Friday, November 30, 2018

Haiti Souvenirs

After carrying my souvenirs from Haiti to my mother's house, I posted them all across the country. They arrived today.

They look great!

Sunday, November 25, 2018


I just followed a link to a 1940 b&w tax photo of my first condo, the Avenue B one.

52 years after this photo, I bought this 463 square foot apartment for $56,500. The rest, as they say, is history.

Well, history I care about and very few others do, but history nevertheless. This is how I have been able to travel freely around the world and treat jobs with curiosity rather than necessity.

My building didn't change all that much in 52 years.

Thursday, November 22, 2018


I woke up at 6, had a quick shower that never really got warm, enjoyed a good breakfast at La Lorraine, and headed to the Port-Au-Prince Airport international terminal. In addition to my small backpack, I was carrying a paper maché chicken along with a horse head, three iron wall decorations, and four paintings among my souvenirs.

As the flight took off from Port-Au-Prince, I reflected on my incredible week, and how Haiti's general strike had altered my plans. As the protests and work stoppages had led to roadblocks, I'd lost my itinerary a day at a time, eventually going from four days in PAP to a little less than 24 hours, with most of the city shuttered.

And yet my singular experience had likely been made better for having to wing it. This week in Haiti—no, less than a single week—had been one of those rare trips, the kind we seek out year after year, holiday after holiday, where our goal is human interactions of the sort you can't get at a theme park. Well, maybe you can, if someone in a dog outfit is tasked with repairing plumbing and asks you to hold their wrench. But it's unlikely.

Haiti has few enough tourists that Haitians do not appear to be sick of us. They are not jaded by our selfish requests and attempts to interact for our own satisfaction. We tourists are still individuals here, treated with far fewer clichéd expectations than in many destinations. Heck, I'm not even sure Haiti is a destination. That's something you say in glossy travel magazines. Haiti is a place. A destination is something involving a lot more infrastructure and many more ways to spend your tourist dollars.

And yet, the exquisitely human interactions my delays had led to were in no way good for the country itself. One day of protests had been planned, and this had so far led to five days of paralysis. I felt guilty for having enjoyed my trip. Ten Haitians had died, according to news reports. One tourist had been shot by bandits on a road near a resort. And here I was, thrilled by the minor interactions with artists and schoolchildren.

I do not believe there is an inherent difference between a tourist and a traveler. I believe the difference is merely one's opinion of one's actions--people say "I'm a traveler" because they are embarrassed to admit how frivolous planned adventures really are. I am unabashedly frivolous in a way, as I carefully spend money purely in service of my own need for adventure. The people I visit with likely think me quite mad, and I am reminded of a Namibian travel executive I met who rolled his eyes and suggested tourist dollars might be better spend in a hundred different ways. He's not wrong, of course, but possessions aren't all that special either, so maybe there are only 99 different ways. Later, I'd count every cent I'd spent on the trip—including vaccines, guidebooks, the private plane, the booze for the vodou ceremony, every coffee downed in airports, the malaria meds I'd decided not to take—and learn my careful spending still added up to $2,800 for my week away from home. If that's not frivolous, I don't know what is.

But I wouldn't trade this past week. Well, I would, but the offer would have to be pretty damn good, because this had been one of those rare trips where pretty much everything had been fascinating, and I'd been alone the whole time without once being circumstantially isolated from those around me.

Less than an hour into my flight, I looked down and saw Cap-Haitien. That seemed like so long ago now! But today was Thursday and I'd taken that photo the previous Saturday morning.

An hour later, I saw Florida beneath me. We landed in Ft. Lauderdale, where I met a friend for a Thanksgiving BLT at a hotel restaurant. Later, I put on my socks for my connecting flight into winter, and by evening, I was at my mother's house near Washington DC, contemplating the nature of life and paper maché chickens.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The (Improvised) Artsy Tour of Port-Au-Prince

Getting off a tiny private plane was a little different from getting off a commercial airliner in Port-Au-Prince. For one thing, I had to pay on arrival. I was taken by golf cart to a separate terminal from the main arrivals one, where a friendly missionary office worker ran my credit card and then ushered me out to the curb outside the terminal.

Another difference was only one taxi driver lackadaisically asked if I needed a ride. I’m sure things are different when an entire plane arrives, plus I was at the domestic terminal, but I was startled by how low-key my arrival was.

My driver, the one I’d confirmed just last night, was nowhere to be found. I sat down to wait. After a minute, I dug out my phone to text him.

No signal.

I spent the next five minutes wandering around, my phone held high to the sky. I was just about to beg an airline check-in desk for the password to their wifi connection when my cellular signal suddenly clicked in. I texted my driver. “I am coming,” he said. He was the same driver who’d taken me to the bus depot last Saturday, the last day Haiti had normal working hours.

He had been confused about my arrival time, but he showed up within 20 minutes. Driving in PAP today was easy. The streets were still nearly deserted as a result of Haiti’s general strike.

As we drove from the airport to La Lorraine Hotel in Petionville, the driver told me stories of his other clients. Everyone was stuck somewhere, sending him updates. He handed me his phone and asked me to text a tourist in Cap-Haitien about my private plane solution, so I gamely did so.

We quickly arrived in Petionville, though we had to pass a bad car accident on the way.

At La Lorraine, a different driver and guide were there waiting for me, their car full of touristy treats like a straw hat, a coconut, and a Haiti keychain. I'd booked two day tours with a travel agency, but obviously nothing had worked out, so we were improvising based on whatever was open. I wasn't even sure we had any business being out on the streets, but they didn't seem worried so I checked in, left my luggage, and raced down to their car. I cleared the sedan’s back seat of the souvenirs (What am I going to do with those?), hopped in, and off we went.

High Over Jacmel

Here's a look at Jacmel from the tiny plane that flew me from there to Port-Au-Prince.

And here are a few photos.

Arrival at Port-Au-Prince airport 

A New High (or Low?)

When I checked out of the hotel this morning, the clerk laughed and said "See you soon."

"God, I hope not," I said. She was a nice clerk, but my thwarted attempts to leave Jacmel for Port-Au-Prince during a countrywide general strike had a Groundhog Day-like feel to them.

This was getting old.

I walked to the corner and hailed a moto-taxi using just a slight tip of my chin. I'd only been on a few motorcycle taxis in Haiti, but they work the same all over the world. I used to take one from town to my bungalow every night in Ubud for the month I stayed in Bali in 2011. And of course, I took them frequently in Kampala when I stayed there in 2005. And, you know, in other places too.

I was off to Jacmel's airport, just an airstrip and a building, really. The moto-taxi driver hand-signaled to get into the airport, so I paid the man 30 gourdes instead of 20 for his extra safety efforts. (He'd had to dodge a few smoldering tires where the protesters had been, so I probably should have tipped him more).

The pilot walked up to me at the airport security checkpoint. "You're Marie?" He was an earnest young American man, but what else would you be when you're a pilot for Mission Aviation Fellowship? We brought along one of their employees who had gone to Jacmel and become stuck there, just like me.

The six-seater held a pilot, a co-pilot, me, and the employee.

We took off, rising quickly over the sea and then turned back around to fly over the town.

Good-bye, Jacmel! You are lovely.

After days of trying to get over the mountain in a two-hour long bus ride, the $274 private plane journey took 15 minutes.

And came with spectacular views.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Last Day in Jacmel

I packed, but I didn't bother taking my bag to the bus depot. I didn't even take them out of my room this time.

I walked up the street, away from the Jacmel historic district. The farther you walk from Rue du Commerce, the most typical the city looks, with rubbish on the roads and traffic and chickens and motorbikes. The walk up to La Source takes about ten minutes. 

The depot gate was shut. I pushed it opened and barged in. 

"Wout la bloké?" I asked. 

"The road is still closed. We do not know when it will open again."

I wasn't surprised. I'd seen a lot of policemen at the staging area, in front of town headquarters. They had on what I can best describe as riot gear, and they'd go off north up the road in trucks. Were they going to the road block? To some kind of checkpoint? I don't know.

I walked back toward my hotel, and as I crossed the river, I was greeted.

"Hey, you are still here?"

The man greeting me had been one of the few with an open shop on Sunday during the initial protests. He was carrying a sack of groceries, but he adjusted them and shook my hand.

"Wout la bloké," I said ruefully. He laughed. I laughed. What else could was there?

"Good luck," he said, as I continued on my way.

A Visit to Church, in a way

"Don't eat anything! Don't let anyone touch you." The hotel manager's instructions stopped me. I looked at him, puzzled. I'd been reading in the guidebooks how vodou (not voodoo, which is something in New Orleans that mostly seems to involve souvenirs) is not about zombies and scary movies. It's a religion. Spiritualism.

The hotel manager laughed and laughed.

Oh. He was joking. Maybe? I mean, he's from Brooklyn, but before that, he was from Haiti. He knew vodou wasn't what we've seen in the movies.

I found the guide for the evening in front of the Florita, where he always is. He asked if I had money for rum—the donation to the vodou ceremony.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Patron of the Arts

Back at the Jacmel Arts Center, the guy who had pulled me off the stairs at the request of the police wanted to show me his art.

I looked at every painting by every artist. Finally, I said "I will give you twenty dollars, and you choose the painting."

He immediately got to work, considering.

"Not by another artist. One of yours," I explained.

"I represent all the artists," he said.

"I know, but I want one of yours."

He chose one, wrapped it up, and sent me on my way.

Wout la Bloké

At 6, I hopped out of bed in my Jacmel hotel and turned on the shower. The water takes a minute to warm up, so doing this involves consciously ignoring one's guilt about water shortages in Haiti.

I hurried downstairs right before breakfast started, but service was taking too long. I watched impatiently as the staff showed up, and eventually my coffee did too. I was nervously watching the time. On my three-hour ride down, I'd just missed the previous bus (what can I say, I was on a plane), and I had to wait two hours for the next bus. And the downtown Port-Au-Prince bus depot is not the kind of place where you whip out an iPad and start reading. This is what paperbacks were made for, but I'm not carrying one here—I went with carry-on luggage only, one tiny backpack and my handbag.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Lazy Sunday

I sat eating breakfast inside the hotel's dining room, dimmed by the security doors which had not been pulled aside today, here on national strike day in Haiti. My Kindle app was full, but I didn't really want to sit inside all day. Still, there was no rush. It was Sunday morning, after all. Few businesses would be open.

I asked for milk with my coffee, and the server looked quizzically at me. "Um...lait?" I tried. She still didn't know what I meant. Finally, she said "Oh, let." And I assumed that's the pronunciation in Creole, but maybe I'm totally wrong.

"Haiti the beautiful asks for justice," said the Facebook posts of an artist I'd met the day before. She was ready to take to the streets. Everyone in town was either protesting or in lockdown in case of problems.

I peeked outside after a few hours. Some Haitians were venturing out. I saw a boy walk by with a radio to his ear. At first, I thought he was listening to the news, but then I realized a football game was happening.

I headed downstairs to go outside for a walk, and as I passed the front desk, the hotel owner abruptly clicked off the TV before I could get a look at it. A guy in one of the few open art studios later explained why. “The reports are bad from Port Au Prince,” he said. “One person has died already.”

I bought three little wooden figures from him for $6, because if someone bothered to open today, I figured they deserved at least a small sale. Then a guy in a park said "Oh, hey, I'll open my shop for you." I'd been in his shop yesterday, but I went along anyway. I bought this wooden Haiti sculpture with a world in its bay.

People in Jacmel were inquisitive and friendly. I was never at a loss for people to chat with. Some asked me which agency I worked for. Red Cross was a popular guess. They'd look pleased and surprised when I say I’m a tourist. Fun Marie fact—I was reputedly the first tourist into East Timor after the revolution. Actually, that's not really a fact. I don’t even believe it myself, but in 2001, some people told me this was true.

As a tourist, I wanted to go take photos of the protests, but I understood my role was to stay out of the way, though Jacmel's protests were probably nothing like what was going on in Port-Au-Prince or even Cap-Haitien.

I stopped at Colin's Hotel for lunch, because it was 1) open and 2) had food. After I finished eating, I went to the cashier and asked "Where are these?" I showed her a photo of the Préfète Duffaut stairs. She said "Above Sogebank."

So off I went and there they were! Right where I turned into the stairs, two scooters collided and some guys started yelling at each other. But the police were there. OH WAIT, the police were there. I scurried up the stairs, hoping they wouldn't see me and send me back to the hotel.

A minute later, a guy I'd met yesterday at the art center came hurrying up after me.

"The police would like you to come back down. It is not safe here. Last time the protests happened, many people rushed down these stairs.”

Oh, okay. 

I went back to the hotel for a while, then went for another walk. A few more shops had opened up, but not the one with the painting I liked. I wandered down to the sea, walked along the mosaic path at the ocean's edge. Crash! What was that?

I looked over to see a lamp post had toppled into the sea. Several Haitians gathered to fetch the parts of it back out. They stood there with the pieces of the lamp post, unsure what to do next.

Tomorrow, I thought, I will go to the bus around 7:30 in the morning and catch La Source back to Port-Au-Prince. I'd pre-booked a ride in PAP to get me from La Source to my hotel in Petion-ville, since I now had my hands full with my paper maché horse head and my chicken.

Au revoir, Jacmel!

Photos of my lazy Sunday are here. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018


I'd visited several art stores on my whirlwind race around Jacmel, and now, as the end of the day approached, I left dance practice at the arts center and hurried back to see Charlotte and her paper maché horses.

I don't know how I knew that Charlotte was the one to stop and talk with. I saw her sitting in a park, working on a piece, and she was like a magnet. I realize that sounds ridiculous, but some people just have "it," whatever "it" is. I brush by a lot of people. Not this person. I stopped and greeted her. She showed me how she works.

I stopped to talk to her and took a few photos, then continued my town tour.

Now, as dusk approached, I hurried back to get a piece from her before she closed her shop. Tomorrow was protest day, so nothing would be open as everyone would either be out protesting or behind closed doors, and Monday morning, I was heading to Port-Au-Prince.

Charlotte was about to close up shop and head home, so I quickly chose a horse and a chicken. She spent several minutes polishing them both, taking pride in her work, and packing them carefully in paper packing materials. I hope they make them home.

Dance Practice

I gobbled down my lunch and raced off to see the town of Jacmel. Tomorrow Haitians were planning a general strike (initially, a travel agent had written to me that "riots are scheduled for November 18"), so I didn't think anything would be open. My late arrival meant I had about 3 hours to see the town before dark.

I'd studied my guidebooks and mapped out a quick route around Jacmel's historic center. My goal was to visit the art stores and workshops. I hit up several on one block, ran into Charlotte (a lovely and talented paper mache artist), then walked by the Jacmel Arts Center, where drumming came from the open upstairs windows. An artist pulled me in to upstairs and see this. Wonderful!

A Saturday Drive

Here we are pulling out of Port Au Prince.

IMG_2964 from Marie Javins on Vimeo.

From Cap-Haptien to Jacmel

The hotel breakfast started at 7 a.m., when I had to leave for the airport. Leaving was complicated by a different guest who was being dropped off at the bus station, and decided to still be in bed at departure time. I watch wide-eyed as the hotel staff brought down giant bag after giant bag from the budget rooms up the hill. Who could be traveling with so much luggage? (A cruise line employee on his way home, it turned out.)

No problem about missing breakfast, I thought. I’ll eat at the airport. But the airport restaurant was closed at 7:30. To be honest, it didn't look like it had much anyway.

The flight from Cap-Haitien to the Port Au Prince domestic terminal took only half an hour, but the terminal had no food. I'd booked a transfer with a taxi service, Eagle Transfers, in order to avoid running the gauntlet, but the gauntlet turned out to be one man saying "Do you need a taxi?" I didn't, and my driver was there waiting for me, so that chaos of flying into PAP is either exaggerated or only in the international terminal.

I thought I’d get something to eat at the bus station. Here is the bus station.

I ended up eating stale cookies from a nearby market. Well, not really eating. More like tasting a few and then asking where the trash was. (It was a cardboard box inside this dark room.)

And this is why you want to never go in the road with a coffee habit. And why I always end up eating crap on this kind of trip.

I was a little surprised at the filthiness of the part of town with all the buses. I had read about the rubbish problem but seeing it firsthand is different than reading about it, and it made me never want to buy water in a plastic bottle again. I was timid and didn't run off to the taptap station to find a better options when I arrived at the bus depot and saw the list of passengers was blank. My name was the first one on the list. I had most likely just missed one.

The "hourly" departures are of course not hourly. Buses depart when full. Even the jitneys in Port Authority operate this way. I sat there staring into space and nibbling on stale cookies for two hours. My Kindle app on my iPad is full, but I felt awkward pulling out my iPad. Everyone everywhere has a phone. No one in this circumstance has an iPad. I did read things on my phone a bit, but I was worried about running out of power on the ride to Jacmel.

The monotony was finally broken when a passenger showed up with a cat on a string. I guess if you don't have a cat carrier, you have limited options for taking a cat on a bus. Daddy went to go buy the two tickets, one for himself and one for his bag with the cat attached to it, Cat became very worried and meowed loudly until he returned.

After waiting for two hours, the bus showed up. We were all motioned on, and since I'd been the first on the list, I got first choice of seats. And yet somehow, I wasn't allowed the front seat. (Boo.) I think because the guy riding shotgun was a friend of the driver. I chose the driver side second seat—the first doesn't really get enough leg room.

We pulled out, one driver, six passengers, and one cat, heading through PAP toward the mountains, in a dusty bus with plastic sealing up a missing back left window. The radio was on, and as we pulled past streets full of people, motorbikes, and trash, "We Are the World" serenaded us on our way to the mountains.

The ride was hot and dusty and took three hours. In Jacmel, I trudged out of the La Source depot and turned right, down the block. Ten minutes later, I turned onto a pedestrianized historic street with old buildings, most of them crumbling. And there, right across from my brand-new hotel, was a coffee shop.

At last.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Citadelle Henry & Sans Souci

Cap-Haitien is the second-largest city in Haiti, but it's really quite small compared to Port-Au-Prince.

I stopped here to first see Citadelle Henry, a massive garrison built in the early 1800s. Perhaps the intimidating fort did its job well. No one attacked it and thus it was never used for its original purpose.

James, the hotel manager, had told me what to pay everyone involved in getting me up the mountain to the fort (aside from the hotel driver, I mean).

First, it was five dollars to get in. The hotel covered that as part of its $40 fee for the day. I guess that makes it $35.

Second, I had to pay ten dollars for the horse.

Third, the horse attendants work for tips. So $2-3 each. (There are two.)

Fourth, if I wanted a guide, the official one at the office would be $15, or the unofficial one would be $10.

Of course, I would rather wander around the site alone and take photos, but sometimes a guide is not so much about getting information as about participating in the local economy. So I got a ten dollar guide and a horse (whether or not these are happy, healthy horses is a matter of some debate), two boys to guide the horse (I can ride a horse, but again, this is part of my responsibility of being a tourist), and off we went from "second parking," which is as high up the mountain as you can get in a vehicle.

Macho, one of the horse guides was taking Spanish in school. The other guide was taking English. My French is godawful, and my Spanish might even be worse, so we were quite the ridiculous team going up the mountain. The guide spoke some English, but he took the shortcut up over boulders while we trotted along the path.

The boys told me the horse's name was Toyota. I asked if the other horses were named Honda, Mercedes, Ford, Isuzu...Macho said "Non. Honda, Nike. Like that." I said "Like Pikachu?" He thought I was very silly then. As if a horse named Pikachu is more silly than a horse named Toyota.

The ride up was pretty harmless. For me. Toyota was working hard. The ride was short, maybe 15 minutes? I didn't time it, but it didn't take long at all.

I've posted some photos of the experience. Going down on the horse was also no big deal. I'd been dreading this, but it was nothing. Even the supposed mob scene of souvenir sellers wasn't a big deal. A firm "no thank you" helped, but what really did the trick was a car full of tourists pulled up just as I arrived and handed off my horse.

Ronny the driver took me to a hole in the fence at the to of the Sans Souci ruins. Baffled, I look at him inquisitively. He told a kid to show me the hole in the fence. "I meet you at bottom."

I climbed through the hole in the fence and meandered around the Sans Souci ruins. No souvenir sellers, no wannabe guides. It was lovely.

At the bottom, by the office, Ronny was waiting for me. We drove back to Cap-Haitien, where I tried to ask him to drop me at the coffee and croissant place. I was unable to figure out how to make myself understood, so finally I said "Lakay." That's one of the town's top restaurants, where I sat and nibbled at a chicken sandwich until finally, I wandered through town a bit more, then began my ascent of Everest.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Cap-Haitien Afternoon

I toured the town, tried to use an ATM that only took Visa cards, stopped to eat at a place called Cap Deli (which took credit cards, so no worries for having no appropriate currency), visited every kiosk in the crafts market (there must have been 20 of them), and finally, walked up that big hill.

It wasn't as bad as it looked. Well, it was pretty bad, but the experience didn't last long and it's not like I felt it the next day or anything. Harmless.

I ate dinner at the hotel, because there was no way I was climbing that hill twice in one day, and then scrubbed my laundry in the sink. Part of the fun of traveling light...

Arrival in Haiti

Um, really?
The flight from Miami to Cap-Haitien, the second-largest city in Haiti up on the north coast, took two hours. But there is a tremendous difference between the population of first- and second-most in Haiti. The population of the PAP metropolitan area is about 2.6 million, whereas the area around and including Cap-Haitien has about 250,000 inhabitants. Not even close.

Flying into CH with its huge bay surrounded by mountains really was a soft landing. I never felt unsafe there, aside from recognizing how hard it would be to drive among all the motorcycles, 4WD trucks and SUVs, chickens, pedestrians, goats, scooters, and tourists.

"They really should make moto lanes," mused the hotel owner's son a few days later when he was driving me to the airport.

It's not impossible—I remember seeing those in Bamako, where they seemed to work pretty well.

Anyway, the hotel's driver, Ronny, was waiting for me at the tiny airport, and so was my backpack. No one even asked if I needed a taxi. Ronny doesn't speak English, but we spent the ride with him trying to teach me Creole. The only word I retained was "sole" for sun, because I already knew it.

The roads were dusty, potholed, and stunk of exhaust fumes. We saw colorful taptaps, covered pick-up trucks which function as public transit, as well as minibuses. Ronny was a safe and skillful driver, always looking for potential surprises. We stopped along the way outside a school, long enough for his daughter to run out and get lunch money, then headed to the back of the town, where we entered a tiny alley, barely wider than the truck.

"This is our hill?" I was stunned. I'd read the hill was a doozy, but I didn't expect it to be quite so obscure.

Ronny laughed and gunned it up the hill, past families and dogs and little stores. At the top, there was a final switchback that led us to a plateau.

And that is where a lovely colonial house sat, converted into a hotel with additions. I checked in with James, the hotel manager and owner's son, and then wandered up to my mid-range room. (Hotels are relatively pricey in Haiti, and the scale of what is and isn't a bargain is different from touristed destinations. It's like West Africa in that way.)

I tossed my bag into my room, checked out the view, and caught a lift back down into town with James.

And what a view it was.

Departure Scramble

I scrambled for a week to get it together to leave town for my holiday to Haiti. I read the three guidebooks (one a chapter in a Lonely Planet, one a Bradt guide by the same writer as the LP, and one a French guidebook that took me a long time to read since I don't speak French), watched movies, read websites, got my typhoid vaccine updated, got a prescription for Malarone I probably won't even take, and figured out how to squish everything into a small backpack that fits under a standard airplane seat.

"Will you make an out-of-office sign for my door?" I rushed away to catch the bus as I barked back across the office to one of my team. I still missed the #155 bus, and had to wait for the always-erratic Burbank Bus to NoHo metro instead.

I caught the metro to Union Station, got on the LAX Flyaway, and took it to Terminal 6. I can't think of if/when I've been through that terminal before. I almost always fly United because it goes to the Newark hub. But AA goes to all kinds of places in the Americas, and I have plenty of frequent flyer miles, so I used a one-way award to fly from LAX to Cap-Haitien via Miami.

The food was every bit as delicious in Terminal 6 as it is in Terminal 7. Which is to say, not at all.

My blow-up neck pillow didn't blow up, so I bought a regular neck pillow for some exorbitant price, knowing I'd ditch it in Miami. But still, even with all the extra costs, no amount of splurging would put me anywhere near the price of a guided tour. No matter how I cut it, even with local guides and expensive hotels, I'd be spending way, way less than I would with $3k trip with Gap Adventures, or G Adventures as they now call themselves. Plus, their trip didn't start until a day after mine ended, and the holiday season is hard enough without being out the first week of it.

My best-laid plans of traveling with a carry-on went awry when all the overhead bins filled up before the flight was half-boarded. Seriously? This is what it's like to travel without status? No one everyone is always pissed off.

"Will this fit under the seat?" I asked the desk clerk.

"Maybe. If it doesn't, it's too late to check it, and then it'll go on the next flight."

"I have a connecting flight. It can't go late."

Sigh. I checked my bag, boarded the plane, and immediately fell into a deep sleep. Just kidding. Sleeping on planes always sucks. But I was able to have a leisurely, kinda gross airport breakfast in Miami, and got my nails done. That was a first for me, airport manicure.

Airpot manicure and final flat white for the near future acquired, I filled my water bottle and headed to the jetway. (Three Maries in a row at the airport Starbucks had me concerned, but it all worked out.)

Next stop, Haiti!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Eulogy for a Legend

Stan Lee started in comics when he was a pup, but he and the artists he worked with did not reinvent what we know of today as superhero comics until he was about 40. And he kept working, in one way or another, to the end.

So there is life both within and after the day job, and you don't need to be 25 to find it.

The world of comics is not so different from that of other creative jobs. There's a pyramid, and people get involuntarily or voluntarily weeded out, sometimes slowly, other times in big rushes, every few decades. Some people try to leave and get dragged back. Some people make it to the end--we've heard their names a lot over the last few years. Flo. Len. Mirthful Marie. Now the guy at the very tip of that pyramid, Stan "the Man" Lee. The figurehead of an entire industry, one which went from being nearly extinct (more than once) to roaring back, dominating pop culture with modern mythology. With responsibility. With power. Even with self-esteem issues. Comics are the perennial blooming teen, the permanent start-up. Their periodical nature creates innovation you'd never get with a small booklist, forces every publishing arm to reinvent itself on a regular basis. My job is herding feral cats, and I'm barely housebroken.

I don't have single-incident Stan stories the way many of you do. As a kid, I didn't meet Stan and get inspired to join comics. I only met Stan as part of my job. These meetings are a blur of ongoing, non-specific, minor interactions. Actually, that's probably the same as most of my early nineties Marvel peers. We had these Marvel conventions for a while, and I was really into getting frequent flyer miles, so I'd go to any of them I was invited to. Stan was frequently there--he was the embodiment of Marvel after all, even though he'd headed West decades ahead of the rest of us.

Stan met hundreds of people in the Marvel Mega-Tour weekends. He probably met dozens of people in the office every time he visited. For a while, every time I met him, he re-introduced himself. This isn't unique to me--it's what he did, introduced himself to everyone.

But eventually, he just started greeting me warmly. Not by name, no, I can't pretend I was an institution. But he knew my face and knew I was a colleague he'd see over and over. That's the best Stan story I have, and I'm happy with it.

I don't know that I'll make it to 95. But here's the good news, the inspirational part besides all the other parts of the Stan Lee legacy.

That's an entire lifetime away. Even more years than Stan was when he developed Spider-Man.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Raise the Red (and Blue and Green and Orange and Purple) Lantern

I had a rental car for the weekend, because I wanted to see a night event at the LA Arboretum in Arcadia, and I didn't fancy the idea of catching a Lyft to the Gold Line to the 501 bus after dark.

I was going to the Moonlight Forest, a celebratory display of exquisite enormous Chinese lanterns.

My photos are here. Well worth the trip!

Red Line History

Yesterday, after three-and-a-half years of hearing bus recordings say "Campo de Cahuenga" on approach to the nearby bus stop, I stopped by the tiny Campo de Cahuenga historic site at the Universal metro. It's only open two Saturdays a month from noon-4, so I had to give this a bit of thought.

The adobe structure inside the gated parking lot carve-out is a 1950 replica, the original having been demolished fifty years prior. But there are excavations--you don't need to go in to see them, as you can see them anytime from the metro north-side escalators. Actually, even those are replicas. The originals were reburied for preservation. Supposedly the Treaty, or Capitulation, of Cahuenga was signed here in 1847 on a table (now property of the Natural History Museum) on the porch during a rainstorm. Theoretically, this was the beginning of the end of hostilities between Mexico and the United States, eventually giving rise to the state of California.

You can try to read the platform tiles at the Universal/Studio City metro. Or you can click here to read about how many details are unclear or lost to legend over time. Some volunteers sat inside the adobe house, and they gave me a handout to read along with a replica of the treaty. So now I have my very own Treaty of Cahuenga. Which is not the worst thing, given I have accepted I am a reluctant but permanent-until-otherwise resident of this fine state of California. (So you can lay off the Jersey jokes.) 

A local history enthusiast (last seen leading that tour I took of DTLA old speakeasies) wrote an article about Campo de Cahuenga that dug into the background quite a bit more than the actual site does, and should you choose to visit, I urge you to read up a bit before you go. That said, I'm not sure I'd recommend going out of your way for it, but given how often I transit through this metro station, I was feeling pretty lame about not stopping in to this little patch of historic pasture right in the middle of the city.

Hours, such as they are, are here.


Replica. Of the bell, not NBC.