This is going to be a series of twenty-five (and maybe more later) articles about the cities and towns around the world where I have lived. First of all, some definition is required. In the childhood period, I define a place where I lived as somewhere where my parents had jobs and worked and I lived with them. In adulthood, I define a place where I lived as anywhere that I had a space of my own and worked. So for example - hotels don't count unless I was living in them for extended periods and had a job in the same town (so conferences don't count). At the moment in mid-2019, I've listed twenty-five places - there are a few places that I've left and gone back to which I don't count more than once - and since I've written pretty extensively about Hawaii - I've combined my first stint in Hawaii (2001-2008) into one place even though it included Oahu and Kauai - and made my current stay in Honolulu(2017-present) into another. This isn't a formal study or anything - but I wanted to explain my methodology. Why am I doing this? Not for any particular reason except there are interesting tidbits about each of these places - and I want to share.
So, to start - I was born in Tacoma, Washington. My father's family has been in Washington since early pioneer times. Our family is listed in the state archives as some of the first European descent settlers in the region. Mostly our family lived in the Aberdeen, Tacoma, Puyallup, and Seattle areas. My mom is a native Californian but my dad managed to get her to live in Washington for a couple of years around the time of my birth.
Tacoma is named for the Native-American name of Mt. Raineer. It is a port city and was once the terminus for the Northern Pacific Railroad. The region was mostly known for lumber and paper mills and during the 1960s and 1970s it was a pretty rough place to be. The paper mills created a fart smell that was known as 'the Tacoma Aroma'. In the early 1900s, Tacoma was a hotbed of radical union organizing and was the site of a massive wobbly (Industrial Workers of the World IWW) strike. In the 1920s, Tacoma was a formidable rival to Hollywood to become the center of the movie industry. California's better climate proved to be an insurmountable advantage. Tacoma declined in the 20th century to become one of the least livable cities in the USA with high crime, high unemployment, and many abandoned buildings. In the 1990s, the city began turning itself around - today, it is known as one of the most livable cities in the USA! Pretty amazing!
There are really two things I love about Tacoma - as a child when we would visit my grandfather - we would always take a trip to the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Point Defiance Park which itself is more than 700 acres. The zoo and aquarium are world class and made it hard for me to appreciate lessor facilities later in my life. Tacoma is also well known as a center for glass art - world renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly comes from Tacoma and his beautiful large scale glassworks are seen throughout the city.
Like many cities - there is much more to Tacoma than just this - but you will have to go there to experience it.
There's no place I've lived (with the possible exception of Hawaii) that has had such a huge effect on who I am as Bear Lake, California. My parents moved there around 1972-73 from Tacoma, Washington - most of my mom's family followed us. I lived in Big Bear for two distinct periods - my normal, privileged and happy childhood from 1973-1981 and then an incredibly dysfunctional early-teen period from 1985-1988. Like many kids, my life changed dramatically after my parents went through an ugly and violent divorce. Most of my happy childhood memories come from the 73-81 period. At the time, our family was prosperous - we were surrounded by uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, and friends. Here are some of the amazing things I remember from Big Bear Lake.Massive Snowstorms
I'm not talking about little snowstorms or a foot on the ground. I'm talking about full on blizzards where our house got buried. We had to jump out the second floor window to get out! 8-10 feet of snow. Big Bear is in the mountains above Los Angeles but it sits at an elevation of nearly 7000' feet. One great thing about all that snow was snow days, snow forts, and playing in the snow all winter long. There were two ski resorts in Big Bear in those days Snow Summit and Goldmine (now Bear Mountain). We had annual season passes at Snow Summit and ski lessons were an essential part of being a kid in Big Bear. Our winter jacket's were festooned with colored B's to denote our level. If memory serves - the Red B was the expert skiier.Big Bear Lake, Jenks Lake, Baldwin Lake
There were a number of snow fed lakes in the area, so summer was a time of swimming and water skiing. We would also wander the shallows searching for giant orange carp in the lake or fish for blu gill, bass, and trout. Jenk's Lake was a tiny lake where school trips would go to learn about nature and do camp activities. In the winter, the lakes would completely freeze over and it was common for 'dumb flatlanders' (our term for weekend visitors from L.A.) to fall through the ice.Fawnskin and Fawnskin Caverns
On one side of the lake is the tiny village of Fawnskin (which is strange because my sister is named Fawn) - as a teen, I wandered and drank all through this area. During all of the time I was living there, it was a fun pasttime to hike and climb in Fawnskin. There was a huge complex of boulder made caverns which were most fun to climb in (and most dangerous) during the winter months when they were filled with ice and snow.Old Miner's Days and Hell's Angels
Every summer there was a festival celebrating the rough and ready miner's who had flooded the valley in 49'. This weeks long festival included a multi-day burro race around the valley, burro baseball, a parade, a Miss Clementine and Mr. Kadiddlehopper Pageant, and much more. The Hell's Angels were always around during this time - in fact they loved Big Bear and were frequent visitors - they sponsored school picnics and some of the teachers were even members of the famous biker gang.Big Dick Rock
Big Bear has huge boulder piles everywhere. I'm not sure what geology created that - but every kid in Big Bear knew about 'Big Dick Rock'Big Bear Dam (old and new)
Big Bear has an old dam which is usually under water and a new dam that traffic crosses. The 'New Dam' was built in the 1930s.China Island
There's a tiny island in an area called Boulder Bay - that has a bunch of Chinese houses built on it. My aunt and uncle lived there for a year. It's scenic and pretty strange....I've heard the owner lives on Maui.The Rifle Range
There's a rifle range in Big Bear and as kids we used to go there and collect lead bullets. Sometimes when people were shooting. We got chased away many times - it was incredibly stupid.Old Mines and Cabins
Big Bear has lots of National Forest land and if you dig around in it (as we did a lot of) you will find mines, old caverns, old cabins, and in the 1970s - things like boxes of dynamite. We did incredibly stupid things with all of that stuff and somehow never killed ourselves.'Down the Hill'
When you live in Big Bear - every other place is 'down the hill' and people from other parts of California are called 'flatlanders'. Going 'down the hill' meant going to Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego, or other places.The Old Juniper Tree fort in Whispering Forest
Generations of kids have built tree forts in the old Juniper tree that sits across from my childhood home. Despite the itchy bark, the big drops, and the territoriality of kids like me - this tree has been the dreaming and hanging out space for many growing kids.Holcomb Valley
Holcomb Valley with it's decrepit town of Belleville, the abandoned shacks, hidden gold mines, rifle and shotgun casings, herds of mules and packs of coyotes, hidden springs, and deep desolate and lonely hidden places - there should be songs written about this place.The Crow's Nest, The Poop Deck, Chad's, and The Bear's Den
I don't know how many of these bars remain - but Big Bear Lake had the most colorful drinking establishment names of anywhere I've ever lived. Sure, maybe Chad's doesn't sound that exciting until you see three hundred Harley's parked in the streets in front of it. As kids, we spent a lot of time at the Big Bear Arcade across the street and would all pile out to watch bikers beat the hell out of each other in the streets during the middle of the day.The Bear Statues and Octoberfest
Bear used to have these beautiful standing bear statues that would welcome you into town. Visitors and residents would dress the bears which stood on top of rock pillars. Sometimes in snow jackets, goggles, hats, or winter gear - other times in bikinis. They were the childhood mascots to the town.
Each October there would be a week long drinking festival - I don't think there were a lot of Germans in Big Bear but there were certainly a lot of drinkers so it was a big deal. Our parents put us in a children's dance troop called the Polka Tots and we would train in Bavarian dance and travel to events throughout Southern California to dance in leiderhosen for the boys and frilly dresses and braids for the girls. It was a very strange thing to do.Pan Hot Springs
I learned to swim in beautiful thermal pools that smelled slightly of sulfur. I was never a particularly good swimmer but I will always appreciate the fact that I learned to swim in pools created by mountain hot springs.Rattlesnakes, Scorpions, Coyotes, Raccoons, Burros, Mountain Lions, and Bears
There's a lot more to remember about Big Bear - it was an amazing place to be a child - but probably the most striking memory is the proximity of nature to us. We used to encounter rattlesnakes on a regular basis - we would flip stones and catch snakes and scorpions with old glass jars. The yip yip of coyotes was a part of the lullaby that would put us to sleep and the braying of the wild burro herds would startle us awake - at which point we would watch them be chased from yards and gardens in the neighborhood. We didn't see a lot of bears in those days - but they and the mountain lions were about - we'd catch sign of them on the trails - pawprints, piles of poo, the acrid musky odor of a mountain lion or lynx.
This was my childhood. It sounds like a time long ago - and I guess as I write this it was generally four decades ago - but when I look at pictures or think about how different the world was then - it seems like it was much much longer. I love the memories of my childhood in Big Bear Lake, California.
I'm happy I had the chance to live outside of the USA as a child - I'm also glad that I got to experience Mexico first hand before the racist bigots who surrounded me growing up had a chance to completely distort my view of this beautiful country and the warm, generous, and hard working Mexican people.
was common among white people in California during the 60s, 70s, and 80s to denigrate, belittle, and trash talk about Mexican people - sadly, this was especially true in hillbilly places like Big Bear Lake which tended to be filled with bikers, outlaws, and descendants of dustbowl migrants from the 1930s. As a white person, I'm ashamed of that truth - but a truth it is.
As I mentioned though, I was heavily innoculated against it by my father making a terrible decision. "Let's rent out our house for the winter and drive to Mexico" Never mind that our car was a barely running piece of shit Ford Pinto station wagon. Off we went.
The car broke down and my father was either unable or unwilling to fix it for several months so we rented a house in Mazatlan, made friends with a bunch of Mexican people, and even attempted to go to school without knowing even a little bit of Spanish. I made some friends, played football (soccer), and played on the beach a lot. My friend Manuel and I found a dead whale on the beach once...
Eventually, mom forced dad to fix the car and back we went to Big Bear Lake where renters had trashed our house and stolen most of our possessions. That's my story - but here's a bit about Mazatlan.Mazatlan, Mexico
Mazatlan is in the state of Sinaloa - roughly parallel with the southern tip of Baja, California. This is weird given the Octoberfest connection to Big Bear Lake. Mazatlan was founded in 1531 by Spaniards and Indigenous people but it was settled largely by a group of Bavarian immigrants in the 1800s. Bring on the Polka Tots!
Mazatlan is most famous for the miles and miles of beautiful beaches, the old lighthouse and famous cliff jumpers, and the longest boardwalk promenade in the world. It was the first town in the world to suffer an aerial bombardment and for decades had the only English language newspaper in Mexico. Mazatlan is home to the largest carnival and the largest aquarium in Mexico.
I need to go back...I wonder what ever happened to Manuel?
When I write about my childhood - it sounds bizarre, even to me. Shortly after I started first grade, my father once again decided it was time to go someplace new...but once again, it didn't last long. The dynamics of my parent's relationship were already terrible - so who knows if this had something to do with it - cause or effect, at this point it doesn't really matter. In any event, my father had built a fairly successful painting business in Big Bear Lake but when he'd met my mother he had been a musician in several mildly successful bands...at some point in the 1970's he started playing music again, hanging out in nudist camps and then he started taking tai-chi lessons from a nomadic puppeteer named Rio.
A strange friendship was born. Rio was building a live in gypsy wagon on the back of a RIO truck and he and his love, Nancy - were going to move to Mendocino. While the truck was being built, we started receiving huge numbers of packages from outdoor catalogs because it turned out that Nancy had been married when she and Rio met and now she was sticking it to her husband by maxxing out his credit cards and having all the stuff sent to our house (since they lived in a tent while the truck was being built). Nancy had two lovely little girls (Spirit and Isis) and a cool little boy (Gabe) and we all became great hippie friends. Rio was this amazing young Gandolph figure - he was a puppeteer, a carpenter and tai-chi master - his truck was being built as a traveling stage for his puppet shows.
Once the truck was built and all the dried foods, survival gear, etc was loaded - it was time to go and Dad once again decided he would rent out our house as an income property and leave all of our possessions locked in the garage/storeroom he had built. Off we went...I think my dad was planning on starting a new band or something, but we ended up in Mendocino. We rented a creepy white house that was high on a bluff above the ocean. I'm pretty sure it was haunted or that some Manson murder shit had gone down there. My brother and I were enrolled in school in nearby Fort Bragg and all went well that winter - except in terms of my parent's marriage. Dad and Rio would disappear for weeks at a time. Eventually, mom had enough and we packed it all up and went back to our house in Big Bear where once again, short term renters had trashed our house, broken into the storeroom, and stolen anything of value.
That's my personal story of Mendocino - but here is a bit about the town itself:Mendocino, California
Mendocino, just north of San Francisco was founded in 1850 as a lumber town because of the proximity to the mighty and beautiful redwoods. In the 1940s it became a sort of artist colony and has been known as such ever since. The town sits on huge bluffs above the Pacific Ocean and is home to one of the oldest Chinese temples in the USA, dating back to 1854. The temple of Kwan Yin is dedicated to the goddess of medicine and peace.
Mendocino has appeared in a lot of Hollywood productions, most prominent was the TV Series "Murder She Wrote" in which the town was fronted as being a village in Maine. It's a beautiful and cool place. Here's a few bizarre facts -
After a super ugly divorce in Big Bear Lake, California - my mom was ready to go as far away from my Dad as she could - my dad seemed happy to be a single guy without kids encumbering his rock star lifestyle - so no one stood in the way of mom marrying a super tall alcoholic doucehebag wanna-be cowboy who was barely out of his teens. We left our last happy childhood home for the last time. This time there would be no return. He decided that the best thing to do with his wealthy new bride was to move her and her three kids as far away from where her family could interfere with his fucked up, violent, and drug fueled life choices. He moved us to Canyonville, Oregon - which, to be fair, is a pretty nice little Oregon town - but which for all of us became the gateway to hell. While he looked for the ranch of his dreams, we were all crammed into a tiny little house with a half dozen dogs - the house had been a drug dealers before we moved into it and it wasn't uncommon for bikers and other shit-bags to come waltzing in the door looking for 'Jim' at all hours of the night. Guns were a regular part of our lives at this point. The shithole biker bar next door "The Snake Pit" was where mom and her new boss (because she just did whatever he told her to or he would beat the shit out of her) spent the majority of their time. We met a whole new class of bikers - not the friendly Hells Angels of Big Bear but the drug fueled and violent Gypsy Jokers.
On the positive side - we had a cherry tree and Canyon Creek ran behind the house. We would go down and catch crawdads by the bucketfull and cook them up with butter and garlic. I used to get old fashioned milkshakes from a place with a cow on the roof. Canyonville itself is set in a beautiful part of Southern Oregon and when we weren't witnesses or victims of domestic violence and substance abuse - we swam in country swimming holes, hiked through beautiful pine forests, and spent time on the ranch of a family who saw the hell we were in, but werent willing to involve themselves further than letting us spend time with them. We were there for a bit less than a year (4th grade) ...and then we moved to nearby Myrtle Creek - which I will write about next. Here is a bit about Canyonville, Oregon that is outside of my experience.Canyonville, Oregon
Canyonville has a population of about 1800 people (honestly, I thought it was larger) and sits in an area known as the 'Banana Belt' in Southern Oregon. It is classified as having a 'Mediterranean Climate' though, I've lived in the Mediterranean and Canyonville both and would beg to differ. Winters are cold, wet, grey, and rainy. Canyonville is the third oldest city in Oregon and was a stopping point of the Applegate Trail (part of the Oregon Trail migration) It is where the North Umpqua and South Umpqua Rivers meet and is a great spot for fishing, hunting, and outdoor recreation. Canyonville sits alongside Interstate-5 which runs from Canada to Mexico and is the main north/south interstate on the West Coast of the United States. Canyonville is most famous for President Rutherford B. Hayes once having lunch there. Today the 7-Feathers Casino is the big draw in Canyonville, but it was not there when I was a kid. When I was a kid, the biggest part of the economy was logging and mining at the nearby Hannah Nickel Mine in Riddle, Oregon. Ranching, farming, and resource extraction were the lifeblood of Canyonville in those days. These days, I've heard that it is the casino and meth production.
I have fonder memories of Myrtle Creek than my siblings do. I think it's because I've blocked out much of the horror and mayhem. They refer to the place we lived as 'The Death Farm' and honestly, that's pretty much what it was. My mother's new master didn't find the ranch of his dreams in Canyonville, but not far away in beautiful Myrtle Creek, Oregon he found a place that when I remember it - really was a slice of heaven (if only you could have removed the adults from it). It was an 18 acre ranch with a beautiful 10 acre pasture in the front that sat next to gorgeous Bilger Creek - a small stream that flowed year round. It had a sweet well and as many as five springs that flowed sweetly from the old growth timbered mountain behind - which made up most of the other eight acres. There was a small barn, a wood-shop, a garden, outhouses, a wood shed, and - a decent (when we moved in) double wide trailer with a covered porch that looked out over the pasture and stream. There were wild deer, quail, rabbits, trout, pheasants, and chucker. To pay for it, he more or less made mom trade all the property she'd gotten out of the marriage with my dad and also rented our childhood house to his scumbag friends so they could take over the mortgage - they didn't pay the mortgage and she lost the house, he and mom didn't pay the new mortgage and they lost the farm too. Plus she lost lots in Big Bear, 10 acres in Ennis, Montana, and all the savings she had. It was a costly marriage for all of our lives.
The problem with the farm was that the drug addict/alchoholic/violent tempered cowboy who was in charge of our lives wanted to have wolf dogs and farm animals. So, we had chickens, goats, cows, geese, a horse - and we had the wolf dogs which broke their chains and killed all of our farm animals - and then got shot by the neighbors. Everything died on that farm except for us. I learned to shoot, to survive in the wilds, to forage, and to hunt on that farm - it was a necessity. Our so called parents were in the town bars more than they were in the home - so we mostly fended for ourselves. I remember nice church people bringing us food and even Christmas presents one year after the asshole smashed the Christmas tree and presents because we little kids cried because we wanted to open presents on Christmas Eve (which had been our family tradition) instead of waiting for Christmas Day (his family tradition). So, not all of my memories are fond of that place but I spent a lot of time learning the outdoors and growing to appreciate nature, and learning how to be alone - skills that all served me well in life. I finally abandoned my younger sister and went to live with my long lost father after finding the asshole cowboy standing above my mother after he had broken her back - I had just come in from hunting pheasants so I used the gun to make him leave her alone. My mother begged me not to shoot him, so I didn't - but probably should have. In any event, I couldn't stay there any longer. My dad had come back into our lives that year after a near 5-year absence with a big shopping trip to a warehouse store where he bought me my dream machine, a Commodore 64 computer but he balked at actually spending the money to buy me the floppy drive and monitor I needed to go with it so I had to learn how to code my own games in BASIC and used an old black and white TV as my monitor. So, off to my father's I went (back in Big Bear Lake)- I felt guilty leaving my sister, but she didn't want to leave our mother - even though I begged her to. I missed the nature of Myrtle Creek. I'd had a little gold mining setup in the creek, a tree-fort filled with books on the back lot, and a dozen hide outs that were all my own.
On the positive note, I had a great art teacher and a great English teacher at the middle school there, Coffenberry Jr. High. On the down side, the math teacher beat me and several other kids so severely with paddles that I was withdrawn from his class and was compelled to testify against him in court. I had liked math up until that point - but the beatings ended that particular love affair for years. On another positive note - my mother eventually escaped from the monster. He went on to marry another monster and the two of them abused and stole from senior citizens until they were caught - several seniors (including his own grandparents and great grandparents) had died under their care and had been compelled to bequest the two of them all of their property and money. When he was caught - he ended his own life with a shotgun - so, he got at least part of what he deserved.Myrtle Creek, Oregon
With a little over 3500 people, Myrtle Creek has twice the population and half the charm of nearby Canyonville. The South Umpqua River flows on one side of the town which disconnects it from nearby I-5, which has done the town no good. There is virtually no reason why anyone should ever want to go to Myrtle Creek in my opinion - but in the past few years there have been several little farm businesses, an innovative hamburger shop and a few other positive improvements in the place. And, it's a very pretty place if you can get past the poverty, addiction, and domestic violence.
I didn't go straight from Myrtle Creek, Oregon to Redding, California. Instead, I went back to Big Bear Lake where I lived with my father for a little less than two years - he wasn't a suitable parent for anyone - let alone a kid who had suffered through the hell that I'd been through in Oregon - so it didn't really work out. He was still living and loving his rock star lifestyle. He was in bands, had girlfriends, bought a boat, had a nice house on the lake, bought a corvette, disappeared for days at a time (and once came back from Vegas with a new wife - which lasted a couple of weeks). He didn't have the attention span nor the patience to be the father I needed and as a result I was allowed to fall into company that led me astray. By the time he noticed that I was running around with criminal youth, it was too late for him to do anything about it - we fought and I ran away from home several times. I bounced around from place to place - eventually moving in with one of the girlfriends he'd dumped along the way. She was sweet and while she had her own problems, she was the first adult I'd known in years who acted like a parent.
Eventually, my mom escaped from her monstrous husband and came back to Big Bear. She quickly found a new younger husband. He was a solid and good guy who had no idea what he was getting into - but he stuck with it and somehow made it all work. My sister lived with our grandmother at this point and my brother had gone his own way. After they had been married for more than a year, I moved in with my mom and her new husband. At about this point, they decided to move to Redding, California. All the way on the other end of the state.
There are many people who love Redding. I'm not one of them. It was hot, the town was filled with tweekers, and I was an angry 16, 17, and 18 year old when I lived there. I graduated from Shasta High School and on the advice of my step-father joined the Marines and got out of Redding as quickly as I could. I'd gotten in some trouble with alcohol at the homecoming game. My overworked public defender suggested that the judge would go easier if I was enlisted in the military. I took her advice and joined the branch my step-father had been in. It was a stupid thing to do - I should have enrolled in Stanford and moved to the Bay Area - I was smart enough, but not smart enough, if you get my drift.
Looking back, a lot of my anger came from other places and the truth is - Redding was pretty good to me. I was dating cheerleaders and had some great quality friends, if anything, my issues were that I chose to spend time with other people who were serious losers - I was surrounded by drugs, guns, and violence. On weekends, we would all drive around downtown Redding to meet up, find parties, and find trouble. It was called 'The Cruise' and it was outlawed sometime later in the 1990s.
Redding was the first place I saw a person killed - I was at a party and a local gang called 'The Winds' showed up looking for a guy ( I didn't know him - he was a drifter wandering through). They found him at the party and beat him to death with bottles (I presume he died because I can't imagine anyone surviving that), they then put his body in a blanket and threw it in the back of a truck and drove off. I saw all of this while hiding in a slatted door closet with the girl who lived in the house. I never saw a news story about it - so maybe he didn't die, but at the time, I was certain I had just witnessed a murder. We all had - there were at least ten people who saw it - but when the police showed up, none of us wanted to be the one to point their finger at the gang members - we'd just seen what would happen if we did.
I left Redding shortly after that and I never looked back though I have visited my mom from time to time over the past thirty years.Redding, California
Redding is a city surrounded by the wonders of nature. Drive in almost any direction and you are sure to find something mind blowing. Mt. Shasta , Mt. Lassen, Shasta Lake, the Sacramento River, Whiskeytown Lake, the Trinity Alps, Burney Falls, Shasta Caverns and much more. Like many of the towns I lived in growing up, Redding sits on Interstate 5 (I-5). It has a population of about 90,000 and was originally called Poverty Flats. Redding has a rich mining and timber harvesting history and as such - fell into hard times in the 80s and 90s when those industries declined. It has never really recovered, though it has tried. There are a number of prisons that surround Redding and this contributes to the economy - also, many of the prisoners stay in the area when they are released of furloughed and sometimes their families move to Redding while they are incarcerated.
Temperatures in Redding often push the 120 degrees Fahrenheit mark and locals are smart to spend time in the Sacramento River or the area's many lakes.
I would love to say that I had lived in San Diego, but Marine Corps Boot Camp and Marine Corps Combat Training don't really classify as living - and that was all the experience I had in San Diego and San Onofre. I'd left Redding by joining the Marines (which again, for the record, was a stupid decision - if I would have had good guidance from the adults around me - I would have gone to college at Stanford or Berkley). The Marines had been impressed by my test scores and promised me a career in aviation. I'd always dreamed of being an astronaut and becoming a pilot seemed like a good step in that direction.
Unfortunately, I'd been misled. You needed to be an officer to become a pilot and after bootcamp, my choices were to either become an enlisted navigator or an air traffic controller. During the flight swim qualification, the beefy monster I was trying to demonstrate rescue technique on decided he should really ham it up as a drowning victim and dragged us both under. That left air traffic control (ATC). ATC school was in Millington, Tennessee - near Memphis. I'd been told that because of my scores, I would be assigned to one of the bases I'd chosen on my 'dream sheet' but that was a lie. Instead of being sent to Okinawa, Japan or Kaneohe, Hawaii or even San Onofre, California - the USMC sent me to Millington,Tennessee and Jacksonville, North Carolina. These were the only places I saw during my time in the service and frankly, both of them were cesspools.
I liked Memphis. I loved the blues bars, Beale Street, and the whole black southern vibe of the place. Millington, on the other hand, was a typical military pit filled with strip bars, tattoo shops, pawn shops, and other businesses that appeal to 18-20 year old men who are away from home for the first time - as well as the predators that prey on them. Millington was filled with hustlers, scamsters, sharks, and criminal elements preying on the military. I got my first fake ID in Millington, I was 19 and about 5'7" - pretty obviously male. The ID said I was 24, female, and 6'3" - but it worked everywhere I went.
I did what you might expect in Millington. I was robbed once in Millington and I got jumped and beaten by a group of angry guys on a corner in Memphis once. My crime was being an obvious military guy, by himself waiting for friends to show up. Memphis gave me a lifelong love of the blues and a taste for soul food and Southern barbecue. I lived there for a bit over four months.Millington, Tennessee
I can't really say very much about Millington. The base closure and realignment act of 1993 changed the base and I'm sure the town is different now as well. If I would have enlisted a few years later, my 'A School' would have been in Pensacola, Florida - which is a much more desirable location. It was in Millington that I first learned the term 'Hobo Jungle' - it was one of the places forbidden for us military personnel to go - the bushes where the hoboes drank. Millington was a transient camp in the 1930s during the great depression and apparently the hobo jungles never went away.
I joined the Marines to see the world and escape Redding, California - unfortunately, they only showed me bootcamp in San Diego, California - Marine Combat Training in San Onofre, Californi - Air Traffic Control School in Millington Tennessee - and then they shuffled me to Jacksonville, North Carolina. The good news is I never had to go to war but the bad news was that the places they showed me were worse than the places I was trying to get away from. I was in Jacksonville for a nearly three and a half years. I was posted at the New River Air Station as an Air Traffic Controller. I achieved the rank of Sergeant, the positions of Supervisor, Trainer, and Crew Chief, and while I was stuck in the anus of North Carolina - I had the opportunity to explore what is otherwise, a pretty beautiful state. North Carolina has the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Outer Banks, Asheville, Boone, Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Wilmington, and much more - but Jacksonville had nothing but shitty strip bars, too many Marines, and the people who relied on them for an economy. I can recommend nothing about Jacksonville, North Carolina except not going there. Since I was nineteen but allowed to drink on the base, I didn't have a life off the base, and there was virtually nothing to do on the base - I developed a fairly severe drinking problem. The reason nineteen year olds aren't allowed to drink in society is because they aren't old enough to do it responsibly - so thank you, Uncle Sam, for giving me a way to waste all my money, destroy my health, and not deal with life while I was stuck in a shithole.Jacksonville, North Carolina
Jacksonville has a population of approximately 70,000 - the average age is 22.8 years which is because of the tens of thousands of Marines based at Camp Geiger, Camp Lejeune, New River Air Station, and nearby Cherry Point.
Raleigh, North Carolina was the first place in my life that I ever chose to live. Everywhere before had been chosen by my parents or chosen by the Marine Corps. When I ended my active duty in 1994, I looked around the USA for where I wanted to live. It was scary. I thought about moving back to California, but frankly, my experience with Redding, Big Bear Lake, and the bases in San Diego had soured me on my home state. I look back and realize that's a bit of a shame as 1994 was a great time be in California.
Instead, I looked to the only real city I had ever spent considerable time in. My brother and his wife had moved to Raleigh while I was still on active duty. I loved taking leave and visiting with them. At this point in my life, Raleigh seems like a small city or a big town - but at that point - it was amazing! There were bagel shops and Middle Eastern markets! There were bars and coffee shops and business districts. There were hotels that were more than two stories high and there were universities...and there were girls. Oh, goodness yes, there were so many girls. One of the worst things about being stationed in Jacksonville, North Carolina was that there were 50,000 male Marines all prowling around for the same 3,000 girls. I'm not even close to six foot but most of those guys were - and during my entire time stationed at New River Air Station, I only went on a dozen dates - and only three or four followups. So, Raleigh? It looked like heaven to me. There were educated people, entrepreneurs, a variety of religions and religious experiences - it was nothing short of awesome.
I moved in with my brother and his wife while I waited for one of my good buddies from the USMC to complete his enlistment. I got a job at the tallest hotel in Raleigh working on the top floor at the bar where all the State Senators and Representatives hung out when the legislature was in session. My brother and his wife had opened a furniture store and were renting a big Victorian house - the landlady was a real piece of work and one day when I got home from work my brother told me "Pack up, we're moving." We moved into the warehouse they had rented for their furniture. For the next month or so there was only a thin sheet of plywood between where I slept and the tire warehouse next door.
Finally, my buddy got out and we rented a townhouse. He got a job in the same restaurant and we lived it up! I enrolled at North Carolina State, I joined the Rugby club, bought an old motorcycle, and life was really good. My brother and his wife bought a house and my friend Mike and I went to raves, clubbed, met girl after girl after girl, worked in the 'Top of the Tower' and brought home good money as bartenders. It was a golden year...and then a girl came along. I met her, she sat at my bar and I fell into her eyes - she said she would wait for me to finish work and we would go out. Mike came in, he was already off work - he suggested they go somewhere else and meet me later - and that was it. They were a thing and I was resentful as hell.
When they broke up, I didn't waste any time, I swooped in and scooped her up. She was still sleeping in the same house but in a different room and honestly, no friendship can survive that shit. Mike moved out and the whole thing became sort of ugly - she and I started planning a move to the West Coast - somewhere. We poured over maps and books and guides - we narrowed it down to three places: Boulder, Colorado or Las Cruces, New Mexico or Bellingham, Washington. I was sort of like "Fuck it, I lost my best friend but I have this awesome girl I'm in love with" except - part of the reason she wanted to move to Boulder, it turned out, was because she was involved with another guy who had moved there and as things got more complicated with us, she pined for him. Suddenly, I was completely fucking lost.
I started spending more than I was earning, maxxed out my credit cards, bought the huge 4x4 truck of my dreams, and packed everything I owned (including my dog, Scooby Doo) and moved out of my apartment, dropped out of school, sold my motorcycle and set off for Bellingham, Washington.Raleigh, North Carolina
Raleigh is the capital of the state of North Carolina. It has about half a million people in it and is the home of North Carolina State University and the Research Triangle Park (which also includes nearby Durham and Chapel Hill - the combined area has about 2 million people). Raleigh is an amazing place. There are a lot of very smart people living there and as such there are great book stores, art galleries, shows, exhibitions, museums and other interesting things to see and do. Raleigh is a beautiful city with a rich history and a vibrant cultural heritage.
Thinking of Bellingham, Washington always makes me happy. I'm not going to lie and tell you that my life there was always happy, but for me, Bellingham was a magical place. I rolled in during the worst blizzard in decades. I wasn't worried, I had a huge 4x4 and had first learned to drive on mountain roads in blizzard conditions up in Big Bear Lake.
I'll never forget those moments on January 2nd, 1996, of driving up I-5 and seeing frozen waterfalls on the side of the highway as I blasted Rusted Root and the Grateful Dead on my far too expensive car stereo system. My dog was next to me, everything I owned was in the back of the truck, and the world was good. I'd left my terrible childhood memories, my troubled times in the Marine Corps, and all the drama with the girl in Raleigh behind. I'd been the one pushing for Bellingham when we were talking about moving together. She'd wanted either Boulder or Las Cruces - this was my town.
My dark blue 1988 full size Ford Bronco with big ass tires had brought me through the Rockies and across the continent. I'd passed through and by Redding, Canyonville, Myrtle Creek, and Tacoma without stopping. I had no idea where I would live, what work I would do, or what would happen - but Bellingham would be home for the next five years except a couple of small breaks in Juneau, Alaska and London, England in 1998.
I got a coffee at a hippie coffee house on High Street and began looking for work and a place to live using The Echo - a free classified newspaper - it was like Craigslist but in newspaper form. I quickly fell in love with KISM 92.9 FM Independent Rock - the most amazing radio station I'd ever listened to. Great DJs, amazing announcers, absolutely amazing music programming, and superb fun shows. The morning show DJ, Dave Walker, would end every show with his tagline "You live in the coolest place in the world, go out and enjoy it."
He wasn't lying. Bellingham has everything. The San Juan Islands, Mt. Baker, the Northern Cascades, the Alaska Ferry system, great music and art scenes, Western Washington University, amazing literary talent, beautiful gardens and forests, spectacular beaches, and four glorious seasons.
Those first months in Bellingham weren't easy. No one wanted a new roommate with a dog but finally, I found a house full of heroin addicts who rented me a room. I got a job at a saw mill in Ferndale, Washington. The junkies were too much for me - it was a constant threat situation and it came down to either living with the junkies and having my dog or finding my dog a new home so that I could find a new home. Using The Echo, I found a cool guy with a cool family who loved my dog. It was heartbreaking, but it was my only option. After that, I found a very cool roommate situation in the hippie burg of Fairhaven on the south side of Bellingham. The guy who adopted my dog helped me to find a job with the company he painted for. I escaped from the mill and the heroin house. It was a tough decision, but it was the right one.
As a painter I made a bunch of new friends. I also made new friends through my new roommate, Alyssa. Every day, I listened to 92.9 FM while I was working. One day, I told my co-worker - I'm going to get a job at that radio station. At a blues festival hosted by the station, I saw my chance. I met the programming director, a guy named Ken Richards who was also one of the DJs - I cornered him in the beer tent and told him "I want to work for 92.9 FM, I don't care what it takes - I'll clean toilets if I have to." He gave me his card and told me to call him the next week. I did. He offered me a job as an producer/intern on 'The Morning Deal' - I would have to quit my painting job and it was a serious pay cut, but I took it.
Over the next year, I managed to take every job that came available. I took the late night DJ slots, became the full time producer of The Morning Deal, did part time work for the station's engineer cleaning the garage, cutting brush, wiring new equipment in - anything - then I took a job as a commercial copy writer. Radio didn't pay great, but I loved it. That guy who I'd heard when I first rolled into town "You live in the coolest place in the world, so go out and enjoy it" - he became one of my best friends. I started writing a weekly column for The Echo called Rambling Man. Between the radio and The Echo, I was suddenly kind of famous. I had also enrolled at Whatcom Community College. My life was full and beautiful. I met a great girl and we began seeing each other.
The girl was great but she had two children from previous relationships and I wasn't ready to be anyone's dad. Then, one day, I met a girl I fell head over heels for - she was all I could think about for years. I pursued her with a single minded determination that utterly failed. All she ever wanted from me was my friendship, but I wanted more. That desire (the root of all suffering) destroyed me, destroyed my ego, and left me disjointed and dis-satisfied. It left me completely unsettled despite my very cool life, great friends, minor fame, and decent income. I wanted her and since I couldn't have her, I wanted more from every other aspect of my life.
In 1998, I bought a 1976 VW bus, left my job at the station and moved out of my apartment. I decided to go to Alaska and see if I could shake the sickness that had enveloped my soul. It didn't work. I sold the bus and went to London, England to pursue something else - but it didn't work. My desire for her was like a fungus that had grown inside me and wouldn't let me do anything else. In both places (and in Bellingham) opportunities were presented to me like golden apples - but I could see nothing but her. I kept coming back, trying to impress her, trying to win her. It didn't work.
Back in Bellingham, I started a magazine and co-founded an early internet startup. Once again, there were plentiful opportunities presented to me in work, in life, and in love - but she was all I saw or wanted. It was a sickness, this love and obsession - and whenever I would find myself healing from it - then she would appear - at a party, a call out of the blue, in the street, at a coffee shop, or showing up at my door. She wanted me in her life and yet, the one thing she didn't want was a romantic relationship with me. It was all I wanted. Finally, I realized, I just had to get away from her. She wasn't doing it on purpose, but she had eaten my soul.
I took a tech job at a start-up in Seattle. The first months involved a four-hour commute each day from Bellingham but eventually, I rented a house in Green Lake with new co-workers. The girl would show up still or she would call me - but I was healing - I was recognizing that I needed to end the friendship and put some emotional distance between us. It still amazes me that she never wanted me - and I still wonder what the world might have been like if she had. She's the one part of Bellingham that doesn't make me happy when I remember that place.
In any event, that's what led to me leaving Bellingham, abandoning my startup, and changing my life - again.Bellingham, Washington
Bellingham is a treasure. It sits 20 miles south of the Canadian Border and 90 miles north of Seattle. It is sandwiched between the San Juan Islands and the North Cascade Range of mountains. There are about 92,000 people who live in Bellingham and it is the northernmost city in the USA with a population of more than 50,000. There are numerous lakes, streams, waterfalls, and great hiking, mountain biking, and outdoor recreation of all kinds in the area. Summers don't get hotter than about 90 Fahrenheit and winters can get incredibly cold - well below zero if caught in a Nor'easter. The population of Bellingham has nearly doubled since the time I arrived there - I've heard that Fairhaven is now more of a retirement community than a hippie burg - which is too bad. As a side note - I've just looked at the cost of buying or renting a family home in Bellingham due in no small part to nostalgia in writing this - it turns out that the increase in population has led to a housing shortage - good old B'ham, which used to be cheap - is now way out of range for nearly everyone with rents nearly as high as in Honolulu and Seattle...All I have to say is it's a damn shame...
As I mentioned, things in Bellingham were going pretty well for me in 1998 and life was good. I had traded my TV and VCR for a broken down VW bus through a thing we did at 92.9 FM called Tradio... I got the bus running and outfitted it for an adventure. I moved out of my house, bought a ferry ticket to Alaska, and set out.
It was May and the journey up the inside passage was incredible. I'll write about it sometime in the future. When I arrived in Juneau, my plan was to live in the bus, find a job, and learn everything I could about Alaska. My uncle owned a restaurant (The Hangar on the Wharf) in Juneau and I stopped by to say hello and see if he knew anyone hiring. I didn't know him well, but he proved to be my favorite family member (besides my siblings) - no offense to anyone else in my family, but he was the first person I'd met in my family who actually seemed to get me.
He landed me a job working at his girlfriend's knife shop. I found an amazing spot to set up camp out at Eagle Glacier but after about a week of freezing and a particularly terrifying night when I had a group of bears circling around my VW van. It was me and my dog Shakra at that point - she was blue heeler and timber wolf. Small but bold. She was a great frisby dog and a great friend. In any event, after that night, I realized I needed to rent an apartment.
I found a little place above the Alaskan Hotel (the only place you can drink an Alaskan with an Alaskan in the Alaskan). To pay for the apartment, I needed a second job so I got a bartending job at the top of the Mt. Roberts Tramway. About two weeks into that job, a bunch of movie people including the director John Sayles came into my bar. They were making a movie called 'Limbo' in Juneau and their craft services director had just quit. They liked me (because I'm a likable bartender) and offered me the job. The pay was better and the hours were longer and it was a chance to break into Hollywood. I've always been a storyteller and I dreamed about writing a screenplay and seeing it produced.
It was an amazing summer. I've had some great summers, but that one - truly mind blowing in terms of people, romance, fun, adventure - Juneau is a very special place. Maybe I should have stayed - but I didn't. Alaska is a hard drinking place and some of the movie people I was working with - they were hard partiers - especially my good buddy and assistant Danny - and to be completely honest, I'd been suffering from PTSD and using alcohol to deal with it for years - I went off the rails in binge drinking. At the wrap party, I drank too much and 'gave it back' to the people who had been the worst to me on the set - if you've ever worked on a movie set, Craft Service is the bottom of the hill that shit rolls down - a couple of people, including John Sayles wife (a producer) and the 1st Assistant Director, had been absolutely awful to me. I got drunk and told them off. John Sayles is notorious for keeping the same people around him and inviting those who work well back to his next films. I was never invited.
For some reason, I sold my VW van, moved out of my apartment, and then caught the ferry back to Bellingham with my dog. When I got there - I found out that my grandmother had just died. She and I were very close. She had rescued us many times from our hellish childhood in Myrtle Creek. I was devastated. I didn't know what to do. It was October and I booked a ticket to England with the idea of seeing the Isle of Skye in Scotland where her family had come from.Juneau, Alaska
Juneau is the capital of Alaska. It is located in Southeast Alaska on the Alaska panhandle fronting the Gastineau Channel. Like, Honolulu, it is a state capital that connects to no other states by road. Juneau has about 31,000 residents and an abundance of natural and outdoor resources. They say that the quickest way to make a million dollars in Juneau is to start with 2-million. It's an expensive place to live and relies on the industries of mining, fishing, oil, and government for its economy. Juneau is a major stop for cruise ships and the downtown is sometimes flooded with plastic bag poncho wearing tourists from the ships. It rains frequently in the warmer months and the days are long. Juneau is one of the only places I've ever been where I was drinking beer with friends on the beach in the sunshine and then realized it was 3 a.m. and the sun hadn't yet gone down. Juneau is an amazing place filled with opportunity and a different kind of people that embody hard work, hard play, and doing things in their own way.
I've spent a fair amount of time in London - but the only time I lived there was a brief stint at the end of 1998. I showed up at the invitation of my friend Danny, who had been my assistant and rowdy drinking companion while working on John Sayles film LIMBO in Juneau, Alaska. I went to the UK on a whim and without any planning - my adventures were many - I was captured and enslaved by a gang of Irish Gypsies as I hitched along the motorway near Rugby - they forced me to break up pavement and concrete for about a week before I made a daring escape - but that is another story. I illegally rode the rails all the way to Scotland, met a beautiful girl in Drumnadrochit along the shores of the Loch Ness, and visited the ancestral home of my grandmother's clan on the Isle of Skye - the McCleod Castle - where I left one of her scarves as a memento and took some flowers from the garden which I dried in my journal. But none of that is what I'm writing about right now.
When I got back to London, I was even more out of money than I had been when I arrived. Danny and I quickly drank away the rest of my reserves and he allowed me to move into his parents house with him - they were surprised, but also agreed. His mother, finding out I was a writer hired me as a casting assistant. She was a powerful redheaded woman who usually had a phone to each ear. She had me read scripts and scour through casting books to find the actors who fit the parts. I got to work on Angela's Ashes and several other films in this way, but without getting anywhere near the set. She took me to prestigious lunches and tried to introduce me to the right people. At the famous Groucho Club, Jude Law and I began doing shots and it ended with him passing out and me getting kicked out!
It was an amazing period to be in London - a few notable concerts were Billy Bragg and Depeche Mode (the Singles Tour). I was too young and stupid to realize the access I was being granted to the rich, famous, wealthy, and powerful. Ultimately, I wasted the opportunities that were shoved at me.
Still, it was a fun and exciting time - but I was drinking far too much and not saving anything. A few friends I'd made in the exhilarating worlds of London cinema, publishing, art, and music began fucking around with heroin and that was always the place where I'd drawn the line - I was fine with the underground bar scene and pretty much everything else - but needles going into arms was in my red zone - and honestly, if you weren't a full part of the party, nobody wanted to party with you. It was time for me to leave.
Instead of heading to France and across Europe, I opted to go back to Bellingham, back to radio, back to the life I'd left behind. I hadn't yet learned that you can never go back. I did alright back in Bellingham, but as I wrote before -eventually, I needed to leave so I went to the nearest major metropolitan area. I landed in Seattle.London, England
London is the largest city in England and the United Kingdom. It is one of the most important cities in the world. It has a population of about 9 million people. It is a center of fashion, literature, film, art, food, and much much more. There's not much that can be said about London that hasn't been said elsewhere. I spent the night sleeping on a bench in Regent's Park one night and was woke up in the morning by a flock of ducks. I used to spend a good deal of time in the British Museum and exploring the rare book shops nearby. The Tate Modern is a must go-to and the scary haunted Tower Bridge experience under the Tower Bridge is a hair raising experience. The weather isn't fantastic most of the time, but you don't need to be outside in London - there is an abundance of indoor activities. Also, we're humans so we can dress for any weather. At the time, London still had a terrible reputation for both the food and the weather. I was there at the height of the 'Essex Girl' phenomenon - which despite the negatives that time has heaped upon her - was something that I am very glad I did not miss.
I loved living in Seattle. I had been there for the protests that shut down the WTO in 1999. Seattle has great art, music, food, museums, and is surrounded by some of the most epic nature of any city in the world. I probably would have stayed there if the start up I was working for, TechPlanet, hadn't of been an early crash and burn victim of the dot com crash in 2000. When I first started working there, I was commuting and after that couch surfing during the work week with friends in Shoreline and coworkers in Greenwood. Techplanet sent a bunch of us to Houston to take a crash course and become network engineers and all around tech gurus and after that three of us from the same cohort and office rented a house in Green Lake. We had stock options, we had good salaries, we were working in one of the fastest growing and best funded dot-com startups of that era - and then the venture capital dried up and one day we went to work and the corporate office in Menlo Park, California had simply closed. Suddenly, there weren't all that many jobs in tech and those with more experience snapped up the jobs at Microsoft and Amazon.
One of my room mates became an insurance salesman, another one teamed up with some of the other guys from our old office to try to build a consulting firm, and I bought a VW van, got a job as a community organizer with ACORN (Association of Communities Organizing for Reform Now) and began attending a lot of anti-capitalist, anti-government rallies and meetings. ACORN trained me in identifying discontent, organizing community members, and working towards legislative and social change (they also trained President Obama in this). I was working in poor communities like White Center and South Seattle and I was mainly working with people who were the victims of predatory lenders. Their neighborhoods were being gentrified and they were being preyed on by companies like Countrywide Mortgage. It was agonizing and horrifying work. It was terrible to see what was being done. These were the early days of what would lead to the Great Recession of 2008 and the robbers were feasting on the flesh of the poor with impunity. I suggested radical action - too radical for ACORN - specifically, a neighborhood group I'd organized in South Seattle said they didn't want the gentrification to continue AND they wanted the police to have more presence in the community - I suggested they break a window in the new local Starbucks every night. ACORN asked me to leave.
I moved out of my house, moved into my bus and began writing what would eventually become my first book Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond. The first title was Our Time is Our Own. My goal was to move into my bus and demonstrate and document a viable alternative to what I had begun referring to as 'the money chase'. I lived in my VW van, did gig work on the side including ghost writing, web design, tile work, yard work, dumpster diving, book selling, and whatever else I could find. I endeavored to learn how to 'work the system' like 'the system was working everyone' and I used everything I could figure out - food stamps, unemployment, food banks, soup kitchens. I became a full time activist working with newspaper strikers, Food Not Bombs, and every other cause I felt sympathy for. It was a lot of work to not have a job. By winter, I was exhausted and it was getting too cold to sleep in a bus. In summer and spring it had been easy to find girls to cuddle with who wanted to explore my alternative lifestyle - but in winter - I was cold and alone most of the time.
One day in December of 2000, I drove up to Bellingham to see friends. I stopped at a Native American Casino along the way. I hit a jackpot on the slot machine of $1700. On the way back to Seattle the next day, I hit another jackpot of $1900. I bought a ticket to China and applied for a job teaching English north of Beijing. They offered me the job. I flew out of Seattle at 10:45 am on February 28, 2001. The Nisqually Earthquake hit ten minutes later. It was a 6.8 m earthquake and shut down the airport! It was quite a send off!Seattle, Washington
Seattle is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and while it isn't the political capitol of Washington, it is the cultural capitol. With a total metropolitan population of about 4 million Seattle has a bit of everything you could want - unless you want more than two months of sunshine a year.
Seattle has an amazing jazz and arts scene. It is the home to Amazon, Costco, Microsoft, the Seattle Seahawks, the Seattle Mariners, Starbucks, Nordstrom and many other big businesses and teams. I'm grateful to have been there when the Sonics still played there.
In the year 2001, after wandering around China, traipsing through Laos, Thailand, and Malaysia and then wandering over to the massive island of Sumatra in Indonesia - I somehow found myself in the tiny little town of Parapat on the shores of Glorious Lake Toba drinking coconut wine with a guitar wielding Batak freedom fighter. We were instant best friends and after a couple of days surrounded by the beautiful Batak people - I was offered a job teaching English at the New Bridge English School. I accepted.
I rented a small room above the school and began my first job as an Indonesia English teacher. It was amazing and wonderful. My students were excited and attentive, the staff of the school were professional and friendly, and on the first weekend, I met a local girl who taught English in Medan and came home on the weekends. She was my beautiful Mona Lisa and I think perhaps that I should have married her, but ultimately, it wasn't meant to be and both she and I now have families of our own. So, perhaps things went as they were written.
I stayed until the violence in nearby Aceh province became a concern. I had multiple families of my students express concern for my safety and suggest that I should leave - I really didn't want to leave - but it was becoming more and more dangerous and ultimately, it seemed the best idea.
The memories of playing guitars and singing with the men beside Lake Toba in Samosir and of doing the Tantan with my students and Mona Lisa. I remember the swimming and hiking around Toba and the deep philosophical conversations with my friend Tomong over beers and whiskey. The trips to Medan and the amazing Sumatran coffee I would make in the mornings and the even better coffee I would get in the local markets. Like many places I have lived - I often wonder what would have happened if I had stayed in Parapat - but I know that there is no going back in time, so it is idle wondering.
My love for the Batak people and the people of Lake Toba however - this is something that will never go away.Parapat, Samosir Island, Parapat, Sumatra, Indonesia
Parapat is the closest town to Samosir Island, the cultural homeland of the Batak People of Indonesia. It has a population of about 5500 people. Samosir Island is the largest island completely contained within an island - it sits in Lake Toba on the Island of Sumatra. There is actually a lake on Samosir Island - so it is an island on an island with a lake in a lake in a sea. Sumatra itself is the largest island in Indonesia and the sixth largest island in the world. Indonesia is the world's largest island country made up of more than 17,000 islands!
I first went to Florence, Oregon in 1999 just before the excitement of the World Trade Organization Protests in Seattle. My hippie aunt and uncle had a cabin on a remote lake there. It was summer, the weather was perfect, and I stayed in the little boat house at the end of their dock. It was a true hippie heaven with a composting toilet (on the end of the dock) and the gentle lapping of the waves against the dock to put me to sleep.
A few years later, they had moved on and I had just returned from an epic adventure in Asia where I climbed sacred mountainswalked the Great Wall of China, learned to scuba dive, and had many more extraordinary adventures. A ticket to Canada was cheaper than a ticket to the USA so I flew into Canada, hitchhiked down the West Coast stopping to see friends in Bellingham, Seattle, and Portland and then finally made it to my mother's house in Redding where my VW bus had been sitting in her back yard.
I quickly left Redding and began to make my way up the coast thinking to go back to Seattle or Bellingham - but my bus had other ideas. It broke down in Florence. I didn't have any money. Okay, I'll be honest - it didn't break down, it ran out of gas and I didn't have any money to fill the tank. So I had to get a job. My hippie relatives were no longer there, but I've never been afraid to work so I looked for a help wanted sign and applied for the first job I saw.
I was a dishwasher at a shit-hole restaurant called Fisherman's Wharf in a small Oregon coast town. I slept in my van and sometimes went out drinking with the locals. A regular at the Wharf offered to rent me her single wide trailer for $350/month. I went for it. It was in a decent trailer park with a pool and a bunch of seniors living in their RVs. They liked starting jigsaw puzzles on the tables around the pool...and I liked finishing them.
I liked Florence. It was trashy in an Oregon Coast kind of way, but it had a hippie commune vibe. Turned out that a strange guy named John Patric had set up shop there after World War II. He wrote a book called Yankee Hobo in the Orient. I decided it was time to write about my adventures as well, so I took my stories from Asia and the Northwest and incorporated them into what had been "Our Time is Our Own" and came up with "Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond".
I sent out my stories to every magazine I could and I sent out my manuscript to every publisher I could find. I tried to emulate my heroes and hang my rejection notices as badges of honor, but ultimately, I figured there must be something wrong. Maybe I'd do better up in Portland where many of my friends had migrated to from Bellingham and Seattle.
I collected my last check from the Wharf, filled my gas tank, and moved out of my single wide. I said goodbye to my puzzle starting friends in the RV Park, the Oregon Dunes, the Siuslaw River, and the Lane County Historical Association. I moved Northward to Portland. It was late summer in 2001. The world seemed like it was going to hell in a hand basket - but at least we were aware of it. George W. Bush had stolen the election but at least he wasn't being given a free hand to reshape the country. We were still free...Florence, Oregon
Florence is a cute coastal city on Route 101 in Oregon between Coos Bay and Newport. It is home to the largest sand dunes in North America and surrounded by beautiful lakes, the Pacific Ocean, and plenty of pine trees. The closest major city is Eugene, Oregon. Florence has a population of about 8500 people. It has some great thrift and antique stores and a cute waterfront town. Sadly, the Fisherman's Wharf is no longer there...but there is now a great farmers market weekly.
As a child I had to go through Portland a couple of times while taking Greyhound Buses from Myrtle Creek to see my grandfather in Tacoma and then in high school I rode with a friend who used to drive up to Portland from Redding to buy pounds (you know what I'm talking about and if you don't then never mind). So I didn't have a great impression of Portland. Bus stations and bad elements.
When I moved there from Florence, most of my good friends from Bellingham and a couple of them from Redding had moved there. One of my best friends was living in a van in a neighborhood between where two of my other friends rented houses. I moved into the neighborhood with my VW. It was pretty rad. A bunch of my friends were musicians and we had frequent jam sessions and drinking bouts. I got a job tending bar at a pretty funny gay bar in Southeast Portland. If I had been gay, my love life would have been busy...but as a straight guy living in a van, I still did alright.I was looking for a place to rent but didn't have to hurry as it was only September and Portland was laid back and cool. This was a pretty radical city and nobody worried much about George W. Bush as it was obvious he was a one term president. We drank, we made music, we built shit on computers, we had fun. Then it was September 11th, 2001 and everything changed. We all gathered at my friends' Tony and Ray's place and watched with horror - we knew it was going to mean war. I went to Fred Meyer and bought some spray paint - I painted my sheet to say "No Retaliation. Enough Dead. Drop Bread not Bombs"
I hung it up next to the freeway and then parked some distance away to see what people's reactions would be. A couple of guys in big trucks stopped and ripped my sign up. I understood their fear and anger, but over the next weeks watching the American flags get waved, seeing the 'Merica' mentality take root, and understanding that the open minded and progressive 90's were never coming back ripped my soul apart. I saw ignorance and racism bubbling to the surface. I wanted no part of it.
I bought a ticket to Hawaii and parked my VW van in my mom's back yard. I had $180 in my pocket. I'd never been to Hawaii but I figured I could find a way to make it work and I hoped that with a population that wasn't dominated by white people, that maybe the unhealthy patriotism sweeping the mainland wouldn't be as oppressive and ugly.
Two years later, I came back to Portland following a flight attendant I thought I'd fallen in love with on Oahu- I got a job as a stock broker and rented a room in Ray's house for six months - but that wasn't the life for me. I found a publisher for Rough Living:Tips and Tales of a Vagabond and quit my job as a stock broker. I was good at it, but my breaking point came when our analysts told us that it would be easy to sell Krispy Kreme stock as we moved into war with Iraq because people were freaked out and needed comfort food. I moved on doing what I called my '50 Book Tour' - fifty was the number of author copies my publisher had given me. I loved Portland - it was cheap, had great food, a hip and progressive community of smart people, and plenty to do. The winters in Oregon however bummed me out. I drove up to Bellingham where I sold books, did author talks, and then took a job on a salmon boat so I could earn enough to get back to Hawaii.Portland, Oregon
Portland is the largest city in Oregon and the 25th largest in the USA. It has a population of about 650,000 people. It is divided up into four quadrants Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, and Southwest. Portland is a city of cool hipster neighborhoods and great food. It was once a blue collar port town with a reputation for being a haven for organized crime but in the 1960s a bunch of hippies and counter-culture types began to move in. During the 1990s and 2000s, it started to become a bit of a high tech hub - with spillover from Seattle and Silicon Valley. Intel is based in Portland. Portland sits at the point where the Columbia and Willamette Rivers converge and is characterized by many bridges. Portland is home to the world's largest bookstore Powell's Books.
When I moved to Hawaii - I had $100. I booked a dorm bed into the Polynesian Beach Club Hostel in Waikiki for seven nights and bought some rice and cheap veggies in Chinatown. During the next week, I ate rice and beat the streets looking for a job. I found a job painting houses and then moved into a longer term hostel down the road called the Beachside Hostel. I got a discount for waking up early and cleaning up the common areas.
Painting houses wasn't very fun and while the owner of the hostel I was in was giving me a discount, she wasn't a particularly nice woman - so my life wasn't the Hawaii dream I'd been expecting. I'd made friends with some of the people who worked at the Polynesian Beach Club Hostel and was down there when the owner came in and told everyone that the manager had stolen a bunch of cash and left the island. I'd talked with the owner a few times in the past and had a friendly relationship - I volunteered to be her new manager. She agreed. I quit the painting job and moved into the manager's apartment. My Hawaii dream life was taking shape.
A little over a year after I started, she took a month long vacation and left me to handle everything. It all went good except I'd gotten a dog while she was gone. She told me to get rid of it. I'd grown attached and honestly, I don't respond well to orders. During her absence a shady character who was opening a new hostel on the windward side had been trying to recruit me to come help him build his place. She gave me the ultimatum about the dog and I resigned and moved to the new hostel "Countryside Cabins" in Punalu'u.
Punalu'u was AWESOME. We built this amazing country Hawaiian hostel where our guests regularly decided to skip their flights home and stay longer. We had bonfires every night, we had an outdoor kitchen we cooked communal meals in every night, we integrated with the local Hawaiian community and they taught us how to cook in an imu, spearfish, hunt pigs, catch prawns, and much more. It was like a Hawaiian dream. Then it became a little like 'The Beach'. The owner was older and single and all of us young guys were regularly hooking up with our guests and he wasn't. He started drinking more, getting sort of abusive to the staff, and frankly, being a dick. People stopped staying longer. It was unpleasant. Some of the locals had developed some heavy ice habits (smoking meth) and there were a couple of scary incidents. The owner kept driving away our guests and then when I took issue with it - he drove me away. We'd made a gentleman's agreement - I would come, help him build, recruit a staff, and set up tours and activities. I would be paid a salary and the tour revenue would be mine. He renegged. When I complained he said "What are you going to do? You have a dog and you don't have anywhere to go?"
I gave my dog to a local guy who liked him and I put my things in a storage locker at Kailua Mini Storage. Then I bought a ticket to Kauai where I hiked out the 22 mile trail to Kalalau where I set up a camp in the jungle and stayed in solitude for a couple of weeks before I met some of the other outlaws out there and began to take part in the Spiritual Pizza parties, pakalolo sharing, and heavenly communal living in the valley.
When I finally hiked out of Kalalau, I was in love with Kauai. I got a job at the Blue Lagoon Hostel in Kapa'a and then got hired as a kayak river guide at Paradise Kayaks. I bought a VW van and lived on the beach in Kapa'a next to the Kayak shop. For the next two years, I was a river guide - then I fell for a flight attendant and went to Portland where I published Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond before coming back to my senses and returning to Kauai. After that I took a trip to the Philippines and when I returned I decided to live in Kailua on Oahu and write a novel. I bought another van (I'd sold the one on Kauai) and wrote my first novel, Slackville Road. When the book was finished I was ready to do something else. I got a job as a tour guide and limo driver and rented a studio in Kailua. It was one of the best places I've ever lived. I began blogging and creating an online used bookstore and everything empire. I was the Chairman of the Fukn Bored and CEO of Fukn Books, Fukn Records, and Fukn Clothing. I met an amazing woman, we fell in love, we got engaged, and she went to Africa to help the people of Sierra Leone. Then we mutually fucked everything up. For the next couple of years we tried to fix things but were unable. We lived in Lanikai and then on the Punchbowl. Finally, I enrolled at University of Hawaii and rented a studio in Manoa. Our relationship never recovered - which is a pretty huge bummer. She was one of the most awesome people I've ever known - and today, we're not even in contact. I miss her friendship.
Anyway, I did my best to make myself important but school took all of my energy and the Fukn Empire began to fall apart. I put my energy in becoming the managing editor of Ka Leo, the University of Hawaii student newspaper, the president of the Honor Student Organization, an Osher Scholar, the President of the UH Sierra Club Chapter, and a dozen other things. I made student films, wrote an undergrad thesis, and graduated with honors. That was December of 2008 and the economy was fucked. So I gathered what money I could, sold all of my possessions, and decided to take trains across the USA and then go travel the world - that's when Vagobond.com was born. Kapa'a, Kauai
Kapa'a is a small town on the East side of the island of Kauai. It's beautiful and not really a big tourist destination - at least it wasn't when I lived there, mainly because there were few hotels there. The population is about 10,000 today - to the south is the Wailua River and the once famous Wailua Beach - home to the destroyed Coco Palms Hotel that was devastated by the 1992 Hurricane Iniki. The Coco Palms was where Elvis loved to stay in Hawaii, many movies were made there. Frank Sinatra stayed there too. The Wailua River is a popular kayaking destination. There are waterfalls, a Hindu Temple, some surprisingly tasty restaurants, and large empty stretches of beach nearby.
It's bizarre how I ended up living in Sefrou and Fez. I studied Arabic at the University of Hawaii. I'm not sure why (my best supposition is that the universe needed me to be my daughter's daddy and set me on this path - nothing else really makes sense). My major was cultural anthropology and my minor was in film. I took a lot of classes that interested me. I took Arabic for three years - even though I didn't have much talent for it.
After I left Honolulu, I took trains across the USA, then bought a ticket to Spain from New York City. In Spain, I wandered south from Barcelona to Valencia then Grenada. While in Grenada, I met a lot of really spectacular people. We went to the Moroccan quarter where we ate great Moroccan food and drank sweet mint tea. One of my new friends said "You should go to Morocco. It's incredible." He told me how simple it was to get to Morocco from Tarifa using the ferry which takes you across the Straits of Hercules to Tangier. That was too much to resist.
Morocco wasn't a part of my plan, but off I went. I landed in Tangier, caught a train to Fez, spent a couple of days exploring the old medina and then went on couchsurfing to find a local host so I could learn about the culture. I found an English teacher in Sefrou who agreed to host me for a few days. I thought Sefrou was a suburb of Fez, but actually, it's a different city about 30km to the South. It was pouring rain and after a taxi ride that took far longer than I expected - this incredibly cute little woman came and picked me up at the gates to the old city of Sefrou.
The subsequent flooding kept me (and an Italian couchsurfer) in Sefrou far longer than we'd expected. I was staying at the teacher's parent's house. They were incredibly kind people and by the time I left - the little teacher (she's only 4'10") and I had become interested in one another. As I traveled to different cities in Morocco - we texted each other. She suggested I come back to see her in Sefrou. I did - and to make a long story short - ten years later we're still married. We have a lovely 8-year-old daughter and as I write this - we live in Honolulu, Hawaii.
I rented my first apartment in Sefrou while we went through the arduous and difficult engagement and marriage paperwork and processes. I loved my little apartment. It was in the poorest section of the old medina. The walls were a sky blue color and it sat above the running waters of the Oued Aggai. My neighbor was the only other (non-Peace Corps) foreigner living in Sefrou, Jessica Stevens - a Welsh artist. We became great friends. The apartment was simple but it was peaceful and it worked. I really did love it.
Once we managed to get through the marriage process - one of the first things my wife and mother-in-law did was insist that I move out of the neighborhood I was living in. It was a very low status neighborhood filled with the poorest of the poor and my in-laws were ashamed to have their daughter living in such a place where prostitutes and beggars lived. I wasn't happy with this - but there wasn't much I could do - as a newly married man I was discovering that my mother-in-law had more power in my marriage than I did. I saw only one way to solve that problem. We would move out of Sefrou instead of looking for a better house closer to my mother-in-law.
My wife and I were both working at an English school in Fez and commuting every day - so it made sense on many levels but I have to admit - it was a newly married man's power play. I found a big, light apartment in a large building above the best bakery in the Ville Nouvelle of Fez. The owner of the bakery (The Bakery of the Universe) had kicked out all of his Moroccan tenants and decided he wanted to rent only to foreigners. This made the building a little bit creepy - not because of foreigners but because we were alone in it.
I was stressed out trying to navigate being married to a Muslim woman and trying to claim some measure of independence from my mother-in-law (the move had helped but my wife was still being completely controlled by her mother - which meant that I was to some extent also). The line I'd drawn was on the wedding ceremony - I was poor and Moroccan weddings are big expensive affairs that involve inviting hundreds of people. My mother-in-law was already planning a huge wedding - that I would have to pay for. That would have been okay if I was keen on the type of wedding she was planning - and I wasn't. I wanted something more exquisite, more exotic, more wonderful.
I reached out to Berber nomad friends I had met in the Sahara and began to plan a desert nomad wedding. It was all out war with my mother-in-law. At first she refused to attend but finally, I managed to convince her that it was her only chance to see her daughter get married. I bussed my wife, myself, her family and a couple of friends from the English school to the Sahara and we had one of the most extraordinary weddings I've ever heard of. I won the battle and won the war but the process destroyed my nerves, put me on a warfare mentality when I should have been on a honeymoon mentality, and completely wore me out.
My wife was having issues at the English school we were working at, the ALC or American Language Center. Mostly the issues had to do with the school using different teaching methods than she had used in Moroccan schools but some of it had to do with her accuracy in using American English. She was taking it very personal and in my hyper-stressed out wedding warfare state - it was stressing me out too. I wanted to share our wedding with my readers on Vagobond and in the hustle and haste of planning the wedding, transporting everyone, getting married, and then getting back to the school on time after our four day weekend - I cut corners and simply copied and pasted my journal entries about the wedding onto my blog with all of the remarkable pictures. I suddenly felt like I could breathe again.
The problem was that in my journal I had been writing about the wedding and I had also been railing with frustration about the director of the ALC and the problems my wife was having with him. That was what I pasted on my blog. It was a stupid mistake. At that point, nearly everyone who knew English in Morocco read my blog. It took about two hours before the director (and everyone else at the school) had been made aware of my harsh words about him and the ALC. I was asked to finish the semester and resign. My wife had already been asked to step down and take some teacher training - which was what had gotten her (and me) upset on our wedding trip.
I had already booked our honeymoon - a trip to Turkey. Since I no longer had a job waiting when we got back, I decided it might be a good idea to find an English teaching job in Turkey for myself and for my wife. I admit, I was still trying to get my mother-in-law out of my marriage. I arranged for us to interview in the middle of our honeymoon. That worked and we ended up moving to Manisa, Turkey and teaching there for about seven months.
My wife returned to Morocco when she got pregnant - at this point, I finally bowed to the wishes of my mother-in-law and we rented a nice apartment in a respectable neighborhood in Sefrou - just a five minute walk from her house. Our daughter was born in Fez and we lived in our apartment in Sefrou for just about a year and a half - until we finally got my wife's USA visa approved and then we emigrated to the United States in 2013. I am grateful that even though I am an American citizen by birth, I got to go through the immigration process and live an immigrant story in the USA.Sefrou, Morocco and Fez, Morocco
Fez (Fes) is the second largest city in Morocco. It is, arguably, the most important city and is the spiritual capital of Morocco. It has the best preserved car free ancient medina (city) in all of the Arab world consisting of 14,000 alleys, streets, and derbs through the heart of the old city. . When the Muslim and Jewish peoples were expelled from Spain in the 9th century - many of them came to Fez and nearby Sefrou in the Atlas Mountains to the South. Fez is home to the world's oldest university, castles, forts, palaces and much much more. There is nowhere else quite like it. Sefrou, to the south, actually has an older medina than Fez and was the original capital city after the exodus from Spain. It was once called Little Jerusalem and had the largest concentration of Moroccan and Berber Jews of North Africa - most of them left after Israel achieved statehood, but their traditions, handicrafts, and buildings remain - though much changed. Sefrou is home to an annual Cherry Festival and Pageant each year as well as magical Arab and Berber Fantasias where riders charge one another and fire decorative rifles.
We went to Manisa on our honeymoon and since I'd blogged my way out of a pretty good job in Fez, I turned it into a job interview with a school there. I'd been emailing the director and he had said to come anytime and he would show us around. So we did.
The bus ride there from Istanbulwas long and beautiful. We passed mountains and streams and finally came to a city with a large mountain behind it. It felt good to me. I called the director and he gave us directions.
We got to the school and met with the director. Manisa is primarily a business city and so it doesn't have all the cheap or luxurious options for travelers that other cities in Turkey have. Otel Emirhan was fine and offered us a/c, television, breakfast, wi-fi, hot water showers, and a decent bed in a clean room. Once we had settled in a bit, we went to a great little cafe where we met with a second director from a different school.
I had the interviews, but we both ended up getting jobs at the school with the second director! We moved to Manisa, Turkey!
There were plenty of shops, movie theaters (that even sometimes have films in English), big green parks, a beautiful old mosque, and a lively souk filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese, and more. Manisa is also home to the famous "Tarzan of Manisa".
It's in the mountains, has plenty of hiking nearby, wild horses, it's a 30-minute bus ride from the beach city of Izmir, and in ancient times Manisa was where Turkish Sultan's used to undergo their Sultan Training. Furthermore, Manisa was named one of the best cities to do business in for all of Europe. So,it all seemed pretty great to us.
We went back to Morocco for two weeks and then I returned to Manisa. I was there for almost two months before my wife came to join me. The school was good. I loved my students and I got along well with all the other teachers and the directors. They helped me get a residence permit, a bank account, and to get all the things I needed. When my wife arrived, things got more complicated. Since she was Moroccan, it was more difficult to get her a residence permit. She felt like the school was cheating her. Our relationship with the directors and some of the other teachers took an adversarial turn.
She had to make a visa run to renew her visa so I booked her a flight to Morocco. Then we found out she was pregnant. She wanted to take two weeks to a month back in Morocco but was needed in classes. I was suddenly feeling like papa bear and things turned ugly when they wouldn't agree to let her have the time off. I felt like it was important - it was Christmas and she was pregnant - she needed to be with her mom. They threatened to fire her. I gave them an ultimatum that if she couldn't have the time off, they would have to fire me too. So they did.
She flew home and I started looking for a new job and a new place to live since I'd been renting our apartment from the school. I loved Manisa but figured I would have more luck and a better life in nearby Izmir.Manisa, Turkey - Ancient Tantalus and Magnesia
The ancient name of Manisa was Magnesia, the name comes from the magnets which come from Sypil mountain, also known in ancient times as Tantalus. The entire mountain is, in fact, one huge magnet. Stories of magnetic gold being found here, and stories of the Olympian Gods struggling with humans also come from this amazing mountain.
Cities here date back as far as 5000 BC and some researchers have postulated that it was a highly advanced city on Sypil that was swallowed into a great lake during a large earthquake. The great lake no longer exists, except as a minor body of water, but geologic evidence shows that there was one, it did exist, and there is some evidence to show that this was actually the site of a civilization of which we know very little. What was the name of this city?
Atlantis. And of course, with stories growing and changing it is more than likely that from a relatively advanced civilization being destroyed in a large lake that the story could grow to a continent sinking into a sea. Not unlikely at all.
Tantalus was named after the first King of this region. Tantalus, the son of Zeus. Keep in mind that Homer came from the nearby city of Izmir and he is the first one to write of 'magnets' in historical records.
It should also be mentioned that many of the sages of ancient Ionia said that the word magnet actually meant spirit. And the name Sipylos comes from greek and means 'Gate of the Gods'.
In a way, I feel like I'm cheating when I say I lived in Izmir, Turkey. The main reason is that in the criteria I set out in the beginning of this process of documenting where I lived specified that I needed to be working and paying rent in a place to have it listed - technically, I wasn't working while I lived in Izmir - I was looking for work and learning how to make a living from a travel blog (this one, actually). But there is no time for that sort of waffling.
Izmir was wonderful and difficult at the same time. I moved into an apartment with two Turkish heavy metal-heads. My wife was pregnant and back in Morocco and I was suddenly living a bit of a rock star lifestyle - going to shows, hanging out with friends in Izmir, and (really) looking for work during the day. I LOVED living in Izmir. It was this bizarre couple of months when the universe gave me a chance to breathe - my wife was safe and happy with her mother, I was unemployed but had a little bit of money coming in and was surrounded by friends, and I was in one of the most exciting places on the planet. Izmir is cool.
Izmir has great food, great events, and great sport. The Gozetepe football team is one of the best in the world. I'm not going to write too much because I was only there for three months...my job hunt came up with many promises but few offers. Turkish schools in Izmir typically made this offer - "We are going to give you the best offer ever" - when I expressed interest they would say "The best offer ever comes after completing two years of the worst offer ever...really". I didn't accept any.
Eventually, after a lot of fun and a lot of searching - my friend Gaye offered me a job working at her hotel in Istanbul. I packed up and headed up there. After all, I had a wife and a baby on the way - I couldn't afford to just hang around Izmir like a millionaire playboy...Izmir, Turkey
Izmir has a population of around 3 million making it the second largest city on the Aegean besides Athens and the third largest city in Turkey. In ancient times it was known as Smyrna. Izmir has 8500 years of history in the same location and when you walk around this city, you can feel it.
Izmir is an amazing city filled with progressively minded and forward thinking people. It is the gateway to the Aegean with ferries running to many Greek and Turkish Islands.
Alexander the Great, the Selcuks, the Ottomans, the Romans - they all had their day in Izmir. And I had mine too.
Estimates say that there are approximately 20-million people living in Istanbul. No one really knows for sure. I was one of them for about six-months in early 2011. I loved living in Istanbul.
As mentioned previously, my wife had left Manisa and returned to Morocco and the comfort of being around her mother and sisters when we discovered she was pregnant. I went to Izmir to look for a better teaching job but found mostly empty promises. My friend Gaye owned a hotel in Istanbul and when she heard that I was looking for work offered me a position. It was a sort of strange role as IT manager and hotel manager combined. In any event, the pay was good and the position worked for me. I rented a tiny little apartment with a view of the Bosphorus and set about trying to build a life for my wife and our coming baby.
Here's a funny note - when I was a stock broker in Portland, Oregon - I was chatting with one of my clients about life and travel - we got philosophical and this wealthy and intelligent guy stopped me and said "You know what you need to be doing? You need to be running one of those amazing old guest houses on the shores of the Bosphorus in Istanbul" Nearly a decade later, it was exactly what I was doing.
Things went pretty well. My website businesses were taking off and I made a lot of friends quickly. It's easy to make friends with Turkish people. I drank a lot of black tea, enjoyed a lot of performances and gallery shows, and sometimes drank a bit too much rakia - the anise flavored Turkish liquor that goes hand in hand with delicious fish. I fell completely in love with Turkish cuisine and I took cooking classes, explored ancient parts of the city, and became an active member of the local couch surfing groups. Life was beautiful - the only problem was that my pregnant wife was on another continent. I wasn't happy about that - Turkey had a far better health care system than Morocco and our plan had been that when I found a new place to live and a job, she would return to Turkey. It was her first pregnancy however (and mine) and I understood that being around her family, her mother, her sisters and people who spoke her own language were important for her sense of safety and well-being. As we got closer to the time of birth - with summer in glorious bloom and Istanbul bustling with activity - my friend offered me a better and more permanent position - I was ready to accept - but I needed to have my wife as a part of the decision.
At this point, she informed me that she wanted to stay in Morocco after the baby was born. I could understand wanting to stay for a little while - but that wasn't what she was talking about. I had to choose between being a father in a country that I loved but didn't particularly want to live in any longer - or having a great job in a city that I was completely in love with - but not really playing a role in my baby's early development and life. It wasn't really a choice at all. I packed up my life, stored what wouldn't fit into two suitcases in the basement of the hotel, and went back to Morocco.
I rented an apartment in Sefrou and dove into the process of getting my wife a green card. I knew one thing for sure, I didn't want my baby girl to grow up in a world where women were relegated to far less than equal. If we couldn't live in Turkey - I would take them both back to the USA - even though I never really had any desire to return once I had left. Our daughter was born. I wanted to name her Aya Sophia but my wife asked the Moroccan authorities and they said she couldn't be named Aya because it meant 'Saint' - it turns out it was some clerk who didn't actually know but simply expressed his opinion as a law - which my wife took it as. So instead we named our beautiful little girl Sophia, meaning 'wisdom' in Greek. The Aya Sofia Hotel was where I had been working and the Aya Sofia Mosque was the largest Christian cathedral for 1000 years and the largest Muslim Mosque for almost as long. It had become a secular monument under Ataturk. I felt like it was a beautiful and symbolic name which held where she was born, who her parents were, and our hopes for her future. As to a middle name - I never liked my own - so I decided that we would leave that space blank and let her fill it in on her own someday. I hadn't really expected to win the naming battle, but it turned out that because Morocco still functions as a patriarchy - it was my decision. For that, I am grateful.
Back in Morocco, I focused on my web and blogging businesses with some success while jumping through the many hoops involved in getting a green card and making sure my daughter got American citizenship from the beginning. When she was 18 months old - we finally had approval for my wife's green card. It was time for us to emigrate to the USA.Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul has been variously known in history as Byzantium and Constantinople. It sits squarely on the intersection of Asia and Europe with the city having an Asian side and a European side. The Bosphorus Strait runs between. Official estimates put the population at somewhere around 15 million but unofficial estimates are much higher. Officially it is the world's 4th largest city and the largest in Europe. It was the Roman imperial capital for nine centuries and then the seat of the Ottoman Caliphate for another five centuries. All told it served as an imperial capital for sixteen centuries! There are few cities with as much history as Istanbul. Istanbul is one of the great cities of all of human history, the art, the architecture, the bridges, the sport, the food, the culture. There is nowhere else like Istanbul.
Once we had my wife's green card, I made a plan. It wasn't a great plan, but it was a plan. I bought our plane tickets - me, wife, and baby. We were flying from to Dubai then to San Francisco. Using some travel contacts, I managed to get us a three night stay in Dubai at the Atlantis Resort - we were going to do the desert safari, visit the Burj Khalifa, and many other things. However, since Dubai has apparently had a problem with Moroccan residents not going back to Morocco - they require all Moroccan residents to have a return flight to Morocco. This was ridiculous as we were flying onward to the USA - but they wouldn't budge - my wife would not be allowed to leave the airport unless we bought her a return ticket. Emirates allowed me to change the flight to a 10-hour layover and we missed our chance to do anything in Dubai except wander through the mall-like airport and look at the night lights shining where we couldn't visit them.
My plan then involved landing in San Francisco where my sister had said we could stay for up to a month while we figured out housing, jobs, etc. Unfortunately, she was going through a nasty divorce and had moved into a security building with uptight rules and my brother and his family had come out to visit at the same time. We had a hotel for the first couple of nights and then tried to stay with her - but it was a small place, there were four small kids there and five adults. My plan was to find a job in a startup - to put my blogging, social media, writing, editing, and magazine publishing skills to work in the USA the same way I had in Turkey, Morocco, and Europe.
Instead, crazy culture shock, astounding jet lag, and dysfunctional family dynamics led us to Redding where not only did I not want to be, but we were very quickly made to feel not welcome at the other place we had been assured would 'always have an open door for us'. I ran into an old high school friend that I'd always gotten along with. He told me how he and his girlfriend had been squatting in 2008 foreclosures in Sacramento for years. Honestly, my plans had not involved emigrating to America, demonstrating my dysfunctional family to my wife, and then squatting in foreclosed houses with my wife and infant child - but we didn't really have a choice. Redding was a very unpleasant dead end. We couldn't afford to rent in San Francisco because no one would rent to me without a job or a million in the bank. I figured we could squat in Sacramento, I could continue job hunting in San Francisco, and we would find a place to rent before we were evicted by law enforcement.
To be fair - it was a very nice house. My friends were going through a process where they were trying to legally claim the house by paying utilities, keeping the yard up, taking care of appearances etc. They were attempting to use loopholes in the legal system to take a house from the banks who had taken the house from someone else with loopholes. I helped to file some of the writs and papers. We were in the Arden Arcade neighborhood of Sacramento. It was a great neighborhood. We made friends, I looked for work, we had fun and enjoyed life there. I mowed the grass, we planted a little garden, and all in all - it was good. However, the uncertainty of the situation was hard on my little family.I turned to how I always made money in the past - writing, buying & selling things on craigslist, through classifieds, reselling books from garage sales, and then I started to realize there was a lot of cash being left on the table at the many estate and yard sales in Sacramento. I became a professional picker and I did good at it. I educated myself on what sold and what didn't, I learned about antiques, collectibles, furniture, gems, jewelry, watches, and art. I began buying and selling a lot. But not enough to pay the first, last, and security deposit on a house in Sacramento (let alone San Francisco) - It was going to be $8000 to move into a place - we'd moved to the USA with right around $5000 after all the flights, the expenses of the green card, and more. I just didn't have it. I applied for multiple tech jobs in San Francisco and Sacramento but the salaries were always less than my expenses would be. I couldn't do it.
I was making enough with Ebay, Amazon books, and garage sales - that I figured out that I could afford to move to the cheapest town on the Oregon Coast, rent a decent house, and have a pretty good life for my family without being too far from the ocean - which, for some reason, is important to me. I found a three bedroom house in Reedsport, Oregon just in time - the squat was going to have to be abandoned. The legal maneuvers had failed.
We'd accumulated a lot of stuff from estate sales and garage sales. I rented a trailer and we filled it up and headed up to our new life in Reedsport, Oregon. We squatted in Sacramento from April to August of 2013. It wasn't part of my plan at all - but I'm grateful that we found someplace to live when my entire plan and backup plans had completely fallen apart.Sacramento, California
Sacramento is the capital of California - which, were it not a part of the USA, would be the fifth largest economy in the world ahead of France, the UK, and India. Without California, the U.S. would fall to just about the same GDP as China - so, Sacramento is a pretty important city. Founded in 1808 by Spanish Missionaries - the city has about a half million people. It rose to importance when John Sutter found gold there in 1848 - Sutter was a Mexican-Swiss citizen and his find led to the eventual stealing of California from Mexico by the United States. It's interesting to note that California was an independent nation "The Bear Republic" from 1846-1848 before Mexico re-established control and then the U.S. claimed it. For three months each year, Sacramento is the sunniest place on the planet - and during those months - it's best to hide inside with air-conditioning. Old Town Sacramento is an area of the city that has preserved many of the buildings from the 1850s and 1860s. It's a fun tourist area. Sacramento is filled with parks, universities, museums, and a growing tech scene - but the primary business in Sac is and always will be one thing - government. Sacramento is home to the Sacramento Kings basketball team and the Sacramento Republic Football Club.
Since leaving Turkey (and even while I lived there), I've watched a beautiful country on the verge of an amazing future start to dismantle itself, create sectarian conflicts, and become something ugly through extremist religion and ideology. What does that have to do with Reedsport, Oregon?
During the election of 2016 and the aftermath of that disaster- I watched this little town do something similar. A beautiful little place filled with good neighbors became a place where one kind of person was welcome and another kind wasn't. But that comes later...
I found Reedsport, Oregon when I realized that I didn't have enough or earn enough to find a house with a yard that wasn't too far from the beach in California or Washington. The two areas I would have preferred to settle would have been the San Francisco Bay Area (extending east to Sacramento, North to Santa Rosa, and south to San Luis Obispo) or the area from Olympia, Washington to Bellingham, Washington. I just didn't have the income or savings to rent a house in those areas and starting a business seemed unlikely given the startup costs.
So, I focused in between. Reedsport sits about 20-miles south of Florence, Oregon and even though it was in the same county as both Myrtle Creek and Canyonville - it was far from both. I found a nice little 3-bedroom house with a big back yard for $675/month. It was an older house, but it was near a good grade school and in a friendly neighborhood. Reedsport was mostly a retirement community but had a health food store, a good coffee shop, and a quirky vibe that I liked. It was a fishing town with the Umpqua River going through it and a big Elk preserve nearby. The Oregon Dunes extended into it on the coast and the little village of Winchester Bay was just a couple of miles from our house. I was in love with Reedsport, to be honest. It was a little slice of heaven.
Now, to be fair - there's a lot of poverty in Reedsport. The education level is on the lower end of the spectrum. The winters are long and grey and rainy. And...people tended to be white, conservative, and a bit on the racist side - which wasn't obvious at first (the racist part) but came out as we drew closer to electing a racist president.
My credit was good. Between Ebay and online work - I was earning more than enough to pay the rent. The landlord looked at my application and instantly approved it "Most people around here don't have a credit score anywhere near that, " she said. I was surprised - it wasn't that good, really. Somewhere in the 700 range.
So we packed up our estate sale accumulations and moved from the squat house in Sacramento to a place with our names on the lease in Reedsport, Oregon. My wife took a job cleaning in a hotel and I started working for Banker's Life Insurance - which didn't suit me at all. I got certified, made a little money, and then said 'fuck this'. Selling bad life insurance to senior citizens wasn't something I could do. So, instead of that, I jumped back into buying and selling.
I opened a little antique shop on the main drag in Reedsport. My rent was $300/mo and I caught all the travelers driving down the Coastal 101 Freeway. I became a regular at all the estate sales (and garage sales) and soon began to run estate sales for other people (which is where the money really is). The little town paper 'Coffee Talk' announced it was shutting down and I began putting together an alternative. As soon as Coffee Talk sent out its last issue, I was at every advertiser they had offering a new paper Reedsport.info. I was able to create a website version and figured out how to print a weekly version, where to distribute it, and within a very short time - I was earning more from the ad revenue than I was making in my antique shop.
I needed a bigger shop and rented a big abandoned storefront in Reedsport's dying downtown. There was not much there. The only book store in town was closing down and was right across the street from me. I bought his shelves, his fixtures, his neon 'Books' sign, and everything else I could get. It was fire sale prices. In my little newspaper, I was a big advocate for marijuana after Oregon legalized it. I suggested that Reedsport could enjoy a huge benefit from bringing in dispensaries and catering to weed tourists. This didn't win me any fans. I had several advertisers threaten to pull out if I continued to make jokes about 'Weedsport' - so I toned it down.
On a whim, I decided to enter politics. I ran for Umpqua Port Commissioner, a county level post. I got nearly 40% of the vote without really doing anything. It was becoming increasingly clear that my 'liberal California' ways were not loved by most of the folks in Reedsport. My wife (thankfully) had left the hotel job and gotten a job as an educational assistant at the elementary school. She began the process of getting certified to work with special needs children. We were doing pretty good, actually. Our daughter was in kindergarten, our businesses (and her job) were earning us a nice income, a brewery had opened up across the street from my shop, and the little downtown was coming back to life. This was late 2015 and early 2016.
That's when things started to get ugly. My wife is Muslim, technically, I converted so I am too, but I'm not a religionist on any level. First the Trump rhetoric started on the campaign trail. His hate talk towards Muslims activated people. His racist talk made people feel it was okay to be racist. I began having more and more old white men come into my shop, see that I was a small town white guy, and start saying hateful, mean, violent, and racist things about President Obama, about Muslims, and about immigrants, Mexicans, African-Americans, and Jewish people. They just assumed I was part of their club - I shut them down the best I could and generally raised the prices from where they might have been. Great thing with an antique shop is that your prices are generally set 200% above what you really want - I would only let these guys give me a large profit for the stuff they wanted. Their racism cost them.
Reedsport started to feel much less inviting. The health food store closed, the cool little quirky coffee shop closed, the book store had already closed. A marijuana dispensary opened and then quickly closed. I started to get some bizarre harassment because of a chainsaw statue I had bought and put on the street in front of my shop - it was an attempt at the famous David and the nudity offended people - even though his privates were covered with a leaf.
I became hyper-alert and anxious because I was living in a town where my wife and my child were targets because they weren't white or Christian. I didn't need to worry about my 5 year old getting harassed for saying "Allah" in kindergarten, but that time was coming. I knew what small town bullying looked like. I watched with disbelief as Trump got more and more support. My fellow townspeople loved him! They actually carved chainsaw statues of him and put them up on the three roads coming into town. To me it screamed "We're racist here!" One of the guys who worked for the state highway department began driving around with a huge confederate flag flying from the back of his pickup truck.
I was an early Bernie supporter. My "Feel the Bern" signs didn't bother anyone too much though a couple of old guys felt the need to explain that I was supporting a 'Jew Communist' -but when Hillary got the nomination - the ugliness of 2016 really came out. "Hillary = WWIII" "Lock the Bitch Up" - these were actual signs I saw people put out in their yards or bumper stickers on cars. I was never a huge Hillary supporter, but of course I was going to vote for her because the alternative (Trump) was so much worse. There were a few signs that went up supporting her that I saw on my drive to work one day - on the drive home, they had been stomped, broken, or thrown in the river. This happened multiple times. I was still trying to do business in this town, so I didn't put Hillary signs up in my shop - but I did start selling bumper stickers that said "Vote Neither in 2016 because WTF....NOOOOO!" - I would have made a killing selling Trump hats and stickers, but I refused.
The town was filled with Trump signs and Trump supporters. More and more old white people were saying things to me like "When he gets in there, the (N-word) are going to have to pay" or "He's going to lock that (N-word) Obama up". I lived it, on the ground as a white person at Trump ground zero - I know why they voted for him. People voted for Trump because they are racist. Period. You don't vote for a racist because he is a good business person unless you are a racist. And by the way, he's a terrible business person.
You know the story, Trump won. I had seen the dirty souls of the people around me. I no longer felt like my family was safe. I listed my shop and my newspaper for sale and hoped that a buyer would come along. That buyer did show up and right around the same time - our landlord informed us she was selling the house we had been renting. It was all the confirmation I needed.
I couldn't leave fast enough. We closed the deal on the shop and paper, had a huge sell off garage sale at our house, and I packed a trailer and shipped it to Hawaii. Honolulu may not be perfect - but it's filled with a diversity of people and racism isn't a big problem like it is on the continent. Hawaiiis the least violent place in America, and Hawaii voted 70+% against Trump. Plus, and this is true - Hawaii had always felt like it was home to me - I finally had enough money to get my family there and give us a start.
I made a quick trip to Honolulu, landed a job as an archaeologist, rented a little apartment - and then went back to Reedsport for the last time to pack up my family and bring them to Hawaii. In a way, this was the conclusion of the trip I'd started back in 2008 when I left Honolulu to see the world. I'd come full circle.
To be honest, the whole thing with Reedsport really broke my heart. I loved that little town. I loved the location, the outdoors, and the untapped potential. I liked living in a friendly small town (before Trump). We had a lot of friends there. Our businesses were doing good. I'm not sad that we came back to Hawaii - but I'm sad that things went they way they did. The fact that a government worker was allowed to drive around flying that confederate flag and the awful Trump statues proclaiming ignorance and racism - and making the families there who weren't white, Christian, straight, or Republican feel like they weren't welcome. Those racist old white dudes suddenly feeling like it was okay to throw the n-word around in public - all of it - it makes me sick to my stomach to even think about it. There are some great people in Reedsport. It's a cute little place with a huge potential - but as much as I loved it - it wasn't worth having my family in a situation where we were at the mercy of heavily armed bigots. On a strange note - the David statue has been converted to a Trump statue by the new owners of my old shop and now sits in front of their shop without the city offering any protest.Reedsport, Oregon
Incorporated in 1919 near the confluence of three rivers – the Umpqua, the Smith, and the Scholfield, the City of Reedsport is located on the beautiful Oregon Coast on Highways 101 and 38 on the banks of the Umpqua River – the largest river between the Sacramento and the Columbia. Located in the heart of the Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area, Reedsport is in close proximity to over 17 freshwater lakes and is just four miles from Winchester Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Reedsport is the home of the Umpqua Discovery Center a Natural and Cultural Interpretive Center. It has a population of about 4500 people.
Reedsport is located in Douglas County on the central Oregon coast at the intersection of Oregon Highway 38 and U.S. Highway 101. The City is approximately 195 miles south of Portland, 87 miles southwest of Eugene, 70 miles west of Roseburg, 25 miles north of Coos Bay, and 21 miles south of Florence.
I don't really feel like there is much to say about Honlulu beyond our personal journey since we arrived here in 2017. Hawaiihas always been an expensive place to live, but until we arrived and had boots on the ground - I had no idea just how expensive it had become. Mind-blowingly expensive.
We pay too much (but less than market rate) for a small 2-bedroom in a neighborhood that is inconvenient to the beach, Waikiki, or Honolulu. We live in an urban residential neighborhood. It's clean, generally safe and friendly. Once we arrived and I began working - I quickly realized that earning a low hourly wage as an archaeologist wasn't going to pay our bills. Archaeologists don't earn much in the first place, but that was a particularly crappy wage. The three month raise they had promised me only brought my wage up $1 an hour. I asked them to give me a raise that would at least cover my monthly living expenses but they offered weak excuses about how I was doing a dream job in paradise and shouldn't expect much. Pretty lame. I was qualified, had the right degree, and had a family to support and the bottom line was that archaeology wasn't going to work.
I found a far better paying job in tourism and offered my two-weeks notice. My wife was going through a bit of culture shock and still didn't understand why I had made us move from Reedsport, Oregon. I'd kept a lot of the racism and xenophobic stuff from Reedsport to myself while we were there. When I told her, she didn't seem to believe me. In any event, it was up to me to take care of us.
I sold my antique shop for a fire-sale price. My best inventory wasn't in it when I put it up for sale. That inventory came to Hawaii with us in a box trailer along with our possessions. I began learning the ins and outs of antique dealing in Hawaii. Most of the stuff I had brought with me was premium goods in Oregon but hard to sell in Hawaii. It's a very different market here. I was still selling things on Ebay and began using the Aloha Swap Meet, selling at antique shows, and any other venue I could find.
I started working on forming my own tour company and once again became seriously interested in tech. I co-founded a cryptocurrency (which failed without making any money) and then started looking at finding a job in tech again. It was a bit like archaeology - the pay was less than the cost of living. It's a common problem in Hawaii which is why most families have three, four, or five jobs to make ends meet. Since I couldn't afford to work for start-ups, I decided to start my own. That process has been going on for about ten months now. I've founded Iwahai. It's been an amazing learning process so far. Iwahai is launched and ZguideZ is still a work in progress. I still do tours - and that is what pays the bulk of our living expenses.
My daughter is in school. She's thriving and loves living in Hawaii. She wants to learn how to surf but we're still getting the swimming skills up to speed - though she and I do love body boarding together. My wife is also thriving and works as a special needs teacher (RBT). We have friends, we have a nice, safe place to live, and we somehow manage to pay our bills every month. We managed to scrape enough together so that last year the two of them were able to go see my wife's parents in Morocco and her sisters in Belgium. We have taken a couple of short family trips to the neighbor islands of Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island.
I don't know what's going to happen next. This is where we are. We live in Honolulu. I've founded a couple of small tech companies. We scrape by in one of the most expensive places to live in the USA - but it's beautiful, safe, and a good place to live.
I still dream about the Aegean in Turkey and Greece. I'd love to live in Europe again. I'm still drawn to my home state of California and as a tech founder - the San Francisco Bay Area has a huge draw. My siblings are now both on the California coast. It would be nice to have our families closer to each other.
I suppose it's all on me - where we end up in the world - and where we have ended up. Honolulu is a good place to be. It's not perfect (it's crowded, expensive, remote, has too much military, and a lack of tech opportunities and high paying jobs) but it's among the best places I have been - so I feel like we are doing alright. This is the end of Places I've Lived ..... for now, but I still don't have any moss on me. I'll do one more post where I rank the places I've lived from best to worst and then we'll move on to something else.Honolulu, Hawaii
Honolulu, Hawaii is the capital city of the State of Hawaii. It has a population of approximately 1 million people. It is an incredibly diverse place to live. With more than a dozen languages spoken by significant communities, a wide diversity of religions, and a culture that spans the globe. When you consider the fact that Honolulu is not just a city but actually a combined entity of the City and County of Honolulu all run from as jurisdiction with one mayor, one city council, and one police force – it really changes the way Honolulu looks both geographically and demographically.Top