Saturday, November 20, 2010

More Novel in Progress: Rats, Plague, Burritos

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Novel Excerpt: One Day in Athens

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Scene from Novel "God Bless Cambodia"


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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Reading from Novel (Part 4) Jackie the Roller Blade Queen

Final installment of recent reading from novel in progress: (2.5 minutes)

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Reading from Novel (Part 3) Over 40, Still Single

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Over Forty and Still Single

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Reading from Novel: Part 2 (Bangkok)

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One Day in Bangkok (2.5 minutes)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Reading from Novel (9/20): Part 1

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Vicodin, Klonopin or Heineken?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Day 5: Mid-Vacation Blues

Canadian Olympic Moments:

- Cheryl Bernard , captain of curling team: Atractive, fit, age-appropriate, good with a broom.

- Jon Montgomery: After winning a gold medal, he is walking through a group of fans. Instead of throwing flowers, a young woman hands him a pitcher of beer. He takes it, and starts swilling. Of the experience, he said: "It was the sweetest beer I ever tasted and, to boot, it was free." Man after my own heart.

- Popular joke about French Canadians: They prefer doggie-style, so they can both watch the hockey game.

Sunday morning, after Rod and Gun club shindig, my mouth tastes like the inside of a dirty goldfish bowl. My head has a mysterious Gorbachev-style skin rash.

Outside it's overcast. Inside it's overcast.

My knees make a strange crunching noise when I walk.

I meet Erik at the bus stop.

"No new snow?" I say.

"No new snow," he says.

We board the ski bus in silence.

Did we over do it last night with moose satay? No, we have contracted the mid-vacation blues.

Treatment options:

- sit with it and let the feelings pass like a snow-less, overcast sky.

- switch from light beer to dark beer

- if all else fails, one remaining course of action, but I hear it's very strong.

At the mountain, we head to the North Bowl. We ski to the entry of one trail. A skier is perched on a ledge above us. He watches as we peer over the edge and waiver. Then he snaps two quick turns and lands on a ledge 10-feet below us.

He looks at us again, then jumps, spins in the othe direction, and skis off leaving a roostertail of snow in his wake.

The last time I saw a move like that was in a Warren Miller extreme skiing movie.

I don't want to be in a Warren Miller movie or an episode of E.R.

We traverse across the top of the North Bowl to an easier entry point between the cliffs. Erik enters a chute called Sweet Spot. The chute is around a narrow bend. Erik sideslips around the bend, points his skis down, and takes off. He shrieks, but doesn't fall.

I sideslip down. I can't see; fog covers Erik's path, the only path down.

My skis won't move.

Erik takes off his backpack.

My legs won't move.

Erik takes out a bottle of Coke.

My skis still won't move.

Erik takes out his lunch.

My legs still won't move.

Erik takes out a book.

Ten seconds later, the mid-vacation blues have lifted.

Day 4: Rods, Guns, Beaver

Town of Revelstoke at a Glance:
1) Population:

- about 6,000 year-round, jumps to 8,000 during winter

- ethnic mix: none; lots of colorful locals, few locals of color.

- foreign minorities imported to perform scutt work: Australians (about 300).

2) Best places to meet women

- Curling rink (gives free lessons on Friday, have yet to verify.)

- All-you-can-eat buffet. (struck out.)

- Happy hour spot on mountain. (struck out there as well.)

- A search on Revelstoke, yielded only six age-appropriate women. An expanded search that included age-inappropriate, younger women and those in nearby towns of Salmon Arm and Kamloops yielded 164 women. (Didn't see waitress from all-you-can-eat place.)

3) Cost of living index

- Exchange rate: even; a U.S. dollar gets you a Canadian dollar.

- Medium-sized bottle of Tobasco sauce: $7

- Six pack of local Kokanee beer: $13

- Seasonal rentals with utilities and Internet: 1 bedroom apartment $900, 2 bedroom $1000.

- Low-cost housing option: An Australian lived under a resident's porch without the resident knowing for most of the winter.

4) Snowbanks:
- typical season, six to nine feet high in town.
- this season: no snow banks, worst snow season in years.

Rod and Gun Club party

- Tickets: $30 a piece, purchased at Johnny's, a local bait and tackle shop on Victoria Road.
- Format: Drinks at 4:30
- Buffet dinner at 5:45
- Dancing at 9:00

Erik and I arrive at 5:30 and take seats at a long table near the exit, just in case. We buy four Budweiser cans at the bar and sit down.

The event is in the community center, which looks like a VFW hall filled with folding buffet tables.

Halfway through beer number one, I notice the skulls. The horns and skulls of moose, elk, buffalo, deer, and more are displayed on one wall. I'm guessing the carcasses of the animals are simmering in the chafing dishes in the middle of the room.

In the middle of the table is a little diorama of a bear. The woman next to picks it up and shows it to me.

"This is the one thing, I won't eat," she says.

What about beaver?

The woman is probably in her forties, very attractive, and seated with her husband.

Then the room becomes silent. The M.C. says grace:

"I want to give thanks for all we are about to receive, this bounty, and all our good friends and community who are gathered here tonight. I'd also like to bless our sponsors: The Sandman hotel, Begbie Glass Company, Skalicky's Plumbing and Gas --"

The MC eventually calls our table to the buffet line. Each chafing dish is labled:
- Moose meatballs.
- Moose stuffed cabbage.
- Moose satay on a stick.
- Two types of sliced goose, regular and Canadian
- Sliced bear, elk, and bison.
- Salmon
- beef lasagne, chicken and other domestic foods.
- vegetables.

I take a little of everything and buy a can of Kokanee beer before sitting down.

The moose on a stick initially tastes like beef, but has a skunky, rubbery after-taste, kind of like an old bicycle tire.

I cut a small slice of bear meat. It isn't red, it's kind of purple. I take a small bite. It doesn't taste like beef, it tastes like something that was recently shot in the head or hit by a car.

"Erik, you want the rest of my bear?" I ask.

The woman next to me looks over the growing pile of beer cans in front of me and nods.

"Don't wave that stuff in front me," she points to the little bear diorama in front of her.

I stick with the beef lasagne for the rest of the meal.

"So what do the guys from Boston think of the dinner?" she asks loud enough to get the attention of her husband and the couple sitting across from them.

"Anyone want the rest of my bison or a slice of elk?" I ask the group.

They all have small plates of uneaten animals in front of them.

"Actually," I say. " If we were in Boston, we probably wouldn't be talking to each other. We'd all be staring straight ahead, complaining about the food, the service, or the color of the hand towels in the bathroom."

One of the husbands joins the conversation. "We're a pretty friendly bunch," he says. "There are some real plusses to small town life."

Day 3: Will you marry me?

After skiing and happy hour, Erik and I go for dinner at a restaurant with an all-you-can-eat buffet.

The waitress approaches. She has firm biceps shaped like little moguls and wears long black slacks. She looks about 25.

Erik orders a gin and tonic.

"Want to make that a double?" she asks.

I ask about the buffet. "Is it really all you can eat?"

"Yup," she says.

"Can I go back five times?" I ask

"You can go back thirty times."

She returns with our drinks as I'm returning from the buffet.

"Do you ski?" I ask.

"Snowboard," she says.

I take a closer look at her: she has a tiny nose stud, skinny black glasses, and two hoops in one ear.

"Are you the one who has been running around erasing the 's' on all the Revelstoke signs?" I ask.

"Not me, I already have a job. But you be careful, the toke is very strong around here. Stoners hit the buffet and have to be carried out."

Sense of humor? Check.

We take out a trail map and ask her to recommend some trails. She points to the North Bowl.

Fit? Check.

"You going to the Rod and Gun club wild-game barbeque?" I ask her.

"I would, but I have to work. I hear there's lots of beaver."

Warped sense of humor? Check.

We chit chat some more. She owns a house, has two kids, and mentions something about a roomate -- not a husband, not a live-in boyfriend, but a male roomate. She could be in her early thirties.

Age appropriate? Maybe.

An hour later, I return to the buffet for thirds. The food has been put away. I stand there, my eyes wet with tears.

"Why so sad?" our waitress asks on her way to serve another table.

I point to the empty buffet.

"I'm so sorry," she says. "I put everything away. I spaced out."

"I was wrong about you," I say. "You're a really mean person."

"You poor underfed American. Wait here, I'm going to take care of you."

She delivers some drinks -- doubles no doubt -- to another tab le, and races into the kitchen. She emerges with another waitress; their arms are filled with chafing dishes, bowls, and silverware.

Thirty minutes later, I cross silverware on my empty plate in an act of surrender.

Erik is also finished. The waitress reaches for his empty plate.

"Erik, are you done?" I ask. "Have to keep an eye on her, she's got a reputation for removing food quickly. How do you think she got those arms?"

She turns to me. "You poor dear, did I traumatize you?"

In ways you'll never understand.

She hands me the check and approaches another table.

"You boys want to make that a double?" she says to her new customers.

Guess our time together was just business as usual.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Day 2: North Bowl, the Hound, Rods and Guns

Friday a.m. We board the 8:30 ski bus that runs from the hotel to the ski area.

Upfront, a local guy talks to the bus driver about upcoming social events. The guy looks about 45 and has a Charlie Mason hair-do.

Me: "Where are the best bars in town?"

Charlie Manson: "The Last Drop is having a party tonight."

Charlis is missing two bottom teeth, probably an old curling injury.

Charlie continues: "Tomorrow night is the big Rod and Gun club party at the community center."


At the mountain, Erik wants to ski the North Bowl. The North Bowl is very high. There are yellow ropes along the top with signs that say, "Danger Cliffs."

I don't want to ski the North Bowl, I think to myself.

Between some of the ropes there are openings. Erik skis into an opening with a sign for a trail called "Meet the Neighbors."

I don't want to meet the neighbors.

He skis to the top of the trail and looks down. "That's too psycho."

Can we leave now?

He skis over to another opening and looks around. "OK," he says. He sideslips down a few feet, skis around some rocks and enters a large open bowl filled with deep snow.

I sideslip down.

"Go down a little further and point your skis around the rocks," Erik says.

I have a Vietnam-style flashback to last March skiing at Sunday River in Maine. I took a little fall on the ice and broke my foot, ribs, and wrist in two places.

I'd rather be bungy jumping.

I look across the trail. The narrow entry is dotted with exposed rocks that look like a human spine.

Another dead skier.

"Point your skis a little higher," Erik yells.

My skis don't want to move. My legs don't want to move.

I don't want to meet the neighbors.

At the bottom of the trail, we enter some trails in the woods.

Tree wells.

Erik scouts the trail and waves me on. Erik scouts some more. And waves me on. I see Erik perched on top of mogul.

Ski, Erik, ski.

Erik is not skiing. Erik is trying to figure out what to do next. Erik is stuck. I don't like it when Erik is stuck.

"There's this thing sticking in the middle of the trail," he says.

Probably a frozen human arm.

"I'm going to try this way," he says

I hear a loud cracking noise that is either bindings releasing or sniper fire. Then I hear Erik say: "Ah, f%$&, sh$#."

I'd rather be Canyon Swinging


At Happy Hour, we sit at a long table of empty seats.

Monique from Australia approaches our table.

"How about two Molsen drafts?" I say.

"Want to make that a pitcher?" she asks.

A crowd of people join our table. The crowd is mainly in their forties and fifties with one elderly woman, who sits next to me. Erik and I shared a gondola ride with one of the forty-something women. She's a local, recognizes us, and we start talking.

Me: "Is there any easy way to get to Revelstoke from the States. We took the Greyhound from Calgary. What a horror show."

Forty-something woman: "Oh, no, you took the Hound?" she says. The table errupts with laughter.

Me: "I have another question: Some guy on the ski bus who looked like Charlie Manson told us about a Rod and Gun Club party. Have you been?"

One guy from the group: "Oh, the freezer burn special? They serve all the animals they shot during the year. Don't break any teeth on the buckshot. You have to go at least once for the local color."

Me: "I notice you have an interesting graffit problem: On all the signs that say 'Revelstoke," the 's' has been erased to say 'Revel toke."

Guy: "B.C. has pretty loose laws for marijuana. But be careful: the stuff is really strong."

Eighty-year-lady sitting next to me: "Yeah, be careful, it's really strong."

Day 1: Revelstoke, B.C.: Scoring Weed, Dead Skiers

I) Hotel Review: The Maple Leaf

- mid-priced hotel, $170 or so per night with lift ticket and free Internet.

1) Location:

- 100 yards from Trans-Canada highway. Like mom used to say: When crossing the street, always looking both ways for 18-wheelers.

- a 40-minute walk from small, downtown Revelstoke area with bars and restaurants.

- 15-minute shuttle bus-ride from the mountain. Bus is free and runs regularly and on time.

2) The Room:

- I am going to be here for 11 days and ask the desk clerk for something nice and quiet. He gives me a key.

- The room has a queen bed and smells like Frenches yellow mustard.

- Clerk gives me a second room. It has two queen beds and an efficiency kitchen. Smells like French bread and old ski underwear. I'll live.

3) Overall Impression: Satisfactory

- Points deducted for

a) Broken toilet seat: it is missing a bolt and slides around when you sit on it. It is also child-sized (I won't go into details: let's just say the seat is unusually small and neither my ass nor my equipment is unusually large.)

b) The hotel restaurant: Arby's

Erik and I go in for a meal. The place is devoid of patrons and staff. A lone hostess stands behind a cash register. A super-sized couple stands in front of us discussing a take-out order with hostess. The discussion is taking a long time. Maybe they are ordering lots of food. Judging by their girth, the couple must be regulars. Erik and I leave and eat at the Burger King across the highway.

II) Revelstoke Mountain Overview.

- Revelstoke wants to be the Jackson Hole of Canada: a mountain known for challenging terrain and nice facilities. The kind of place that attracts expert skiers and wannabees like me that want to be able say, "Yeah, I skied Revelstoke's North Bowl."

- The mountain claims to get 40 to 60 feet of snow per season. (resorts in New England may get 25 feet in a good season.)

- The mountain has the highest vertical (5,620 feet) of any resort in North America -- more than Whistler, more than Jackson Hole. Vertical measures the ski-able height of the mountain. Many Colorado mountains are 11,000 feet high, but the resort is located at 8,000 feet (11,000 feet minus 8,000 equals 3,000 feet of vertical.) The more vertical, the longer the challenging runs.

Things to fear on Revelstoke Mountain

- The North Bowl: Located on the backside of the mountain, this bowl is home to Revelstoke's scariest terrain. To enter the North Bowl, you have to ski down chutes located between rocky outcroppings, sometimes called cliffs. Here is a video of a relatively tame chute. Here is a not-so tame drop in that is about 20 feet high. I will not be dropping in like this.

- Tree Wells: The area around the base of trees can form a well, as much as 10 feet deep. The well is often camouflaged by light snow. Fall into a tree well head first and you experience a deep snow accident, which can lead to suffocation in minutes.

- Dead bodies: Ski resorts often have signs on trails that warn about unmarked obstacles. Normal obstacles include: rocks, roots, and stumps. At Revelstoke there appears to be another kind of obstacle.

Day One:

Alarm goes off at 8:30. I had unpleasant dreams about North Bowls, tree wells, cliffs, and dead bodies. I don't want to go skiing today. But we ski and live and go to happy hour.

At the table next to us sits a snowboarder dude. Waitress approaches him.

"What can I get you?" she asks.

He looks at her name tag. "How about a Tanqueray and tonic, Miss Erin from Australia?"

"Want to make that a double?" she asks.

She brings his drink.

"How's life down under?" he asks.

She runs her hands through her hair.
He runs his hands through his hair.

She flirts. He flirts. She tugs on her tight shirt to cover her cleavage.

Flirt, flirt, flirt, flirt.

There is a pause in the action.

He leans in.

She leans in.

He asks for the order: "Erin, do you know where I can score some weed?"

Erin approaches us.

We order draft beers.

"Would you like to make that a pitcher?" she asks.

"Dear Greyhound" continued

(this is page two of letter to Greyhound Canada, regarding service on bus trip GLC 5407 from Calgary to Revelstoke, B.C.)

After being interrogated and searched, I reached the front of the boarding line. A man wearing an olive blazer took my ticket. His jacket was double-breasted, too large for him, and adorned with medals. I couldn't tell if the medals were from Greyhound, his tour in Nam, or someone else's tour in WWII.

Two hours into the ride, we stopped to let off some passengers. A large guy in a leather jacket and black ski hat stomped down the aisle. I'm guessing he was the Canadian equivalent of a gang-banger. He asked the bus driver who was standing outside, "Can I get off to get somethig to eat?"

Bus door closes abruptly.

Gang-banger: "He slammed the f&*%ing door in my face. What an assh*le."

Driver started bus. Gang-banger yelled something from the back. Bus driver stopped the bus and marched, medals a jingling, to the gang-banger's seat

Driver used his outdoor voice and made assorted rude, offensive, abrasive remarks to gang-banger and finally said: "Stop with the attitude or you're off the bus."

During the next hour, the driver used his PA system to make other remarks to and about the gang-banger. Gang-banger was quiet.

Eventually, the bus pulled into my stop, Revelstoke, B.C. Several people, Erik, and I got off the bus. Our bags were in the luggage compartment under the bus. No bus driver. We stood and looked at the luggage compartment. We looked around the bus stop. No bus driver. We had been trapped on a bus for six hours listening to ranting bus driver. We were not happy. I decided to open latch to luggage door.

"You break that door and I'll break you." It was the melifluous sound of the bus driver's voice. I grabbed my bag. I walked around the front of the bus. The bus driver was standing around smoking a pipe and chatting with some people who may or may not have been on the bus.

Me to bus driver: "You are rude."

Bus driver: "Keep it up and you'll never ride another Greyhound again."

My sentiments exactly.


Randy Ross
The site for world travelers

Footnotes to readers regarding Greyhound's overzealous security:
- In 2008, a Canadian passenger pulled out a knife and cut the head off another rider. Murderer was found to be insane. Another possible explanation: an abrasive bus driver drove him insane.
- Canadian Ettiquette tip: When boarding a local Greyhound, always ask the driver: "Where you be heading, hey?"
- Canadian insult: "You must be from Calgary."

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ski Trip to B.C: Delta, Who said Canadians are nice?

Continuation from yesterday: 5:30 a.m. at the Delta International counter at Logan. I ask about my flight and ticket agent starts typing into her terminal. Calls over another agent in red jacket who starts typing.

Agent Red: "Your flight to Minneapolis has been delayed till 11:00."

Me: "What about our connection to Calgary? We have to catch a 6:30 bus from Calgary."

Agent Red: "You won't make connection."

Agent Red types, makes a couple of phone calls and rebooks my travel companion, Erik, and I on Air Canada flights to Toronto and on to Calgary.

We thank the nice lady in the Red Jacket.

We traipse with our 8-foot ski bags from one terminal to another. We check in at Air Canada and wait at the gate.

Ominous weather report on TV at Air Canada terminal: New England will be lashed by huge storm, hurricane winds, epic rain and snow.

I approach Air Canada agent at gate for flight to Toronto.

Me: "Is the flight to Toronto on time?"

Air Canada agent: "It's all set, boarding in one hour."

Me: "Shouldn't the plane be outside next to the gangway if we're leaving in an hour?"

Agent: "It's all set, boarding in one hour."

I go to the window facing the gangway. No plane.

There are no planes coming or going on the runway.

It has started to rain, the sky has turned gray.

My mood has turned gray. I return to my seat and start reading my book, "So Long, See You Tomorrow." The book is about a murder. I am in the mood for a good murder story.

Twenty minutes later, I look out the window. No plane.

Me: "Shouldn't the plane be outsie next to the gangway, if we're leaving in an hour?"

Agent: "It's all set, boarding in 30 minutes.

Boarding time, comes and goes. I can't afford to piss off gate agent -- if flight is delayed or cancelled. I will need her help.

Plane arrives, we board 30 minutes late. I look at the snotty gate agent. So Long, See You Tomorrow.

An hour and a half later, plane arrives on time in Toronto. We board four-hour flight to Calgary.

We take a shuttle bus from Calgary airport to Grey Hound terminal to wait five hours for six hour bus ride to our final destination, Revelstoke, B.C.

Dear Greyhound,

I have been taking your buses for more than 30 years. During that time, I have learned to set my expectations for customer service low and my expectations for normal behavior from fellow passengers even lower. Your bus operation in Calgary, has forced me to reset my expectations.

Here's what happened on Feb 24:

At the Calgary Greyhound terminal, I approached the check-in counter. Middle-aged agent was chatting with a co-worker. I waited. He chatted. I waited some more. He glanced at me and chatted some more. Eventually, he answered my question.

An hour later, I approached check-in counter. I posed question to over-weight female agent. She typed into terminal with her one good hand. hunt. peck. hunt. peck. hunt. peck.

The bus arrived. Passengers lined up in front of a small desk in front of the gate. A twenty-something guy in a uniform put on a pair of plastic surgical gloves. Behind him, a large woman in uniform twirled a large black device about the size of a night-stick.

He searched everyone's carry on bags. He made remarks, like:

"You can't take those cupcakes on board, unless you give me a bite, hey?"

He is a funny man.

He searched my bag. Bag all set. I had a pair of ski boots attached by a strap.

Funny man in uniform: "Can't let you take those boots on. You'll have to check them for under the bus."

Me: "Is there any chance you could let me slide? These boots are my babies and they cost $900."

Funny man: "With that strap, you could swing them around like a pair of numbchuks."

Me: "What if I promise not to swing my $900 ski boots like numbchuks?"

He says OK.

The big woman with night stick-device, runs it along my the front of my legs, over my crotch, around my ass.

Big woman: "Turn around."

She runs device over my ass, down back of my thighs. I appreciate her thoroughness; I haven't had this much action in months.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Ski Trip to B.C.: Slippery Cab Driver, Delta Surprise

I am writing from a remote ski area in Revelstoke, British Columbia.

To get here I was supposed to fly to Minnesota, hop on flight to Calgary, and take six-hour Greyhound bus to Revelstoke. Travel time about 22 hours.

5:00 a.m.: alarm goes off.

5:30: Sleazy Travel Experience #1
my ski partner (not life partner, ski partner) get into local cab. (phone: 617 492-1100, don't ever use these guys)

Cab Driver: "With toll and charge station wagon, how does $40 to the airport, sound?"

Me: "What's wrong the meter?"

In the past, a ride to airport cost about $30.

Cab Driver: "I was just trying to make it simple."

Me: What's wrong with the meter?"

He turns on meter.

Cab Driver: "Which way do you want to go?"

He's trying to determine if I know the way. If I don't he'll probably take the scenic route through Vermont.

Me: "Go down Concord ave. and take a right."

Me: "No, not that right, that's one-way street."

And this year's Academy award for best actor pretending to be an innocent cab driver goes to --

Cab Driver: "You guys from around here?"

Me: "I've lived here for 20 years and used to take cabs from your company, until a driver tried to rip me off."

Cab Driver: "I'm from Revere."

That explains a lot.

We arrive at airport. Cab meter says "$20."

Cab driver becomes Mr. Helpful and takes our ski bags and other luggage from the car, places it gingerly on the curb. He and I don't look at each other. Erik pays him $20 for the ride, plus $10 for tolls and fee for using a station wagon. He adds $5 for tip.

5:40 a.m. Approach Delta check-in lady.

"You'll have to go the international counter. It's down there." She points to counter 50 yards away.

We lug 8-foot ski bags, boots, and carry ons to international counter.

Me: "We're supposed to catch the 8:00 flight to Minnesota and on to Calgary."

She takes our passports and starts typing into terminal. She types and types. She calls over a woman in a red blazer. Woman in red blazer starts typing on another terminal.

Type, type, type.