Prelude to a Move

From the moment Leah and I returned to Jersey living, we knew our lives had changed forever. There was no going back to the familiar home and life we left behind one year ago. There was only the open road ahead of us, and knowing that our fate would soon be determined by our imminent move to St. Augustine.

After the journey, friends and family told us they noticed a change in us as well. While we wanted to believe the many who tried to convince us that our marathon trip rolled back the years on our appearance, or that we seemed more relaxed than the last time they saw us, they couldn’t see nor imagine our overwhelming anxiety as we buttoned up our affairs in Jersey and prepared for a future in Florida.

There was still a house to sell; a lifetime of stuff to sort through; a long-distance move to coordinate; an avalanche of doctors’ appointments to schedule and attend; an Airstream to relocate; and a need to embrace and say goodbye to as many loved ones as possible before our grand departure. Our calendar was so full, it was hemmoraging with all the commitments and obligations we could muster.

Selling the house became priority one. We returned to our homestead, recently evacuated by our tenant, and staged it for photographs–inside and out–which included clearing a 150-lb. bough that narrowly missed the front façade of the house after crashing down from the weight of a record-breaking 27-inch snowstorm twelve days earlier.

Welcome to a flow-thru floor plan on two floors, representing the best of comfortable living with luxurious finishes.

entry

Feel the warmth of boutique hardwood floors throughout as you enter to a spacious living room/dining room concept,

with one-of-a-kind accented powder room,

powder room

that opens up to 17-foot ceilings, accentuated by a marble-clad wood-burning fireplace, and a wall of light capped by Palladium windows.

cathedral ceilings1 (2)

A modern kitchen awaits, anchored by solid wood cabinetry with granite countertops, and a quad of updated appliances featuring a gas range and oven.

kitchen

Sliders open to a spacious enclosed patio with two-tone pavers.

patio

Take the golden-carpeted stairs to the 2nd level for access to two large bedrooms,

a main bath with tub,

main bath1

a laundry room,

laundry

and a master bedroom with vaulted ceiling.

master BR (3)

Walk past two walk-in closets to encounter a marble sanctuary with floating vanities, a deep-soak tub,

master bath (3)

and a walk-in spa shower with glorious pressure.

spa shower

Located within a diverse community, surrounded by greenspace, minutes from Interstate-287, and priced to sell–this property won’t last long on the market.

front

Your next home awaits you.

The timing was perfect! It was officially springtime (although the harsh weather belied the season), the real estate market was hot, and local inventory levels were low. We clearly had the upper hand, so posting an F-S-B-O (for sale by owner) sign by the roadside figured to be a beneficial experiment with a commision-savings payoff that would potentially subsidize our move should we pull off the sale of the home on our own.

I listed our house with Zillow on Thursday for an Open House on Sunday. Over the next couple of days, I tracked the website for hits, and was encouraged by the response; many had saved the listing, and I wondered who among them would show up.

The smell of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies and vanilla-scented candles wafted through the air. It was 10am on Sunday, and we were open for business! Ten families traipsed throughout our home, making it a successful day, but the real proof arrived the following day when we accepted an offer from a retired couple intending to downsize.


Sorting through our belongings proved to be our next and more difficult challenge. While we had a notion of what we wanted to move, we still had to figure how we would liquidate everything that wasn’t coming with us. So, Leah decided to press our luck with a garage sale the following Sunday. She listed the event on-line with garagesales.com, and in anticipation of the event, we tagged all the furniture, furnishings, and assorted knick-knacks in the hope that we could lighten our load.

We intended on selling the complete contents of the living room, dining room, and office, with special consideration given to the sale of our baby grand piano.

baby grand

I reached out to a reputable used piano store that I located on-line, but they balked at the asking price, given the expense of long-distance shipping to Baltimore. Oh well, there was always the garage sale to look forward to.

The weather was glorious on Garage Sale Day. In fact, it was the sunniest Sunday, and warmest day of the new season. At 10am, I hammered the garage sale sign in the same spot once occupied by the F-S-B-O sign, hoping that lightning could strike twice.

“It’s beautiful outside,” I informed Leah. “How can we miss?”

“Somebody’s gonna get a good deal today,” she intoned. “Everything is priced ridiculously low.”

We waited…and waited…and waited…until 2pm…for somebody anybody to show up…but no one…not a single solitary soul paid any mind to our sale…NO ONE!

Maybe our luck had run out? Leah and I blamed it on the weather. Perhaps, it was too nice a day to go rummaging, when so many customers were probably out and about (as we should have been), enjoying the fresh air.

nice day

True, it was a set-back, and a minor complication toward down-sizing, but we were determined to find another way to find new caretakers for our shit.

Enter OfferUp, a mobile app that speaks to millenials in a way that makes garage sales passé. Just snap a picture of the item, add a brief description with a price tag, and wait for the Ka-Ching! chirp to announce an offer.

Over time:
[Ka-Ching!] We sold the living room ensemble to a young guy who had just leased his first apartment in Paterson;
[Ka-Ching!] A young woman from Harrison jammed all of our outdoor furniture into her SUV; [Ka-Ching!] a young couple from Garfield bought our dining room set and loaded it into their pick-up, while their small boys played with wrestling action figures on the floor where the table had stood for so many years;

and [Ka-Ching!] A fellow from Parsippany dispatched two friends to shlep back the office ensemble, needing two trips to complete the transaction.

Here a chair, there a chest, it all entually sold, until only the piano remained. I think we lowered the price twice or thrice to encourage a response, and then it happened!
[Ka-Ching!] “Would like to inspect piano.”

A couple from Hillsborough visited with their two young girls to look and listen. It was awkward at first. The family had come to appraise the piano’s value and maybe make an offer. But I had an additional agenda. While a sale was important, I also wanted to believe that the piano would continue to bring music to a new family–that it would be played and protected.

After we all got acquainted, I could see that the mother of the girls had made an emotional connection, and was excited and determined to return to playing like she had years ago, before children. I played a refrain or two and the deal was sealed.

Days later, professional piano movers arrived to escort our piano to its new home. It was a melancholy Monday to be sure.

piano to the van

piano on the ramp

Our living room was naked, except for a lounge chair and a wicker rocker. Over the next few days, whenever we watched TV in our hollow-sounding living room, we reminisced about how comfortable and relaxing it used to be. But the deconstruction was also a wake-up call. While it rang out with bargains and new beginnings for every buyer–as they carried away, piece-by-piece, all the trappings that became a regular part of our life here–it also reminded us that we were ready to turn the page, in anticipation of writing our next chapter.

And then, [Ka-Ching!]

Leah received a picture-text from the new guardians of the baby grand–showing us its new footprint–and I knew we had entrusted it to caring hands.

Kawai's new home

Not long after, a video followed with a note, “Thank you. We will take good care of it. Good luck in Florida!”

Indeed, I believe they will!

Anatomy of an Email

I’ve been getting lots of political email lately. In large part, it’s been requests for donations coming from Trump’s 2020 Campaign for President, with rally words added to hype an emotional response, and misinformation intended to misguide the nation. It amuses me and terrorizes me at the same time.

It all started when my curiosity compelled me to participate in a Republican National Committee (RNC) survey at Donald Trump’s email behest:

https://action.donaldjtrump.com/listening-to-america/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=ET_16&utm_campaign=20180417_2585_listen-survey-welseries-2_donaldjtrump_jfc&utm_content=gop_surveys_button_take_bottom_other_all

I was game. I swallowed the bait and jumped down the RNC rabbit hole for a deeper look at the Mad Hatter’s tactics. Confronted by leading questions, I answered in a way that left no doubt about my disapproval of Trump’s policies, his absence of ethics, and his lack of leadership.
For instance, when asked at the end of the survey, “What else do you think the President needs to know about the real America? We’re listening.” I responded in chapter and verse about his controversial WALL:
Humpty Trumpty

Humpty Trumpty wanted a wall
And Mexican pesos to pay for it all
But all the Trump bankers
And all the deplorables
Couldn’t find ways to make it affordable.


I presumed that my straightforward responses would immediately disqualify me from any future Trumpian communication, but I was wrong. I received an immediate response:
Wow! I couldn’t believe I had just earned the right to take $6 off the purchase price of a MAGA cap as a reward for my participation and apparent support! Is this a great country, or what?
However, controversy continues to surround the manufacturer’s claim that the president’s swag is 100% proudly made in America. According to factory employees (who stitch the hat in Los Angeles) and an independent laboratory conducting microscopic fabric analysis, the hat components have been sourced and imported from overseas.
I decided to pass on the hat for two reasons: First of all, I disapprove of the messaging, feeling that America, despite its flaws, has always been great, and doesn’t need to be reinvented by a game show host who panders to white supremacists; and secondly, the hat doesn’t come in blue–only hot pink, yellow, camouflage, and red.
Again, I thought this was the end of things, until I received another blast from Donald J. Trump, forewarning me about my negligent membership status:

membership renewal

Imagine! The President of the United States, a self-professed billionaire–whose estimated wealth is dubious because of withheld tax returns–now counting on me…for a single dollar contribution to his campaign, and pressing me with a renewal deadline!

What a dilemma! Of course, I still wanted to track the Trump Big Top. But what if I didn’t come up with the money in time? Would I no longer be welcome inside the circus tent? I decided to wait.

The next day Eric came calling under the guise of FAKE NEWS:

Eric's email

Eric makes quite an argument for my dollar–defending Daddy from a CRUSH of criticism, and a chance to be on the right side of America. This was good stuff.

And then this arrived the day before the FEC deadline:

Are you still with me

…with another declaration of war against the media.

No doubt, being President of the United States is a demanding job that requires intense concentration and extensive hours studying the problems of the country and the world, followed by intense debate and policy development to secure America’s safety and enable continuing prosperity.

Yet, as of April 28, Trump has managed to spend 111 days of his presidency (or 22% of his time in office) at one of his organization’s golf resorts swinging a club, and costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in the process. In fact, there’s a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/trumpgolfcount) that’s devoted to Trump’s rising count. And this coming from a man who chided Obama, who spent a “tiny, tiny little fraction” of his time on the links compared to Trump.

We’ve also learned–from Trump’s own admission–that Trump’s day officially begins at 11am, after Executive Time, which essentially translates to TV and Twitter time.

So given Trump’s extreme schedule, I couldn’t help but wonder, “How on earth did Trump have the time to notice that “[my] name is no longer on [his] list of official Sustaining members?”

I passed on paying the dollar, rationalizing that there was no reason to contribute to Donald’s green fees.

March passed into April, and with a new month, it was time again to feed the political war chest, this time in the interest of national security–by parlaying an immigration crisis into a $25B resolution: building THE WALL.

Build the Wall

Considering I had raised my objection to building THE WALL the month before, receiving my financial support was unlikely. In fact, I returned the survey with a comment, petitioning the president to consider an idea more fiscally responsible and in keeping with his laissez-faire principles: privatization. I proposed that he reach out to the Walton family, a fine upstanding bastion of Republican sensibility, and convince them to build THE WAL-MART, a very long and skinny store along our southern border. By day, the Mexicans could buy American, and by night our border would be protected by Wal-Mart security teams. Imagine the savings!

Trump never responded to my idea. Instead I got this:

Real News Now

…an appeal to subscribe to Real News Updates, a weekly webcast hosted by Donald’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, wife of Eric Trump. Interestingly, no one was asking for money, just a commitment of my time to shower me with the real truth on Trump TV. However, after watching ten minutes of noise disguised as news, I found I didn’t have a nose for nonsense, as it reeked of propaganda.

Shortly after, I received another exchange from Donald recruiting me for another purpose: defeating LIBERAL OBSTRUCTION…

liberal-obstruction.jpg

Here was Trump blaming the Democrats for his inability to get America’s work done. By the numbers, there are 1,212 presidential appointments requiring U.S. Senate confirmation, and 353 presidential appointments which do not require confirmation. As of April 27, 2018, 315 of Trump’s nominees have been confirmed for 640 key positions, and 129 are awaiting confirmation.

On what he called Trump’s “glacial pace in selecting nominees,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer posited, “If the President is looking for someone to blame on the slow pace of confirmations, he needs only to look in the mirror,” and suggests that the President should “roll up his sleeves and get to work rather than pointing false fingers of blame.”

Equally as astounding, was Trump’s White House personnel turmoil as diagrammed by The New York Times:

Trump tumult (2)

Even today, in the wake of Trump’s impending historic summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, there is no nominee in place to head the South Korean embassy, and that’s on Trump.

After a week’s time, I received multiple invitations to renew my 2018 Sustaining Membership and I ignored them all, but then an email arrived from Mike Pence that was impossible to overlook. He was offering me a chance to win dinner and a picture with him in North Carolina.

dinner-with-pence-e1525464357395.jpg

I checked my calendar to make sure I was available. I dreamed of the possibility of gnawing on BBQ ribs with Mike while listening to his sanctimonious defense of zygote life, his hypocritical defense of Trump as an adulterer, and his evangelical discourse of hysterical homophobia, as if he had been touched by St. Paul. I entered the contest…without a contribution…by discovering extremely fine print on the submission page that hyperlinked me to a free entry form, thereby sidestepping the requisite donation.

While I applauded my cleverness, no one called to tell me I’d won. I think I had Chinese take-out that Friday evening, and watched Real Time with Bill Maher instead.

A couple of days later, Donald reminded me that Melania’s birthday was approaching:

Melania

I have to admit, I was taken by surprise that Donald would turn up the spotlight on Melania when the world was wondering out loud about his sordid affairs with porn star Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels), and Karen McDougal, Playboy’s 1998 Playmate of the Year, only months after the birth of Melania’s son Barron.

It’s now undeniable that Michael Cohen, Trump’s consigliere paid $130,000 in hush money to Stormy Daniels twelve days before the presidential election. Campaign election law violation? We’ll see.

I was happy to sign Melania’s card, hoping that it might represent even the smallest distraction from her otherwise burdensome existence, and perhaps put a smile on her forlorn-locked face.

Oh, how she shrinks from Donald’s touch as he ceremoniously attempts to lock hands during so many pomp and circumstance moments when cameras are rolling, and oh, how she spurns his pussy-grabbing fingers, sending a silent #MeToo message to her coterie:

 

And then instantly, the news cycle abruptly turned to former FBI giraffe, James Comey’s imminent release of A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership. Naturally, Trump launched a preemptive strike that landed in my inbox :

Comey's book

…even going so far as to transmit a less than scientific survey to his ardent supporters one day later:

James Comey poll

Comey made the rounds of many a talk show, eager to tell his story, clear his name, restore honor to his bleeding Bureau, and peddle some books. But unlike Trump’s failed attempt to blunt free speech by trying to prevent publication of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, all he could muster this time around was a weak attempt to disparage, discredit and dismiss Comey as a liar and a leak.

Yet, for Trump to accuse James Comey as lying is no different from a cesspool telling a septic tank that it’s full of shit!

With Trump’s ascension to the White House,

Home of the Whopper

perhaps, the President’s residence should temporarily be renamed, Home of the Whopper.

Jimmy Kimmel put it best in his classic “mockumentary”, Trump’s 2,000 Lies:

 

Finally, Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and TrumPuppet released a final partisan report that the President had been expecting, and considered long overdue:

House Intelligence

Of course, Donald had a shiny new object to distract his core, but the real crime was the damage done to a one-time prestigious watchdog panel once charged with rooting out intel abuses, but now acting as the President’s personal pit bull. By shutting down the investigation and claiming no evidence of collusion by refusing to interview anybody who might have had evidence of collusion was like pulling the ripcord while still inside the plane.

Over the past two months, I’ve received dozens of email communications from Trump and team–all designed to collect a dollar and a steal a soul–while observing a Republican Congress willing to embrace Trump at any cost. And although I was never interested in contributing a dollar, I was more than willing to offer my two cents.

That’s when I received this email:

0 = 0

I clicked on CONTRIBUTE OTHER AMOUNT, and was whisked to the secure Authorized Website of Trump Headquarters:

triple matched

By selecting Other, my blinking cursor filled the empty box in anticipation of a big round number. I entered $0.02 and pressed CONTINUE.

enter an amount (2)

Rejected! The campaign wouldn’t accept anything less than two bits. So here it is, Mr. President…two bits of advice: Stop lying to the American people, and resign before the real truth comes out!

April Fools PSA

While culling through the many comments attributed to my Epilogue post–recently featured on the WordPress Discover site–I came across one comment in particular that so startled me, I had to read it twice:

Screenshot (9)

I couldn’t believe my good fortune! Somebody felt so strongly about my post that they were willing to make me rich!

Yet on the surface, it all sounded too good to be true. I had to find out more information about this amazing opportunity before it slipped away. But how?

I thought about calling him, but not wanting to embarrass myself by appearing too anxious and maybe saying the wrong thing, I decided it was safer to dash off the following email to Harrison Wells instead:

Hi,

I got a communication from Harold Wood, who told me a story about a blank ATM card that could withdraw huge sums of money. Is this for real? Cause if so, it certainly sounds interesting.
What more can you tell me about it?
I have a bunch of questions, so the sooner you can get me answers, the sooner I can get my hands on this card!
1) First of all, it sounds a bit fishy, so is it legal?
2) Do I have to worry about where I use the card?
3) Do I have to worry about how often I use the card?
4) How much money can this card generate?
5) How long is this card good for?
6} How much is this card gonna cost me?
7) I got bills to pay, so how long will it take to get me a card?
8} What do you need from me to get started?
Thanks for all your help!
Regards,
Neal D
While, I waited patiently for a response from Harrison, I thought aloud, “How cool is it that he should have the same name as the founder of S.T.A.R. Labs from The Flash TV series.” I hoped he was as fast as The Flash when it came to writing me back.

Fortunately, Harrison didn’t leave me waiting very long, but his response was disappointing:

Date: 3/30/18 5:29 AM (GMT-05:00)
To: Neal <Neal_D@msn.com>
Subject: RE: ATM Card
Just got your mail I have answers to all your questions lets get started
Name
Location
Date of birth
Cell phone numberSent from my Windows Phone

It seemed Harrison was intentionally ignoring the answers to all my questions. He had eliminated the foreplay (the best part), and was going straight for my wallet. I felt let down–even betrayed. What kind of con was this anyway?

It was time to take greater control of the narrative…
Hi Harrison,
What’s up?
Before we get too personal, I think you forgot about that part in your previous email where you answer my questions first.
I am looking forward to your responses so we can get this party started.
Thanks for writing back.
Neal
Immediately after I dispatched the email, I began having second thoughts about my tactics:
Was I coming on too strong? Would Harrison continue to see me as an April Fool and valued patsy, or would he simply ignore me and concentrate on another dance partner who was less difficult and more willing to be be led?
Thankfully, he ramped up his customer service skills, and gave me short-hand answers to all my questions…
From: Harrison Williams <harrisonwells989@outlook.com>
Date: 3/31/18 3:17 AM (GMT-05:00)
To: Neal <ndl7@msn.com>
Subject: RE: ATM Card
Ok first thing its illegal
You don’t need to worry about where to use it
Yes you can only withdraw twice a week
It depends on the card you want
The card is durable for some months
$400usd
It depends on the encrypting of the card
Your information
Does are the answers to your question
Sent from my Windows Phone
Wow! Going down the list, I matched up the answers to my questions, and had a much better picture of the cost of committing a crime. For $400, I could risk it all and finance my next trip to Sing Sing, Leavenworth or San Quentin.
I immediately sent a public service announcement to my future self to serve as a reminder to ignore all blank ATM card invitations in the near future:
Dear Neal,
Let this email serve as fair warning… Any urge to get rich quick should be quickly dismissed and filed under scam spam.
Thanks for the heads-up, Harrison!

Duty, Honor, Country

It’s a solemn ceremony choreographed with the precision of an atomic clock, executed by a regiment of warm-blooded automatons, and directed with the authority of a no-nonsense commander who only knows perfection. It’s a six-minute pas de trois that happens every hour on the hour during fall, winter, and night, and every half-hour during spring and summer–regardless of the weather or challenging conditions. And it’s a sacrament that’s never stopped since 1937.

The changing of the guard in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery is carried out with the pomp and circumstance of a Shakespearean ceremony, yet with the reverence of a canonization.

The rigorous training and commitment of the corps serving the monument is legendary. They are the best of an elite color guard from the 3rd Infantry Regiment, also known as The Old Guard, the nation’s oldest fighting force, serving since 1764.

The highly-selective unit is composed of impeccably dressed volunteers of similar stature, in peak physical condition, and with unblemished military records.

Sentinel (2)

As if marching to a metronome that only he can hear, the sentinel paces to the south, rolling his feet effortlessly along a catwalk of worn rubber,

guarding the tomb

His gait and silent cadence is measured and precise…19…20…and 21 steps, a broad leg sweep, and CLACK, his heels lock with the force of two magnets attracted to each other. He quarter-turns sharply to the east, and whip-snap, CLACK, his heels lock again.

facing east

One Mississippi, two Mississippi…until he reaches 21, and his feet quarter-turn north, and CLACK, his shoes revealing the effort from hours of spit-polishing only achieved through tubs of Kiwi and micro-sanding.

Spit and Polish

He executes a sharp shoulder-arms, repositioning his sparkling M-14 from his right shoulder to his left, as if popping with his prop–his weapon always closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel always stands between the Tomb and any possible threat.

After another 21 seconds of silence, the sentinel returns 21 steps north…

marching north (3)

and CLACK, quarter-turn, CLACK, quarter-turn, CLACK. Shoulder-arms, one Mississippi, two Mississippi…always counting, always focused, no matter the distraction.

The significance of number 21 corresponds to a 21-gun salute, the highest military honor posthumously bestowed upon any service personnel.

A crowd of spectators has lined the marble steps outside the Memorial Amphitheater in eager anticipation of the one-o’clock ritual.

Memorial Amphiteater

The hour tolls, and the sentinel on duty stands motionless, but at the ready.

sentinel awaiting replacement

From the opposite end of the plaza, the regiment commander appears beside the runway, and CLACK. In this ritual variation, the count-up to 21 continues, and marching resumes until the two honor guards pass.

passing (2)

Upon the commander’s return, he pivots to face the crowd of visitors:

Commander announcement

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I have your attention, please. I am Sgt. Davenport of the 3rd Infantry Regiment, United States Army, Guard of Honor, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This ceremony which you are about to witness is The Changing of the Guard. In keeping with the dignity of this ceremony, it is requested of everyone to remain silent and standing. Thank you.

Meanwhile, on the south side of the plaza, the relief-sentinel stands at attention and awaits formal inspection from the commander–now marching past the on-duty sentinel.

2nd pass

After a graceful, yet deliberate weapons and uniform check from head to toe…

head down inspection

undertaken with the scrutiny of a dermatologist examining for basal cells…the relief-sentinel is deemed mission-ready.

They parade across the plaza in lock-step…

parading

where they take up new positions in front of the shrine…

the ordered exchange

commander salutes

 

When the on-duty sentinel is officially relieved…

dismissing

the new sentinel’s patrol resumes for the remaining hour.

new patrol

However, on this particular day, at this particular hour, we were also witness to a wreath dedication ceremony from a local high school marching band…

carrying the wreath

placing the wreath

bugle

playing Taps

marching band honor

which only added to an already moving tribute and ceremony.

But there was one last vital piece of business remaining before our day was done: an obligatory visit to the gravesite of JFK to pay my respects.

JFK viewers

When John F. Kennedy was assassinated on Friday, November 22, 1963–the day before my 11th birthday–the announcement by Principal Simon came over the PA system, interrupting my Happy Birthday-song tribute. Immediately, the class went from cheers to tears in an instant, like a bipolar meltdown.

The pervasive sadness swept my home that evening, and I can’t remember when the sadness lifted. There was nothing any of us could do to keep from crying.

JFK quote
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility. I welcome it.

My 11th birthday was a turning point in my life–one of those moments where it’s impossible to forget where you were or what you were doing when you learned of something so profound, or horrific, or cataclysmic that you knew right then and there that your life had changed forever.

JFK grave

And while there’s no going back to a wrinkle in time, processing the tragedy is always hard to reconcile, even after all these years, as is wondering about the wonder that might have been.

The Sentinel’s Creed

My dedication to this sacred duty is total and wholehearted.
In the responsibility bestowed on me, never will I falter.
And with dignity and perseverance.
My standard will remain
Through the years of diligence
And the discomfort of the elements,
I will walk my tour in humble reverence to the best of my ability.
It is he who commands the respect I protect,
his bravery that made us so proud.
Surrounded by well-meaning crowds by day,
alone in the thoughtful peace of night,
this Soldier in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance.

PBS has produced the following video which masterfully demonstrates the precision of the pageantry, and reflects the awe of the ceremony.

 

Chapel Hill

There’s a triumvirate of college basketball competing in the middle of North Carolina, with rival sectors drawn by Duke’s Blue Devils at Durham, and North Carolina State’s Wolfpack at Raleigh, but completed by the Tar Heels of Carolina in the bucolic setting of Chapel Hill.

Campus map

In fact, consolidated ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) championships by the three powerhouses represent 48 titles out of 64 seasons, for a 75% margin of victory. Even now, as I write this, Carolina has defeated Duke 74-69 to compete against Virginia for its 19th ACC Championship and a place at the NCAA Championship table.

With a long legacy of league leadership, Leah and I concluded that a look around Chapel Hill might offer some insight into Carolina’s dominance.

Holding up the world

The campus was abustle, as classes were winding down in anticipation of Spring Break, and time was running out for research papers due by March 9th.

Clock Tower

We wound our way around to the sports complex where the public address system at Kenan Memorial Stadium blared a recitation of upcoming Tar Heel dates for Spring sports, which piqued our interest. Perhaps we could find the answers to some of our questions here, so we entered the Charlie Justice Hall of Honor.

Choo Choo

We were overwhelmed by the floor to ceiling showcases of memorabilia, photographs, trophies and historical artifacts detailing the history of Carolina football. As I positioned my camera to my eye to capture the glory days of Lawrence Taylor, I was suddenly greeted by the authoritative voice of an attendant behind a long arc of a desk who demanded to know our business.

“Uh, we were looking for access to the stadium, and though it might be through here,” I suggested.

“There is absolutely no photography allowed in the building,” she insisted. “Especially when the athletes are in the weight room.”

At the end of a corridor lined with decorated Tar Heel helmets on one side, and an assortment of NFL helmets on the other, was a glass wall offering a view of several oversized students pressing, curling, squatting and deadlifting 250 pounds or more.

I put my camera by my side. “If you could just tell us how to get to the stadium, we’ll be on our way,” I back-pedaled, not wanting her to think I was spying for a competing organization.

Pointing, she offered matter-of-factly,” Through those doors, and takes the stairs to the left of Choo Choo.”

We mounted the stairs, filed past security’s bag search, and entered a cavernous oval overlooking the first level.

Kenan Memorial Stadium

On the field, the Denver lacrosse squad was completing drills before their opening scrum with the Tar Heels.

lacrosse

When the match began, the 63,000 missing fans could not drown out the rap and disco music excerpts that echoed throughout the stands. Leah and I left with the score tied at 1 after 17 minutes of playing time, and with no greater appreciation for rap and disco music.

Denver v NCU

However, we did fall in love with Patrick Dougherty’s installation of weaving whimsy…

signage.jpg

as we passed the front lawn of UNC’s Ackland Art Museum…

Step Right Up installation

on our way to the truck before the meter timed-out,

Step Right Up installation1

which served as a visual metaphor for the intricacies of basket(ball) art of a different sort.

With rain forecasted for most of the following day,

Letterman's Lane

we decided to take our investigation indoors where it mattered most.

Museum entrance

Inside the museum, we had the run of the court,

exhibits1

dodging and weaving around interactive exhibits detailing every aspect of the game…

exhibits

that contributed to the success of a program that became a pipeline to the NBA!

Tar Heels in the NBA

When gauging the quantitative results of the team, one need not look any further than the volume of awards.

trophies

And if all-time National Championships were a deciding factor, Carolina has seven.

National Championships

Only Kentucky with 8, and UCLA with 11 have more.

Yet aside from great coaching (Dean Smith and Roy Williams have contributed to the second highest all-time winning percentage at .739) and recruiting amazing talent, Carolina also has the X Factor–

Jordan.jpg

–arguably the greatest player to ever play the game–and the museum has devoted a shrine of artifacts in his name.

Michael Jordan

Most illuminating are correspondence letters from Coach K…

Duke letter

and Dean Smith…

letter

that directed Michael Jordan’s path and launched him on a career that would shatter records and inspire a new age of athletes…

2017 Champs

to become future role models in their own right and not much of a secret after all.

Fortuitous

The Spanish crown was ambitious in its exploration of the New World, establishing the first permanent European settlement at St. Augustine in 1565, and equally as keen on protecting its investment from marauding pirates, subversive Native American neighbors, and the French and British Empires by establishing a trio of forts along New Florida’s northern Atlantic coastline.

Spanish Defensive Network

Aside Fort Mose to the north and Fort Matanzas to the south, Castillo de San Marcos was the first and largest of the three, standing 33 feet high, with 14 feet thick walls of coquina blocks–

outside the walls (3)

–a bonded composite of crushed seashells quarried from nearby Anastasia Island–and able to withstand a cannon shot from an enemy vessel.

Lions Bridge passage

Completed 323 years ago, Castillo de San Marcos still stands as the oldest masonry and best preserved fortress in the continental United States, and a symbol of the colonial struggles that shaped the history of a nation.

cannon casting (3)

Protecting St. Augustine was an interwoven fabric of fort design,

moat

view from above

soldier readiness,

reenactor

and black powder weaponry.

interior (2)

The Castillo’s advanced architecture showcases the bastion system, named for the diamond-shaped spears jutting from the four corners of the fort walls–

fort exterior

each point armed with an array of cross-firing guns intended to sweep across a wide swath of defensible coverage.

guns and turret

Additionally, the coquina stone offered fortunate benefits to fortress defenses if fired upon, as soldiers quickly realized that the porous properties of its shell walls could absorb the impact of cannon balls, rather than the walls shattering into shards if built with brick or granite.

A soldier’s life of active duty at the fortress usually consisted of drills, repair, and sentry watch,

sentry turret

with little time ever devoted to battles. Otherwise, their time was spent protecting the larder…

provisions locker

practicing their faith, which guided all aspects of colonial life…

First mass

and working second jobs as carpenters, cobblers, and coopers to support their families when away from the barracks.

soldier bunk

Officer barricks

But when confronted by the enemy, cannon crews were so effective at discharging projectiles from a variety of guns when repelling an attack or seige,

Artillery and Amusettes

cannon defenses

cannon crest

Shot Locker loaded

that Castillo de San Marcos was never breached in its history.

ramparts (3)

The fort has been the centerpiece of a historic city that has changed flags six times, but always by treaty–never surrender or defeat.

Spanish flag.jpg

Legions of soldiers through the ages have passed through its chambers leaving behind their marks…

ship grafitti (2)

grafitti1

graffiti (2)

But the treachery of Renaissance politics that sparked an amazing race of New World discovery, launched a new nation forged in conflict, and a new world order that defies all labels.

 

 

 

It Takes a Village of the Arts

A neighborhood of kaleidoscopic colors awaits the visitor who ventures from Sarasota to back-yard Bradenton for some down-home art…

Vota sign

on the other side of the fence.

Gecko fence

A cluster of artists-in-residence studios and workshops…

Art Junkies

SLOW

closed Gallery

located within early 20th century cottages and bungalows…

painted house

share the narrow city streets…

street art

with colorful galleries…

Fun Girl Art

Village mystic

Happy Valentines Day

amusing gardens…

garden panorama

odd garden

imaginative beasties…

Alien seat

Bits and Pieces

Stego beads

and popular eateries…

Arts and Eats

covering thirty-six acres of mixed-use development,

map

and creating the largest artists’ haven amidst the palms of sunny Florida.

metal palm (2)

Originating in 1999 as a non-profit guild representing local Manatee County artists, theirs is a mission to build a community where artists live and work while enhancing quality of life and creating a harmonious environment.

Notably refreshing, Divine Access Gallery specializes in contemporary folk art,

Divine Excess1

filling each room of the house with whimsy, kitsch, and funky artwork…

Ying Yang mantle

Freida shrine

voodoo kitchen

wall art

Bathroom

that captures an aesthetic worthy of eclectic and uncustomary collections.

trash cans

Centrally located, it’s a short stroll from the Riverwalk, the ballpark, and downtown Bradenton.

VOTA map

Get there by bike…

adorned bicycle

or by car.

Art car

But by all means, just get there.

Basket Case

They came off slave ships in Charleston,

Slave Ships to Charleston, SC1

clad in chains,

The buyer.jpg

and stripped naked of everything except the courage they needed to accept their new fate.

As families in West Africa, they relied on each other, but far from home on distant shores those bonds were broken. Husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters were separated and independently prepped for sale, bringing new meaning to groomed for success.

preparing slaves for sale1

The slave mart in Charleston, was the go-to destination…

Old Slave Mart Museum entrance

for traders to wrangle the best price,

The Price of a Human Being1

as human beings resigned themselves to their new owners and an unfathomable situation.

Imagine the shock and despair they must have felt, rolling down the Avenue of Oaks at Boone Hall Plantation for the first time in slave carts,

Oak Avenue

wondering about the cluster of buildings by the side of the road…

Slave quarters

Slave quarters1

that would become their future shelter…

quarters

as they approached the paddock…

paddock

and the manor house.

manor (2)

Boone Hall Plantation of Mount Pleasant, SC continues today as one of America’s oldest working farms, still producing crops after nearly 340 years of activity.

Also noteworthy, Gullah-Geechee heritage continues with sweetgrass basket-coiling skills that have sustained through five generations of descendants of slaves.

sweetgrass baskets

Original roadside stands from the “hayday” of basket production still dot the Route 17 landscape, luring everyday customers and tourists to inspect the wares.

roadside stand (3)

However, the trend has traveled to the Charleston City Market,

Charleston market

where the demonstration of sweetwater basket-making is routine…

sorting sweetgrass

selecting sweetgrass

and sales are brisk,

weaving

with up to 300 weavers who remain dedicated to the craft.

basket maker

At this time, dwindling supplies of lowcountry sweetgrass are protected, and can only be harvested by bonafide ancestors…

Charleston coastline

guaranteeing a steady stream of basketry to remind us how sweet the courage of a people can be, and how crooked their path to freedom.

marsh grasses

museum attendee

Designated Driver

Yesterday marked a historic moment in our personal timeline, given the 10-plus months since Leah and I have actively roamed the continent in search of new adventures and discovery in our Airstream. And yesterday’s achievement–seemingly overshadowing all previous accomplishments to date–will most likely define all others to come for the duration of our travels. While this statement smacks of grandstanding and hyperbole, the relative importance of this achievement cannot be overstated.

First some background and a confession. I never wanted a truck to pull our Airstream. Afterall, when the trailer is off-hitch, the truck would become our daily ride. And driving a truck around town wasn’t my style…er, I mean, I was somewhat intimidated by driving such a behemoth.

I fought the notion that only a truck could safely tow our 7200-pound capsule, and actively researched the specs of all late-model SUV’s that matched the appropriate torque and towing capacity for our trailer: I weighed in on internet forums to glean the best information relative to our Airstream size; I emailed with others who made similar trips, under similar conditions with equipment modifications; and we attended New York’s Auto Show in April 2016 with every intention of narrowing our options.

But browsing through so many choices in one place only muddied the motoring waters, and raised the level of my unawareness. There were so many considerations: fuel economy, gas vs. diesel, storage capacity, safety, reliability, comfort level, audio, GPS, and of course, price.

After test-driving a Grand Cherokee, Audi Q7, Infiniti QX-80, Nissan Armada, GMC Denali, VW Touareg, and Ford Expedition, I was beginning to have serious doubts about my original premise: SUV over truck.

When all was taken into consideration, I manned up, and went with the Ford F-150.

shiny and new

To me, it was the smartest choice of all available choices.

at the Jersey Shore

“I’m so excited for you, dear,” Leah pretended. “But you’ll never catch me behind the wheel of that thing. It’s huge. All I can say is, ‘You’re on your own.'”

If a man is measured by the size of his truck, then Leah unwittingly hit the jackpot. However, her driving abstinence left me blue.

Over time, the F-150 ride felt like any other ride. My reticence and apprehension soon melted away in favor of a solid understanding of the technology I relied on to negotiate the truck’s box-like bulkiness through traffic.

instrument panel

Or so I thought…

A close encounter with a concrete sidewall in a cramped Philadelphia parking lot while attempting to steer through a narrow exit ramp left me as crushed and broken as the aluminum door panel.

accident 1.jpg

While the front-end was willing, the back-end was not.

accident2

Fortunately, time, insurance, and $6,000 heals almost everything…except one’s memory and ego.

Even today, I believe that Leah delights in recounting my failure in Philly.

But that’s ancient history.

Time has lapsed, and 34,000 miles later–and true to Leah’s word–I can personally attest for every turn of the truck’s odometer. In the course of our travels, we have run into many couples who share the driving, and have discovered many women who drive exclusively for whatever reasons, but Leah seems to be the only one I know who tells me how to drive while never sitting behind the wheel, except to wipe the windshield…

…until now.

Having been incapacitated by a sinus infection and subsequent flu for the past two weeks, and with laundry by my bedside mounting to levels exceeding the ground elevation of the state of Florida, it was time to visit the washing machines. Normally, in all other instances, for convenience sake, I would schlep the top-heavy wire basket to the truck, and drive to the laundromat, whether down the road, or around the corner.

But yesterday, I was in no condition; I could barely move. While I was languishing in my delirium, I thought I’d heard the F-150 roaring awake. The 5-liter V-8 was growling through its idling phase, and maching on my migraine. I momentarily managed to pull myself from bed, and peered through the broken velcro bonds of the curtains just in time to see the F-150 cautiously backing out, and lunging forward into the lane.

truck thru window

In disbelief, I gathered my senses, and texted Leah, “I’m calling 9-1-1. The truck is gone.”

Twenty minutes later, I was stirred awake by the ping of my phone with Leah’s response, “Yup.”

“Thank goodness,” I noted to myself, before returning to my coma.

Hours later, Leah returned with a basket of folded laundry.

“You took the truck,” I asked/celebrated.

“I did,” she remarked. “No big deal.”

And that’s where I left things–not even a mention about the 300 feet distance from the Airstream to the facilities.

Today, when I awoke, there was little improvement in my health–all my original symptoms were still firing like a well-tuned sick machine (see: Quarantine Capsule). After more than two weeks of feeling lousy, I wondered if this was the new normal.

“We’re low on milk and you definitely need another box of tissues,” exclaimed Leah.

“Looks that way,” I managed.

Incredulous, “I can’t believe you went through a box of tissues in one day! Anyway, I guess I’m going to Publix on my own, since you sure don’t look like you’re up to driving me there,” Leah volunteered.

“So, are you thinking about taking the truck?” I posited.

“I don’t think I’m ready to take the truck out in traffic yet. So, maybe I’ll ride my bike to the store, or just walk,” she confessed.

And that’s what she did.

I suppose my role as the dominant driver is as secure as ever.

Notes:

WPC–Variations on a Theme

Quarantine Capsule

For the past couple of days, while the world continued spinning on the outside, our heads and stomachs were spinning on the inside, so Leah and I felt it only right to isolate ourselves inside our thin protective layer of Airstream aluminum. However, yesterday, we broke the seal of our quarantine capsule long enough to scoop up the provisions scattered across the lawn of our RV dock dropped by the Red Cross airlift (just kidding)–only to button up again, and shamelessly drift back to our TV bingeing (not kidding).

In actuality, we momentarily left the recycled air of the Airstream on Wednesday, to venture across the highway to the Urgent Care Center. My cold symptoms and sinus headaches were no better after a week in Mexico, so it was time for medical intervention. And Leah was now reporting symptoms of her own, and blaming me for sharing.

After taking a number and waiting patiently in a room full of sick people wearing yellow face-masks, it was my turn to to be treated…soon.

“Why are you here?” intoned Nurse Ratched, speaking through a yellow face-mask of her own.

“Congestion and sinus headache,” I coughed.

“May I see your ID and insurance card, please,” asked the intake operative.

I offered my Driver License and Medicare Card–my first time using it.

“Just so you know, you’re responsible for the $42 surcharge not covered by Medicare,” she alerted.

Offering another card, “But I have my supplemental insurance from EmblemHealth. This should cover it.”

“I’m sorry but your supplemental insurance is not valid for the balance,” she argued.

“No need for an apology. EmblemHealth is a bonafide payer. Trust me. They’re supposed to cover the Medicare balance,” I insisted.

Nurse Ratched seemed annoyed that she wasn’t collecting any money from me. She pecked some data into her computer monitor, and eventually provided me with a yellow mask and a pile of papers to fill out before being seen.

After an hour, Dr. B confirmed, “You’re got acute sinusitis. I’m treating it with a 6-day steroid pack, and an antibiotic, but only to be taken if symptoms continue after a week.”

“I guess I’m off the hook for your cold, since a sinus infection isn’t contagious,” I declared.

Usually, within the confines of a small park, there are self-appointed watchdogs who keep tabs on the comings and goings of all park residents with a perfunctory wave, but I don’t think anybody missed us, or even noticed when we returned from our brief encounter. We’ve survived here in relative obscurity since pulling into the Timberlane RV Park and Resort of Bradenton a few days ago.

Usually, after setting up camp, we’d walk among the giant coaches and 5th wheels to compare and contrast, wave to our fellow campers in arms, and find common ground: the office, the laundry, the social hall. But not here. And even if we were up to it, the freezing temperatures in central Florida have driven the most ardent RV residents into the hive of their own tiny houses, leaving us with little chance of introducing ourselves–all of us waiting for Florida’s Big Thaw and Saturday’s potluck dinner, scheduled for 4PM.

Thursday and Friday were true days of recovery. Leah lounged under blankets in the front of the Airstream (the bedroom), catching up on Shameless, while I stretched out in the rear of the Airstream (beside the dinette), streaming episodes of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

2017 Airstream Flying Cloud 27FB (2).png Occasionally, there were moments of silence and relief, but more often than not, the reflexes between us were too strong to hold back, and the Airstream would erupt into uncontrollable and otherworldly jags of coughing, sneezing, hacking, expectorating and farting. I wondered if our noises echoed beyond our asylum, and if the neighbors suspected if something inhumane was going on under their noses, like the tragedy in Perris, CA.

But then the cabin would go quiet, and I figured we were safe from watchdog surveillance. As gross as it sounds, the hardest decision during those two days was figuring whether to swallow or spit.

Now it’s Saturday, and recovery is on the horizon. Residents are already parading to the social hall with specialty, home-made, wrapped dishes in hand, in eager anticipation of creating new best acquaintances for another snowbird season.

I hope they like supermarket chocolate chip cookies.

At Your Service, Too

Leah and I sat in beautifully hand-carved, yet wildly uncomfortable rattan chairs over a Mexican buffet breakfast that could best be described as Meh-ican. Sitting across the table from us was Ricardo, a familiar host and representative of the developer, who was writing upside down with his Mont Blanc pen, while presenting all kinds of facts and figures about the local hospitality game.

“40,000 hotel rooms in Cancun and 40,000 hotel rooms in all of Riviera Maya stretching from Puerto Morales to Tulum,” he regaled, “and here we are, at Tres Rios, right in the middle of this amazing paradise.”

Ricardo was finding his groove. He was flashing pages of a promotional real estate magazine and rattling off stat after stat as he actively drew a map of the Quintana Roo coastline on the backside of a resort brochure. For every detail added, Ricardo would reinforce his point by circling the Riviera Maya caption at the top of his masterpiece, until it resembled a paddleboard floating on a cartoon sea. With bold retraces and multiple underscores from his pen, he emphasized the unprecedented low, low prices that wouldn’t last unless we acted today!

Ricardo’s presentation was polished and professional, needing only one new breath of air every five minutes or so to sing the virtues of founding membership privileges, and the accorded rights and benefits granted to ground-floor go-getters who were willing to take advantage of a great deal when they saw one.

Ricardo has been honing his razor-sharp delivery skills for the past 25 years, having moved from Jalisco in search of an opportunity, and finding sponsorship with the Sunset Group, a controversial band of land speculators and developers from Mexico, who have since built four resorts from Cancun to Playa by selling timeshares to curious vacationers who couldn’t resist the notion that a Mexican vacation would fulfill their sun-starved lives.

Hacienda Tres Rios has become their biggest venture to date. Once an active Nature Park, the preserve fell on hard times after the devastation of Hurricane Wilma in 2005, and ultimately closed. In exchange for the right to convert the dormant property into a resort, the Secretariat of the Interior secured a commitment from Sunset Group to  restore the mangrove habitat and preserve the original eco-park concept.

Ten cenotes (some fresh water, and some brackish) are scattered throughout the property, with miles of bicycle paths carved into the jungle, providing access to swimming and snorkeling, while a short hike to Cenote Aguila offers a chance to kayak or snorkel down Rio Selva to the sea.

Eagle Cenote

Subsequently, steps have been taken towards self-sufficiency: with completion of a mangrove and orchid nursery, a water desalination plant and inverse osmosis system, solar panel installations for sustainable energy production, and a local farm-to-table concept that cultivates flowers, fruits and vegetables for all resort restaurants. Sunset World has transformed Tres Rios into Mexico’s first green resort years later, and is now the standard-bearer of all future hotel development in the vicinity.

Green Globe certified

As members of a sister resort in Playa del Carmen, Leah and I were invited ten years ago to inspect the property at Tres Rios and sample the spa hospitality. We returned the same evening to enjoy a Mexican fiesta on the beach, but not before we were spritzed with organic mosquito repellant, which really seemed to keep the bloodsuckers away. It was great fun at the time, and seemed like an experience worthy of repeating.

Subsequently, Ricardo and I negotiated on a one-bedroom suite for a one-week share that for many different reasons has been visited only four times in the past ten years.

Today, the Sunset organization prepares to finance Phase Two at Tres Rios, promoting luxury interval ownership, and beyond (future development of single unit residencies, and a marina with ocean access), so Ricardo sits across from us, giving his all–dazzling us with his artful cartography and adroit calligraphy–with every intention of leveraging our single week of ownership into a one-month obligation, which will help to defray the cost of the elaborate June Quinceañera his daughter has been planning for nearly a year.

But Leah and I never had any intentions of upgrading. Never. We were there for the sole purpose of exchanging our two hours of attendance for an hour of spa treatments. While our massages are presented as a gift for our precious time, realistically, it’s little more than a simple lure that’s part of a much larger marketing strategy.  

It was a monumental match of wills: Ricardo’s relentlessness versus our resilience. After an obligatory walk-thru of the newly appointed model apartment (which was roomy, luxurious, and fashionable) we moved through a display and awards room to reach an open conference room populated with small tables surrounded by high-back leather chairs. This was to be the setting for Round 3. While the chairs were more comfortable, the air temperature inside was rather chilly, prompting a request from Leah for a blanket before she bolted.

When Ricardo sensed that things weren’t going his way, he called for an assist from Patrick, his manager, who from gracious introductions revealed himself to be a 40-year old Irishman with a Mexican accent. The sales pitch devolved even farther after he further explained his unusual heritage: his Irish father met his Mexican mother while vacationing. They subsequently married; lived in Dublin until Patrick turned four; and under duress from his mother, his father returned to Mexico, where Patrick was schooled and his parents eventually divorced, although on good terms.

His father currently lives in Ireland, where he crafts granite fountains with Mexican stylings, and has sold one of his designs to Bono for his home on Killiney Hill. The conversation turned to our love of U2’s music, our mutual excitement of seeing them entertain live on stage, and Patrick’s fascination with my look-alike appearance to Bono.

Out of the corner of my eye, I knew that Ricardo was defeated. Unable to participate in our repartee, he sat silently and sulked, perhaps wondering if he could ever recover. I signaled to Patrick that we were passing on the offer, and just like that, the transaction was finished and so was Ricardo’s energy.

In a last ditch attempt to win the sale, he severely undercut his original bid. And like a Hail, Mary pass floating into the endzone, he threw in all kinds of extras with no charge to us, but we stood strong; we would not be swayed.

In the end, we shook hands as friends–Ricardo, the fallen gladiator, vanquished in the sales arena, and me, the victor with my wallet still intact.

At Your Service

The descendents of the Mayans are a happy people. Who wouldn’t be, with 300 days of sunshine per year, average temperatures of 75°F/24°C during winter,

Average-Temp-Cancun

and ocean swimming available all year round in turquoise waters that hover between 79°F/26°C and 84°F/29°C.

Of course, it was only a matter of time before money interests would step in to capitalize on a tropical paradise that was ripe for the picking.

Today, Cancun International Airport connects with 122 airports around the world, bringing over 5 million tourists to the Riviera Maya in 2017, and making Playa del Carmen and Tulum the fastest growing cities in Mexico.

But it all started from humble beginnings. Some say that Jacques Cousteau, the celebrated oceanographer first realized the potential of this area in the early 1960s. After anchoring the Calypso off the nearby island of Cozumel, he shot a documentary film that captured the wealth of sea-life thriving across the Palancar reef, the second largest coral reef biome on the planet, which resulted in an unintended flood of underwater activity from diving enthusiasts around the world, thus becoming the premiere scuba destination in the Western Hemisphere.

My earliest experience in the Yucatan Peninsula dates back to June 16, 1975, when I bounced across cratered jungle roads from Merida to Chichen Itza and Uxmal in a battered VW beetle, in search of Toltec truths once touched upon in college curriculum. This excursion/honeymoon–an elaborate anthropology and archeology tour arranged by a Mexican travel agency that rented cars and booked hotels–came with a fine-print disclaimer that later took on significant ramifications when our Bug broke down on the edge of a coastal clearing that became a colossal construction zone known as Cancun.

At first, the challenge of finding someone/anyone who could speak English was resolved after discovering the bilingual General Manager of the Sheraton Hotel (Cancun’s first and only hotel at the time) sitting in the town’s only restaurant enjoying his tamales. He negotiated a time for us to use one of two known local telephones connected to civilization–one in the restaurant, the other in the pharmacia–so we might call the Meridan agency to report our breakdown.

Several construction contractors were already patiently waiting their turn to call Mexico City for payroll and supplies, all the while drinking shots of tequila and trading gossip while their road crews were laboring 24/7 to carve the future streets of Cancun. The drone of heavy machinery and the scent of hot diesel hung in the humidity amid the occasional peal of electronic church bells tolling away the hours.

Eventually, our Sheraton translator secured a line to Merida, where we further learned that we were responsible for the VW no matter what. The car had to be repaired; it could not be abandoned, and no replacement would be available.

The new challenge was to identify a Mayan mechanic in the middle of nowhere who was VW savvy, and had a surplus of makeshift parts that could be gerryrigged to fix a transmission stuck in reverse. By now, the moon was rising over the mangroves, with little chance of making Akumal by daybreak.

The GM excused himself to network around the restaurant on our behalf, while we finished our simple meal, and to our astonishment located a local Mexican versed in lawn mower repair who offered to examine our 1965 Clasico.

Amazingly, we were on the road by 4:00 am, barreling through the dark night, charging toward our next reservation south of border, trying to make up for lost time, when I reflexively slammed on the brakes in just enough time, with just enough road to spare, and just enough tread to wear, to come bumper to bovine, narrowly avoiding a black cow lounging in the middle of a two-lane highway.

Steering clear of the cow provided an adrenaline rush that would last throughout the day, notwithstanding the bottle of Tequila we drained after finally arriving at the Place of the Turtles by dawn.

Once we checked into our room, we spent the entire day at the beach, watching in awe as leatherback hatchlings emerged from the sand and found their way to the sea.

Playa beach

That’s the moment I feel I fell in love with the Mexican Caribbean, and continue to return to this day.

More on Mexico later…

Finally!

We bought a house! It wasn’t supposed to happen this fast, but it did, and it’s still a pinch-me moment.

Always a part of our plan while circling the country, it was our mission to scope out a place to settle at the end of our epic trip. We figured that there was a definitive advantage to traveling through all parts of America for an up close and personal look at what could be next for us, making it easier to sort out all the fodder, and focus on the merits of communities that caught our attention. But we never counted on finding a new residence this quickly. And we never counted on settling in Florida!

We knew starting out, that our days in New Jersey were numbered. After growing up and growing old in the Northeast–with sixty-four winters of low temperatures and high taxes–it didn’t take much figuring to realize that retirement was anywhere but New Jersey and the surrounding snowbelt. Yes, it meant saying goodbye to friends and family, but the notion of trading the comfort and familiarity of an old sweater for a tank top and flip flops was too profound to ignore.

As we streamed thru America, we carried a quiet list of must-haves and desires that we would superimpose from time to time over different destinations in order to analyze the community credentials, although it seemed that our list was so exhaustive and exclusive that we wondered if there was a place for us at all.

We wanted a beach and the mountains; we wanted a quaint yet vital town or city–not too big, but not too small–that would still have a cultural identity reflected by its diversity of good restaurants, music venues, art galleries and local merchants, all within reasonable proximity; we wanted affordable tax-friendly living to stretch our dollars into our late nineties; we wanted space around us to protect our sacred privacy, just in case we wanted to run around naked; we wanted newer construction to ease ourselves of homeowner headaches; we wanted a climate that would allow us generous outdoor time, and while the passage of seasons wasn’t a high priority, it would certainly break the monotony of spring, summer, spring, summer, etc.

Immediately, we ruled out the Northwest because of the rain, the cold and fires. We rejected the Southwest for it’s dryness and heat (although Sedona was in the running). California was too expensive, and Texas was too Republican (except for Austin, ahh, thank goodness for Austin). After disqualifying the Midwest for its lack of mountains or beaches, we knew we were running out of possibilities.

We concentrated on our search in earnest after returning from our New Jersey Thanksgiving with family, and reboarded the Airstream temporarily stored in Charlotte. We resumed our country tour in Charleston, which seemed to me like a perfect location. It had everything that we were looking for, except plantation living proved too costly. The closer we got to the historic city, the further removed we got from affordable real estate. And the closer we got to affordable housing, the city inevitably slipped further away from sight and touch. Unfortunately, Savannah was no different. Sadly, we crossed South Carolina and Georgia off our personal prospectus.

I had mentioned to Leah from the beginning that I never considered myself Florida material, yet here we were in Jacksonville, considering the likelihood of St. Augustine. Interestingly, America’s most historic city (founded September 1565) ticked all of our boxes (other than mountains, eight hours away). All that remained was finding a house that we could make our home.

Local friends recommended an agent friend of theirs who picked us up from a nearby Walmart parking lot (where we drycamped the night before), and patiently chauffeured us from one development to another. But everything Bob had shown us was underwhelming until we walked through a custom-built house on a cul-de-sac bordering a preserve on two sides–originally built for a client who’d lost her financing and had to walk away from the sale–and offered at a price that Leah and I could afford, with a floorplan that suited our needs: open-concept, single floor living with 12-foot ceilings, a gourmet kitchen with natural gas, a screened-in lanai, and a 3-car garage.

Concord Floor Plan-2258-Madeira

We didn’t commit right away. Leah had her doubts about community amenities, but a 10-minute bicycle ride to historic downtown, and 6 miles from Vilano Beach proved to be a winning combination, even though the association pool was unheated. We deliberated for a week before coming to the conclusion that we might regret passing on an amazing opportunity.

We called Bob and the builder’s agent to find out if the house was still available. It was.

After negotiating the details, the extras, and the price, the house now belongs to us and the bank, contingent upon closing.

We still have three months of traveling ahead of us, but we are finally free to explore the balance of our road trip without the pressure or burden of where we’ll relocate.

All that remains is the when and the how.

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

With our travels slowing while we hunker down in Florida during the impending winter months, Leah has redirected her focus and efforts inward. She has contemplated doing something with her hair after growing it out for the nine months we’ve been on the road–originally citing the ease of pulling it back or putting it up when we were spending a fair amount of time enjoying the great outdoors–but recently she’s grown tired of her look, thinking that a change might boost her self-image.

I have learned long ago to always offer a compliment when asked to comment on how something looks. For example, on the occasion when Leah would buy a new article of clothing that I know she likes, it’s always easier to agree with her purchase.

“What do you think of this?” Leah might ask.

The safest response is usually: “I like it if you like it.”

…although, sometimes a question could provoke unwanted friction, and would demand tightrope accuity: “So what do you think about this dress on me? Do you think it makes me look fat?” she’ll ask, primping in front of the mirror while admiring the line or the color.

This is a quicksand question for which there is never a delicate answer. And the trap couldn’t be more obvious. Answering “No dear, of course not. The dress is very slimming!” can only complicate things, and warrants a surefire response: “Great! But you think I’m fat!”

However, by stating the obvious and acknowledging the pitfall, it’s possible to defuse the situation, and escape unscathed: “Only a fat suit could make you look fat, dear.”

Yet when it comes to offering “solicited” advice, I’m usually on terra firma, and free to speak my mind.

“I’m thinking about changing my hair,” began Leah, “and I’ve been thinking about getting lilac highlights. Whaddaya think?”

Of course, she’s asking the right person, because lilac highlights is something I happen to know a lot about. In fact, not a day goes by when someone doesn’t ask me about lilac highlights.

I considered my words. “I think that if you do it, and like it, it’s a great look for you. But if don’t, you’ll be miserable until the color fades away,” I replied cautiously and conclusively.

“Well, I have to do something,” Leah continued, “so why not risk it? I’m making a hair appointment at the next place we visit!”

The day of reckoning arrived the other day.

“You need to drive me to the salon for my 9:30 appointment,” informed Leah.

“Okay,” I relented. “Have you figured out what you have in mind yet?”

“I’m not too sure,” Leah confessed, “I have a few ideas, but nothing certain. We’ll see. Come and get me in a couple of hours.”

I went out for breakfast, and reflected on the direction that Leah might go. I didn’t expect anything radical, because Leah’s not that kind of person. She seldom wears makeup and eschews the glitz and glamour in favor of the practical and casual. Besides, as I often remind her, she’s beautiful and doesn’t need it. Once in a while, a touch of color on her lips tells me that we’re dressing up for a night on the town.

Still, when we met nearly 13 years ago,

Leah and me 2.jpg

Leah was periodically dying her hair to chase away gray tones in a Sisyphean effort to postpone the inevitable.

She continued to be a honey blonde until she was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, and made a conscious decision to go gray after chemotherapy. While Leah fortunately kept her hair during treatment, the fear of losing it by introducing harsh chemicals soon after was considered too risky.

Leah’s hair remained short, and the temptation to go back to blonde eventually faded to resignation…that maybe going gray didn’t suck so bad after all. Friends and family offered encouragement and compliments on the amazing color long-hidden by the hair dye. Over time, Leah embraced the color and the look.

Meanwhile, Leah’s hairdresser was documenting the makeover…

preparation

back of head1

I could have stayed at the diner, and waited for the phone call, but I drove back to the salon and waited inside the F-150 in eager anticipation.

When the phone finally rang–more than two hours since dropping Leah at the door–I played coy.

“I’m just finishing up, here. You can come and get me any time.” she propositioned.

There was an inviting lilt in her voice.

“Are you pleased with the result?” I asked, not wanting to appear too anxious.

“You’ll see,” she teased, “I just can’t believe that it’s me.”

3-4 view

“Well, in that case, I’m already parked outside, and it’s time for the big reveal,” I declared.

new do

She exited the salon, and stepped inside the truck cab. “How do you like it?” Leah asked hesitantly.

portrait (2)

I immediately forgot all the sage advice I’d ever followed to hedge against potential fall-out.

“I love it!” I blurted out.

“You do?” she second-guessed, looking for confirmation.

“Absolutely! It’s stunning,” I gushed. “But where’s the lilac highlights?”

“Good. The hairdresser said that it would get all over my pillow, and it would fade after only a couple of weeks. Besides, she said it’s what all the teens are doing these days. Anyway, we decided it would be better if I worked with what I had. So, all the highlights are my natural color, and she worked her magic to match the rest underneath the gray. Nothing too extravagant, just enough, don’t ya think?” Leah explained.

That’s when I realized that there was nothing wrong with a little glitz and glamour in our lives, and I was somewhat hopeful that some of it would rub off on me.

Mystery Blogger Award

With awards season upon us, and with many of the nominations coming before the close of 2017, I would be remiss if I didn’t nominate my favorite blogs before 2017 becomes just another check-writing mistake in 2018.

My qualifications to judge are simple. As a current recipient of the Mystery Blogger Awardit’s my obligation upon acceptance of the award to perpetuate the award, and nominate my successors. Yet, in so doing, there is a laundry list of rules that one must adopt to achieve compliance, which I will address as they appear, according to the originator:

RULES

1) Put the award logo/image on your blog:

mystery blogger award


2) List the RULES:

  1. Put the award logo/image on your blog
  2. List the rules.
  3. Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog
  4. Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well
  5. Tell your readers 3 things about yourself
  6. You have to nominate 10 – 20 people
  7. Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog
  8. Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice, with one weird or funny question (specify)
  9. Share a link to your best post(s)

3) Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog:

I am grateful to The Campervan Man–One Man, One Van and No Plan for discovering my blog and introducing me to a wider audience through his nomination. The Campervan Man rides around in a restored VW bus, reminiscent of the kind my college roommate once owned.

I fondly remember Steve Weill’s VW cruising up Bethesda Avenue at 2 am until we reached the edge of Chevy Chase, where the “All Night Bakery” would serve fresh-baked raisin bread meant to satisfy every stoner’s most discerning palette.

As for the Campervan Man, “Fanny” was personally designed and rebuilt to carry him to distant places where part-time work often interferes with full-time travel.


4) Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well:

The Mystery Blogger Award is the brainchild of Okoto Enigma, a fellow blogger who believes in building community by recognizing and appreciating the blogging achievements of others.


5) Tell your readers 3 things about yourself:

With my avatar standing at a virtual podium before my fellow followers and nominees, I’d like to accept this award and offer my posthumous thanks to Helen DeFrance, my English AP teacher for the ignominious distinction of failing me in her Seniors’ English class 47 years ago because I overslept for the AP exam.

“My mean sister played a prank on me by turning off my alarm,” I explained, but Ms. DeFrance responded to my well-crafted and creative excuse with stinging rebuke. “You’ll never amount to anything!” she scorned, presenting me with a scarlet F scrawled across the front of my bluebook, which consequently disqualified me from any high school graduation academic awards.

Of course, her mean words and lack of empathy shattered a nerve, which later fueled my burning desire to be the best professional writer that I could be. And so, if I could exhume Helen DeFrance, and confront her for her audacious attack on my adolescent behavior and fragile ego, I would thank her for not mincing words, and providing me with the impetus to tell my story many years later in a way that no AP English exam could ever score.


6) You have to nominate 10 – 20 people, and

7) Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog:

My nominees–in no particular order:

The Loyal Brit Wit is a language enthusiast who flexes her word muscle in a variety of styles.

Widowcranky offers an unusual angle on twisted art, and a twisted angle on unusual art.

Chasing Patches is a quest on water as Streaming Thru America is to land.

Mehar Gandhi specializes in poetry with a knack for visual imagery.

floatinggold mixes creative writing with creative ranting.

smotheringfools showcases esoteric art with heart.

The Nostalgia Diaries features therapeutic reflections with insightful impressions.

A Walk and a Lark shares a passion of the great outdoors, one step at a time.

Michael Stephen Wills tells a story with pictures and words that’s more than the sum of his parts.

Joshi Daniel has an eye for eyes that captures the subject and lures the viewer into a visual conversation.


8) Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice; with one weird or funny question (specify). Questions selected by the Campervan Man:

1. Mountains or beaches? I am a fan of both, and find it impossible to pick between the two. Therefore, I select a hybrid…

beaching (2)
Lake Tahoe–my favorite mountain beach in the Sierra Nevadas!

2) What is your favourite word? First of all, “what” is not my favorite word, and I dislike being told that “what” is. However, I am a huge fan of “and”!

3) Where is your favourite place in the world and why? My favorite place on the planet is home. The fact that I’m traveling in an Airstream for one year means that I’m always home, albeit at a constantly changing address of my choosing.

4) If you could invite two people in the world to dinner, who would you invite? Given a choice of any two “people”, I would invite God and Satan. Then I would sit back and watch the sparks fly.

5) Would you rather fight 100 hamster-sized lions or 1 lion-sized hamster? Neither, as I’m a firm supporter of animal rights,

5 Questions I would ask my own nominees are:

1) Which part of yourself would you change if you could and why?

2) What’s been your most creative Halloween costume to date?

3) Given a choice, would you rather work four 10- hour days, or five 8-hour days?

4) What’s your favorite holiday and why?

5) If you threw a Black Stone into the Red Sea, what would it become?


9) Share a link to your best post(s):

While I’ve written many favorite posts, I’ve also created several under-appreciated posts written earlier which I’d prefer to showcase in this forum.

The Saga of Sinbad

A Hole in the Head

Living with Less

Knock, Knock

Joshua Tree–the Album and the National Park

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Fire in the Hole

Beauty and the Beast

Blue Icing on the Cake

An Olympian Apology

Happy blogging, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year!

 

 

Stomping Grounds

After eight months of highways and high country, I took a deep breath and returned to the nest. Leah and I had already flown to Philadelphia from Charlotte–where the Airstream was idling in storage until our travels resumed–and continued by car to Northern New Jersey where we planned to reunite with our families for Thanksgiving dinner and my 65th birthday celebration.

While commuting to New York City to attend a union-sponsored luncheon of like-minded teachers and retirees was never part of my original plan, it seemed difficult turning down a free lunch after receiving the invitation a month earlier, and realizing that the event would be a pleasant diversion from all the doctor visits Leah had scheduled months ago.

Although the trip by bus from Willowbrook Park and Ride to Port Authority was uneventful, memories of tidal traffic flooded my mind as the bus crept at a snail’s pace until we entered the Lincoln Tunnel.

Port Authority was as grimy as ever. No one dared to linger longer than necessary, so travelers were quick about their business, and goodbye exchanges tended to be short and sweet before people parted ways for different places. Only the homeless and drunks cared to share the surroundings, as they dutifully sifted through trash cans in search of redeemable bottles and discarded deli.

Walking out onto 8th Avenue and looking beyond 42nd Street, a familiar game of human pinball was playing out across over-crowded sidewalks, with pedestrians weaving through imaginary obstacle courses, unable to avoid each other.

Times Square1

Also familiar were the cacophonous sirens of emergency vehicles frozen in gridlock, and the scent of the big city.

TSQ Asserie

I routed through Times Square for an essential rush of nostalgia,

TSQ traffic

as this was my traditional walk to work for the better part of a school year when I taught World History and Chemistry at JKO (Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis) High School, renown for once housing the school characterized in the movie Fame.

Subway

Times Square2

SWAT

Winding my way to 6th Avenue,

Torsos

camera towers were rising between decorated office buildings in preparation for Thursday’s Thanksgiving Parade.

Xmas lights

Ornaments

Arriving at my destination, I joined a reception in the ballroom lobby of the New York Hilton that soon transitioned to an open call for lunch, as the doors to the ballroom parted and 800 attendees scrambled to locate their seating assignments.

After customary introductions and rousing speeches from union officials,

Ballroom luncheon

we settled on servings of institutional indigestion masked as fish or fowl, while catching up with complete strangers around our table.

Table 60

Entertainment was provided by retirees with a passion for colorful clothes and random gyrating.

tiny dancers

Belly dancers

fan dance

By two o’clock, it was all an afterthought, and the crowd slowly dissembled…in search of what’s next after retirement.

Upon my return to Port Authority, I re-routed through Rockefeller Center–ahead of Thursday’s masses–to sneak a peak at Christmas future…

Rockefellar Center Promenade

Angels with Trumpets

…but alas, the Northern Spruce–like so much of New York City–was still a work in progress.

Scaffolded tree

Ironically, I felt myself immediately transported back to the classroom for one brief moment, reflecting on one of my earliest teaching revelations: that instruction, much like construction, is best achieved with proper scaffolding. For without it, most students would be skating on thin ice.

Poetry in Motion

Amazing Acrobats of Shanghai and their rival, Acrobats of China compete daily for the attention of visitors in an already crowded field of Branson venues showcasing music and variety entertainment. The two maintain similar visions–featuring acts displaying power, balance and artistry. But because one theater was closer to the Airstream than the other, and with available seats closer to the stage, and for a few dollars less, Leah and I chose the Shanghai troupe for our evening out on the town.

We arrived during a warm-up act with two costumed chickens made of paper, and a clown blowing a whistle. The sparse crowd was disinterested, generating a smattering of applause.

The theater was dingy and the seat cushions had lost their springs many summers ago. It was the first freeze of the season, and the concrete floor was sending chills through the soles of my shoes. It made me check my watch, and wonder how much longer we would be here.

By the time the lights had dimmed and the curtain pulled, the audience and I were hoping to be amazed.

This was NOT Cirque du Soliel: the set design featured a lit cyclorama and necessary props on a short and shallow stage; the costumes were functional and simple (with the exception of traditional animal puppets); and the music track was borrowed from a Chinese elevator.

But the young acrobats, mostly in their mid-twenties, were enthusiastic performers with towering talents,

chair tower

and well-rounded abilities–demonstrating precision and grace throughout their respective routines.

Thematically, the acts seemed to showcase a variety of spinning stunts. Around and around went the table, hoops, and vases.

circle and square before

circle and square

hoops before

Hoops after

Around and around whirled the ninjas in their karate sequences, and the aerialists in their pas de deux.

butterfly

spinning

Around and around, the contortionist twisted her body into wincing pretzel postures.

contorting

contorted

When the show ended to rousing applause, Leah and I crossed the lobby to inspect an easel of audience portraits stuffed inside commemorative frames with plenty of room for acrobat autographs…and available for purchase at only $20 a piece.

While we enjoyed the show, we quickly decided against sticking around for the  meet and greet, as the acrobats lined up to express their gratitude, but seemed more uncomfortable with both feet firmly planted on the ground.

Milestones

What started out as an intimate blog intended for sharing our cross-country adventures with family and friends has taken on higher meaning and greater dimension. After seven months of 100 posts, 10,000 views, 4000 visitors from over 150 countries, and a new family of nearly 1000 followers, this blog has eclipsed all that I could have imagined.

It has changed how I look through a lens and how I craft a story. It has transformed my posts from informative to entertaining. The discipline has made me a more fluent writer and sharper photographer, for which I am thankful.

Your collective thoughts and comments are a driving force to improve my content, and I am grateful for the feedback and acknowledgement.

I’d like to think that this evolution and subsequent statistics are because of my new and loyal audience, and I thank you dearly.

Additionally, my apologies to Leah, who must now contend with my newest obsession.

Putting Leah in Perspective

Picasso painted Marie-Thérèse Walter and Dora Maar among others; Dali’s choice was Gala; and Stieglitz extensively photographed Georgia O’Keeffe. The results of these collaborations are legendary. Artists have always depended on models…for inspiration, as subjects, as lovers.

fallen tree (2)

And while I eschew classifying myself as an artist, my reliance on Leah in my landscape photographs is no different than the aforementioned masters…with one exception: scale!

burned out but alive (2)

Often times during picture editing, she will lament, “Why am I so small? You can hardly see me!”

Rainbow Trail panorama (2)

But being able to insert Leah into a panoramic scene or long shot helps me establish dimension and grandiosity.

Leah F150 formation (2)

And while there are times when I seemingly wait forever for someone to step outside the frame of my shot before pressing the shutter, there are also times when it becomes vital to locate Leah in my scene to anchor its meaningfulness, and increase its effectiveness.

Prairie grass and Leah (2)

Sometimes Leah can be an unwilling participant. She may object if she feels she’s not looking her best, or perhaps she becomes annoyed if she’s not the central focus of my photograph when she feels like posing.

Leah (2)

But either way, she has always been a good sport, and is usually compliant when taking my directions.

waders vertical (2)

But regardless of how many rocks she leans against per my request, it’s evident to me, photography aside, how much I lean on her.

canyon shade

She is my personal rock, who helps me put things in perspective.

balance rock and leah (2)

via Photo Challenge: Scale

Sleepless in Las Vegas

Seldom am I so amazed that I am speechless or at a loss for words…

After visiting twenty-nine U.S. National Parks, four Canadian National Parks, a dozen National Monuments, numerous State and Provincial Parks, and driving thousands of miles of scenic byways over the past twenty-nine weeks,

captured on:

Leah and I have yet to discover a place that is so captivating that we didn’t want to leave…until now.

Rainbow Trail panorama (2)
Leah and me

Valley of Fire State Park allowed us the chance to finally exhale, after America held its collective breath trying to make sense of yet another senseless killing spree, when a maniacal sniper opened fire on a crowd of 20,000 innocents a ¼-mile away.

We were 4½ miles out of harm’s way, staying at an RV resort off I-15 at the time, and wondered about the incessant sirens screaming past our open windows after 10 pm that fateful evening..

“I can’t believe how much crime they have here,” Leah exclaimed.

“Wouldn’t want to live here,” I offered.

Switching on the TV, all stations were locked on breaking news of an active shooter at the strip, but details were sketchy with the story developing by the minute. We quickly realized that we were listening to the soundtrack of a massacre: SWAT teams, police, EMT, and ambulances were sprinting past our Airstream–in and out of the danger zone.

Originally, we booked a couple of days in Vegas to decompress, and intended on exploring the strip in search of available show tickets once the Airstream was unhitched. But the prospects of casino crawling quickly faded after an afternoon of relaxation by the pool. Then again, we figured there would always be tomorrow.

Yet by morning, as the tragedy at Mandalay Bay unfolded, the thought of unthinkable loss left us gasping for air.

Leah summed it up: “It doesn’t feel right having fun when we’re surrounded by so much pain and suffering.”

We needed a getaway. We took off for Red Rock Canyon to escape the inhumanity, and clear our heads.

Callico 1

Keystone Notch Trail

Red Rock Canyon panorama

It was a small dose of nature for the day, and helped to heal our heavy hearts.

The following day, we moved our Airstream fifty miles east, to the Valley of Fire, where we found the perfect antidote to murder and madness. We found a place where we could breathe,

rainbow road (4)

and the only sound at night was silence.

The park has an abundance of features and formations.

Beehive2
Beehives
Arch Rock1
Arch Rock
Elephant Rock
Elephant Rock
Silica Rock
Silica Dome
Atlatl Rock
Atlatl Rock
Mouse's Tank
Mouse’s Tank

But the hiking trails off White Domes Road offer the biggest reward.

Rainbow Vista  gave us an opportunity to scramble over rocks with more colors than a box of Crayolas.

Roadside formations1 (2)

Roadside formations2 (2)

Roadside formations3 (2)

Roadside formations4 (2)

Roadside formations5 (2)

Roadside formations6

A loop through the deep red sands of White Domes transported us to the 23rd century set of Star Trek: Generations.

monolith (2)

White Dome Trail2

slot canyon2

Slot canyon4

canyon opening

keyhole (2)

A stroll through Fire Canyon during late afternoon gave us the impression that each rock radiated from within.

Fire Canyon (2)

rock foot

Magic light

Fire Canyon Arch

sundown

But I was unprepared for the exhilaration I felt after reaching the Fire Wave.

FW8

FW7

FW3

FW1

FW9

FW2

FW6

FW5 (2)

I’ve adopted Valley of Fire as my Muse. Even now, when I close my eyes, I believe I’m  living in Candyland–a magical world where the cliffs look like candy, and all the residents of the world are tolerant of each other. 

This post represents a milestone of sorts, as its #100 in my series of posts for Streaming Thru America–a blog intended to showcase and celebrate the diversity of beauty throughout the country. I dedicate #100 to all the victims, and their families, and I salute the first responders, the good Samaritans, and the medical personnel, who continue to fight for the living.