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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