Category Archives: Living life.

Rome: Not for Sissies

At the colosseum

At the colosseum

Rome is flooded stimuli: energy that permeates and disrupts the senses, swarms of tourists clogging crooked streets, illegally parked cars, designer clothes , gorgeous shoes the price of a month’s rent, alleys with hidden treasures, and sadly, ubiquitous cheap Chinese stuff.

I asked Alessandro which side of the street the Italians drive on because it isn’t apparent here in the city. ” It doesn’t matter,” he answered. “Doesn’t matter! Of course it matters. I’m renting a car in Pisa and need to know.”  It’s the same as the US.” he says. Lordy.

The violent past of the colosseum invaded my dreams last night. I was fighting for my life. Hitting some snake like thing with something no bigger than a golf club. Afterwards I felt sorry. It’s not who I am. In the colosseum, only 3 % of the gladiators lived, none of the slaves or criminals or animals. Huge boatloads of reptiles, tigers, lions, bears, etc. were imported  from Africa and Egypt to fight in the ring. An estimated 100,000 animals were killed during the Romans short reign. Some species  became extinct because of the emperor’s thirst for entertainment, of public executions called games.

imageIt’s astounding how brilliant Roman  engineers built aqua ducts, astounding architecture, roads and the government was democratic. And yet, a couple of times a month, screamed for blood to entertain them . Or, maybe they didn’t attend the gory get togethers.

Romulus and Remus raised by a she wolf raised a city from dirt. Beloved Cesar stabbed by Brutus. Myth mixed with fact: legend with history. Barbarians brought down by barbarians. The fallen city plundered and pillaged by everyone, including the hollier than thou popes who used the heathen’s  materials it to build their Rome.

imageAnd then there were the vestual virgins, In charge of keeping the eternal fire lit. If you lost your virginity, you were buried alive; If you let the fire go out, you were beaten by the emperor (I think him). Rome, gorgeous, but not for sissies: not then-not now.

 

 

 

Murphy’s law and Chinatown in Roma.

imageIt was unusual for me to have dire thoughts prior to leaving on a trip. But, this time I did. I had visions of being robbed, left alone, lost…. I think they came from the guide books and a travel book my friend sent me. ” Watch your stuff!” Beware of late-night train & bus stations, keep you money secure in your belt.” Maybe it’s because I just felt too lucky, and too blessed- the shoe will fall. What ever silliness runs through one’s head like a bullet train, it is hard to drive those thoughts away.

It all started well. My flight was on time from the U.S. My burly English seat companion was of my ilk. We slept and laughed-slept and laughed. The flight from London was two hours late.

In Rome I found the train. Two ticket machines were defunct. But finally, I got one. When I was taking it out of the tray, I spotted a 20 euro note on the ground. Found money is a good sign. To counter that, the last train was pulling out of the station when I got there. I ran for it anyway. I was the last person standing in the cavernous station. Alone. A guy looking through the garbage cans was working the perimeter of the place. He looked at me and passed. Finally, an employee opened a door. “Last train. Go to bus.” It was English-enough to make me feel better.image

I found the bus. The passengers were sitting patiently, waiting to leave when the driver came in and yelled at an obviously gay, young, Asian passenger across the aisle from me. “Get off the bus!” He yelled something about his purse. The passengers sided with the passenger. “It’s just a purse. Just a friggin purse!” They yelled at him. the young  man held his ground. (and niggled the driver just a bit) “I’m never getting off this bus!!” Ah, I could have been in New York in the 70’s.

20 min later, I got out of the bus, took a cab driven by a tout driver who preys on tourists, ( even though my shoes DO NOT LOOK LIKE I AM A TOURIST )and, because I had no idea how far the hostel was, took him up on his offer of 20 Euros for a three or four block trip. 20. Easy come: easy go.
(Btw, it was the second time I’d been gifted a 20 dollar bill on the ground in a week!)

At the hostel the night guy said there was a problem. “What problem?” I asked nicely. I have been on the road 24 hours, I am tired, cranky and need to sleep. And, I have a reservation.”
“The hostel has been closed. I can send you to the Downtown Hostel. ” “Will you pay for it, otherwise I am not going anywhere.”
He looked at the computer and called someone. ”
“Good luck. You can sleep here tonight.”
I slept like a baby. Now I am in the Downtown Alessandro, Roma. My bed is comfortable, my belly full. Two slices of mushroom pizza-2 Euros, one half bottle of vino tinto-2.5. Huge fresh strawberries, 1.5 E. And, image
imageI found Rome’s Chinatown. See. Good luck everywhere
<br /><br />

The Iron Beds

Iron bed with Morrocan pillow

Iron bed with Morrocan pillow

A thing has to have meaning for me to keep it these days-to haul it in and out of storage every time I decide to travel. But, if it does have a place, say in my heart, or reminds me of good things and loves past, I’ll keep it even if it’s heavy and unwieldy, or takes the lions share of rented space.

Back, way back, in the obscure recesses of my memory, there was an iron bed. It figured prominently in a nightmare I had for three decades, but I never actually saw it until I was in my 30s. My mom used to tell my sitters, “If she wakes up screaming just turn on the light and hold her for a few minutes, she’ll go back to sleep.” Frequently, an earache triggered the nightmare. As I got older and life became more complicated, the catalyst was, more often than not, emotional distress.

2nd Iron bed

2nd Iron bed

In the dream, I am suspended in total darkness, alone and weightless. Suddenly, a high-pitched trill, like a bird in distress far-away seems to surround me. The sound begins faintly and becomes progressively louder and louder until I wake, shaking, sometimes sweaty, my heart pounding. Similar to falling dreams where one never hits the bottom, the source of the tormenting, other worldly noise never reveals itself.

In the mid-70s, when I was living in Chicago, the nightmare came so frequently I was afraid to go to sleep. My friend, Ginny, suggested I visit a past life regression hypnotist that she knew. I had nothing to lose.

The hypnotist turned on a tape recorder to tape the session: for his safety, and for me to review later. Within minutes, he had me in a trance. My first death occurred when I, as an old man, was on a dappled gray horse, being chased by rogue solders- Romans, we believed, by my description of their uniforms. They over took me, and dragged me hanging from a stirrup to my death.

The second time I died,, I was a young shepherd boy. I was tending goats on a verdant, grassy hillside overlooking the sea, but I felt very sick. I went home to a long, low, white washed building. Inside, small children were sitting on benches at a large table. It was warm. My mother gave me a bowl of soup, which I slurped slowly by the fire. As I was describing my second death to the therapist, the dream arrived, cutting my description of death short. I shouted, “No! No!” The hypnotist calmed my fear. “You are not alone. Let the demons come. I won’t let them hurt you,” he assured me.

Through tears, I began drifting in the dark. The therapist kept talking. “Don’t let it go. What do you see?” It was as if I was watching a photograph take shape in the dark room. The black void that had terrified me all my life, took the shape of nun’s habits, bunched together in a fluid galaxy, in a dim, sparse room. The screaming came from me. I was a baby, maybe a year old, just able to stand. I was standing in an iron bed, hanging on to the bars, screaming because my head was hurting. No one seemed to hear me-or care. The hypnotist assured me I was not alone; but I was sobbing now, because then I had been. And, I had never forgotten that aloneness, I’d been carrying it around in my psyche my entire life. After that session, the dream left, and hasn’t been back.

During the mid 80s I owned some land with a musician friend outside of Clear Lake, CA. One afternoon, we visited friends of his. We entered the house through the back door off the kitchen. Straight ahead, through the kitchen, in an alcove a foot or so above the floor, was a simple black iron bed. I shivered. My friend asked if I was OK? “Yes, but something is strange,” I told him. I felt a uncanny attachment to their bed. Just minutes after I met his friend, I told her, “ It’s crazy, but that bed is mine. When you no longer want it, let me know and I’ll come and get it. Having imbibed in psychedelic mushrooms, and a habitual pot smoker, she didn’t think it was strange at all. “OK. Will do,” she assured me.

A few months later, she called me to say they were moving and had left the bed in a storage bin in Clear Lake. They gave me the code to the combination lock. I had two weeks to pick it up. I moved my precious bed to San Francisco. It was squeaky and a bit unsteady. At one point during a raucous bout of love fun, the bed broke. Marty, my lover, bound it together with electrical wire. When I left the Bay area, the bed moved to Sonoma with me.

Several years later, I went on the road to do stand-up. I put the bed into storage in Sonoma. When I moved to Los Angeles in l990, I loaded the bed in the U Haul cart I towed behind my l977 turquoise and white Buick Skylark. I barely got out of San Francisco, when the car began to huff and puff up even the slightest hill. She ran hot. She just couldn’t haul the weight. I drove to my friend, Carol’s, in Alameda. We unloaded books, and other heavy stuff. I left the bed in. She said, “You need to get rid of the bed, too. Leave it here. I’ll call Goodwill to come pick it up.” “Oh no!” Crying, I called my daughter, Alice. “Mom, why are you crying about that old bed?”
“It has such wonderful memories,” I answered.“Memories are just burdens if you have to haul them around,” she wisely countered. It sounded like a country song.

The old bed was too heavy to haul up another hill, memories leaned against the garage wall, destined for Goodwill. I called my daughter for comfort, but her logic was sound, memories are only burdens if you have to haul them around.

Sometime in the late 90’s a childhood friend of mine and I bought a century old house in the forest close to the small Western Pennsylvania towns we grew up in. In the house were three iron beds, complete with heavy metal springs. Aside from a waterbed, I’d never slept on anything so comfortable.

When we sold the house a few years later, I hauled two of the beds and the heavy springs to California. Since then, they have spent more time in storage than out. A year ago, I moved to Lake Isabella. The friend who moved me into the cabin was about to set up the beds when he realized there were no rails. They had apparently had been left in LA –three years before.

It’s time the beds join the dream, as memories, not burdens.

Settling In. Traveling back.

For the past seven years, I’ve been on the move. Some places I stayed a few months,  some a couple of years.  I settled into apartments in Mexico, China, Costa Rica and Los Angeles, plus, at my daughter’s request, I lived with her and her children outside historic  Charleston, SC.  Except for Los Angeles, where I actually got my stuff out of storage for a short spell, I purchased or borrowed what I needed to make myself comfortable wherever I happened to be in the world.

House on canal in Venice Beach, CA

House on canal in Venice Beach, CA

The Cabin

The Cabin

I learned a lot about myself. My odyssey taught me that my most useful attributes are my improvisational skills, and the ability to be flexible. I discovered that although coffee is  preferred, tea will do just fine; that unusual spices and unidentifiable food make eating an adventure, the struggle to communicate with those who speak different languages is challenging: sometimes fun, sometimes frustrating, that the best adventures happen when one is lost, that fear is overrated. That we are basically all the same.

L

Amigas: Barbara & Linda

Amigas: Barbara & Linda

Cindy, Wyatt n Bullit

Cindy, Wyatt n Bullit

Mis Amigas

Mis Amigas

Moving crew

Moving crew

ast year I felt compelled to go home.  Unfortunately I didn’t have one.  I had a 10X10 storage unit in Tehachapi, in the mountains between the San Joaquin Valley and the Mohave Desert.  I didn’t belong in the south. My daughter had her own life, and a family that didn’t include me. I missed my friends in California. Maybe I missed the state itself.

I headed across the country in Margaret, my Mini Cooper to my friend, Brandon Maggart’s, house in Venice Beach. Maybe it was the beach, the craziness, the chaos.  What ever, talking to my daughter, Alice, on the phone, she said, ” It must feel good to be home.” Ah, she understood. Still, Brandon’s, although I was totally comfortable, and I loved having another writer to share thoughts and words with, was not my home. I went back to Tehachapi, then to Bodfish and Lake Isabella. Searching.

My cabin in Lake Isabella is surrounded by woods and rocks. Outside my window three Hummingbirds argue constantly about nectar rights at the newly hung feeder. Abby, my friend Sherry’s  dog, comes to visit and to do yoga with me. At night I have a commanding view of the valley lights  stretched out below me as a long strand of rhinestones gracing the neck of the sparse mountains above it.

My Tehachapi friends rallied to pack the uhaul truck. That I have these good friends fills my heart.

Bedroom in cabin.

Bed in cabin.

Opening the boxes, I find pieces of myself that go back to my childhood. There are letters to my mother while she was in the hospital having me. A photo of me in my dad’s arms, my great grandparents surrounding us and several of my grandpa Naughton, the main man in my life for the first decade of my life. My home in Foxburg, PA was the flat on the second floor of his Irish bar. Across the street the beautiful Allegheny River flowed, sometimes leisurely as if it had all the time in the world, sometimes raging as if it was angry, to Pittsburgh.

A small three-legged table that was  my grandma Emma’s sets beside my bed.  I eat my meals on her red, separated plates. A hobnail vase of Mary McCoy’s, my mom’s first cousin and closest friend all of their lives,  my Mother’s bible, so important in her life, a banjo and a dulcimer made and given to me by different men who hoped in vain that I would become a musician.

Through countless photos and  mementos, I wander back through the years to my son’s births and deaths, my daughter’s births and schools years, their marriages, and the birth of my grand children, to life before my teenage brother was killed by a drunk driver, my ill-fated marriages, the fulfilling comedy years, to the time I could pick up the phone and call my mother. I wonder why my daughter doesn’t want to talk to me. Through photos and articles, I revisit countries I’ve visited, men I’ve loved, and people who have both inspired and thwarted me.

The past gives us perspective for the future. I see a busy one filled with the talents of my friends, music, stories, laughing, sharing and travels. This time when I leave, I’ll have a place to come home to.

Life, The Ultimate Trip-Venice, CA

imageI walked from the house on the 300 block of Windward Avenue. Within a minute or two I came upon a small, full, bright green tree, maybe 8 or 9 feet high. Dripping from the slender leaves were long yellow tentacles, each one filled with tiny bright, yellow balls. The tree reminded me of the fire works that drip long streams of color when they explode. Something about the tree made me feel happy. Maybe its whimsey, the way the yellow, lanky, arms bobbed and swayed as if dancing to the easy breeze blowing off the ocean.

I caressed the fleecy leaves. I put my nose into the blossoms as if I were searching for nectar. I walked on feeling a bit lighter, maybe with more bounce in my step than I before I saw it. I thought of the many ways nature affects us: huge life-giving ways, and small, almost unnoticeable, unexpected ways.

On Lincoln, I encountered a coiffed, white-haired, woman dressed impeccably in a white pantsuit, red blouse, stripped red and white socks, riding toward me on her scooter-chair. She was a good driver, traversing the uneven pavement, handling the dip from the sidewalk into the street, and up again, skillfully, with steady confidence. She looked like she could be in Florida, instead of Venice Beach. But I realized that was an unfair stereotype. When she passed me, both going and coming from the AT&T store, I smiled at her. She smiled back.

At one point a young man on a skateboard sped past her and around me. I flashed on her 40 or 50 years ago: different vehicle, maybe on a surfboard or skateboard, with the same confidence-and him 40 years hence, an old man, on a scooter bike cutting in and out, still skillfully avoiding pedestrians.

imageI left the AT&T building, stopped at a small Thai restaurant for some spicy mint noodles, and continued walking north on Lincoln Blvd. When I came upon a photo of two covered woman with their draped daughters, and small boy outside the Venice arts building, I stopped. The door was open so I went in to see Marissa Roth’s photo exhibition: one person crying: women and war. My timing was good, it was the show’s last day.

The open airy space was bustling with activity. Young students sat at several large tables discussing photos and drawings spread out before them. I was ignored as I wandered around them, looking at the photographs on the walls.

Face after face filled with fathomless pain and sorrow looked back at me from: Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Ireland, Viet Nam, Japan, and Europe, survivors of the holocaust and Hiroshima. None of them have forgotten-will ever forget. Pain was etched in scars, deep ridges, their eyes, and in tight mouths that rarely smile because they some how survived to spend a lifetime mourning their family members who had perished. Because of war; Because men value money and power more than life-over and over again. That women bear the brunt of it.

From photo to photo, my sadness grew heavier, feelings of impotence increased. I wanted to collapse crying on the floor. I walked out of the building into the sunlight knowing that human rights don’t exist anywhere. That they won’t ever. I carried my burden of knowing, heavy in its sack of grief as I continued my walk.

Just past the bus bench on California at Lincoln, a man was sitting on the pavement beside his bike laden with goods only he, in all the world, cared about. Dressed in bright clothes, wearing three hats, the top most a child’s, knitted lime green elephant. He was cursing. Streams of fuckyous, motherfuckers, and goddams burst from his mouth in rage, hopelessness, and fury. I imagined his head was jumbled, the connectors disconnected somehow. I wondered what he had seen, what had been done to make him hurt so. I knew he didn’t want change. He wanted peace. Behind him thick, sweet, aromatic jasmine was growing on a fence.

Jasmine

Jasmine

A few blocks later, feeling weary, I went into the coffee shop at California and Abbot Kinney. I ordered an ice coffee. The smiling young man behind the counter handed it to me. “I’m getting your coffee. Enjoy.”

“Really? Thank you.”
A tiny random act of kindness.

I sat at a table, sipped my coffee, and read the LA Weekly paper. Movies, Theatre, Art, Music. Medical, or Illegal marijuana, Sex. Everything is here in Los Angeles-in Venice. It’s a microcosm of the real world: the very best to the unfathomable. Life. The ultimate trip. Continue reading

Hope Surges on Route 66/ I 40 across the USA.

According to distance-cities.com there are 2,471.06 between Charleston SC and Los Angeles,CA. If one were to drive non-stop, it would take 1 day and 11 hours without stopping to pee. It took me seven.

Creek Casino, Muskogee, OK

Creek Casino, Muskogee, OK

The main routes across my expansive country are Interstates 80, 40 and 10. I chose 40 which is also the old Route 66 known as Main St US.

Route 66 cafe

Route 66 cafe

Cadillac Ranch

Cadillac Ranch

A, made famous in the l960s by the song, Get Your Kicks on route 66, and the Route 66 TV show.

Back then it was all about the cars: colorful sexy, sleek, gas guzzling automobiles that felt like they were floating down the road-back seats big enough for three or four kids and a dog, or for making making babies.  In fact, my twin sons were conceived in a jaunty push-button, two-toned salmon colored dodge on a sultry summer evening in July, 1960.image

One has to deliberately exit the interstate to get to the old route, but to do so is a total trip into the past. I thoroughly enjoy the stores and restaurants that have been run by the same families for generations. I’m moved thinking I may have shopped in some of them during my first trip across the US with my mom and her friend, Tacy, in l953 when I was ten!

Eight years ago, on a road trip with my friend, Sherry Gaskin, we stopped for the night at the Route 66 Motel. I don’t remember exactly where it was, but the flouncy bedspread, and lace curtains could have been in my grandmother’s house.

As part of the price we were given breakfast vouchers for the restaurant next door: the Road-Kill Cafe. Although it didn’t feature opossum or freshly fender-whacked deer, we discovered that meat and potatoes were de riguer. When we both ordered oatmeal, fruit and yogurt, the young, pregnant waitress, peered at us with a blank stare. Within a few minutes she brought us coffee. While we sat waiting for our food,  customers around us came and went after devouring plates filled with bright yellow, slimy eggs over easy, accompanied by generous hunks of crisp bacon or sausage, potatoes, and toast or a plate piled high with four inch biscuits smothered in beige gravy. 

Finally we inquired about our food. She didn’t flinch. “This is the ROAD KILL CAFE. We don’t have yogurt, or fruit  or oatmeal,” she replied. “Oh. In that case we’ll have # 2 scrambled, with bacon and wheat toast.” we answered in succession.

I tipped her a dollar because she was surly, and the service was shitty. Sherry left her five. “Why’d you do that, Sherry?” I asked. “Oh, she’s a young, pregnant woman who lives in the middle of nowhere, working at the Road Kill Cafe. She needs something to brighten her day.” Ahh. Compassion. Random acts of kindness. I have a lot to learn from my friend.

This past trip, I stopped in Muskogee, OK, made famous by country music legend, Merle Haggard, with his song, Okie From Muskogee, recorded in l969. The song was Merle’s tribute to the values of folks in Oklahoma, and his renouncement of the  hippie movement going on in San Francisco. I was there to rendezvous with my dear friend, Kate, who’s living in Kansas, whom I had met in the 1980s in San Francisco when I was doing stand-up. We explored the sleepy town, had a hot chicken salad smothered with yellow cheese, at the new Creek Casino, and walked around an expansive park, where I unknowingly gifted to a lucky person a hand loomed scarf I’d  bought in Guatemala a few years ago.

Mole @ MEXICAN FOOD, AZ

Mole @ MEXICAN FOOD, AZ

Next I stopped  to visit with my new friend, Sandra, in Albuquerque, NM. I met Sandra and her mom, Rosa, in the Amazon jungle the previous September at the Nasty Monkey Hostel, (my name for it), Puerto Narino, Colombia. When Clare, another traveling acquaintance and I were invited to celebrate Rosa’s 70th birthday, we gladly accepted. Attended by two boys under ten, we drank beer, unidentified whiskey, and Rosa and I danced. Two old ladies cutting the rug in the jungle, happy to be alive.

L-R Ruby, Rosa, Claire, Sandra

L-R Ruby, Rosa, Claire, Sandra

The US is expansive, and diverse. Immigrants came from all over the world looking for freedom, to strike it rich, farm, and many other reasons. Aside from our deplorable treatment, and annihilation of the majority of the native Americans, I remember when our politicians compromised: when the country and we the people were priorities. Now, our politics are a mess. Congress has become the Tower of Babel, unable to communicate with each other, servants controlled and dominated by corporate greed and billionaires such as the Koch brothers.

Interstate 40

Interstate 40

However, zipping along in Margaret, my Mini Cooper that was a Christmas gift from my daughter, Anna in 2006, the windows down, the sun roof open, a CD blasting, and cruise control set to keep the speed legal, cruising from state to state, across highways that are still superior to most in the world, it was easy to forget our troubles. It was as if hope surged through the air. Even the ticket I got for an illegal lane change, while I was on the phone not paying attention, could not dampen my love of this place I call home.

 

 

 

 

Get Off the Bus

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of persons in the US over 65 (officially elderly) has jumped by a factor of 11! in the past decade. We are growing by an average of 2.8 % annually. Well, our numbers are. Personally, I am shrinking faster than that. I have to hurry before I am too short to ride The Cyclone roller coaster in Coney Island. cyclone

Seniors make up the wealthiest niche market in the developed world. As travelers, they are said to want comfort, are cautious, safety oriented, demanding, and complaining. Additionally, they are quick to sue if anything goes awry. It makes sense.

A majority of these seniors live in gated communities, which comprises 10% of the US housing market. According to an article by Rich Benjamin in the New York Times, these communities “attract like-minded residents who seek shelter from outsiders and whose physical seclusion then worsens paranoid groupthink against outsiders.” In other words they distrust those beyond the pale. However, they have a staggering amount of money to spend, and the tourist market is working overtime to accommodate them.

tourist bus

Daily, buses full of middle class and upscale tourists from around the world clog the narrow streets of ancient cities forcing the residents to wait until they pass. Tourist companies pick and choose shops and restaurants that are ‘perceived safe’ for their clients. They are cautioned not to eat or drink from local street stands, or buy from unapproved merchants. God forbid they should go out alone at night. So, from their sheltered, cushy, climate controlled seats, perched high above the streets, these people observe the surroundings while being informed about it by the guide’s well rehearsed discourse. Later when relating their experiences at cocktail parties, they say, “Oh, yes. I’ve been there, I’ve seen that, or those people. It (or they) were charming, or quaint, or poor.”

The tourist industry is attracting like-minded physically secluded, tourists who seek shelter from the very places they tour. It’s crazy.

If you have the slightest inclination to step out a bit, to experience a different culture, or mingle with the locals, you have to get off the bus. Let that be your first adventure.

Adventure by definition means taking a risk, however small. Trust that people around the world are kind and curious. They want to know you, and are eager to share. As Rudyard Kipling said, “The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it.”

My Impending Death

Bridge

Bridge near Middleton, RI

According to a Facebook quiz I succumbed to, I have eighteen years and two months to live. That means my final journey will occur sometime during February 2033. I’ll be 89. Mark your calendars.

I would have preferred a spring or summer death, because it would be nice to have an outside going away party. Maybe my friend Dave Bouldin will write another leaving song like he did when I sold my house and moved to Mexico.

I plan to be cremated so there won’t be a shriveled up body to view, thank god. I’v e asked my daughter, Alice, to have a life-size cardboard effigy of me made (she could pick the photo) for folks to dance with at my wakeimage. She laughed and said she would, but it would still be sad.

Eighty-nine is longer than I expected to live given my rowdy

Ollantaytambo. Peru

Ollantaytambo. Peru

behaviour. I remember being high on LSD once at a party in San Francisco. I was talking with a friend by the stove when someone used the gas burner to light a joint. Along with the the joint, the accordion sleeve of my blouse also burst into flames. I thought it was pretty. I don’t remember who put th

Not the Nile but close enough.,

Not the Nile but close enough.,

e fire out.

That was back when you could get a decent bag of Mexican pot for a dime (ten dollars). However, during my stand-up comedy years I chose red wine over the wildly popular cocaine as my drug of choice, and it remains so. Even though most days I exceed the prescribed daily limit, my liver has hung in there, and according to recent medical trends, red wine may even be helpful to my heart. If you hang there long enough medical science will come around to your side. .

Now that I have a more or less specific time of my passing I feel compelled to make a few plans for the future. The first thing I need is a home. Being homeless the last seven years has been fun, but now I want to find a small cottage by water, or (second choice) in the mountains, where I can move the stuff that hasn’t rotted out of storage.

At the top of my adventure list is a kayak trip to explore parts of the Mississippi River beginning at its headwaters in Lake Itasca, MN. Further south I see myself docking at small blues bars along the way, listening to music, and maybe even singing a rendition of You Can Leave Your Hat On. After that, I want to spend a few days camping, hiking and horse riding among the hoo-doos (odd-shaped pillars of rock) and forests in Bryce Canyon, Utah.

The final ‘must see’ river on my list is the Nile. It’s a busy waterway. The section from Luxor to Aswan alone is said to have 200 – 300 ships, with ratings from 0-5 cruising from any given time. The higher the score the ritzier and more international the passengers become. I’ll be on a 2 or 3 with the working class Egyptians, eating big plates of fava beans, and eggplant spiced with jute leaves, coriander, garlic and onions.

Eighteen years seem like a long time, but if they go as fast as the last 70 I’ve no time to waste.

Here's to me in Aquas Calientes

Here’s to me in Aquas Calientes

Youth Hostels: Not Just for the young.

I’m a traveler. I may be young at heart, but I’m anything but years young. My AARP card is wrinkled and worn. My current passport has six pages and three years left. So far, I’ve visited thirty countries, Not that I’m counting, but it’s my frequently asked question.

Back around circa 2000BT ( before texting ), my friend who works for United Airlines gave me a buddy pass for Christmas. ” You can go anywhere in the world you want.” Anywhere? Whoa! I chose Thailand. It was my first time in Asia, but definitly not the last.

 

Tom Brown and Claudia, Chacapoyas

Tom Brown and Claudia, Chacapoyas

Upstairs lounge FDH Lima

Upstairs lounge FDH Lima

Room in Paradiso Ayahuasca , puerto Narino

Room in Paradiso Ayahuasca , puerto Narino

Psygon Surfers School and Hostel, Mancora, Peru

Psygon Surfers School and Hostel, Mancora, Peru

Hospedaje Golondrinos

Hospedaje Golondrinos

Unfortunately, unbeknown  to me, it was Chinese New Year.  Apparently, the Chinese don’t celebrate their New Year for a long weekend, regardless if it’s a dog, rooster, ox, or sheep year, they keep up the festivities for weeks.  Bangkok must be on their celebration route. While i was trying to figure out were to go,  a Canadian couple I’d met walkng off the plane said they were going to Singapore. As it turns out, I, too, could go there if I wanted. “No, problem, Singapore, Miss, seats avail

indespensible clip

indespensible clip

able,” said the sweet, Japanese desk clerk.

It was one or two o’clock in the morning when we landed, but Ellen went to a pay phone. Using her budget travel guide-book, and advice on how to use the phone, from a friendly guy passing by, she found us a hostel, the first of many for me. The hostel consisted of several rooms above an Indian restaurant in the Hindu part of town. My small room had two twin beds, but I was the only occupant at the time, a door, and a balcony that looked over the main street. The well-worn sheets had a Mickey and Minnie Mouse pa

Bed at Flying Dog Hostel, Arequipa

Bed at Flying Dog Hostel, Arequipa

ttern. The pillow was a hard lump; the mattress slightly fluffier than the floor. The shared bath was huge. Several toilet stalls sans doors, or seats lined the wall. Each had a bucket of water in the corner with a large spoon or ladle. The trick was to dip it into the water to wash oneself after..well, you know.

On a small table near the balcony door in my room was a wicker basket with a sheet of paper, pencil, and a small bell. A wooden chair sat next to it. Upon further inspection I realized the paper was a menu. All I needed to do was check off the stuff I wanted and drop the basket down from the balcony and the food would be sent up to me. I love room service! The problem was I didn’t recognize the food. I would learn soon enough. For the moment , I sat on the little chair and watched the street vendors set up for the day. I was happy. The room cost about 6.00 US dollars a day.

Since then I have stayed in many hostels around the world. They vary wildly according to culture, price, and comfort, but compared to hotels, for independent travelers, they are inexpensive and much more interesting. In a hostel you get the latest skinny from backpackers on places to eat, buses, routes, sights on and off the beaten path, and nightlife. If you are traveling alone you usually can find someone to share expenses on local day tours and taxis. It’s likely you will find friends for traveling and even life.

Many hostels have private rooms and bath, but most people sleep dormitory style in bunk beds. Breakfast may or not be included, but usually there is kitchen where guests can store and cook food, and a common room with one or two computers, a TV, video games or movies, a bar, and maybe a pool table. There might be bikes to rent, and tours at reasonable prices, city maps, and local advice. The Hospedaje Golondrinos in Iquitos, Peru had lovely, warm water pool.

Through the years I have adopted a few methods for convenience and privacy. I pack a few sarongs, a couple of 8-10 foot cords, and a package of plastic and metal clips designed for paper, but the triangle inside allows me to slide the clip along the cord. I tie the cord from end to end along the top of my bunk, and hang the sarongs as curtains. I also carry an extension cord. It’s

Patio with pool table Flying Dog Hostel, Lima

Patio with pool table Flying Dog Hostel, Lima

invaluable for charging phones and laptops where there is only one outlet across the room or on busses. On some busses the outlet is up above the seats in the back of the luggage rack. I run the cord along the top and down the side, hooking it with the clips on the curtain line.

As there are everywhere, there are thieves in hostels. I never leave my small pack with iphone, pad, money & passport out of my sight. On busses, these things go under the seat ahead of me or under my  feet-NEVER above, out of sight. On my last trip one of my favorite sarongs was stolen. It was irritating, but not crucial to the trip.

There are many sites on the internet for hostels. I use Hostelworld.com most of the time, but Tripadviser.com and hostelbooking.com are popular. This allows you to read the reviews of travelers-and we are an honest lot. The main gripe these days is wifi & water, and cleanliness. The last few years we’ve seen an out break of bedbugs in motels in America and Europe, and although I’ve heard of them in hostels, I haven’t had the experience. Ask. Don’t be shy. Are water and wifi reliable and available 24/7? Wifi might just be available in one room, or not at night. The same with water. I personally hate cold showers so the water will make or break the deal for me no matter how cheap the bed is.

All this aside, what makes a hostel exceptional is the staff and the people you meet. Many young folks ignore me. I understand. Who wants to hang out with someone who could be your grandmother. Fortunately there are those who appreciate having a person with a different perspective and stories to tell. I’ve taught yoga in hostels and cooked big pots of delicious soup, but mostly I’ve learned from the youth. A few weeks ago I was joined in my morning yoga routine by a Martial Arts Master/Teacher from France. We each learned some new moves. The photos are from some of my favorite hostels during the past two years in Brazil and Peru.

I can’t wait to visit some of the folks I met on my trip: Ireland, Italy (Tuscany), South Korea, England, and of course, back to Peru.

It’s all about the people.

The history of ancient cultures  seen in the ruins or museums are worth comtemplating and give one  perspective, but it’s the people you meet, the things you learn about other cultures, and the sharing, however small, of food, drink, dance, ideas, a laugh,  maybe even tears that one remembers. Some will keep in touch on FB, some you will see again, and some you talk to just a few minutes. In many cultures, the people are very private about having their picture taken, when they do, it is a gift. I am grateful that many people granted me the priviledge. All encounters are responsible for shaping the traveler’s memory,   how we remember the experience as a whole. Thank you all.