A Boy and His Dog

There is something to be said about the relationship between a family and their pet or pets, and I am not here to disregard the love any living being has for another creature. However, there is some this special about the symbiotic relationship between a singular human and their dog. That dog becomes a child, a best friend, a confidant, a support system, and in many ways, a mentor. It is almost unbelievable how many independent roles one single creature can play at the same time. It is in this light that I pay homage to the life of my best friend…

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It was February 2006, I was a senior in college at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. My girlfriend at the time was a senior at Butler located in downtown Indianapolis. Valentines weekend was descending upon the world so I caught a ride up to Indy with a friend to surprise the girlfriend with flowers and dinner. Little did I know that the next 14 years of my life were about to be decisively changed from what I had imagined them to be. (Insert Valentines day kissy kissy crap here.) After all that was done, I was informed we were headed to the Humane Society where she was planning on adopting a puppy. Naturally I went along, however, being a person of little patience, I decided to wander around the place as she was filling out all of the required paperwork. What beautiful creature should I stumble upon but a 13 month old Boxer/Rhodesian Ridgeback named Zeus. He wasn’t barking (he was always the more “strong and silent” type). He wasn’t jumping against the cage and pawing at it. No, he was literally springing directly into the air on all fours (any of you who knew him during those early years knew how hilarious this was to watch. He was seriously half dog/half Tigger). I thought to myself, “this guy is as crazy as I am. I have some time to kill, why don’t I just take him outside and give him some play time while I’m waiting for the girlfriend”. Thirty minutes later, the girlfriend had finished up her paperwork and we each were walking out of the Human Society with a new dog. After a quick stop at PetSmart for necessities, we went to my parents’ house, whose reactions could best be summed up with, “Are you CRAZY?!” Well, yes. For any of you know who know me, I am. I have always been the one to act on impulse, spontaneity has always been my friend. None of you would be surprised if you called me on a Monday and I was living in Denver, and if you called me again on Friday and I was living in Detroit. Sometimes these decisions I question. I never once questioned adopting Zeus. Not one time in 14 years.
But I digress, I still needed to graduate. So Zeus and I went back to the magical campus in Bloomington, IN.

Not gonna lie, the roommates were a little pissed at first. Zeus had an uncontrollable tail that would leave bruises, clear coffee tables and sometimes even drop an unsuspecting victim to the ground if they got hit in the back of the knee just right. There were several moments in college that Zeus would whack his tail against a corner or door jam so hard, the end would start bleeding. But, seeing as how he never felt pain, he was unaware to the fact and would go around the house continuing the uncontrollable wagging, now with the added bonus of flinging blood all over the walls. It was not uncommon for our house to look like a scene out of a slasher film. We did everything we could to try and prevent it: socks with duct tape, old tied up t-shirts, toilet paper and masking tape, hell we even tried using a pool noodle. All to no avail. He would just tear off our handiwork and we would come into the house with the scraps of our attempts on the floor in the entry way.

There were several other neighborhood dogs owned by our friends and they all fell in pretty quickly. I’d freak out because Zeus would be missing and I’d get a call from a friend down the street, “Hey, we have Zeus, just come grab him when you get out of class.” He was notorious for taking himself on walks. He wasn’t an escape artist, he was just an adventurer. It’s why we got along so well.

Zeus’s life in Bloomington lasted about 6 months, through graduation and most of that summer until we moved out of Bloomington to Indianapolis. But Indy was never where we were planning on staying. And shortly thereafter, Zeus was in my Wrangler and we were moving to Winter Park, CO.

We loved living in Colorado (and would do it a few more times in the next several years). The mountains were our favorite place to play. I don’t know who loved the snow more, myself or Zeus. Whenever there was fresh powder on the ground, as soon as the door was open and he got the green light, Zeus would tear out of the house or the car and run directly into a snowbank. It was a delight to watch–just another thing we had in common. Another great part about Winter Park back in those days is there were a couple bars that would allow our dogs to accompany us, so even when we were having a good après, our friends could still chill with us. Zeus was so great, they even let him sit at the bar.

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Winter Park was a snowy playground for us. We went hiking and snowshoeing a considerable amount. We went sledding, but we only went sledding once. Zeus did NOT like sledding. I’m pretty confident it was his least favorite thing ever. The one time I tried to take him down on a saucer sled, he was not having it. He jumped off mid-slide, causing us both to wreck and tumble down the hill in snowy chaos, much like a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. The look he shot me after the dust settled was one of complete and utter disapproval.

But as we all know, the road is winding and come the following summer, Winter Park would no longer be our home. It was off to Chilmark, MA on the beautiful island of Martha’s Vineyard for some beach adventures.

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We didn’t know it at the time, but we would become very familiar with Martha’s Vineyard. Zeus would meet another person that summer he would share a special bond with (technically we both would) in my ex-wife. But that wouldn’t really become a thing for another calendar year. Zeus’s first year on the Vineyard was full of late nights littered with friends, long walks through the woods while playing disc golf, and delicious meals of fresh brown rice and salmon bellies (one the occasional evening I would treat him to swordfish pieces as well). He definitely made out from the fact that I worked on the fishing docks (I think we both did).

Martha’s Vineyard was also the first (and thankfully only) time Zeus would get us both put in time-out for a few days.
Scene: it is 2 am. The party was over and everyone had left or gone to bed. I went outside to sit on the rocking chair and have a smoke while letting Zeus out to the bathroom. It was a quiet night on the island, I could hear the waves crashing in the not-far-off distance, a half moon lit up my yard and honeysuckle bushes. In regular Zeus fashion, he came running back up towards the house, only this time, I could see something moving quickly in front of him. I squinted to see what it was, and it was about that time I saw two white stripes down the creatures back. But it was too late. Everything–as I saw that tail raise–seemed to move in slow motion. I yelled for Zeus to stop, and tried jumping out of the rocking chair. Zeus started to hit the brakes and started back pedaling. But we were doomed. We both got sprayed that night, and spent the next two days smelling like the lawn section of a Peter Frampton concert. Nobody would come near us. Lesson learned.

The summer drew to an end and it was time to leave the island. I do not have photos of the following road trip until we ended up in Los Angeles (Studio City) as smart phones weren’t exactly a thing and my digital camera had been stolen. We even had to travel by map (can you even imagine?!). After we left the island, we first stopped in Boston to see an old musician friend from high school. Then we went on a tour across the country to see various friends from the island that had returned to college, and other musician or college friends that had relocated across the country. Our second stop was Poughkeepsie, NY to see a fellow island musician. Zeus and I were both extremely puzzled at the students attempting to play Quidditch (which we all know requires a flying broom). From Poughkeepsie, we traveled to Susquehanna, PA to visit another island friend. From Susquehanna, we traveled to Cleveland for a very short stop on our way to Indianapolis to shed the summer gear and pick up some snowboard gear. From Indianapolis, we drove down to Enid, OK where we spent Thanksgiving on my cousin’s farm. From the farm we went and spent a month snowboarding back in Winer Park, CO. We left winter park to visit an island friend in Albuquerque, NM for a couple days. From Albuquerque we solo traveled to Flagstaff, AZ to check out the town and then down to Phoenix to visit an old friend from high school. Upon leaving Phoenix, we traveled to San Diego to see one of our best friends in the world and this is when we would take our first swims in the Pacific ocean. Finally we headed up to Studio City, CA where we would stay for several months. Zeus and I had just completed our first coast-to-coast road trip.

LA was pretty ok. Not much has changed there. We used to walk the Venice Beach Boardwalk and around Santa Monica a bit. We went and visited a CO friend in Redondo Beach. Zeus and I were never really ones to just lay on a beach though. We took a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park for a photo shoot and were able to nab a cool photo of the two of us in the process.

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We were spent on LA and decided to move all the way back to MA. We left Studio City, headed up Highway 1, through Big Sur, to San Francisco to visit some more friends from my college summer job as a camp counselor. Several days in SF turned into almost a month. (That is also where we grabbed the banner photo for this blog, one of our friends snapped it as we were all [humans and dogs] taking a fabulous walk through the Richmond and Golden Gate Park to the beach.) From SF we stopped in Park City, UT to visit Medsger who was Zeus’s dog-sitter from time to time during college. From Park City it was on to Indianapolis, IN (with a quick stop in Winter Park, CO) so I could ditch the snow gear and get ready for another summer on the island. In the process, we completed our second coast-to-coast road trip.

The second summer was similar to the previous. Zeus and I ate tons of fish, hung out with great friends, had beach bonfires, hiked through the woods and in general just enjoyed island life. But at the end of this summer, we would not be going back west. Instead, Zeus and I moved to Washington DC to be with my then girlfriend (eventual wife) whom Zeus would also establish a very close relationship with.

DC was a definite adventure but our apartment on the 9th floor was small and a little confining for the adventurous types had grown to become. So Zeus and I would go on lots of hikes to spend energy. Shenandoah National Park one of our favorite places to explore outside of the city.

He was such a fashionable dog that we even bought him his own tuxedo fort the wedding.

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One of Gwen’s favorite things to do with Zeus was to dress him up. He was such a good sport about it.

Like I said before, we got a little stir crazy in DC. Once I found Great Falls National Park and the great trails around there, we found a little respite from the noise and concrete. So, Zeus hiked the Billy Goat Trail with me on a very regular basis. We would go clambering over the boulders. We would sit and soak in the sun on rock faces, and watch the Great Blue Herons fish in the river below.

After the divorce, Zeus and I made a beeline back to Colorado. However Zeus would end up staying in Indianapolis for several months while I found a job and an apartment, as I flew to Denver with only a suitcase and a mandolin because I had sold my 4-Runner when living in DC as two cars were not necessary. Zeus would rejoin me in Denver after a U-haul road trip with my parents, but not until after his little buddy Lucky was brought into my parents life. Zeus looked after the pup for the several months he was with my parents and created a pretty strong bond with him.

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Zeus and I spent the following three years in Denver,CO and Golden,CO having all sorts of wonderful adventures in the Colorado Rockies. Mt. Evans wilderness was a favorite spot of ours. We also hiked a few 14’ers, Lincoln and Democrat. (For those of you unfamiliar, a 14’er is a 14,000 foot summit and it is a work out for the body as well as the spirit.) Zeus made friends with all sorts of dogs as we frequented a local dog park bar, and he also became pretty close friends with my roommates cat believe it or not. Zeus just did not have a hateful bone in his body. He literally loved every person or being he came into contact with (remember the skunk story…). Here are a bunch more Colorado photos.

One of Zeus’s favorite things in the world was snuggling. He would find himself a couch or a blanket and just make himself a little nest and nap away. I couldn’t tell you the number of mornings I would wake up, open my eyes and find Zeus’s head on the pillow next to me sleeping away like it was only natural for him to put his head on the pillow like the rest of us.

Zeus was all about making friends and having a good time. And he has lots of stories with so many people we have met along our path together.

But at the end of it all, he was always a daddy’s boy, and his favorite place was on my lap.

In 2015, we had had enough of Colorado and headed back to Indiana where we would spend nearly a year trying to figure out what to do next. We spent a lot of time hiking local woods, but by now my parents puppy Lucky, was big enough to hike with us. Over that time Zeus and Lucky became fast friends. In early 2016 I decided to return to Martha’s Vineyard for a season but didn’t have a place to live by the time I moved (housing on the island is a serious crisis). So Zeus stayed in Indianapolis. At this point Zeus was starting to get older and my schedule after returning to the world of bartending could keep me away from he house for up to 14 hours at a time somedays. With Zeus and Lucky being so close, as Zeus aged, Lucky started to look out for him the way he looked out for Lucky when he was a pup. It was also very helpful that my dad worked from home so both dogs could get frequent walks be able to go out amongst the other dogs of my parents cul-de-sac whenever they wanted. All of these things lead to the decision that it was best for Zeus to spend his “golden years” in Indianapolis where he could lounge, sunbathe, and drive my parents crazy with his (still) uncontrollable tail.

I spent the following three years working seasonally between MA, MT, and CA. I would come home about every 4-6 months for a visit and get to spend time with Zeus. I didn’t get to see him as often as I would have liked and it was incredibly lonely, especially the first few months, to not have his companionship and constant snuggling. But my parents always updated me with photos and videos of his wacky self.

In 2019 I relocated to Nashville, a mere 4.5 hour drive from Indy. I was able to drive up pretty frequently, sometimes every other week and spend time with him. But at this point he was getting old. He muscles had atrophied and he wasn’t able to climb stairs. So when I would visit, I would sleep on the floor with him at night

Two weeks ago, on the night of October 5th, I drove up to Indianapolis to visit friends. I had been up there just four days prior, but this trip I wasn’t staying in my parent’s guest bedroom. I had originally planned to go camping for about five days and then drive to Indy but I had not received the correct scheduling information and since I was traveling solo, I was able to reorganize my vacation. I had promised to bake an apple pie for my friends and for said pie, I needed to pick up an apple corer from my parents. I called them and told them I would be by to pick it up and that I would return it the following day. Their reply was, “I thought you were camping”. I pulled up to the house and got out of the car, turned to my friend and said, “Put on your game face, you have to meet my parents, but as an added bonus, you also get to meet my dog!”
My dad was standing by the front door. He beckoned me over. She and I walked up to the porch.
He said, “We didn’t wan’t to tell you until you were out of the mountains. Zeus didn’t wake up yesterday morning.” I had no reaction. All I could do was look around aimlessly looking for some way to respond. I knew that was not the moment to process it. I calmly said, “OK” and that I would process that on my own time.

So this is my own time.

After leaving Indy I drove out to go solo camping and hiking in the Smoky Mountains. But after arriving, the TN side of the mountains was absolutely crowded with people. Nothing was to be found by ways of a campsite and I’m positive the trails would have been packed as well. So, I decided to call a friend who lives in Asheville, NC who also happens to be an avid outdoors person, and ask her if she knew of any good spots around Asheville I might be able to find a campsite and do some good hiking. She told me to drive to Asheville. I did.
She pointed out several good hikes, the last one being Shining Rock, in the Pisgah National Forest. Shining Rock holds a very specific place in Cherokee lore and is said to have been the home of Tsul ‘Kalu and also served as a place for spirits to pass from this world into the next. I decided that hiking up to Shining rock was the most appropriate was to process the passing of Zeus.

I started at the trail head and hiked with him all the way up the mountain. When I got up there, I looked at the sky and said a final good-bye to my best friend.

I love you Z.
Jan 15, 2005 – Oct 5, 2019

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Plantains and Plateaus. (a year in review)

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It is hard to imagine that another year has passed already. 2017 was a wild ride. It was full of beauty and heartache, familiar tides and new vistas. I have been putting off this blog for sometime now if for no other reason than it seemed almost too daunting to tackle. The year saw numerous ups and downs, but I think that many of us can agree we are happy to have at least one of the Trump years behind us. We made it through and we’re still here to talk about it. Look at us go! So lets get this thing started with a bunch of the stuff that went down in 2017. First we are just gonna knock out the list of people that left us in 2017, and it is a whopper of a list. In one short year, we lost the likes of Fats Domino, Tom Petty, Hugh Hefner, Walter Becker, Jerry Lewis, Chris Cornell, Adam West, Butch Trucks, Gregg Allman, Charlie Murphy, Don Rickles, Al Jarreau, Mary Tyler Moore, Roger Moore, Jim Neighbors and Raging Bull (not Robert DeNiro but the ACTUAL Raging Bull, Jake La Motta). That is a pretty tough list to swallow. Look at just how deep it goes: the creator of Playboy magazine, Gomer Pyle, Soundgarden AND Audioslave, Freefalling, Blueberry Hill, Whipping Post, The Nutty Professor, BATMAN, James F’in Bond, Ricki Don’t Lose That Number, and the thing is, this doesn’t even scratch the surface. I know we lost a lot more people in 2017 than are incorporated on this list but we can’t spend all of our time focusing on the dead, except for one more human. He came to us from deep down in Louisiana, close to New Orleans, way back up in the woods among the evergreens. I knew I loved rock and roll from a very young age. And from the day I bought my first guitar at 12 years old, there was one rocker above all the rest that I wanted to sound like. Mr. Chuck Berry. He changed the face of music for the better. Without him you would never have had Clapton, Hendrix, Zeppelin, ACDC, and we could go on and on and on with this. Chuck Berry changed the way people even looked at a guitar. So thanks Chuck. You can stop fighting with that seatbelt now.

I rang in 2017 behind the bar at Alchemy. I can’t tell you how many balloons were littered throughout the building but after tying them I was surprised I could even turn over a bottle. On Jan 1st we went in to close the restaurant for just over a month and 4 days later I was on a place headed south, to Puerto Rico, where I would spend the first month of 2017.

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So, 2017 started with me relaxing for the month of January on the beautiful beaches of Puerto Rico. I fell in love with the culture and community I was surrounded by. In that same month, we inaugurated Donald Trump as the president of the United States. But before we get to Trump, we’re gonna focus on the beauty of Puerto Rico.

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Where would you like to start? Do you want to talk about the warmth and hospitality of the people of Puerto Rico? Do you want to discuss the beautiful beaches and crystal blue waters? Do you want to perhaps have a conversation about the resilience and strength of the communities as the United States continues to milk the small island dry? During my stay on the island I became close with a few locals and came to understand exactly why Puerto Rico needs to either be a state, or a sovereign nation. They are required to give so much to the United States but get very little in return. During my stay alone I was without water for nearly 5 days and without power for almost 3, and this was not caused by anything other than poor infrastructure. God help all my friends that were there 8 months after I left.

The natural beauty of the island is breathtaking, from mountainous rainforests to sandy beaches with some of the best surfing in the world. Puerto Rico never failed to deliver awe and beauty. It provided mangrove islands and reefs to snorkel as well as magnificently tall waterfalls to jump off. It was absolute heaven with coqui frogs. I found some of the dirtiest, diviest places with some of the greatest food, and swapped stories with some of the most interesting people and at no point did our differences have a negative impact. I even had the joy of spending time with some familiar faces, some new, some old. All full of joy and love.

Through mutual respect and a desire for understanding, when I left that island, a part of me stayed there to make room for the part of the island that I now carry with me. (I do hope you read my blog “Aptly Named: Water” for an even deeper portrayal of Puerto Rican wonder.)

 

I left one island to return to another. When I moved back to Martha’s Vineyard in 2016, my intention was to do one season and then leave. I ended up staying for a full second year, including the winter (apart from the month I spend in PR) which would prove to be one of the most challenging and chaotic years I have experienced in quite a while, but it also came with some wonderful newness. It was nice to experience Martha’s Vineyard as a year round resident rather than a seasonal worker. It was quiet and peaceful, there were parking spots, there was free time to go exploring. In the later winter and early spring I found a new love for the walking trails of Martha’s Vineyard which I would continue to explore until my departure. Not to mention spending St. Patrick’s Day on the streets of Boston, MA with some quality friends.

I continued my study of deliciousness through Memorial Day at which point I made a change in workplace. I knew I did not want to stay for another winter, so I moved to a wonderful yet incredibly busy waterfront bar which I knew would close at the end of the season, forcing me to find a new destination for the winter. So I milked my last moments at Alchemy, without knowing they would bring me on from time to time to help out in the kitchen. What a joy that was. I finally had the opportunity to deepen my knowledge of the industry even more by spending time in the trenches with my boys (and girls) in the back of house. Let me tantalize your visual tastebuds with these little delicacies from my friends and me.

So in May, before my restaurant transition, I flew out to Colorado to witness some old friends finally tie the knot. Now, I was around back in 2009 when Sarah showed up and Dave’s house and low and behold, she never left. So it was about time when all of us friends were summoned to Colorado to be present for their exchanging of vows. In anticipation, we are all waiting for the ceremony to start, Dave is in front with on of their two dogs and his close friend who was to preside over the ceremony. Sarah comes walking down the isle looking like an absolute queen, with the other wonderful pooch by her side. As the ceremony is about to begin, the crowd was intently wondering why there was a large frame of some sort covered by a sheet on stage with the couple. As the master of ceremonies begins, he quickly announces to a surprised crowd that he is unable to marry Dave and Sarah. Gasps erupt from the crowd. He continues, “Dave and Sarah eloped to Vegas exactly one year ago and this is actually their one year anniversary.” Talk about a shock! It was brilliant. Parents, relatives, no body had any idea. How they managed to keep that secret for an entire year I will never know, but that goes down as one of the best practical jokes I have ever been privy to. After several arguments with Spirit Airlines, who I will absolutely never fly again (and I recommend the same to you if you pride yourself on a comfortable flight, straightforward pricing and a company that is willing to correct mistakes) I ended up just taking the hit for the return flight that was incorrectly booked and bought a second return flight with Southwest and headed back to the island for another summer season that was rearing its head.

When I got back to the island, I arrived to what seemed to be the beginning of a very exciting and wonderful summer, perhaps the best I had experienced since my days at Larsen’s Fish Market some 9 years prior. I was sorely mistaken. The summer of 2018 would still show to be an exciting one, with lost of tremendous high points, but it would also prove to be one of my most difficult yet, with some of the deepest emotional desertion, shattering of trust, and comfort zone removal that I have had to experience in my 35 years on this planet. But in light of that, I was also able to spend some of the most true and heartfelt moments with so many people. One of my favorite moments is this one, of three old fish mongers after nearly a decade, no longer as youthful as we once were yet capable of the same level of head-shaking fun and jokes as though once we stepped through that green door of Larsen’s Fish Market, time was rewound and we were once bounding with youthful energy and the zest for everyday that we shared so long before.

Over the summer, my friends and I shared great meals, we experienced energetic evenings that witnessed the sunrise, we enjoyed the warmth of the sun on the beach during the day and the majesty of the moon as it lit the beach in its glow at night. Those days and nights slowly lead me to understanding what it meant to find love entirely too late. There is something to be said about where we trust placing our vulnerable selves and being aware of the ever-changing circumstances around us and to be ever vigilant as not all banks remain as trustworthy as they once seemed. And that is all I want to say about that.

In August I made the decision to be westward bound again. But I was unsure as to where I wanted to go. I knew I wanted to get back to some mountains but I also knew that Colorado was no longer the place I wanted to roam. I put feelers out so several brand new locations and very quickly received a response from what would become my new mountain home. It only took one phone call, and by the end of the less than 8 minutes I had a new position. The strange part was that I was hardly even interviewed. They went straight into benefits and staff housing, the date I needed to start and how long the seasonal contract was. Not once was I asked a question about my work history or why I wanted to move. I guess that part was assumed? Either way, I was soon to embark on a new westward journey into places that I had never seen, that I knew no one, and I was more than excited to start the journey. September and October on the island were full of turning leaves and planning journeys. They were mostly uneventful apart from one joyful experience of meeting another favorite musician and being able to spend several hours, this time NOT working, having a few drinks (potentially too many drinks for all parties involved HA) with him and some other friends. Halloween was my last day on the island, and the morning after, the road was finally ahead of me. That final ferry ride was bittersweet. I had built many relationships during that tenure on the island, some I still carry with me and others I have learned to look back at with a smile. I felt a part of a community and I was leaving that community and little did I know when or if I would return. I walked up on to the cold deck of the Steamship Ferry ironically named Island Home as I was indeed leaving just that. The cold, November breeze was blowing in my face as the waves splashed down the sides of the boat. I could hear the bell-buoy ringing in the distance as the island faded away and the west opened in front of me.

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Before I close this chapter on Martha’s Vineyard, I need to tell you about the close of another very long chapter that occurred in 2017. And that is of the house that I fell in love with. In 2009 when I first visited Martha’s Vineyard, unknowing of how much a cold it would play in my future, I was put up in a house my friend rented for his summer employees. The house was old. VERY old. Like older than 200 years old, old. But it had character and stories that I would only be so lucky to learn a few in the coming years. I would end up moving back to the vineyard and living in this house. I would end up renting this house for a group of our friends to live in the following year, and Scott would end up renting it the year after that for some of the fish market staff. I kissed my ex-wife for the first time in that house. I fell in love with her in that house. Over the years as the owners let the house fall further and further into disrepair, I fell further and further in love with the same house. All of its cracks and creaks, its chipping paint and sagging roof, its old window sills and uneven floors, all became marks of love and a life lived to me. Look as I might, the house remained just out of reach for me to bring it back to life and after a life that spanned nearly the entirety of the life of our country, in early spring of 2017 its life was brought to nothing more than a pile of horse hair plaster and centuries-old, wood beams. A friend and I were able to go on a photoshoot and catch some pictures of the old house only a few days before she was torn down.

Wrapping up the year was a bit chaotic and a wondrous. It was a bit adventurous and composed of learning how to mend brokenness. It was about being humbled and becoming more resilient. A quick stop at home to visit the family and my wonderful pooch who has taken up permanent residence in Indiana with grandma and grandpa as his 13 year old bones simply can’t handle the travel any longer. It was a wonderful month as I got to see many old faces. Some I hadn’t seen in over a year and that is always an absolute joy, and some of them I had only just met. But as new faces were making their way in, some old faces were making their way out and that is always a difficult thing for the soul to handle, regardless of how prepared you think you might be.

We also saw some great shows in a short period of time. All Them Witches took the cake with the best live performance of 2017 for me. I highly encourage you to see them if you are in to any type of rock and roll and they come within 75 miles of you. Another joy was a last minute contest that awarded a friend and I two free tickets to see Spoon just two days before my journey moved west.

Since we’re currently talking music and 2017, and road trips obviously require great music as well, here is my list of favorite new albums of 2017 (in no particular order):

  • Gregg Allmän – Southern Blood
  • Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound
  • Minus the Bear – Voids
  • Moon Boots – First Landing
  • The National – Sleep Well Beast
  • Rancid – Trouble Maker
  • The Wild Reeds – The World We Built
  • Kamasi Washington – Harmony of Difference
  • Nick Hakim – Green Twins
  • Mavis Staples – If All I Was Was Black

I have to throw in two more honorable mentions: Dropkick Murphy’s – 11 Short Stories of Pain & Glory, and Chris Thile – Thanks for Listening.

Westward Ho!

December brought new horizons and managed to knock two more states off my ever dwindling list. After spending a night in Minneapolis with my old friend Oly from Winter Park, CO, I made my way into uncharted territory. Well, it was uncharted for me. First up was South Dakota and Badlands National Park. Badlands is a beautiful park full of rich wonder and a bloody past. While it may not be my favorite of the national parks, the deeply spiritual experience I had while visiting is one I am grateful for nor do I think I shall ever forget it.

And then finally we find ourselves staring down the barrel of the last two weeks of 2017. The new adventure at the end of the year was so wondrous but the chaos that preceded it also led to some very harsh self-reflection as spending 36+ hours alone in a car can only do. It led me to reflect on moments of strength as well as moments of weakness, moments when I made poor decisions, or treated someone unkind, as well as moments where I contributed to others’ joy or allowed myself to be treated unkindly. We spend moments punishing ourselves for things that are not our faults, or we allow ourselves to be treated unkindly because we feel like we don’t deserve anything more than such. In order to be able to love others, we must first be able to truly love ourselves. Sometimes in order to do that we must face very harsh truths, ones that will bring us down, that will show us our shadow-selves. It is in facing this aspect of our being that we learn how to truly find balance.

My return the the west in 2017 was not an easy transition. It was also not like any other. Montana was a completely blank slate. I had never been, nor did I know a single person. Every aspect of the time I was going to spend in Montana was going to be made from scratch. And upon my first arrival coming up the mountain I knew it was going to be good. Don’t get me wrong, first settling in proved lonely and troublesome. Moving from a house that was walking distance to a beach to a shared room the size of a jail cell, with no kitchen and twin-sized bunk beds was something I was unable to deal with. It almost made it seem like the move would be a bad idea. But then there was this:

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And if all that land to explore wasn’t enough, there is another 3500 square miles of wilderness just south of me in Yellowstone National Park. The living situation was small-potatoes in comparison and was promptly resolved. I settled in for a winter in Montana and quickly decided that I will be staying for the summer. No plans from that point forward. We started with more snow than any other resort and never looked to slow down. It was so nice to get back on my snowboard again.

And that is where I leave 2017. I can’t even believe I finished this honestly. It was so full of so many ups and downs, firsts and lasts, laughs, cries, pains, joys, struggles, I have found myself turned more inwards than usual through it all. It took me months of struggling to find even acceptable words to write, even though I am not sure I truly find them well constructed or graceful. I could not leave this half written. So, if you have found your way all the way to this point with me, thank you for your time and I hope it wasn’t as troublesome as writing this has been. I look forward to new projects for 2018 as well as some even larger ones coming in the near future after that. Last year while in Puerto Rico, I asked a large number of my friends to suggest some blog topics they would find interesting. Coming soon: a series based on all of the requests of my friends. Keep in mind that I have some really messed up friends (and I love each and every one of them for that) but some of their suggestions were a little left of center. I will be absolutely be making sure to attribute each topic to the lunatic that suggested it.

I ended 2017 simply working the door for a small mountain bar, in a small mountain town, in a state known for big skies and small populations. It was the complete opposite of the extravagance I experienced the preceding year. I had one drink after work and then went home to sleep so I could bring in 2018 the best way I could imagine; on a snowboard. I’m sorry it took me this far into 2018 to finally finish this blog. I hope this year continues to bring joy and positive change, self love and realization, good friends, better food, all the best music played in all the perfect spaces, and maybe…just maybe, a 2 pound bag of gummy bears from time to time.

I’ll leave you with my Instagram “best-9” of two-thousand and seventeen.

Cheers friends.

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Aptly Named: Water

La Parguera, Puerto Rico

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As many of you who speak to me may know and many of you who don’t speak to me may not, since the start of the year I’ve been whiling away my days in the tropical love-zone of Rincon, Puerto Rico. Since I still have another week here, I’m going to wait just a bit longer to do a full summation of my experiences on this lovely slab of sand. But this in particular is about a day I spent in water. Thus, the aptly named title. Seriously guys, like duh.

The above photo is an arial view of La Parguera. Since I don’t own an airplane, nor do I have a set of wings (butterfly or otherwise) I ‘borrowed’ this photo from the internets (which is why I left the information on the bottom of the photo. I may steal hearts, but I don’t steal free internet pictures). La Parguera is on the south-western corner of the island of Puerto Rico, approximately 90 minutes or exactly 60.2 kilometers from Barrio Puntas where my apartment is. La Parguera is known for two very wonderful and marvelous natural occurrences. The first are the multitudes of mangrove islands and reefs that make up the southern part of the city. These are mostly protected nature preserves and are uninhabited. They are perfect places to snorkel and paddle, or even run into impromptu floating parties. So in order to do this, we needed a few kayaks. We got the number of a local that had a couple he rented to us quite cheap and meandered our way down the coast of the island to pick up our boats.

I’ll go over the second natural occurrence a bit later. Patience my friends.lapa1

As we pushed the kayaks out into the warm, blue waters, the first thing I paddled across were some of the most colorful (what I can only refer to as) water houses, I have ever seen. If you have ever been to martha’s vineyard and seen some of the outlandish coloring of the gingerbread houses, the houses here on the water made them look conservative. Most of these are connected to the main island and built into the shallows, though the water here isn’t terribly deep in the first place. A handful of these guys lined the waterway on either side, the were so fun to look at and imagine living in, but I wasn’t here to see Crayola’s favorite paint jobs. So I dipped my paddle into the turquoise water and paddled out for the open water that separated me and the really far out mangroves.

On the way out to the remote islands, one could see the change in the water underneath the kayaks: it became a little clearer, the floor was covered in seagrass, and the houses had all disappeared behind. One of the first mangrove islands we came across is a protected iguana sanctuary. It is fenced off and there is a guard near the dock, but I have never seen so many iguanas in my life, and they did not give one single shit about us or our boats. They walked right up to us, like the freaky, baby dinosaurs they are and started stretching their jaws. Have you ever seen an iguana run? They make Clark Kent look like Clark Griswold. A very awkward, tinysaurus rex, belly dragging, Clark Griswold. Needless to say, I got close enough to snap a passable GoPro photo and pushed back out to the bay. As I paddled over the open water to the further mangroves, I came across a neighborhood of starfish (red ones, if you need the scientific terminology). So naturally I had to touch it.

I got peed on by a starfish, people. I didn’t even know that was a thing. Well, let me tell you, it is. Karma and all that jazz, I pulled it out of the water and it probably was mad at me. It was an effective method of defense really. I put it back and didn’t mess with any more. Kids, if you have bully problems at school, just wee on them. They won’t mess with you again unless they like it. And at that point the ammo is in your court.

Paddling out of the starfish neighborhood, with a lap full of fresh starfish wee, It was time to find a spot to get out and splash around and snorkel some reefs. Little did we know, we were paddling out to an island where the water is bright turquoise, about 4 feet deep and the locals like to have floating parties. Across another bay, there was a mangrove island with a small waterway cutting through the middle; a perfect place to snorkel some reefs. But on the outside of the island, there were about 4 boats tied up and people splashing around in the blue bathwater of the Caribbean. We paddled up as a large passing raincloud was coming up behind us. We found a little cove to tie up our kayaks to the mangrove and swam out to chat with the other splashers.

Naturally, we brought some sangria with us. And as we swam out, who was it but the guy who rented us his kayaks. With a wide smile we opened his arms, “My friends! It is good to see you! You found one of the locals’ favorite islands.” Apparently we had paddled out to an island that most of the tour boats don’t go to. As I was told, “we like to keep this part of the mangroves for the people and friends of Puerto Rico”. It was beautiful, the water was almost as warm as the smiles on everyone’s faces. But that rain cloud was right behind us and shortly thereafter it started raining. It started as a slight drizzle and grew in intensity. But only about 4 people moved. We were on a boat, out in the bay of La Parguera. All of our valuables were back in the car. Nothing was going to get ruined by getting wet, and we were already in the water anyway. A towel was thrown over a bluetooth speaker on one of the powerboats and the party continued on.

As much fun as it was to swap stories with everyone about our travels and different cultures we have seen and experienced (there was even a little chat about President Drumpf, and how I hope that when he gets impeached, it will be on the set of “The Apprentice” and the entirety of America gets to say, “You’re Fired!”) but it was time to put on my mask and snorkel and get out and explore the reefs.

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The reef was awe inspiring, magical, astounding, energizing, and saddening. I have kept a fish tank at several different times in my life. I have always been fascinated by them. This was like jumping right into those fish tanks. Colorful reef fish were everywhere, and they weren’t afraid of me at all. No more than a foot in front of my face, they swam, just checking me out as much as I was checking out them. This was a pretty healthy reef…or as healthy as reefs can be expected to be in 2017.

Sadly, let me tell you one thing. I’ve read articles on the white wash of the coral reefs. The articles were disturbing enough. But, to put on your dive mask and go into the reefs to see it first hand. It is saddening. If you do not think that humans are having an adverse effect on this planet. You are terribly wrong. Global warming is real and it has to do with the amount of carbon dioxide that we are spewing into the atmosphere. An amount that the planet hasn’t seen for millions of years. But this one is on us. It is time for us to harness energy in new ways.

As the sun was beginning to set, it was time to paddle back to the dock, get some dinner and then go out to explore one of natures more beautiful phenomena.

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For this last part of my entry, I have no photos. I left my camera in the car so I wouldn’t try to experience this last wonder through a viewfinder.

There are approximately seven known dinoflagellate bioluminescent bays in the world. Three of which are in Puerto Rico. A dinoflagellate is a type of plankton. It is an invertebrate and not a bacteria. Bioluminescence is a reaction in a living creature that creates light. If you have ever seen a lightening bug on a warm, summer night over a field in rural Indiana, you have seen bioluminescence. But these dinoflagellates are a different world all together.

Our guide, Mikey (the same chap that rented us the kayaks) took us out on his boat to a secluded bio bay in the town he lives in. There wasn’t a huge crowd, or any crowd. Only the  three of us and Mikey. After we left the dock and entered the mangroves (in a direction opposite that which we were kayaking) Mikey turned off the lights of the boat. Venus was glowing overhead, the moon was behind the horizon and the stars littered the sky like glitter after a Disney princess party. Eventually looking down revealed a glowing wake made by the boat, but before I could reach down to touch it Mikey quickly said, “don’t put your hand down there! The barracuda could mistake it for fish moving in the water”. I don’t know about you, but being bit by a barracuda is not on my bucket list. But not more than 3-4 minutes later, the boat was stopped. We were told to jump in.

Everything was black. The mangroves. The water. The sky. Wasn’t I just warned about barracuda? Now you want me to jump in? Are you crazy? But no, he was serious. My two friends jumped in first. I’m a little more anxious about not seeing where things are coming from. But I reasoned with myself. “If I don’t do this now, I’ll hate myself later.” I jumped in. Immediately everything around me was glowing. Every little movement I made, or kick of the feet to keep my head about water, sent these little creatures glowing. The trail from my swimming was the glowing stream of a comet. It was invigorating. The little things even got caught in my chest hair. As I crawled out of the water, they were still glowing all over me. I was made of stars!

Before we went back to the dock, Mikey thought he had gone just a little too far, but to the right was an extremely tight, mangrove channel. “Do you think we can fit the boat through there?” he asked. “Look down the the sides to make sure I don’t hit the root systems.” Little did we know, he had taken us for a ride. When I looked down, I couldn’t tell if I was looking down into the water, or it I was on top of Mt. Evans staring up at the galaxy. The concentration of the tiny invertebrates was so great, the water didn’t even have to be agitated for them to glow. They sparkled in the blackness. “This is where they are born.” It was like I was watching the creation of the universe. The stars had come down to play and this time, they were looking up at me.

Travel more, my friends. The more we learn about our planet, the better we can serve it. This world is not here to care for us. We are here to care for our world.

“@)!^, A Year in Review” or “Why Your Car is the Best Girlfriend You Will Ever Have and How to Build a Fire.”

 

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@)!^ was a year of tremendous change and drastic shifts. Both in direction and on the keyboard. As I sit here in Rincon (a place I would have never guessed I would be starting 2017) this nobody takes a quick reflection of that which was his past lap. 2016 Started out like they always do, with a breathtakingly pretty girl, hanging out in nature taking selfies. Or did it start just hanging out as two doctors in a hallway? 365 days is a tremendous amount to process and details get a little blurry from time to time. So, here is photographic evidence of either situation.

I was trying to convince myself that Indianapolis was a place that I could stay. I wasn’t doing a very good job, but a couple friends in my life were doing a pretty good job at emphasizing the idea. I also had recently met a truly beautiful and inspiring woman who although her time in my day to day would be short lived, her impact would be outstanding. It always fun and bit intimidating looking down the road of a new year ahead. Just like any road we travel on, we can only see as much as the horizon line will allow and that is rarely telling of the whole story. Little did I know, but New Years Eve would be the end of that young lady’s romantic place in my life, as sad as that is in hindsight. I had not met a person in a long while that inspired me to reach for the horizon again the way she did, and little did I know the impact would slingshot me back into orbit.

I think we can all admit that music took some pretty big hits in 2016. The year claimed Bowie, Prince, Frey, Sharon Jones, Cohen, George Michael, Greg Lake, Leon Russell, Bobby Bee, Ralph Stanley, Merle Haggard, Phife Dawg, Keith Emerson, Sir George Martin, David Baker, and Debbie Reynolds amongst so many others, one stood out a bit more for myself and a large group of my friends. That was the death of singer/songwriter/guitarist James Joseph Campbell. The front man for James and the Devil. My friends and I watched this band grow into an amazing force of love and music. The way he battled cancer with a iron will and glowing smile should be an inspiration to us all. Miss you buddy. Hope you’re still melting faces somewhere.

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In February I got a notion to travel to New Orleans to have some cocktails, listen to some wonderful music, visit a few of my favorite spots in the country and battle a few of the remaining ghosts I had been hanging on to. Riggs and I saddled up into the car with books of CD’s and minds set towards adventure (and hot chicken which we stopped for in Nashville, TN on the way). I don’t need to go over New Orleans again, but it was my own kind of hurricane–there is an older blog all about it if you feel so inclined.  Slowly but surely I was taking back my favorite spots in the country.

Bad News! You know how sometimes, even the people you love the most can drive you completely up the wall? That is how the trip ended. We were both so pissed by the end of the trip we trashed the magazine we were trying to start together. I like to think that we’ve been through enough shit in 20 years however that one day we will both look back and heartily laugh at how stupid we both were down there.

(Sorry I drunkenly followed a parade into the 9th ward for 10 hours with the car keys in my pocket and no phone. Pumpkins and Parsnips.)

Back Home Agaaaaiiiin in Indiaaaaannnaaa, but it didn’t feel like home. I had tried for nearly a year at this point. It was like trying to get me to like salmon. Give it up. #notgonnahappen. Remember that wonderful lady from New Years? She returned from Guatemala about the same time I returned from New Orleans. She got this notion in her head to sell all of her belongings and travel around the country, living and working out of a van. Pretty cool, eh? (Well, for some of us it’s cool. Save your judgy judgements if you don’t agree.)  The interesting thing, she was one of the main voices telling me why Indianapolis was a such a great place to stay put. Her decision to take off was a great enough reason for me to do the same so all it did was get me to thinking, “hey, I have not traveled in a long while. I see a tremendous problem with this. I tried to settle back in my hometown and all it did was make me feel more like a lunatic.” As I watched her prepping, packing, moving, my decision to hit the road again was solidified. So I decided to take what I had been learning about the cocktail world and take it back to the east coast, to the home of sun and skeletons – Martha’s Vineyard. But first I had to knock a few more spots off my list.

Unfortunately, Zeus-the lovable beast you all know and love, is a little too old for intense travel these days. I knew I was going to have to get back to the island and set up everything all comfortable-like before I could bring him out. As much as I hated heading off on my first long adventure without him in over a decade, I knew it was something I had to do and my parents had a dog at their house that Zeus was good buddies with and he would have a nice, kush lifestyle until I could come back to get him. (But he’s good. That’s the point. No need to worry your little heads. The earth is still graced with his presence.)

I only had 3 more states to see before I had seen every state east of the Mississippi: Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. So off to the north east I headed, with a pit-stop in Philly because I had also never been there and it was high time I acquired a proper cheesesteak. I can’t comment too much on Philly as a city, as I wasn’t there for but 2 days. Alternatively, what I can say is… FOOOOOOOD! John’s Roast Pork was (is to date) the best cheesesteak to ever tantalize my taste buds. And Reading Terminal Market…fuggetit. Go see for yourself. Make sure you have several days and don’t eat for about a week prior.

By this time I am starting to send every email and make every phone call I can, in order to set up a place to live on the island I was headed too. Nothing had quite worked out yet. I left Philly and shot north to Vermont. Wow was Vermont beautiful. Somewhat of a combination of Wisconsin and Colorado with seriously Vermonty undertones. Or maybe it was like the Shire. You really could go either way with it. Point is, I liked it. So much so that I added a couple extra days. Vermont was rustic yet relaxed. I wandered through a few mountains in the mist. Zeus would have loved to explore that landscape. I snapped some spring flowers, and made a long awaited pilgrimage.

I left Vermont, headed to Cape Cod. I spent one night in Franconia Notch and woke up to freezing rain and had to quickly tear down my campsite with feelingless fingers. The upside: minutes after the car was packed…that is to say all of the wet tent was stuffed into the back seat, I soon found a tremendous spot to get some stellar pancakes and some legit maple syrup. Man was it good. Then I headed into Boston for two days where I met up with a friend who was there on business. On the way down, I made my usual stop in Lowell to visit Karouac’s grave. I pulled out the wet tent and let it dry in the sunshine as I smoked a cigarette and quietly discussed my travels with the man I would never have the chance to discuss them with in person. The last time I was in Massachusetts was under very different circumstances. I was a few days away from coming face to face with a place I had been pretending was not bothering me. So I took a day out to Walden Pond to ponder my life and situation. I visited the graves of Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and we talked. Well, that sounds a bit crazy. I talked. Vocalized my concerns of past, present and future. I left with a more secure mentality and confidence that I could handle whatever was thrown at me. Little did I know how much I would actually be tested. I guess all writers are tormented.

The next thing I knew, I was on a boat and headed away from the mainland. The horse that was my summer has been discussed in previous posts. It had been kicked enough. Cliff’s Notes version: I lived in a car for a month because there were literally no other options. I reconnected with a place I have loved from my past. I reconnected with old friends and made new ones. I had several conversations with the daughter of Roald Dahl, important ones too. One thing she said stuck with me. That was everything I wrote before I turned 30 was shit compared to what I would write after I turned 30. Namely due to the fact that most men lack the humility to truly write with honesty and create compelling characters. (Maybe you disagree, but I found it to make perfect sense.) Most importantly though, I reestablished my independence in an area I was worried it may prove too difficult to do so. I had good times on the beach with better people than myself. What more can you ask for?

2016 was filled with food. Tremendous food. All the best foods.

I had great friends all over the country busting-out this up and coming food scene. Ed Rudisell was blowing minds in Indianapolis with his constant attack of flavor and knowledge. Jason Foust was simply continuing to impress with his artful cocktails and dedicated study of the craft. Brad Culver was making things happen at 12.05 distillery always trying new things and producing the best gin I have ever had the pleasure of sipping (I’m still trying to figure out how to get your product out to MA, brother).

Back on the island, I was honored at Taste of the Vineyard with the opportunity to run the raw bar with the Chilmark shellfish warden (also a good friend and hands down the fastest oyster shucker I have ever seen)in early June. In August, I left a few other establishments I was working at to dedicate my time and efforts to Alchemy Bistro and Bar in Edgartown. It was potentially one of the best moves I have made if for no other reason than the proximity to an incredibly dedicated and intelligent chef and like minded people that care about flavor and the entire culinary experience of a meal. I found a new food home and who could ask for more than that? The exponential growth of my knowledge of food, flavor, presentation, preparation, pairing and palette is due (in part) to the intense mindset with which my chefs bring to the kitchen everyday. Execution and creativity are equally important. It is also due to the fact that we all share this passion and they are as excited to learn from me as I am from them. Cheers to my chefs. Cheers to Alchemy. Cheers to food. Come see us (if you can get a reservation, that is).

Whats next? Oh yea. More people died. Muhammad Ali died. A bunch of cops shot a bunch of black guys and then a bunch of black guys shot a bunch of cops. (Does this make you feel uncomfortable? It was designed to.) What else…Trump happened. That isn’t a political statement. It just happened. We have 4 years to really decide which side was right or wrong. I don’t actually think it will take 4 years. But traditionally, that is the time frame we have to work with, starting in 2017. Carrie Fisher was taken by the force right before the close of the year. Fidel Castro finally beat everyone that tried to assassinate him and died of relatively natural causes (more natural than a bullet at least). Of all the people on this list, his is the only biography I have read. It was incredibly interesting. One person that didn’t die though! I met Robert Plant. Not only did I meet him, I had the joy of chatting with him about music and our first concerts and what he and I were currently listening to. I won’t go into the whole story, but he asked me to write down some things I was currently listening to so he could go home and give them a listen. The lead singer of Led Zeppelin. Asked me. For suggestions. (This was a life high point. My work here is done. [And who knows if he ever listened to all of them or any of them, but if you’re reading this Robert, come back in on your next trip and tell me what you thought.])

On to something different. As of October 1st I had one state left to visit before completing the entire eastern half of the United States and that was Maine. So I had planned at the beginning of the summer, that at the end of the summer I would go for a trip up through Maine and backpack through Acadia. Well as the National Forest Service would have it, there is no backpacking in Acadia. So base camp and day-hikes it was. But it didn’t start there, it started with a night in Portland. Portland was an incredibly vibrant and young city. I ate tremendous food and had a couple well-balanced cocktails. By the next morning, I was already considering Maine as a place I could see myself living. It would only increase. I drove up the coast to get to Acadia. It was some of the most beautiful vistas and scenery I have seen to date, and those of you who know me, understand I have seen a fair share of vistas. It was so rustic and jagged with the air on antiquity you can only get from New England. I made it up to Acadia, set up camp, and enjoyed the outdoors to the fullest extent. I could have sat for weeks watching the waves crash against the rocks, the endless battle of repetition against solidarity.

Hold on just a second there was another thing. I still had all of the letters my ex-wife had written me many years prior, when we were young and variously different people. After my divorce, I didn’t know what to do with these letters. I didn’t want to throw them away, it felt like I was throwing away a part of myself. I didn’t want to keep them out and read them and just perpetuate my misery either, so they got placed in a box, that was then placed in another box (and then locked in a trunk which was then covered in cement, eaten by an alligator which was then eaten by a whale, which was then sunk to the bottom of the ocean after it died)…or it just went into storage. As I was going through my belongings before leaving for Massachusetts, I came across said box and decided it was time to do something with the letters, so along they came for the ride destined for Maine.

On a cool October night and my last night in Acadia I built a fire. Much like a fire I had built one October, 6 years prior. The fire started small, with just a wisp of smoke and then a slight crackle to let me know it was there but that I needed to care for it if I wanted it to burn. Delicately I fed it rich pine and lightly fanned it, allowing it to breath and grow. One the fire reached a level of independence that did not require my undivided attention, I place large, split pine logs on top and it came to life. With the fire crackling in front of me I pulled out the letters. I organized them orderly and chronologically. I read each letter thoroughly and slowly. Reliving every word. As each letter was finished, it was folded and placed in the fire, words only eternal through memory which is always finite. The last letter was a goodbye. I held it in my hands after I finished reading it, waiting to add it to cinders of the letters before it. With a deep breath, I leaned over and placed the final letter on the fire. One corner slowly caught until the flame crawled over the envelope and consumed the rest. With the last letter gone, I stopped putting new wood on the fire. Slowly the flames flickered consistently lower until all that remained were a few glowing embers that would glow to cinder and ash to soon go out and be scattered by the wind. We must constantly tend to our fires if we want them to burn.

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Not to fret my friends. While it was a bittersweet moment for me. It was a tremendous relief. We can tell ourselves that we are not affected by things and we can be so incredibly convincing, we don’t even realize we are tricking even our own minds. This was a moment of rebirth as I discovered something that had been continually affecting me and was able to let it go. I can only wish for you all, the clarity which comes with that type of experience.

I think it is safe to say we had a lot of fun in 2016 guys. It was a pleasure seeing all of you that I was able to and If I didn’t I hope to see you in 2017. Keep being the crazies that inspire and grow and fight for wonderful dreams and create magnificent things and look to the stars.

But wait Eric, did your year end in October? Of course not. November and December were spent on the island, making people smile with our experiments in flavor. I watched Star Wars: Rogue One. (Which, surprisingly wasn’t spoiled even though I waited almost three weeks before I saw it in Indianapolis on the 70mm projector at the State Museum.) My head chef and food mastermind Brian Woods and I borrowed a car to drive to Indianapolis so we could visit our families for Christmastime. We ended up spending over 50+ hours in a 2003 Honda Civic to spend approximately 44 hours at home. Catching the last ferry off the island, we slept just north of NYC. There was a catch with 5th gear on the standard transmission and you needed to hold the shifter in gear otherwise it would kick itself out of gear. Waking up in the front seat of a Honda was pretty normal to me after the summer, but not so much for Brian. We stopped in PA and I introduced him to scrapple. (I’m still very alone in my love for scrapple.) Somewhere in Ohio, 5th gear decided it didn’t like us anymore. So we were limited to 4th. Have you ever taken a cross country road-trip without being able to use top gear? On the way back, we met at a gas station. As we were preparing to leave, it seemed that reverse also did no like us. For the remainder of the trip, we had to push the car backwards to get out of parking spots, with one of us ready to jump in and hit the brake if we started rolling too fast. We nearly died in Wheeling, WV. Don’t really need to discuss that. The engine, started really chugging in PA on the return and we stopped to realize there was literally ZERO oil in the engine. A few more miles and we would have thrown a rod right out the side. We stopped and asked for a mechanic to help but were told (and I shit you not), “We don’t have a Jiffy Lube or anything like that, but there’s a Dollar General right up the street.” We thanked the lady for her tremendous assistance, bought quarts of 5w-30 and drove another hour on country roads until we found a Midas that could throw the car up and take a look at her.

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They brought the car down. Informed us they didn’t see any leaks, but we definitely had a broken pin in the clutch. Our fluids were topped off and the car was brought down. Amazed that we had even made it that far and still had several hundred miles to go, the guys didn’t even charge us for their time. Cheers to the guys at the Midas in Somerset, PA. They were a tremendous help. At this point we aptly named the car Pucker. (For anyone that doesn’t get it, wait until the next time you get incredibly scared and see if anything ‘puckers’.)

We got back to the island with enough time to prepare for our giant New Years Eve bash. A multi-course meal that had never been executed by us before, and on our busiest night of the year. We definitely hit a few walls that evening but I couldn’t be more proud of how the entire staff came together to execute and maintain the air of cheer and celebration for all of our patrons, even though behind the scenes, many of us were looking for holes to go crawl in and die. Alas, we made it through and we learned so much from it. (And I’m sure we created a smile for every single one of the 1,500 helium balloons we inflated that filled the restaurant, sticking to hats and floating behind the servers.)

I guess that is the lesson of 2016. Growth. Change. And how every moment that doesn’t go quite the way we wanted, is an opportunity for us to learn. To make better decisions. To be more supportive, more encouraging. To be a force of enlightenment rather than darkness. We don’t always remember these things. So thank you to all of you that have lifted me up and created joy in my life in 2016. Whether you are a vagabond van lady, an erratic fish monger, a chef, an adventure loving couple from San Francisco, an almost lawyer in Denver, a DJ, a server from Edgartown, a half puerto rican new englander, a traveling hair stylist, a music producer, a music lover, an almost magazine starter, a faller out of trees, a whiskey nerd from Noblesville, a hipster nanny from Brooklyn, a nurse from Texas, a car renter from Baltimore, a film maker in New Orleans, a distiller in Fountain Square, a rum nerd from Greenwood, a badass chef from Chicago or a badass line cook from Jersey,  an astronomy junky from Golden, a professor in Virginia, a guitar player in Westfield, a medical consultant with a jeep, a lover, a brother, a father, a mother. Thank you. I hope I have been able to at least return the love that you have shown me even if it was only for a fleeting moment. We are human, and flaws are what make us beautiful (or at least I tell myself that because I’m littered with them).

Hopefully our paths cross in 2017. Love and Hopkicks.

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Martha’s Vineyard, Bad Tacos and Making America (a) Great (taco) Again.

I live on an island. Or at least, for the time being I do. When I first moved back here after a 5 year hiatus, I spent approximately a month and a half (give or take 55 days) living in my car. Some people really enjoy this “living in their automobile” thing. The difference is, they typically do it in large converted vans. I did it in a Honda Accord. The worst part is that it wasn’t for lack of ability to rent a place to live. I had budgeted over a twelve hundred dollars a month to rent a room. There was simply nothing available. I went to look at one place that opened up and it was 800 dollars a month, to sleep in a garage with seven other people on prison style bunk beds; the provided amenities were an outdoor shower, a microwave and a port-a-potty. Needless to say I opted to stay in the car. But the larger problem is the fact that these are the options provided to the working people on this  island. I used to truly enjoy my summers on Martha’s Vineyard. Unfortunately the greed of home owners on this island has turned it into a place that will cause its own downfall if it continues to price out the true artisans of the tourism industries that keep the island economy afloat.

One can only eat so many terrible slices or what should barely be allowed to maintain the title of pizza. And don’t get me started on tacos. I love tacos more than I think is humanly possible. They are joyous and delicious, and the best part is they’re simple. So how can a place with such tremendous resources and wealthy clientele, accept such a poor showing of working class cuisine? We have already discussed how the working artisan is being chased out. The next question is: do the people who eat this increasingly pitiful food actually think it is good? I am a college graduate. I lived on cheap tacos, late night pizza and macaroni and cheese. These days I am a working professional with the means to eat considerably better. There will however be a place in my heart for my college cuisine and moreso the love of food that comes from the brilliant minds that realized that pizza and tacos are wonderful and now that we can afford better food as adults, we don’t need to stop eating pizza and tacos, we can (and should) make BETTER pizza and tacos. Just over a month ago I threw away over half a pizza. It was at its most true definition, the worst pizza I have ever had the displeasure of eating. In college, I order late night pizza, slide the uneaten half under my bed, and wake up and eat it for breakfast in the morning. Just as an example of what it would take for me to actually throw away a pizza. I can’t even bring myself to be heartbroken like that over the recent lack of respectable tacos in my life.

If you are still reading this even though I haven’t included any pictures to entice the compromised attention span, kudos and thanks. Way to hold it down for literates everywhere.

Never in my life have I eaten a taco and thought to myself, “this is by far the most flavorful and best taco ever, this will be unmatched forever.” I have had great tacos. There are two great taco spots in Denver that keeps me coming back for more and a wonderful taco truck that parks down on South Broadway in Denver serving some serious goodness to the late night bar crowd down there. There is also a great taco spot in Broadripple Village in Indianapolis, IN that has put a tremendously delightful asian twist on their family recipe. (I am leaving out the names intentionally. Go find your own spots you mooches[kidding-kinda].) The point is there isn’t some taco from the past that has determined what all tacos should be. And I think we should adopt this mentality when looking at our political sphere. Call it Eric’s Taco Politics.

I’m American. My ancestry is Irish and Cherokee, but I am American. I was born here, raised here, might not stay here, but this is where I learned about life, love, girls, mountains, rock climbing, driving fast, camping, music, sex and tacos. America has done some amazingly great things: the internet, Marvel Comics, the car, transcontinental railroad, jazz, flight, a network of individual states that operate as a union while still maintaining many of their own values and cultures. These are all pretty amazing things. But every time America was doing something great, we were also dealing with our own chaotic failures, misgivings, or plainly bad, hateful decision making at the very same time. Things like the massacre of the native people of this country, or the burning of young women in the north east. Remember that time our country split in half and we started shooting each other? There was all that slavery stuff, which then turned into racism (still some moron’s holding on to that one). Then we have class warfare, which is disguised as racism (that’s like playing two games at once). See if we can make another list here: McCarthyism, Japanese internment camps, Chinese slaves dying in railroad tunnels, child labor, the great depression, the Vietnam war, our outrageous incarceration rate, tendency to spend more on weapons than food for the homeless, 52% of the movies that were made in the 80’s, pop country…I challenge you to find a time period after the ratification of our country that we weren’t at war, oppressing a gender or race, milking money from the working class, or taking advantage of another country. Which one of these do we desire to return to when we Make American Great “Again”? America was never great. We have done great things and we have great potential. Let us not return to the past and repeatedly relive our mistakes. Rather let us move forward with what we know is wrong and with what we had to learn was wrong. An honest view of the past does not spoil our future, it provides us the strength that we can continue to do great things and put more and more distance between the not so great things.

Like tacos, sometimes I eat a taco from Taco Bell and I regret it. Other times I eat wonderful tacos from people passionate about the food and I am in heaven. As I get older, I eat less of that shit from Taco Bell. However, I don’t pretend that I never did. I just finally realized that putting in the effort towards eating a good taco was considerably more beneficial than continuing to eat Taco Bell, pretending that I wasn’t and then having to waste more time dealing with the aftermath.

Eat well my friends.

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Treme and the Ninth Ward

New Orleans on the whole is a wonderful and magical city.  As I wrap up my most recent adventure in The Big Easy, I was able to have a true NOLA experience off the beaten path. I had every intention of writing a more complete story of my adventure complete with pictures after I return home, but for now I would like to write about this one solo experience.

Sunday morning in New Orleans is a special time as brass bands take to the street and parade through a different ward each week.  The week of my stay happened to be the parade that passed my house on St. Claire and meandered down into the ninth ward.  As I was sitting outside chatting with some of the other tenants in the house, the growing sound of brass and drums crept into my ears.  The music got louder and louder and eventually I couldn’t stop myself from going to see what the commotion was all about.  I opened the gate to the backyard I was in to experience a street full of people marching down the street with a brass band.  The celebration was compelling and could not resist the urge to go join in.  I was somewhat out of place, but curiosity being my nature, I joined in the march.  I asked a gentleman what the parade was all about.  “Every Sunday we march through one of the wards,” he said.  “This is all about bringing people together and creating a sense of community.  After Katrina, we started these parades as a way of bringing people together, so they knew they were not alone in their struggle to live and rebuild our city”.

I was amazed at the number of people, young and old, who came together through music to support each other and their community.  As the parade continued, the music began to pull at my being, I could not prevent myself from dancing in the street with everyone else. I was not alone in this as the further we marched, the larger the crowd became.  Everyone was so welcoming and encouraging.  The parade finished at a small, neighborhood bar in Treme.  Some of the women of the neighborhood got together and prepared food for everyone to enjoy.  Potato salad, jambalaya, friend shrimp, and catfish were just a few of the selections upon the table.  “Help your self son,” one of the women said to me.  And believe me I did.  It was true southern hospitality.  I spent some time talking with many of the people there and learning about their lives and the challenges they face as they try to rebuild the part of New Orleans that most tourists don’t see.

I don’t feel I can do justice to the experience by attempting to put it into words.  I can try to describe the sound but it isn’t the same as feeling the vibrations from the tuba in your body.  I could try to describe the smells but it isn’t the same as having the mixture of sea air and cajun spices listing through the air and into your nose.  As much as I love the French Quarter, the experience of being embraced by the Treme community knowing full well I was an outsider is one that I will never forget.

Hard in the Paint (or) The Irish Table Tap

It has been a hard few weeks.  I’m not a young man, but I’m sure not an old one and I don’t believe that I should be watching my friends drop all around me.  I lost two friends in their mid-thirties in the past two weeks and I just received news that I’m about to lose a third: pancreatic cancer, brain cancer, and a heroin overdose.  I try to wrap my head around the people as they were, their glowing souls and enthusiastic smiles.  But eventually the senselessness of their passings overwhelms me and I’m left with myself trying to find some obscure answer near the bottom of a bottle of Jack Daniels, or in last night’s case, Rumple Minze.

I worked in the night club/bar industry for a long time.  We know how to have a good time.  But sometimes we spend so much time pursuing that enjoyment our balance gets out of whack.  For example: I remember when I first started drinking.  I would drink maybe two or three shots of vodka and I would get fuzzy, tripping around and giddy and that was enough.  Over time the tolerance has gotten stronger, now the same feelings takes a little more, not gonna talk numbers or anything but my bar tabs are becoming unbearable.  Take that and combine it with being urged by friends to do shots or this or that and we all end up hammered.  We then feel like shit in the morning and tell stories about going “hard in the paint” the night before.  Well I appreciate tying one on for a good time.  But I think it may be time to be more aware of the number of times we push each other in the name of a good time without realizing maybe we have taken the highway to the danger zone and could be in for a real bad time.  If only we could see it coming.

The Irish table tap is a long standing tradition of toasting a glass and then tapping it on the bar or table before taking a drink.  We do it to salute those that have fallen before us.  I have had some battles in my life, but I have never seen a stronger fortitude than my friends I have watched battle cancer.  The amount of focus and effort battling such an imposing foe leaves me without words.  I could only hope to have a fraction of the strength I have seen them show.  The joy that exuded from their eyes as I shared a stage or mixed cocktails with them was something they managed to maintain even as they watch their bodies slowly fail them–and here I am moaning like a petulant child.

My friends are always the first to raise their glasses with me.  But not for this, not to be mucking around in sorrow.  I’ll let this glass hit the table like ever other time I have ever done it, but this time it is different.  This time there is so much behind my table tap, multiple lives worth of experiences, loves, smiles, laughter and music.  So here I raise this glass to the strength, commitment, passion, joy, enthusiasm and effort you have all made the building blocks of your lives.  May you rest peacefully, as your battles are over.