Sunday, December 22, 2013

The memories of Christmas past.... The Saturday Evening blog Post, edition#12

It is three days to Christmas and time to think about Christmas's past (and greatly embellish them.) So, today, for your reading pleasure, here are some highlights (and lowlights) from the last forty years of Hogenkamp family Christmas celebrations.

The year without a Santa Claus (circa 1978): I was ten or so, and I had a hankering for a BB gun you wouldn't believe--unless you are a ten year-old boy. I can still remember the make and model, a Crosman Model 760. I made sure to show my mother the exact gun I wanted at our local sporting goods store, and recollect that she said, 'We'll see,' a sure sign I wasn't getting it. And sure enough, when Christmas morning dawned there was no Crossman 760 under the tree--on the positive side, I did get a pair of Levi's corduroy pants in a mauve color. In protest, I refused to put clothes on, and spent the next three days in my long underwear. (Ok, ok, but I was ten--or twelve maybe, who can remember?)

Christmas in Austria (1986): I was living in Salzburg, Austria and my father had the great idea to rent an alpine chalet in Sant Anton for the whole week. So, I took the train to Zurich, Switzerland as soon as school let out for the term, and my parents and I rented a car and drove north to Essen, Germany, where lived our friends, die familie Mock. We had a great couple of days celebrating Weihnacten and then returned to Austria to claim our chalet halfway up the mountain, and ready ourselves for the arrival of my brothers (both unmarried and untamed in those days). Fortunately, my sister and my BIL were on the same flight, as those two had consumed most of Swiss Air's yearly quota of champagne. Their arrival was co-incident with the biggest snowstorm to hit the Alps in twenty years, and the agenda for the week was set: skiing in fresh powder, big family meals three times per day, and Bier vom Fass by the kegsful. Our chalet came with an attendant, Franz, who saw to such things as making sure our ski boots were warm and dry in the morning, and that the pastry table never ran out of Apfelstuedel. It was the mother of all Christmas weeks: thanks again, Pops.

Multicultural Christmas Eve (1994): My wife and I were both resident physicians at the time, living in Syracuse, NY. We both had to be on call on Christmas (and yes, spending the entire day, the entire night, and half the next day in the hospital is not a great way to celebrate Christmas) so we decided to have a dinner party on Christmas Eve for all the other residents who were in town. It is a testament to how much it stinks to spend any holiday alone that all the invitees showed up--despite my reputation as a horrible cook. And we had a lovely time--testament to the fact that top shelf alcohol trumps bad food every time. And though we may not have celebrated Christmas in a traditional sense (half the attendees were not Christian) we celebrated friendship and the fact that we had all survived half of our residency. The night was such a success (again, Tanqueray) that we made a tradition of having guests on Christmas Eve that lasts till today.

I could go on, but I can hear your stomach gurgling from here. I wish you all Happy Holidays, and hope you are celebrating with family and friends. As always, thanks for reading. peter

Thursday, December 19, 2013

#december in #vermont, a pictorial essay on the Thursday afternoon #MINI post

Welcome, #MINI fans. Due to the success (remember, success is a relative term) of my #november in #vermont post last month, I have decided to dedicate the 3rd #MINI of every month to a pictorial essay featuring #vermont scenes I have captured on my iPhone, so those of you who don't live in the #greenmountainstate can get a sense of what it is like the whole year round. (And, yes, there are lots of cows.) Just a quick plug before we get started: if you haven't read #theintern, the serialized novel I am writing on #wattpad, I am posting the links below. If you have, note that segment 3 is published and also posted below:

The Intern; Chapter 1, The Boy in Room 12

The Intern, Chapter 1, segment 2

The Intern, Chapter 1, segment 3

The ubiquitous red barn

#burdock (also ubiquitous)


Penguins are native to Vermont

A fern in winter

blackberries gone by

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The best made plans.... Introducing serial fiction on The Saturday Evening Blog Post.

I had great blogging plans for today... I swear it. But then it started to snow.... and snow... and snow. I suspect you are guessing how weather disrupted my blogging plans--blogging being an indoor sport and all--but it did indeed. My son's flight from Boston was cancelled and I was dispatched to retrieve him, that's how. So, having accomplished my mission, and come back from a nice snowshoe in 18 inches of fresh powder, I am going to try something new. And that something new is serial fiction, but with a twist. Rather than finish the whole work and then publish it, one chapter at a time, I am posting each 3-4 page segment as I write it. The challenge presented is that the author (me) loses the significant power of revision. For example, when I wrote my first manuscript, I needed to re-write the first chapter three times to make it fit as the rest of the novel evolved. In my current predicament, I get one shot at it and one shot only. If I create a character I don't like, I am stuck with him/her. If I write something I later hate, I have to live with it.

All I needed was a basic premise and a basic character, and I was ready to go. To make it even easier for myself I combined the two prerequisites, creating a nameless medical intern to be both character and premise. I have so many visceral memories of my year as an intern, and I am banking that they create visceral scenes. So, without further ado and in tribute to all the kings of scut past, present and future, here is #TheIntern. (ok, so not quite yet: At the end of the segment, I am posting the link to the second segment on #WattPad, where the entire work will ultimately be published. Please click on the link, read segment 2, and follow me on #WattPad if you are interested in seeing more.) Thank you.

            When she was later asked about it—at the Morbidity and Mortality conference that followed every death—the intern answered that she wasn’t sure what had brought her to Room 12, other than a ‘vague uneasiness’ about the welfare of her patient.
            ‘Uneasy?’ the attending physician would inquire. ‘About a dying patient? What did you expect to go wrong?’
            ‘He was twelve,’ would be her response, ‘Twelve year old boys shouldn’t die.’
            But she was not privy to this future conversation as she descended the back stairway to the pediatrics floor and pushed open the creaky metal door that let out onto the dimly lit ward. Room 12 was at the end of the hall and to the right, at the far side of an alcove which few patients ever entered—and none left. She padded down the hall as quietly as she could in her plastic clogs, hoping not to wake the pyelo in Room 2 or the appy in 4. Passing Room 6 she was pleased to hear nothing other than the soft hiss of oxygen, indicating that the wheezer she had admitted yesterday was responding to the treatments she had ordered.
            The main ward stopped abruptly at this point—as if the builders had suddenly realized they had neither the space nor the funding to continue—and the alcove began, jutting out from the hallway like the afterthought it was. She paused at the corner, reaching into the recess where the nurses stowed the food cart, and tucked away a couple packages of graham crackers into the pocket of her long white coat. She had never cared for graham crackers, but Bobby loved them and there were few things—none actually—she wouldn’t do to see a smile on his pale, drawn face.
            The door to Room 12 was ajar, and she squeezed through, ignoring the signs that Disease Control had plastered all over the door. The room was dark save for the reading light she had fixed to the headboard of Bobby’s bed so he could read the latest edition of the X-men for the 100th time. To her lack of surprise Bobby was curled up in a ball underneath the light, clutching the beaten magazine in the only hand that cancer hadn’t stolen from him.
            “You shouldn’t be in here,” Bobby said without looking up. “Didn’t you see the signs?”
            “How did you know it was me?” she asked.
            “Nobody else ever comes in.”
            She didn’t doubt it: there was no family listed on his chart and the chief resident and attending physician seemed happy to let her run the case on her own. Several clever replies—No one else deserves you or Try being less sarcastic—flitted through her head but she just nodded and sat down in the hard plastic chair next to the bed.
            “Why don’t you try reading something else?”
            He rolled up the comic book and swatted the pocket of her lab coat, stuffed with medical manuals and small notebooks overflowing with her neat script. “I could say the same about you.”
            “I have my boards tomorrow morning,” she replied, rubbing the knot in her neck where the collar of the coat dug into her trapezius.
            “Why aren’t you studying then?”
            “I wanted a break.”
            “Where’s Toothy?” he asked, referring to her boyfriend who had rotated through Pediatrics last month.
            He was studying, of course, and detested any kind of interruption or distraction, especially on the night before such an important exam.
            “No clue,” she said.
            “He’s not good enough for you” Bobby said bluntly. It was one of the things she loved about him, his bluntness. As he had told her many times before, ‘When you don’t have long to live, there isn’t time not to get right to the point.’
            “I think you’re jealous,” she said, deflecting.
            “I’m jealous of people who buy green tomatoes,” he replied. “Stop changing the subject.”
            “You don’t even know him,” she replied, flinching at the realization that she had said the same thing to her mother.
            “Ha!” he croaked, barely able to muster the volume necessary to sound triumphant. “Whose place do you think you took?”
            “Ah, yes,” she said. “You two didn’t get on well?”
            “Pppppffffhhhhhhh,” he answered.
            “You better pipe down or I’ll go back to the library.”
            “See if I care,” he said, but dropped the comic book and reached out for her arm with his shriveled hand. Bobby weighed only 50 pounds soaking wet and stood only four-and-a-half feet high—when he had the strength to stand—living proof that mustard gas and rat poison should never be given to growing boys. 

Well, I hope you liked it and please click on the link for Segment 2. Also, if you have a suggestion you can make a comment (or just tell me that you would rather put a pen in your eye than read any more.) Thanks again, and segment 3 should be ready Tuesday.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

All I want for #Christmas2013 The Thursday Afternoon #MINI Post, Edition #10

Yup, you guessed it, I've finally resorted to tricks, gimmickry and #trending #hashtags. (What did you expect: good content?) For this Thursday's #MINI I am posting my Christmas list. And while this might seem somewhat self-serving (ummm, it seems very self-serving...) please read it before you come to any rash judgements. (What's that? Already too late?) Let me preface by saying, having just redone the kitchen, my stocking will be empty this year, so I have been thinking about gifts the world needs--like for #MylieCyrus to move to Siberia. Ok, so that was cheap, but you get the point--and #Mylie deserved it. In no particular order:

#1 An end to #RealityTV as we know it. If I want reality, I will just open up my eyes in the morning and go about my day. When I sit down and watch TV (and #RealityTV has given new meaning to the term, #BoobTube) I want some damn good writing. And I don't think I am alone, hence the popularity of #BreakingBad #DowntonAbbey #TheWire #GameofThrones #TheBigBangTheory and many others. Case in point, I was watching some inane show the other night and asked my daughter who this person was, named #thecommotion or something like that, she responded 'he's a #RealityTV star.' Let me see; no talent, no training, no (good) personal traits, no (good) looks, and you're a star? Yup, but only on #RealityTV, and that's why it needs to go.

#2 An end to the #BillyGoatCurse. Yup, that's right, I want the #ChicagoCubs to win the #WorldSeries. And if you don't, you have to question what kind of person you are--1908 for heaven's sake, give these people a break.

#3 A one-way ticket for A-Rod to Siberia, where he can pal around with #Mylie. (No explanation needed.)

#4 A ban on all 'indoor' venues for baseball and football teams. I was enjoying the #Eagles v #Lions last week in a blizzard at #TheLink when it hit me: How may times had I played football in the snow when I was a kid? Baseball and football are outdoor games--play them outdoors. The weather is supposed to be a factor. What next? Indoor golf courses so there won't be any wind?

#5 A full-out sacking of every member of Congress. Yup, you heard me, pink slips for every single congressman, congresswoman and senator, with no termination pay, and elections in the new year with the following rule: no person who has spent more than 5 days in Washington, D.C. will be allowed to run. (Also, no one can run if he/she has smoked crack in the past 10 years, unless he/she was drunk at the time, because 'then it's okay.')

Alright, alright, that's enough. I could rant forever, but the #MINI is the #MINI and I need another line for--yet another--#shamelesspromotion. I am writing a serialized novel called The Intern on #WattPad, and publishing it as I write it (to get out of the difficult editing part.) I would appreciate it if you would click on the link coming up, and give it a read. Thanks again. The Intern

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone, a guest blog on the Saturday Evening blog Post.

                                                                 Hold Your Breath

Good evening Post fans. We have--yet another--treat for you; a guest blog written by my brother-in-law, Tim Sayles. But, before you read the post, be aware of three things about Tim.
1) If charisma were worth money, he would be in a higher tax bracket that Bill Gates.
2) He is the best natural born actor I know, which is the reason I always find myself in trouble whenever he's around. (Go ahead and click on the link I have provided to see his award-winning short film)
3) He brings the thunder. (Don't ask--you are better off not knowing... plausible deniability and all that.) Ok, here's Tim.

First, I want to thank Peter for asking me to share on his forum.  Those that have been following his posts should know by now what I have known for years.  He is a modern day Renaissance Man.  His constant testing of his boundaries amaze and inspire me.
I recently acted in a movie for a film festival.  Our film was fortunate enough to win the Best Film Award.  Also, I was lucky enough to win Best Lead Male Actor.  A local Film Community had us out shortly after to honor our film.  They played it for other filmmakers, actors, directors, and producers to see.  Then they had us come up for a Q & A session.  I was so proud to be a part of this group.  We were all so excited going into this night that we had this opportunity.  Our chests were pumped up and maybe our heads a little big for the night.   I am a smell the roses kind of guy, so I was going to soak in every second of a night like this. 

Life has a way of throwing curveballs at you though.  I went there with one purpose, but I left with a far greater one.  This group tries to keep most meetings themed to what time of year we are in.  So, seeing as we were in October they played a few locally made short horror films.  One in particular held my attention the whole time.  The story line was very gripping, and the acting was superb.   The writer/actor/director came up for a Q& A session afterwards.  The first question was, “How did you come up with the storyline?”  His answer was that he had been in the worst place mentally of his life.  He had considered killing himself.  Instead of doing that he wrote.  The next quote set off a huge chain of events for me.  He said,” Often times our deepest and darkest hurts will turn into the most beautiful art if we let them.”  Let that sink in for a minute.  I had always thought that most people that write do so to escape their hurts and transgressions.  This guy is saying, stay there in the hurt and create.
A few days later I sat there lamenting a situation in my life.  Anger, fear, depression, sadness, and loss all a part of what was running through my head.  It was a bad place to be mentally.  Then that guy and his statement ran through my head.  I decided that rather than wallow in it, I would try to create.  I pulled out a pad of paper and just started writing.  I came up with a concept for a story pretty quickly.  I am not a writer so I was surprised how quickly it came.   I pitched the idea to the production company I had worked with on the film.  They jumped on board immediately and said write it.
I have never been to a writing workshop.  I have never studied how to write a movie.  I just have paid attention to what has moved my needle about a story and I ran with it.  I stepped out of my box and created.  I did not write a story to mirror the real life story of what bothered me.  Rather, I wrote a story to make the potential viewer come away feeling the frustration that I carry around with me.  A story that encapsulates the messiness that life oftentimes is.  There are not a lot of Hallmark endings. I created these characters that seem so real to me and yet I have never met them.
The production company allowed me to cast it out.  I pitched the ideas to a bunch of actors, and they all jumped on board quickly.  Not one of them said no.  They bought on.  There was a lot of fear for me to step out and share my idea with them.  What if they said no, or they just didn’t like my idea?  Rejection is an awful part of this business and I deplore it.  They didn’t however.  They all jumped at it.  It gave me more and more energy towards this project. 
The script is done.  The cast is set.  Production starts in a month.  There is a lesson for you to learn here.  Maybe a couple.  I hope you heard the words of that writer above.  It might turn out to be the best therapy for you….to turn pain into art.   It is tough to stay there mentally, but you probably are anyway, so use it.  Also, stop worrying about what seems impossible to do.  If you have a desire to write or create, then do so.  Pour your heart into it.  Listen to those with experience when they give you suggestions.  But, never let it derail you from what you want to do.  My film will be in nothing more than festivals.  It will never make me rich and famous.  But let me tell you this….never have I learned more about myself than when I was willing to step outside of my comfort zone and create. God Bless and good luck to all you wanna be writers out there!

Thanks again for your attention and support and thanks again Tim for a) contributing and b) being a great brother-in-law. If you have a few minutes, here's that link again to Tim's short film.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Publish or Perish: The Thursday Afternoon #MINI post, Edition #9

I have been getting a lot of questions lately about where I am in the publishing process right now (Ok, mostly from my mother, but still....) so I thought I would devote the #MINI to an update on my progress. Warning: I am feeling a strong desire for self-deprication, so if your stomach is a little queasy, you may want to skip to the end. (But please leave a comment anyway--good comments only, of course.)

> First things first, I do not have a book contract yet, but my ueber-agent, Liz Kracht, and I are working on it. Publishing is a slow business, and patience is not a virtue--it is a necessity. So I am practicing patience and humility (##gggrrrrr!) and Lord knows I need the practice.

>In the meantime, I am working on other projects and blogging. And I have to be honest; I started my blog because Liz 'suggested' that a blog might be a good way to build an audience, but I have found that I enjoy the process. Blogging--at least the way I do it--is quite a bit different than writing a novel, which tends to be anxiety provoking. If someone doesn't like my post (you know who you are) I just shrug my shoulders and move along. Contrast this to the gnashing of teeth and soul-searching that accompanies any kind of negativity towards my novel or short stories. I keep hoping that the thick skin that Peter Hogenkamp, Blogger has developed will rub off on Peter Hogenkamp, Author, but no luck thus far.

>As I just mentioned, I have been writing short stories and serial fiction. Most of the non-fiction short stories have been published in this blog, and you all have been kind enough to read them without too many complaints (and those were mostly from my family.) The serial fiction is something I have long wanted to do, and have just recently started. The idea goes back to the radio programs that were popular in the glory days of radio, such as The Shadow (The shadow knows....). I am not sure how other--more legitimate--approach this, but I write each approximately 800-word segment just prior to publishing it on WattPad and ReadWave. I am sure you could write the whole book and then publish it later, a segment at a time, but what fun would that be? If you haven't done so already, I would appreciate it if you would check out the first part of The Intern and let me know what you think. Also, as I mentioned above, I am trying to build an audience, so share the link if you made it through the 800-words without wishing you were illiterate or (gulp) follow me on WattPad. Thank you!

>I am approaching the known limits of the #MINI, and bad things happen if I go over. (What's Bad? Imagine all life as we know it ceasing to exist.) The first person to tell me what movie that comes from gets a signed copy of ABSOLUTION when it--finally--comes out, as well as a small box of Junior Mints. (The fun size.) By way of announcements, I am pleased to say that I will be collaborating with Peter Huntoon--in my mind, the preeminent Vermont artist--this coming January on a project to be posted on his blog, A Day in Vermont. Peter and I do have a lot of shared traits, we both are named Peter and we both love living in Vermont, but one does wonder why he agreed to work with me; I mean, he has talent. (And lots of it!) Thanks again for your support.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Three things for which I never expected to be thankful: The Thursday Afternoon #MINI post, #Thanksgiving edition, #8

Happy Thanksgiving all! I hope you are spending it with friends and family, and that you don't need to unbutton your pants before dessert--because that's bad form. For starters, (in our house, that would be the olive/pickle/cheeseball tray--my late mother-in-law's tradition--and we miss you Nanni!) let me say that I am #thankful for my family. I have been blessed, and there is nothing in this world more important to me. Having said that, let's get to the turkey of today's post: three things for which I never expected to be thankful.

Number 1: the broccoli and cheese casserole (borrowed from my sister-in-law, with whom we used to spend Thanksgiving before our kids got too big to travel). I am thankful not to be working today. Who works on Turkey day, you say?  I remember a Thanksgiving about twenty years ago, staring out at the grey and bleak Syracuse skyline from my call room in the top floor of the hospital, thinking about my loved ones back at home as I chased around the hospital, doing what an intern does--all the scutwork for the residents, fellows and attendings in exchange for them teaching me how to doctor. I can remember almost feeling sorry for myself--until I remembered the boy in the floor below me was being killed by leukemia. And so I trudged down and held his hand so his parents could get a cup of bad coffee, and watched the blood seep out of his eyes as he slowly died. When he passed away the next morning I felt like Chuck Norris had kicked me in the stomach a dozen times. I can only imagine--and pray never to know--how his parents felt. I have thought about them a hundred times in the last twenty years, and admired their fortitude, their bravery, and their courage to wake up in the morning and watch the blood seep out of their son's eyes. God bless you both.

Number 2: the stuffing (my personal favorite). I am thankful for the Carthusian monks living in the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration in Arlington, Vermont. (You never expected that one, did you?) From where I live on top of Blueberry Hill, I can see Mount Equinox to the south, towering over 3,000 feet into the Vermont skyline. Just below the summit, tucked into a little valley on the lee side of the mountain, lies a large stone monastery where several dozen monks spend their lives praying for you and I. (And I really need and appreciate the prayers.) God bless all of you.

Number 3: the sweet potato casserole with the marshmallow topping. (A tradition my wife started, borrowed from someone whose name I can't recall). I am thankful not be living in a foreign country on this truly American holiday. I feel this way because I spent three Thanksgivings in Austria, and, although I loved it, it was a rough couple of days. One year, I hiked up the Untersberg and met my friends at a Gasthof at the bottom of the mountain: fun, but not the same. Give a shout out to all the Americans who are overseas today, especially the military, Foreign Service personnel, Peace Corps, Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Jewish World Service, and all the others who are away from home serving their country and/or their ideals. God bless all of you.

I could go on, but--thankfully--I won't: the #MINI is an unforgiving master. And thanks to all of you; I appreciate your support.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Book Review: Olen Steinhauer's AN AMERICAN SPY; The Thursday Afternoon #MINI post; Edition #7

Good afternoon #MINI fans. I recently finished Olen Steinhauer's An American Spy, and I'm in the mood to write a book review, but don't worry, this is Thursday and the rules of the #MINI are etched in stone: short and without an excess of verbiage. (Actually, it's more of a guideline than a rule.)

The first spy I ever met was James Bond, and all the others I have met since have had to live in his shadow, because James Bond has no equal. That said, spying is a shadowy business and Bond is way too fond of the limelight to be a real spy. (But he has swag, mind you: #SWAG). So, the following generations of fictional spies went to the other extreme. John LeCarre's George Smiley was the perfect foil to Fleming's Bond: quiet and demure whereas Bond was brash; clever, not blunt; subduing his prey with intelligence and guile as opposed to gunplay. Countless other secret agents have been forged in the intervening decades, most splitting the gap between Smiley and Bond. (Frederick Forsythe's Jackal comes to mind; meticulous like Smiley but charming like Bond--and good with a gun.)

So you thought this post was about An American Spy? It is--I'm almost there, I promise. The problem is that all of the characters above are currently in their nineties. We need some new blood. Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon is a clear choice, and--in my opinion--is the most interesting spy since Alistair MacClean's Captain Mallory. Steinhauer's Milo Weaver is another candidate. It would not be fair to compare Weaver (in his third novel) with Allon in his tenth, but the bones are there and Steinhauer will undoubtedly flesh him out with his fluid prose and unflinching dialogue. Espionage is a murky, complex world and Steinhauer paints it with subtle brush strokes. And his balance is commendable, portraying the 'bad guys' as sympathetically as the 'good guys:.' (So well does he do this that it became impossible to determine who was who, good or bad.) The plotting is precise and meticulous (George Smiley would be proud) and keeps you guessing until the last page.

Pick up a copy at your local bookstore, or download one on your reader. I would love to know what you think so drop me a line when you do. I can always be reached via my WEBSITE.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Saturday Evening blog Post presents: A Place in the World; GuestBlog by Thomas Cosgrove


Another first from The Saturday Evening blog Post: a guest blog. Our first guest blogger is my cousin, Thomas Cosgrove, who grew up down the street from me in Clinton, New York, a quaint little town tucked into the low foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. Thomas and his family ran a dairy farm on the outskirts of town, The Spring Grove Farm, which is still in operation today. Whenever we ran out of milk, which, with a family of six, happened every night after dinner, my father and I would grab the silver milk pail and head down Fountain Street towards the farm. The first order of business was always to stop in at the farmhouse, where my father would always sit down and drink a Utica Club--our local beer, affectionately referred to as 'Uncle Charle'--with my Uncle Tom, while Thomas and I occupied ourselves at the kitchen table. Our favorite pastime was Stratego, possibly the best game ever invented--and still available, Christmas shoppers--although we also used to sketch, airplanes and layouts of golf courses, mainly. On the way home we stopped at the barn to draw a pail of whole milk from the huge stainless steel tank that dominated the milkhouse. And then we walked home, trudging up the hill with the pail of fresh milk swinging from my father's long arm. I always used to wonder why we just didn't take two or three pails with us and fetch enough for a few days, but now that I am a married father of four I know the answer.

So, without further ado, the inaugural guest blog on The Saturday Evening blog Post, fittingly written by Thomas Cosgrove, my cousin, lifelong friend, fellow blogger, proud Cornell alumnus, and forever a Tarheel. (Did I mention he can sing?)

 A Place in the World

Could be right before your eyes / Just beyond a door that's open wide / Could be far away or in your own backyard / There are those who say, you can look too hard / For your place in the world – Mary Chapin Carpenter – “A Place in the World”

When my cousin Peter asked me to write a guest blog, he said the topic was my choice but mentioned he has a regular feature on travel.

His suggestion reminded me of his recent post about traveling in Arizona <> and his dismay at locals who had not explored the wonderful places in their backyard, so I thought that might be a good place to start.

His post really wasn’t about travel per se, but the places it takes you.  It made me think about the concept of place, whether it's a nation, a region, a state, a town, a neighborhood or the corner of a room.  And as sometimes happens when an idea sparks, one thought sets off a chain reaction.  This one started with travel and its cousin, place, but it ultimately brought to mind the concept of home.

When the chain reaction started, I thought of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s lyrics and how a place can feed the soul regardless if it is a place you’re visiting or the place you call home.

One reason the topic hit home is that I travel a fair amount for work.  I’m not well suited to being in the office five days a week so it’s probably a good thing I’m not.  Certainly my colleagues would agree, but the travel sometimes takes a toll being away from my wife and son.

In our town of Longmeadow, Mass, I'm basically known as Jen's husband, a moniker I wear proudly as she’s earned a stout reputation in the community as a go-to leader in the volunteer corps.  I sometimes joke Jen and Will live in Longmeadow, and I just visit them there, but hey, “it is what it is.”  (Just kidding, see Peter’s well written rant on that phrase, <> ) In all seriousness, I choose to have a job that requires travel -- I own it if you will -- but sometimes it’s a challenge to manage.

But that quip about visiting Longmeadow, while a decent one-liner, has begun to feel stale.  Making the rounds Halloween night with Will was the first time I’d seen some of our neighbors since the previous Halloween.  I still have strong ties to Peter’s and my hometown of Clinton, NY, but in almost 25 years since graduating from college, I’ve never grown roots in any of the four places I’ve lived.

So although I agreed with Peter about the poor souls in Arizona who haven’t explored their own backyards, I wondered if I was any different sometimes feeling like a stranger in my own town.  But I’ve begun to rethink that based on a couple recent events.

In our eight years here, Jen has typically participated in our town meetings, a New England civic tradition where citizens serve as the town legislature.  But she had just finished co-chairing a major school foundation event, and I was in town for a change, so it made sense for me to participate.

This particular town meeting had a number of routine items on the agenda (or warrant), but the main issue was debating the town’s position regarding a possible casino in the neighboring city of Springfield.

As I listened to the spirited debate about a Springfield casino, people were really asking a philosophical question about the nature of our town and how the casino might change it.  I wasn’t focused on the fact I didn't know many people. I followed the debate intensely, considered my vote carefully, and felt like I had a stake in the debate even if I didn’t know that many people there.

The following Saturday we participated as a family in a Veteran’s Day 5K run/walk to benefit the Wounded Warriors project.  It had a special meaning as Jen’s dad is a Vietnam Veteran, having spent over 30 years in the Marine Corps and I was proud that Will ran almost the entire 5K.

A ceremony preceded the 5K, and as speakers honored the service of our military, it occurred to me that members of the military don’t know everyone they’re serving, and we certainly don’t have to know them in order to honor their service.       

The takeaway here is not for me to rationalize staying under the radar in my town.  In fact, that’s something I hope to change, and there’s nothing like showing up for a few events to start the process.

But standing there at the Veteran’s Day ceremony, it reminded me of a broader sense of place that extended beyond our town, and that I didn’t need to know anyone’s name to realize we shared a common appreciation of the place we call home.

The trouble it might drag you down / If you get lost, you can always be found / Just know you're not alone / Cause I'm gonna make this place your home – Philip Phillips – “Home” <>

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Thursday Afternoon #MINI post: #Vermont in #November--an essay in pictures

Fall, Interrupted

Ten Shades of Grey




That's the #MINI for this week, hope you enjoyed it. Make sure you tune in on Sunday, as the Saturday Evening blog Post features the first in a series of guest blogs. Thanks for your support.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Thursday Afternoon #MINI post: The number 1 most annoying cliche of all time--and why I hate it.

Something new on the #MINI (about time, you say?) Let's call it--A short essay on popular culture. Today's inaugural post will be about one of my favorite things to harp about: how much I cringe when I hear "It is what is is."

It is what it is. This cliche ranks highest on my cringe meter, with a straight 10/10. I could go on for hours about this one, but the rules of the #MINI post are clear: short and to the point. So, let's use an example of how this 'expression' might be used.

Man talking to glum-appearing friend: "What happened to you?"
Glum-looking friend--let's call him Dave--replies; "My wife left me because I slept with the cleaning lady, my brother won't speak to me because I stole money from my parents, and I lost my job because I was in a bad mood one day and told my boss to bugger off."
"I am sorry to hear that, Dave."
"It's okay. It is what it is."

See my point? Perhaps if Dave had made better choices, It might not be what it is. Perhaps Dave might learn from his mistakes if he didn't blow them off as existentially fated blather. Maybe Dave should hold himself accountable for his torment, and stop trying to pass it off as some kind of inevitable calamity over which he had no control.

Still not convinced? Here's another 'hypothetical' scenario. Woman--named Dolores--talking to her doctor: "So, Doc, how are my labs?"
Doctor--let's call her Taylor--glances at computer screen and barely avoids scowling. "Well, Dolores, your cholesterol is at an all-time high, your blood-pressure is high enough to work a hydraulic lift, and if my IRA was up as high as your blood sugar, I could retire tomorrow. I can see you haven't been following your diet."
"You know how I love my ice cream and martinis."
"Yes, you've mentioned that before. But do you also love your children?"
"Oh sure, they're pretty good too."
"Then perhaps you should lay off the martinis?"
"With my job? I don't think so! Look, Taylor, I appreciate your concern, but (wait for it) It is what it is. Just give me some more pills."

And know you why I hate the most annoying expression ever--and why the healthcare system is teetering on the brink of insolvency. Dolores isn't about to put down her Grey Goose martini--shaken, not stirred--or push aside the Cherry Garcia, not when she has such a clever expression to make her feel better. Besides, her health premiums are all paid up and she only has a ten-dollar co-pay. A night at home without Grey Goose and Ben and Jerry's? Don't think so.

Thanks again for your support--and sorry about the tardiness of this post. But (list of weak excuses) It is what it is. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Saturday Evening Post presents: One Night in Boston (unlike any other in 100 years.) #bostonstrong

When I look back on it--three days later--the St. Louis Cardinals never really had a chance. It wasn't one particular thing, like the pitching of John Lackey--good though he was--but a combination of factors, almost all the kind of intangible ones never to show up in a box score. The first sign was the national anthem, sung by the Drop Kick Murphy's wearing Red Sox uniforms and kilts. When they finished that and started singing "Shipping up to Boston," the crowd went ballistic, and I could smell history in the making--as well as hot dogs, missing the performance as I did waiting in line to spend twenty bucks on two Fenway franks. By the time I worked my way back to where my son was standing atop the #GreenMonsta, I was treated with the sight of Luis Tiant throwing the first pitch to Carlton Fisk. The last time those two played together it was Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, a game in which Fisk hit the most iconic home run in Fenway history--until Steven Drew hit his in the fourth inning. (For Steven Drew to make contact with the ball--much less hit a home run--is worthy of history.)

Now, I am a big believer in home field advantage and karma and all that, but this seemed almost unfair. (Did I say unfair? I'm sorry, I meant unfahhh.) The red birds may well have been--and probably are--the better team, but the Sox had so much more. Mike Matheny starts Michael Wacha, the rookie phenom, and the Sox counter by not shaving since the advent of Spring Training--in March. Advantage bearded ones: pitching is good, but beards are better.

And, no, I am not saying the Sox aren't a good team, they are. But this World Series was won by Johnny Pesky as much as by David Ortiz, by Pedro Martinez as much as Jon Lester, by Ted Williams as much as Dustin Pedroia. Karma was the MVP of this series. What do I mean? Look at the box score. The Six didn't hit well, but they hit when they needed to. Shane Victorino had very few hits, but his Grand Slam and his 2-out, bases loaded double in Game 6 (which hit the wall right underneath me) prove that winning is about coming up big at the right moment. That's Karma, or chemistry, or beards; call it what you want, the 2013 Red Sox had it.

As a fan, standing in the midst of it all, I felt like history was the bride and the baseball game the--less pretty--maid of honor. One couldn't help but think of the Boston Marathon tragedy, the Boston Tea Party, and the Boston Massacre. Michael Wacha must have felt like he was pitching to Paul Revere (who is almost as old as David Ortiz.) When Koji struck out Matt Carpenter to end the game, no one headed for the exits--not even when Bud Selig started speaking. It was as if the game was just starting. It wasn't really a baseball game after all, it was a night in Boston unlike any other in 100 years. This was a win for the ages, for history, for a beleaguered city.

And my son and I were just happy to be a part of it.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Saturday Evening blog Post presents: My Name is Job.

The following story is true. No names have been changed, because there are no innocent to protect:

The wheels of the Otter-9, a plane that looked like a bathtub with wings, touched down in Worcester, and I breathed a sigh of relief that the vacation gone wrong was over. Little did I know that my comedy of errors was just getting started. Perhaps I should have been warned by missing three consecutive connections--but I am a hopeful spirit and paid no attention. I mean, I had broken my shoulder on the first day of a week long skiing vacation; things had to get better. Right? When my ride failed to materialize, I merely threw my skis and bags over my one good shoulder and hoofed it back to my dorm room on Mt. St. James--I later learned there was a bus--as the skies opened and spit a light drizzle over my head.

Two weeks later my shoulder stopped aching and I thought it might be time to get more active, so I grabbed my skates and headed up to the Hart Center for some late-night skating. It was good to get some exercise, and nothing calamitous occurred--until I tried to walk home in a shower of freezing rain. We had almost made it back when I slipped trying to negotiate a pile of snow. My right arm was still in the sling, so I tried to break the fall with my left. But I was carrying my skates, which got fouled in my coat, leaving my nose to do the job. (The pavement remained cracked in that spot until after I graduated.)

The next day my face was swelled to pre-historic proportions--compelling my friend Andy to change my name from Peter Hogenkamp to Peter Cromagnumkamp--and both eyes were blackened. I was so hideous looking I didn't leave my room for a week. How I picked up a cold--in virtual isolation--I will never know, but when I finally left my room to go to Organic Chemisty class I was sneezing profusely.

And I almost made it through class--but not quite. With about 10 minutes left I sneezed into my sleeve and felt something pop in my nose. I wasn't sure what it was until I noticed that my flannel shirt was saturated with blood. I tried to sneak out of the room, but the girl behind me stopped taking notes for a second and started screaming. Since Plan A failed so badly, I moved to Plan B and started running up the steps leading out of the lecture hall, spurting blood like a stuck pig. I almost escaped too, but my back foot slipped in a slick of blood and I landed on my previously healing shoulder, cracking the bone callous I had spent three weeks creating.

So, what was I thinking about as I lay on my newly re-broken shoulder, swallowing the blood surging down my throat?  I was thinking that it sucked to be me, and about escape, of course, as I belly crawled my way toward the exit. But I was also thinking that it must suck to be a vampire as well, because it is impossible to ingest large volumes of blood without vomiting. And so, to add insult to injury, I began to hurl, spouting a maroon geyser all over the floor tiles. There was a major commotion--as the students occupying ground zero scrambled to evacuate--and then a couple of my buddies grabbed me and dragged me to the bathroom, where I could at least vomit blood in privacy.

And that's why you can call me Job.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

the Thursday afternoon #MINI post: #travelinyourownbackyard #travelswithmydad

Remember the #MINI post is inspired by the #MINI--short, fast and fun to drive. (And let's not forget easy on the eye.) Today's #MINI combines two of my favorite features, #travelinyourownbackyard and #travelswithmydad.

I have a theory (which is mine.) My theory (which is mine) says that that you can not escape problems by running away. All solutions come from within. This theory (which is mine) has a corollary: when you are searching for places to go, look in your backyard, because you have surely overlooked something right under your nose. This was certainly the case in 1999 when my father and I were attending a week long medical conference in Phoenix, Arizona. The lectures finished early in the afternoon, giving the attendees plenty of time to have some fun--as long as that fun didn't involve driving very far. My father wasn't actually attending the conference--although he did go to several lectures out of interest--and spent the morning researching our afternoon adventures. When class was dismissed, he was was waiting in front of school with the rental car, packs at the ready. There was even a snack for the car ride.

And off we would go. Dad would use car ride to go over the research he had done on the #hikeoftheday, and I would listen and nibble on Fig Newtons. Realizing I wouldn't be in the mood for making notes, he had prepared his own and left them next to the water bottles--which he had filled with water and plenty of ice. (What can I say: he was a great dad.) When we arrived at the trail head, we wasted no time because daylight was-a-wastin'. There was never any real worries--for me--as my father had already studied the trail map and calculated the best route for the remaining hours of light and the current meteorological conditions. And we enjoyed some great hikes, highlighted by the discovery of a shooting range for automatic weapons in the middle of the desert, dozens of rattlesnakes and scorpions, and the fact that no one--except us--hikes in Arizona without carrying a firearm. (We never learned why: I suspect there isn't any real answer.) And we say a lot of cacti--some as tall as silos. I would be remiss in omitting that we stumbled into a cluster of primitive dwellings guarded by rough-looking people carrying AK-47s, and I only barely talked my father out of cutting right through the middle of the compound. 'But that's where the trail goes.' We took the long way round and got back to the car in the pitch black, but without bullet holes.

When I got to talking with some of the local docs at the conference the next morning, I was surprised to learn that most had never hiked any of these trails; some had never even heard of them--and not one was more than 30 minutes away. One of our favorites, Camelback Mountain, was literally right inside the city of Phoenix. There is something about people that makes them poo-poo the things that they have, and build up the things that they don't. I will never understand it, because there are wonderful places everywhere you go, even #inyourownbackyard.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Saturday Evening blog Post presents: The Day We Stared Down at the Clouds

It was 1987 and I was in my second year as a Chemistry teacher (yes I was the original Walter White, just without the meth cooking) in Salzburg, Austria. Now, those lucky readers who have visited Salzburg know that it is a spectacular city, steeped in history and blessed with natural beauty. It does have an Achilles heel, however, and I discovered this fact in October of that year. A trough of low pressure built up, and grey clouds scudded in, supplanting the blue skies we had been enjoying--just in time to greet my friend Bill who was flying in to visit me. But I wasn't worried, this had happened before, and the sun had always returned in a few days to dry up the trails for us to hike upon.

But not this year. This year the clouds hung up on the mountains and stayed put, and the rain came and went as if it owned the city. Bill and I, however, were not deterred--at least not for a few days. We balled soccer with my friends from school, played poker with the boys, visited every Bierhalle and Weinstube in the city and and even spent a day playing hackensack in a peat bog. I was so covered in this dark, foul-smelling peat that it took me a good solid half-hour to scrub it off in my shower when we were done, which speaks to the pathetic nature of my shower as well--to use the word 'dribble' would be exaggerating. When I got out of the shower I watched the weather forecast, learning that the clouds were going to sink even lower over the next few days. I was obviously dismayed, but Bill--who is a lot smarter than me--was overjoyed.

Why? Because the Wolkendecke (cloud ceiling) was 1500 meters, and the Untersberg (the mountain at the end of our street that looked like it had been thrust upwards by a subterranean being of mythical proportions--which, according to local legend, it had) soared 2000 meters into the alpine sky. Which all meant that after a week of the contrast of gray on gray, we could theoretically climb above the cloud cover.

The next day dawned damp and cold, but we readied our hiking gear and headed for the bus stop anyway. The 25 bus picked us up and dropped us off at the base of the mountain, a wall of rock climbable only with ladders and iron railings bored into the stone. It was raining when we started up the Dopplersteig, and the fog was so thick I could barely see the wet steps in front of me. About midway we were considering turning back, as the trail became especially steep at this point, traversing a sheer face with nothing on the right but 200 meters of cold Austrian air. But Bill wasn't going to be denied, and we pressed on, after paying our respects at the tomb stones marking this section of the trail. (The Dopplersteig is decorated with over thirty funeral cairns, honoring the Austrians who have fallen to their death while hiking--most likely on a slippery day like this.)

But we were nothing if not stupid, and we pressed upward into the swirling mist. Around the 1500 meter mark the sky started to lighten, and at 1700 meters a strangely familiar orange ball appeared in the sky. By the time we crested the barren summit, even the tops of the clouds were below us and we were bathed in brilliant sunshine. Now, this may not seem like a big deal to you, but after a week of fog so thick you could cut it with a knife, the clear, bright air felt good.

We passed the day hiking around the top, soaking up the sunshine and a few Stiegls, and generally enjoying life. But, October days are not noted for their length, and we had to face in to the wet climb down sooner or later, and I favored sooner, because I prefer to see where I am going. Bill snapped a photo of me taking one last look down at the clouds--it remains my favorite photo of all time--and off we went, plunging into the grey haze. Somehow, we managed to avoid being memorialized by another pair of stone funeral markers, arriving safely at the bottom several hours later in the gathering darkness. Bill flew home the next day, but the clouds remained in place for another few weeks, shutting out the sunshine and dampening everyone's mood--except for mine. I could still see the sunshine in my mind's eye, and feel its warmth on my face.

In fact, I still can.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Thursday Afternoon #MINI post: The Three Lessons I learned from #VinceGilligan. #breakingbad

It's true, I am one of those people, you know, the kind that started out bashing #breakingbad before ever watching a single episode. It's because I wanted to hate it. No father wants to see a meth dealer made into some kind of hero. Ultimately, however, my son talked me into watching a few episodes. I mean, your teenager wants to spend some time together, you do it, right?

It was not love at first sight between Walter White and I. But there was something there, something I couldn't deny. And the next thing you know, I am sitting next to my son every Sunday night, waiting for the next episode. Why? Because I learned a few things about storytelling from Vince Gilligan, and a writer can NEVER pass up the opportunity to learn from an accomplished storyteller like Vince.

Lesson #1. A protagonist doesn't have to be good, or moral, or sympathetic, or even likable; just memorable. #WW may have started out as sympathetic, but he breaks bad away from sympathy, and we learn in the end what we suspected all along--that he was doing it for himself. But none of this detracted from the popularity of the show; to the contrary, the more #WW broke bad, the higher the ratings. #2) Great characters need strong supporting characters to fulfill their potential. #WW would been nothing more than a chemistry teacher turned meth cooker without Jessie Pinkman and Hank Schrader. 3) There is no substitute for good writing. Don't believe me, just wait for the onslaught of copycat dramas that are sure to come. Unless they are written well, they will fizzle.

Ok, that's the #MINI for this Thursday. Thanks again, and we'll see you on Sunday.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Saturday Evening blog Post presents: The Long (and dangerous) Ride Home.

If you have read parts 1 and 2 of this narrative, you will know that our heroes--Bill, Chief and Peter--have finally ascended to the peak of the mountain range protecting the southern coast of Gran Canaria, and need only to ride down to the coastal road that circles the island and bike the 40 kms back to their haven in Las Palmas. If you haven't read parts 1 and 2, you don't realize that one of the Mopeds the Sons of Anarchy rented had died, and that the light was waning. (How did you go a whole week without that knowledge?) Let's cut back to the story, where it has finally dawned on us that we should have brought some water, as the only liquid we has consumed all day was hard cider--which was not very tasty to burp up, mind you. Who knew that one should take water with you when traveling in a desert? Oh sure, now they teach that kind of thing in school, but back then?

Anyway, we rode down to the coastal road and headed northeast towards Las Palmas as the equatorial son set behind the mountains. Now--I know I said their would be no math, but--you do the math: 40 kms of road at 20 kms/hour--our top speed with two of us on the lead bike--yup, it was a three hour ride. And it started out well, watching the fading rays of the sun play on the Atlantic. But then the light died altogether, and we were forced to use our headlights, which had the collective brightness of a pair of underachieving glow worms. To make matters worse, the geography changed as we headed north, and the highway arched up to run along a ridge that rose above the sea. In other circumstances--in the day, in a car, on a highway with guardrails--it would have been the ride of a lifetime. But on a moped, in the dark, and without the benefit of guard rails, I was frankly terrified every meter of the way. Bill must have been as well, because I heard him saying the rosary again and again.

Bill must have been in a good state of grace back in the day, because the Sons of Anarchy rolled into Las Palmas several hours later, safe and sound despite the cars flying past us on the highway, blaring their horns to let us know they had almost run us over in the darkness. How we made it I don't really know, other than to say it is definitive proof of a higher power. In any event, the Moped shop was closed so we went back to the villa and collapsed into bed without eating--we didn't have enough money for food anyway.

It is safe to say that we were not looking forward to returning the Mopeds the next morning. One bike was chained to a rock on the other side of the island, one bike was leaking oil, and the other had a flat tire. There was also the fact that the guys from the shop had told us not to take them out of Las Palmas. So, hanging our heads in shame, we limped in to the garage and I explained--in German, which I had never studied--what had transpired. I must have got the message across because they stared at us like we were insane, and then broke out in laughter.

Now this was the tricky part, because we had no money to pay for repairs, and I envisioned cleaning toilets for the rest of the week to pay the bill. But they took pity on us instead, and gassed up the truck to retrieve the stranded bike. There was only room for one of us on the truck, and Bill drew the short straw. When they pulled out, we could see him waving bravely from the cab.

"Think we'll ever see him again?" Chief asked.

"Alive, you mean?" I replied, already rehearsing my speech to Bill's mom.

And so we fretted the day away, hoping for Bill's safe return. We were just about to to go down to the Moped shop and inquire when Bill showed up, no worse for the wear. His new friends had decided to take him out to dinner on the other side of the island, and so Bill got treated to a feast while Chief and I ate plain pasta and worried ourselves sick.

I can't even remember the rest of our week on Gran Canaria, but I will never forget that one day. Bill, Chief and I laugh about it often, once again proving that bad decisions make great stories. (Not that I am advocating for bad decision making.)  Thanks again for your patience and support. If any of you wants to write about a memorable trip you have taken, the off-the-beaten path travel log is officially accepting guest blog posts. See you next week.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Thursday Afternoon #Mini post: #evolvingfiction #ittakesavillagetowriteabook

Ok, something new on the #Mini post. Under the heavy influence of #breakingbad, I have been thinking about memorable characters recently, and how the classic molds for antagonists and protagonists have been smashed entirely. Think Walter White. So, sitting here on this sunny bench overlooking Pico Peak, I am giving a go to creating a memorable character, who is neither protagonist nor antagonist. But, please, give me some help. I have co-published this story on Readwave and WattPad under the tentative title of The Subverting of Dr. Molly Stryker. If you have a second, sign on, read the story as it evolves, and give me suggestions. Without further ado, The Subverting of Dr. Molly Stryker.

Molly would never be sure when she had grabbed the knife--during his last round of insults perhaps or maybe when he had gone into the dining room to make a quick call to his mistress--but there was no mistake about its feel, hard and reassuring in her sweaty palm, as she stood by the door to kiss him goodbye. He materialized out of the den, head bent down, staring at his iPhone as if the word of God was appearing on the screen. She told herself later that she wouldn't have killed him even then--not after the years of derision, abuse and infidelity--had he had the decency to look up as she gave him a loveless peck on the cheek on his way out the door.

But he didn't look up, and she did kill him, severing his spine with his favorite Japanese steak knife as passed into the garage. He was dead before he bounced off their new Brazilian cherry floor like a dead cat. Molly had fantasized about killing him so many times--usually after a particularly hard slap or a jab that bit deeper than most--that the sight of his dead body lying there didn't cause any shock. Relief perhaps, and a little regret that the small amount of blood might stain the wood, but nothing more than that. He had been a cruel bastard for so long she couldn't remember loving him at any time. Maybe she had never loved him.

And now the world had one less sleazy lawyer to to keep the drug dealers out of jail, and she would never fear for her life again when his fish wasn't cooked properly, or if the cleaners had used the wrong amount of starch on his shirts. There was only the small matter of making sure she didn't go to prison for ridding the world of him and then she could start over. Seattle perhaps, or Boise--she had heard great things about Boise--someplace far away from her little slice of hell overlooking Central Park.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Saturday Evening blogPost presents: The original Sons of Anarchy; Gran Canaria Part 2

The Canary Islands are a Spanish Archipelago about 100 kilometers west of Morocco. Why am I telling you this? Because it is there, in the northwest corner of Gran Canaria, that my travel companions, Bill and Chief--renamed el Hefe for the trip--and I found ourselves in May of 1988. If you read part 1 of this adventure, you will know that the vacation was a poorly thought out trip gone bad. Ok, poorly thought out is understating it; there was no thought involved. So, three days into our week, we find ourselves trapped in a tiny villa about a kilometer from the coast, on an arid, desert-like plain dotted with low-slung concrete buildings. The beach was out because we didn't have enough money to pay for one of the foxholes needed to get underneath the projectile-filled wind, and the nightclubs--in addition to being sketchy--were also too expensive.

As usual, however, el Hefe came to the rescue, by finding a book in the local library that alerted us to the fact we were only about thirty kilometers away from a lush national park atop a volcano. We only needed to get there. After a few hours of investigative work, we came up with four options: 1) tour bus, which we threw out straight off as too touristy(we were adventurers, not tourists) and too pricey; 2) hired car, (too much denero--we were broke, in case you weren't aware); 3) local bus, schedule too limiting, and 4) Mopeds, which was right up our alley. And cheap enough for us to rent for one day.

The next day we woke up early and headed down to the Moped shop, where birth was given to the original Sons of Anarchy: Bill, el Hefe, and Pete. We mounted up and headed south, happy to be putting Las Palmas in the rear-view mirror. The first ten kilometers threaded its way through the desert plain that comprised the entire west coast of Gran Canaria. And then we turned to the east and started climbing up the volcano. If you are wondering when it is going to dawn on us that Mopeds are made for cruising along the--flat--beach and not ascending a volcano, the answer is not yet. No, we were blissfully unaware of this fact (hint: foreshadowing) as we went up, passing cave dwellings, exotic vegetation and indigenous people. The Sons of Anarchy were fired up.

An hour later, after negotiating a series of switchbacks without the benefit of guardrails, we crested the peak at almost 2000 meters. Keeping in mind we had started at sea level, that's an impressive climb--for the mopeds, that is. We hiked around the top for a while, and then started down the back side, stopping at a real town where we gassed up and feasted on roasted chicken and hard cider. Yes sir, the Sons were living large, and we even enjoyed the admiration of some local boys who stood and stared. (At least I am assuming it was admiration.)

The problems began on the way down. Bill's bike started sputtering and fussing, and by the time we were near the bottom the darn thing quit entirely. Unfortunately, it was a desolate spot, and we could only chain the wounded stallion to a rock and take turns letting Bill ride piggy-back. And it worked great, until the road stopped falling down the mountain and started climbing again. It turned out that a single Moped could not carry two of us up a slope, leaving the three Sons of Anarchy on the wrong side of a simple math equation. Improvisation was in order, since none of us fancied the idea of hitchhiking back to Las Palmas, now over thirty kms away.

It was el Hefe's plan that saved us. Rather than retrace our path--where we would have to climb the backside of the volcano--we would keep going south toward the coast, and then take the flat coastal road all the way around the island back to Las Palmas. The only problem was the mountain range that lay in between us and the coast. There was only one thing to do, and Chief took the first leg, sprinting up the 30 degree grade like hellhounds were on his heels. He petered out in about two hundred meters, and gladly got back on his bike as Bill raced up the mountain, yelling like a rebel soldier on a charge. When he stopped, I gave him my bike and started sprinting, saving all my wind for my legs. After a hundred meters, my lungs were heaving like a bellows that hadn't been oiled in a year, and partially digested hard cider was refluxing into my mouth, but I refused to stop. I was going to pull my weight or die trying. And in this fashion we went up the mountain--in a sort of Pop-goes-the-Weasel fashion--each one of us taking a turn sprinting before we collapsed onto the moped.

I have never been so happy to reach the top of anything, but, even so, we were not out of the woods yet. Far from it, actually, as were now almost at the southern limit of the island--forty clicks away from home--and the light was beginning to wain.

I will end here, and finish up with part 3 next week. Thanks again for your patience and support; see you next Sunday.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Saturday Evening blogPost: The off-the-beaten-path Travel Log, Gran Canaria

It was 1988 and I was teaching at an international school in Salzburg, Austria. It was late May, and school had just ended for the year, meaning that the traveling season for my fellow teachers and I was just beginning. My friends Bill and Chief and I had been planning to hike from the Italian/Austrian border, across the spine of the Austrian Alps, to the German/Austrian border, staying at Alpine Mountain Huts at night. I had been looking forward to the trip all year, but when it arrived the weather forecast was a deal breaker: cloudy, raining and cold. So, we improvised, and rode our bikes downtown and found a travel agent offering last minutes deals on trips that other people had already bought and paid for and then cancelled last minute.

A few hours later we were on board a plane for Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. To be honest, I had never even heard of the place, but it had been a dreary spring in Salzburg, and the travel agent had promised us sunshine (or that's how I translated his words, although my German was never noted for its accuracy.)

The trip started out great. We had a chartered aircraft, (SpanAir--which we called SpandexAir) and we arrived on Gran Canaria right on time, whereupon a bus brought us to our little Villa on the eastern shore of the island. So far, so good. And it was sunny, I will say that, not a single cloud marred the skyline. The problems started shortly after that when we went to the beach. Although we had seen a steady stream of pale Northern Europeans head in that direction, we couldn't actually see anyone on the long strand of beach. And as soon as we passed the protection of the thin line of cement buildings that comprised the town, we saw why.

Or, rather, we felt why. It was the wind, which raged across the Atlantic and pelted us with sand and beach detritus. It was the equivalent of full exposure inside a sand blaster, but we had invested a week's time and two weeks' paycheck into the trip so we kept going. It quickly became apparent why no one was visible. As we advanced we happened upon them, the foxholes that had been dug into the beach to protect the sunbathers from the artillery like effect of the wind blown sand. We stayed for a short period--none of us had an inclination to dig and the bunkers were all occupied--and then went back to the villa.

There was a cement courtyard in back of our villa which was protected from the wind, and we thought we would catch some sun there, with a lovely view of the garbage collection area. But, as I said, the courtyard was protected from the wind, leaving us with no defense against the equatorial sun, which beat down on our heads and radiated up from the cement floor. (Perhaps they should have planted grass to absorb the sun?) In less time than I have spent writing this paragraph--and you can tell by the writing it wasn't very long--we were forced inside by core temps rapidly approaching temperatures incompatible with life. We went inside and turned on the AC.

I am going to end here in the interest of keeping you on the edge of your seat. But keep in mind that this trip remains one of my favorite trips ever, and I will explain how we snatched victory from the jaws of travel defeat next SEbP, which comes out, as you would expect, next Sunday afternoon. Thanks again for your time and attention, and please visit my AUTHOR WEBSITE.