Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

26 June 2007

Progress In Paradise

Everyone's definition of the word "paradise" is different, it stands to reason. However, Guanaja certainly would qualify as such in almost any book. Tropical and unspoiled, it offers a nice getaway...a nearly-perfect remedy from our modern, overdeveloped "civilization." Many gringos have adopted Guanaja as their new home. And when you find something so ideal, it is only natural that you want it to stay that way forever.

If only...

The trouble is, nothing stays the same. Everything changes. Sometimes change is good; sometimes it's bad. We have a certain amount of control over it, but not much. Life, as they say, goes on. With or without us.

I was at Hansito's Manati bar recently, talking with two local idiots. Well, not really "local" idiots: gringos who live in Guanaja permanently now. And maybe they're not really idiots. Alcohol just brings out the worst in people (and I should know!). But you know how it is when guys get to drinking - we think we can solve the world's problems. Oh, we're so smart when we're drunk!

Anyway, Guanaja is a pretty poor place overall. I mentioned my distress at the number of unemployed, idle men we see lounging around every day. Don't they have jobs? Why don't they have jobs! One of the guys I was with asked me if I knew what the Number Two source of income for Hondurans that live in Guanaja was? (The number one being fishing, I suppose.) I said I did not know.

"It's family members who move away and send money back," he said.
I had no way of verifying this information, so I shrugged said something insightful like, "Uhh, okay, that's pretty pathetic if it's true."

Then recently, on his "littlewoodenman" blog ("the ¡vaya pues! edition" - I love that), Canadian Matthew mentions that 1,050,000 Hondurans...14% of the country have left (fled?) to pursue careers in the Estados Unidos (United States). He takes this number from an article in a Spanish-language newspaper which in turn got it from a study by the Honduras National Commission for Human Rights. Read the story here. Do these Honduran ex-pats send money back to their families here? Indoobitably!

Now, the people of Guanaja do not need much money. They have no cars, no car payments, no car insurance. Many of them do not even own boats, so there is no gasoline bill. Housing is cheap, although food and electricity are expensive. (And of course there is the cell phone bill.) Even so, it does not take a whole lot of money to support a family in Guanaja. Our workers make the paltry equivalent of US$75.00 per week and seem to be doing okay, even those with families (which is, like, all of them).

So maybe it is possible that a family could exist in Guanaja solely on what is sent back by a relative living/working in the United States. But I digress. Back to that evening at Manati.

The conversation sort of lagged, and I concentrated on seeing how many glasses of Rum and Coke I could empty, as is my usual drill. Suddenly, apropos of nothing, the second idiot asked me if I liked Guanaja when I moved here?

"Of course!" said I, enthusiastically.
"Well then why do you want to change it?" he asked pointedly.

He was referring to the project we are doing: Brick Point. This is a 500+ acre, 200-homesite development with a huge marina and large commercial area. It is about as un-Guanaja as you can get - right now. Many gringos and ex-patriots do not like this development, as you might imagine. They see it as us spoiling their island. The trouble is, Guanaja isn't "their" island. And up and down the society food chain, the locals support what we're doing, even the mayor, who is a pretty intelligent, visionary kind of guy. And the locals are the ones who count, not rich gringos who vacation down here sporadically and think they control things because they have money.

Although my boss has been a homebuilder for most of his adult life, he does not want to build houses on Guanaja. He'd rather sell the homesites and then let a local company build the houses. He will help our current workers start such companies, then give them the recommendation when someone buys a homesite from us and needs a house built on it. Win/win.

What many gringos do not know is that my boss is building a trade school primarily at his expense. See, skilled workers are now and always will be in demand...workers who can read a blueprint and then build something to that specification. And build it with quality and accuracy and some sort of speediness. These skills are sorely lacking in Guanaja at the present.

So we'll build a school...which will train locals in all of the various construction techniques...give them a marketable skill...let them start their own companies, own their own businesses, hire their own employees...in other words, raise up the whole island. Sure, my boss could sell the homesites and build all the houses and walk away with nearly all of the money. It would be easy. But he is not like that. He genuinely loves Guanaja and wants to see it rise up and prosper and improve - not stagnate in its current state of depression and ennui. The trouble is, too many others want to see it be held down - do not want to see the island change at all. They like it just the way it is.

I got defensive with the two idiots. I said that I thought that what we were doing was a good thing for the island and the people who live here. And I said I didn't think it was acceptable that so many local families had to rely for their subsistence on members who move away and send money back. In fact, I thought that was pretty damn sad and that any civic-minded person with a conscience would try to do something about it. (Okay, I was up on my high horse a little. I get that way.)

The guys did not agree. They seemed to think that the status quo in Guanaja was just fine. Sheesh. At that point I knew I was fighting a battle of wits with two unarmed enemies.

Yes, our project is big. Yes, it will mean that Guanaja is going to change. Indeed, Brick Point may one day become the new "town center" of Guanaja the way Las Vegas developed the new casino area away from the original downtown. The Cay (Bonacca Town) may very well become a mere curiosity, an overcrowded, smelly place for tourists to avoid. Especially if they can do all of their shopping/eating/whatever at Brick Point and the surrounding areas.

Some gringos have come to Guanaja long ago and formed a mental snapshot of it. This snapshot is their permanent image of the place, and they do not want it to ever change. I completely understand that. And I completely understand that it is an impossibility. Guanaja will change. For better or for worse, it will. That's a hard thing for some to accept, those who would prefer to see it stay just the way it is forever. But wouldn't that be a sad thing?

I think the far better idea would be to get involved...work to ensure that the coming changes are done with foresight and intelligence and commons sense, qualities that are generally in short supply in places like Guanaja. And since you can't stop it, and development is going to happen anyway, it might as well be done smartly. To do that, you just can't leave it up to someone else.

There are good and bad developers. But I'll say one thing: the people of Guanaja better thank the Lord for a developer like my boss. If ever there was a person committed to "doing it right," it's him.

18 June 2007

Paul McCartney's New Video

I haven't been blogging lately because I've been doing a lot of reading and watching the tube. Not "tube" as in television, but YouTube as in www.youtube.com. In fact, I've become addicted. There's a lot of crap, of course (tons, actually), but there is also a ton of entertaining, fun, informative stuff.

YouTube's slogan is "broadcast yourself." In other words, anyone can be a t.v. star now; all you need is some sort of video camera and the ability to upload into a computer. You create your very own "channel" and hope that people search you out. The most popular videos are featured on the main page, which boosts their view numbers even more. The site has enjoyed explosive popularity and growth. So much so that Google bought it.

If you ever wanted to find a video of...something...anything...YouTube is the place to go. Type some words into the search box and you will find what you're looking for. It's really amazing. Since I'm into blogs, I have also searched out video blogs (or "vlogs"). Some of them are quite fascinating. It's interesting to see and hear the people behind the words. It is very different than "standard" blogging, which is really just writing.

Okay, shift gears.

Lately, I've been listening to and downloading music by bands who seem to be channelling The Beatles. Yes, it's been done. Jeff Lynne openly said that his Electric Light Orchestra was meant to pick up where The Beatles "Sgt. Pepper" left off, and it certainly was that. But in general the music of The Beatles has been held as almost sacrosanct. Bands wouldn't try to directly emulate them for fear of being labled "poseurs" or trying to cash-in on musical deities. Plus, there would be the inevitable, and inevitably unfavorable, comparisons. Nobody can duplicate or replicate The Beatles! Which is probably true.

But listen to The Rosewood Thieves new album, "From The Decker House." You can't help but thinking to yourself, "Damn, that sounds like The Beatles!" (especially the song, "Los Angeles"). And it's not that these young kids from New York are deliberately ripping The Beatles off, it's just that they've obviously been inspired by the masters. I, for one, love it.

For those of us of a certain age, The Beatles were simply the greatest band of all time, period. Four incredibly talented guys who came together and changed the world. Talk about synergy! The sum was way more than the parts. It is probably no exaggeration to say that no other musical group then or since has had such a profound effect on people worldwide (sorry Bono). The Beatles started off as a pop-band, churning out perfect little 2:30 minute bon-mots of aural pleasure. But gradually, they evolved into more than that. They will go down in history right along with the "classic" composers we hold so dear: Mozart and Chopin and Beethoven and their contemporaries. The Beatles songwriting was that good, yes.

"The Beatles" as a group did not last long. Formed in roughly 1960 they were broken up by 1970. Ten years. Ten crazy years. When you look back, it's surprising that they lasted even that long. John Lennon once joked that they were "more popular than Jesus." It was controversial, but no overstatement, at least not as it applied to young people.

Afterward, the four members (say it with me now: John, Paul, George and Ringo) enjoyed modest solo careers. But none of them ever came close to matching what they had in The Beatles. Sadly, John Lennon was shot and killed by a crazed fan in 1980 just as his career was in a period of resurgence after a long self-imposed layoff. George Harrison died of cancer in 2001. Paul and Ringo soldier on.

Paul McCartney was the "cute Beatle." His songs were always more upbeat and optimistic than the darker writings of John Lennon. It was that counterpoint that made them such a good songwriting team. As a solo artist, McCartney actually recorded and released a song called, "Silly Love Songs," a tongue-in-cheek (or maybe middle-finger-in-air) response to charges that his music was shallow and too lighthearted. Indeed, "Macca" (as the British oddly refer to him) made a career out of writing and performing sappy, silly love songs. He has put out some great music - no doubt about that. But I guess we were all waiting in vain - thirty-seven years so far - for Paul to put out another "Beatle" album. It was never to be. Whatever magic The Beatles had together, it was gone.

Pop music is about young ideas, made by young people. Older musical artists fall out of relevance and favor. What can an old man...you know, a 25 year-old...know about the emotional drama and pressures and hunger pangs of teenage boys and girls (the demographic group that does the majority of record buying)? Only other kids can relate. So McCartney's music stopped appearing on the radio. Kids stopped buying his records.

In 2007, yet another Paul McCartney "album" was announced to great anticipation. The buzz was that this one was going to be special. iTunes was previewing and pre-selling it. It would go on sale first at "Starbucks" of all places, not your local record store. Marketing music to adults and not kids? Clever! thought I.

Imagine my surprise when I saw a banner ad on YouTube for McCartney's new album, called "Memory Almost Full." And specifically, a new video for the new "single" (song released and intended for radio play) called "Dance Tonight." I clicked on the link and watched. You can too! Just click the arrow button on the center of the picture below (hope you have high-speed).

Okay, so maybe the song is no "Eleanor Rigby" or "Yesterday." But it is hopelessly upbeat and catchy. As usual, it doesn't sound like anything else on the radio. I like the mandolin. The video itself is pretty funny, and very well done. Although it must be said that, intentionally or not it eerily resembles an earlier George Harrison video. And yes, that is Natalie Portman.

Paul is getting old. It's sad to see, because it means that we
are getting old. At 65 now (June 18th, today come to think of it), his hair is unnaturally dark (we know how that's done, don't we?). His speaking voice is old too, although his singing voice still sounds youthful and great. World-tour concerts are probably a thing of the past for him though, especially since we'd want him to sing "Lady Madonna" and "Helter Skelter" back to back. That's just not gonna happen.

The Beatles always were on the forefront of technology. It can be argued that they virtually invented the modern "music video" as a format where little short-films were made to go along with specific songs, not just performing the song in front of a camera.

And so it is interesting but not all that surprising that Paul chose YouTube and "Starbucks" and his own website to debut his new CD instead of releasing the video through "normal channels" to MTV, VH-1, Fuse, or CD101, which would not have played it anyway. He evidently understands the reach and power of the internet and how it has changed the way we listen to and buy music.
In the three weeks since the YouTube release of the "Dance Tonight" video, it has been watched over 660,000 times. Incredible! It is a testament to the importance of the internet and the enduring popularity of one of the world's greatest artists.



16 June 2007

Growing Old Without Growing Up

So, I guess you could say I’m a fun-loving guy. Another word might be “immature.” To that I plead guilty. I’m still waiting for that adulthood thing to kick in. Sometimes I wonder if it ever will.

…In what seems like a lifetime ago, Greg, Chuck, Jim and I used to ride motorcycles together. We were a mild bunch, not the The Wild Bunch. We never raised too much hell. We never stabbed anyone or shot anyone or (to my knowledge ) killed anyone. We did, however, torture more than a few waitresses at Hooters, but then, not everyone "got" our humor. (You had to be there.) It was fun riding around as a group, exploring that part of northwest Florida, which is beautiful by the way.

There is a prank you can pull on another rider. All you do is slide up next to him, reach over, and hit the handlebar kill-switch to “off.” This disables his ignition system. The other rider is concentrating on the road, not his handlebars. Suddenly his bike is slowing, and he’s pumping the throttle to go faster. When he finally realizes what’s wrong, he says (I have this on good authority), "D'OH!" then flips the kill-switch back on. A bunch of raw fuel has been sucked into the engine and expelled into the exhaust system by this time. When the switch is turned back on and the engine sparks back to life, it ignites this raw fuel and you get a big backfire. It’s hilarious. And to me, it never got old.

Okay, it’s silly and immature, and a little dangerous. You sure don’t do that when there’s traffic behind you, like a semi or something. Jim and Greg soon learned to “guard” their kill switches when I was riding in the “right-echelon” formation position. They’d laugh. They knew that if I started to ease-in close, it was probably because I was up to no good. However, Chuck used to get highly pissed. For him, riding was Serious Business, and such tomfoolery (not to mention hijinks!) had no place on a federal or state highway. I was, like, hey man, lighten up!

…I used to fly helicopters in New York City. One of my jobs was flying a Bell 206 JetRanger for a DHL, the small package competitor to FedEx. The JetRanger is a five-seat, turbine-powered, 120 m.p.h. helicopter. A friend of mine…my first real mentor in the business was a radio traffic-reporter back when they used to send a pilot up in a helicopter to personally observe and report on traffic conditions. (Now they use remote control cameras and real Radio Guys in booths in an office building somewhere.)

Anyway, my mentor…let’s call him “Lou” because that was and is his real name…used to fly an old, bubble-type Bell 47 that clunked and sputtered along at 80 m.p.h. on a good day. Sometimes I’d be flying on my route and I’d see Lou down there, coming the other way, low over a highway, eyes on the road below, mentally composing his next thirty-second traffic report. I’d pass him without comment, just another of the dozens of helicopters that used to ply the sky around there. If he noticed me at all it would be just to briefly register me as “traffic, twelve o’clock high, opposite direction, no conflict,” nothing else.

But then, once clear I’d turn around and dive on him like a P-51 stalking a lone Jap recon plane in WWII. I’d buzz by real close on my gun-run, doing about 150 m.p.h. (the JetRanger’s top speed) or maybe a smidgen more. After the buzz-job I’d bank steeply and circle back, and then we’d go ‘round and ‘round in a mock dogfight.

I used to wonder what those motorists stuck in traffic on the old West Side Highway thought as they glanced skyward and saw these two helicopters in a life-or-death struggle for aerial supremacy of the hostile skies over midtown Manhattan. I’ll tell you something though: That Lou could fly a helicopter! Until he taught me the secret of dogfighting, he’d always “get on my six,” even in that old antique! Which means I lost.

Yeah, it was silly and immature, and a little dangerous. We don’t like to admit it, but pilots sometimes do silly, immature and slightly dangerous things. Well, I mean some of us do…uhh, “did”…uhh, would never do again (honest, yer honor!). Oh, and by the way, it was Lou who first started “jumping” me, which where I learned it. And he was plenty older than me at the time, so there.

But have I matured? Have I grown up? Am I a sensible, responsible adult now that I’ve somehow reached the age of 51? Does a chicken have lips? Of course not!

…Why, just this past Friday, Jasmani and I were in my boat, coming back up to our cay from Bonacca Town. Jasmani is the just-turned-twelve year-old son of Devant, our Foreman/Caretaker, and he was driving. I know it seems odd, but the boy has literally grown up on boats and he has a natural talent for driving them. Devant lets him drive every boat we have, and handling my little chick-boat is a piece of cake for him.

It was a beautiful day. The water was smooth, winds were light. I was soaking up the sun, my mind a million miles away on other things. Jasmani tapped me on the shoulder.

“Lalo boat,” he said, pointing off to the left a bit.

Sure enough, way up ahead was a tiny speck on the water. It was Lalo, towing our engineless panga back from the dump. They were just chugging slowly along. We could overtake them with ease. Immediately I sensed a vulnerable enemy, a lumbering transport, an easy target. Although we were on diverging courses, I told Jasmani to steer their way. Feeling mischevious and all...

“Let’s buzz ‘em!” I yelled, ever the kid. “Get right behind them and come up alongside on their right. Let’s see if we can splash ‘em!”

Jasmani smiled; an evil twinkle lit his young eyes. He altered the course of our little speedboat and set up an intersecting path. It was about three in the afternoon and we had the sun behind us. Well, sort of behind us. More behind us than in front, let's say that. There were three workers in the panga. They saw us coming and waved. Lalo, on the other hand, was talking on his phone (naturally!) and had his head turned to the left, not really paying attention.

Now, even I have to admit that Jasmani cut it close…closer maybe than I would have. Then again, maybe not. As we sped by, I saw Lalo jump right out of his seat. If I know him (and I do), I know the expletive he uttered, and it wasn’t “Jimminy Christmas!” He turned around in shock and looked at us with a blinking, puzzled expression on his face. Priceless. I just saluted. He started to raise his hand…just as our bow wave came crashing over the rail and into his boat like a tsunami, soaking him and the other worker who I had not noticed was also in the boat. (Sorry, Ricardo. But you both did look kinda hot.

It. Was. Hilarious.

Jasmani cut the wheel and we beat feet for home. The last I saw of Lalo, he was shaking his fist at us, yelling something I couldn’t hear over the wheezy “roar” of our 60 h.p. engine. Later on, at the jobsite he came up to me laughing, shaking his head and wagging a stern finger. “You gonna have to pay for a new phone!” he said, mock-angrily. I said hey, you should have been concentrating on driving, not talking on your phone. The nerve of some people! But even if I have to buy him a new phone, it was worth it.

Yes, it was silly and immature, and a little dangerous. Yes, I should be ashamed of myself. Looking back over my life, it was just par for the course.

So basically, I have the maturity level of a twelve year-old. Or, conversely, you could say that a local twelve year-old has the maturity level of this 51 year-old. I like that “spin” better.

09 June 2007

Sleep And The Lack Thereof

I get up early. I'm usually awake by 5:00, sometimes earlier. I don't like to think of myself as a "morning person," but it kind of makes me one by default. I blame all those years of being a professional pilot. Helicopters do their best work during the day, and customers often want to be going by or slightly before sunrise. So whether it's morning traffic reports in NYC, or delivering bank checks which had to be at the clearinghouse by the time it opened (back when paper was still flying back and forth across the country), or transporting roustabouts out to oil platforms (all of which I've done), my day usually began while it was still dark outside. So now I'm accustomed to it. No matter how early I have to wake up, there is usually never a need to set an alarm. My body just seems to know.

I routinely get five and a half hours of sleep...six, if I "sleep in." I cannot seem to stay in bed for longer than that, even when I want to. If I go to bed at 10 p.m., I'll be awake at four. There are people who swear they need a good, solid eight hours of sleep (or more!). I always wonder if that is simply because it's what they're acclimated to? Do people really need that much? The more I sleep, the worse I feel. And sleeping seems to be such a waste of time to me. I like to see the sunrises, to smell the smells, to experience whatever the day is going to bring...the good and the bad. We are "human beings" after all, not "human sleepings." I like the being part.

The odd thing is that no matter how late I go to bed I always wake up at the same time, or nearly so. If I go out partying until two or three a.m. (which I used to in my former life), I'll be wide awake by six or six-thirty. It can make for a rough day ahead.

The bad thing about waking up early and getting so relatively little sleep is that I usually need a nap in the evening. I feel so old writing that. What am I, 90? No! Only 51. But after supper I crash, especially if I work on the computer or try to watch television. If I'm active, I can easily stay up till midnight or beyond. Just don't let me sit down.

The good thing about getting such "relatively" little sleep is that I never have trouble getting there. I never toss and turn, ruminating about this or that. My head hits the pillow and I'm out like a light, snoring like a Husqvarna chain saw (or so I've been told, not that I believe it).

Back in Pensacola, my friend Matt and I would frequently go out at night on weekends, usually out to the beach or somewhere to see live bands. He'd want to get an early start, and he'd usually want to stay until closing time. I don't have a problem with either of those things, but to do so requires getting at least a short nap at some point during the day. Matt would would roll his eyes in exasperation. "Okay, gramps," he'd chuckle sarcastically, as is his lovable way. It was not a problem for him, because he could sleep the whole next day if he wanted, untroubled as he is with the very concept. But me on the other hand, like I said I cannot do that. Plus, Matt is a banker. And you know bankers; he usually strolls into his office right at the crack of ten-thirty or eleven, puts in a couple of hours of what he loosely calls "work" (which includes dashing off to Eat! or Dharma Blue for the requisite three-martini lunch), and then is home by four, four-thirty, tops if he has to "work late."

No, that's not true. As Triumph, The Insult Comic Dog says, "I keeeed, I keeeed!" Matt works hard, I'll be the first to admit that. Still, I'll bet even he can't remember the last time he saw a sunrise...unless it was from the other direction (like, staying up all night and seeing it before going to bed).

I know, I'm wasting your time. I'm sorry. I wish I had something more important or clever to write about other than just whining and insulting my friends.

Like, this Jimmy Buffet book I'm reading, "A Salty Piece of Land." It's about - are you sitting down as I reveal the plot? - a cowboy from Wyoming who becomes a Caribbean beach bum. Okay. Uh-huh. Haven't seen that literary device before, nope.

I quite liked Buffet's earlier book, "Where Is Joe Merchant." But this one...sheesh! Not even a quarter of the way into it yet and it's boring me to tears with poorly-drawn characters whose lives interest me...not. "Characters" with names like Captain Kirk (a boat skipper) and Clark Gable (someone else...I forget already), Sammy Raye Coconuts (a flamboyantly gay Jewish...ah, nevermind), and Indian-shaman Ix-nay. (Aren't there always Indian shamans in books of this type? Actually, in this book Ix-Nay is one of two!) Let's not forget Cleopatra Highbourne, a 101 year-old woman who still travels the globe (and smokes Cuban cigars...of course). I apologize to all of you Jimmy Buffet fans out there but, oh, please. Warren Buffet (no relation) could probably come up with a more interesting novel.

Jimmy Buffet always inserts "just enough" technical aviation stuff into his books to keep me sort of interested. He is a pilot, for real. And even though he has freely admitted how much pot he's smoked in his life, the FAA has evidently yet to yank his pilot's certificate, as they surely would do to...oh...me if I were to write about stuff like that.

And Buffet always "cleverly" includes real places and events in his books. Like the Flora-Bama Lounge (home of the annual "Mullet Toss!"), a bar on the beach on the border between two Gulf Coast states the names of which escape me at the moment. And Key West, of course. Funny though, how his "characters" never seem to wander into a local bar/restaurant there called "Margaritaville," which is really just a touristy souvenier shop that sells overpriced and over-hyped cheeseburgers in pseudo-paradise.

It got me thinking about his music, which I like although I am certainly no "Parrothead" (as his devotees are called). And I wonder how someone who can write such catchy songs can in turn write such boring crap in the form of a novel. (Hey, I should talk?) Maybe I just don't have enough of an imagination to read and enjoy fiction. That may very well be the real problem here.

But then again, come to think of it maybe it's because of the real-life characters I've met here in Guanaja. Maybe they've spoiled me for any made-up characters that could sprout from someone else's imagination. And believe me, Guanaja is chock-full of colorful, interesting people. Fascinating people with incredible...let's just say "backgrounds" who've had the unbearable misfortune of being born with mundane, normal names and not "Sammy Raye Coconuts." Maybe reading a novel about a tropical paradise when you're already living in a tropical paradise is not the best idea, he grumbled to himself, violating his own rule about writing about himself in the third-person and laughing at the deliberate irony.

I do know one thing though! In the future, if I am ever troubled by a little bout of insomnia and for some reason need to get a good twelve or sixteen hours of sleep, all I'll have to do is pick up this Jimmy Buffet book. Problem solved!

07 June 2007

''Tilt The Motor Up''

The sound you're hearing is that of my palm slapping my forehead, coincidental with a loud, shouted, "D'OH!"

The wind was still blowing today, worse than yesterday. As usual, the subject of most conversations was how rough the water was. Lalo was making fun of me this morning. "Bob! Bob! The guys said, "Bob almost drowned us last night!'"

I said I knew. I said I almost drowned too.

Lalo laughed and said, "You have to learn how to drive when it's rough."

I rolled my eyes and said I knew thaaaaat. I just didn't know how. Then I explained my techniques, what I was doing (wrong).

"No!" he said emphatically, as if I was a kid who'd just colored outside of the lines. "You have to go across the waves! Not into them. And tilt the motor up," he said with a wink.

Wha...? Tilt the motor up? Of course! Tilting the motor up gets the bow up. (This is where that forehead-slapping part comes in.) Then you just play the waves and your speed. Oh yeah, and stay in the shallows. The waves are smaller in the shallows. I've been reluctant to get too shallow - the fear of running aground, of course.

So in the end it wasn't rocket science after all. This afternoon I did what Lalo suggested: Slow and steady, across the waves, engine tilted up and stayed shallow. The guys stayed fairly dry; I still got soaked. But not as soaked as yesterday! Our center-console boats seem to put the driver right in the line of fire, so to speak. But I had worn my bathing suit and sandals, and my baseball cap stayed on. It's the little things, eh?

All in all, a much better day!

06 June 2007

Blowhard (Not Me, The Wind)

Today: Bad day. Wind was a-blowin'! Howling incessantly. It was like being out on an oil platform again. Twenty knots, steady, if it was one knot, maybe twenty-five by the streaks on the water. This makes getting around by boat a little difficult. To wit: You get wet.

Outside in open water, these huge breakers were rolling up onto the reef. Looked like a Hawaiian surfer's paradise. Inside the reef, we still had three-foot waves, which doesn't sound like much, but our speedboats ride low in the water. Even more so when they're loaded with workers wanting to go home. (We give all our workers a free boat ride to and from work every day.)

The above pic is looking out from my deck, across a small lagoon to the reef and beyond. I know it's hard to tell, but there are some BIG waves out there.

In the afternoon I called over and told my lead man at the job site that because it was so rough I would be making two trips to Savannah Bight, taking half on each trip. Needless to say, when when I showed up at the dock every one of those jokers jumped in the boat. I shut the engine off and said, "Tie me up!" (meaning the boat, not me personally). "We're gonna have a little lesson in what the word 'half' means." Grudgingly and grumblingly, half (or so) got out. Carefully (I am not all that experienced a boater, mind you), I nudged the boat out into the maelstrom. Yes, maelstrom.

I started off going slow; didn't work; waves crashed over us. I sped up a bit; no better. Then, in what must have been the worst display of so-called logic ever, I sped up even more. Water sheeted in over the gunwales (whatever they are). I tried heading into the wind/waves...directly crosswind...various combinations thereof. No use. It was like something from a Discovery Channel documentary or The Weather Channel's "Storm Stories." We got soaked. Even worse, whenever a wave came in from one side, the guys would move to the opposite side, making the boat lean precipitously.

On top of all this, my lucky baseball cap flew off in the wind. It's happened twice before. Each time it floated and I was able to retrieve it. This time it apparently went right to the bottom. I circled back, but it was no use. Damn. Good-bye, fond cap. Like I said, bad day.

Tomorrow, if the wind hasn't eased off a little, I'm wearing my bathing suit.

03 June 2007


It's not like moving to a new town in the States. When you move to another country everything changes. Everything is different. Nothing seems "right." Your world gets tossed upside-down. It requires an enormous adjustment. And for someone who hasn't spent a whole lot of time outside of the U.S., it is not always easy.

This period of adjustment is the subject of a recent article in an online publication called Offshore Real Estate Magazine. A woman named Jennifer Miller talks about the different stages of adjustment that we so-called ex-patriots (or "expats" for short) go through. It is interesting, and although Ms. Miller writes about her move from the U.S. to the Caribbean island of Dominica, there is a lot of common ground.

As for me, my transition from the U.S. to Guanaja has not been without its challenges. I expected that it would not be the same as back home. What I was not prepared for was just how different people of other cultures can be. As Americans, we have some preconceived notions and ideas about how people are "supposed" to act toward one another. We have a certain code of honor, a standard of social behaviour (manners) and a work ethic. I think that on a certain level, we assume and expect that all people on the planet share these same basic traits...what we would, perhaps naively call "common traits." It is a very wrong assumption.

The people of Honduras interact with each other in a very...er, "unique" way. For instance, you'll often see people on the street engaged in a very loud, animated, heated argument that looks like it could break out into a hockey game at any moment. You'll assume that it's some serious issue being hammered-out by two mortal enemies. But you'll be surprised that the conversation will simply end and the two parties walk away with no lingering rancor or animosity. It's puzzling at first, even jarring. "Back home," such an argument would surely require a "cooling-off period" and perhaps permanently damaged or at least estranged relations. Here, they simply shrug it off and go about their business. Next time the two co-combatants meet, all will be forgotten.

They are a lively, hot-blooded bunch, these Hondurans! They are very direct and in-your-face. It can be both refreshing and abrasive.

Attitudes toward personal property are quite different as well. In the United States you would never trespass on someone else's land or property - like in a subdivision, I mean, someone's homesite. Americans generally respect each other's property lines; you'd wouldn't just walk into someone's backyard. That's not the case here! There doesn't seem to be any sort of social prohibition of entering someone's property in Honduras. They do things here that could get them shot in America. But nobody really seems to mind.

There are other differences - and I could go on and on about them. But so what? I would suspect that Hondurans are just as different from Americans as Americans are different from Russians and Russians are different from Zimbabweans. People are not the same from country to country and culture to culture. Different does not always mean better or worse. Forcing them to fit your social constructs or paradigms is wrong.

So anyway, it's taken a while to adjust and adapt to this new culture...to stop trying to get them to "act like Americans, dammit!" It's just not gonna happen, not at this juncture. I've come to accept these kind, gentle, fairly simple people (and that's no insult) for who they are. And that's cool.

As David Bowie sang,

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes (Turn and face the stranger)
Don't want to be a richer man
Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes (Turn and face the stranger)
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can't trace time

If you'd like to read Jennifer Miller's article, you can find it here. It's definitely worth a gander. Or you can click on the home page of the Offshore Real Estate Magazine.