London, England – Let’s say you’re lost. Let’s say you’re in a foreign country. Add in some rain. Throw in jet lag. Forget the map you’ve already checked. Do something most guys don’t do: ask directions. At least here they speak English, right? But it’s me with the funny accent.
“Oh, God,” one of the two men said as I asked if I could ask a question.
“Which way is Marble Arch Station?”
“Don’t turn,” I repeated, but they both had already crossed the intersection – without looking back at me, the poor lost soul on the rainy streets of Westminster.
Hyde Park Mansions, Cravens Road, Bishops Bridge, Sussex Gardens – the names swirled in my head as I looked again at the map. I’d unknowingly gone exactly the wrong way as I left the hotel in search of Oxford Street. I’d already made a trial run that morning down Edgware Road and was within two blocks of Oxford and all its shops, but it began sprinkling and I realized my umbrella was back in the hotel room. I turned back and vowed to take a different, more interesting route on my second attempt.
Bad idea – the one about taking the alternate route. Good idea – the one about the umbrella. But after almost an hour of trying to find Oxford and looking at Bishops Bridge rising into the air, where the hell was I?
Later, and after my question to the two gents, I found myself just as lost. A young man without an umbrella was trying to cross the street the same time I was. The traffic was endless. We both moved down the street to the intersection, and I asked, “Which way is Marble Arch Station?”
“The best way is to take the tube, it’s right down there,” and he pointed to an entry way to the London Underground a half block away. I followed him and we both ducked into the entrance and out of the rain. I bought a ticket, asking for the Edgware Road station, instantly giving up on the whole Oxford Street idea.
“Go down to Platform 1,” the lady behind the glass said. “Then take the circle and go to Edgware.” Little did she know I had already been going in circles. Asking directions even to Platform 1 I felt a fool. I stepped onto the subway car, the recording shouting, “Mind the gap!”
Within seconds I was gone – at least away from Lancaster Gate, which is where I was but didn’t know it. I asked the young girl sitting next to me for help. She got out her own map of the Tube and told me to get out at the next station and take the Central Line. “Queensway,” the conductor said over the PA system. Suddenly I was out of the car again as the young girl gave an open palm, side-to-side wave as if to say, “Whatever.” She was very helpful though. In fact, she had saved me.
I followed the signs to the Central Lines, green and yellow life lines that would take me back to where I began this crazy journey. The recording came on as I boarded, “This line is a circle line to Edgware Road,” the announcement declared with that distinctive British clip as I sat down and watched the Queensway tube sign disappear along the age-old brick walls outside the train windows.
I slipped my tube ticket in the exit turnstile and the gates opened. I exited. Not bad. I emerged at street level and saw the hotel marquee within one block. It was pouring rain. But I had my umbrella and I was home. Safe.
When I next go to Oxford Street, I’ll walk.
The heartbreaking scenes of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation on the Jersey shore are almost too much to bear. New York, Manhattan, Virginia, the Carolinas, Rhode Island, Maryland, Delaware – the whole Eastern Seaboard – share in the disaster, surely the worst of its kind in modern history.
I’m married to a Jersey girl and have become familiar with the phrase “the Jersey shore.” In Texas, where I grew up, we went to “the beach.” But in New Jersey, Cherie went “to the shore.” And the Jersey Shore is the best there is. I’m not talking waves, swells, sets, surfing categories. I’m just saying for an outing to the ocean, the Jersey shore is it.
New Jersey takes abuse of all kinds from comedians, and particularly from New Yorkers – and that abuse is passed down to listeners who believe what they hear, even though these comedic images of Jersey are nothing more than fiction. In reality, New Jersey is a beautiful state, and the Jersey shore in particular is a beautiful place, treasured not only by those from the state of New Jersey, but by New Yorkers and visitors from all over the world who come to enjoy the clean sandy beaches, the cold Atlantic, and the boardwalks that give the area its unique character.
Hurricane Sandy changed all that. The storm hit hard as it moved onshore at Atlantic City and moved on to wreak havoc for 500 miles in several directions. Boardwalks disappeared, 80-mph winds and torrents of sand inundated picturesque seaside communities.
So when you hear about the “Jersey shore,” understand that it holds a special place in people’s minds: fun at the ocean, romantic boardwalks lit up at night with roller coasters and ferris wheels, the smells of foods of all kinds being prepared. A day at the shore, sadly, won’t be the same for quite a while.
Maroma Beach, Quintana Roo, Mexico – On a sunny day, the Caribbean would beckon. Visibility would be good to a hundred feet or more. The Palancar Reef, one of the world’s premier diving and snorkeling areas, is a short boat drive away. But today it’s pouring – tropical rain. Drenching rain. Thunder in the distance. Lightning strikes visible on the beach to the north. Rain pours through the thatched roof of the palapa.
“Okay, time to go,” says the captain. “Everybody with a purple wrist band follow me.” He leaves the palapa, wades through the running water, and heads for the boat. “And please take off your shoes before you get in the boat, okay?” More thunder.
We huddle below deck in a cramped, humid compartment not quite big enough for all of us. But we’re all in there. The captain sticks his head in. “We’re taking off now.”
At the dive location, we gather topside for “instructions” from the captain. “First, has anyone not snorkeled before?” Several people, amazingly, raise their hand. “This is a snorkel.” The captain is holding up one for everyone to see. The rest of the instructions take maybe twenty seconds. “Okay, who here cannot swim?” Again, amazingly, a couple of people raise their hands. “Okay, I’ll have a life ring with me in the water,” the captain says. “You two hold onto the ring. Okay, is everybody ready?” We begin jumping into the dark murky water.
Within minutes we’re strung out a hundred meters across the ocean and, because of the strong current, we’re also swimming for our lives. The captain dives down to show us a lobster. The closest snorkeler to him kicks his fins, creating a sand storm. Visibility: zero. More swimming for our lives. The current gets stronger. It’s wise to keep up with the captain, whose bright yellow flippers are about the only visible thing underwater. The two people who can’t swim are holding onto the life ring.
We swim (furiously) back to the dive boat. “Okay, let’s go to a second location.” The captain looks at me for reassurance that his idea is a good one. I nod toward a sister dive boat behind us, driving rain making her appear like a ghost ship in distress. She’s barely visible. Diesel fumes and smoke swamp our view as we pull away.
At the second location, more currents, more extreme swimming (forget snorkeling). Nobody cares about the fish or the lobster or the reef. Crackling thunder splits our ears as we surface momentarily. Again, we’re strung out across open water. The captain is yelling at the laggards. It’s time to reboard.
Xcaret, Quintana Roo, Mexico – May 31, 2012
…We snorkeled early, but the sea was rough and the water chilly. We walked back to the beach and read under the palapa and had mango margaritas.
Later that afternoon, a young boy shimmied up a nearby palm tree and snagged some bright yellow unripe coconuts. He excitedly showed them to his mom and another lady in the beach chairs near us. I noticed the Russian letters on their beach bag. We tried to converse with them. I took a couple of pictures of the young boy and his mom and said I would send them the photos if they could give me their address. What ensued was hilarious as we tried to communicate; they knew not a word of English, we knew no Russian. Cherie had one of the ladies speak Russian into her iPhone, but the translation was impossible and we all laughed together at our hopeless communication skills.
The boy wrote his name in a back page of my journal as he sat on the end of my beach chair. I asked if he knew English and he firmly shook his head. No! His mother and her friend talked excitedly to one another. Email! That began another furious writing attempt by the boy. For some reason and thinking it would help, the ladies were asking (in Russian) what our room number was at the hotel. Finally the father showed up. He spoke no English either. The ladies had earlier told us they knew some French. He took the journal and wrote his email address, but not before fussing at his wife for apparently being in the sun too long without enough sunblock.
Later that evening in front of the outdoor theatre, the young boy ran to where Cherie and I were sitting. He stood in front of us and smiled. Then he waved. He didn’t say anything. But he didn’t have to. We understood. It was a wave from Russia – with love.
I read the news today…about a new photo that surfaced in the Beatles famous Abbey Road album cover shoot. The Beatles are walking in the opposite direction in the new photo. And Paul is wearing sandals instead of being barefoot. It’s all very interesting. To me, however, here’s the most interesting thing: the man in the background is still there, just like in the photo that eventually became the cover shot. And I knew him.
It was back in the mid-1970s and I lived in Austin, Texas, as I do today. The group of friends I hung out with included a guy named Robert – and I’m sorry I can’t remember his last name now. He was a few years older than me. One day he told me that he was on the cover of Abbey Road. Now that’s just something you didn’t hear all the time.
He then pulled his wallet out and showed me a photograph of himself in London on Abbey Road. The setting is the same, except the Beatles aren’t walking across the street. He said he was in London at that time and saw the shoot going on as he was standing on the sidewalk that day. Later when the album came out and he realized he was in the photo, he put on the same clothes he was wearing that day and had a friend go back to the location and shoot a picture of him – for posterity, right?
It was pretty amazing. It’s him in the photo. The photo he pulled out of his wallet way back in the ‘70s was worn and faded and crinkled (he had been carrying it around for about six or seven years by then), but when you looked at it and you looked at him, you had to say, “Wow, that is you all right.”
He passed away several years ago, but every time I see the Abbey Road cover I always think of him. So today when news came out that there was an exciting new photo of the Beatles walking the wrong way as depicted in their iconic cover shot, I looked at it immediately. Yep, there’s Robert (no, he’s not the famous “Dr. Robert” from the Beatles song). But in this shot there’s no black London taxi near him. That must’ve pulled up at a different time because he is standing near the taxi on the cover photo. He was in the right time at the right place.
Austin, TX – When we last reported, yes, a shortage of frozen limeade was in effect – meaning those nice little frozen concoctions, as Jimmy Buffet sang, were tough to come by without that key ingredient, frozen limeade. There’s plenty of tequila. Don’t worry about that. It seemed like that – for now at least – the crisis had eased…until Cinco de Mayo last Saturday.
Cinco de Mayo is perhaps the most celebrated misunderstood holiday ever. Why? People think it’s Mexico’s Independence Day. Wrong. It’s a David and Goliath type thing. The Battle of Puebla in 1862 is remembered on May 5 each year because it was that battle that resulted in a vastly outnumbered group of Mexicans fighting, stopping (temporarily) a much larger French Army force on its way to Mexico City. Underdogs. Against all odds. You get the picture. I’ll drink to that, and millions of other people join me each year – on Cinco de Mayo.
Chris called and invited Cherie and me over for fajitas Saturday night. “And bring some frozen limeade,” he said. When we arrived at his place, he told us that he had gone to the store to buy some limeade frozen concentrate and there was none. The store manager told him people had been coming in the previous day and buying cases (24 cans to a case) in preparation for Cinco de Mayo. We handed over our requested delivery (we had some on hand only because we stocked up the last time we couldn’t find any) and moments later were – yep, celebrating Cinco de Mayo.
Limeade: it’s getting harder to find all the time. People buying 24 cans at a time? Really?