WanderingDan’s Weblog


ye olde train ride…
January 26, 2016, 11:30 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The light breeze is crisp, which well compliments the cloudless sunny morning…I’m guessing it’s 67 or 68 degrees here in Van Nuys, or at least that’s how it feels with a sweater on. I can’t quite remember the last time I was at this train stop…it must have been years ago…perhaps a winter holiday trip to the same destination I now have: Portland. Many things have come and gone out of my life in those years: jobs, friends, lovers, books, ideals, pursuits…all of which have left some sort of seasoning on my proverbial iron skillet; a lot of it baked in with the heat of life’s endless inferno, some scraped off by the wire scrubbies of occasional purging. This is never how I could have imagined this skillet looking or performing.

Outside the train station, road workers systematically, and with the slow, rhythmic precision of seasoned laborers, tear up an old section of Van Nuys boulevard. Now the jack-hammers have stopped and the train approaches…so loud, it reminds of what small earthquakes sound like, the rumble and audibly overpowering drone. Much different than the sharp pounding of construction equipment. Once inside, I’m calmed by how quiet and smooth the ride is, the slight side to side sway reminiscent of being back on the ships. The demographic onboard today is much older than I remember in trips past. Most everyone seems to be in their 60’s and 70’s. In the assigned seat next to mine one of these aged folk, a woman, is passed out, her effects piled into mine. Not that I mind…putting my ticket in the #16 slot, I move forward to the next car, a community car, with tables for eating or working and chairs facing out. I’ll probably spend most of the 28 hour trip there: better views with more windows and more interesting people-watching opportunity.

Sipping away at cheap 7-11 coffee, loaded with hazelnut syrup and french-vanilla creamer packets, the west valley views sweep by, suburb town after suburb town. I’m looking forward to the coastal section, the views of Ventura up to San Luis Obispo are gorgeous from what I remember. An older gentlemen sits at the table in front of mine, in the bench facing me. Expressionless, slightly down-turned eyes, but with an heir of gentle wisdom. His grey, nicely trimmed beard fits the style of his sport blazer, corduroy pants, maroon v-neck sweater vest and plaid button-up. In fact, if it wasn’t for the SLR camera around his neck and his pecking away at at an iPhone, he could have easily just plopped out of some 19th century eastern European town.

The train emerges through a tunnel, starkly changing the scenery from scattered industrial businesses and housing developments to rugged hilly terrain. Great rocks, desert sage, bushy trees, pines…beautiful. There are still signs of civilization, but the ratio now is much heavier towards nature…a balance more appealing to my sentient preference…at least, in my current state of mind. Still I wonder if I would be better suited for city life, despite its freneticism, to satisfy social needs, or country life, to be embraced by the harmony of nature, at the cost of relative isolation; a quandary, to be sure. Going back a year and a half, the brief stint I had mountain camping out of my VW bus in central Oregon, especially going way out and camping naked, was an energetic bliss. It’s kind of hard to explain, but camping naked versus normal is like the difference between driving a car and riding a motorcycle. Even on the same highways, when you’re on a bike you feel so much more connected, the flora calls out to you with fragrance, every temperature adjustment due to elevation or weather pattern is keenly noticed…you feel connected. When I lived in Chicago, walking the 2.8 miles to work, and even when I turned off the music, that feeling didn’t exist; urban landscapes demand different attentions, and consequently promote different agendas. Much busier ones. Mountain camping didn’t seem to promote much of an agenda at all…just existing. It was a nice reprieve. And while all this seems so straight-forward, why the hell do I love Las Vegas so much…the anti-thesis of all nature’s offerings??

By late morning tomorrow I’ll most likely be pining to get off this metal box, but for now I’m really

enjoying the gentle shaking and passing scenery. My eyelids are very heavy from staying out late last night, and I’m fighting them merely for the sake of the ever-changing visual feast, passing by with little to be remembered: kale and strawberry farms seem to be the trend now, some covered in plastic domes, some without. I can actually smell the kale farms from inside the train…at least I think I can.

Everything passes, some leaving a stronger imprint than others; I’ve started accepting the tragedy that befell Anne…still numb and sad…but more resolved to honor her memory by better embracing her zest for life, than sinking into reclusive despair by the manner of it’s end. I can’t help but wonder, what if it were me instead of her? To what extent would my sudden demise affect the social spider-web of my many chapters? It so easily could have been…last summer when that asshole snuck up behind me and knocked me senseless, he could have just as easily shanked or shot me…that would have been it, game over. One moment you’re living life, thinking little but what happens in the next hour or day or week…the next moment, everyone you know is asking why, and remembering what you did in the last hour or day or week or month. It’s so sudden. What memories would I leave behind? What legacy? In a hundred years…hell, even in fifty years…who would care? What does that say about life? Do I want to leave a legacy at all? Why? Maybe I would rather be that beautiful cloud passing overhead, enjoyed and then forgotten as new clouds pass by.

The train rounds the bend and starts following the coastline. Beautiful. Like I remember. Sun glistens over incoming swells, some bluish green and some murky brown. Not sure if it’s due to pollution or disrupted sandbars or beds of seaweed…or a combination of all three. Channel Islands set the backdrop, with occasional oil rigs interspersed. Every once in a while the dot of a surfer can be seen paddling the swells or riding a wave. Ocean on the left, horse ranches and small towns on the right, hugging the coastal hills, all of it peaceful when viewed from inside a train. None of it holds any meaning per se, but I realize it doesn’t have to…it merely exists independent of my need to qualify its existence. It merely exists. I merely exist. That is enough.

Approaching hour 24 on the train as it pulls into Chemult. The cold mountain temperature can be felt through the window. Looking out, all I see is snow; a stark contrast to the coastal route of southern California, and one of the big reasons I like this route in winter. In Klamath Falls an older man and woman come on to narrate the history and geography of the region. The man is good, has interesting tidbits to say and a pleasant voice to listen to. The woman, although her information is of note, has a voice that makes me cringe: mostly monotone with an awkward high-pitch crescendo at the end of every sentence. I go back to my seat in the other car to enjoy the scenery in relative solitude. The blizzard here a couple days ago left a fresh blanket, yet unscarred by activity. It is mesmerizing, it is sublime…it is the epitome of beautiful and harshly unforgiving. I certainly wouldn’t want to be naked camping up here right now…the thought alone makes the cold draft from the window even colder. I think I’ll head to the over-priced snack station downstairs and see how their shitty coffee compares to 7-11.

An interesting thought: part of the yin-yang balance of harshness and beauty. Nature can be undeniably breathtaking and unremorsefully brutal. Humanity can be unmistakeably inspiring and kind, yet also diabolically cruel. When extricated from first-hand experiencing the negative effects of either, nature still holds its elegance and awe, yet not humanity. Who saw video footage of Rwanda or Palestine and thought “oh that looks harsh but, wow, beautiful”? Maybe psychopaths did. But who is not drawn to the sublime and unforgiving power of an erupting volcano or thirty foot Hawaiian wave or harsh winter mountain terrain, and while removed, think “my god, this is absolutely gorgeous”?

The train passes a section of frozen waterfalls. They are small, more like run-overs than actual waterfalls, but still amazing. Every once in a while the snow shows preliminary signs of melting, creating cracks and crevices as it does so; the crevices are glowing blue, as if covering up some alien artifact. I cannot help but stare at them until the moving train robs them from vision…after which I attentively scan the landscape for another. I am no stranger to snow, yet have never seen this effect before, save from pictures of arctic glaciers and whatnot…I really want to get out there and have a closer look. At 4,800 feet, we slowly descend the western side of the Cascades towards the Willamette valley…and as the train glides smooth as silk through heavenly terrain I find myself in a state of inner peace…this is not what I was expecting to find on a 28 hour train ride, yet in wake of recent events, is warmly embraced.

IMG_0040IMG_0020IMG_0053IMG_0063



Grieving…
January 20, 2016, 8:09 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Dear Anne,

Remember the time you asked me to help you drag some old furniture out of your condo? Instead of trying to muscle it down the cramped back stairwell, we decided to launch the mattress and box-spring over the third story railing…remember how loud they crashed!!?? We ran laughing down the icy stairs, and dragged them over the brick wall before any of your neighbors came out yelling and cursing. What about the time we met up at Hopleaf, got blitzed on Belgian doubles and talked for hours about life and swapped travel stories, or going to your friend’s burlesque show and marveling at the oddity of the crowd. And then there were the countless weekend texts I got from you of funny horse pics. In every one of those memories you have that classic Anne smile, befitting the witty intelligence behind your kind and feisty eyes. With such memories, how am I now supposed to cope with thoughts of your brutal murder?

You were the first friend I made after moving to Chicago. I will never forget the comfort of your infectious smile, or being startled by your spunky demeanor. I hope writing this letter will help me somehow process, or move on from, the emotional roller-coaster and wreckage descending upon me since learning of your untimely death. After reading the news reports of how they found you, I have been nauseous, barely functional and severally brought to tears; my faith in humanity shaken.

Anne, I will never forget you. May your soul rest with utmost peace and serenity…and may the souls of us left behind find some measure of peace in the wake of this horrific tragedy.

Your friend always and forever,

Dan



gypsy on…
December 17, 2015, 9:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

“What?! You don’t have a cell phone?!”

“What?! You quit another job?!”

“What?! You don’t live anywhere?!”

Life as a cultural deviant has been and continues to be an interesting experience. It’s one I’ve grown fond of, despite the sweeping pendulum of ups and downs inherent to a path which questions and often rejects most facets of ‘normalcy’. This personal quest has elicited an emotionally unpredictable spectrum; smatterings of simple, peaceful bliss, self-deprication, regret, excitement, exploration, disappointment, satiation, longing and omni-present desires to better myself have been the order of this journey. A journey pursuant of one agenda…ultimate freedom.

There have and will continue to be real and perceived sacrifices made, changes of priority, changes of lifestyle, lessons learned, successes and failures. I suspect the level of self-imposed marginalization will decrease over time, and at some point my gypsy spirit will naturally settle into a custom-made life and lifestyle orbiting a nucleus of ethics and practices truly engendering the values of freedom I so relentlessly seek. To that end I once again, after so long a lapse, take up pen and embark on this next season of blogging.



Here we go again…not too surprising (knowing me)
March 6, 2014, 6:58 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

The feelings return…long faded and blurred by the rose-colored lens of time and my optimism, are, once again, coming back in to focus. I’m starting to feel like a caged animal. It was the thought and hope of myself and my recruiter that a ‘better’ ship would bridge the gap of acceptability to my incessant and unsatiable need for unrestricted mobility. Unfortunately this has not proved to be the case. This ship is treating me very well…my accommodations and privelages are just about as good as anyone could ask for. My spa team is incredibly friendly and supportive, and every day it seems I make a new friend onboard. Why then is my overly developed autonamous nature lacking in satisfaction? Why does the inner gypsy rebel? Freedom…the corporate nature of my job and the spatial necessity of living on a small floating town of iron…both combine to take away the one thing I cannot live without, all other factors aside…freedom.

So now is the time to ask many questions…ponder answers…conceive of possibilities. Endure for the sake of commitment and income potential, while my soul slowly dies? Cut ties and go back to gypsy life until I find my niche? Be radical and create another adventure? Follow my heart with reckless abandon? Follow my ambition, come what may?

Ship life suits many personality types…those who need security…those who like rigid structure…those who have nowhere else to go…those who want to live with an air of avantgard with minimal risk. Ship life does not suit the free spirits, mischief makers, boundary pushers, those who give zero shits about social propriety and assuaging the pompous expectations of fellow mortals. Why am I back here?

Stay tuned…something’s gotta give, and it will either be my sanity (which would among other things entail frequent drownings in ethanol bliss) or my job.



Sittin’ there pickin’ at a chicken on a raft…
February 10, 2014, 12:29 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

It’s day six of the cruise, the first of this, my second contract. The ship’s crew are finishing docking procedures in the port of Honolulu…gears are creaking, metal clanging. The gangway was being readied as I headed to breakfast. Not many people up and moving yet, but then again it is early, not even seven; normally I don’t wake up at five in the morning on a day off, or even on a work day for that matter, but exhaustion put me down at nine-thirty last night, so I guess it wasn’t so early, relatively. Besides, I like working out in the crew gym early, when it is empty…no waiting for weights or benches. There was actually one dude doing squats when I walked in, but he left after five minutes of my arriving…he must’ve gotten there at four-thirty.

 The Grand Princess is treating my like royalty compared to the Queen Elizabeth. Imagine that, going from Queen to Princess and my life is upgraded from peasant to prince. Walking in to my cabin for the first time, it was hard not to wear an impish grin…it is three times bigger than my last one, and there was a bowl of fruit on the table next to my reading chair that my cabin steward, Erwin, left for me. Yes, cabin steward. He is freaking amazing, and has already made my life so comfortable and easy; this spoiling can be gotten used to. The food quality available to me far exceeds my expectations. I am able to order food off the passengers menu in the officer’s mess (here I am considered a two-stripe officer), and the shit is good. Access to fresh fruit, veggies and good fish has inspired me to delve into the waters of becoming a pescatarian…well, I mean mostly…every once in a while I need to sink my teeth into a nice greasy burger.

 It still makes me uncomfortable being called ‘sir’ or ‘doctor’ at every turn, but I’m sure I’ll get used to the titles. The other night after the third of four sea days, nigh exhausted, I went down to check out the crew bar, or more specifically, the crew smoking room. No lab coat, no name tag, just me in jeans and my Beavis & Butthead t-shirt, lighting up one of my last smokes. There is a TV in the room and it was showing soccer highlights from games played that day. The room was filled mostly with dining staff on break, or crew hands just off work, most still in their respective uniforms, responding audibly to epic plays on the sports recap. Surprisingly, for those who know me, I actually enjoyed the ambiance or sports energy in the room. I got some weird looks, but they seemed to be more of a ‘who-is-this-new-guy’ look as opposed to a ‘what-is-a-guy-walking-around-in-a-medical-labcoat-doing-smoking’ type of looks.

 After eight months of vacation, jumping head first into the waters of fast-paced acupuncture practice on ships is a big adjustment. Work is the essentially the same as before: target-driven, teaching seminars, selling packages, treating back pains and sciaticas, the occasionally shoulder or knee injury or arthritis. My patients are great, mostly, very thankful and friendly. I forgot how much pressure I feel holding someone’s health in my hands, knowing for many I am their last resort to restoring quality of life. It is exhausting at times, albeit rewarding.

 We have a U.S. Coast Guard inspection today…ever since coming on board we have been grilled on emergency protocols and safety drills. Once the inspection is over we’ll be granted shore leave…and unlike most ports, we don’t sail away until eleven tonight. Wifi and Waikiki and cold beer will be the order of the day!

IMG_2528

IMG_2526



Vegas…Paintball…Biochemically Altering Substances
August 12, 2013, 8:13 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Las Vegas. The place where you should expect to see anything. The place where you can see practically everything. I am not at all shocked by the spectacle before me as I casually wander around the strip alone at four in the morning. The major role of police at this hour is getting completely inebriated partiers into cabs or their resorts. A staggering trio of men in front of me, bottle in hand, are howling at the moon. In fact, I’d say half the people around me are staggering. Twice a block I’m petitioned for a free ride to a strip club, but it won’t be for another couple hours street hookers start glomming on to me in their best attempt to market their trade, with lines like: “which way is your room, why don’t we just go there?”, “ohhhh, you are cuuuute, and I love your eyes” (said while stroking my cheek”, “hey honey, which way you going, can I walk with you?”. I left the rest of the gang at Coyote Ugly around two. Everyone in the club was getting drunker and drunker, and since I was starting to come back down to a normal state (more on this in a bit), couldn’t handle the energy anymore. In fact, let me rewind a bit and just start from the beginning.

The three of us (myself, Donovan, and Westley) pull in to The Quad early evening, check in, and wait in one of our two rooms for Billy and Michelle. It’s Friday night. Crashing through the door comes Billy, showering like confetti a stack of quintessentially Vegas call-girl cards all over the room, announcing the party has officially begun. Starting with Donovan’s presentation of unique energy drinks he picked up in Europe, most notably ‘Black Power’, we start the pre-game, not to any dizzying state, but sufficient enough to put on a show for balcony onlookers at the neighboring resort: suggestive dancing, towel-flossing, and ofcourse the full moon…then we hit the strip. After strolling around and taking in the plethora of visual pleasantries the party city has to offer, putting the ubiquitous call-girl cards on random cars or slipping them into peoples purses, we end up at Paris, and dance the night away, in a fashion ordinary to us, but from the looks and comments of others, not so ordinary. Many people thought Donovan, Wes and I were a gay trio…maybe because when Wes gets drunk he grinds on everyone…actually…on anything. Others thought we were a professional dance troupe, so we gave each other the names of: double-D, Billy-mac-daddy, and the Viking. I don’t know why Wes didn’t get a name. He must have been at the bar grinding on Michelle or hating on white people’s dancing; when I reminded him he was white, he replied “only technically”. That was more or less our first night.

Saturday was an escalation. We had a very chilled out morning, recovering with our gallon jugs of water and watching Talladega Nights on the room’s cable channel. Right before we are ready to go hit the indoor paintball, Club Splat, I pop the first of my gifted pills. Rewind…before coming out here, a loving and generous soul gave me a few powder-filled gel-caps, which assuredly would make my Vegas weekend amazing. Never one to turn down new experiences, I gladly accepted the mix of both known and unknown bio-chemically altering substances. After arriving to Club Splat, sign waivers…Donovan signed adding ‘poop’ to his surname, and I signed ‘Cornholio’…we laugh our way through the safety video, gear up, and start playing. Starting with a couple games of two on two, we then play against a group of five guys from California who are here for one of their bachelor’s party. Before we learned their names, we just called them the ‘Yakuza’. Really cool group, we played most of the rest of the afternoon with them, four on four and a game called ‘zombies’. By the second game, I start feeling super-energized, beyond a normal adrenaline rush, and realize, it’s kicking in. Wow, I feel good! My strategy of play changes from cautious to reckless, diving over barriers, sprinting charges, crazy leaps and rolls…usually ending with me just getting pelted right away. After a dozen such kamikaze runs, I get tired of being one of the first ones out of the game, every game. An hour later, I’m rolling hard, and voraciously thirsty…can’t get enough water! Can’t stop talking. Can’t stop moving. Can’t stop, period. An hour later, I take a second dose. We continue to play, always checking out our battle wounds at the end of each game. After nearly four hours our box of ammo is almost out, and so is our energy. We give the remaining bits of our ammo to a couple kids who just arrived, save six paint-balls each for Donovan and I to do a western style duel. I give Tyler, the guy who has been officiating our games, my camera. Billy calls out our five step pace, then Michelle calls the command to turn and fire. I can’t remember if I forgot to take the safety off when she calls fire. Apparently I did, because rounds were flying both ways. In the process of unloading I take a hit high on my right arm, and then notice Donovan stagger back slightly, and even through the face mask see him go slightly bug-eyed. Neck shot. A little freaked out, I head over to make sure he’s alright…he is, and definitely wins the ‘battle wound of the day’ award.

We make it back to the resort, shed our paint-soaked clothes, and everyone showers and rests up for the night…except me. I can’t sit still. I simultaneously iron everyone’s clothes for the night, while facebook chatting, planning a future empire of grandeur, draft notes, amongst other things. Sweat is pouring down my arm…and my god, I can’t stop drinking water. Must have easily put down a gallon and a half since one o’clock this afternoon. We slowly get ready to party again. The rest of the group pre-games pretty hard, but since I’m already tripping major balls, only have a little…actually I take the last dose of my gift. We put on another show for the neighbors, then head out into the night, this time destined for Coyote Ugly, where Billy flirted some free passes from the bartender Friday afternoon. The place is manic, and although perhaps typical Vegas debauchery, not so typical for us. We dance, they drink, we get man-handled by the stage dancers…and that now brings us back to the present. Enjoying the relative calmness of the strip, I am content to wander and people-watch in these warm hours of pre-dawn, as an amazing tidal-wave Vegas weekend slowly comes to a close.Image

 

IMG_2310

IMG_2286

 

 



snippet of County Clare
August 3, 2013, 8:36 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The ferry is listing like crazy, during some swells it has to be up to forty degrees.  Once I see the woman sitting in the front row bending over a plastic bag, throw on my backpack and head to the upper deck.  She was on the ferry this morning to the island, I recognize her as ‘the camera lady’, toting around a digital SLR with what seemed like a foot long lens.  Waiting for the break in between sets I grab on to the aisle seat backs and make my way towards the back hatch…with a little Bob Marley on my iPod.  Facial expressions from other passengers clue me several are feeling funky.  I am fine, just a tinge earlier, but ship life gave me good sea legs.  

Theresa, the hostel owner on InishBofin told me I had to come here, after divulging my love of stone walls.  She said this island was covered in them…I thought she exaggerated…but her words were literal.  Innis Meain must look like a spiderweb from five-hundred feet up.  I wonder what Mary, the hostel owner up in Glencolmcille would have said…probably would go on and on about the feckin’ rocks.  The plethora of rocks certainly makes up for the deficiency of people though.  With a population of one-hundred, mostly a four-family blend, this place is the quintessence of quaint.

I make it up the stairs where about a half-dozen more people are seating and standing. Much rockier up here, so I’m not too surprised to see a lady to my left with a catatonic stare, much like I did after St. Patricks day two years running, with vomit all over the seat-back next to her.  As the boat pulls closer in to the port, she gets up and shakily starts stumbling in my direction, where the gangway will be.  Me and two adolescent girls avoid her like she was a zombie…she looks and is walking like one for god sake…but there is really nowhere to go so we cling to whatever we can and give her a wide berth.  She wants off the ferry as soon as possible…fair ’nuff.  

I’m really not looking forward to going back to the hostel tonight.  I really liked the last two I was at, but this one has a different vibe.  The people I’ve met are really friendly, so it must just be the overall demographic.  It feels like a freshman dorm, sprinkled with a few small families and us ‘older’ folk.  The other hostels had a much broader mix.  The one in Inishbofin felt like I was at an extended family reunion.  You know, the ones put on by the sister of your great-grandma, where you maybe only know four people total, but still everyone is cordial and friendly, making conversation and pretty chilled out?  It was a great vibe.  Perhaps because that hostel was owner-operated, and the owners were awesome and interacted with the guests.  Theresa invited me in to their personal eating space for some tea on my last day, and her husband Kieran, who happened to be taking the same ferry as me back to attend a funeral, drove me to the nearest real town to catch a bus.  Luckily I’m camping at the hostel here in Doolin, so I have some personal space…though not much because space comes at a premium in my coffin tent.  

I stop by Gus O’Connors Pub on my way back.  Realizing it’s a tourist pub for those who want a novel experience of Trad (traditional Irish music), I go nonetheless because Heinrich, the Danish music teacher in the hostel, said last night theirs was the best in town…and it also starts early, like six o’clock, unlike everywhere else where the tunes don’t start twanging until nine or ten.  The place is packed…so packed I almost consider turning around and nixing the whole plan.  I mean, I’ve listened to Trad at a pub every night for the past five nights…tonight will be six!  I stay, I mean, this is world-famous O’Connors in County Clare after all.  I love Trad, and have been highly inspired to pick up my fiddle again when I get back to the states.  Notice I don’t say ‘back home’.  I don’t have a home, and the closer I get to flying back the more real it is feeling.