Saturday, November 28, 2015

Using the Grandpa

We had a good week in Florida with my parents. My boys didn’t fight too much, nor did my parents. All four troublemakers were relatively well behaved which enabled me to relax and enjoy my sandwich generations interacting.

We rented a condo in Orlando so we could hit Universal Studios and Adventure Island primarily to do the new Harry Potter area. We spent two days in theme park hell, but made the best of it by getting along well and taking advantage of an unexpected secret weapon.

The lines were really long. Sixty to ninety minutes for everything good. Our plan was to beeline over to the new Harry Potter stuff at Universal and do the ride first thing. My dad is nearly 87 and doesn’t move very well unless there is a maple glazed donut involved so instead of putting one on a stick and holding it in front of him, we rented the old man a wheelchair. 

It was kind of fun to aggressively push my dad around all day. I wrote that on purpose. It pleases me to read it out of context. So yeah pushing him around in the wheelchair you sicko! Anytime there was a slight decline I’d shove him off on a ghost ride and the kids and I would run along side laughing our respective asses off. My dad would wave his cane around and threaten to smack us if someone didn’t get back behind the chair.

Sometimes my dad would want to stretch his legs and use the wheelchair as his walker. At which point Drew, Will and I would race to sit in the chair making my dad have to work a bit harder and my mom, well she was just shit out of luck. She’s a spry 82!

 My dad was still in the chair as we approached the Escape from Gringots ride. We didn’t see the end of the line so we plowed forward, weaving around empty cordons and a maze of people movers thinking we had gotten there early enough to beat the first crowd. We turned a corner and bam. It was like a refugee camp. People were mooing. It was horrible. We saw a Harry Potter worker dude and asked him how long the line would take. 90 to 120 minutes. I think the kids even wanted to say, “what the fuck!” but instead I said, “waffles,” and asked him if there was an escape route.

Nope, we had to backtrack against traffic though the maze and found out quickly that oncoming people really don’t give a shit about an old lady walking, two young kids and a handsome man pushing an old man in a wheelchair right at them. It was a game of chicken and they won. They were all honey badgers. I wanted to take the lead and just start plowing them over with my dad using his cane like a lance to joust their asses out of the maze. But I’m a lover, not a fighter so we worked our way out of theme park line purgatory cautiously and finally got to the entrance of the ride again. The kids were disappointed, my mom looked exhausted and my dad was making Zorro sword slashes with his cane from the comfort of his wheelchair.

I stopped my posse to regroup and a young Harry Potter worker ran up to our family meeting and asked if we got to go on the ride.  I said, “Are you fucking kidding me? That goddamn line was scarier than Lord Voldemort (a crowd around us recoiled) in the Walmart line on Black Friday!” Or maybe I said, “No we did not;” I can’t remember and I hadn’t even had any butter beer yet (Oh my god, Drew loves butter beer. He was licking the insides of our cups after we were done with them. I’m still having nightmares of his thick pulsing tongue swirling around the plastic rims and sides of all our cups like a slobbering St. Bernard after a long run in the Mojave).

The nice Harry Potter worker said, “Come with me.” So I u-turned Sir Lancelot and my mom and offspring followed as the woman took us to the Xpress line and told us to tell the next two workers Keisha sent us. It was magical. We got all the way to the ride boarding area in five minutes. My dilapidated dad was from there on deemed Fast Pass Grandpa. We had so much fun (the ride is great, by the way).

For the rest of the day and the next day too, anytime we got close to a ride, my dad would take on a sad decrepit look and I’d wheel him to the guard of the Fast Pass Lane and with big stressed eyes I’d ask if I’d be able to wheel my old dying poor father from the nursing home all the way to the ride area. The answer was always yes because they make all the rides handicapped friendly and if there are stairs, there are alternative routes to elevators that also act as major line skippers. Then we’d look longingly at the Fast Pass line with the chain pulled taut blocking the entrance and then look at the guard and then at the chain and then at the guard and then at the chain and then at the guard and my dad would moan a little bit and I’d make my left eye swell up and fill with the beginning of tears and the guard would say, “Here, go through the express lane.  Tell them I sent you.”

It worked every time but once and that was only because the regular line was really short. Fast Pass Grandpa was a godsend. I don’t even know what a Fast Pass costs for five people for two days, but I think its over eleventeen bajillion golden galleons. I told Grandpa he is a human goldmine and that he should rent himself out to weary travelers with big families.

There is a lot more to write about the week, such as spending quality time with loved ones, being thankful for all that we have and other such nonsense when compared to taking advantage of the elderly disabled. But I’ll save that for another story. Today, its all about Fast Pass Grandpa.

Thank you Fast Pass Grandpa for getting us through all the lines in record time and then having to actually go on the rides, some of which jostled me around so much I was fearing for his life instead of enjoying the whole ride, but hey, my kids had a blast.

Read all the tips and advice you want on attending theme parks. But you are really wasting your time. All you need to know is to get a wheelchair and shove a grandpa in it; any grandpa will do; and enjoy your day.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Getting Lost in Myself

“So much time and so little to do. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it.” When there are a gazillion thoughts swimming madly in my brain and I feel like writing some of them down but don’t know where to start, it is foolproof to pull a Willy Wonka quote. Writer’s block schmriter’s block.

If you don’t know who Jason Silva is, change that immediately. Stop reading my nonsense and go watch his narratives. You can find him here and then scroll down to his videos of awe and click on one. You will be taken to YouTube and have two minutes of inspiration and reflection and wonder and curiosity and affirmation and enlightenment and questions and smiles and perhaps even tears of knowing. Then click on some others.

Existential Bummer and Creativity is Madness are two of my favorites. The Existential Bummer reminds me of Burning Man – everything is temporary. Jason Silva’s overview included so much I can relate to, particularly his quote of Dylan Thomas’ famous poem containing the words that are my next tattoo, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Creativity is Madness quotes Timothy Leary to say, “In order to use your head you have to go out of your mind.” And then there is Silva’s video titled Non Conformity and the Creative Life that quotes Nietzsche with, “Those who were seen dancing were called insane by those who could not hear the music.”

Most of my crazy mad people know the Kerouac quote from On the Road.

Everyone is a little bit crazy aren’t they? They are just afraid to let it out. Let out the madness and share who you are and what is in your brilliant mad mind.

Whether it is writing, music, painting, narratives, building, acting, making up games with my kids or whatever – using my mind, heart and soul to deliver creativity is what excites me and keeps me inspired and drives me to places of bliss. Heck, I don’t even have to be making the delivery. I can seek out creativity or have it fall in my lap and experience someone else’s magic and be moved to that bliss and inspiration.

Another favorite Silva for me is We Need to be Lost to Find Ourselves. I love this one. We are victims of our own mental habits. We get into routines and mind mapping makes us numb to everything around us. And yet we are all wanderers. I think we just forget to wander. Must be why I travel so much.

I am totally the wanderer Silva references in his video. He is right – it isn’t the answers that are important – it is the better questions that are inspiring and enlightening. It’s about the journey, not the destination, right? In his video he talks about the ocean and it makes me tear up – I have waves inked on my arm for eternity (along with the moon and my children and my soul – it’s a significant tattoo!) as symbols for my quest for meaningful happiness.

What do you do when you first peek over the edge of the cliff and see the ocean of awe lapping at the shore and extending to the infinite possibilities beyond the horizon? You breathe. Hopefully anyway. You stare over the water into the universe and remove everything else from your brain for just a second and you breathe. Silva points out the Greek root of the word ‘inspire’ is to breathe.

All of this is why I have an awe-inspiring work of art on my wall that I bought in New Orleans at Jazz Fest by a Georgian artist named Athlone Clarke. The universal Law of Magnetic Attraction states that we attract into our lives people, things and circumstances that correspond with our dominant patterns of emotional thinking. My brother from another mother Rich and I were walking from one inspiring stage of music to another when we were drawn into Athlone Clarke’s stall of creative greatness. The piece I now have in my house is about creativity. 

We talked to Athlone about the artwork behind us for over an hour. Creativity is art and its good for the soul. I could not NOT have this in my house. It was meant to be. And it was meant to be that I found it with Rich while traveling. Two wandering souls perhaps a little lost in order to find ourselves.

I’m known to be a happy guy with a great life. And that is all true. But it doesn’t mean I don’t have challenges, sadness and uncertainty that instead of embracing I fear. Sometimes my happy go lucky attitude masks these tough times with complacency. I do nothing but the routine and I find myself in loveless relationships, bouts of physical inactivity and lacking desire to tap into my creative self. Blah. I don’t like that Bretthead at all.

I bounce back though. I focus on people I already love and do things I love to do. I exercise. I write. I travel. I smother my kids even as they yell at me to back off. Maybe it takes watching inspiring videos, a work of art on a wall or seeing awesome things that someone I love makes in her spare time.

Even though I know what it takes to find inspiration, I don’t always do it. That is why I really like what Jason Silva says about finding awe and the feeling that you have when you are in it. It has given me a kick in the pants that I needed. It made me think of some of my moments of awe and in turn I have been inspired.

I want more. I want to feed my heart and soul with moments of awe like when Will first performed on stage at his new school. Like being dropped off by a rickety airplane deep in the Arctic Circle to fend for ourselves in Alaska. Like the first time I went to Burning Man and saw, well, everything. Like hiking in the river up the Narrows in Zion. Like watching shooting stars with my best friends while camping at 11,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains. Like discovering a new friend that changes my life for the better. Like watching my boys interact and fall into unbridled laughter. Like giving something meaningful to a loved one. Like watching Buddy Guy jam on the guitar and singing the blues with more passion than musicians a quarter his age. Like writing the perfect words. Like not having to say anything when you are with someone in a beautiful place. Like getting lost in my mind, lost in my mind (twice seems right).

I can still be present and live in the moment while wanting more awe and seeking it out. Sometimes the awe is right there in front of me and I plan on taking it. Other times I will go to it. And many times it will surprise me and come out of the blue. Because I am open to it by not being complacent and not letting mental mapping keep me in the routine.

I must be me and sometimes even I forget how to do that.

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Dangerous Stroll in Central America

We naively didn’t care that we were in the sixth most violent country in the world. We are adventurers. We walked cautiously along the deserted strip of uninhabited homes and empty lots, littered with garbage and untended foliage. We weren’t wearing shoes. Hence the caution. It was hot. Hence the decision to walk in the back door of a seedy dive bar. The locals eyed us curiously, wondering where the hell we came from and how soon until we’d vacate their territory.

We downed our drinks from dirty glasses and moved on, watching our backs.  We ended up at another bar, this one nicer but very small – just eight stools and a few unoccupied tables. We met two locals there; one of them covered in menacing tattoos and wearing what looked like a gang symbol on his hat.

The next thing we knew, we were locked in the back seat of their truck and brought over to their duplex in the outskirts of the village. Their dogs barked furiously at us and we were warned to stay away from the vicious one that will bite at any time. These locals held us there until a guy named Chino was ready to see us.

Chino immediately asked us for our money. We handed over what we had and waited to see what would happen next. The local guy with the ink and gang hat held a grappling hook in front of us with a wicked smile. Chino approved and said it wasn’t as good a weapon as his but that it would do for the grisly task at hand.

The next thing we knew, we were herded onto a small speedboat and eventually docked at a private island inhabited by an associate of Chinos and his three wild dogs, one of which was covered in fresh battle wounds.

We sat there looking around us, wondering how we got to where we were.  It was crazy.  Crazy awesome.

We were in Belize. The we is me and one of my favorite people in the world.

We had been walking along the coast on Maya Beach, about ten miles north of Placencia, a sleepy village anchoring the peninsula. This is a quiet part of the coastal country and not many people were around (it was also kind of off-season for tourists). The first bar (Mango’s) was indeed a dive but had a fantastic view of the Caribbean Sea.

The next bar was actually the next day, but I like to make writer’s embellishments to add color and interest to stories. And although it was indeed small, it was a pretty swanky sweet place – a tiki bar on the beach (Turtle Inn owned by Francis Ford Coppola).

It was at the nice bar where we met Rick and Candy. They had just moved to Placencia a few weeks earlier. Rick has a bunch of cool tattoos and was wearing an Oakland Raiders visor.  They were raving about a great snorkeling trip they had taken with their next door neighbor Francis (no relation to Coppola) who prefers to go by the name Chino.

So the next day, Rick picked us up from the Maya Beach Hotel (this is a whole other story – awesome hotel and restaurant owned by great friends) and brought us back to his sweet little pad that is right on the beach in Placencia. Candy greeted us and they gave us a tour of the house while their tiny little lap dogs yapped and hopped around us.

Chino pulled up in his boat right on the beach in front of Rick and Candy’s and we went snorkeling around two awesome reefs in water clear as day. While we snorkeled, Chino was spearfishing and caught a bunch of lobster, crab, a hogfish and a barracuda.  Rick was able to use his newly homemade grappling hook to nab a crab as well.

We then went to a private island where Chino cleaned the fish and cooked it all in one tin over charcoal for about twenty minutes. And then we feasted.  It was heaven.

As we filled our bellies with lobster, crab and fish that had been swimming in the sea less than an hour earlier, we looked around us and wondered how the heck we got to where we were. Who is this Chino dude with his mad spearfishing abilities and great snorkeling tour? How lucky are we to have met Rick and Candy on our random beach walk along the coast (keep the spare room ready for us!)?

It was crazy awesome to be in the sixth most violent country in the world and being captured by the locals. We will be back.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

More Trouble in Alaska

After a whopping fifteen minutes OTR (on the river) on day one (read about that here), we were eager to get on the water on day two.  Thankfully, the patches held strong and we were able to experience rafting on the North Fork Koyukuk all day! Good old Mt. Doonerak was getting further away, but no less spectacular than from day one.

Day two OTR was a grand total of five hours of us navigating around rocks, tree spears sticking out of the water, guessing which fork to take (when the river wanted to take us straight up the middle), navigating braids, riding through rapids and rowing fairly constantly.

We hit some minor rapids that don't look too crazy on video, but they were a lot of fun. I think all the amusement parks modeled their river rapid rides off these. I kept looking for a track under the water, but we were really fully on our own!

Again, props to Tom for steering the ship. We learned that as long as we made decisions early enough, Tom could consistently steer us around trouble. We also learned we had to respect the river at all times – even a ten-second attempt at putting feet up or taking a picture would often lead to the river current taking us straight at a huge boulder or massive thicket of sharp tree branches peeking out of the water.  As you can see, I was very very busy following Captain Tom’s orders on rowing right or left while he navigated obstacles.

Heh heh. Tom got some breaks too. I enjoyed seeing bald eagles in Glacier Bay and Juneau, but I didn’t like being exposed to spread eagle Tom in the raft – although he worked hard back there and deserved some breaks.

Our morning OTR was two hours.  And then we took a two-hour lunch break before three more hours OTR in the afternoon.

Here is a little video update of our lunch break. I didn't do a good job of talking into the mic so the volume will go up and down.

I’ve mentioned a lot of the dangers we had in the river. There was also plenty of danger on shore. True, at this point on the trip, the only wildlife we saw besides each other was a swimming Alaskan chipmunk-looking rodent (clearly I don’t know what it was, but it had a tail) and six butterflies.  We were getting convinced the Alaskan Tourism Office has falsely convinced the world there are bears everywhere. But then anytime we’d pull over for a break or camp for the night, we’d see lots of animal tracks.  Moose, wolf/coyote and this:

Bear tracks. Big ones!

We saw various size tracks and they were prevalent. This set was ten yards from our tent. They were already there when we set up camp and a smarter person may have chosen not to pitch a tent in the recent path of a bear, but hey, Tom had a sweet knife and we were both armed with bear spray.

There were lots of dangerous and serous issues we had to consider while rafting and camping in the Gates of the Arctic, way north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska. They included all those in-river obstacles such as rocks and tree spears; and on-shore threats such as moose, wolves and bears.  There was also weather and mosquitos. This is some serious stuff people!  But I’ll tell you right now what the biggest problem was and it was none of those things listed above.

Our problem was that our beer was getting warm. I know! Bear spray and raft patches will not help cool off a warm IPA from Denali Brewing Company! We thought that early season in the Arctic in a freezing cold river would provide some ice patches along shore to replenish the cooler. Its one thing to lose some perishable food due to lack of coolant (we had backup food aplenty), but quite another to have to chug a warm can-o-beer.

We spent lunch break brainstorming ways to get our beer cold.  The river was freezing, so there had to be a way!

We knew the answer involved towing beer in the river. But how? Tom came up with half the solution – my tent footprint bag was mesh and had a drawstring and would hold three beers.  I know, I know.  Three beers for two people. Clearly I need to contact REI and alert them to the design flaw of their tent footprint bags and make sure in the future they manufacture them to hold two or four beers. I thought you were better than this REI!

As we packed up the raft for the afternoon run, we looked for ways to attach the beer bag (no longer known as a tent footprint bag) to the raft. The drawstring was too short to attach to the raft and still hang in the water.  We thought about the rope at the front of the raft, but it was too long and would involve tying knots.

We continued to load our gear back on the raft and I stepped on a strap on the ground. Oops. It must have fallen off a bag as we were loading. 

“Tom, what is this? I found it here on the ground.”

“I dunno, it must have fallen off a bag.”

“I’m glad we found it!”

“Yeah, so how are we gonna get this beer bag attached to the raft….”

As I’m holding a strap with clips on either end that we found on the ground next to our raft. River karma at its finest.

Beer Floaty, engineered by Tom Cummings

Tom rigged up the strap to the beer bag and the whole thing to the back of the raft and it was perfect!!!! He’d have to play all-time bartender, but we’d constantly have up to three cold beers.  It worked like a charm and crisis averted!  No need to use the emergency satellite phone to call for a plane to drop us some ice!

We had a fabulous afternoon and four more days on the river. We didn’t have to switch to non-stop whiskey until the last day as Tom had done a great job of cleaning out the Bettles Lodge of their stash of cans of Denali.  Bear schmear, holes in raft schmoles in raft – we had cold beer!

As I said earlier, we learned quickly we always had to respect the river. Anytime Tom climbed back to unhook the beer bag, grab two and replenish with two more from the cooler, I had to keep an eye on the river and avoid obstacles.  This all worked fine and dandy, until, well, until we accidentally littered and lost the beer bag (containing one beer) and also the strap was floating off separately – both disappearing from sight.

It was like when a bartender drops a glass and it shatters. It happens. Problem was, Tom dropped a beer bag and strap in the beautiful Last Frontier, in the North Fork Koyukuk river, land where we leave no trace! We felt horrible. 98% of our distraught was from littering and 2% from losing our awesome beer cooling mechanism.

We spun the raft around and kept our eyes peeled for the bag and strap, but could see nothing. So we carried on, discussing what a bummer it was and then a couple minutes later I looked to my right and saw something.  I jammed my right arm deep into the water next to the raft and firmly grasped the beer in the bag.  I raised it triumphantly over my head and screamed, “Beeeeeeeeeeeeeer!”  Not bear. Beer. If any bears were anywhere near us, they scattered after that exclamation. 

We were laughing so hard and high-fiving and knew that we had to find the strap.  The river wanted us to remove our crap and it was respecting us back. Tom spun our raft in circles and suddenly he saw the strap.  We fought the current and rowed furiously toward the strap.  It would go under and then pop up again just out of reach.  We’d finally get close and both of us had multiple shots at it by reaching with an oar.  We kept barely missing.

This went on for about five minutes of us ignoring the river in front of us and all around us. We were solely focused on retrieving that damn strap and we didn’t watch for sticks, rocks, tree stumps, tree spears, forks, running aground or anything. Five minutes may not seem like long, but that was more than enough time for us to get our raft ripped wide open again before we would even know we were in trouble.

Finally Tom got us really close to the strap and I was able to hook it with my oar.  Another wild celebration ensued and suddenly we saw the current taking us right to danger again.  We cleaned up our act and the river had forgiven us, but now we were back to our same old routine. Let up for a second and she will test us.

We steered around trouble and Tom re-rigged our beer bag.  We celebrated with another round of beer – river cold ones.

Life was good.  River in the Arctic Circle Selfie good.