Learning to Drive

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There comes a point in every parent’s time when they are drawn to do the obligation to impart certain knowledge and skills to their children. Early on, it’s the lesson of teaching them how to ride a bike. Later on, we try the awkward and delicate dance of explaining sex (if they haven’t figured it out already on HBO and the internet). But most dangerously is the adventure of teaching them how to drive.

When children are young, and they want to learn how to ride a 2-wheeler, you provide encouragement, support, and pray that they can keep their balance and ride at the same time. You hold them as if they were a carton of eggs or a crystal bubble; firm but with the right amount of delicacy. If they fall the biggest danger is the loss of pride, and more physically the abrasions, bumps and bruises that can be remedied with Band-Aids and Neosporin.

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When teaching teenagers how to drive, on the other hand, the risks are much greater. Physical damage to their psyches yes, but fender benders, torn bumpers, $500 deductible insurance, municipal court and worst of all, litigation are the horrors that swirl around in the mind of each and every parent.

Which parent gets the call? Some parents (or in some cases, THE parent) are more suited for fixing the bloody injury and wrapping bandages when they fall while others are more capable of applying the emotional salve to assist in mending the pain of broken relationships or the agony of being uninvited to parties as they grow up.

There is no gender preference to being the driver education instructor. When growing up, my father had checked out of the game and gave that responsibility to my mother, who taught the skills of driving like the Great Santini.

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In my daughter’s instance, I was given the task, likely due to my greater fortitude and more importantly, patience. Having served in numerous wars and combat situations probably was an added bonus to my resume. But teaching an offspring to drive requires something unknown because it’s unknown until faced into that battle.

If you’ve never been the instructor in this situation, then it may be hard to comprehend. The best description I can have is this:

Imagine while sitting in the passenger seat, with your child straining to remember the mechanics of driving, somehow 2 or 3 hairy tarantula spiders are placed on your chest. But here’s the challenge: you can’t scream, you can’t move, you can’t raise your voice. You have to accept these spiders on you as they crawl about slowly with their long hairy legs. You MUST keep your composure and give instructions to your teenager to drive safely and not get into danger. Resisting the urge to scream and shout while what seems like impending automobile carnage is waiting. Composure. Restraint. Patience. Tarantulas.

“Slow down, slow down, SSSLLOOOWW down…”
“Make a right here. A right! Turn the wheel please. A turn signal would help.”
“The brakes. Apply the brakes! No, not the right, that’s the gas”

Why are these Goddamn tarantulas crawling over me? No, please don’t bite. I’ll remain calm. It’s all okay.

Teaching something important under stressful conditions is an art. When you add the love of a child, plus the financial liabilities, and of course the pride, it all adds up to a cocktail of potential emotional disaster. Thank God those tarantulas eventually go away.

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Montana Pedestrians: For God’s Sake Don’t Walk in NJ!

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The continuum between vehicles and the people who walk in their path varies greatly.

I’ve travelled through such diverse places such as Manila, Moscow and Cairo whereas the game is indeed a fast-paced deadly one. Players who participate pay a fatal price. On the way from Sheremetyevo airport to Moscow I saw not one, but two collisions in which people were plastered by buses, as easily as bugs on a windshield. All done with no remorse.

Back home, at least home for me, in the congested metropolis of New York City slash New Jersey slash Philadelphia, walking the streets takes on a whole different challenge. Here, there’s a delicate balance between the impending mass of metal and plastic against the litigious entity of flesh, blood, bones and attitude. At impact, does the right of the pedestrian override or is overruled by the oncoming vehicle? The rules of this legal Neverworld are decided solely by money, and who has more of it.

https://kuppajodotcom.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/the-peshmerga-of-roosevelt-boulevard/

Now shift your attention out west, mountain west, cowboy Montana mountain west whereas the pace of driving, at least that of the “city” is slowed down to a remarkable degree. In the laws of physics, as one draws closer to the speed of light, time slows down relative to those around. If travelling at the speed of light, things seem totally normal. But to those observing from another perspective, it seems like time has stood still. And indeed, from coming from the hustle of the east coast, things out west are employing Einstein’s theory at their fullest.

Out west, pedestrians have this innate spiritual cloak that creates a sphere to protect them against the power of the metal and plastic and impact of vehicles. Out west, pedestrians are given the same degree of protection one would see with sacred cows in India.

Pedestrians in Montana have this deep-rooted faith, unshakeable, that the occupants of that car, or pick-up truck, will yield with a sense of devotion and respect. This self-perceived protection works great, when all parties agree upon the rules. But what would happen if one of these naive streetwalkers were suddenly transported to the Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia, or Route 130 in New Jersey, or the Long Island Express? Havoc.

Domesticated animals typically live with little fear of annihilation by other non-human species. But take that house cat, or loveable Retriever and plunk them into the heart of the Amazon jungle, or African savannah, or even the Bitterroot Mountains and their survival skills leave much to be desired.

So, pedestrians of Montana, for Heaven’s sake please don’t take that naivety to New Jersey’s mean streets. Drive, don’t walk, to your destination as fast and as reckless as possible.

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Montana, again

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Montana

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Mokulua Islands Jump

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There are some stories of adventure and travel that come about from meticulous planning and forethought. These experiences, whether successful or tragic, have at least as a basis some fore knowledge of what the players were getting themselves into. On the other hand, there are other stories concerning people who stumble blindly into a situation, sometimes of tragic proportions, and only later realize to themselves “how did THAT happen”? I think you can guess where this one’s going.

The island of Oahu is a beautiful yet strangely exotic place. Millions of dollars are spent by tourists to explore and soak up the sun, surf and visit endless places to waste money. Like most places in tropical venues, just slice away that thin veneer of beauty and what lies beneath is a dangerous element.

I’ve been to Hawaii several times, and all of them related one way or another with my work in the Air Force. Most military people transiting Hawaii on official business will stay just overnight, sometimes a little longer. Just enough time to stay and visit Honolulu’s exquisite shores, overpriced commercial fronts, drink expensive Mai Tais on the beach – there’s always an exercise to indulge as much as possible in the little time there because we’re either flying back home the next day to some cold location with overdue bills waiting for us, or in the other direction to some barren spot.

It so happened that during one of my stays in Hawaii, again on Air Force business, that I was with a crew and we were looking for something to do in what little time we had there. It was a somewhat large gaggle of people, about a ten in all, and we headed off in rental cars away from Honolulu to avoid the same staleness of the same tourist shores of Diamond Beach, the overpriced commercial fronts, and to find different expensive Mai Tais.

I was kind of like a backseat passenger on this trip. Most of the other crewmembers had been through Hawaii more times than you could imagine. One of the crew members, Liam, had actually gone to college at University of Hawaii (but…I don’t know if he ever graduated though). So, when the announcement was made that a road trip was happening, I had the option of either visiting another commercial front store selling t-shirts alone and sitting by the beach by myself, or taking part in a group adventure.

If you’ve ever been to Honolulu, you’ll know that the traffic on the H1 highway and within the tourist district is close to, but definitely not as bad, as Manhattan. The traffic doesn’t flow, it plods along like some advancing lava flow, so in this regards they don’t have the suicidal death-match one experiences in the Beltway of Washington DC, or on the roads of Cairo or Manila. But once you get past the lava flow, driving on the back roads of Oahu is calm…boring but calm.

We were driving along and I’m not sure who had the plan, but there was some premeditated desire to “do the Mokuluas”. I now know who had the insipid desire to place innocent people in dangerous positions. But back then, and during the ride, everything seemed alright. A lot better than sitting alone at a crowded beach full of sallow tourists.

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The Mokulua islands are two very small islands on the eastern coast of Oahu. In fact, they’re protected animal habitats but frequented by migrating hordes of birds, locals and foolish tourists. Mostly locals since any tourist in their right mind would rather spend the time walking along Diamond Head or visiting the Dole pineapple plant. We arrived at a kayak rental place late in the afternoon, car loads of Air Force personnel, armed with several 6-packs of cold beer and an appetite for something crazy. The first requirement before any sane rental agency would hand out kayaks was to have us watch, en masse, some short cheesy video in the back of this store about boating safety. Some sort of safety and legal requirement so that we couldn’t come back later and sue the hell out of them for renting implements of destruction. We were sternly told that the kayaks had to be back before the place closed, in about 2 hours or so – or else – they’d keep the steep deposit fees and our per diem would be wasted on plastic boats we’d never see again.

Once we hit water, this armada of pale-skinned military men in life vests and cold beer headed out for a 45-minute jaunt across the strait to the Mokuluas. The voyage of the Kon Tiki had better preparations and intent. We paddled, all six or seven double kayaks, across the waters with some of us giving more physical exertion than what was envisioned. Some of us never paddled in a kayak in our life. Some of us couldn’t kayak to save our lives. Some of us took it as a challenge and began racing each other, as if some golden trophy or over-sized cardboard check was waiting for us on the other side.

So, once ashore on this terra firma there was the catching of breath and the surveying of this new place. We were the only ones on that island that particular time, on that particular day. Still, I thought the kayak trip across shallow waves with dark coral underneath WAS the trip. Little did I, nor some of my mates knew the next part. A gaggle formed and folks started heading off, led of course by Liam. “Where you guys going?” someone asked. “The other side” shouted back Liam. “Are you coming?” asked Dave to two of the guys standing behind. Joe, an aging middle-aged man and an expert sharpshooter, lit his cigar and yelled back “Screw that”.

The Mokuluas, like most of the islands in the pacific are formed out of lava and this one rises straight up. There’s a larger island, but we hit the shores on the smaller one which is about less than a quarter mile in diameter but 2/3rds of a mile in circumference. There’s really not much of a beach to speak of, just one small area with the rest crags and rocky edifices that get pounded constantly by the Pacific Ocean.

As we started off, the climbing of hard black lava, the twisting of ankles, the jumping between rock formations (sometimes 2, sometimes 3 feet apart) with the waves lapping at your feet was an unintended surprise. As I said, this island rises up and there’s not a lot of territory to navigate from. Ten minutes into this jaunt over the lava, with beer being spilled and more physical exertion than expected, the gaggle began to dwindle. Dan was the first to call it quits and head back, “I’m leaving. It’s always the black guy that gets killed first in the movies.” He was soon followed by 2 others. So, in short order this expedition to the other side of the island consisted of just me, Dave and Liam.

Trying to navigate along rocks of black lava with the waves splashing on one side and no room for error on the other certainly does take a degree of concentration. As you step, or sometimes leap, you have your eyes darted on the next safe spot to rest your foot, and with sudden changes in height and rock texture. Imagine walking briskly on a treadmill, but instead of a flat rubberized mat going around, it’s a new surprise coming at you every 2 feet, and if you miss or slip, then it’s head first into either the Pacific Ocean or falling onto huge coarse rocks. Not fun times. So the three of us navigated ourselves around this island, all the time blindly following the lead of Liam. The minutes were adding up. The precarious plodding along the rocky coastline was taking much longer than we thought. If I had to guess it was at least 30-45 minutes since we arrived on shore, and the kayak rental place had plenty of our deposit money to make it necessary to get back in time. Besides, we weren’t about to kayak back to the airfield and load these things onto the plane.

Finally, we started climbing a little higher and higher. It was about 30-40 minutes of Lava Rock Obstacle Course and we now found ourselves inching our way along a cliff at least 50-60 feet above the ocean with the northeast wind rushing to us. As we were turning the corner of this cliff, our backs were braced against the cliff wall with only a foot wide ledge to navigate along, taking one step carefully at a time. As we turned the corner, we saw it. The geography of the area makes a tightly curved “U” with a large rock formation about 40 feet high and jutting out 40 feet or so from the cliff wall sitting right in the middle. Looking down, you see this effect that happens as the ocean waters rush in, the water levels rise above, rest for about 10 seconds, then just as fast flush rapidly back out to the ocean with a torrential force. It’s a toilet bowl effect, with a rhythmic rushing in and rushing out. And when the waters rush out, looking down off this 50 foot cliff you can see the cold, hard black lava plateau that’s staring right out at the ocean level, about 10 feet out from the cliff down below, covered in sea anemones, algae and such. When the waters rush back in, the lava disappears and the waves churn and crash into the far end of the “U”. Dave and I just looked at each other in horrid disbelief.

At this point, besides the stunned amazement, there’s also the thought that there really is no turning back. The long and arduous trip to get to this point in the first place, with no time left to spare, also means going back means going back alone the way we came in. Not fun and not really an option. If you’re dancing around the rocky coastline with other witnesses, trip and fall, at least there’s someone who will either pull you up or call your next of kin. If you’re doing this dance alone, it just makes a messy operation.

To make this plunge, not only do you have to calculate the rising waters and the time it takes to come in, but you also have to jump at least 10 feet from the cliff wall, and that wall is not a vertical rise but is slanted to a degree. If you misjudge the time for the waters coming in, or don’t jump out far enough, your body is making a forceful embrace on the lava rocks. I’m no expert but I don’t think too many people who jump out of 50 foot buildings to land on hard concrete get up, dust themselves off, and whistle to themselves as they stroll away down the sidewalk.

Liam immediately takes his sandals off, places them on his hands, waits for just a moment then suddenly disappears into the waters. And when you land in the water, you also have to swim like a sonofabitch to the shore or else the waters will carry you out to the Ocean, tossing you along the craggy lava on the way.

“Come on” he shouts from below on the shore, “jump”. Dave and I just look at each other, not saying a word. He’s next in line along this narrow ledge, which ends right at where we jump, so there’s no option of continuing the shuffle along the cliff. Dave takes a bit longer to do the calculation in his head. It may have been 3 minutes but it seemed like 82 years at the time. I can tell that this was not what he had signed up for and was on the same wavelength as me. Eventually he does the same routine, sandals on hands, fixed concentration, then jumps into the rushing toilet bowl. Now my turn.

There are times in most everyone’s life when you figuratively have to make a leap of faith into the abyss. You come across a situation, oftentimes not of your design, that you are faced with two difficult and painful choices. Do you take the one path of retreat, expend precious time and face the judgment of others. Or, do you make a bold and crazy act, one that could mean the end if you guess the timing and distance wrong. Most times people have a figurative struggle like this. Seldom do people REALLY have to make a leap of faith.

If I had been to the Mokuluas before, had done this crazy act or even seen someone do this I might have been more at ease. But here I was, alone on the ledge with only the warm Pacific winds keeping me company. Faced with the potential for disaster, what goes through one’s head? The calculations about jumping and the timing run over in hyper speed in your mind with absolutely no room for mistakes. I thought of my wife and kids, and the hope that they’d understand if I slipped, fell or made a horrible misjudgment and wound up as ocean shark bait. I took my sandals off, calculated the incoming waters, closed my eyes and jumped as hard and far as I ever did in my life.

The jump seemed to last a few seconds. With my eyes closed and in complete darkness, I distinctly remember the feeling of being embraced by the warm swirling waters and then knowing that I had survived this crazy act. And after I landed in the water I knew I had succeeded and spent another of my 9-lives. As we all got on shore, after the initial shock wore off, Dave turns around to Liam and asks, “Have you ever done this before?”, to which Liam nonchalantly replies, “Yeah, but never sober.”

I come to find out that immediately past the “U”, about 100 yards is the beach where our kayaks were waiting along with the rest of the crew. I have been back to Oahu several times since then, and asked locals about jumping off the Mokuluas. It seems that what most people do is to take the shorter route and jump off a smaller cliff, about 20 feet into the ‘toilet bowl’. The longer trek and the crazier jump is reserved for those people like us.

So, when you find yourself in some unforeseen situation, one that you stumbled upon by accident, you need to find faith in yourself. Sometimes it takes a situation where you just have to close your eyes and take a leap of faith. Removing your sandals and putting them on your hands is optional.

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Why I Blog

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“I had to write. I had to write to save my life.” – Hurricane Carter

That may not have been the actual words. In fact, it’s probably nothing like what was said. I remember reading a quote from Rubin “Hurricane” Carter years and years ago, in print nonetheless. I think it was Rolling Stone magazine. He quipped how he turned to writing in order to capture his life, which in turn gave him direction, gave him purpose, and “saved his soul”. I always remembered if not the quote but the essence of the short statement. It stuck with me. Unfortunately, even in the Internet Age I’ve never been able to Google those words or anything remotely from him that resembled his powerful statement.

Did Carter actually say those words, paraphrased, or was it someone else? Was it Woody Allen? Nelson Mandela? It’s now slipped into the ethereal of my consciousness but nonetheless “stuck in my craw”.

A couple of years ago I was egged on to start a blog. I’ve done the travelling in my life, and seen some interesting things. None of which I think satisfies the threshold of others who’ve scaled Everest or spent time amongst the Tuareg or lived through the civil wars of the Caucasus. However. As I’ve said before, I’ve known many wonderful and captivating storytellers.

You can have had the opportunity to travel to every corner of the globe, but be deficient in the ability to translate that to others. On the other hand, you may have had the life confined to a close radius but still live such an interesting life that would fill volumes in a library. My brother Jack is a testament to this remarkable skill.

Storytelling is indeed a dying art. Oral storytelling is even more endangered in this era of attention deficit and short-attention spans. There was a day generations ago, when folks would sit around the office water cooler and tell expanded jokes. (“A guy walks into a bar…”) In fact, the art of joke telling has been dying the same fate of oral storytelling, all due to the hands of the Internet. People rarely tell jokes like they did years ago. Now, people just make references to movie scenes and there’s a communal head nod and subtle laugh, all within about 5 seconds. Which is the attention span of most people in this digital age.

Now to blogs. I’ve learned painfully that blogs need to be short and sweet. When I was an airman in the USAF, one of my first bosses introduced me to the concept of ‘KISS’; Keep It Simple Stupid. I’ve realized that blog posts have to be short and to the point. People are inundated, in fact swamped, with data every second, every hour. The shocking, the vivid, the titillating, the funny cat videos, grab people’s attention. Diatribes and lengthy posts on human nature are like those black and white documentaries on channel 898 that get overlooked within a heartbeat.

Why I Blog. I continue to write posts about TRUE events, sometimes embellished but never made up, about events in my life from my aging perspective. Storytelling is indeed a dying art. It’s something that won’t be appreciated until it’s well dead and buried. But telling those stories, for the storyteller, with the emphasis on tone, timing and anticipation, is cathartic and a way to provide healing for the writer and sometimes the reader.

That’s why I write. To save my life.

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The storyteller of Marrakech:

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26988777

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Barnegat Lighthouse

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barnegat_Lighthouse

Barnegat Lighthouse sits at the very northernmost tip of Long Beach Island, a sliver of coastal land along the central Jersey shore. LBI, or at least the northern part, is not particularly hospitable to tourists. In fact, the locals do their best (Harvey Cedars, Loveladies, et al) to block any local access to their beaches. These private beaches are home to various types to include mafia dons, politicians, wealthy lobbyists and corporate moguls…generally the One Percenters. Philadelphia Magazine in the 1970s quipped it right when they said, upon approach to the island from state highway 72, “The haves turn right (south) and the have mores turn left (north).” On the bay side however, are the Joe Bagadonuts that service the diners, bait shops, and public servants who work to keep the island safe, secure and clean for the One Percenters.

Barnegat Lighthouse is a nice destination and refuge for those seeking escape and direction from the maddening crowd on this portion of the Jersey Shore. It’s also a pleasant diversion from the exclusive ensemble that try their best to ward off pesky visitors.

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