Stranger in Strange Land

This just in:  I recently returned from a week-long vacation in New York City.  As a country boy from Wasco, a 29-mile tractor drive from Bakersfield, I expected to be unimpressed.  I expected crowds.  I expected traffic.  I expected noise.

What I didn’t expect was to be impressed….but I was.

How did this happen? 

Let’s start with the sights; things tourist go to take pictures of as proof that they had a good time.  Yes, I saw Times Square.  I rode a subway. I paid my respects at the 9/11 memorial.  I saw Billy Joel (and surprise guest John Fogerty) at a sold-out Madison Square Garden.  I walked through Harlem and peeked into a window at the Apollo Theater.  I walked the grounds of Columbia University and I ate a pretzel as I strolled across the Brooklyn Bridge.

I didn’t hit all of the sites.  I didn’t get a chance to see the Eiffel Tower or the Giza Pyramids.  The Louver was closed that day and the line was too long at the Mount Rushmore ride.

Then, the most extraordinary thing happened in the most ordinary of places.

I was at an intersection.  There were impossibly large crowds at every corner.  My corner army made eye contact with those on the opposite side.  The light was about to turn green.  The stage was set for a middle-ages battle scene.  I reached for my broadsword.

Then it got weird.

The crowds rushed towards and through each other with a practiced fluidity that defies description. There were no “bumps” or “get out of my way!”  We just walked forward and ended up on opposite sides; unscathed.

Something had just happened, and I didn’t quite see it yet.

As time went by, I began to notice two things.  First, it was always crowded and yet didn’t feel that way as people noticed each other and each made small movements to accommodate the other.  Secondly, I noticed that the population seemed diverse.  I’m not talking about some white guys and some brown guys.  I’m talking about dozens and dozens of nationalities.  Men, women, old, young, suits, rags, rushing, coasting, laughing, reading, texting, talking, tall, short, skinny, and… robust. There were business suits chatting with pink leather pants.  Gays, straight and miscellaneous getting on with their lives, free from judgement…or judging.

Languages shifted as one group passed out of earshot and another approached.

I expected white men in suits, rushing off to Wall Street and what I got was a cross section of mankind flowing seamlessly in and out of each other’s lives. 

I watched the Lyft driver and the shop keeper, and the subway rider and the ticket taker, all treat everyone as if they were the same.  That sameness being that they were all different.  All different.  All equal and all part of New York.  Even as a tourist, I was the same.  While I was in New York, I was one of them and they were glad I was there.

I eventually spoke to a few locals about what they liked most about their city.  Without exception, the first comment was, “The diversity.”

I’m not sure how New York pulled this off.  I suppose that if you put few million people into a single city they must choose between peaceful coexistence or self-annihilation.  Whatever happened, it appears to be self-sustaining.  It works for them with such success that they embrace it with seemingly every moment of every day.

I wish I could spread the word.  If the people of the world, just for one day, became New Yorkers, there would be no more wars…ever.

I’m now longing to go back again.  I want to wake up in the city that never sleeps and walk out into a world rich in colors, sounds and voices.  And…if the line isn’t too long, I’m going take a ferry over to see the Rock of Gibraltar.

Up, up and away…


Note: The title of this post is in reference to a book by Robert Heinlein of the same name. Read it!

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I’m Confused

This just in: Every now and then, I’m having a conversation with someone and my conscious mind leaves the room. Then I hear something like “Don’t you agree,” to which I nearly always answer with “North Dakota.”

There are other things that I either don’t understand or can’t quite get my head around.

For example, I see the U.K. and the E.U. as members of “my team.” I want them to succeed just like I want the United States to succeed. Their success is our success. This is why the Brexit thing has bothered me. This is like a lose-lose-lose situation.

Why would anyone in the U.K. want out of the E.U.?

I saw an interview that may shed some light on this.

Reporter: “Why did you vote in favor of the U.K. leaving the E.U.?”

Girl: “Well, I heard that they were trying to tell us what chicken eggs we have to buy.”

That’s it! I actually saw this interview.

Meanwhile, people in the U.K. are asking people in the U.S. why they support a president that ignores intelligence briefings in favor of notes passed to him from Putin or Fox and Friends.

Reporter: “Why do you support Trump?”

American: “He says what’s on his mind.”

It should be noted that the homeless man sleeping on the front porch of Macy’s in San Francisco has the exact same qualifications.

And here is one I came across while learning Chinese. There are about 50 ways to say “chi” in Chinese and they all mean something different.

For example: “Chi chi chi chi….chi, chi” Means “I went to the market today and the fish was old but they had Caramel Ice cream.”

The response to this statement is: “Chi….chi-chi!!!” which translates, as far as I can tell, into “North Dakota.”

Time to save the world.

Up, up and away…


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Food, Dogs and Justice

This just in: I can’t decide if life is supposed to be a tragedy or a comedy.  Is it about the journey or the destination? 

And mostly…Taco Bell or Popeye’s chicken.

Let’s start with the last issue first.

Normally, I’m a Popeye’s chicken guy above all else.  Last week I splurged and bought a Family Pack which is enough calories to feed a college football team for about a week.  Took me an hour to finish.  At first, I thought I might not make it.  I’d ordered two Family Size servings of rice and beans as my 2 sides.  However, I forgot to get a fork or spoon.  So, I’m sitting in my hotel room with no way to eat this.  Then…my eyes landed on my plastic room key.  Turns out, that worked pretty well.  However, it would no longer unlock my door the next day.  I actually complained to the front desk about that.

But wait…Taco Bell, sensing that it’s losing the battle for my favorite food, drew me to a Truckstop outside of Kansas City.  I went in and realized I was in heaven.  Side by side was a Taco Bell and a Dunkin Donuts.  I quickly ordered one of everything on the Taco Bell menu and then, just to pass the time while my food was being prepared, sidestepped over to the Dunkin Donut counter and ordered one of everything that had something stuffed into its middle.  I ate all of this during the next hour of driving; using my pants, shirt and steering wheel as napkins.  It was wonderful.

I can talk about my bad food habits because compared to my dog, I’m a walking book of proper dining etiquette.

Of course, I’m referring to my Lab, Echo.  She adheres to the following motto when it comes to food: “If it fits in my mouth, I can eat it.  If it’s not food, I can always poop it out later.”

This is a dog that will eat her own poop.  We have to make sure there is no poops in the yard before we let her out or else she’ll run out and spoil her dinner.  Just the other day, I was talking with my wife on the phone.  She said, “Uh, Oh.”  When I asked what was going on, she replied, “I’m 15 minutes late feeding the dogs.  Echo just went out back.  I think she intends to poop herself an hors d’oeuvre.”

Next…Journey or Destination

I’ve always heard that “Life is a journey, not a destination.”  I get this but…there is a part of me that thinks this was made up by someone that gave up on trying to accomplish something.  Like, maybe its just a way of saying, “We should all get participation awards because we played the game.”  Now, I have evidence that the “journey” may be right.  I’m learning Chinese; on my own.  I’ve been at it for about 3 months now.  The other day I realized that I will never become fluent in Chinese.  This perspective made me instantly think “I should stop wasting my time.”  However, I really enjoy learning Chinese.  I don’t know why but I like it.  So, I continue the journey knowing with absolute certainty that I’ll never reach my destination.  I’m fine with that.

And now for the tragedy…

Here is how I see our justice system at work.

Judge to Cop: “I see you shot an unarmed black man.”

Cop: “Yes, but he had a phone and I mistook it for a missile launcher.”

Judge: “Completely understandable.  Still, you must be punished.”

Cop: “What!  No fair!   I was following the rules.  It clearly states that if a black man has anything in his hand, I can shoot him until I run out of bullets.”

Judge: “Yes, but you got caught.  Not getting caught is part of that very same regulation.  So, I’m sentencing you to watch a 2-part video.  Part 1 is titled – How to turn off your body camera before shooting an unarmed black man.  Part 2 is titled – How to erase body camera footage if you forgot to turn off your body camera when you shot an unarmed black man.”

Cop: “No fair”

Judge: “Next case”

Lawyer: “Your honor, my client pleads guilt to bank fraud, tax evasion and about 16 other felonies that I won’t bother to list right now as I have a pollo match to attend shortly.”

Judge: “I understand.  Let me ask you this – Is your client an unarmed black man?”

Lawyer: “No, he’s a wealthy white man.”

Judge: “Case dismissed.”

Time to save the world.

Up, up and away…


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