Chautauqua, Adventures

Adventure # 2.

It was at about the same time that I was first reading the ad about sailing, that I met Meredith, and it was as a result of meeting Meredith that I got to go to Jamaica.

Since arriving in Boulder, I had gotten back into photography, something I hadn’t done seriously since high school. I like photographing places and people, and Colorado is night and day different from central Minnesota. Certainly the people were different.
I started taking pictures of some of the people at Penny Lane. I’d ask them of course.
I’d walk up to their table and ask them if I could take their picture.
Not the paranoid schizofrenics of course, but all the others if they looked interesting and didn’t mind.
Sometimes I would be walking on the mall and see someone interesting and I would walk up to them, or stop them as they walked by, and ask them if I could take their picture. Only rarely did anyone decline. Some would want to know what it was all about and so we’d talk a bit, and some didn’t seem to care what it was all about and continue on about their business after I took their picture. Usually it was women that caught my eye (go figure) but they had to have some quality, some uniqueness that caused them to catch my eye. It might be an attitude, manner of dress, hair, tattoos or piercings, or any number of things. And usually it was that uniqueness that made them willing to be photographed by a total stranger and not be weirded out by it.
One night I was having a bite to eat at Old Chicago on the mall. I was sitting on the patio outside since it was a warm night and I noticed a girl coming out of the bar next to Old Chicago. She sat at a table out on their patio and lit a cigarette to go with her beer.
With in minutes a couple guys had joined her at her table, but I didn’t think that they were all together. The thing that caught my eye in her case was her hair. She had dark brown dreads down to her butt.
In Boulder, dreads are a dime a dozen and normally wouldn’t stand out at all, but this girl didn’t fit the rest of the profile. Usually girls with dreads are your typical earthy, long skirt wearin’, patchouli smellin’, Phish listenin’ bare foot hippy chicks. Not always, but usually. And that’s ok. I’ve photographed some girls like that, though they too had some quality that set them apart. But this girl with the long locks was different in a number of ways. She wasn’t wearing baggy pants or a patchwork skirt. She was wearing make up but not too much. She was petite at 5-4, about 110 pounds, and this girl wasn’t interested in hiding her femininity under a lot of loose, baggy material. She had on a pair of black, low slung hip-hugger pants that weren’t leather but fit her like a glove. Her top was some kind of red shiny material that also clung to every curve. She was wearing black boots that zipped up the side and probably added a couple inches.
The result was a refreshing slant on the whole dreads thing. I had to talk to her.
I settled up with my server and went next door, arriving just as she went into the bar.
I figured she was heading for the bathroom, but when I opened the door she was standing at the bar waiting for a refill. I walked up beside her, said “Excuse me…”, and laid my little spiel on her as we stood there. I told her how I would love to photograph her if she was of a mind, and how she would get a complete set of all the pictures. That I liked her “look” and how different it was.
She knew exactly what I was talking about. She said, “Yeah, when I was fifteen I ran away from home and went on “Dead Tour” for the next four years. As a result, I’ve been around and seen a lot, and I decided that I wasn’t going to wear any certain “uniform” or fit any certain mold. I like dressing up when I go out and I like looking good. I have followed and practiced the Rastafari religion for the past ten years and believe me, I have earned these locks. I have a full time job in sales and marketing, and I have a three year old daughter who’s father left when I got pregnant.” She said her name was Meradith and she was twenty-two. We discovered that we had the same February 14th Valentine’s Day birthday, so I gave her a card and said I hoped I would hear from her about possibly working together.
I figured that before the night was over, she would probably scribble her phone number on the back of my card and give it to some guy and I would never hear from her again, but about two weeks later, she called. I wound up photographing her and her daughter Israel too. As a result we became good friends and remain so to this day.
I became Uncle Rick to Isreal, and the three of us spent a lot of time together. Our favorite picture of all is one I took of her wearing nothing but those black boots, with her head way back and her dreads hanging straight down past her butt. Oh yeah, and she’s holding a bottle of Guiness in her right hand. It’s a great shot that I like a lot.
She has a big print of it, matted and framed, hanging in her living room. She’s very proud of it because she likes the way she looks. It is a pretty cool photograph, and when she’s 70 she’ll still be able to look at that picture of when she was 22… and remember.
I also got to know Isreal’s Godfather, (read, step-father) a former boyfriend of Meredith’s named Steve. They are just friends now, but still close, so he was over at the apartment a lot of the times when I was there. We all got along very well. Anyway, it was Steve who asked me one day if I had ever wanted to go to Jamaica. I said that of course I would love to go to Jamaica. Who wouldn’t want to go to Jamaica!
And so, as Meredith, Steve and I sat out on the patio of her apartment, they explained how I could go on an all expense paid trip to Jamaica for ten days.
And so that’s what happened. I flew first class to Miami and from there to Montego Bay and from there by car to Negril where I stayed at a really nice little resort for ten days. The flights were uneventful but the car ride from the airport in Mobay to Negril was one I would not want to do twice in my lifetime. Once I was safely in Negril and settled into my modest but comfortable room, one of the first things I bought was a t-shirt that said “I survived the road to Negril”.

The place I stayed, called The Negril Yacht Club, had probably been a big fancy deal back in the day before the big resort hotels built farther down the 7 Mile Beach, but these days it survives as more of a locals place to stay or for tourists who stay for a month or two or three. It had a good restaurant, an outdoor “tiki” bar, hammocks slung between swaying palms, kayaks, etc. and my room with a huge bathroom and shower. two beds and a little patio ten feet from the ocean, was $30 a night, $35 if I wanted A/C which I did. I wasn’t paying for it anyway. Best of all, in no time at all the whole staff, all 7 or 8 of them, knew you and you knew them

Happy rejoicing at day's end.

The whole trip didn’t cost me a thing and I was even given five hundred dollars spending money. So, after ten days of lying on the beach, sitting at the outdoor bar drinking ice cold Red Stripes, exploring the town of Negril, kayaking along the shore for miles, lying in a hammock sipping frothy rum drinks for hours, photographing some beautiful Jamaican girls, and falling asleep each night to the sound of the waves on the shore ten feet outside my window, I flew first class back to Colorado, safely clearing Customs in St. Louis.  My only regret is that I didn’t take more pictures.

Meredith, Isreal and Steve have since moved to New Jersey and I look forward to seeing them all again some day.  It will happen.  I will have to go to New Jersey, which is fine because in addition to seeing everybody, I can fulfill another lifelong dream,  which is to go to Coney Island and have a hot dog at Nathan’s. I can’t wait!
Meredith and I call each other once in a while to keep caught up and stay in touch. And we always exchange Valentine birthday cards in February.

Chautauqua. Habitats.

Of course, altering one’s dynamic of existence doesn’t just present opportunities for adventures, but for meeting people you otherwise wouldn’t have met, which can lead to adventures and explorations in the human spirit.

The first year in Boulder I shared a two bedroom place with George, the person who already lived there. He was about my age and had moved to Colorado from Homer, Alaska about ten years earlier. One day he came home and threw a Time magazine or something on the kitchen table. “Look at that!” he said. I looked and saw a picture of Jewel on the cover. I’m like,“Huh, What?” He says, “I don’t believe it! Look how famous she is.” I said, “Yeah, So?” “So! She’s from Homer. She was born there. Her parents and I were good friends. I remember her as this little kid running around all over town with the other kids, like a little tomboy with scabby knees and dirt on her face. I watched her grow up! And now look at her!” George had only vaguely been aware that Jewel had become famous. If it wasn’t political, George didn’t pay much attention.
When he moved to Washington D.C. so he could be closer to the political arena, I found another two-bedroom apartment a couple blocks away. I signed a year lease and advertised for a room mate. It’s amazing how perfectly normal, people can seem when you are interviewing them, and then turn out to be psychotic after all.
My first room mate was Victoria, a not unattractive, slightly skinny 24 year old who was very friendly and out going. She wasn’t a student. She was just working and living in Boulder like I was. After she had been there about a month we were sitting in the living room talking one evening. Imagine my surprise when I found out that her step-father was the Storage Tek guy. Yeah! He he was the founder and owner of Storage Tek! So, what the hell was this millionaire heiress doing living in a $450. a month room in my apartment!? I said, “Why aren’t you living in the mansion?”
And so the story came out, piece by piece.

They had washed their hands of her. They couldn’t cope, They had tried everything, therapy, counseling, Betty Ford’s place, and nothing worked. All their resources hadn’t been able to deal with Victoria. “What was the problem?” I asked, dreading what I was going to hear. “Oh, you know, the drugs, the booze, the depression, the suicide attempts, the stealing…” All I could say was, “Drugs!”. I was almost speechless.
“Yeah.” She said with a sad little smile. “I kinda have a thing for the powders.”
“And uh, stealing?” I asked. “Yeah, you know, shoplifting.” “Don’t worry. I’m not gonna rip you off.” she said, as if reading my mind. And she never did.
After six months she found a boyfriend and moved out, so again I ran an ad in the Daily.
I still didn’t have a car but I had an RTD Eco-Pass, from work, so when Jay, a big thirty year old “kid” moved in and made it clear that his truck was my truck whenever he wasn’t using it, that was pretty nice. And he meant it too. Jay was pretty generous that way.
You couldn’t ask for a better roommate. He’d come home from work with a 12 pack under each arm and disappear into his room where he played video games or watched movies for the rest of the night. Sometimes I’d jump in the truck, go pick up Meredith and we’d go have a couple drinks somewhere or go out to eat. She didn’t have a boyfriend at the time but she always had a lot of guys hitting on her. She said I was her buffer when she didn’t want to be bothered.
Having the use of Jay’s truck made me realize how much I missed having wheels of my own, so I looked in the paper and called on an ad for a 1986 Toyota Corolla Hatchback and wound up buying it for $800.00. And a good thing too because shortly after that, Jay got drunk and totaled his truck. He also wound up in the Emergency room with most of his scalp ripped off. A few days after he was released from the hospital, he and his mom drove up in her SUV and proceeded to load up all his things from his room.
I guessed that he was moving out and he confirmed that he was going to be living at his parent’s house for a while. After they were gone I went into his room which I hadn’t seen the inside of in five months. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Every night for five months, a twelve pack of cans and/or three or four forties, would go into that room. And in that time none of the empties had come out.
There was a mountain up to the ceiling of empty cans in one corner of the room. It looked like an avalanche was imminent. I stood in the doorway and just stared. The closet doors were open and on the long top shelf was row after row of forty ounce bottles containing some yellow liquid. It wasn’t beer.
It took me a couple days to clean out the room and carry all the trash to the Dumpster. Opening and emptying out all those bottles of piss was the worst. So, yeah… Jay was obviously an alcoholic. Obvious now, but I guess I was blind to it before. Oh well, live and learn.
The lease was up in a few weeks and it was almost June anyway, so I decided not to renew it again. To hell with room mates and deposits and five hundred dollars a month down the drain. I knew what I would do. I would just sleep in the car at night. It was going to be summer for the next three months anyway, so that’s what I did.

The coldest winter I ever spent was that first winter I spent in my car.
Now, it doesn’t get as cold in Colorado as it does in Minnesota but every once in a while some of that cold Arctic air comes blowing down along the front range of the Rockies. On those nights when it’s clear and cold and states like Montana, North and South Dakota and Minnesota are getting 20 and 30 below temps (-30 and –35 C), it can get down to – 5 F (-20 C) in Boulder. People used to ask me if I ran the engine at night or something to keep warm and other people living in their vehicles admitted that they did that sometimes. I considered them lucky not to be dead.
Before I parked on these cold nights I would drive around a little with the heater on full blast until it was nice and toasty in the car and then I would go to my parking place.
While it was still warm in the car I would strip and get dressed again in layers with silk top and bottoms next to my skin and then a looser layer of thermal underwear and them sweat pants and a hooded sweat-shirt. Same principal with my feet.
I had a summer sleeping bag, a light-weight roomy thing, and a down filled mummy winter bag. On the coldest nights I would put the mummy bag inside the summer bag and throw a few of those air activated hand warmers down in the bottom for the toes.
I would crawl into the double bag set-up just as it was starting to cool off in the car, adjust my head light and read for a half hour or so before shutting off the light, making the seat go flat and snuggling in for the night. By then my nose would be running and my breath would be huffing out in white plumes. Anyway, I would be quite comfortable all night long and wake up to all the windows covered with frost… on the inside.

Most nights in the winter were much more comfortable with lows in the 20s and 30s (2 to -4 C ) or even warmer. I would sleep in just my skin in the winter bag by it’s self and no matter the weather outside, be it snow, sleet or a cold winter rain, I would be warm and dry and snug as a bug in a rug. Some nights I would fall asleep looking at the moonlight on the Flatirons and wake up in the middle of the night to the gentle sound of rain on the roof of the car, or the sound of wind lashed rain against the windows. Either way, I would open an eye just enough to check the weather before falling back asleep with a contented smile on my face. Some mornings I would awaken to find myself in a dim little cave with all the windows covered by fresh fallen snow.
Summer nights were even better. No matter how hot is was that day, at night the cool mountain breezes would blow down the canyon through the town just as the stars were coming out. On those nights I would sit up with my summer bag wide open and the windows down while I read before bed. If there was a summer storm I would fall asleep to the soporific sound of rain on the roof.
It was a special, magical, carefree time that I spent living in the car. I knew the moon’s phases intimately, and sometimes I would wake before sunrise to see deer walking slowly down the alley behind the car. They would come down out of the hills and wreck havoc on people’s gardens. Every night there were raccoons of course, foraging and mating. The sound a female raccoon makes when she’s getting nailed is terrifying until you know what it is.
I hope to get the chance to live in my car again someday.

Chautauqua. Jobs, Shows, Cars and Adventure #3

Once I was settled in I started doing the photography again. Because I had so much stuff accumulating in the car, I went looking for a storage unit to rent. While checking out a unit at a place in north Boulder, I met Melissa, a late 20s gal who was also looking for a storage unit. We got to talking and decided to share a storage unit. Then we went for breakfast. She was looking at some of my pictures and suddenly she said, “You should have a web site! And some business cards!”
I agreed as how that would be nice but I didn’t know the first thing about how to go about doing that, and besides, it was probably pretty expensive. She explained that her boyfriend made web sites for a living and assured me that he would love to make one for me, maybe in exchange for a picture or something. So that’s how I met David Wright.
Dave moved to the states from the UK about ten years ago. He’s heavy into mountain biking and works summers for an outdoor adventure company as a guide.
An affable youngster with an engaging smile, Dave had already done web sites for Wells Fargo, Microsoft, and United Airlines to name just a few.
He was very willing to take on this basically pro bono project because as he said, “I’ve never done an artistic type web site and this will be fun.” Dave also said I should have some business cards, if for no other reason than to lend an air of legitimacy to my somewhat stumbling and stilted spiel when I approached women. But not just regular little business cards. Artistic type postcards are what he had in mind. So he designed those too and had them printed by some outfit he had worked with in the past, for cost.
I gave him a big print of Mesa Arch, matted and framed. I probably had four hundred dollars into the picture so I wound up with a beautiful, professionally designed web site, and high quality, high class cards that would have cost anybody else several thousand dollars and I got it all for four hundred bucks.
Dave and Melissa broke up shortly after that.

In the process of doing all this photography, when I got a picture that I liked a lot, I had it enlarged, matted and framed. Eventually I had about fifteen framed images of various sizes. Some were landscapes, some were nudes and some were portraits.
Penny Lane always has art hanging on the walls. The show, or artist, changes every two weeks and they don’t charge anything to hang. They are typically booked up six months in advance but I knew that sometimes someone would cancel or be a no-show, so I talked to Shaun who manages the shows and said if there were ever a cancellation, I would be interested. As it happened there was an opening a couple weeks later so I hung my first show at “The Lane”. After that, in the course of a year, I had two more shows there, which resulted in being asked to exhibit at a gallery in town called Gallery Sovereign. So I wound up having two shows there, a landscape show and a nude show.
As a result of those shows I was asked to do a show at The Boulder Art Gallery on the mall. That show lasted a month and if nothing else, I can at least say that my pictures once hung in a gallery on the Pearl Street Mall. Did I sell anything? Not bloody likely.

One of my earliest jobs since moving to Boulder was working at a tele-marketing place called Aspen Media and Market Research. I would call companies and get them to renew free subscriptions to trade publications that they were already receiving, for free. Not very challenging. You could read the paper, do the crossword, write notes to the person in the next cubicle, paint your fingernails, or your toenails if you were so inclined, anything to keep the mind and hands busy while the mouth did it’s own thing to the tune of $8.50 an hour. After a year of that, I moved over to a different tele-marketing place a couple blocks away and started selling environmental video training programs to companies that were required to provide that type of training to their employees. That was much more interesting, and with my environmental background, I was actually quite good at it.
The trick was getting to the right person, the decision maker, but once I found them, I was able to talk the talk, establish rapport and get all collegial with them. And did I sell training programs? I did indeed. More than anyone had ever sold before. I broke all records for the company and made lots of money in the process, most of which I spent on photography, always photography. Oh, and I bought a car, a blue Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder convertible.

That’s when I first started toying with the idea of living in a car.
I also drove the Spyder back to Minnesota for a week to visit the fam. 2000 miles, mostly with the top down. Once I got back to Colorado, it soon became apparent that I could not live in a small convertible so I sold the Spyder and bought Rosebud, a sweet little Toyota Corolla Hatchback for $800. Several years and many thousands of miles later, I still have her and she’s still getting me around. And though I haven’t lived in her for three years, all I have to do is make the seat go flat and I can fall right to sleep.

Any way, that job lasted about a year, during which I took the trips to Jamaica and Florida.

Adventure #3

At the end of that gig I decided to go on a little road trip out west to Utah and Arizona to do a little exploring and do some photography. It was the middle of November when I headed west on I-70 with only a vague idea of where I was going or how long I would be gone.
After I crossed the boarder into Utah I decided I might as well check out Canyon Lands National Park. It was after 5pm as I entered the park and I saw a park ranger truck going the other way, towards Moab. When I went past it, the Ranger Station at the entrance to the park was closed, dark and deserted. A little further on I passed a sign that said “Mesa Arch Trailhead” and thought I would return in the morning to maybe take some pictures. It was getting dark and I wanted to find the campground. I passed not one other vehicle as I drove through the park that evening, including the campground, which I had all to myself. No cars, no RVs, no Park Ranger vehicles, parked or moving. Nothing and no body. I know that I was the only person in that whole National Park that night.
Do you know what it feels like to be all alone in a National Park? To be the only living person in a whole United States National Park? Well, it’s not at all creepy, but it is kinda cool. Imagine having a whole National Park to yourself.

It got pretty cold that night. The sky was clear and there was no moon so as it got darker and darker, the stars just got brighter and brighter. Before I settled into the car for the night, I crawled up on the hood, lay back against the windshield and gazed up into pure and absolute blackness, a backdrop for more stars than I had ever seen or imagined before in my life. The Island In The Sky part of Canyonlands where I was spending the night is surrounded on three sides by deep canyon. If you go to the end of the road, the ground falls away straight down, in front and all around you. It’s a little unnerving during the daytime, and at night it’s downright disorienting.

On that high desert plateau, hanging in space a thousand feet above the canyon floor, it seems like the air is hardly there. On a cold clear night it’s as if there were nothing between you and all those billions of sharp little pinpoints of light. There’s no depth to it, or too much depth, if you get what I’m saying. You forget if you’re looking up into that sea of light and dark in space, or into a bottomless ocean full of phosphorescence. The Milky Way just wraps across the sky from horizon to horizon like a white shawl, and the horizons are lower than you are because the ground drops away all around, so you’re up in it, stuck out on this promontory, higher than anything, and the sky is like a globe, an astronomical fish bowl, and the stars are so sharp and bright and unreal looking that… well, I got a little dizzy lying there looking into that endless void. I felt like I was falling endlessly through space. Plus, I had a raging case of the munchies.

It was my teeth chattering that finally brought me around. It was very cold and I was shivering like crazy. What time was it and how long had I laid there? I got in the car and crawled into my sleeping bag, which was cold but quickly warmed up on the inside. I checked the thermometer and it was 7 below. By morning it was 12 below (-24 C) and all my water had frozen solid. Before the sun came up I drove back to the Mesa Arch trailhead. Low and behold, there’s three cars and two vans parked there. When I got to the arch there they all were with their tripods, lined up in a row, drinking hot coffee, stamping their feet and saying, “Oh my, it’s so cold!”, over and over again.

I knew that they had spent the night in warm motel rooms down in Moab and had gotten up early to drive into the park and be at the arch when the sun came up.
It gave me a secret feeling of being closer to the arch, more deserving to photograph it, since the arch and I were alone in the park all night with the stars and the comets and the numbing chill of the high desert. These others were strangers, but the arch and I had been there together.

I shot a roll of film and left the park heading south through Moab and down through Monument Valley into Arizona. Once I crossed the border I headed west to the town of Page right on the Arizona-Utah border. Right outside of Page is the Glen Canyon Dam and the resulting Lake Powell, a place of stark beauty and lots of water. The mesas and buttes are colored every shade of red, pink and orange which makes the area all the more dramatic and beautiful. I got a room at a motel for a couple nights and got ready for a day of shooting the Antelope Canyons. Officially named North Antelope and South Antelope, the two slot canyons are a photographer’s dream and I had seen many pictures of them. Documentaries, commercials and even music videos have been filmed there and I wasn’t disappointed when I saw them. I wound up only shooting South Antelope that day but promised myself to return again some day if possible.

I was running low on funds so I retraced my route back to Colorado. I didn’t stop in Boulder however, but kept going all the way to St. Cloud, Minn. I was looking forward to seeing the folks, my brother and sister, and a few friends, but mostly my son, Josh.
I decided to go ahead and spend the winter in St. Cloud, especially since my folks were going to be in San Diego until April of the next year anyway. It worked out well too since I was able to be there for Josh’s high school graduation in the spring.

A few months after the folks got home I decided it was time to head back so I packed up the car and took off. I stopped in Spearfish, South Dakota to visit June and that brings us back to where this story began, with a deer licking frost off of my windshield in Spearfish Canyon.