Friday, September 28, 2007

The T: that was last night, this is today

It just doesn't end. The train sitting on the tracks wasn't the 8:00 to Boston. It was some other train to Worcester. But that's the usual conductor for the 8:00, this is the track where the 8:00 usually waits. No matter. The thing about the T is that nothing is what it seems.

The conductor for the Worcester train said the eastbound train coming in on the other side was the 7:47 express. (Let's not quibble that it was already after 8:00.) So, everyone plods up and over the tracks. I get on the train. It takes off. The conductor gets on the loudspeaker and announces that it's the Boston local, making all stops.

Sigh, does anyone in the MBTA know what's going on?

The MBTA, Boston, and car jackers

Writing about the MBTA is like writing about politicians and their shenanigans: every day it's all a joke. I mean, how many ways can you say the trains didn't run on time? Well, if you're the MBTA, the possibilities seem endless.

Last night I had to be at my daughter's high school by 7:00 for an open house. That meant me grabbing the 5:30 out of South Station. Normally the 6:05 would get me into Framingham by 6:45 (the schedule says 6:40, but that's never happened.) Well, I couldn't get out of work early, so I hopped on the 6:05 figuring I'd just have to be late and of course we got the usual announcement after we were underway that we would be held by the CSX dispatcher because of the work they're doing on the tracks.

We pulled into Back Bay and waited. And waited. And waited some more.

Finally the conductor got on the horn and said that we would be delayed indefinitely because of a State Police investigation at Yawkey. (Turns out there was a car-jacking on the Mass Pike, and the bad guys escaped over the tracks.) We were to seek "alternate forms of transportation."

Well, there really aren't alternate forms of transportation if you live out in the western suburbs. It's the commuter rail; that's how you get in, that's out you get out.

In the end, some guy walked up to me. Don't you get on at Framingham? he asked. He recognized me. Weird, but I don't think I'd recognize my fellow travelers. We ended up sharing a cab with another guy, and I'm 25 bucks broker.

Granted, the MBTA couldn't help any of this, but while I was sitting in Back Bay I was thinking of all the money that was spent on the Big Dig here in Boston. Yeah, that section of the city does look better. But they said it improves peoples' commuting time from the north and south by only a few minutes. Traffic is still gridlock to the west. And I couldn't help but think that if we valued public transportation just a bit more, that all that dough could have improved the train service here. The T just keeps getting worse.

Funny, in 1980 when I first visited this city on my spring break in college, the T ran on time and the days were sunny. I don't think it's ever been like as long as I've live here.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Boston's homeless...

...and everywhere else, for that matter...

Yesterday was the reason I learn, to share, to grow...we're all in this together...I can see that so clearly...

Yeah, Christine, I have a heart, you're right. I've known that for a long time, and sometimes I wish I didn't because, using one of your literary choices, I'll borrow from the Wizard of Oz's Tinman and say that sometimes, a lot of times, I can feel it breaking. (And, to extend the metaphor just a bit more, just like most people, I also have brains and courage, too. Not always in the most exquisite amounts, though.)

And no, to another gentle reader, I'm not naive. I'm 52 years old and have seen more of this damn world than I sometimes care to admit.

And to Rachel, yes, I know that most of the time the homeless are just going to get a fix or a drink. God love people like you who actually use your time and energy to help these people, instead of cranks like me who just wallow on a blog. I've never thought of handing coins to the homeless as worthless, though. I like to look them in the eye, wish them well. The exchange lasts no more than ten seconds, but for those ten seconds (I hope) they get a little respect...a tiny feeling of worth, a little something, a foothold that might get them through the day. I say that because it seems that that is all I know...have...yeah, I also do it for selfish makes me feel good, maybe even superior. I'll burn for that, maybe.

This is really all I have to say on the subject. I do post all comments (so far.) Everybody needs a outlet.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Cries in the city redux

A couple of comments came through about my post about the panhandler in South Station...all good...when you've been around enough, even if it's just Boston, forget all the foreign cities I've been to, you get pretty jaded. And no, you certainly can't empty your pockets and save the world.

But something broke through the crust in me yesterday...maybe it was his pitiful cries for whatever reason...usually these guys aren't this...what's the word?--vocal? wretched? Maybe it was because he needed a fix really bad and didn't want to resort to anything really desperate, illegal, or harmful.

No, I didn't give him anything either, although I've reached in my pocket on more than one occasion for the homeless in Boston. And like one commenter said, I've also bought burgers and fries at McDonald's and dropped the sack in a homeless person's lap and kept walking. That was probably better than money because, sure, you can't barter a hamburger for drugs or booze. Or maybe you can, I don't know.

And maybe that's a good point. Most of us really don't know what life is like that far on the edge. Some of us do. I know a guy who lived in a car when he was little. (And he has very little sympathy for panhandlers; we're all products of our own particular experiences.) I've known my share of addicts, drunks, and down-and-outs in my life. Some of them aren't alive today because of their demons. Maybe you can keep a person alive for a day with a handout, or maybe they'll take it and kill themselves with it that night.

Maybe these scams are desperate attempts just to get something, because just standing there with your cup out just doesn't bring in enough.

I keep saying it: I don't know.

Maybe they should get a job. Learn how to play guitar and busk in the subway stations. That would certainly meet society's minimum standards for a work ethic.

City of Immigrants

From American Songwriter:

"It was the inspiration of NYC and a concern over an insidious racism that he perceives to be spreading tactiley through our nation that inspired him to write City of Immigrants. The lilting tropical rhythms buoy a celebration of diversity, and to further underscore the point, Earle recorded it with Brazilian group Forro in the Dark.

"Lou Dobbs pisses me off," Earle says, normally fiery-black eyes blazing. "City of Immigrants is the most political song on the record, and it exists because of watching Lou Dobbs crank up this anti-immigrant campaign just as the Democrats are getting started with their immigration legislation on Capitol Hill.

"I grew up in occupied Mexico," he continues, gathering steam. "Texas is part of the first illegal American land grab...and when I hear people talking about Mextisos invading us, taking our jobs, I want to say, 'But they were here first'...because they were. September 11 is about the other dark people--or else you're completely impotent about what happened. All I know is that I see we have another mean-spirited group rising. It's just easy to look at another group of dark-skinned people and single them out."

Tennessee Blues

Could have been written by me:

Sunset in my mirror, pedal on the floor
Bound for New York City and I won’t be back no more
Won’t be back no more, boys won’t see me around
Goodbye guitar town

Ghosts out on the highway, voices on the wind
Tellin’ me that we may never pass this way again
Voices on the highway angels beckonin’
Like a long lost friend

Fare thee well I’m bound to roam
This ain’t never been my home

Stranger in my mirror, lines around my eyes
String around my finger but I don’t remember why
Don’t remember why, boys don’t remember how
Goodbye guitar town

Fare thee well I’m bound to roam
This ain’t never been my home

Blue dog on my floorboard, redhead by my side
Cross the mighty Hudson river to the New York City side
Redhead by my side, boys sweetest thing I’ve found
Goodbye guitar town

--Steve Earle

Cries in the city

Last night, a man in South Station stood at the base of the down escalator pleading for money. Please, he beseeched, I'm just short three dollars. Please, he wailed to each person the escalator fed past him.

What were their thoughts? What were their feelings? Fear? Embarrassment? Disgust?

Shame on us. Shame on us for letting this happen. Shame on all of us for having grown so hard that we can so easily turn away. Shame on us for being so cold that my response is to dissect the situation, as coolly and clinically as a technician dismembers a frog. Each and every one of us probably had the three dollars in our pockets, but none of us reached in for even a quarter.

Overheard on the train

Talking into her cell phone:
"I'm on the train but I can hear you."

Yes, and unfortunately, we can hear you, too.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Travelin' light

Most people don't quite get it. Or they sort of do, but after the initial intrigue and you tell them we didn't shower for seven days, they tend to back off a bit.

We piled a bunch of camping gear in the back of Stacey's Pathfinder and just took off. One night we camped in the backcountry of a national park, another night we stayed at a sanctioned campsite by the Colorado River, and all the other nights we just found places along the side of the road. We'd look for a dirt road that headed into the desert, and just drive down it.

One morning I was taking down the tent, looked up, and saw two Japanese tourists walking through our tent site. I guess they saw the car parked along the road and figured there was something there to look at, because before I had the tent down two RVs pulled up, too. Trust me, there was nothing there but the same canyon rim they had been following for miles, and kind of a dirty, grouchy camper.

When you pare your life down to the bare essentials, things can open up for you. When I got back to work, I listened to this woman go on about how she was without power for a couple of hours. You couldn't live your life, she said. She wanted to play music...couldn't do that. Wanted to use the microwave...couldn't do that. Sue and I basically lived on rice, beans, and tuna. And gorp. We ate twice in restaurants, but other than that it was camp food. Stacey and Toby lived a little higher off the hog so we scrounged a bit off them, but it was still pretty sparse. Of course there was lots of beer and wine; it was a road trip after all.

The reason I love living like that is the same reason I like to backpack. No one is going to do anything for you. You have to do it yourself. It forces you to really think about what's important, from corkscrews to books. And just like Appalachian Trail through-hikers who all start out with a lot of gear and quickly start to shed it on the trail, you end up coming back with less than you started, and in this consumer-oriented world, that's a good thing. It's a different thing, anyway.

And more and more I'm shedding things in my life. Finding out that I really didn't need this or that, even this person or that person, because it or they just weren't right for my life and I had been carrying them around for quite awhile.

Lighten the load. Travel light.

Danger, Will Robinson

The manual came with warnings. Three to be exact, and just like the Homeland Security colors, they started low but rose progressively higher as the threat increased.

We had:

WARNING: This indication alerts you to the fact that any improper use ignoring the contents described herein can result in potential death or serious injury.

God, okay...I'll be careful.

CAUTION: This indication alerts you to the fact that any improper use ignoring the contents described herein can result in potential injury or may cause a material loss.

Mercy, I'll be careful.

OPERATION PRECAUTIONS: The items contained in this section alert you to the fact that any improper use ignoring the contents described herein may negatively affect product performance and functionality.

So, what do you think we're talking about here? A chain saw, perhaps?

Nope, it's a pair of Nikon binoculars, and I swear there are warnings that could cause serious injury or death. Like taking the binocs by the strap and swinging them around your head. Leaving them in an unstable place where they could fall and cause injury. Pinching your finger when adjusting them. There's more. A lot more.

Effing lawyers.

Colleen and David are Austin-bound

Came home to discover that Colleen Reilly (Reilly, like the life of Reilly is how she introduced herself), my music teacher, is moving to Austin, Texas, a place she called guitar heaven. Boyfriend and her drummer, David, is heading there, too.

So cool. I'm really happy for them. But now I'm once again looking for a teacher. And I won't hear Colleen say anymore, "Hey John, check it out..." then have her ripping through some licks.

I met Colleen (and subsequently David) when just on a whim I ducked into Jack's Drum Shop in Boston. I don't know how many times I passed by, but never went in because, well, it's a drum shop and I'm a geetar picker. But one day Sue and I dropped into the Jack's down in Hyannis, having seen some guitars through the windows, and Sue bought her guitar there so I thought I'd check out the Boston scene.

That first day I was just hanging out and overheard them talking about lessons. I started talking to them and everything seemed cool so right then and there I signed up for lessons, taking my first lesson that night on a guitar I borrowed from the store.

Colleen is pretty cool. Our lessons tended to ramble around a bit, mostly because I think she and I both have a tendency to sort of just follow where things lead. But I learned some pretty cool things about my "instrument" as she calls a guitar, and she got me into song-writing, so I have a lot to thank her for.

Wishing both of them good luck, and hoping some day they get that big record contract.

The MBTA just keeps getting worse

This morning out of Framingham...the railroad just keeps getting worse...

The 8:47 express that's supposed to arrive in South Station sometime around 8:30 (let's not hold the train to an exact time) pulled in as a local around 9:05. The "express" was behind us; God only knows when those poor souls got to work. In Framingham we waited for four transit police officers and a dog to make a sweep of the cars. What that was all about we had no idea, but we did keep hearing over the loudspeaker how we were going to have to go 25 mph for three miles. No explanation for that either.

Oh, and no conductor showed up in our car to take tickets, so while the MBTA lost money, at least some people didn't have to pay for the shoddy service.

Monday, September 24, 2007


I must be blind
I must be out of my mind
to think I'd come back
and everything would change.
I must be so naive
that I forgot about the pain.
Here I am in trouble once again.

--Jim Cuddy

Second Son

And one night
just around midnight
we were drunk and singing songs.
I said my life goes by
and I'm so afraid to die
you said everything is right before your eyes
but when it changes now don't you be surprised.

--Jim Cuddy


I've watched
as dreams have come and gone.
I try to change
I'm still my father's son.

--Jim Cuddy


Sometimes the wildest
notions of your life
just can't help but coming true.
Well I've been burned once or twice
you know it's true.
I know it's bound to happen again
before I'm through.

--Jim Cuddy


Sue and I were standing by the curb with our packs on the sidewalk in their airport bags. It's not that I was freaking out, it's just that I had heard about the Mormons and how they married young and had kids right off, and I've just got this thing about moralistic, Christian folk. There were a lot of young blonde women with a few babies and toddlers in tow...

Then Stace and Toby pulled up to the curb, Tobe opened the passenger door and a beer came crashing out and shattered and foamed all over the sidewalk. You could suddenly feel the crowd giving us some room. Hmmm, I know I was thinking, this is going to work...

Stacey is a wild woman, passionate and totally into rock climbing. Toby spent some time in the military in the 1st Army going into Baghdad the second time around in Iraq, came home, looked around in total disillusionment, and headed for Patagonia where he guides. Another mother's child. He didn't run or pull chocks. Stace and Toby met on some cliff somewhere, I think. He and I bonded in the first hour, if not in those first initial foaming seconds.

Our first day out we headed for Canyonlands. The site makes it look a lot tamer than it is. The White Rim Road is rough and slow-going. It's probably easier on a mountain bike, or on horseback, or on foot.

I loved Canyonlands more than Bryce or Zion or Escalante for that very reason. While still wild and dangerous, in Bryce and Zion you could still feel the National Park Service. You could feel that the landscape had been tamed a bit. In Canyonlands, you could easily die and you wouldn't be found for a long time, if ever. I like that. I like the edge. It's on the fringes of hell. When we were there temps topped somewhere in the nineties. In the summer they bake in the 100s.

Within our first hour or so in the canyon itself--we were about nine miles in--we had stopped and walked out to the edge of the canyon. We busted the crust.

Then I turned around saw this young man sort of stumbling towards us begging for water. He was kind of babbling, and I said to Stace, who's a nurse, he's got a thick tongue, he's in the first stages of dehydration. Some dumb kid from Arkansas and his girlfriend from California rode their bikes into the canyon with only about three litres of water between them. His tongue was swollen and salt rimmed all around his mouth. He saw our car parked on the road and came looking for us. It was unlocked, and he didn't rip off our water and food. That's the kind of people you meet out there. Outdoor people are cool and ethical. Most are, anyway. We gave them each a litre of Gatoraide and some power bars. I looked at the cuts on their legs they'd gotten from the sprockets on their bikes. They still had nine miles to go, and the sun was going down. You feel bad, but even the liquid and food we gave them came out of our mouths. They lived, and hopefully learned.

We bounced along the White Rim Road into the night. Toby and I were getting a little crazy with so much time in the car. I think Sue was, too; she's just better at containing herself than I am. Stacey? She's was driven to get to our site. She's hilarious behind the wheel of the truck. She's really just a little thing, but really tough with a lot of passion. We were drinking wine and bouncing along and just making an adventure out of it.

We pitched the tents in the dark.

I woke when it was still dark and stuck my nose out the tent flap, sniffing like a dog. You can't imagine the quiet out there. When there is a sound, even the caw of a distant raven, it's loud. I threw on the pants I'd be living in the for next seven days and some sandals, snakes and scorpions be damned. I knew snakes would be quiet, since it was pretty cool. Cool air means cool blood for a reptile. Wasn't sure about the scorpions, though.

In the dark I could sense a butte behind us. It was called the Airport Tower, I later learned.

I climbed the lower part. It was still dark, so I sat down to wait for the light to come. The talus is slippery, like millions of poker chips spilled on a slope. No point in getting turned around and twisting an ankle in one fell swoop.


Seven straight days in the desert. Then we came back here, where people worship the big TV god. Sometimes I think it's better not to know. Because it hurts so damn much to come back. Here, people are so used to lying, their values twisted, they don't even realize when they're doing it anymore. Lying is just a way of life for them to get what they want. But they don't consider it lying because they meant it when they said it. Or, it's not that they lie, they just don't tell the truth.

Deceit is deceit, darling...

They're so used to compromising their ideals and dreams for their houses, their cars, their TVs, camcorders, every damn new modern convenience they don't even know they're doing it anymore...they don't know how empty they are. They call you friend but don't know the meaning of the simple word...and there are so many other words they don't know meaning of

And people think the desert is empty.

One morning, our last before heading back, I stirred in my sleeping bag and woke, and it was still dark. I pushed the tent flap aside, quietly, so as not to wake Sue, and Orion, the Hunter, my old friend, and trusted Sirius at his heel, were sitting above the horizon. It won't be long before they're high in our sky, proud and bold, but now they're creeping around just before dusk.

And then a coyote howled, and another and another. God-awful noise. Then, from the opposite direction, came more choruses, more coyotes.

People love to hear the coyote howl, but notice they never invite him into their lives.

All the Pretty Horses

I'd of thought maybe the disappointments of your own life might of made you more sympathetic to other people.

You would have thought wrongly.

I guess so.

It is not my experience that life's difficulties make people more charitable.

I guess it depends on the people.

10 things I learned in the desert

1) It rains a helluva lot more than you might think. It rains hard for a real short time. One morning it hailed.

2) Snakes and scorpions aren't as prevalent as you might think. I didn't see one of either species, and it wasn't for lack of trying. I scoured the place and didn't see even a squirt scorpion or snake.

3) Dry heat is better than humid heat. They're right, it's not the heat, it is the humidity.

4) You learn quick to get used to the smell of your own stink.

5) Space is deceiving. So is size. Something, like a butte, looks close, then when you start walking towards it you learn it's just real big and far away. Outer space must be like this.

6) Nature doesn't give a damn if we live or die as a species. Today's ocean bed will someday be a desert, and we'll either still be around or we'll be fossils.

7) All that space can suck up a lot--sound, thought, bad memories.

8) Rice and tuna ain't bad, even after the fourth or fifth day.

9) A cheeseburger with tortilla chips and a cold beer makes for a pretty good gourmet meal.

10) I've got no business in the east anymore.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

It's another school year

That means dealing with high school teachers and administrators again. A long time ago, once I, well, I don't want to say once I grew up but when I got to be a certain age when others of a certain age started calling me, sir, when I got to be that age I noticed that people who work in our schools are kind of bullies. They are so used to this uncontested power they have, that they just assume they can hold sway over everyone. Even other adults. It's kind of cute, really. They're so vulnerable but they have no idea because all their lives they've lived with certainty that they are in control, but they don't live in the same world the rest of us do. They're still back in high school.

There's this guy at Kathryn's high school who rides around in a golf cart patrolling the parking lot. That in itself is so silly; if he really knew what he looked like he wouldn't go within a hundred yards of the thing. But I guess he doesn't know or care, because he rides around in the thing full throttle. He's this young guy with Dockers and a necktie. Good grief. The traffic is backed up, but God almighty, you got to do what he says or else Mr. Whatever The Hell His Name Is, Mr. Traffic Cone Man will write you up.

I told my first kid all she had to do was get through the school system and she'd be fine. Just get through it. And that's what I tell my second one, too.

I'm just damn tired

Getting up, pulling my stuff together, making lunches, dealing with traffic to get Kathryn to school on time, chasing a train that already is running a half hour late...there's so much I feel I should be blogging about but all I can focus on is the gear that's piled up in my living room, that pile of gear that represents so much freedom. Of course there's still so much to do to pull this trip together since I was in Costa Rica last week. And truth be told, Sue and I would have left everything for the last minute anyway; we're not the most fastidious people in the world. So tonight it's jamming stuff sacks with clothes and sleeping bags and tents. Making GORP. Sorting gear, divvying it take the stove, I've got the water filter. Who's got the tickets?

Of course, traveling always makes me a bit blue. What doesn't, huh? It's the act of leaving that does it. Leaving my kids behind. Shit, leaving my dog behind. Wanting to be there in case they need. Leaving things that need my attention, from bills to articles and columns to write. Wanting to pick up that geetar and never put it down again. Leaving behind a couple of friends who I've been too busy to give some time to. But I'm too tired, and have been too tired for a good long time. Somebody should have put me on a plane and shoved me out over the desert a long time ago.


Well, I guess I should comment on 9.11, huh? It is, after all, a turning point in our country's history, sort of. Well, it could have been. It could have been the point where the U.S joined the rest of the world again. But, we rose up, then fell back on our old ways.

9.11 was shocking, but it wasn't surprising, at least not to those of us who take a more global view of the world than your average American. It was inconceivable, unimaginable that a terrorist group could and would hijack all those planes and fly them into the Twin Towers, and let's not forget the Pentagon and the crash land one in a field in Pennsylvania.

Why is 9.11 only associated with New York City?

But, back to my point: it was shocking, but not surprising because I wondered what took al Qaeda so long. Terrorist attacks had been going on around the world for years. And they continue today. The United States was insulated for years. And we haven't had an attack in six years while the rest of the world spins out of control.

Monday, September 10, 2007

CAFTA...and free trade

At the beginning of October, Costa Rica will be voting on CAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement. I’m not sure what “free trade” is. I’d be willing to bet the name’s a bit misleading. On the surface it’s a treaty between Costa Rica and the United States to do business without tariffs. But there’s a lot more to it than that. If it were that simple it wouldn’t have the intense debate that seems to be swirling around it.

I just heard about it last week, so I’m not going to pretend I know anything about it.

But, a few things: When the United States embarked on free world trade, we didn’t vote on it. Congress, or the president—someone or somebody; see I don’t even know who—just said this is the way it’s going to be. Costa Ricans get to vote on it. Score one for the Costa Ricans.

Another thing: Last week I was in Costa Rica working with a company that builds Web sites for the agency I work for. There are about 150 people working at the company, 150 jobs that aren’t in the United States. I’m not grousing about the loss of job. I only point that out because at a company like that, one that clearly stands to benefit from CAFTA, or TLC as it is known by its Spanish lettering in Costa Rica, there are opponents to the agreement. Doesn’t make sense, does it? You’d think these people would see the clear benefit of such an agreement. More jobs offloaded to Costa Rica from the U.S.

But maybe they know something others don’t know.

Way back when, when the so-called paradigm shifted in corporate America, corporations said they could no longer guarantee a lifetime job, but what they could provide was training and growth, and when it was time to move on, workers could take that training and growth to their new companies. This could keep corporations competitive, lowering costs and overhead. Workers thought this was a deal, the old what’s good for GM is good for America. (Imagine they swallowed that old chestnut!) The big thing was, American workers had all of their money tied up in stocks and 401(k)s. So, basically, American workers opened up a vein to keep the Dow Jones pumped up and so they could have money when they retired. What they missed was there was a whole lot of living to do before they retired. There were cars to buy and fix and mortgages to pay and college tuition bills to absorb. But those jobs corporate America promised weren’t there. They were in India and obviously places like Costa Rica. So they couldn't afford cars and houses and education. We know, said all the big, fat, white men is suits, let's come up with free trade, since no one can afford our stuff here in the U.S., let's come up with a way to sell it in other countries. (See, the middle-class, which traditionally bought all the stuff America produced was shrinking, so corporate America had to build another middle-class somewhere else.)

Production (jobs) went off-shore and we started down that road to being information-driven. The U.S was going to strategize. Ideas were the only thing we’d manufacture. Information would be the only product the U.S. ultimately produced, while the rest of the world actually made the hard product itself. The advice here was change…change jobs, the way you think, the way you work. Hell, change your underwear, as long as you changed something. But it doesn’t always work out, because there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Exactly how many MBAs do you need to write a marketing plan?

The only reason I bring this up is because any time rich businesspeople float an idea past you, you can be certain the first people who are going to benefit from the idea is them.

Lose your job, buy some shoes

Last week I was in my hotel room in Costa Rica watching CNN Headlines News. The report that the U.S. lost 4,000 jobs instead of gaining an anticipated 110,000 came on. The announcer looked serious. Then they cut to a travel story about the best places to shop, all high end merchandise like expensive stuff like shoes and dresses. The hostess was all cheery and happy. People are losing their jobs and the television is still shilling, shit, the news programs are selling now.

The question I have is, who's gonna buy all this stuff if they don't have a job.

More and more, especially in the U.S., I know people who are just living paycheck to paycheck. Maybe they have jobs, but they don't have the extra money for a goddamn $200 pair of shoes that is nothing but a couple of straps and a scrap of leather on the bottom.

Friday, September 7, 2007

A deal with the devil

If the devil said to me, I'll make you an awesome guitar player, but you can never act again, I'd say, deal.

Hard life lesson

"I was raped. That kind of burned me out on the whole romantic expatriate notion."
--Michelle Shocked

The blues

"No one's ever been able to define blues. To me, blues is three chords and something to say. There's a real temptation to think that blues is singing about misery and sorrow. It's singing about your experiences, and what I find in blues is the message of hope and inspiration, because you may be singing about your misery, but the fact that you're singing, that's the real message."
--Michelle Shocked

The difference between rich and poor

"You ain't crazy, you're just poor."

When you're rich, you're eccentric.

A new blogger

A buddy started a new blog, he's a little tentative but his first post shows there's a lot going on in his head, which I knew all along.

Yes, this Internet thang is all about selling crap and surfing porn, but it's also for sharing--ideas, interests, feelings, experiences, hopes, joys, despairs, everything human, which is so ironic because the Internet and computers and all this digital hoopla is about as human as a toilet seat.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Making a splash in Costa Rica

I'm not sure how it happens because I tend to think of myself as more the quiet type, but I do make a splash now and again...good first impressions, or rather memorable first impressions.

Just this past weekend I drove down a sidewalk at Allison's new college. Well, it was going in the direction I needed to go and it was a big sidewalk although I thought it was more a small road.

And tonight, I get to my room kind of late, call Sue and we chat for awhile and when I hang up I call room service for a burger. Then I opened my second beer and start wailing on the guitar. I'm right in my rendition of It's a Heartache (you gotta hear it; it really cranks) when the phone rings. WTF, I think, I don't know anyone in Costa Rica, at least anyone who would call me at my hotel at this hour. It's the front desk. The guy from room service had been standing outside my room and I couldn't hear him knocking because I was playing and singing so loud. A little embarrassing.

But there's more...

I'm putting my tray outside my door after I've finished said burger and beer, when the door swings shut. Click. I'm locked outside my room.

Barefoot, wearing jeans with my shirttail out, I slap my way down the stairs on the tiled floor, thankful I wasn't in the shower and wearing just a towel, across the lobby with all of these people dressed up. The guy behind the front desk didn't even crack a smile. C'mon mae, get a sense of humor.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Gatos y perros

My God, I forgot how it can rain in the tropics. And the locals take no more notice to it than they do the sunshine. We were sitting outside under an awning eating lunch, needing to raise our voices from the pounding of the rain on the awning, and lightning cracked and thunder boomed just off, and no one took notice. I couldn't help but looking to the side in amazement at all that water coming out of the sky, so suddenly.

The glamour of business travel

Long day yesterday, 11 hours, and here’s where people don’t understand about business travel. The grind. The long hours. Rarely do you get downtime to relax. Except for yesterday at lunch when Juan and Carolina took me to this local outdoor restaurant I’ve seen the inside of a warehouse and a Marriott. And the local neighborhood. I hired a taxi driver to take me to work everyday. Today he took a "better" route. We wound through neighborhoods which I love to see...even the squalor...that's what's real.

Which brings me to the Marriott. I sat at the same table at breakfast as I did yesterday, and started to itch. The mountains are off there. The lushness that surrounds the hotel is manufactured; a quick taxi ride outside the gates will tell you that, and I start to feel that uneasiness I’ve always feel in places like that, the feeling of being trapped by all of the politeness and luxury. Today the coffee wasn’t that good; it was watered down. The service was very poor. And what am I suppose to do? Complain like a spoiled American? I’d rather go get my own coffee. Or make it myself. Serve myself. I don’t need or want servants. I don’t like being coddled or served or cow-towed to. I don't like it when things are kept from me. Let's build a wall of lush greenery and gates and walls so we can't see the outside world. What's real out there..

Everything at the Marriott is manufactured to please someone’s warped idea of sensibility. The hotel is designed and decorated like a Spanish hacienda. Except the problem is, it isn’t a hacienda. It’s like Disney World all over again. Like a theme park or a carnival ride. All fake and contrived. And it wears on a person. It wears on me, that’s for sure.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Blast off

Takeoff. Blast off. Thirty-four years ago was the first time I felt a plane leave the ground, my impression was that of a carnival ride the second the jet broke free from the ground, that soft, cushy feeling of the air holding me up. So this is what it feels to fly, I remember thinking. I was a teenager who turned his back on everything, put everything down on one roll of the dice, and won. For so many years I wondered where that boy went. What ever happened to that person I was? That person who wasn’t afraid to take risks and was so excited about the size of the earth. That person I could be. Today in Boston I felt that carnival ride once again. Leaving the earth, breaking the bond that holds us to the earth and letting loose onto the world, free again.

Still at ease

"There were not enough chairs for them all to sit on, so that many of them sat on their goatskins spread on the floor. It did not make much difference whether one sat on a chair or on the floor because even those who sat on chairs spread their goatskins on them first."

--Chinua Achebe, No Longer at Ease


“Yes, real tragedy is never resolved. It goes on hopelessly forever. Conventional tragedy is too easy. The hero dies and we feel a purging of the emotions. A real tragedy takes place in a corner, in an untidy spot, to quote W.H. Auden. The rest of the world is unaware of it. Like the man in A Handful of Dust who reads Dickens to Mr. Todd. There is no release for him. When the story ends he is still reading. There is no purging of the emotion for us because we are not there.”

--Chinua Achebe, No Longer at Ease

Sharing the gift of music

Got to the gate hours early here in Atlanta because of the layover, and found a quiet place in a corner, sat on the floor with a cup of coffee and played guitar. A guy came over close, sat down and leaned back and closed his eyes and listened to me play. When he got up and nodded to me, and I nodded back. So this is what if feels like to share the gift of music, huh?

Leaving AngryTown

Left AngryTown yesterday a.m. Sue took me to the airport. One last and lasting memory of Boston is the angry toll collector on the Mass Pike who got mad at me while I dug for change. He lectured me on having the correct change when I pulled up to the booth. Sue flipped him off as we pulled away. As I heard a comedian say once about these guys, their job is to make change, how hard is that? Maybe it’s just from living in Boston so long, knowing how hard life can be, but I have to wonder how his day was going. Maybe he just learned a loved one has cancer (something I’ve experienced), maybe the bills are piling up and the kids are driving him crazy and he’s watching his life leave him as he sits in a toll booth on the Mass Pike. But, do I have to take the brunt of it? When does he take responsibility and quit dumping it on strangers? You get his sort a lot in Boston, and Sue and I talked about just how tired we are of Boston, of the angry people, of people who just don’t share our view of the world and the way it should be.
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