m not big on fishing, but I enjoy spending time with Ken on his boat as he talks about fish, and tides and casting and lures. I enjoy spending time with Ken and Joyce as they talk about their piece of heaven. It’s calm and peaceful, with laughter and great food. It reminds me of my Coci.
And then there are the life tips, the “jewels” you pick up and take away from meetings. With me on the road, there were a bunch of things that I would have never have thought of. Why buy ice for the cooler? Use the hotel. That Hilton Honors thing? Yeah, go with Hotwire. Like a big brother, he’s giving me the inside tips on traveling light and traveling well.
While I was there, Ken’s big brother was texting me along with his wife. Dawn is a dear, so much so that sh is in my phone as Dawnie Dear. Mike wants more than updates—if I’m okay with it. Just in case. This is how you set up then iPhone to permanently share your location. Mike knows a lot of truckers. Just in case. They’re worried.
The baby brother and baby sister chimed in as well. Places to go. Do you know your new cousin is in Norfolk? Great stops here and there and everywhere. I’ll be looking into a lot of places.
But the bars? I just don’t know. No, I know. It’s a “no.”
“Covid is screwing up everything,” my new cousin said when I took her out to dinner. It kept her husband out to sea for an extra month, screwing up the timing of meeting her other cousins and a huge family that wants to meet her.
It’s the age of masks and staycations. Of not seeing family and friends. I still think they screwed up everything from the start with “social distancing.” No. It’s not “social distancing.” It’s “physical distancing.” And this is our reality. I need to keep that in mind or this trip will be cut short.
Leaving the Bays Behind
Maryland is definitely the south, but still more northern along the eastern shore. I now have a Delaware license. I think Delaware might confuse the southerners: is he a Yankee or not? Just in case, I made sure to get my “US Infantry” bumper sticker and hat. Aye: the deep south awaits me. I need all the help I can get. Then I wore the hat in the Navy land.
But now away from the known and the somewhat known. I’ve driven the stretch of 95 from Philly to Miami a few dozen times. Eventually, away from Norfolk, I’ll hit 95. I’ll be going over or under it for a change. West pulls at me.
Far, far to the west. Across a continent and then an ocean is the Big Island of Hawai’i.