By Peter J. Quinn

When you’re out of milk, you have two choices:

Go to the corner gas station about half a mile away and pay $5.10 for the gallon of milk.

Go to the Walmart Super Center nearly 5 miles away and pay $3.97 for the gallon – a perceived savings of $1.13.

Your kids go through milk like they have a cow in the back yard so you get into the car, fight the traffic, and find a parking spot a half-mile away from the store to save $1.13. Of course, you need those coat hangers you saw on sale 24 for $5 and a variety of other stuff that you absolutely did not realize that you had to have until you wandered into the Walmart.  At check out, the bill comes to $50.45 a net loss of $45.35 but you’re happy with all the money you saved. Never mind that you could have purchased only the milk you needed for five bucks.

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Mooresville, TN – 1988

Walmart started in Bentonville, Arkansas, and expanded rapidly throughout the country during the seventies and eighties.  Their business model was to go into small communities and put everyone else out of business through lower prices and margins until they owned the market. Then, they’d increase prices and margins.

Roger was a community leader and the owner of a local vacuum store. He had been in business for 12 years.  After Walmart moved in, his business dropped by 30% and continued in a downward spiral. He was in a race to the bottom.

The conversation began.

“I hate Walmart,” I said to everyone and to no one, in particular, as I sat at the bar looking out the window at the new Walmart across the street.

Walmart had just started building the super centers. This Walmart was just an oversized five and dime.

“Brother, you are preaching to the choir. I can’t stand the bastards,” the man sitting next to me at the bar concurred.

I turned and look at him with surprise, most people defended the bastards to the death.

“I know. I just lost a big account that is buying their supplies from a cut-rate Chinese company due to the pricing constraints that they put on them.  Another customer just closed the factory due to Mexican imports.”

“Tell me about it,” he said.  “I own, well, I should say, I temporarily have a vacuum business in town. Probably got about a year before I will have to shut my doors.  My rep who I have been doing business with for 10 years just informed me that they won’t be extending me terms and, on the side, he told me that Walmart’s price is 20% below mine.  I buy more vacuum cleaners from those assholes than that Walmart does.  He told me that Walmart said if his company wanted to do business with them they get the lowest price, period, no matter how few or many they buy.”

My bar mate took a swig of his beer as he shook his head.

“I guess your rep has to be happy about that getting credit for the stores in territory,” I said shaking my head in sympathy with his plight.

“Ha! He gets NO credit at all.  Walmart is a house account and one VP is the only one they talk to.  The conversation is, ‘Your pricing is too high.’  He figures it will be about two years when they move the plant to Mexico and he is out of a job.”

“Doesn’t that kill you? The people they are putting out of business are the ones shopping there.”

“Get this. My supplier delayed a shipment of 40 units by six weeks but Walmart got their 20 the next day, priced to sell below my cost.   So, I went over to the store at midnight bought out their entire stock of vacuums at a 15% savings from my cost.  Marked them up 20% and gave away free vacuum bags and finally had one of the best months in over two years.”

“Playing them at their own game, huh?”

“The security guard looked at me as I was checking out but wasn’t able to do anything. The next day I found out they put a limit on the numbers you could buy.”

“How do they get away with this?”

“Capitalism at its finest. The market is supporting them.  I can’t be too hypocritical. They are becoming a power to be reckoned with.  They will own the U.S. retail market and our jobs will be exported to Mexico or China.”

“I know. Every day more and more of my customers who sell into retail are hurting  The Walmart slogan of buying US made products is bullshit – only if they are cheaper than what is made overseas.  Sam isn’t stupid. He is not going to sacrifice Walmart profits to support U.S. inefficiencies or bloated corporate wages.  Hey, we live in the South. It used to be the textile capital of the world. When was the last time you went to a clothing factory that actually made the end product?”

“At least we still make beer in this country!” he replied.

We introduced ourselves, raised our glasses, and toasted. I didn’t have the heart to tell my new friend was drinking a Heineken and I had a Budweiser, but I got the point.

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Since then, Walmart has grown to dominate the U.S. retail market becoming one of the largest companies in the world.  They stick to the dictum if they can get it cheaper they will.  Estimates vary how many jobs have been lost to Walmart’s importing policies from hundreds of thousands to millions. Reliable sources say about 200,000 manufacturing jobs were exported to China or Mexico.

I can’t fault Walmart. I am a business man and this is a free market economy. Folks can shop where they want and Walmart seems to be the choice for hundreds of millions of people.  Walmart is, no doubt, the dominate retail outlet in the world making the Walton family one of the richest families in the world. Forbes reports that Christy Walton is the richest woman in the world.

Personally, I get my milk at the local gas station and my vacuums direct from the manufacturer via the web.  I haven’t been able to locate a private vacuum store in years.  I have not stepped into a Walmart in over ten years. I bought some real charcoal there about 10 years ago and that is all I bought.  I have no idea of how many thousands of dollars I have saved by spending a few more bucks with the local guy.

Nashville TN, 2008

Adventures come in many forms.  Sometimes I am just sitting non-chalant at the end of a bar enjoying a wine spritzer, wearing my chinos neatly press with a cuff, a lavender shirt, short sleeve rolled to highlight my biceps, legs crossed knee over knee, reading Vanity Fair when a gentlemen may approach me and ask me out.

I couldn’t get laid in a woman’s prison.  However as the wandering sort I am, most nights I eat, I drink, I read and leave and that is how it is,  most of the time, my evenings spent while traveling.  Not much for permanency.  Instability, the quality that  every woman wants in her man.  Yes there have been the occasions when I have enjoyed a conversation with a lady, mostly about her husband, kids, and pets, innocent enough with departures in different directions at the end of the night.

Then there have been the times when a friendly conversations turns to “I’m gay are you interested.”

The first time I was a little taken aback, not insulted nor grossed out or any homo-phobic experience like that, just now what do I do.  So did what any normal heterosexual man would have done presented with this situation.  I apologize for being straight.  Why I felt the need to, I don’t know but I did.  Conversations would continue for just a short bit and it was over.  I know knew how woman felt when approach and pursued, I was just being nice.  I am such a victim.

Travels continue and men tried to pick me up, maybe I should stay away from bars with the word rainbow in them.  This one night it was a sports bar, with a cheeseburger, chips and Monday Night Football.

The end zone, the 19th hole, fourth base, Jocks and Jills the nomenclature of the sports bar world just as the Fifth Quarter in Nashville is.  A bar dating back to the 80’s era of the Old English Steak Houses variety bar restaurant attracting a largely local crowd for popular happy hours.    Castle motif, lots of wood, stone and wenches serving beer with a friendly local crowd making Monday Night Football lively and fun.

Sitting there with my two new buddies Jim and Jake we talked football, SEC, playoffs and other guy stuff.  Jim was an interesting character who claimed to be Janis Joplin’s roadie at Woodstock, worked in the entertainment business and was friends with Tanya Tucker.  That tidbit alone made him worth getting to know. I always thought Tanya Tucker was hot.

However my appearance must set off some guys “gaydar”, I am tall, thin, somewhat a neat dresser and alone at a bar with a bunch of other guys.  I don’t have the sophistication to know what jamming signals I should be using to shut done the gaydar so the conversation turned.

“Pete, I am gay and want to know if you would like to join me for a drink after the game.”  Jim said as casually as if we were discussing the score, which I am sure he wanted to do.

Since this wasn’t the first time this had be asked of me I was prepared, no apology just.

“I am a rant raving hetrosexual, thanks for the invite, but that is the way it is.”

I maybe straight but I am not narrow, I realize the best approach was to get to the point, nicely.

“Hey your nice guy thought I’d take a chance, but how do you know you’re a rant raving heterosexual?”

Jim had a point, since that is all I have ever experience, except for that Boy Scout camp trip, I just assumed I was.  But for now that was good enough for me.

“You’re right I don’t know but for right now I am happy with that status.”

“No problem, don’t ask don’t know.”  Jim smiled and we drank our beers.

Then he added, “It’s writers night at the Down Under in Hendersonville want to join us’”

“What’s writer’s night?” I asked

“That is when all the writers of the country music industry get together and perform their own songs.”

If you have read the Machine, it is how country music works.  Every aspect of it is contract work.  The writer writes, the talent picks the songs, the label puts together the band and a hit is made.  Everyone is happy and rich, except for the writer, talent and band.  But the label is happy and the machine rolls on.

With a bar named the Down Under I was to say the least suspicious.  Jim left to use the restroom so I had a chance to ask the bartender and in fact it was a very popular spot kind of the “in” place for local Nashville talent.

So off we went.  I followed them for about 10 miles and we arrived at vacant strip mall.  As we entered the empty parking lot they started to turn to go behind the mall. I admit alarms went off but I followed, a little more cautiously now.  Down an incline towards the back of the mall I could see the lights from the Down Under and sure enough the back parking lot was full, all ten spaces.  But there it was the Down Under named so because it was down and under the mall.

The Down Under was there to entertain not impress, concrete floors and patio furniture, the only structure of note the stage.  The bar, wooden planks with several well lit glass upright beer coolers with an abundance of beer.  Liquor on the shelves with plastic glasses sitting on the bar and ice in Igloo coolers.  Very low overhead.  We arrived just in time for the first set.  A guitarist, a stage and a microphone, house lights were the only lighting to illuminate the stage a pure setting to show off the talent not the glitz.  Beer in hands, settling back on the patio furniture the show, the talent began.

The first song was a slow melodic piece about a pick up truck, divorce after prison, and his best huntin dawg, just kidding I don’t remember it but by the time he played the third song the main guitarist was joined by another guitarist and a bass player and they launched into “Rhythm of the Night” a song that the first guitarist co-wrote.  That is when I was transported, the setting, the clarity of the sound, the masters at work at their craft.  I went to a Zen state the music had carried me away to another place it was just me and the sound, a beautiful sound.  As they played the band grew tighter by the finale they had the sound they were an instrument, not three, but one.

This is what the music industry should be the celebration of talent not glitz.  Talent in its rawest form, no over producton, no over hype, no over exposure to make up for the lack of talent.  The musician and their audience in tune with each other.

In the cool of the early morning the bar closed and Jim, Jake and I departed company, along with everyone else, no one left early, all stayed for entire show.  The night did have a rhythm as I left, the crowd probably just less than 100 or so was still in a partying mood, it was summer the air was pleasant in the tween hours of the early morning, everyone just felt alive.  We were all part of something that too few see today,  raw talent.  A group of us hung around talking about what we were just a part of.  Then with hand shakes and hugs we all departed.

I looked as Jim and Jake headed off to their car and yelled thanks guys’, I didn’t give them my phone number but was glad I took a chance on a date with Jim.  Now where is the closest Waffle House or that woman’s prison.

Somewhere in the Southeast USA

Summer 200?

The vast variety of ways to make a buck have always astounded me.  We generally think of those off to cubicle land during rush hour traffic as the typical worker bee but I am sure they make up a small part of the working populace.  There are river boat captains, penguin care givers, gui (graphical user interface) programmers for play station, tilapia wranglers, sewer cleaners, power plant operators and

Professional vaginas.

No, this isn’t what you think it is.  I guarantee it.

A brief history lesson:

Since barbers were the surgeons and grave robbers the first medical supply houses, the dead have given of themselves unselflessly in the advance of anatomy and medical procedures.  Their medical careers begin on a body donated to science allowing the students the opportunity to hold and feel a real organ vs the text book version.  They will probe their body and examine it in minute detail.    Kind of ironic that the healing sciences first start with the dead.

OBGYN types do pelvic exams on their cadaver before they ever examine a live patient.  This didn’t work very well.  The cadavers rarely complained and didn’t comment on the bedside manner.  Another practice was to examine anestize patients without their consent.  Still the only comments they received when the patients recovered from their surgery and unknowing exam was, my butt is sore.

All in all women became fed up with what the med schools were turning out.  Mostly male gynecologists with their awkward and clumsy bedside manner.  Women who found a good gynecologist guarded their secret with their lives.  Their fear that if word got out they found a good gynecologist, the doctor would become too busy to treat them.

Med schools took notice, well they were forced to take notice as women’s health groups complained about the product that these revered institutions turned out.   At first they hired prostitutes and drug addicts as “pelvic models”.  Women who would allow themselves to be examined by med students to help them with dealing with their patients as they moved beyond med school.

Most OBGYN types didn’t cater to the underworld of prostitutes and drug addicts and the women weren’t there to educate the students but get paid and leave.  Then a sisterhood of sorts developed.  Women, average women for the sake of their mothers, daughters and woman kind in general became non MD pelvic instructors, professional vagina.

The Professional Vagina

“You do what, where?”  I am sure I didn’t hear what my friend’s friend, friend did.

Marcie (not her real name) was a 40ish woman, average build, earth mother type and very open in her conversation.

“I am a pelvic instructor at the local med school, or as it also referred to a professional vagina. I allow med students to do pelvic exams on me and instruct them on what they are feeling, use of exam instruments and their bed side manner.”

OK I did hear what she did.

“WOW I never thought about that but yea, I can see where that would be a real service.  Do you get paid for this ?”

“Yes, and it is a decent wage but that is not the reason  I do this.  Do you have a daughter?”  Marcie asked.

“I do, why?”

“Was she looking forward to her first gynecological visit?”

“Well her mom handled that but I am sure it was not pleasant.”

“OK would you want her treated by some Neanderthal doctor who trained on corpses and drug addicts?  Or by someone who instructed him and had every recourse with the support of the professor to grade him on his bedside manner?”

“Corpses, drug addicts.” It is at this point I got my brief history lesson which began this story.

“Well yea!”

I always thought that these docs were highly trained but come to think about it, when a woman finds a good gynecologist they usually go out and party afterwards.

“Most definitely.  I would want my daughter treated with respect and compassion.”

“That is where I come in, when they are examining me I give them feedback, I am considered one of the faculty and my word carries the same weight as the professors.”

“How does it feel?  Wait let me rephrase that, I mean how does it feel to be, you know, out there and examined by the docs?  How many exams do you go through?”

“I will admit at first it was uncomfortable, but I looked at the students and they were more nervous than me.  I was the first live patient they had and the professor introduced me as the instructor and that they were to pay close attention to what I said.  In my first class there were five, but I usually average 8-10 in a class.”

“Ten students in a class, don’t you get sore?”

“Nope,it is my job not too.  If I do my job and they learn from me how do their job, then I walk away from a nights work, comfortably.  Plus the students are very appreciative. I try to make it a positive experience, helping them so they will carry these skills, well to your daughter.  Some even hug me.“

“Are you the only one at the school, I mean are you the only professional vagina, I mean pelvic model?”

“No there are three of us.  All body types, these docs are examining women, real women, none are going to be OBGYN in Beverly Hills and from what I hear you don’t want to, unless whine is your favorite color!”

“Obviously I am not a woman so what do you instruct them in, anatomy, touch, procedure?”

“To start with I tell them, you are at my cervix.”

“Funny, I get that.”

“They don’t, remember they’re med students, they have no sense of humor, I have to instruct them that it is OK to smile.  To be at ease with the patient, be comfortable and gentle.  Once the exam begins I start on what they will be looking for in the exam, what they are feeling.   I might ask them to find my cervix, how to use the instruments properly.  What every well woman exam should be.  Then on to the next one and start all over.”

“How long have you been doing this, and how many times a week do you, do you, model?”

“Four years now, it really depends on the rotations and what women they call, up for instruction, could be once a month or twice.”

‘Are you married?”

“Yes and that has nothing to do with what I do.  I perform a service and my husband is proud to be married to a professional vagina.”

We both smiled I bought Marcie a wine, telling her this one is from my daughter.

After that evening I told several women friends of my encounter.  Their reaction.

“She is a saint.”

“Sometimes I look around and feel like I am living in 1592, that, this is what it must have been like.  I’m not here in the now, I am there, in the then.

St. Augustine Florida

Summer 2011

Historic St. Augustine, the oldest city in the US, founded in the late 1500s, three hundred years before we ever even became a country.  Therefore making  St. Augustine a Spanish City longer than it has been an American City.

A little history lesson, Columbus did not discover America.  Native American’s discovered a lost Columbus, or at best he rediscovered America, in fact he never stepped foot in continental North America.  However he was the first to tell everyone about his destination and not keep it a secret, like the Vikings, the Chinese, the Polynesians, the Irish, and the rest of the world who stumbled onto this land and left it as it was.  By telling every one of his adventures to the far East (not the West remember he did not know where he was) he opened the New Land for trade with the Old World.

Ponce de Leon spotted the coast of Florida in 1513 whereupon he named it La Flordia (land of flowers), this was a hundred years before the English settled in Jamestown VA. Not to be outdone the French beat everyone setting up a permanent settlement 1564. The French were the first non native Americans to successfully settle in the US.

The Spanish did not really take a liking to the French having settlements so close to their trade routes so in 1564 Menendez with about 600 sailors and soldiers beat the French out of La Flordia and started the settlement of St. Augustine La Flordia.  The oldest permanent settlement in the US.

Now 447 years later people are still drinking and partying like a bunch of ship-bound Spanish Sailors on leave at the Tavern in the Old City.    St. Augustine has done a remarkable job of preserving an old Spanish settlement within cannon-shot of the old fort.  They employe hundreds to act as period characters, acting out life in late 1500 AD St. Augustin, Joyce the barmaid was one such character, dressed in period costume, serving a variety of local  beers, chilled, to sooth the modern taste, along with a grog of wine and spirits.  Between servings she showed all how to play a variety of Old World bar games,  one being the forerunner to back gammon.

Throughout the evening, cast members would come and go, all in period dress to do repairs, to farm the garden in the back courtyard, to make brooms, repair and rebuild trying to make it as authentic as the history books and diaries told them what life was like in 1592.  The day-to-day goings on of a  Spanish settlement.

Joyce dressed in a flowing dress with a loose-fitting white blouse, with a concession to  comfort she was wearing leather shoes.

“Don’t you get hot?”

It was 101 degrees outside with high humidity, I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and I was sweaty HOT.  The tavern was not air condition and the only cool was an occasional breeze that blew through.

“No, I am wearing loose-fitting cotton cloths, just as the early settlers would have, it’s really comfortable.  Plus I am use to working in this so it doesn’t bother me that much.”

“Would you wanted to live in 1592 La Flordia?”

What makes you think I haven’t?”

“You don’t look that old.”

The bar was closing and I was just about ready to head out when a family came in that were friends of Joyce and her husband Tom .  At the moment the party began.  They invited me to join them in the courtyard for another beer.  As we all walked back Joyce’s husband, Tom,  a carpenter in the Old City, dressed in period clothing of baggy pants, a white cotton shirt with no buttons, tied in the front, came in and we were transported back to 1592. Without use of the “Wayback Machine”  thank you Sherman and Peabody (Sherman and Peabody were a boy and his dog feature on the Bullwinkle and Rocky cartoons of the late 60s, the wayback machine was a time machine that took the pair on their adventures).

Tom, Joyce’s husband and Joyce, a family that had known them in their earlier life circa 2011 and myself.  Sitting in the cool of the evening enjoying the breeze and a beer.

“Tom I asked Joyce if she ever thought that she was back in 1592?”

Without hesitation Tom answered,

“Everyday, especially in the morning, when it is quiet and no one but the characters are at work.  I walk to my job pass by the broom maker, the teacher, my tools in hand, seeing and feeling what it would have been like then.  I know I walk in the footsteps of half a millennium and I am lucky to be a part of it.  Yes I really feel like I am back there.  I am not modern day Tom but Fernando the carpenter.”

“You from Pennsylvania right, Dutch country”

“Not anymore I am from the New World.”

Talked continued on, mainly on the cast of characters the work daily in the historic section.  Their pride in keeping it as authentic as they can.  Using old nails and not replacing them.  Serving travelers as they would have over 400 years ago.

“How do you know what it was like, what do you base it on?”

“Augustine has been around continuously for over 400 years, day to day traditions carry on.  They had a school and was the main mission for Florida so there is a lot of documentation.  Plus you have this feeling that this is what it was like.  I know folks who parents were around when Flagger built his railroad into St. Augustine turning it into a tourist destination.  They tell stories like it was just yesterday.  So it is not hard to go back even four hundred years and imagine what the sights, sounds, even smells were part of the everyday.”

I sat and listen as they talked about how they ended up here their friends a bit envious of Joyce and Tom’s retirement.  In a cool breeze in a courtyard in 1592 St. Augustine I listen.  I looked around and was there in 1592.

Columbia SC

Summer 2011

Sometimes you get way to much information, strangers feel they can tell strangers anything after all when you part company you are more than likely gone forever.

“I just had the best sex in my life!”

The couple had barely walked into the bar, the woman an attractive 50 something excused herself as her boyfriend, husband, lover, whomever he was took seats next to mine at the bar. She had just left for the bathroom when the male made that pronouncement.

Columbia South Carolina is the state’s capitol along with the home of the University of South Carolina Game Cocks.  I am sure that in 1880 a Game Cock held a higher status in society than it does today.  “Go Cocks.”   Didn’t have the double entendre that it evokes.  Coeds walking around campus with gym shorts with the word COCKS in big bold letters emblazoned on them wasn’t in the cards when someone came up with the idea of having a game cock as the schools mascot.  Whoever he was I salute him for giving every Southeast Conference fan the cheer “Beat the Cocks.”    Which you can scream at the top of your lungs in the presence of tens of thousands of people and no one gets offended.  Not even the most proper of sorority sisters who on occasion might even utter the phrase.

Thank you Mr. Game Cock.

Cocks became the theme of the night and it amazed me what you could learn about a couple in the time it takes a woman to go to the restroom.

“What?”

“I just had the best sex of my life, man.  I mean the pinnacle, the greatest, Diane is hot.”

“Who?”

“Diane, that woman.”  Richard said (I would find out his name later in the conversation) as he pointed to the woman on her way to the bathroom.

Diane was sexy in a mature way, her body slim and fit.  Well proportioned, you could tell she took care of herself.  She had short, cropped brunette hair and was wearing a summer dress with no VPL (visible panty line). The dress showed off her figure, she looked like a runner with well-defined legs made a little bit tout in her heels.  Richard was tall and lean, a little balding, ok I guess for a middle-aged man.  They looked normal.

Diane turned around probably hearing her name and smiled at the two of us and gave a quick wink and a wave.  I don’t think she knew what Richard and I were discussing, or maybe she did.  Who knows she might have had the best sex of her life. Richard continued.  “We were in the parking lot when she grabbed my hand and pulled me over to the car, we climbed in the back seat….”

At this point my ADD (attention deficit disorder) luckily kicked in and to my good fortune my mind wandered.  Listening, but not really.  The bits and pieces I did hear were that apparently Richard had a fantasy moment and had to tell someone about his exploits and I was the chosen one.  I caught words like, sweat, kisses, head rests, floor boards, precious body fluids, lips, tongues, flailing limbs, hand prints on steamy windows, the Titanic movie scene, on and on.  Richard wasn’t really talking to me but just had to talk.

As my mind wandered again not really listening to Richard I remembered a joke about the 90 year old man in confession.

Old man-Father I am 90 year old men and just had sex with beautiful twins!

Priest You know as a Catholic pre-marital sex is a mortal sin.

Old man-Father I am Jewish not Catholic.

Priest-Then why are you telling me this?

Old man – I am 90 years old and just had sex with twins. I‘m TELLING EVERYONE!

I smiled when I thought of the punch line which I am sure Richard took as a sign of approval.

I gave Richard one of my “Wows” a word I used to let others know that I am listening when I am not.

The bartender came up and Richard stopped his story long enough to order two very lite beers and bought me one, which got my attention.

“Wow is right.” He went on as the bartender filled our order.   We are in our 50’s and I thought sex couldn’t get better, that it was dead, but that woman has taken me to places I never thought I could go.  When you have the right partner then the whole world is open.  I feel like a teenager again.”  Richard sighed as he said this and looked up, almost as if he was giving thanks to a higher power.

I thought, feels like a teenager again?  I wasn’t in my teens when I first had sex, a late bloomer, so I missed out on savage teenage lust and settled for 20 something. Richard went on and I listened a bit more intently now that he had bought me a beer.  Apparently he and Diane were on a mini vacation.  Never could figure out their status, husband/wife, lovers in a torrid affair, boyfriend/girlfriend but that didn’t matter as it was clear Diane and Richard just went at it like two caged animals in heat and Richard had to tell someone and  unfortunately he didn’t care how personal it got.

I did find out that Diane was neatly cropped and was very athletic and nimble.  I didn’t ask what kind of car they were in but they were both tall and I am sure the nimble part came in handy.  Then again my ADD kicked in as Richard was slowing down and relaxing, taking in the whole evening as we saw Diane come back from the bathroom.

She sat down next to Richard, grabbing his arm and giving him a hug and big smile.  Richard kissed her on the cheek.

“Diane this is, I don’t know your name.”

“Pete, nice to meet you Diane.”  I answered and looked at her trying to figure out what she would look like naked.  Not bad.

“Nice to meet you too Pete.”  She reached out and we shook hands.

“I am Richard.”  As he reached out and shook my hand.

Out of instinct I took his hand and we shook, upon which some of the more detailed pieces of his story came rushing back to me.

After we shook hands I isolated my hand not wanting to touch anything.  I waited for a short while and then said.

“Hey you only rent this stuff, excuse me as I go to the restroom.”  Holding my hand out in front of me I made a beeline to the washroom not touching anything along the way.

“Go Cocks.”  I thought as I departed.

Jacksonville/St. Augustine FLA.  Summer 2011

Do you ever wake up and think WTF, questioning what am I doing? Why don’t I just quit my job, sell everything, buy a beer and bait shack in Florida make my $30k a year and live happily ever after.  Mañana!

Jacksonville/St. Augustine Fla.

I had a choice, walk the half a mile in the 98 degree heat and humidity or try to find a parking spot in the middle of downtown Jacksonville during the peak of morning rush and walk a mile in the heat and humidity.

I walked the half a mile.

I like to walk, you see more of the city on a walk vs. a parking garage.  You experience the little out of the way spots that are hidden from traffic, the garden in the middle of a bustling downtown, the unknown statue to some hero long forgotten except by the pigeons.  In Jacksonville, this stroll had the side benefit of walking along the docks on the St. James River, which runs through downtown Jacksonville.  A nice stroll if I was wearing shorts and flip-flops, not so, with a suit and tie on.

Just the previous night I had dinner at a dockside restaurant on this very path and watched as a lone man sat on his sailboat watching the nightlife all around him.   An island of peace in the middle of a hectic nightlife in the city.  I thought wow, wouldn’t that be the life, no cares, pick up anchor and leave for your next destination. The peace and serenity vs. the pressure cooker of modern civilization.

Modern civilization took control over my fantasy, the next morning, now on my walk to the corporate suites of a Fortune 100 company, I saw the same man on the boat wearing what he wore the night before and probably the night before that.  I nodded and he nodded back and I continue my walk, now covered in a thin patina of sweat and fatigue I came very close to throwing my computer bag into the river and saying screw this.

The pressure cooker hadn’t vented quite yet.  There is the mortgage, the kid’s health care, I don’t know how to sail and since our country is in debt up to its Washington neck ties, I figure I should do my part. I do have a job in this time of recession so I guess I am one of the lucky ones.  So I persisted in my endeavors for the day another meeting probably leading to several others which might lead to something, who knew.

I kept walking and remembered one tidbit from the dinner last night that the bar did $49,606 worth of business in one day during the Georgia,Florida football game in November.  This game is better known as the world’s largest outdoor cocktail party.  Boat guy probably had a front row seat to all the action and who knows a couple of coeds might have wandered on board.  I thought almost 50 grand in a day, and then I found my computer bag was in mid-air at that time, almost heading towards the St Johns River, when I realized that I had my personal computer in there also.  I relented and it swung back to my side, safely, ready for another day.

The meeting, the reason I was there, went uneventful, a waste of time, same issues that they will always have but are unwilling to do more than meet and discuss and do nothing, corporate America.  My day was over.

I made it to St. Augustine’s old city later that day and meandered around for a bit, sans computers, didn’t know how many more G forces they could take.  I wound up in at The Taberna Del Caballo  heralded as the oldest tavern in America.  The tavern no bigger than a modern kitchen with a barmaid and some draught beers, a consolation to modern times.   Soon conversation broke out amongst the patrons, when I ordered a light beer and water.  The bar maid put two glasses in front of me a beer and a water and told me.

“The water is the one with the ice in it.”

“Funny” I said and the night began.

A family from eastern Pennsylvania was there, a solitary man who didn’t say much and a couple, Jenna and Chris sat and chatted with us.

I asked innocently enough.

“Where are you guys from?”

Chris replied, “Hard to say, we travel a lot, don’t settle in one location much.”

“R V ers huh?”

“Kinda of, we live on a sailboat, the water version of a land yacht.”

“No way, I saw a guy in Jacksonville last night, on a sailboat he obviously lived on.  I thought what a life.  How do you do it? I mean what does it take?”

“It helps if you love the water and know how to sail.  I have been living on the boat for 20 years, Jenna for about 10 years.”

“Where do you store your lawnmower?”

“At my brother’s house.”

As we talked I became aware of what we take for granted everyday, water, 911, fast food, 24 hour convenience are not available in the middle of the ocean.  There is some planning involved if you live on a boat, weather, emergencies, water all are daily priorities that need to be planned out in advance.  Except for weather it is best to know what that will be like before the storm hits.  That, red skies at night sailors delight, red skies at morn sailors take warn, stuff.

“Mail, do you receive mail?”

“We have a service that scans in our mail; we go on line and can choose open or toss.  The ones they open we can see on line later.”

“Can you get on line most anywhere?”

“No problem, libraries have WiFi, we can pick up a satellite signal most of the time, most bars and resort ports in the Caribbean haves wireless.  Usually not a problem.”

“Food, how do you keep it fresh?”

“No milk that goes bad to fast, we have a small freezer for some meats, mainly rice, eggs, flour, sugar.  The Oregon Trail stuff.”

Oregon Trail was the passage way from the East usually starting in St. Louis westward.  The settlers would pack for a three-month journey through very unforgiving terrain.  Just look up the Donner Party and what they were serving for dinner in the winter of 1867.

“Electricity do you have a generator.”

“No you want to keep gas and explosives away from a sail boat, we use solar and wind they generate enough electricity to keep a freezer going and a microwave.”

“So you’re pretty self efficient, what is the main worry of  boaters?”

“Weather and water, too little or too much of either is not good.”

“I guess fresh water would be an issue.  Weird living on the water and water can become your number one nemesis.  The irony!”

“Fresh water is used only for drinking and cooking.  You wash up using sea water, we have a tank for our bathroom for waste.  You don’t use fresh water unless you’re thirsty.  When it rains you get a nice fresh water shower.”

“How did you two meet?”

“At a boat show, right!”  Jenna said and added.

“I wanted to live on a boat and John and I meet talked and a year later we are cruising the inter coastal on our way to Savannah.”

“What kinda of boat do you have?”

“42 foot sail boat.”

“Do you ever get claustrophobic?”

“No, when your on the ocean you’re a spec in the sea. Wide openness, no land to set your bearings. Space is all around you plus the cabin is big enough for two so never been claustrophobic.”

“What about money, I know nothing is free, they do charge you for slips, right?”

“They do it varies it could be a couple hundred a month in some spots.  Our checks are electronically deposited and we can access the account from any ATM machine.  We just need money for incidentals, like food, water, slip fees and the occasional fine from the shore Nazis.”

“Shore Nazis?”

“Local cops that bust people for docking without permits, could be $300 fine.  We came ashore just before a storm in Georgia and the next day a cop was there fine in hand, was ready to confiscate the boat if we didn’t pay right then.  A money grab,Georgia rednecks.”

“How are most people you meet, I imagine there are some salty characters out there?”

“People are people for the most part they’re all friendly and nice.  Want to know about our life style.  The jerks are far and few.”

“I take it you’re not big fans ofAmerica’s Got Talent or Dancing with the Stars?”

“Ha, no TV, just books and the real stars.”  Jenna said.

Chris added.  “Yea everything is mañana, however sometimes mañana leads into weeks months, years.  Sometimes you do have to do some things now.  But that mañana attitude fills your days.

Mañana, I feel that way but I guess in the opposite way, I will quit my job, sell everything, move to the coast, live in a smaller house, enjoy life.  Mañana.

“Penguin poop can spread out over five feet.’

The airport bar can be a great escape for a weary traveler, after three delays, one re-scheduled flight and four hours to kill till your next re-scheduled flight takes off, it is an intoxicating refuge of drink and knowledge.

“Well, I am going to be late. My day has gone to hell in a hand basket, and penguins can shit up to five feet.”

“That is funny, if I remember correctly penguins are flightless birds, so the only thing on a penguin that flies is its poop.”

I smiled back at Terry, my fellow weary traveler and companion at the airport bar.  She too was  scheduled to leave on the earlier flight to Atlanta, so was in the same boat as me.  Cancellations, delays, rescheduled and drinking.

Terry was a veterinary technician at one of the nation’s largest aquarium amusement parks in Florida.  Her specialty: penguins and their habitat.

“Their diet is mainly fish, squid and krill.  We have to feed it to them alive or else they won’t eat it.   We do add some vitamins for good measure.”  Terry said as we sipped our drinks.

“You are right they are birds so they digest their food rapidly, very rapidly and it comes out the same way.”

“Really.”

“Really, one of my jobs is to clean up after them.  We have to take high pressure water hoses and spray down their habitat twice a day.”

“I guess you would be flushing the habitat.”  I smirked

“Then once a week we send in a diver to clean the tank, scrub down the glass and remove all the bacteria.  Penguins do really well in captivity, but we have to watch out for  viral infections, it could wipe out a whole colony almost overnight,” Terry added.

“Really, what does he use to clean off the glass in the tank?”

“A brush.”

I looked stunned and Terry replied.

“A brush!”

Then I added “Wow you think with all the high tech filtration and cooling systems you employ to keep the habitat going, you could come up with something better than a brush.”

“Nope, just a brush,” Terry said as she sipped the last of her beer, sat her glass down and motioned for another.

“OK let me get this straight, the diver suits up, to go into near freezing water armed only with a brush against a colony of penguins and bacteria.  Courage has no limits.  Do the penguins ever try to eat him or do they think he is a shark or walrus?”

“No. The penguins were all raised in captivity so they are pretty used to humans.  Even in the wild, humans don’t bother them.   Most of their predators live in the water so when they are on land, they feel very secure. The diver is just one of the colony, except he has a brush.“

“What about polar bears?  They eat penguins.”

“They would be a threat if they ever made the 10,000 mile trek from the Arctic Circle to the Antarctic.  But so far they haven’t.”

Pole to Pole is 12,416 miles.

I am sure I looked a little surprise at this. Still thinking,don’t polar bears eat penguins?

Terry could see my look of disbelief and went on: “Penguins are native to the Southern Hemisphere, most live near Antarctica; polar bears live in the Arctic so they are not a threat. Now if you were a seal, then we would be talking.   Penguins have few natural predators on land, mostly birds that steal their chicks.  Even scientists and tourists can walk up to a penguin colony in the wild and not disturb them.  It’s in the ocean that the greatest threats are as well as their food source.  Walruses and killer whales are their primary predator. We humans are just a side show and food givers to them in captivity.  We are probably as much a curiosity to them as they are to us.”

“They dress nicer, you know. The dinner tux and all.”

“Hey, first time I’ve heard that one. Good thing I don’t work in a tourist park or anything.”  Terry laughed, oh so non-convincingly, and then continued:“White in the front is so that any predators in the water looking up would have a hard time discerning a penguin from light and the black back is for any predator looking down in the water, the penguin would blend in, very difficult to see.  It is more  to keep them from being dinner.”

“Penguin 101. What else do you do besides clean up penguin poop?”

“We keep busy, preparing meals, checking on individuals, caring for the young.  We have to make sure that no infection hits the colony.  If one bird gets sick, it can spread very easily.  We have to euthanize a bird if it gets sick.  Sad because penguins mate for life.”

“What’s the smell like?”

“Take over a hundred penguins, who don’t excuse themselves from the dinner table, go to the toilet three or four times a day….”

I interrupted, “Smells like the kid’s nursery on a diarrhea ward?”

“No, since we keep it clean both for the customer and the penguins, it doesn’t get that bad.  Now in the wild it is a different story, especially walruses or sea lions.  You could have thousands living on a beach.  They don’t move that well on land and from what I have heard from scientists coming back from the field is you smell them first and then you hear them.”

“Not the high def, Nat Geo scene, of a thousand neat and orderly walruses, huh?”

“You are looking at five minute tape of a three week trek, lots of editing and be glad you don’t have smell vision on the TV.”

“Cheers to that!” I said, and adding.  “What do you think of the penguins at the park?  Do you feel sorry for them being tourist attractions?”

“They are my buddies, very friendly.  All of them have been born and raised in captivity, so they know no other life.  They wouldn’t survive in the wild.  We feed them, care for them. It’s their habitat, their world.”

We chatted for a few hundred more beers as the day wore on, penguins, working in a theme park, tourists, all the fun stuff. Then finally we were each able to grab our flights out.  I left a little bit buzzed and glad to know all about penguins and their habits.  Which got me thinking, after all the beer I have had, how long would it be before the captain turned off the fasten seat belt sign?  I don’t think they carry high pressure water hoses on the plane.