Posts Tagged With: writing 101

Lessons From the Road: He No Longer Lives in Brasil

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The flight from LAX to Rio de Janeiro (GIG) had been a long one but while tired I was excited to be at last joining the movie company to film on location. I had been hired to train Jaguars and was the only America working for the British film. When I met Gabriel at customs, I soon discovered that I had stepped into a surreal world and time. He stared right through me wearing a sweat-stained t-shirt that read “Kill Them All and Let God Sort them Out.” I could just make out a faded French Foreign Legion logo on a worn canvas bag slung over his shoulder.

In a thick Portuguese accent, he said in rehearsed English, “Welcome to Brazil,” and commenced to orchestrate us through customs. This was the tone that the shooting of this movie would take for the better part of a year. We filmed in fifty-five different locations that year which took us from the coast to deep in the jungles of the Amazon. We were on a golden voyage, a real old school adventure and it was 1984. Each day took us further from what we knew to a world of wild animals, jungle darkness, danger, Voodoo and real outlaws. We were a long way from home.

The production company knowing we would be filming in the backcountry of Brazil decided to employ a fixer, a bodyguard to look after me and my crew. If you didn’t know the year you would have thought that Gabriel was playing an outlaw in a ’40s movie set in a Banana Republic. He wore a Panama hat tilted over one eye and a loosely fitting white linen shirt that covered the pistol which he always carried in his waist belt. Simply put, his job was to keep us safe and make things go smoothly. And he did it with dedication and vigor over the year of our filming. Gabriel and I developed a close friendship that grew out of sharing a dangerous adventure that required us to live by our wits and depend on each other.

He didn’t really speak English and I didn’t speak Portuguese. But fortunately most everyone in the country spoke Spanish so I relied on it to get us by. It didn’t take me long to observe that Gabriel was known and feared by everyone we encountered. He was closely connected to the cocaine trade of South America. This was after all the 1980’s.

Gabriel could get you almost anything and he could make almost anything happen. But his real specialty was making problems go away. But I didn’t realize how good he was at this or how seriously he took his job until one evening after a long day of filming.

We had found a great little open-air bar that was terraced on a river looking out into the jungle in a little village near one of our locations. Besides serving great local drinks, it had the best garlic, sautéed shrimp I had ever eaten. So most evenings you could find the production company there. We were young and single and as such fit right in with the young crowd in the village. But as we got more familiar this caused jealousies with some of the locals that we didn’t realize until that evening.

A mixed group of us were enjoying ourselves drinking and dancing on the terrace. It was late and most of us had had our share of the local drink, Pinga or Cachaça, a dangerously strong and delicious spirit distilled from sugarcane when a man barged in yelling that we had not given him a job and had taken all the women of the village.

My friend, Colin, who being Irish held his drink better than the rest of us, stood up holding a drink out as a peace offering. But the man picked up a bottle and threw it hitting him squarely in the forehead. Colin fell like a sack of potatoes bleeding profusely. Several of us including Gabriel jumped up to give chase, as the man darted out and into the cover of the jungle.

Several minutes later, I found Gabriel and a few of his men in a clearing where they had the man on the ground. Hastily, Gabriel sent me back with one of his men after assuring me he would take care of the matter. And trust me, there was no arguing with Gabriel when he was working. So we attended to getting Colin to a small clinic where they very efficiently sewed him up.

For days afterward, Colin who didn’t speak Spanish asked me to question Gabriel as to what happened to the man. Gabriel always gave a vague answer and quickly changed the subject. This didn’t satisfy Colin who pestered me to continue asking.

Finally, after about a month this, while having lunch, Colin pressed me to ask again. This time, Gabriel was at the end of his patience. He pulled his pistol out and laid it on the table, leaned forward and leveled his dark, hard eyes on me and said, “Tell Colin to stopped asking me about the past. Let’s just say the man no longer lives in Brazil.”

I never asked Gabriel again.

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ChaCha passed

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Our dog, ChaCha, passed today. Many thanks to Arrowhead Animal Hospital and Dr. Grant Mayne, for the care and understanding in her final days here with us. ChaCha was a stellar dog. She performed all endeavors with vigor and love. ChaCha displayed splendid behavior that we could all learn from. Pleasant journeys old friend and we’ll see you down the road.

 

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Weekly Lessons From the Road: Fresh Chicken Enchiladas

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Fresh Chicken Enchiladas!

As I write this, I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop in the world, Hotshots in Lake Arrowhead, CA. And believe me, I’ve been to my share around the world and all pale to this gem in the mountains of Southern California.

When my dish came I was reminded of another time I ordered chicken. I had been riding a 2nd Class bus for days after crossing the Guatemalan border into Mexico. I knew this was going to be an adventure when I saw the sign on the bus driver’s visor that read, “Jesuscristo Mi Copiloto—Jesus Christ is my Copilot.” Above the inscription hung a collection of crucifixes and crosses and a picture of Christ ascending into the heavens.

As we wound through the first mountains that evening, I noticed the bus driver was turning his headlights off when passing on blind curves. He explained to me that this allowed him to see the lights of oncoming vehicles. He laughed when I suggested that another vehicle could be doing the same thing and pointed to the sign. I retired to the back of the bus with some campesinos and shared my flask.

As the trip progressed, I contracted dysentery requiring the bus driver to make frequent stops. Ultimately, the patience of the driver and the passengers was at an end and I found myself in Vera Cruz recuperating. A kind lady hotelier and a local pharmacist eventually put me right, which is another story.

I knew I was on the mend when I had the overwhelming craving for fresh chicken enchiladas, Vera Cruz style. My hostess told me of a local restaurant in her neighborhood that made the best in the city. She laughed and assured me they would be really fresh.

I decided I was strong enough to walk and could use the evening air. As I made my way through the narrow streets it began to rain, slowing my progress. Finally, I saw the little place down an alley and quickened my pace to get out of the weather.

I was about halfway, when a young man sprinted past me chased by a rotund policeman; huffing and puffing, pistol drawn. I had just enough time to dodge into an alcove as he began firing. After a several shots he bent over trying to catch his breath. The young man disappeared into the mist. The policeman and I went to dinner.

Inside was so steamy that you couldn’t see out the windows. My newfound friend and I were the only customers, so took seats near the kitchen. The policeman validated that the enchiladas were the best in town. The waitress was a short, little firebrand that stood tapping her foot impatiently as she waited for our orders.

I asked her if the chicken was fresh before I ordered. She laughed, as though to a private joke and assured me I wouldn’t find fresher. Right after she entered the kitchen with our orders, a small boy darted through it’s swinging doors, past us, disappearing outside. I quizzically looked at the policeman but he just shrugged assuring me all was normal. Of course, I took that with a grain-of-salt as this was the same man who minutes before had been shooting at someone out front.

Now, in Mexico you wait for your meal. It takes time and nothing happens very quickly. But usually it’s worth it. Dinner is a social event that should be savored. But this dinner was really taking a long time. Just as I was about to call the waitress over, the boy returned with a chicken under each arm and disappeared into the kitchen. Seconds later we heard squawking and the chopping of what sounded like a cleaver followed by silence; except for subdued laughter and the rattling of pots.

After about half-and-hour, we had the freshest and most savory chicken enchiladas I’ve ever tasted to this day. And I made a few lifelong friends that have enriched my world ever since, but, as I said before, that’s another story.

The road to the freshest chicken enchiladas you’ve ever tasted, can be a long and unpredictable one, but, as in life, the rewards can be great.

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Baja Bound!

Bahia de los angeles, campo gecko

In a few days, I’m headed to baja for a couple weeks because someone has to keep an eye on things 🙂 …. I entered the 101st. Airborne, jump school on April 23,1967, Fort Benning, Georgia..After that, was–well, after that. .So I like to be somewhere that I feel I earned….. You know what I’m talking about Johnnie Griffitts and  John H. Bogacki … We made it and are still going on… The only easy day was yesterday and yesterday was a …….

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Weekly Lessons From the Road: A Polite Robbery

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Chili Mac

Back in the late sixties I was traveling with some friends along the coast road from Puerta Vallarta to San Blas. We had the road to ourselves and the stars were just coming out as we wound through the jungle. I had just repaired my BMW motorcycle and for once it was running well. I had hoed weeds all summer to earn it from an old man who had it setting in his barn (a story in itself). We were moving fast enough to cool us from the sweltering humidity when we came upon a tree blocking the road.

I was the first to stop and investigate. As the rest of our group came to a stop, a small group of armed men and women stepped out of the jungle and surrounded us. The leader pointed an AK-47 at me and demanded money. I was intimately familiar with this weapon as I was just out of the military. I could tell he was uncomfortable and surprised when he realized that we were all gringos.

Immediately, I took exception and told the leader that he couldn’t take all of our money as we needed to get home and, further, my girlfriend was expecting. This threw the whole group into a whispered discussion. Now, I admit I made the part up about my girlfriend but the rest was true. We had all stretched our spring break, which was designed to be a week long, into several months. Our parents (especially my girlfriend’s) and the college officials did not see the humor in our change of vacation plans.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, the leader nervously asked me how much we needed to get home. I replied that we only had a $125US between us and we needed a least a hundred to get home. I pointed sympathetically to my girlfriend. We bartered for a good hour and finally settled on us giving them $25US and cooking them dinner.

Everyone relaxed and the AKs were set aside. It was a communal affair with us sharing what we had for dinner. This being the sixties in Mexico, the women cooked while the men shared a bottle of tequila chased by macho stories. This was the birth of one of the recipes in the one-arm cook book, Chili Mac. They loved it.

The evening wore on as many of us nodded off. Our impromptu campfire died down and as silently as they stepped out to meet us, they drifted back into the jungle like sleep walking ghosts.

After moving the log I commented that it was the politest robbery I’ve ever heard of. I learned that evening that sometimes when you step into a drama and you just have to play it out. Besides, there might be a story in it.

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Almost Human – The First Paragraph of Chapter 1……..

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Book Cover – Publisher’s Proof

As many of you know, I’m participating in a writing blog, Writing 101. We are to work on describing a setting; a place we would like to be transported.

There are two places I like to be–on two wheels going fast or on the deck of a ship far out to sea in a storm. I saw this as an opportunity to share the beginning paragraph of my first chapter of my novel, Almost Human. It will be released in May 2015.

I would love feedback on if I’ve succeeded in setting the tone of the story with my description of setting. So for better or worse, I hope you enjoy it!

Chapter 1 – Somewhere off the coast of Equatorial Africa, 1938

Malice brewed far out in the Southern Atlantic, where two winds met from different quarters of the world. At first, they stalked each other, blowing blasts between calms as they circled. But in the dying embers of sunset in the empty spaces of the Equator, they combined with a force that turned the calm tropical seas of summer into a caldron of froth and fury. A storm was gathering. It brooded alone for a while, gathering its force until it sent out the first signals of doom at dawn with steep running swells that raced out from the eye. They grew in force with each mile, forming giant walls of death which caught the shipping lanes asleep.

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Weekly Lessons From the Road: A little Sleep

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Boy Sleeping

Sometimes the story comes from life and ends up on the road. This is the case with this posting as it is a lesson I brought to the road.

When I was a new teacher just starting my career, I served as a bilingual 3rd grade teacher. I remember getting quite frustrated with a student who was consistently late and often fell asleep in my class. I saw this student as not motivated and disrespectful. I assumed that he was staying up late watching TV. This was long before personal computers and other technology.

One morning, during my math instruction, I found this student sleeping; head down on his desk. I lost my temper. I was young and new to the profession. I shook the desk waking him up and commenced to dress this student down for his inattention and lack of care for his education. I saw his behavior as disrespectful and made several assumptions about him and his future.

I kept this student after class during recess so I could discuss his behavior further. I began counseling this student about not watching television in the evening and getting to bed early. I threaten to call his parents. I stopped immediately when the student began to well up and cry.

What the student told me next changed my practice as an educator for the rest of my career. He had been hiding in an abandoned car in the alley behind his house all night to avoid being beaten by his father who had been drinking. He said when his father began to drink he got violent and the family would hide and that this happened frequently.

I learned by listening, that this student got himself up each morning, dressed his younger sister and walked several miles to school through one of the most gang infested sections of the town. He told me he came to school because he could eat both breakfast and lunch. He was hungry most of the time. Further, he came because it was safe and he believed that I cared about him.

Of course, I felt horrible for the assumptions I had made concerning this student and the fact I did not know about his home environment. It never happened again in my career as an educator. I learned a great lesson that day. Sometimes, we as educators might be the only caring adult a student meets all day.

I learned that my experience growing up was not necessarily the same as those of many of my students. I was fortunate enough to have loving parents who cared for my sister and me. They made sure we were safe and secure. They valued our education and supported our schools. My family life was and is good. But I cannot assume this is the case with all my students. Abuse and hunger does not only just happen somewhere far from our community..

Over the years, I have become part of many of my students’ stories who have had to overcome great hardship and obstacles just to get to school each day. It is our primary responsibility, as educators, to identify those students in need and help remove those obstacles. We as educators must look beyond our classrooms to the world outside our schools to insure that our students are safe and secure.

I carry this lesson as an attitude on the road. I have learned that people while differing in language and culture have pretty much the same motivations They want to be safe and secure. They want to be loved and cared for and most importantly valued and respected. We have to look deep and not judge other people we meet on our adventures by the assumptions of our own culture (ethnocentrisms). By connecting with those we meet on the road with mutual respect and care, we open the very door that keeps us traveling to the next blank spot on the map as we chase the ever-changing horizons of our dreams.

If you are wondering what ever happen to the little boy I spoke about in the beginning of this article, my wife, Tammy, and I had the honor to attend his graduation from high school many years ago and we were proud to receive word of his commission as an officer and gentleman in the United States Navy. He is presently serving in harm’s way.

Buenaventura, amigos!

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