Rubberside Down

Rubberside Down

End of 2008 my brother, myself and a close friend of ours decided to take a dirtbiking tour around the Dominican Republic. We filmed the entire adventure and then published the entire thing as a web series. I can honestly say its my most professional filming/editing job… and it could still use some work. A lot. But here is the full show for you to enjoy. You can also see it over yonder at iThentic.com, who so graciously decided to put it into their lineup of shows and even give it a Best Foreign Show of the Month badge.

 

What Makes Me Who I Am

What Makes Me Who I Am

I, as have you most likely, wonder on a daily basis just who the heck I am. I know who I want to be, I know what I’d like to be and I know who I should be. But am I any of the above?

I’m a sap, that’s for certain.

No, really, my biggest fault (or virtue, take it as you may) is that I am partial to human suffering. I believe that is a trait many of us share within the Truth, but I am especially cursed by it, for it has made me who I am, brought me into ASL, etc.

I shall elaborate.

tumblr_m84265KmgV1qdrq56o1_500The other day I watched the espionage-thriller The Constant Gardener, a movie based on a novel by my fav writer John le Carre. The movie is very graphic in the depiction of poverty and suffering in its African setting. Not so much in a “Oh my, those poor people!” kind of a context, but rather more like “Look! Let’s do something about it!” — Which is the subject of the film, in a nutshell.

And that is the story of my life. I hate to see people suffer… more so if there is nothing I can do about it. It gives me the chills, my stomach cramps up and tears well up. Not in sadness. In anger.

This feeling harks back to my first encounter with poverty in the mid 80s. I was a joyful intellectual of 7 and thrilled to visit ‘America’ for the first time with my family. We toured much of both coasts, stopped by Disney World, leaped over to NYC, then across to San Diego to see the zoo and met a few friends. All things a child should remember forever.

Yet I don’t.

My memory leaves me blank.

Except for a visit to a little town called Tijuana.

I don’t remember much of the city. But I do remember the people. I recall the incongruous contrasts: a boy my own age asked me in Spanish “do you also speak English or do you only speak Tijuana?” A family in nearby San Diego we stayed with looked wide-eyed at my parents for speaking Spanish with me and my brother instead of our native German: “Why do you speak Spanish with them?” — as if Spanish was a four-letter word.

But my fondest and at the same time most dreaded memory was of an old woman sitting on a street corner with a baby in her arms, extending her begging hand towards me as I passed.

Me. A 7 year old wisecrack.

783854_56700482After a few paces I stopped. My brother (4 at the time) heeled and gazed at me. I couldn’t just let her sit there. At the same time I could not walk back: some type of fear had gripped me. Maybe it was shame. My wallet was at the time in a terrible hungry condition (well, that hasn’t really changed, come to think of it) and I had but a tiny coin of the lowest value. Demonstratively I emptied the wallet until I found this one sorry coin and handed it to my brother to give it to her. He waddled over to her, plunked the coin in her hand and returned. I knew it was worth nothing. I knew it was a joke. But it was all I had.

The old woman, having observed me this whole time, lifted her arthritic hand and waved: “Gracias.”

I could have choked up right there.

I don’t remember Mickey Mouse hugging me in D World. I don’t remember the giraffe in the San Diego Zoo licking my head with its sandpaper tongue.

But I remember and old woman thanking me for giving her a coin of no value.

Was it this encounter that causes me to vote with my feet for the rest of my life? Perhaps. I have now learned to cope with poverty, but every time I pass a woman with a baby in her arms begging, the feelings return and I’d like to pull out a wad of bills and right the wrongs.

Or, as did Ralph Fiennes’ character in The Constant Gardener, grab the pilot of the evacuation plane and try to bribe him to “save them! If we don’t they will die!” (here is the scene)

But, as did Fiennes in said movie, I would fail miserably.

I still don’t know who I am. I don’t know if I ever will (hey, that kinda makes me mysterious, don’t it?).

But I do know one thing.

Thank God I know the Truth.

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On The People

On The People

Sometimes it seems like Montréalers are very unhappy people.

The suicide rate in Montreal is very high and since it’s so stinkin’ cold outside it is more convenient to jump before a moving train in the warm metro stations, as opposed to freezing your butt off on some bridge that has jumper protection anyway. I asked a few random people in the metro today about this and the most common answer is that the weather is to blame (when I told this to my brother he only gazed at me: “You talked to strangers? On the metro?! To French Canadians?!?!”)

Is the weather a factor? It snowed again last night, fuzzy shreds of white twirling from the sky and you think you’re inside one of those crystal balls that you flip upside down and you’re in Winter Wonderland. But then the sun comes out and the melting begins and the city turns into one giant slushy that nobody wants to drink. No wonder some people get the blues.

Poverty is also a factor. The Gap is here too. And I don’t mean the store. You can’t scurry through a metro station without finding someone at the door holding up an empty coffee cup or a sign reading ANYTHING WILL HELP or HOMELESS, LOVELESS, HOPELESS or HAVE 3 CHILDREN or HAVENT EATEN IN DAYS (my personal favorite, the very honest I NEED TO SMOKE A JOINT). Or, as did I at the Toronto bus station, find a crazy old lady shouting that “everyone oughta be crucified! Crucify em all! Police, politicians, take em all, let’s crucify em all! We gonna crucify the whole lot!”

And maybe it’s the static electricity. Everywhere you go, people are wired. Comb your hair: fizzzz!!!! Take a shirt off: snap, crackle, pop. Shake someone’s hand and sparks fly. No wonder promiscuous sex and abortions are common as well… people confuse static electricity with attraction. Maybe it’s what they need to feel any attraction at all. Most attractive people, be they male or female, are of foreign blood. Everyone else is a swish of white and pink and purple veins.

Hence I have begun The Revolution.

Think about it: what is the one thing people lack sitting in the metro, at the job, in Timmy’s?

A smile!

Indeed, Montréalers have forgotten how to curl up those sides. Hence the element of my Revolution is to carry a smile at all times. Radical, you say? Indeed it is. But it is my way to Fight The Establishment, Fight The System.

I DARE to Smile in Public.

Unfortunately the effect has been both good and bad. Bad in the sense that there are people out there bound to take the Revolution beyond its premise and take advantage of it.

Such as the one guy who sat in the metro grinning despite himself and rocking back and forth, high on something else rather than just a smile. My brother pointed him out. “The militant wing of the revolution,” I replied. “The Suicide Squad. Anyone this happy is bound to get lynched by a mob of Frogs.”

Then there are the war-profiteers. This one bum had a sign in both French and English reading A DOLLAR FOR A SMILE.

Nevertheless, the Revolution must continue, even if it’s just for the 5 remaining days of my stay. And I predict it may reach beyond the Québécois borders, into Ontario and on into New York, where it is bound to be picked up by the Dominicans.

How to become a Supporter of the Revolution?

Next time you see a stranger frown, just smile back. Not too much, just a slight curl that says “I am happy and I’m not afraid to show it.”

Way to stick it to The Man!

The Revolution has begun. Smile.

Golden Horseshoe

Golden Horseshoe

IMG_2619All my life I had been under this impression that Lake Ontario empties into Lake Erie, but, woe me, it is the other way around. How was I able to survive all these years, knowing I had my geography wrong? As I stood at the edge where millions of gallons of Erie dumped into Ontario all I could think was:

Those cunning Canadians! They flipped Niagara around!

I would then duck my tomato-head back inside the thick jacket and ask for the next Timmy’s.

Timmy, you see, is my new religion.

How could it not be? Tim Hortons represents everything that is warm and fuzzy and filled with coffee. Not to mention the cold-cuts. And the doughnuts.

And the soups! Oh good grief, the soups! I’m not worthy!

Fortunately they have their places of worship on every street corner in Canada and my daily pilgrimage ends in the prayer uttered to the cashier as “One extra-large French Vanilla Cappuccino, please.”

IMG_2627Amen.

By the way, did you know there is a place on Ottawa hailed as the Number One Elvis Sighting Central In The World? It’s a tiny diner cramped with people and Elvis memorabilia and the promise that “you might just spot the King.” No King in sight, but the waitress swears she ain’t seen him either, ever, never.

A subtle word on the temperature.

Aaaargghh!

Montreal (pronounced, if you wish to remain alive among all them Coons, Mo-real) has less of the temperature but more of the culture, and I don’t just mean Ile des Soeurs (gay central) or St. Catherine (XXX). It truly is a modern city and very high-tech. Even the men’s stalls have video surveillance (which is not something a guy wants to know when he’s standing there doing… you know).

Speaking of famous eateries, Schwarz’s in downtown Mo-real is frequented by the rich and infamous, so I was taken there as well and we huddled around the beergarden-style tables and chomped into smoked meat sandwiches with pickles and fries and guarantied kosher. No celebrities to speak of, but I can guarantee Zoolander-sightings after my visit.

IMG_2626The subway… erm… metro, is fairly easy to figure out. Even for a conchofied and publico-wise person such as myself. The ticket system was a bit quirky to me at first, the turnstiles spinning up a storm every time I passed through. But the train are warm and cozy and float on wheels as opposed to rails and the lights don’t flicker as bad as in NYC.

Again I am floored by the French influence in everything. Everyone assumes I speak it, and everyone wants to speak it. My line when someone talk to me in French is “I don’t know what you just said, but it sounded beautiful.”

Of course, the line only works provided the person is a female Quebecois. But it breaks the ice (another great thing to say that breaks the ice is “fat penguin”).

Anyway, this here adventurer is off to Timmy’s for his morning worship. As Dundee would say: “That’s not a cup of coffee. THIS is a cup of coffee!”

Correction. I was just informed we are to pilgrim to Subway, the shrine to sandwiches.

As you can see, my trip has been a religious experience so far.

Montreal is an Island

Montreal is an Island

Try this for size. Get on a plane in Santiago, D.R., fly to JFK, change over to a smaller carrier and mosey on over to vieux Montreal.

No big deal?

Try doing it after having been in the DR for 5 years straight.

Last time I stepped on foreign soil was New York City in 2001. I took a deep breath of Big Apple Air (cough, cough) and felt that if I could make it here, I could make it anywhere. And then some Looney drives two planes into the twins. I reversed on my heels and headed back dirtsides.

So let’s try this again. This time vieux Montreal up there among the frogs, because my brother just happened to have married a Quebecois. Nobody is perfect.

I just didn’t realize how… uncivilized I’ve become.

Handling the airport is tres facile. Just follow the rules and instructions (written, by law, first in French, then English) and we will get along fine. No problem with the organization and establishment that borders on OCD a la Monk. I can handle the well-behaved customs officers that tell you with a Quebecois twang to have a nice steee. That they call the subway a metro is fine by me too. So is the fact that you get fined for littering (not that I ever). And that there is a Tim Hortons at every street corner, right across from Starbucks. And that they have electricity 24/7.

What baffled me was the hot water.

I get to stay at the cookie-cutter house of a Spanish sister in Plamondon, the only one painted in blue outside and neon green on the inside. In a part of town where everyone and everything looks cloned, this is quite a visual relief. I twisted open the faucet to scrub the DR dust residues from my features when my hand nearly froze. Brave people, those Canadians, I figured, washing in freezing water.

Then it hit me. I recalled from the times that I myself have lived in a civilized nation (Germany, that is) that often the second faucet was not broken (as is to be expected back dirtsides) but is the key to hot water!

Needless to say I went from freezing swiftly to scalding. Finding the balance is not that easy.

Lesson learned the hard way. Later on I spread a map of the city out on the huge bed while thinking of my hammock and then proceeded in whipping out the large knife on my Leatherman to cut said map into manageable pieces.
As I sat there, knife in hand, unable to handle cold-hot water faucets, and feeling out of place as a bikini model in a church, a terrible realization hit me.

I had gone Crocodile Dundee.

The rest of the trip should be interesting.