Tribute to an Angel From Uganda

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My mind is so much with my faraway friend, Barb Mal, as she hits her milestone 50th birthday, and the first without her sweet, charming, mother who recently passed away, I remember (as I often do) with so much appreciation, respect, and love for how our bond began.

I was “shipped away” to Quaker boarding school in Nowheresville, Ohio, my last year of high school. Apparently my penchant for good times and bad grades had hit the ceiling for my parents (LOL) and off I went, kicking & screaming. Of course, in my teen angst I was determined to hate it there (which, fortunately, did not last long) and my first day there was sheer misery. Lonely and isolated, I was a stranger in a strange land, as I watched the many returning students hugging & laughing after a long summer apart in an era where email & texting had not yet been invented and long distance phone calls were a luxury due to the cost. Witnessing all of these joyous reunions only served to make me feel more alone and so I wandered down the brick path of the grounds to a swing set that was located away from the main building but still visible. I sat there silently swinging alone and crying, throwing myself a proper and fully self-indulgent pity party, drowning in loneliness, distress, and anger, when I saw out of the corner of my eye a lone girl walking down the path towards me. I was thinking to myself, “Please don’t talk to me. Please don’t talk to me. PLEASE don’t talk to me!” (LOL) as my pity party only had an invitation for one and that was ME. Still she walked closer until she got to the swing set and silently sat down next to me. I did not look up, as I was crying, embarressed, awkward, and dedicated to being anti-social so as not to like anything about the place. She sat and began swinging slowly next to me in silence as I continued to stare at the ground until, after a short time went by, she quietly said, “You know, it’s not so bad here.”. OMG – I literally am choked up writing this! It truly is the sweetest, most selfless, kind thing that I think anyone has ever done for me. It’s especially notable because Barb was a returning student and so easily could have chosen (as I’m sure I would have) to have focused her attention on those happy, post-summer, reunions but she went out of her way to comfort a sad & lonely stranger. I knew from that moment that she was a very special person. 32 years later, we are still bonded. My parents referred to her as their “bonus daughter”.
She is kind, strong, intelligent, cultured, and empowered. Not only do I love her, I respect her enormously. She is an incredible single parent of a wonderful daughter, Edisa, whose father she met as we were out for my bachelorette party and whose flirtation I unapologetically interrupted as I stole her back away for the night! LOL I was with her to go home from the hospital after she gave birth, this tiny, new, adorable, creature SCREAMING in the backseat of the car with us laughing hysterically in a state of shock & awe, exlaiming to one another, “WHAT DO WE DO NOW???”. She figured it out….like a champ.
I love you, Barb Mal, and look forward to spending your next milestone birthday TOGETHER!!!
We should all be so lucky as to have a friend like her. ❤

Vegas “I Do’s” – Angels & Aftermath (Part 1 of 2)

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ANGELS

Though I’ve been to Vegas many times, you throw a wedding (your own), Halloween, and a “visit from beyond” into the mix and, well, it’s one for the books.  “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”….except for this.

I remember working with a guy in my late teens that had recently gotten married in Vegas on Halloween. I also remember thinking that was the most horribly unromantic thing I’d ever heard of. In 2004 I got married the day before Halloween…in Vegas. Yes. Yes I did. And we had a BLAST!! Interesting how time and age, and planning a second wedding, changes your perspective on things.

In our own defense, my second (now 2nd “ex” though still a cherished friend) husband and I initially had more traditional if still casual plans for our nuptials. Both long term residents of Florida and “low maintenance” types, we explored our local options and ultimately put a deposit down on an outdoor, covered, picnic table laden spot at a nearby state park appropriately located along the Atlantic shoreline. Our chosen and secured venue offered corresponding access to the beach for a planned, barefoot vow exchange followed by a DJ, food, dancing, and drinks involving minimal cost and maximum fun. Alas, life does not always cooperate and my father’s diagnosis of a brain tumor, and his accompanying rapid decline, quickly converted the foreseen fun of planning our event into an overwhelming chore as my time and energy was clearly focused elsewhere. Not wishing to delay our “I Do’s” despite the situation (silver linings serving as a welcome and helpful life raft), some quick internet research provided an easy solution. For the “low, low price” of $475 (insert used car salesman voice *here*) we could secure a venue, a non-denominational minister, a video, and play our own music at a ceremony in Las Vegas. Tropicana Chapel, here we come!

Though I was from a loving family, my mother and siblings were only in an emotional and monetary position to provide a tentative “RSVP” due to my father’s failing health. As he ultimately passed away just weeks prior to my planned nuptials (his departure undoubtedly making the afterlife a much more entertaining and delightfully dorky place to be) they understandably passed on attending as we all still reeled from our loss.

My fiancé & I made our plans with no expectations regarding attendance but sent invitations to special friends near & far letting them know the ceremony locale had taken an unexpected turn. We made it clear to everyone that they were enthusiastically welcome but that their presence was requested without pressure due to the now increased expense required to join us on our special day. Imagine our delight when our wedding was attended by 22 friends from 5 states, far and beyond anything we expected or hoped for!

The wedding ceremony was brief, casual, and filled with laughter and love. Obviously, we kept things simple, opting for a single friend at each of our sides at the altar. Very early into the short ceremony our delightful officiant, whom we’d met just minutes beforehand, commented in front of the attendees that my husband’s “best man”, a very close, lesbian friend of ours, was “The best looking best man he had ever seen!”. Little did he know how much those words would haunt us as that “best (wo)man” shared his flattery with everyone within a 1,000 mile radius for the next five years! I will concede it was pretty unique and big props from someone that conducts hundreds of ceremonies a year so we’ll give her a pass.

Our personally tailored, non-traditional, “blink and you’ll miss it” ceremony ended with us singing to one another, alternately and off key, a song from “The Wedding Singer”, an 80’s based “rom-com” starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. (For those that aren’t familiar consider yourself served!). As in the movie, Billy Idol’s voice came over the speaker system (this time in the Tropicana Wedding Chapel) to announce the song. Ironically, his introduction even mentions Las Vegas which, ironically, I didn’t even realize until I looked up the lyrics once again as I wrote this.

I wanna make you smile whenever you’re sad
Carry you around when your arthritis is bad
All I wanna do is grow old with you

I’ll get your medicine when your tummy aches
Build you a fire if the furnace breaks
Oh, it could be so nice, growing old with you

I’ll miss you
Kiss you
Give you my coat when you are cold

Need you
Feed you
Even let you hold the remote control

So let me do the dishes in our kitchen sink
Put you to bed when you’ve had too much to drink
Oh, I could be the man (one) who grows old with you
I wanna grow old with you

Upon completion of the ceremony my new husband and I bounced together back down the aisle, wearing huge smiles and big hearts, “Silly Little Love Songs” by Paul McCartney & Wings serenading our new status. As a collective, happy, hubabaloo, everyone present piled on to the party bus we had rented, shouting and laughing until we disembarked at our uber classy reception location, the “Big Dog Saloon”. The following hours were filled with shared food and ample drink, joyous toasts and spontaneous speeches. When it was my turn to speak I acknowledged my father and his absence, the first time I’d allowed myself to tearfully touch on his loss on such a joyous day, before pushing it aside to remain focused on the happy vs. the sad, knowing he would approve.

After sucking it up and getting back in the moment it was once again time to invade the party bus and head to our next, and final, destination. Through my research I’d discovered a new nightclub in the “Old Las Vegas”, Fremont Street vicinity, that was wholly appealing for our non-chi chi and still youthful crowd.

As we piled off our party bus for the last time, the driver no doubt screaming a silent “Hallelujah!” as he pulled away, we walked into the club with a minor state of shock. Though our posse was in “full swing” apparently, at least by Vegas standards, we were WAY ahead of the game as we surveyed our barren surroundings. “Cavernous” is the word to perfectly describe the place – an enormous warehouse type venue, all concrete, incredibly high ceilings, and vast empty space. That said, our mood and celebration were not deterred, collective policy always remaining it’s “Who you’re with not where you are”. Bonus – We clearly had our choice of comfortable seating available to secure as a group. Champagne glasses half full not empty, thank you!

At this point in the tale it’s important to remember that we were in Vegas the day before Halloween. Though our primary focus was obviously on our wedding festivities it was hardly a bland and boring landscape beyond. Kinky and questionable Halloween shenanigans were already in full swing throughout the tourist zones and gaining momentum and numbers the later it got. Whether mandated by city ordinance or not it seemed that we had missed the dress code memo that did not permit wearing more than 1 square yard of fabric, preferably made of latex or fur.  It is with this in mind that as everyone in our circle chattered, laughed, and clinked glasses, I alone noticed – with unintended and uncontested tunnel vision – a solo female walking slowly yet deliberately across our path. Dance music blared while the other stray, early bird revelers traveled in hedonistic packs around the massive space on a mission for mischief yet this woman traveled alone, unnoticed and ignored by everyone but me. To me, she silently commanded the room, an anomaly in this environment holding a spiritual spotlight.

She was dressed as an angel. Not just an angel but a modest angel, simultaneously making her both invisible and glaringly obvious. She wore a floor length, white gown and huge, beautiful, majestic, white, feathered wings. Her hair and makeup were unique in the fact that they were simple. Natural. “Angelic”. The halo perched over her head served as the beautiful bow that launched the soaring arrow of immediate, deep,  recognition and understanding into my heart. Involuntarily and almost violently I elbowed my new husband as he sat at my side, snapping him out of the shared conversation. Looking at me with surprise, unsure whether to be alarmed, concerned, or annoyed, I urgently motioned for him to follow my gaze. My new husband as my only witness, the angel still slowly crossing our path, I told him with uncontrollable tears and laughter, “THAT’S MY DAD!”.

Together we watched as she disappeared into the other end of the club. We never saw her again while we were there but I only needed to see her once.

Thank you, Dad, for coming to my wedding. The soul knows.

Cervesa Hammock Smack Down

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Home to rickety rented golf carts, mystery concoctions at suspect establishments, and borderline concussions, welcome to Costa Maya, Mexico!  It’s just like the brochure!

A trio of peeps in full celebration mode, we set off on our cruise to Mexico together to ring in the milestone birthday of our attending guest of honor.  Through juggled frozen cocktails, new acquaintances, and spontaneous naps, the three of us managed to collectively hit the ground running in our various ports of call.  Costa Maya being the final one we were extra ready to explore and make it count.

We’d opted not to book any excursions in our various destinations as we chose to explore on our own and, well, because we were mostly broke.  Unscheduled and unescorted adventure offered both a smaller price tag and more flexibility while in each day’s destination, a mutually agreed upon win/win strategy.

With no game plan and a sense of adventure we moo’d our way off of the gangway in the passenger cattle herd, excited & eager for whatever the day chose to yield.  We made our way through the mandatory shopping area of that day’s port without too much distraction knowing we’d return on our way back to the ship for any last minute “must have” tchotchkes that we previously never knew we had to have.  Upon exiting the obligatory labyrinth of shops we were somewhat surprised to discover that we were, essentially, in the middle of nowhere.  Vast “nothingness” blanketed the landscape as far as the eye could see though there was a large and beckoning convoy of rickety golf carts lined up with enthusiastic local representatives giving the “hard sell” to all who happened to pass by.  Lucky for them, these now “fish out of water” were ready and eager for transport based on this barren location and this looked like just the ticket, especially since the 4 wheeled, rusty contraptions gave us complete navigation and freedom to the destination(s) of our choice.  After the requisite bartering we had keys in hand, me behind the wheel for first shift.  Peeling out at whatever pathetic top speed it would allow without falling apart, we guffawed and squealed in unison down the dusty and unknown road.

With a spontaneous photo stop along the way, the turquoise ocean and a large, brightly colored fish sculpture as our backdrop, we eventually encountered our first sign of additional life, a small, beachside, campground that was mostly occupied by low brow RV’s next to a tiki hut.  Intrigued as we were, we decided to keep going while filing it away as a potential pit stop upon our return.  There was more to explore!

Over the next 15 or so minutes we passed large swaths of “nothingness” that were briefly and sporadically interrupted by small pods of occupancy that served as a reality check due to their abject poverty.  We continued on until we, literally, came to the end of the road at a modest tourist “village” that was comprised of independent, rustic, low rise hotels, no name convenience stores, and a sketchy looking watering hole or two.  All of these establishments were clustered along more of the stunning, picturesque, beachfront where music could be heard beckoning over the sound of the waves hitting the shoreline beyond the buildings.  With no choice but to U-turn our eyes all fell upon the same neon beacon in the window, our limited gringa knowledge of Spanish unanimously comprehending the word “Cervesa”.

***Rattle, rattle, rattle – Rickety-rick-ricket***, we brought the cart to an abrupt halt on the side of the road (the only manner in which I think it was able to come to a stop) and hopped out.  Into the tiny street side store we went, yelling the magic word to the cashier as we entered, “CERVESA!”, likely the only word he heard daily from the cruise ship passengers that bothered to venture this far out.

Individually selected and blessedly cold bottles of beer in hand, we beelined around the corner and on to the beach where we were greeted with a delightfully casual & funky ambiance.  The music louder now yet not overpowering and in rhythm with the waves, there were a smattering of palapas and people.  Though immediately clear that this was primarily a “local’s joint”, exceptions being ex-pats vs. one day tourists, we were not made to feel unwelcome.  All of us instantly charmed, my own sights immediately fell upon an inviting hammock perfectly draped between two palm trees.  Never one to contain my enthusiasm, I indulged my intrigue with abandon as I let out a delighted cry of appreciation for this postcard perfect opportunity.  I ran to the hammock, fresh cervesa in hand, and plunged into the inviting, woven, rope, back first.

(Universe hits fast forward button)

**ZIP**

**FLIP**

**BAM!**

Though I (clearly) love hammocks suffice it to say that one did NOT love me as, upon contact, it IMMEDIATELY spun into a full, rocket launch, 360 spin before spitting me out like a swig of bad milk onto the sand below.  The HARD sand below.  Like, have you ever hit the ground – or had a friend hit the ground – with an audible *thunk*?  If you have yourself then you know that when you hit the ground hard enough for your connecting body part to make a noise (in this case, my HEAD) it takes a moment to recover and realize what happened.  If you’ve been on the spectator’s end of such an encounter then you know that the natural, human response of good friends goes like this:

Step One:  Spontaneous, sincere, huge concern

Which, upon determining friend in question is not hurt enough to call an ambulance, proceed to…

Step Two:  Hysterical and prolonged laughter

It should be noted that there were two, older, Mexican women that were sitting in chairs at the edge of the hammock that joined heartily in on my friend’s laughter.  To this day I’m convinced that was not the first time they’d encountered such a situation and that they are still there, dedicating their free time to waiting for more tourists like me.  Hell, they may have even rigged the thing…and props to them if they did.  Gotta’ create your own fun when you live in a one-horse town!

All that said, despite a 360 spin with a “full steam ahead”, involuntary dismount and a borderline concussion, I did not spill ONE DAMN DROP of that cervesa!  Rock star point in pocket, thank you, don’t try this at home.

Without the beer in hand I’d have no choice but to give this a score of Hammock: 1, Me: 0.  Under the circumstances though I firmly stand that it cannot be debated as anything less than a solid tie.

“SALUD!”

hammock(Immediate aftermath – still smiling.  Viva Mexico!)

Yup! That Just Happened

One thing about southeast Florida, it’s never boring!  Predictable only in its unpredictability, I’d say “I’ve seen it all” but when one’s encounters include a lingerie wearing male regularly jogging in place on the same corner, a pick-up truck carrying a male & female skeleton on a Harley in the back (not at Halloween, mind you – this is Florida!), a jogger running daily holding a cocktail tray (including drinks) with attached colorful streamers flapping in his wake, and a sunrise beach stroll that provided a good morning “Santeria Surprise” in the form of three dead chickens carefully lined up in front of the tide, well, it’s why it’s the first place I’ve ever lived that I didn’t want to leave.  You see, the reason I always moved from other places was because I got bored.  ‘Nuf said.  23 years now as a Floridian tucked into the waistband of my shorts and counting.

There’s a reason why there’s a show on the I.D. (Investigative Discovery) Channel called “Truth is Weirder Than Florida”.  Were someone to ask me to draw a picture of S.E. Florida I’d use a busted up, brightly colored, paper peeled, crayon.  If Florida were a writing utensil….THAT.  Palm trees, playful geckos, wild parrots, and ocean breeze thrown in for free.

The most memorable and cooperatively timed example of the beloved & borderline alternate universe that I call home was shared with a long term, dear friend and her husband visiting from out of town.  Though neither are “bar people” they are creatively dedicated photographers and videographers always on the lookout for new & interesting subject matter.  With this in mind, I told them to trust the process as we piled into my car for the short drive to the longest operating and most notorious bar on the Fort Lauderdale beachfront, the Elbo Room.  Always rowdy, loud, and abuzz with mischievous, positive energy, that day was no exception.  As we headed into the fray on a sunshine laden day I assured them that:

1.  We wouldn’t have to stay long.
2.  They wouldn’t be sorry they came.
3.  They would have photo/video worthy material.

I, and the Elbo Room, did not disappoint.

Keeping in mind that the Elbo Room is never a bore, that day proved to be extra cooperative regarding my assurances.  Minutes into our lucky claim on an outdoor table by the stairs, a group of what is best described and understood as “Bros” initiated their own, self-appointed, judging panel directed towards randomly selected pedestrians as they walked, strutted, stumbled, or drove by, much to the delight of the tipsy and ample patrons sharing the establishment.  How “The Bros” got their large “scorecards” will forever remain a mystery though there is a drugstore a few blocks down where poster board, scissors, and  markers can be easily acquired by one who is so inclined.  Fortunately for all involved, it was playful fun as they were not cruel or unkind, average scorecards held up in unison running 6’s, 7’s, & 8’s.  An occasional 9 and a singular, unanimous, 10 were met by the bar with vocal enthusiasm.

As our unsuspecting out of towners looked at us with wide eyed amusement, surprised laughter, and confirmation of my promised delivery we were all to find this was just the appetizer.  The main course, the “Piece de resistance”, was to be revealed shortly. Having brought them to this spot for their cameras to capture the “Picture worth a thousand words”, even their cameras were struck speechless as we all watched “real life” that spoke not a thousand but a million words, all silently yelled in delightfully demented triumph. Keep in mind that this is now maybe 20 minutes, tops, into our arrival.

Yup.  It’s the middle of the afternoon.
Yup.  It’s the most major intersection on the beach.
Yup.  That’s a stunning, statuesque girl on the corner in front of the Elbo Room and, really, who *doesn’t* wear high heels with their bikini at the beach?

The sliver of sarong wrapped around the waist of the long haired, doe like, sexpot was somewhat mystifying considering her additional (and minor) wardrobe selections.  Whether it served as a carefully selected accessory or a whisper of modesty one thing was certain:

It’s not everywhere that you randomly encounter a tall, high heeled, bikini & sarong wearin’, genetically blessed female on the beach.  Well, okay, in S.E. Florida you do but not one walking a baby goat on a leash.

Did I say “Yup”?  That happened.

**bleaaaat**
goat

U.F.O.’s, WTF?

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“U.F.O.’s, and aliens, and alternate universes, oh my!”

The first time I explored “Alien Territory”, both literally as a region of the U.S. I’d not previously been to and figuratively as the area of North America best known for  U.F.O. intrigue, a’la Roswell and Area 51, my senses and “alien radar” were abuzz!  Though I’m skeptical regarding abductions I don’t rule them out completely and I’m just happy to say I can’t speak from personal experience (and I’d like to keep it that way).  End of the day, I’m a believer, and have even made the mecca to the U.F.O. museum in Roswell, New Mexico from S.E. Florida twice, a destination only reached through purposeful intent due to its remote location.

On an extended road-trip through the southwestern United States, my friend & I knew we had officially entered X-Files domain when we passed an electrical box on a busy street corner that was currently doubling as a canvas for an amateurish but passionate painting of a large alien head and U.F.O. that dominated a background of night sky.  Accompanying this imagery were the brush-stroked and thought provoking words, “Do you believe?”.  This random but clear welcome to “Alienville” demanded a brief filming & photo op that we obliged by pulling over in the bustling intersection, unashamed & unapologetic, giggling, tourists.

Many miles to go to that days destination, the sunlight slowly disappeared until it winked goodbye on the western horizon.  With its departure there was no civilization present as far as the eye could see to offer even the faintest glow to cut the pitch black, desert, darkness as we navigated our rental car onward.  Traveling the dark and barren landscape, vehicles passed us and visa-versa only at noticeably extended intervals.  Fortunately, as good friends do, we had no trouble amusing ourselves as the hours and the miles ticked by, aliens naturally being a discussed and revisited topic of conversation along the way.  Until……suddenly……

”WHAT WAS THAT?”, I yelled out in alarm and excitement, leaning over her to get a better look out her driver’s side window.  “What?  WHAT?”, she loudly responded, uncertain whether to be alarmed or intrigued.

Me:  (Stammering and exclaiming) “I SWEAR, I just saw a light going across the sky and it just DISAPPEARED!”

Her (again):  “Where?  WHERE?”

Me:  “It was right out your window……”

(nervous giggles while she drove and I continued gazing intently)

Me:  “THERE IT IS AGAIN but IN A DIFFERENT PART OF THE SKY!”

Her:  “Where?  WHERE?  Oh my god! Where?”  (obviously working with limited dialogue under the circumstances)

Me:  “I swear, I’m not kidding you! I just saw it again but in a different part of the sky!”

No other cars in sight, it was just us, the desert, and the aliens.

I rapidly began fumbling in the darkness of our car for the video camera we had brought along to film our journey for future Memory Lane viewing.  This *obviously* deserved inclusion as part of our vacation experience and, more importantly, documentation for official, scientific review!  Despite my amateur filming skills and our mutually distracting squeals of excitement, disbelief, and shock, I managed to get the video camera out and the lens into focus.  I directed the camera towards, and recorded, out the front of the windshield into the void of the empty sky as we waited for our next Visitor From Beyond to make their presence known….and we were not disappointed!  This time BOTH of us saw it – “Oh my god!  Oh my god!  Oh my god!”

Her:  “I saw it!  I saw it!  Ohmygod!”

Me:  “I told you!  Ohmygod!  Pull over!  PULL OVER!”

(Insert ear piercing, extended, exclamations, merged together in a non-sensical, audio train-wreck.)

Then…..silence.

Too entranced to pull over, to do anything other than gaze with hypnotized wonder into the ebony infinity above, we saw yet another, this time clearly a different light that was much closer though which disappeared just as quickly as its companions.  Then, just a moment later, it played its role in this extraterrestrial game of “Simon Says” as it too reappeared.  A little bit longer and….AGAIN!  Same thing, different place in vast sky.  They…were…EVERYWHERE!  We were absolutely beside ourselves and it truly was one of the most exciting and intriguing moments of my life until…….

Her:  “Oh my god.  They’re PLANES!”

Me:  “Noooooo.”

Her:  “Yes!  Look!  You can barely see them because it’s so dark but there are clouds in the sky!  Every time we see a light it’s a plane and when it disappears it is going behind a cloud and then comes out the other side!”

Me:  (Gazing intently, the car loud with silence)

****There it is AGAIN!****

…..and now I see the damn cloud around it’s lights.

(Insert sound of deflating balloon *here*)

And so the road trip, us, and life moved on with one new item, a helluva’ entertaining vacation video segment, and one remaining item:

I still believe!

mork

The Trucker & the Damsel in Distress

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Filing under “Strange but True” facts, I went to Quaker boarding school my senior year of high school.  No, my family was not Quaker nor affiliated in any way and I chalk my parent’s selection to send me to that particular education location based on a combination of relative affordability and its incredibly remote location in B.F.E. Ohio.   Despite my bucking bronco arrival & drop off at the school it ultimately resulted in cherished life-long friends and memories

Fast forward to one year later and the commencement/graduation of the class below mine.  Let it be noted that when you live in an isolated environment for an entire school year with only 50 peers you get to know one another pretty well, for good or for bad (though mostly good).  Living just one state away at the time of the following year’s commencement, it was an obvious choice to make the journey to attend this production starring a cast of many friends.

I set off on the approximate seven-hour road-trip dressed, excited, and ready for a happy reunion and a weekend of celebration.  Wearing a full length, white, fitted skirt, a thoughtfully accessorized upper half, and white dress flats on my feet, I settled into my dad’s orange, Datsun B-210 for the solo road trip, my permed 80’s hair standing at attention through a cloud of suffocating hair spray that occupied the remainder of the vehicle.

I don’t recall how far along into the trip I was when an emotional recipe made from ingredients of alarm and concern began baking but I do recall that, when it happened, I was, literally, in the middle of nowhere.  With several hours ahead to my final destination, my tiny, orange vessel began making it clear that it was not happy as it went from a comfortable cruise to coughs, sputters, and jolts increasing in frequency the further I went.  Desperate for an exit there was none to be had while I hoped for the best until…….

D is for Datsun

AND

D is for DEAD

The car coming to a violent, dismissal regarding any further road travel as it came to a complete & uncooperative halt.  I managed to veer it off to the side of the road just as mysterious and unfriendly smoke began billowing out from under the hood.  Seeming the logical next step, I exited the vehicle in this No Man’s Land, pulling the hood lever as it responded with an audible and noticeable “pop” to allow me to look under the hood.  Upon hoisting it I was welcomed with heat and more smoke as I gazed upon a maze of mechanics to which I had no compass. I had arrived at the Deli of the Road, served up one very large & sour pickle.

I scanned my surroundings, a long and empty road with miles of equally empty landscape.  No cell phones back then, there were absolutely zero alternatives to simply beginning to walk.  With the lone beacon of civilization being a farmhouse on a far away hill, a good 3-4 miles ahead of where I stood and a significant way off of the main road, my brutally coifed 80’s hair, ankle length skirt, and dress flats, began the long trek in that direction.  As I fought tears and fears I had only clocked about half a mile on foot towards the Fateful Farmhouse when a large, tractor trailer rumbled by, one of the only vehicles I had seen since greeted with my major dilemma.  Striking my heart with relief that was overpowered by ice cold fear, I watched as the monster truck hit its breaks and purposefully pulled over to my side of the road.  So this is how it ends!  A crazy, substance addled, trucker, dragging me into his cab or, alternatively, the endless field that lay all around, 50/50 odds on the table regarding where I would meet the Grim Reaper, equally unpleasant and unpredicted, distinct possibilities

I froze in my tracks, a spiral permed, blonde deer in the brake lights, as the side door opened and the driver hopped down to the asphalt and walked towards me.  But wait…..he wasn’t just walking towards me….there was a bit of a lurch and deliberation to his stride.  Still frozen as I rode the teeter-totter of gratitude and concern, I came to the sudden realization that the trucker only had one leg, his unique gait the product of a prosthetic leg.  Though clearly not “politically correct”, my survival instincts assessed the situation for themselves, breathing a tentative but audible sigh of relieve with the realization that, should he offer a ride and I needed to bail to salvage my life, my odds of outrunning him were very, very, high, despite my ankle length, albatross skirt that I had come to curse more & more with each step.

Very aware and sensitive to my damsel in distress predicament, the trucker stopped with a bit of distance remaining between us, asking the obvious – did I need help?  Rapidly scanning the landscape once again it was clear that taking my chances with a one-legged, hopefully well-intentioned trucker trumped walking an additional 3+ miles to a remote farmhouse with unknown occupants, assuming that it was occupied at all.  So with pounding heart, I grabbed on to the handles to hoist myself up into the cab of this “King of the Road”, intimidating, steel beast.

He climbed back in on his side and eased into the driver’s seat as he asked me my name and inquired about how I found myself in this unfortunate situation.  As he shifted into drive and we began picking up steam in the vibrating cab, I began sharing my plight as I snuggled against my passenger door, hand firmly rested on the handle in a manner I hoped was not obvious, ready to throw myself out the door and onto the mercy of the asphalt should it be necessary.

The trucker confirmed that I was, indeed, in the middle of nowhere while sincerely sympathizing with both my situation and understood concern.  With a slow moving but large tidal wave of relief, he convincingly told me that I was safe as pictures of his two small children, a boy & a girl, smiled with reassurance from the dashboard, a dangling & swaying crucifix nodding in agreement.  In proper, stereo-typical, trucker fashion, he clicked the button to bring his C.B. to life, networking with his fellow 18-wheelers to find out where the nearest garage was, ultimately leading us to a small one about 20 miles down the road.

We slipped into casual and friendly conversation until our exit arrived and he delivered me to a One Horse Town with a mechanic and tow truck.  After I placed a collect phone call to my father I found myself being the one to reassure my Knight in Shining Steel that I would be fine, expressing my immeasurable gratitude to the extent that words would allow. I settled into an uncomfortable, plastic chair for the long wait ahead as his truck rumbled away in one direction, the tow truck in the other.

My orange carcass of a car rolled into the front of the garage some time later, riding bitch to the hulking tow truck.  Upon untangling the chains and locks of the mechanical beast, the mechanic disappeared to take an (educated) look under the hood, returning wearing an expression that did not indicate good news.  Apparently – and pay attention here – it’s a good idea to check and add oil before setting out on an extended road trip.  Who knew?  Well, apparently not me as I had “thrown a rod” due to an empty oil tank and the car, based on it’s current value, was officially pronounced dead.  A rental car was eventually delivered to the doorstep of the garage where I transferred my belongings from one vehicle to another before continuing my onward journey with an additional item packed, a lifelong memory and appreciation for prosthetic wearing truckers with hearts of gold.

The Love Burn (Part 1 – Alice in Wonderland)

love burn sceneI first became aware of the visually, mentally, & emotionally awesome psychedelic circus known as Burning Man from a friend in the late 90’s. My younger sister actually went shortly after I first heard about it but the internet was new and information was scarce in my east coast locale while she resided within reasonable driving distance from California at the time and ran with a creative crowd privvy to connections in the event’s earlier days.  Ever since that initial, dual, & coinciding enlightenment of its existence I’d been deeply intrigued but it seemed a huge commitment to go to the B.F.E. desert in Nevada for a week, especially with no personal kindred spirits up to the shared adventure.

Blink your eyes and click your heels and it’s 16 years later and the world of Burning Man was once again knocking on my door, this time the messenger in the form of a casual, groovy, friend heavily involved in the local art scene and community who shared with delight and encouragement a new but locally based regional event called “The Love Burn”. Luckily, fate was ready for me just a year after receiving this new information when I met both the appropriately & ironically named Angel at a shared friend’s pool party.  HERE was the “Angel” of Adventure I’d been waiting for, just having tucked in his wings for landing after his sixth, official Burning Man when a destiny magnet connected us.  Upon learning where he had just returned from, I excitedly told him about the “The Love Burn” and my massive interest that lacked a partner in crime, an event new enough that he was not yet aware of it despite his much broader circle of “Burners”.

After nearly two decades of intrigue, our introduction and mutual interest resulted in a long awaited, unforgettable, February weekend in 2017 where I found myself at a “Burning Man” event with Angel and two other adventurous souls he brought along, James & Laura (also first timers/aka: Burner Virgins).  Though this event was on a significantly smaller scale, we were all excited about the explosively artistic, weekend long adventure that beckoned  As a collective group we’d only shared a single, brief introduction prior to our commitment to set up & share camp at the state park where it was held.  We could not have been more different in appearance yet we were all incredibly like-minded regarding the ingredients vital to a great weekend: Shared excitement, low maintenance, a sense of humor & adventure, and an appreciation for camping. Let the games begin!!!

I knew that I was in for a unique and memorable experience but never in my deepest R.E.M. state could I have imagined how incredible it would truly be! Upon arrival and throughout the first day and night, freshly encountered attendees greeted us with heartfelt hugs vs. casual handshakes while previously acquainted “Burners” practiced the same but with an added, verbal, “Welcome home”. With very rare exception, outgoing strangers invited you in, or dropped in, throughout the shared maze of campsites for drinks, food, hugs, and random, handmade, gifts. Costumes were the order of the day and night with faux fur, LED or glow lights, crazy hats, colorful wigs, feather boas, and the like. Animal ears on heads, random & elaborate costumes, onesies, and tutus were the fabulous norm on both genders at every turn. These were my people! All of the things that I have always loved that are atypical surrounded and embraced as far as the eye could see, delightfully shared by kindred spirits. While I can’t say I felt 100% a part of the collective crowd on this Burner Virgin encounter, many of whom were obviously not first timers at such a rodeo, I can say that I felt 100% happy! I met people from as far away as Israel and as close as six blocks from where I live, all of them welcoming, as we shared this incredibly positive, powerful, creative, surrounding that danced, tickled, and embraced all of the senses simultaneously.

After the sun went down is when the real magic happened. Those that know me personally are well aware that colored lights call me like a moth to the flame and THEY….WERE…..EVERYWHERE!  EVERY kind of light you ever thought, hoped, or knew existed, playfully lighting the way to (and as a part of) art, art, and more art, as far as the eye could see amongst the outdoor setting of meandering paths, clusters of trees, and wide open beach. Giant Pac-Man ghosts playfully passed by at unannounced intervals in the dark, glowing brightly and larger than life, the products of exterior decoration on motorized vehicles manned by tickled conductors.  Colorful, LED lit, mushroom shaped buggies filled with beaming, costumed riders rolled by as we delighted in encounters with hodge-podge igloos and outdoor lounges that beckoned around every turn, their exotic carpets, pillows, and couches welcoming all who passed. Fire as natural art in motion was abundant, startling me with delight as soaring flames burst into the air from random & unexpected locations.

pac man

One of our collective favorite spots was an enormous, metal, geometric dome peppered with plasma globes located amongst a dense area of trees completely & beautifully bathed in thousands of pinpoint, “fairy”, twinkling, laser lights. It was magic! We made an unintentional habit of getting lost in the dark and going in circles but that only served to add to the mystery, hilarity, and intrigue of it all. The best and most accurate way to describe the experience is, as attendees, everyone there became a real life Alice (or Alex) in Wonderland.

At some point I became separated from my cohorts and found myself in another massive, open air, geometric structure, this one featuring jaw dropping, majestic, beautifully menacing flames of fire in constant motion overhead.  J.R.R. Tolkien would have been proud and I wouldn’t have been surprised at that point if a hobbit or Gollum ran by.  A d.j. kept the beat for the dancing of both the flames and the people below with reckless yet purposeful, unapologetic, abandon. People laughed and twirled in pairs, doing cartwheels in top hats, as others blissfully lived in the moment alone, embracing their singular nirvanas and dancing, as they say, “like nobody’s watching”. With wide eyed delight I watched, soaking it all in with fascination, until I suddenly made the conscious and easy choice to let go of my (albiet always minor) self-consciousness.  Putting my bag down, a’ la Billy Idol, I began dancing with myself in the beautiful, mesmerizing, incomparable, “Wonderland of Zero Fucks Given”. No one judging, only appreciating, sharing, and smiling in this unique place and space of full freedom of expression.
love burn fire

Modern day Xanadu, “Love Burn” be thy name!