Happy Holidays

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When I was in New York last week, I heard the phrase “Happy Holidays” from every store clerk, every waiter, every cab driver I interacted with. It was charming. It felt like they meant it. Enjoy your holidays! Whatever holidays you celebrate, have happy ones!

Imagine that. People in a multi-cultural, polyglot city having the courtesy to extend general holiday wishes to each other rather than narrowing it down to a specific one, because they can’t be certain who celebrates what. In a city that gets an unfair rep for rudeness, a little bit of consideration and civility.

How shitty a human being do you have to be to consider that a threat to your way of life?

Fate, Fortune, and Friendship

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It happened that my friend Don and I discovered that we were in New York City at the same time. I was staying near the World Trade Center, and he was in Harlem, but that distance paled in comparison to the 1,200 miles or so that usually separates us. We arranged to meet in Midtown. When I spotted him as I crossed 8th Avenue toward the restaurant we’d agreed on, I felt a deep sense of joy and gratitude for the gift of time together.

Don and I met over twenty years ago in graduate school, when we were assigned an office together. We discovered mutual loves not only of literature, language, and drama, but also of less highbrow interests like superheroes and Star Trek. Our similar outlook and senses of humor meant we were sympatico in other ways as well.

It sometimes feels like it was fate, rather than mere good fortune, that we found each other as friends. Last night, it felt like it was fate, rather than mere good fortune, that placed us at the same time in a city where neither of us live, with time enough to get together. Whether it was fate or good fortune, I am profoundly grateful for it.

Go Zen

My plan last night was to check into my hotel, then go directly to Red Bamboo for dinner. I’d eaten there in 2013 on the recommendation of the manager of Meze 119 in Saint Petersburg and loved it. Alas, it was not to be. I got there easily enough, but all tables were taken and there was a one-hour wait.

I put my name on the list and gave them my phone number. Rather than sit and wait, I decided to walk around and see what I could find. When I left, I mentally flipped a coin. It came up tails, so I turned left. Only a few doors down, I spotted Go Zen, a vegan place with a pan-Asian menu. A few tables available, and I could eat right away. I was ravenous, and everything on the menu looked so good. Honestly at that point, I was ready to start gnawing on my own arm.

That would not be appropriate, because I happen to be made of meat.

It was very hard to choose an entree. Even ruling out the dishes that featured mushrooms didn’t help. (Mushrooms and I are not on speaking terms.) There was still so much to choose from. Finally, I opted for the Soy Cashew Salute and a cup of Cream of Broccoli soup.

It was delicious. I’m so glad I chose to explore instead of waiting. I highly recommend this place and will return the next time I’m in the city.

Feeding Sam in the Big Apple

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I’m heading to Manhattan next week on business and I am super excited about it. It’s been four years since I last spent time in New York, not counting the quick visit to the Cloisters last year. I’ve never been to Manhattan in winter, so when my client engagement wraps up, I’m planning to visit the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, and maybe strap on a pair of skates.

I’ve also got to eat! I know a few places from past visits (dinner one night at Red Bamboo is a strong possibility) but I’d love to hear recommendations for great vegetarian cuisine around the World Trade Center or Lower Manhattan areas. What do you say? Help me get my feed on!

Photograph by Omer Meral.

Noise

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I flew home today from visiting my family in Colorado. Unlike Friday’s flight out, when I had extra legroom and an empty seat next to me, I couldn’t write. Wedged into a cramped airline seat next to a guy as big as I am, I couldn’t get to my computer to get it out. Even if I could have extracted it from my bag, I couldn’t have used it. The woman in front of my tilted her seat back as soon as we got off the ground, and the keyboard would have been crammed into my stomach.

Instead of writing, I read. I had brought Salman Rushdie’s latest novel, The Golden House, which I had started reading a couple of weeks or so ago before I got distracted. Other than discomfort, there were no distractions in the sky, so I finished the book. One line jumped out at me:

I need to think and the city is full of noise.

It occurred to me that my life is full of noise, and that noise makes it hard for me to think. Social media. Television. Even work. Noise, noise, noise. If, as journalist William Wheeler said, “Good writing is clear thinking made visible,” then I’m going to continue to struggle to write well as long as I am too distracted to think clearly.

I need to find space and time in which to think so that I can write well. Maybe a repeat of last year’s social media sabbatical is in order. Maybe I should cut back on television. I definitely need to set aside more time for meditation and reflection.

Because I said I would

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I am late with today’s blog post. Normally, I write them the night before, and schedule them to post early in the morning, but Sunday was too hectic to allow it.

We drove to Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, after a stop at Marie Selby Gardens in Sarasota, to visit the Mai-Kai Restaurant and see the show. The trip was Carolyn’s reward to herself for landing her new job earlier this year, and this was the first weekend that we could get away.

We’ve been to the Mai-Kai before, but I’ve always driven, so I couldn’t enjoy any of their signature cocktails. This time, we decided to take a Lyft so that I could imbibe. This was a good decision. Even if I’d been sober, dealing with traffic on Federal Highway would have been trying at best. And I got to try the Shark Bite, the Mara-Amu (of course I got the souvenir mug, too), and after dinner, the Kona Coffee Grog. Didn’t like the latter, but it was cool to watch the waiter set it on fire.

The show was fabulous, of course, and everyone who hasn’t been to see it should go, and anyone who has seen it should go again.

Sunday, I worked on my novel in the morning, and that was all the time I had for writing that day. We visited the Fruit & Spice Park, another of Carolyn’s favorite places, then met a friend for fruit shakes and smoothies at Robert is Here in Homestead. After that, we went to Crate, a vegan restaurant in downtown Miami, for lunch.­ That left us just enough time to head to FIU for the NASL playoff match between the New York Cosmos and Miami FC. I don’t like either team, but former Rowdies players Lucky Mkosana and Juan Guerra are on the former side, so we cheered for them. It was an exciting match that went to extra time and then penalty kicks, and ultimately a Cosmos victory.

The bonus soccer, and waiting afterward to congratulate Lucky and Juan, meant that we didn’t get home until after 1:00 AM this morning, and so here I am, writing the most boring blog post ever, because I promised myself I’d write something every day, and this is all I had brainpower for.

How Keylor Navas Cost me my iPhone

Where’s my wallet?

I pat myself down. Did I put it in a different pocket? But of course not. Those dudes in the Panama kits who were jumping and pushing and singing, “Olé Panama.” They weren’t celebrating. They were picking my pockets.

My passport. $300 in local currency. My iPhone.

All gone.

Cabrónes!

Carolyn and I are leaving the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifier between Costa Rica and Panama at the Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica in San Jose. Carolyn finds someone who speaks English—Juan, one of the stadium vendors. He guides us to the police substation. I explain in broken Spanish that I’ve been robbed, and Juan fills in the gaps. The police sympathize, but can’t do anything. I hadn’t expected they could. I only want to file a police report so I can take it with me to the American embassy in the morning to replace my passport.

Then Juan has a brainstorm. Holds up his iPhone. “Can we track your phone?”

Of course! I log into “Find my iPhone” on his device. My phone is still in the Parque Metropolitano, on the other side of the stadium.

The policeman’s eyes light up. “Vamonos!” he says, and points to a four-seat pickup truck. He and his partner jump in the front. Carolyn and I in squeeze into the back with Juan, who holds his iPhone over the front seat for the cop in the passenger’s seat to navigate.

My phone doesn’t move as we careen around the stadium. Can we get there in time?

We halt in front of a set of moveable, metal barriers with about two feet of space between them. The cop orders a security guard standing nearby to move them.

He refuses. I don’t understand what he says, except for a name.

“Keylor Navas.”

“They won’t let us through,” Juan says. “Keylor Navas is coming out soon.”

We can’t get through because the Costa Rican keeper dawdled in the shower?

The cop isn’t any more impressed with this obstruction than I am, but the guard won’t relent.

Donde esta su supervisor?” the cop demands.

The feckless guard calls over to a woman wearing a yellow security shirt. Then he looks at the cop, and drags one of the barriers to narrow that two-foot gap.

Pendejo.

Supervisor saunters over. The cop explains the situation. She shakes her head.

“Keylor Navas,” she says.

The police officer shouts at her. The only words I understand are, “panameños,” “robaron,” and “gringo,” but I get the gist. Some Panamanians robbed this American. Let us through.

“No. Keylor Navas,” she repeats, and walks away.

We have to find another route.

The cop throws the shifter into reverse, whips the steering wheel to the right, and stomps on the gas.

WHAM!

Did we just… hit something? The cop doesn’t care. He shifts into first, starts to pull away. Supervisor and Señor Barricade run over, waving their hands and shouting.

We’d backed into Supervisor’s parked car.

We have to get out. “Another car is coming,” Juan tells us. It arrives, lights flashing. We pile into it. Away we go. My phone is moving. It’s leaving the park. Slowly. Are the thieves on foot?

Maybe, but traffic is horrendous, creeping along slower than a walk. We’ll never get there, I think. There’s no way the cops can get through.

Wrong. They hit the sirens and the horn, and drive as though a murder scene awaits. We straddle the center line between two rows of cars doing their best to pull over to either side. We pass cars with inches to spare. I white-knuckle the chicken handle above the door. Carolyn refuses to look up.

Juan is grinning ear to ear. He’s having the time of his life.

Aquí! Aquí!” he shouts. The driver pulls onto the curb. There’s a man walking by, talking on his phone. He’s wearing a Costa Rica jersey. Definitely not one of the dudes who mugged me.

I say, “That isn’t the dude!”

The cops jump out of the car, anyway. Stop the man on the phone. Demand he hand it over. Behind him by about ten feet are three other men, apparently not with him, also not the dudes, but the cops stop them, too.

What have you done with this gringo’s wallet and phone?

“That’s not my phone,” I shout. “Those aren’t the dudes! Esos no estan los hombres!

The cops say something to Juan. “Call his phone,” he tells Carolyn. She does. Nothing. Because that isn’t my phone, and those aren’t the dudes.

Juan zooms in on the Find my iPhone map. My phone is on the other side of the street, maybe half a block up.

The cops jump back into the truck. We can’t get across the street, because a low, concrete wall separates two directions of gridlocked traffic. Sirens wailing, off we go again. I’m certain we’re going to ram someone. We find a gap, make a turn. Make another. At one point, I think we were going the wrong way on a one-way street. But we reach the spot on the map. We park on the sidewalk, and everyone gets out.

Traffic creeps by, but the locator for my phone doesn’t move. Carolyn calls and it goes right to voice mail. The thieves have turned the phone off. But maybe it’s still here. Maybe they saw the police coming, and threw it away. We start looking around.

We’re in the parking lot of some other Costa Rican law enforcement agency, and the agent on duty is not happy to see a gringo crawling around, looking under the cars. He and the driver cop exchange a terse conversation. From the tone, I gather that cooperation between the two agencies is not exactly strong.

We have to leave.

I’m not getting my stuff back. The cops feel almost as bad about it as I do. They really wanted to catch those Panamanian thieves for me. The least they can do, they say, is take us back to our hotel.

Back into the police car we go. In this traffic, it will be at least an hour.

But the cops aren’t waiting for traffic. Lights. Siren. Make way, make way. We have to get these gringos back to their hotel. Once we get out of the traffic jam, we race down side streets as if lives hang in the balance.

At the hotel, everyone gets out. The driver cop shakes my hand.

Lo siento mucho, señor.”

Juan translates the rest: “We feel bad. We tried everything we could. If we could have gotten around the stadium, but…” The cop sighs.

“Keylor Navas,” he says, and shrugs. “Keylor Navas.”