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This Hotel Room

I’m on the road again, this time in San Jose for the World Science Fiction Convention!

For those of you who recognize the title of this blog, here’s a version of the Steve Goodman song that goes with it.

I’ve been in a surprising variety of hotels and motels the past few weeks, from the Carolinas to Key West to California. They’ve all been at least decent; the Hyatt in San Jose that I just checked into last night seems to be the best of the lot. It’s *huge* for one – it’s not a hundred-dollar room in a two-hundred dollar neighborhood; the room appears to be worth the money. Which is a pleasant surprise.

The next pleasant surprise is that there’s a free breakfast for hotel guests. My experience in the past has been that there’s this weird thing with hotels and motels and what they give you for the price.

At the low end, you’ve got your fleabags and Motel 6s, etc. In those, you get a small room, and very few amenities. Then there’s the midrange, where you get all this and breakfast too.

On the high end, a lot of places don’t do the free breakfast thing – they figure that if you can afford the room, you can afford an overpriced breakfast. The high-end places are also less likely to put stuff like shampoos, etc. in your rooms; same thing. (The Hyatt has soap and shampoo in the bathroom. 🙂 ) So I’m very happy to see that I don’t have to buy breakfast goodies when I make my run over to Trader Joes later.

The Zen of Traveling

So…I recently took a six-day trip from my home in FL to visit my brother and his family at their new place in North Carolina. I hadn’t seen them since leaving California four years ago, so I figured it was time.

From here to there one way, according to my odometer, is about 825 miles. Definitely doable as a two-day trip each way by car. And I chose to take the car, because I’d never traveled through most of that area before and wanted to.

Spoiler: I had a really good time and a mostly-interesting drive, including getting caught up in a police raid in South Carolina. Memorable times. 🙂

The problem I had more and more as the days went by: There was too much to see, and most of it just went whizzing by my window at slightly over the speed limit of whatever road I was on at the time. Farm stands. Battlefields. Alligator farms. Islands with sightseeing cruises. Waterfront bars. Interesting restaurants. And the more miles I drove, the sadder I got for the missed opportunities.

Granted, I did make some stops, planned and otherwise. But I saw so many more interesting places where I *could* have stopped, in a world with infinite spare time.

Our Western culture is very destination- and goal-oriented. The objective is the destination; get there as fast as you can. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, the journey is as important as the destination. And in Buddhism, the journey (from a root word meaning “day”) can be entirely internal; sitting still and paying attention are valued. One of my favorite contemporary Buddhist sayings is, “Don’t do something, just sit there.”

To me, there’s a balance point somewhere between “sitting there” and “go as fast as you can to get to the destination.” And my balance point isn’t going to be in the same place as anyone else’s. I reach a point where I get tired and/or burn out, long about 4-5 days into most trips, and I have to schedule down time to help me enjoy the last part of longer trips. Other people can go for weeks. Still others, half a day. It’s all good.

For me, I think that what I want to try next year, after my current “dance card” of travel plans is over, is a trip where each night’s stopping point is maybe 4-5 hours down the road. That way, I can take 8-9 hours for that trip and do side excursions, without worrying about being on the road til midnight. And I’d put a rest day in the middle. I’ll let you know how that works out.

This would still involve some trip planning, because many places you need reservations to get into, especially in the busy seasons. I have friends who either live in RVs or who own RVs and travel a lot. And that solves some of the flexibility issue of travel – how far can you go in a day, and how do you know there will be a place where you can sleep when you get there? I don’t know that I’m ever likely to be an RV person. But it’s interesting to contemplate as a part-time solution to the random travel blues.

Where’s your sweet spot, when you travel? Do you like to get there, stay in one place, and then go home? Or are you about the journey? Or some of each?

For me…I think the first of those trips will take me back to northeast Florida, and the stretch from Jacksonville to the Space Coast. And I’ll catch some of the goodies I missed this time and spend a little more time in one or two places I discovered I like. And I won’t have to drive more than about five hours in any one day.

“Excuse me, officer…”

A funny thing happened to me this morning, when I went to get gas for my car.

I started the day in Beaufort SC, on my way to visit my brother in NC. I’d had a fairly nice evening the night before, got in at a reasonable hour, and got on the road relatively early because the Internet at the hotel was spotty so I couldn’t distract myself with it for very long.

Before I could head north, I needed to first head south. I’d tweaked my left knee in the middle of the night because, things at different heights in my motel room than at home. That’s all the context I’m giving you. And one of the things I left at home was my knee brace. So I figured I’d go get a spare, and searched Google Maps for the nearest CVS or Walgreens. There was one about three miles south of me in Port Royal, so I decided to head there.

On the way, I noticed that the car was ready for more gas. It gets great mileage, but still needs to be fed now and then. So when I spotted a convenience mart/gas station with good pricing, I stopped in. I had to wait a bit to give the people my money, because several other folks were in there getting other things that had nothing to do with gasoline. And in fact, I remarked to myself, “It’s strange that the hardest thing to buy at a gas station is gas.”

But I gave them the twenty and went to fill the car. Topped it up to $18.50 worth of gas, hung up the nozzle, and as I turned to go back in for my change, half a dozen cop cars pulled in. Two blocked the driveways, and the rest drove in, found parking, and discharged members of law enforcement who started heading toward the store.

This is at roughly 8:40 AM. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, but after all my years in California, my first thought is, “Do I have to take cover before someone starts shooting?” Not someplace my brain was equipped to go at that early hour. I tried to catch the eye of one of the officers; nobody was paying me any attention. I thought about driving away, but I knew there was still $1.50 inside that store that belonged to me. So I started slowly and cautiously sidling in the direction of the building.

This caught the attention of one of the police officers, who said, “They’re closed because we need to serve a search warrant.” I replied, “I’ve got a buck fifty in change coming; can I get that, or should I just go away?” The officer told me I could go get my change.

So I went inside. On the way, three other officers also tried to tell me the place was closed, and to each of them I repeated my story *and* that the other officer had told me I could go get my change.

Finally I get inside. There were two people working in there; an older man and an older woman. When I went in, they were just handcuffing the man, and I overheard something about, “You can’t sell that in this state.” I have no clue what “that” was. After waiting a few minutes while they were sorting stuff out (and a fifth officer attempted to tell me the store was closed, to which I repeated my sad tale and volunteered to abandon my twelve bits if it would help), the woman was allowed to go over to the register, where my change was already awaiting me on top of the register. I took it, thanked her, and made a rapid and polite exit. Drove around the end of one of the blockading cop cars (he waved me on), and went on down the street to the Rite-Aid, where I found my new knee brace.

I have no clue what was going on besides what I’m describing. There was a younger woman there who’d been in the store when I was buying gas; after I came out from getting my change, she was talking with one of the officers. I don’t know whether it was just “small town” and they knew each other, or if perhaps she’d gone in as an undercover buyer after the cops got a report. Could have been either.

So that was my little adventure with a police raid in Beaufort County SC this morning. It’s amazing how one can have a guilty conscience even without doing anything wrong; I was keeping an eye over my shoulder until somewhat after I crossed the county line.

I didn’t take pictures; I figured that might be in bad taste.

I got tickets for tonight’s Mega Millions lottery while I was there. On the off chance I win something, I hope that whatever the guy working inside was nabbed for it doesn’t invalidate the tickets.

Update: One of my better-motivated friends (thanks, Janet!) tracked down the story. Turns out someone at the station was selling fake pee – synthetic urine for beating drug tests.

It really doesn’t get much stranger than that.

Dead fish…

We’re having a bout of red tide here in Englewood. It’s not as bad as it was a few days ago, thankfully. But a week or so ago it was pretty horrid, and lots of fish (and the occasional dolphin, turtle, and manatee) died. That’s pretty tragic.

Red tide is a semi-regular occurrence here on Florida’s Gulf Coast. It’s effects from the life cycle of a microscopic organism that lives in the waters here. It poisons fish and puts something into the air that can affect people’s respiratory systems. For me personally, it gets into my throat and I start to cough. If I’m in it for a while, it gets into my sinuses, which obligingly clog up. It’s not a fun thing, and when it’s happening I need to stay away from the water. Which of course is no fun at all.

While it is a naturally-occurring organism, there are environmental factors which can supercharge it. Primary among those are discharges of nutrient-laden water. We’ve got a few sources of those, but the worst two I’ve noticed are when a sewage system overflows (as happened a couple of years ago up around Tampa after a really bad set of storms) or when we have mandated discharges from Lake Okeechobee out the Caloosahatchee river during our rainy season. (And out the St. Lucie River on the Atlantic side, but I don’t have to deal with it over there.)

And thereby hangs a tale.

Some decades back, the Army Corps of Engineers rejiggered the flow of water that used to just filter nicely south from Lake O into the Everglades. They dammed a lot of it up and sent it out the rivers to the east and west. This of course messed up the entire ecosystem of the Glades, and folks have been trying halfhearted remedies to keep things alive since then. This involves attempting to strike devils’ bargains with folks like the big sugar growers south of Lake O and a whole lot of money, none of which seems to be making the South Florida ecosystem any healthier. Not sure what links would be best to bring folks up to date on this, so I’ll leave it to y’all to google your own info.

Meanwhile, the tourism industry – which relies in no small part on beaches that people want to spend time on – has been suffering as a result of this, from Naples to Venice. I can think of at least two waterfront restaurants here in Englewood that closed for at least one and possibly more days because, red tide. All through no fault of their own.

Are there solutions? Possibly. But they’re not comfortable solutions for folks who make a living off the status quo. Cutting the use of fertilizers on farmland, or making sure that there are swales and catchments to keep fertilizer excess from getting into the waterways is one possible remedy. But that’s hard to do, because Florida has these vigorous downpours now and then, especially in the summertime, and once you get up over half an inch or so of rain in an hour, it’s hard to build a drainage/retention system that won’t overflow. At least without spending beaucoup bucks.

Restoring more of the natural laminar flow through the Everglades might help, but that would likely involve a lot of work to add more drainage/throughflow under I-75 and US-41 (Alligator Alley) across the Glades in south Florida. Which wouldn’t be cheap, in a state that doesn’t seem to spend a whole lot of money on updating infrastructure and that isn’t likely to increase taxes anytime soon. It would also make it harder for what we call “Big Sugar” to continue extracting their profits out of their lands south of Lake O.

And it would involve viewing our land and our Everglades as living organisms that require proper care to stay healthy. Which would go against large chunks of our current cultural paradigm, sad to say.

Meanwhile, fish and other critters are dying, and businesses are losing money. And it stinks.

Literally.

To Boldly Go…

A couple of weeks ago, the world lost an explorer whom I’d never taken the time to get to know while he was alive. And I wish I had.

I’m referring to Anthony Bourdain, chef, explorer, and travel personality. Perhaps someday he’ll be the Patron Saint of Trying New Things for the First Church of Hedonism; I don’t know. Regardless, I’d heard of him but had no clue about what he did. My understanding of contemporary culture has some holes in it; I know.

After reading some short tributes to him, which praised his adventuring spirit, I decided that I should check out some of the tribute reruns of his program, Parts Unknown, that were showing that weekend on CNN. And while pieces of it drag, most of it is fascinating, as he explores and reveals little nooks and crannies of the world that are easy to miss when you’re on the Interstates or in the air. It doesn’t hurt that he seems to have had a very good crew, camerapeople and editors/producers.

Along the way I discovered that he and I were both working in restaurants on Cape Cod in the first half of the 1970s. He fell in love with it; I decided I really never wanted to work in food service again. So it goes.

I started off the year committing to doing one new creative thing a week. I managed the better part of four months on that before falling off the wagon. I’m going to try something different and perhaps less constraining – to do one new thing every week. Try a new recipe. Try a restaurant I’ve never been to. Go to a new place. Hopefully I’ll still do the occasional new bit of music and/or video. It beats sitting in front of the computer all day.

Though I think I will draw the line at seal eyeballs and warthog rectums.

I’m already getting ideas, just as I drive around. There’s a Cajun place about halfway from here to Port Charlotte that I keep driving by. There are tons of restaurants up and down US 41 within half an hour of here. Hell, there are probably two or three waterfront restaurants in the area I’ve never been in.

Last week, I made Mongolian beef for the first time from an Internet recipe. It came out awesome. One of my Facebook friends helped me remember that one of my favorite foods in Key West is a Mongolian beef (bulgogi) taco at Garbo’s, and that gave me a couple of ideas for other ways to fix it for meals. It’s a crock pot/instant pot recipe, so it’s not hard to do. Give it a try.

One of Mr. Bourdain’s other shows had him in South Carolina, and along the way he stopped at a very interesting BBQ place. I’m going to be up that way next month, going to visit my brother, so I think I’m going to drive out of my way to find that restaurant and try their ‘Q for myself. I’ll let you know how it is.

Sail on, Mr. Bourdain. May you spend the next however-long exploring marvelous places and cuisines, where everything is delicious and nothing hurts.

New song: Another Sunset

And no sooner have I admitted that I’m not doing as great as I wanted to with my “creative thing” project…I wrote a new song. 🙂 Let me tell you about it.

About a week ago, a friend of mine (Gweko/Gary Ek) was reflecting on having a birthday, and said something that I immediately resonated with and said, “That would go great in a song!” So I borrowed it. 🙂

And that day, Gweko had a small birthday party on his boat with friends, down in Key West Bight. Among those friends are friends of mine, including Key West Chris. Chris writes some awesome stuff, in a bunch of styles that I normally don’t attempt. But I decided that the idea that I was growing (reflections during a party on a boat) would go well in a Key West Chris sort of style. So I tried it, and got something usable. Chris would no doubt substitute a bunch of more interesting chords in places, but what the heck.

It started out as a birthday-themed song, but the lyrics around that felt awkward, so I changed them. Now it’s more “reflections on a life apparently well-lived, from the back of a boat in some island harbor.”

The title is “Another Sunset,” and here’s the video link: https://youtu.be/O83axIxL3Jk.

Okay, I give up. Sortakinda.

It’s possible that you might have actually noticed you haven’t heard from me here in a while. Or not; there’s so much going on out there that it’s easy to get distracted and not notice that someone you’re used to hearing from has been a bit quieter of late. Hell, *I* do that.

Anyway, back at the beginning of the year, I made a commitment to do something creative every single week, and to share that with you every week. And for the better part of four months…I succeeded.

However, for most of the last month…I haven’t been succeeding. Hell, I’ve been about half-dry, and some weeks I barely come up with four lines of possible lyrics.

So I’m just gonna own that I couldn’t make it the entire year. But I got several interesting and cool songs and a couple of passable songs out of it, and I managed to mostly keep that commitment for four months. And that’s better than I’ve ever done on something like that before.

And in the end…the only person I’m really out to beat is myself. 🙂

So the updates will likely be less frequent, unless I gear back up for another round and keep it going. Which is possible – if I can do four months once, I can do it again.

I didn’t post about it last week, but about a week ago I got a music idea and managed to get the essentials of it recorded before I ran out of idea and steam. Which to me is harder to do than just writing down lyrics or singing stuff into a pocket recorder. I managed to do a “prototype” in about an hour with underlying chords, the melody line I wanted, and I found a drum track/loop that works with it all. I need to go back and play with it some more, because I really do have ideas on how to finish it. It’ll be a calypso/soca instrumental number I’m calling “Rainbow Beach,” after a lovely place in St. Croix I got to spend some time last year. When I get a semi-finished version of it done, I’ll share it.

In the meantime…I also want to do an update to my mailing list, in which I’ll talk a bit about some of the cool things I’ve done the past few weeks, including a trip to Key West for Conch Republic Days and a couple of fun times I’ve spent with my musical friends.

And there will be more interesting songs, videos, and posts. The past few months have opened up some interesting creative doors for me, and I expect I’ll continue to explore beyond them.

Stay tuned.

Preparedness and the Internet

I got thrown into “Facebook Jail” today for the first time.

Personally, I’ve seen far worse stuff on FB than I got gigged for. I objected to someone calling me names and misgendering me, and I didn’t swear at them to do it. I filed a complaint, which likely goes to the Seventh Circle of Hell or some similar place – FB really doesn’t care how badly they inconvenience people, so long as they make their ad revenue targets. But that thing needed doing.

Oddly, I don’t contest their right to do that, or whatever else they want. It’s a free service, and we all blithely signed away our rights to our own content and online lives when we decided to have an account with them. They have the absolute power to shut you away from the fraction of your life that you’ve entrusted to them. For as long as they want.

But just so you know, let me tell you what FB jail looks like from the inside.

You can’t post. Obviously. You can’t even get a post in via your linked Twitter account. I don’t know about Instagram or other linked services.

You can’t “like” anything. I’m guessing you can’t even share stuff, but I didn’t try it.

And you can’t initiate or respond to messages in Messenger. No matter how serious.

It’s online government by Conan the Barbarian: Arbitrary rules, and absolutely no mercy. If your best friend dies and you don’t have the mundane contact info for their Next of Kin and you have info that said kin absolutely must have, they’re out of luck. If you run your business exclusively through FB, you can’t respond to orders, questions about orders, etc. You can’t update the regular stuff people expect you to update.

Granted, there should be consequences to violating rules of conduct. But when I see people engaging in obvious hate speech and not losing access, and I get gigged for something far less dire, when the rules *change* every time you turn around…it’s like trying to appease an abusive spouse. The goalposts keep moving, and no matter what you do, it’s never enough.

Enough of that. I’ll have access again sometime tomorrow, and I’m actually enjoying my respite from the negativity-charged wrestling match that FB has become. I’ve been dealing with food poisoning for a few days; I’ve already gotten used to eating and drinking a lot less than usual. This is just one more opportunity to try living for a bit without some of my usual habits and escapes. It’s kind of fun, actually. Liberating.

What I want to talk about is this: If all of your life is on FB or any other online service, what do you do if that service is taken away from you? How do you “route around the breakage?”

If it’s your business, how do you keep from losing it, or losing valuable income and customers?

If it’s friends and family or loved ones, how do you stay connected? What if your house burns down while you’re in FB jail; how do you get hold of people to help you? What if it happens while there’s a tornado or hurricane bearing down on you? What if you’re having a personal crisis and can’t get hold of your counselor or therapist because you only connect with them through FB?

Don’t laugh. The people who get hurt the worst in disasters are the ones who don’t believe it can happen to them. So take some time to think this through and come up with some possibilities for yourself.

Some thoughts:

1) If someone is sufficiently important to you that being disconnected from them would negatively impact your life or theirs, especially if something unexpected happens, have at least two (if not three) different ways of getting in touch with them, and they with you. This can be a phone number, an email address (yes, some people still use email), Skype, whatever. Make a list of who those people are in your life. Go through your phone contacts and/or your FB friends list if necessary, and then make sure you’ve got other ways to get hold of them.

2) If you’re running your business primarily on Facebook, get a website. Hosting sites are really cheap, and a lot of them will build your website for you or give you tools to do it yourself. Because of my music business, I’ve got a website, a blog site, Twitter, Reverbnation, my own domain with email addresses, and one or two other ways of getting info out to people that Facebook can never touch. If FB went away tomorrow, I’d lose connections for a while, but I have ways of eventually getting most of them back. And tomorrow I will be posting all of my links to FB for people to hopefully connect with.

3) Consider setting up an alternate social media site and/or an alternate way of sending and receiving messages. I’m checking out MeWe right now. Instagram works for some folks. Twitter still works for some. I think you can still get free email on Gmail, if you don’t mind Google snooping in your stuff. There are others.

4) If you get into the same situation I’m in, make sure you’ve got a friend or two who can post a note to your page for you. Not *as* you, because that doesn’t work right now. But make sure that at least some trusted friends can post stuff to your FB page. For a 24-hour ban I’m not bothering, but if it were longer than that, I’d email or text someone to do that for me.

We have placed our own heads into the wolf’s mouth. We can hardly do much if the wolf decides to bite.

(With apologies to the noble Wolf for the comparison.)

Creative Week 17: Nothing new today

Hiya,

I did not finish anything this past week. And I’m choosing to not beat myself up over this.

I continue writing down interesting new ideas, lyrics, etc. I continue rehearsing the various things I’m doing. And I continue having the experiences that will feed my ability to create from that raw stuff.

I’m heading down to Key West this weekend for the tail end of Conch Republic Days. It’ll be my first time down there for this event, and I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully I’ll see a few of you there.

Cheers,

Loren

Creative Week #16: Something Fun (and timely) for Tax Day

Creative report card update: Still working on a couple of songs, including a possible update on “It’s a Wonderful Life.” All well and good. I’ve got a bunch of video from my 3/31 show that will eventually get processed; right now I’m still doing this other video project for a friend, which takes a lot of my bandwidth.

I was looking at the news online, and saw an article with the approximate title of, “What Happens if you File Your Taxes Late?” And my brain went instantly to a variant on the old “This is your brain on drugs” commercial. I found a couple of eggs in the fridge that appear to be past their “eat by” date, figured out how to do the deed without making too much of a mess, and presto – a video was born.

Here it is: https://youtu.be/rQPWBwT1qyg

I would also like to thank musician and comedian Ali Spagnola for giving me part of the idea for this video, because she’s done some similar things for other holidays. Ali, I hope to meet you someday.

I hope that Tax Day is kinder to you this year than it was to me. Cheers!