Monday, December 12, 2016

Magic Theatre Poetry Reading Video

A few weeks back I had the opportunity to be a featured poet at an event called Magic Theatre Poetry. It is an event that occurs monthly in Chiang Mai. While there are a few moments that make me cringe in this video, I'm happy with the progress I've made as a poet. Even with the slip-ups, a couple sneaky "ums", and more than one momentary lapse of memory, I want to share this accomplishment with those who follow this blog.

Please enjoy my first feature set!

Track Lis/Start Time:

1: Haiku #1
2: Illegal Pete's Poem
3: Terrance Crutcher
4: Lock Box
5: Concerning Death
6: And then the Bass Hits

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Action’s Speak Louder than Votes

As the dust settles from the 2016 United States Presidential Election, the current landscape seems more reminiscent of a desolate battlefield than the culmination of a democratic process. People are hurt. Not only on the side of the “losers,” but all around. The two-year process, fueled by billions of dollars, teeming with negative rhetoric, hate, and distrust, was brutal. And this hurt is not reserved for US citizens alone. This hurt is felt globally. Our media, our actions, permeated much farther than our own borders.

While we lick our wounds and try to ease back into day-to-day life, I believe that there is no time better than the present to make change. For two years we were told that if we don’t like what we see then we must vote. So we voted. The ballots are cast. Someone won and someone lost. Some are happy, some are distraught. Yet, we all feel the wake, in a way that hasn’t been felt before. Yes we should morn, but we should also use this energy and this thirst for change to instill change. Why rest these important desires on the backs of ballots that come only every 2 years, as opposed to continuing to stir the pot? Action goes far beyond voting.

If you are happy with not only the results, but the process, the rhetoric, and the media coverage of the election, then by all means quit reading. If not, what we need now is decisive action. To elect a single person into the role of President of the United States, an estimated 150,000,000 people voted. What would happen if those 150,000,000 people decided to take action on a daily basis, in their own way, sans partisan values, with only the intent of improving their communities? What would happen if people located the issues they felt strongly about and decide to pursue righting those wrongs themselves? My belief is that those actions would be much, much more powerful than casting a single ballot every election cycle.  

I’m not telling you to go out and lobby for change, what I’m saying is go out and be change. Activism and protest are good, but imagine if we used that energy spent appealing to legislators to actually get some dirt on our hands, some sweat on our brows, and build whatever the fuck it is we are hoping THEY build for us? If instead of watching CNN and Fox for nearly two years, what if we stopped listening and used that time and energy to right wrongs and help our communities? Things would certainly change. 

Here is a simple list of things that if done daily, if only by 75,000,000 who “lost” the election, would make a monumental difference. 

Healing: Call it hippie. Call it idealistic. Call it ineffective, but I can tell you the first actions we must take as a society should revolve around healing. Candidates and supporters alike actively attacked one another for years. In the case of President Elect Donald Trump, people of color, LGBTQ, muslims, immigrants, and basically anyone who wasn’t white were constant targets. We need to reverse that process. Actively seek out your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and people in your community and let them know you are with them and will stand by them day-in and day-out, regardless of what happened yesterday. Politicians can run their mouths, but your actions will resonate much farther than you can imagine.

Money: To run an election, billions of dollars must be raised (ironically to help billionaires run for office). Your money is a vote. Do your research, know the products you are buying and where they come from. Know if they are hurting others. Know if they are aiding your community’s growth. Buying locally Makes a huge difference! Seek out those who have been marginalized and our running business and support them. One thing BLM has taught us is we must be more supportive of minority businesses. Put your money where your mouth is, and know where your money is going.

Environment: We talk a lot about climate change, but what individual steps are YOU taking to make a difference? Are you carpooling, taking public transportation, walking or riding a bike to work? Are you choosing reusable containers as opposed to plastic? Are you eating locally and staying away from beef and other foods that have massive carbon footprints? If not, today is a good day to change. 

How one chooses to incite change is an individual action, because change is incremental and subjective. The trick is actually acting, in your own way, day after day after day. There is no vote until midterms, so why not use that pent up energy, anxiety, hurt, or anger from this election in a proactive and profound way? 

If you are uncomfortable, readjust. If you are agitated, move. If you are angry, pinpoint what it is that is making your blood boil, and use that fuel to make concrete action that positively affects your surroundings and those around you. 

Now is not the time to be silent. Now is not the time to be still. Now is not the time to roll over. Now is the time to move.

Photo courtesy of the United Way

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Filling the Bicycle-Shaped Void

A trip to Mae Sot's Bicycle Market

For anyone who choses to cycle as their main mode of transportation, one quickly realizes that bikes are more than material possessions. Some chose to express themselves through fashion, cars, or even interior design, but cyclists, bike commuters, and the like know that their steel, aluminum, or carbon steads are a reflection of who they are. For myself, when I awoke two weeks ago to find my bike gone, I was distraught (and throughly confused as it was fenced in behind a big metal gate).

Here is the Schwinn I lost…

The Blue Banshee

Bummer, right? But with each loss comes a chance to fill a recently excavated void. For me that meant searching diligently for what was taken, but also finding a new way to blaze through the streets of Chiang Mai. Those living here know that with any bicycle related query, the answer can certainly be sorted out at Two Revolutions Bike Shop. Located in a small garden, attached to a staple restaurant called Pun Pun, Two Revolutions was built out of sweat, blood, bamboo, and used bicycle parts. The architect? A 20-year-old quarter British, 3/4’s Burmese man named Ganji, whom grew up in Chiang Mai, yet speaks with an accent reminiscent of that of west-coasters from the states. He’s a madman who does great things, all in his own, unique way. So when Ganji heard my baby was stolen, he graciously invited me on a trip to the border town of Mae Sot to scout out the inventory at a market he promised had “millions of options.” The bicycle-shaped whole in my heart tingled at this promise.

Like any Ganji-led mission, this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. To start? Round-trip was around 10 hours. To navigate this trek in a single day, catching the market in its peak hours, we needed to leave Chiang Mai at 2:30am. In addition, we needed to fit seven bodies in a regular, 5-seater pick-up truck. With rain accompanying our ride out, and bikes filling the bed on the return, that meant the majority of the ride was spent with seven people getting very comfortable with one another. Be it the love of bikes or just the chance for adventure, all seven of us happily obliged.

Before I knew the layout of the car, I decided it would be a good idea to stay up until departure, napping on the 5-hours drive to Mae Sot. Between stolen breaths from squished bodies, I did manage to get a few minutes of sleep, but to say I was 100% when we arrived at our destination would be an outright lie. Alas, my fatigue was quickly placated with sweet Burmese tea, naan, and a chickpea and lentil curry that left my stomach happy. The town itself honestly didn’t look much different than other small towns I had seen in Thailand, save for a much larger of percentage of women wearing hijabs, and less Buddhist paraphernalia hanging in shops. Even so, being out of the car with a full belly had me ready for an adventure.

To get to the market, we had to drive for about 10 more minutes. With the sun shinning, we split our group between the bed and the cabin. I chose to let the wind run through my hair and talk with two members of our crew, one being a dive instructor from Brazil, and another a wander from China. Both had met Ganji through differing avenues, and both had some sort of interest in bikes that led them on this crazy fool’s errand.

When we arrived at the market, a concrete and steel jungle that looked like a standard warehouse district, I felt my heart drop. In my head, I had imagined a tent market in some lush area, set-up under the radar of the local government. What I found, though, was an industrial looking, permanent market, which was under the direct supervision of the Thai army…or at least people collecting taxes wearing army shirts, fatigue pants, and flip flops. No guns were present, though, which lessened the blow.

Though initially disappointed, as soon as I jumped out of the car and started to walk deeper into the warehouse maze, I realized Ganji’s promise was one he intended to keep. Each direction I looked brought into view another storefront lined with the most pristine, newest looking bikes, backed by rows and rows declining in appearance and increasing in age. Towards the back were bikes missing parts, as well as stacks of bikes that would either be rummaged or rebuilt, depending on their future owner. Impressed with what I saw, the sad truth set in that even if my stolen bike was here, the chance of me finding it could be chalked up to the “needle in a haystack,” idiom. I kept my eyes out for a light blue beauty, but my focus had shifted to a new whip.

While sifting through bikes, Ganji told me that many of these bikes were shipped in from Japan. Though their origins varied from stolen to factory defects, the merchants actually bought full shipping containers blindly, as opposed to individual bicycles. The Thai army was there to ensure that each bike sold was taxed, and before one could leave the market, consumers needed to show a tax slip given to them by the shop owner. 

Alex helping me find a new bike!

One interesting facet of the market was the emanating smell of kwan-yu, or betel nut, wafting up from the red spit stains adorning the cement. In Myanmar, chewing betel nut is ubiquitous. Most men and women seem to always have a smile dyed with red juices from the concoction. This is not a very common habit in Thailand, though. After speaking with many of the merchants (when I decided it was time to start test riding bikes!), it was very clear that besides the army men, most of the folks in this market had crossed the border sometime in their life or family history. Most spoke English, Thai, and a few dialects from their specific region in Myanmar. 

Through a long day of riding different bikes up the boat ramp road and haggling prices, I finally settled on a new whip..

Bridgestone Bomber!

After showing the army our “tax” voucher (the specific solider we worked with kept all his papers in a messenger bag with a weed leaf embroidered on it), we were off. Our crew of seven came away with four bikes. two cruisers, one vintage mountain bike, and my beautiful, steel-framed Bridgestone bomber, which is probably older than me. On the way back, save for an hour or so of rain, I decided to ride in the back with the bikes. What I didn’t know from the morning was that a majority of the ride followed the outskirts of differing national parks, traversing hills outlined in penetrating, limestone peaks. Beauty aside, be it steel or flesh prodding into my sides, I was very happy to hop on my bicycle once we arrived safely in Chiang Mai.

For myself and many other cyclist, our bikes are a reflection of ourselves. They are a means of freedom. They are facets of our lives which often consume more time than our friends and family. When my bike was stolen, whether or not I chose to show it, I was devastated. I felt I had been robbed of something truly important. But after my adventure to the bike market in Mae Sot, I was reminded that loss is just another aspect of change. Loss is a transition. With each loss comes an open space that is eager to be filled, and it is up to us whether we see this as a blessing or a burden. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


I remember I was invited to a house party a week or two after returning home from two years spent abroad. I had only seen family, so the idea of reconnecting with friends was exciting. The problem was, when I arrived at the location, something wasn’t right. I recognized the faces, and the house was familiar as well, but everything felt a bit…foreign. I thought, maybe it was the jet lag?  Maybe it was the end of a horrific bout with Giardia? Maybe it was the change in weather or scenery? Something just didn’t click. After a brief time socializing, I found myself feeling suffocated, anxious, and longing to be alone. Why didn’t home feel the same way? 

It’s amazing how quickly something exotic can become familiar. In the same regard, the velocity at which one’s perception can change is astounding. I have been lucky enough to visit over 30 countries, spanning 6 continents, and countless plane, train, car, boat, motorcycle, and self-propelled rides. In the midsts of these adventures, I’ve encountered an immense amount of transformative experiences. The crazy thing is, I realize that the trip that changed my life was not to a foreign destination, but to a place I know better than any. The trip that changed my life was the first time I returned home after a long travel.

On the plane back to Colorado after two years of travel throughout Asia and Australia, I was excited. I had become a new person. I had a new array of life experiences, as well as new ideas about faith, love, purpose, and almost anything worth talking about. I had a new hop in my step, and I couldn’t wait for those steps to grace my native soil. The initial landing in the Denver Airport was fantastic, and seeing my family was something I savored, but this euphoria was short lived. Much like honeymooners returning back to work after the excitement becomes a memory, home felt like…home. The problem was, even though things looked very similar to when I had left, home wasn’t the same. It would take weeks to figure out the culprit, but the truth was home was exactly what it was when I departed. I was the one who changed. 

The realization crept in slowly. Little by little I found that I now processed my surroundings in a much different way. Although I went to some hectic markets in southeast Asia, I remember visiting a Bed, Bath, and Beyond, with consumer products from the floor to the ceiling during the holiday season, and it giving me anxiety. Listening to the news and being surrounded by TVs, after only having limited wifi and no cell phone while traveling, was a shock. Hearing conversations about careers, kids, mortgages; things that are completely normal for people around my age, were so far removed from the esoteric conversations I was having just a few weeks prior. I hadn’t thought about this stuff for years, and now, it was at the forefront of my existence. Much like my life had changed during my time abroad, so had that of my friends and family. Our trajectories seemed to be aiming in differing directions. 
What challenged me the most was the concept that many of the people I hold dear didn’t see my travel as relevant experience. The first couple times I heard, “welcome back to the real world!” I thought it was funny. I even used it myself. That was until I realized this wasn’t just a colloquialism. Many people believed those two years were just a break from what they believed was reality. A reality, which I used to accept as my own. I pondered how if these folks believed travel was time spent in la la land, what the hell were all us vagabonds doing? If experiences in different cultures aren't part of the existing world, what does that mean for the places, the people, and the epiphanies encountered each time we don a backpack and passport?

After a few weeks, I started to understand the “reverse culture shock,” a bit more. I found that while people would ask about my trip, their attention was quite limited. If I could limit my tales to headlines like, “The Motorcycle Crash I had in Bali,” or  “Experiencing a Cremation in Varanasi,” people would listen for a story or two. The deeper moments I yearned to share seemed to grasp very little attention. I could talk about travel romances, nights out, or more familiar concepts, but the intricacies of a city I love like Chiang Mai, the feeling I had while listening to the hauntingly beautiful wail of the call to prayer on Lombok in Indonesia; these stories fell on deaf ears. After a headline, conversation would turn to how I financed my trip, then, travel talk would cease. My experiences, my friends, my new way of life, still so potent and empowering, seemed to have no place back in the “real world.” 
If you talk to any traveler who has left home for a long period of time, their return will involve setbacks. The truth is, traveling is a way to shift one’s paradigm. With any action there is a reaction, and gaining a new lens comes at a cost. If you allow travel to seep in, the change becomes permanent. It is hard to unsee the things you saw. It is difficult to unlearn lessons, or forget deep-seated feelings you had for places and people. Certain facets of your past will evaporate. Those associated with these facets will also begin to drift away. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but all growth and change comes with collateral damage.

Returning home was difficult, but it taught me two very important lessons. The first: your experiences, regardless of how they are met by others, are relevant. You are not “returning to reality,” because what you have seen is reality. Some people will understand this. Hold them close and allow them to aid you on the long road to understanding. The second: belief is a powerful tool. I left with belief that I would find what I was looking for abroad, even without knowing what I was seeking. While I didn’t expect a trip planned to last only 6-months would evolve into two years, I also didn’t expect to find myself still drawn to being abroad more so than “home.” I believed I would thrive abroad, and it manifested in a way that I never would have believed possible without taking the leap.

With practice, I’ve gained the awareness to permeate between current home and homeland, but my first trip back to Colorado was not so graceful. Sometimes it isn't the moments of ecstasy that teach us valuable lessons. Often, it’s moments where we find ourselves starring up from the bottom, wondering how we ended up here. Though I thought returning home was the end of the journey, I found it was just the beginning. Each trip has its purpose. It may not be what we expect or plan for, but I can say with certainty it is what we need. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Trump is not the Problem, We are

I remember first hearing about yet another attempt from Donald Drumpf to run for President the summer of 2015, while working as a tour guide abroad. My employer was a company whom catered to high school youth who come from very, very privileged backgrounds. The students in my group, luckily, had an intelligence and understanding level that rivaled their immense privilege. That can’t normally be said for three differing sets of kids, totaling to about 40 overall. This bright bunch was eager to learn about everything, with topics including love, how people like myself and my co-lead survive in a vagabond lifestyle, and, of course, politics.

At this juncture, Drumpf had barely begun his unwarranted, media onslaught. I had not given a thought to candidates, as our current president still had nearly half of his second-term left to serve. One of my students brought up the name Drumpf, and without second thought, I went into a tirade, albeit a watered-down, age-appropriate one, about how even in the worst of times, no one in the US would be naive enough to fall for such ridiculous antics. I am lucky I kept it PG and not laden with my true beliefs, because it turns out my student was family friends with good ole’ Drumpfy pants (and I don’t need a lawsuit coming my way for my opinions, because that is now possible in our homeland!). I thought that would be the end of hearing about him, that he would flame out like elections past. How wrong I was, and how quickly I became the naive one. 

There is no point in explaining what we’ve seen occur over this stupidly long election season. We all have television, radio, internet, and most likely the ability to have dialogue with other human beings. Drumpf is here to stay. As much as I want to be angry and point my finger any which way, the truth of the matter is Drumpf isn’t the real problem. We are.

We can blame politicians, the system, and the other side's policy as much as we want, but the truth is we allow this to happen. We are the ones who tune into CNN, Fox, BBC, etc. for 2 years of campaigning. We are the ones who fund and fuel campaigns. We are the ones who talk about primaries and caucuses without actually understanding how those votes work, spending our precious time to give power to delegates and super delegates who aren’t actually bound to the candidate we voted for. We are the ones who consume these reality TV shows faster than processed food. We are the ones who allow “news sources,” to put words such as “Global famine,” in the same headlines as “Kardashian-West.” We allow polarized politics to keep us fighting one another; the people actually affected by the system. 

If we are truly outraged, it isn’t Drump we need to be going after. Or, if you are associate with the other side of the pie, the Bern, Hill Dog, and Obama shouldn't be your target either. We should be going after ourselves. We should be angry with ourselves for being swindled by the media. We should be angry at ourselves for being swindled by the system. We should be angry at ourselves for forgetting in this country we are granted rights that allow us to stand up in the face of injustice. 

If we are outraged and want to make a difference, what we need to do is boycott the primary and caucus system. You can pump the need to vote all you want but I am certain that in this pre-election time what we need to do is turn off our TVs. By making the choice to vote in the primaries and participate in our convoluted system, we are creating a political climate where we can only have two parties. By making the election last literally years, we foster an environment where only multi-millionaires and billionaires have the means to run. This action waters down our own pool of candidates. We are the only "advanced" nation who has an election that last months, let alone years, and spends billions of dollars doing it. Other “advanced” countries have election that last around 6-weeks, and cost a fraction of what we spend in the US. This results in less headaches, more efficient elections, and ballots that actually represent multiple parties offering a diverse set of beliefs, ideologies, and policies.

While we have been told that the best way to change the system is to get out and vote, I’m telling you that this is false. Though the ship may have already sailed this season, the answer is don't vote. Don’t fund candidates. Don’t watch debates, and don’t listen to the news. If we want better candidates, we need to expand the ability of who can be a candidate. To do so, to actually live in a multiparty, democratic nation, we the citizens, the voters, the constituents, need to stand up and change the system. If we are truly outraged by the politicians we see today, we need to make the change, and not wait for them to throw us scraps from their gluttonous plates.

Photos courtesy of Twitter, Upvoted

Thursday, April 14, 2016

1/8: Revisiting the Waters that Last Saw my Uncle's Face

On Airlie Beach in northern Queensland, Australia, life is normally very calm. The weather is fantastic (save for monsoon season), and the beaches are beautiful. While most visitors use this area as a jump off point to visit the remarkable Whitsunday Islands, my visit packed a different purpose. In fact, though my Dad and I found ourselves enjoying all the area had to offer, the reason we decided to visit Airlie was seemingly different than our backpacking and vacationing counterparts. Our mission was to pay tribute to an uncle I never knew. Our purpose was to try and understand more what happened to him and his fellow, fallen classmates aboard their Whaler style sailboat on October 17th, 1963. 

To give a small explanation of our history, my Uncle was lost at sea during a non-conflict, sailing exercise for the Australian Navy in the 60’s. His ship, which consisted of himself, 3 naval academy graduates from his class, as well as an officer, lost course while navigating around Hook Island in northern Queensland. Two bodies (not my uncle) and the ship were found 4 days after the accident, but the remaining three were never found. 12 days after the incident, a life vest and non-floating naval torch were found 93 miles west of Hook Island on Cape Bowling Green. Beyond speculation, no clear-cut explanation was given to the families of the boys. To say that our desire to visit Airlie Beach was purely for fun would definitely be an understatement. 

In both an act of tribute, as well as to gain a better understanding of what Peter and his fellow midshipmen faced, Dam Dog and I sailed from Abell Marina through the Whitsunday Passage, and up through Hook Passage, along the same line that last saw Peter and the Whaler before they were lost at sea. Here is my journal entry after returning from our 12-hour excursion on the water...

4/14- Yesterday was a truly impactful day for Dam dog and I. We hopped on a sailboat from Abell Marina, which traveled through Whitsundays Passage, up through Hook Passage, all the way to Whitehaven Beach. While actual time spent sailing, as opposed to using the onboard motor, was minuscule, and we were on a tourist boat, yesterday was far from a walk in the park. The open water after Hook Passage was where the Whaler began to go off course. So, as history tells it, once the ship passed through the protected passage, meeting open water with Hook Island to its port, the Whaler was flying. The crew was trying to cut further away from shore to offset the counter tides running towards land. This decision, only to be exacerbated by overlooked weather reports and mast-high waves, was a fatal one. Once the passage was run, the open water became an unrelenting yolk which never released.  Navigating this area, though controlled to the fullest human extent, was uncanny for me. With inclimate weather greeting us, I was terrified. I became drenched in rain, sea water, and thoughts of what had elapsed to my family in these parts. I saw unfortunate poetic justice in my father flying halfway around the world to finally visit where his brother was lost, only to meet the same fate. Myself, artistic collateral damage as barring my uncle’s namesake (Christopher Peter). Of course, though, we made it. Our captain and his underpaid, overqualified whipping boy (a 36-year-old vagabond who sailed here growing up, only to find his hours were now considered redundant), made it possible. 

As we hit the open water, in contrast to the Whaler, we felt a calm come over us. As if God had written the screenplay, once we navigated through the passage, the winds died down, and the clouds opened ever so slightly, reuniting us with a glimmer of the sun’s warm embrace. Seeing this area of historical importance to our family; feeling, to a small extent, what Peter felt on board his ship that fell to the will of the erratic weather; seeing my dad try to process what happened here, pondering how this incredibly beautiful, lush, colorful part of the globe, in conjunction with executive negligence and naive over-zealousness, could absolutely change the course of our family’s history: the entire experience was stimulating and draining.

After the passage, the rest of the day teetered and tottered between fun and fear. We held on white-knuckle to the boat as the rains and winds met us quickly, only to dissipate slowly, smoothly. We used our time as we snorkeled and saw one of the most pristine beaches my eyes have ever rested upon, to digest what we had experienced.

The climax, of course, was navigating the final squall, only a few knots away from shore. The rains and winds were heaviest with this one. At first it felt angry. The work of a long, dormant spirit now disturbed from it’s perennial rest. The rain came fast and strong as the wind howled, bringing along with it clouds obscuring any view of the surrounding land. As night had already fallen, the lights from our not-to-distant fruition in Airlie’s welcoming shore disappeared. In this chaos, though, the storm transmuted from anger to what felt like tears falling from the heavens. The first drops were that of sadness, of reawaking to a fate one would hope was a bad dream. Then came those of acceptance. Joy followed. The final droplets where of release. No artistic license was needed to doctor the ending of this story, as the torrential weather elapsed when we made it to harbor. My father and I decide to walk back to our hotel, while the other guests on board, whom didn’t have the same ties we did to Hook Island, stormed off deck exhausted. Some were sore, some angry, some swore off sailing forever. Our itinerary boasted an easy 8 hours, backed with clear skys, sun, and beautiful beachers. After a tumultuous 12-hour affair, who could really blame them?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

How an Overpopulated City dealt with a One-Million Person Parade - The City of Denver and Winning Super Bowl 50

What a million celebration fans looks like

I remember 17-years-ago skipping a January day of 6th grade to see John Elway, Terrell Davis, Shannon Sharpe, and the rest of the crew hoist the Lombardi Trophy high in the sky. While Specifics of the day may evade me, as I’ve gotten older, one of my bucket list items was to see one of the Colorado teams win a championship. I’m not a hockey fan, and although the Rapids winning a few years back was pretty cool, I knew for me the ones that would matter would be the Broncos or the Nuggets bringing home the hardware. The Broncos, under the terrific ownership of the Bowlen family, with John Elway at the reigns, and a culture that cultivates winning, was my best hope.

As a traveler, I don’t spend much time in my hometown. I love Colorado. I love Denver. I even find myself enjoying small facets of my actual hometown (Littleton) on the rarest of occasions, but that doesn’t combat my wanderlust. While I do drift more than I settle, the last few years have seen my visits home over the holidays linger just a bit longer, in the hopes that the Broncos may just pull one out.

After the devastating blow that was Super Bowl XLVIII, I found myself questioning if I should let sports interfere with my travel. We all have goals, and I began internally debating whether or not supporting a sports team was really serving my best interests. This past May, I departed the US with a deep-rooted question of whether I wanted to return to the states to try and create a life in Denver, or if I would give-in fully to the pull of the wind. With the latter having won, I know these days in Denver will mark some of my last for the foreseeable future. While I used other excuses for why I was staying for as long as I am (a seasonal job in the mountains, skiing, and most importantly, family and friends) I knew deep down that I had a feeling the Broncos, the Sheriff, and the Denver D had a few tricks up their sleeves this season. 

Part of the reason why I didn’t let this small dream fall from my bucket list was due to a game I watched in Thailand. After only watching highlights for the majority of the season, I decided to wake up at 7 am one day to venture to a local Irish Pub in Chiang Mai to watch the Broncos play the Green Bay Packers. While the traveler in me felt somewhat guilty waking up early to hang out with other westerners, eating western food, and yelling at a television, I remembered what sports have meant to me all my life. I understand the arguments against them, but through playing, as well as watching, sports I have gained so much. Sitting quietly, texting my Dad and best friend in the back of a bar in Southeast Asia somehow packed with Cheeseheads reminded me that there are some things that truly transcend the layers we humans have created. Sports, love em or hate em, are one of those things.

This Super Bowl Sunday, after working a full day at Keystone, I was lucky enough to hightail it down I-70 (a beautiful sight when not littered with traffic) and enjoy the momentous performance with my Dad at his Super Bowl Party. We drank beer, ate copious amounts of food, and celebrated by lighting off fireworks on the frozen lake with all the other jubilant neighbors. After enjoying all the interviews, the awarding of the MVP trophy, and hearing the Sheriff talk a lot about Budweiser, I knew it was time to see what the streets of Denver had to offer. Here in lies the conflict of this tale.

After having the Light Rail cease to take us to our downtown stop, I walked through the lovely Auraria Campus to where myself and other ecstatic, yet in control, fans thought the party would be. We were told the train was stopping because of the police stymying attempts at making it to Denver, which was our first indication the night may not be as fun as planned. This photo was our second :

SWAT police blocking off Larimer Square

With fables of cars being burned and riots ensuing over the last victory, I could understand the apprehension to let a new generation of fan take over the city. The fact is, though, that today's fan has seen the ramifications of the militarization of police. Denver is also a much more mellow city than years past, having seen violent crimes drop subsequently with the passage of the referendum 64. While I was only witness to people dancing and chanting in the streets (and the news echoing this sentiment), the amount of closed bars and police, as well as snarky bouncers stereotyping sports fans as “woo girls,” was enough to dampen my sprits. Sunday night ended on a bit of a low note, but all that would change with Tuesday’s parade.

We’ve all seen the videos, pictures, Tweets, Instagrams, and Facebook posts of the parade yesterday. Hopefully some of us reading this were actually in attendance. I don’t need to go into detail of what happened, with 3oh!3 and Big Head Todd stoking the crowd ("do the Vonnie Miller, and get lots of hits, yeah!"), or seeing the Super Bowl Champs ride by on firetrucks and armchairs. We’ve all seen it, and if not, this isn’t the place to get the recap. What I do want to say, though, is that this parade, matched with a stunning game, as well as seeing this generation of fan celebrate in a respectful way, left me ecstatic. While Sunday left room for improvement, I can say what I saw on Tuesday honestly made me proud of a city whose decisions I have questioned as of late. When one million people show up to a parade, with only a single arrest, well, that is truly a one in a million occurrence. Sure I’ll still complain about the influx of people to Denver. Sure I’ll still be annoyed by traffic. Sure I'll whine about having to share my stellar spot at the parade with folks whom would rather see their hometeam hoisting the Lombardi rather than my Denver Broncos, but the amalgamate of my Super Bowl Championship experience is more than I could have asked for.

Denver has a lot of growing up to do. With the amount of people coming in, our city and state are taxed with a lot of difficult choices on how to deal with the change. While myself and many other folks who were born and raised here are annoyed with what we see presently, maybe this parade will be a jumping point. Maybe we will start to make tough decisions on how to make our city better, more affordable, and more attainable for all. This is, of course, in opposition to the current plan of knocking over any piece of property seen fit by investors to build luxury condos. Maybe we’ll figure out public transportation both in Denver and to the mountains, instead of blatantly ignoring the inability to move people safely from point A to point B. Maybe we will. While I’m not holding my breath (and I am purchasing a ticket out of here soon), what Denver showed me on Tuesday was a good sign for the future. I hope we can continue to work together, with all walks of life, to make our city a better.

Thank you Broncos, the Bowlen Family, and the city of Denver for a great season and even greater ending!

Star Wars and Football!

Photos courtesy of author

* Photo of my Dad and I taken by a friend on my phone at our house!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The most wholesome back-alley transaction I've ever been involved in, and how it serendipitously came about

On the way to the alley

There are very few times in life when one can use the word "serendipitous," in the same sentence as the phrase "back-alley transaction." In fact, this may be the first union of said word and phrase. While most back-alley transactions are far removed from the idea that God, angels, or the universe are looking out for us, the two being linked isn't entirely unheard of. Those whom would consider themselves more spiritually in-tune can often see how the powers that be conspire to look after miscreants, drunks, and others that wouldn't fall under the "spiritual," tag. While I may fall somewhere in between spiritual and miscreant, I can assure you my time in Myanmar, as well as how it came about, were set in stone beyond my own will.

When I traveled to Myanmar in 2012, it was the first year that tourist visa's were being issued. Backpackers and travelers alike were quickly jumping on board to try and get a taste of an unspoiled country that held adventures no internet search could spoil. As I created plans, those of which would ultimately crumble, I found myself reading a Southeast Asian travel guide while waiting on a bus from Denver to Boulder. I had missed the 12:00 am bus, and having to wait another hour, I wasn't too amused. Enter in my now close friend Jen.  We had never met before this, but Jen saw my book, approached me about a fear of traveling alone in Myanmar, and proposed tackling the country together in August/September. Granted, this was April, and I never thought I would see her again, I willingly accepted. Fast forward 4 months and you would find myself and Jen re-meeting (more so meeting for the first time) at a hostel in Bangkok at 4 am, getting ready to hop in a taxi to the airport. The will of travel works in mysterious ways!

Serendipitous meeting number 2, you ask? Enter in Colin. On my first night in Bangkok in May, I randomly met Colin's ex-girlfriend. When I came back to Bangkok in August to get ready for my trip to Myanmar, Colin's ex-girlfriend invited me to stay with her and "her friend," in a hotel that her friend's school in Myanmar was paying for while he sorted out his working visa. This "friend," of course, was Colin. He allowed us to stay with him, and even let us have the hotel room one night when he decided to stay at the luxurious Labua. Colin also invited Jen and I, whom he hadn't met, to stay with him in Yangon when we arrived in Myanmar. This was the final piece needed for our back-alley extravaganza!

In 2012, Myanmar did not have functioning ATMs. Each traveler heading to the recently opened country was warned to bring crisp, new USD that could then be exchanged for Kyat (pronounced Ch-ah-t). Travelers were also warned that Myanmar would be expensive, so bringing more money here than you would normally spend in the other countries was essential. Banks in Bangkok knew this was the case, so they offered the bills with no hassle. Jen took this information to heart. I, on the other hand, grabbed some new bills, but assumed my bills from home would be just fine. This was not the case.

After navigating customs, Jen and I made our way to money exchange with Colin, whom met us at the airport. Colin had figured out the systems already, so he took it upon himself to help us out. After Jen received her money with no problem, I presented around $700 of my $1000 USD to be exchanged. When I passed my USD under the glass windowpane, I was met only with a blank look. These 2012 $100s, $20s, and $10s were of a series that wasn't accepted in Myanmar. I gave him my other remaining $300, only to find out that of the $1000 I had in my possession, 3 $20s and one $10 would be accepted, leaving me with the equivalent of $70 for a month of travel. I never felt so poor carrying $1000 in cash. 

As panic began to set in,  Colin assured me there was another way. While guidebooks promised that only the airport and maybe a few hotels would exchange cash, Colin said there was a man who bought USD that wasn't accepted at the airport, but at a smaller exchange rate. At this point I had no other option, so into a taxi the three of us hopped. Colin directed the driver (whom had an amazing grasp of English) to the spot. We jumped out of the car in front of a fancy shopping center, only for Colin to point across the street to what seemed like a crack between two rundown apartment buildings. That narrow ally was where we were headed.

As we crossed the street and dipped between the two buildings, I started to have thoughts of what it would be like to go to jail in Myanmar. Maybe it wouldn't be as bad as Thailand, but I'm sure it wouldn't be the best accommodation I'd have on my trip. After passing by numerous small portals with curious heads peering out, Colin showed us in through a small door. As my eyes adjusted, I found myself in a small room lit by candles and what little sun passed through the windows in the ally. I was scared, but to my surprise I didn't find a hard gangster surrounded by pools of ammunition, firearms, and plastic bags filled with strange substances. The man sitting there was a normal, smiling, middle-aged guy. He welcomed us, gave us all chairs to sit in, and asked to see my bills. After examining my currency, he smiled and said "all your bills are cracked or broken." Before I could say anything, though, he offered me a rate of around 850 Kyat per dollar (only 10-15 Kyat less than that of the airport), and proceeded to give me the largest plastic bag of currency I'd ever laid eyes upon. We spoke for a few more minutes, graciously accepted his advice for BBQ restaurants, sipped some tea, then made our way back out of the alley.

While I can't speak for all travelers, I know that most of my craziest travel stories all involve a certain element of outside involvement. Be it delivering me safely on rickety transportation, or keeping me out of trouble on nights where my miscreant side shines, I have always landed on stable footing. Though Myanmar found me in some tight situations, I can tell you that those willing to take a leap of faith will always have an unseen, helping hand. As for my back-alley transaction, I may not be an expert, but I can only assume it is one of the most wholesome to ever occur. 

Not all back streets are dangerous, some hold beauty and adventure

Photos Courtesy of Author and friends

For more of my writing on Myanmar, check out the following posts:

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Odd Jobs - A Vagabond's Bread and Butter

I’ll wash dishes for a quick cash binge, ’til April comes and its into the wilderness again.” - Nahko Bear

Was my job to teach Trevor Hall how to slackline? Nope, but it was a perk.

When it comes to being a vagabond, one has to be creative to continue down the dusty, often times abusive, road. While other walks of life offer things like savings, health insurance, and a consistent bed, travelers and nomads aren't always proud owners of these luxuries. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a complaint, as the majority of us chose this life because we love it. This is just the nature of trying to live unyoked in an age where everyone and everything seem to want to clip your wings. While navigating foreign streets and finding adventure are the tumbleweed’s fortay, one of their often undervalued skills is straight hustling

Being from the states, the number one question I get about traveling is not what I’ve seen, where I’ve been, or where I will go next, it is always a question about money. How do you afford this? Where does this money come from? Who funds you? While I’ve gone into detail about this before, this past week I was reminded of another tool in the transient shed of travelers; odd jobs.

The thing about odd jobs is that, starting down this path is sort of like joining a gang. Once you begin, it almost seems as if you are sucked it. Maybe it’s not for life, but it also isn’t something you necessarily dabble in. This, though, is a good thing for those ready to make the leap. Odd jobs don’t offer job security, since most of them are time-sensitive, seasonal, under the table, or one-time gigs. Scary, yes, but once you open that door, it will always remain ajar. After working one job, you will see a flood of these potent positions that are always searching for someone just like you to fill it at the perfect time. It’s as if there is a meta-physical Linkedin that knows when you are getting low on cash, and delivers a high-paying, short-term gig directly to your doorstep. I can’t scientifically explain it, but my growing belly should be proof enough I’ve been eating well while living this life. 

In the last year two years alone I’ve worked as a freelance writer, a sports coach for youth, a travel guide for affluent high schoolers, an urban taxi driver, an “environmental” educator, and a specialist of nutritional and dietary delivery, aka a server. Have all these jobs been great? Nope, not at all. But what they have done is offered the means necessary to live, while also offering the great benefit of flexibility and a free-schedule. While many of us grew up being told following our passion would lead us to financial prosperity, how this would come about wasn’t specified. It would be oh so grand if we literally got to do our favorite thing all day, everyday and get paid for it, but it doesn't always happen that way. Some of us are quite content finding jobs that fit a schedule of our own creation which maximize free time, yet still let us not only survive, but thrive. 

A typical day on the job as a tour guide

While odd jobs are appealing to travelers for obvious reasons (quick cash flow, no strings attached, work when you want) the truth is that they also offer many aspects of travel that we consciously or subconsciously need to make it through the day. Odd jobs normally occur during times outside regular work hours. On top of that, they are also often in fields that introduce you to places, people, and ways of life that are far from the mainstream. These (occasionally somewhat shady) posts grant an opportunity to see the inner or under-workings of places you may have thought you’ve known, blossoming a new interest in a place you may have written off. 

This past week I worked for a transportation company at the largest convention in the United States, CES, hosted in Las Vegas. While I know full well I don’t particularly like Vegas, this job offered me a few things. First things first, I got paid quite a bit to work my butt off for a week. Second, it offered comped meals. Even though I’m not into gambling or clubs, I do love eating, and being able to check out some interesting restaurants was a nice treat. It also showed me a glimpse of both the Tech World and the inner-workings of Vegas. Most days we were waking up at 4:30 am and working about 15 hours. Being able to see what Vegas looks like in the wee hours of the morning, not under the influence, was a very telling experience. Seeing folks stumbling back to their temporary residence, trying to express their need for something to a poor cashier or their spouse, even though their ability to fluently communicate had dissolved with the last drink that hit their lips, was a spectacle to say the least. This, as well as getting to know some of the folks working in the hotels and restaurants, was an intimate view of what makes up vegas, that most weekend bingers don't see. Matched with getting to spend my lunch hour walking around a gaudy show of all the latest electronics the world has to offer, this odd job was a previously unknown experience I'm happy to have lived. 

Odd jobs offer views of the world those in set positions may never see. Though it’s true this lifestyle isn’t for everyone, those who are curious, I implore you to take the leap. It may be scary not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from, but if you take the plunge and get your feet wet, it will come. For this Tumbleweed, I can only dream of what my next short-term, hopefully high paying gig will have me doing, and what sub-culture it will introduce me to.  

It took 28 years to get backstage at Red Rocks...and the only reason I did was due to odd jobs

Photos courtesy of author - First photo taken by a friend on my camera