Tag Archives: Space

The Haitian Trunk

Some years ago I finagled possession of a family heirloom, a trunk my step-father picked up in his travels in Haiti.  It is large enough to crawl inside and pull the barrel vaulted lid down on top of yourself.  I can’t say how long I have managed to hang onto it, or how I have done so without doing it any damage, or losing it in my many moves. Inside it I carry my past.  I have always believed that if I kept the thread of my stories together, I would one day unpack them and discover what my life is about, and lay out the blueprint, or the treasure map, to the story as I would like it told.

There are gaps in the narrative, and I am a shoddy record-keeper; but in the piles of notebooks, photographs, consecrated broken clocks, divine pocket knives,  fliers for bands long broken up, and letters from old girlfriends, there is a common thread-me. I picture myself at a desk, a dedicated funcionario, with an inbox on my left as high as the ceiling.  I process each item, evaluating it for its historical significance and narrative merit, then digesting it into fiction, nonfiction, or poem than placing the empty husks on my right-hand side in the outbox, where each item will be preserved, or discarded.

The Big Ring Circus, has become another Haitian trunk, full of evidence and artifacts. It is a narrative that jumps in time and space, leaving fingerprints of nearly a decade.  I found myself writing about bikes,  probably because I trust bikes to always get me where I want to go.

This is where we have arrived next, www.bigringcircus.com.




In all the years I have written this blog nobody has ever asked me what a Ringcircus is, they just assume that Big and Ring go together.  Language is ambiguous though, and you can’t take the words coming out of someone’s mouth as proof of comprehension.  It’s kind of like that first psychedlic experience where the letters of your own name unravel in your mouth until they make no sense to you and therefore you make no sense to you and therefore you question the very essence of who you is, until thankfully you realize that the you having these thoughts must be who you are and therefore everything will probably be fine, unless you look in the mirror.  *disclaimer (or so I have heard.)

I’m reading the biography of David Foster Wallace, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, and let me tell you (the real you) that being friends with that guy was no picnic.  At least I understand why Infinite Jest just sort of quietly whimpered out at the end.  That was the whole point, to have no climax.  It wasn’t anticlimactic, it was aclimactic, and supposedly there is a difference to be appreciated there.

So 23 was a really good year for me, 1993, with a discman and a Nissan Sentra a young man could rule the world.  Priorities were simple and clear- more fun, less work, don’t think about the future. I still stand by that strategy, although it wanes in popularity.

93 turned into 94 and every step took me further away from the shadow of Mt. Teewinot in the darkening light with a new pair of bootlaces the closest thing to health insurance, and the indulgent weight of a Sheaf stout reassuring against your lumbar, the snap of a twig so loud you cringe when it cracks against the silence. Oh easy times.

“Do you ever wish you were young again?” My wife asked me I suppose in response to the effortless calisthenics of watching babies do yoga.  “No honey, no way! Never do I want to be so wide-eyed and stupid again, so sure of myself when I clearly don’t know enough to close my mouth in the rain when looking up.” Young again? Ridiculous!  Honey we are young, and getting younger every day.  here we sit in the sweet spot of old enough to know better, too young to care.  In charge of our path, comfortable in our own skin, and a dependable friend on which to lean. No my darling, I do not want to be young again.

But I lie, and she knows it, and we keep that secret together.



I asked for a beer in a tavern on the road to Mostar from Sarajevo back in 1996.  The bartender set up a glass and a warm can of beer.  I remember touching the can and correcting him, hladno pivo molim, a cold beer please.  The young man said nothing, his forelock of greasy dark hair between his eyes, and he brought me a new can, wet from a hose behind the building, the same temperature as the first.

My friend and host, momentarily distracted, missed the transaction and asked the bartender something I did not understand.  “he said that’s the last one for you” he told me.  “What did I do?” I asked, offended  and hurt.  You want a cold beer?  He says go back to America and get one.  In a country freshly ruined from war, I blunder in mincing about beer vs. a cold beer, oblivious that to drink a beer at all, in a quiet room of strangers and smoke a cigarette, was a priceless gift from God, and that the only good response is živjeli

I can taste the shame of that Lasko Pivo in the back of my throat as I write this 17  years later, and I would give anything to go back and drink that first warm can, and enjoy it, and buy another.


The Forgotten Coast

It’s tourists inside and locals outside on a Friday night at the Indian Pass Raw Bar. Grinning people with sunburns and dogs smoke cigarettes and visit around a cast iron smoker on the patio, while out-of-towners from Orlando to Atlanta line up elbow to elbow at tables inside to partake of the authenticity. It’s beer and oysters on the honor system at the Raw Bar and I don’t know how anyone keeps track. The crowd is well over 50, scrubbed clean, men casual in their Columbia shirts and Sperry topsiders, the women in gauzy shawls, rough cotton capris, and linen. We aren’t local and we aren’t rich so I feel like we should remain in the doorway, but we take two chairs at a table with a couple, bankers from Atlanta they say, who own a little place on the gulf front along Cape San Blas rd. It’s tiny, Linda says, just 900 square feet. That’s all they want to keep up with, and I understand as that is the size of our house. They are retired now, after years working for the Savings and Loan Associations. They are nice, engaging in conversation about their 43 years of marriage, the years in the finance sector spent overseas in Asia, and how Gary can eat oysters until they quit bringing them. I wonder if they bought their little place on the water before or after the Savings and Loan scandal in the late 80’s -early 90’s, the debacle that provided the blueprint for the 2008 sub-prime mortgage dividend bonanza.

This forgotten coast was once all paper mill land. Paper became unprofitable at the tail end of the 20th century, and St. Joe, the company that owns these, and 500 million other acres of Florida land retooled itself to develop the land. They moved U.S. Highway 98 inland and built utopian communities with playful names like SummerCamp and Watercolor.

The Raw Bar is an old company store from a Turpentine company a hundred years back. It remains as an icon to the true panhandle coast culture, so all can drop in and anoint themselves with Crystal hot sauce. Pour yourself a beer, slurp oysters off the half-shell, trade stories about catching Red fish and where were you when Kate came through and flooded out the bay?

I don’t think this coast is forgotten, people just don’t really remember much about it.


The Perfect Ride

If I could put together the ultimate ride from all of the rides I have ever done I would start with that session of bike joust where I met my friend Todd back in 1991. He hopped onto a picnic table, leaving us speechless and enamored. We would ride to the top of the hill on campus on College Avenue and roll through the gazebo on Park, clearing the impatiens. Past the fountain at Ruby Diamond auditorium, launching the drops in front of the dorms, but when we turned left towards Landis Green we would find ourselves climbing an unnamed hill in western Wyoming, where we would pause in the dusk and watch two wapiti in rut, blocking our way. When the way was clear we would continue on, cresting the hill and dropping down the back side of the Hawthorne bridge into downtown Portland where we would Pick it Up! Super-Rush! down the 5th Avenue bus mall, one hand on the side of a moving bus, tucked in the crease between the curb and death, grey grit splattering into our mouths. Package delivered we turn to the forest and make that bad decision again to circumnavigate Cedar Rock in Pisgah National Forest. We would pass that night hungry, damp, shivering, then rise at pre-dawn and grind our way up the mountain to the familiar Munson Hills trail, before the clay. We would be fat. Miserable. Broken. Determined. We would exit that loop changed and strong again, chasing a mere boy in cutoffs through obscure Mississippi single track and watching him drift ahead. Locals rule everywhere do they not!

We would catch him, but he would be J.B. and we would be at the Pole Barn, snapping into cleats for a nighttime ride of Razorback, everyone at least 3 Orange Whips in the bag. We would watch the Doctor plow through the trees, unhurt and unaware as we laughed until we couldn’t see for the tears in our eyes.

Who would be there? All of us of course.



He wants to go to Montana, he said, where people get him. He talks to people here in Jefferson County and all they care about is where he is from, or isn’t from, he says. He can go to Costco in Tallahassee and speak to anybody, have a nice conversation, then it’s have a nice day and never see them again, but back here on the Aucilla River? People treat him like he’s nuts.

He sealed the picnic table with vegetable oil? None of that varnish or chemical sealants. That stuff’s terrible for you. The table smells like old french fries even though it has been out in the weather for seven years. In spite of the smell and the tacky surface, the table is bomb-proof. It’s the kind of table a king could build an empire around, or a rebel could lead an insurrection. I’m not sure which I am, but I intend to have the table with which I will lead my empire or tear yours down, whichever must be done.

I can see the hurt in this guy’s face. The discouragement and embarrassment of having left Broward county behind for a North Florida dream of land and freedom. Turkeys wander about, curious and docile. Whatever may have gone sour for him, he is gifted with poultry and takes pride in the brassy plumed Toms which eye him for a handout while we speak.

I’m holding out $100 in twenties and Steve looks at me like I’m crazy, but you can’t drive all the way out here to get a Craig’s list table and come home empty-handed. To offer less is to make this guy grovel in his defeated state and I don’t have the stomach for that. Besides, I want the table. It’s built to last.

He is searching my eyes for something, and though it pains me, I close that door and move for the van. “Thanks man, go to Montana. Worry about the details when you get there. That’s what I did.”

Of course, I was twenty-three with a couple grand in my pocket and he’s not twenty-three, with two kids (two too many he says wryly) and his sense of wonder is long trampled and gone.

Still, I hope he goes for it.


Down time

I saw two guys this morning, sitting on a loading dock behind a grocery store. It is cold this morning in Tallahassee. Their breath rose from laughing faces, protected deep within hoodies pulled forward against the wind, white aprons fluttering. I saw this scene in my periphery as I turned onto Lafayette street. The sun was breaking across their cardboard desk, and one of them tapped the ash off of a cigarette. Before that ash could flutter into the parking lot I was transported back to all of the places where I did not work when I was working.

At the Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant we called it “Lopez” as in, “Meet me at Lopez in 5, I just need to drop off these Mudslides.” Lopez was where the broken chairs would go, still serviceable, but unfit for the general public. A wooden slat fence separated Lopez from the restaurant deck on the bay, where tourists sat disappointed over sweaty grouper sandwiches, cold french fries, and a million dollar view. At Lopez, a server could smoke a cigarette and spy on their tables. Dishwashers could bum cigarettes from servers, and managers could tell everyone to get back to work before smoking a cigarette. A Great White Egret we called “Guapo” served as the bailiff at Lopez, and he worked for leftover calamari and sweet tea-soaked lemons.

At Little Baja, the NW UNITED STATES LARGEST TERRA COTTA IMPORTER we had two places. On rainy, cold Portland days we would sit in a 15 ft. travel trailer around a space heater, playing chess and thinking murderous thoughts about customers who summoned us out to dicker over the price of a cracked chimenea. On sunny days, we sat in a private Shangri-la hidden within a maze of strawberry pots where smoke could waft and dissipate through a thousand cupped holes before mingling with the Burnside air. They still use a slogan I coined, “WE GOTTA LOTTA TERRA COTTA.” I never see a royalty check.

At the Tallahassee Rock Gym it was all down time, but at sunset we would step outside to lean on the rail and watch the colors spread over the oaks beyond the train tracks of Railroad Square. We had a worn-out hoop in the corner of the parking lot and there really wasn’t much to keep us inside monitoring the boulderers and nose-picking children instead of playing a heads-up, elbowing round of every man for himself twenty-one.

In Barcelona, I took breaks between explaining the difference between “make” and “do” to drink wine and eat tortilla de patata at a place across the street called Bar Michigan. They liked me. I believe they thought I legitimized their American bent. I never told them I was from the South, and had never been to Michigan.



My paternal grandfather, Ollie, whom I called Papa, lived in a little enclave of a trailer park for all the years I remember. It was a community on a little lake, with a pavilion where people gathered to fry bluegill, crappies, and bass the residents caught as they enjoyed their retirement. Papa was an anchor in that park for a lot of people, so I remember him driving friends to the doctor, fixing lawn mowers, and generally holding court on his front porch where he sat on a slider, legs crossed and usually smiling. I remember him as a happy guy, clever with his words and hands.

His part-time job in that park was taming squirrels, who would one by one learn to trust him and take peanuts from his fingers. When he sat out on the patio, the squirrels would gather about the edges behind ficus trees and hanging ferns, twitching their tails and sniffing in anticipation. The park, the squirrels, My papa, and his frost-blue Buick all lived under a dome of oaks and tall pines.

I think this is one of the reasons I love Munson Hills so much. It smells like I remember Charlie Oaks Trailer Court smelling. The squirrels that live out there are mythic in size, equal parts bold and elusive. Big bull grey fox squirrels– as big as cats- rule alongside the Pileated Woodpeckers who coast between the trees. Last Sunday I got to ride out there with a long-time friend who moved on from Leon County to greater things. His name is Mel, but that is not his real name of course. There are no bike trails in Singapore, where he lives today, and yet he rode like it was 1991 when he was known for pedaling hours beyond the rest of us, and into neighborhoods and land we never saw.

The Big Greys were either out in force, or one was following me, as I sighted at least five in our 8 mile cruise. I stopped at one point, dumbfounded at the nonchalance of one particular squirrel stallion, shimmering black stripe down his back, with grey wispy sideburns. He rooted and picked over acorns not 20 feet away. I whistled a long, low note and he spun to face me. “Hey old squirrel!” I said, and my words echoed back off the packed needle floor. He wandered a little further off as Mel approached to find me standing in the trail, resting on the bars. “Are we almost done?” he asked, ready to put this ceremonial roll in the books.

“Yeah, just one last little hill that goes a bit further than expected, and we’re out of here. “No reason to hold back, so just charge it and get yourself good and winded.”

I wanted a picture of that squirrel so bad, but he wouldn’t stand still and I’m no photographer. More often than not, as I’m slowly learning to get used to it, you just have to appreciate that you were there for the moment at all.


Slow Travel

There are no winners on the road the Sunday after Thanksgiving, but there are some more experienced losers than others. I knew before we entered the penumbra of Disney World that we would be enjoying a long, slow ramble through old Florida on our way from the Cracker scrub of Highlands county to the Red Hills of sweet Leon.

It had been at least a decade since I drove north of I-4 on U.S. Highway 27, and as we watched the cars pour onto the interstate I knew we were making the right choice. Let me tell you what we saw along the way.

Clermont, FL is a shock to the eyes when you first see the acne of houses blistering across the hills in every direction. This once small town has been subjugated and re-purposed for the Orlando commuter set. In fitness circles it is known as a triathlon mecca for the good weather and stout hills, a rarity in central Florida. It is a community contrived and lacking in soul, much like that enduring fad of the 1980’s, the triathlon.

The Villages, FL- This conglomerate of gated communities, which spans three counties is known as a checkpoint for all conservative politicians seeking to pander to the modern-day carpetbaggers of the 50+ crowd. Billed as Disney World for Adults, snowbirds drive golf carts to the grocery store and enjoy purloining local culture through hostile takeover of county commission boards. The Villages threatens the rural and equine roots of the tri-county area where pastures that produce world class horses in all disciplines are seen as potential golf courses and subdivisions which will one day be named things like Foal Run and Mare’s Crossing. A giant arch over the highway marks the entrance to the kingdom. It is surely made of cinder block and stucco, yet painted faux brick, a testament to the impermanence of this atrocity one can hope.

North of Ocala, FL the road opens up. The traffic is local or heavily laden timber and citrus trucks. Any native Floridian knows the sight of the bobbing tips of pine trees piled and hanging from the end of a logging truck transporting these sad, scrappy pines to slaughter where they will become, what? Particle board for more country club counter-tops? Paper for more of Governor Rick Scott’s failed lawsuit attempts? It doesn’t matter to us because this stretch of highway that cuts through Suwanee River country is gorgeous. The road is as often canopied by leaning Live Oaks as not and the sun is setting through the trees like honey dripping from a fork. I feel the van, a 1998 GMC Safari, lift into the wind and gain momentum. It knows we are now entering north Florida. My mood rises with the waxing gibbous moon. I love my girl, this dog, this van, this cold clear night and this road in that order.

I talk to friends and my brother on the FL Turnpike. It is a parking lot. They are scrambling for alternate routes and soon follow behind us joining our hajj to Tallahassee.

The race against the clock was lost before we started so why not stop in High Springs, FL for dinner at the Great Outdoors? Shrimp and Grits, some ribs, a couple of beers and an acoustic duet playing blues rock to a cozy courtyard of baby boomers contently snuggled in fleece. The credit card machine is down so we take in the lush photographs and paintings of Florida’s springs and waterways, and may they flow forever clear.

Northwest towards Mayo and Perry, perhaps the darkest road in Florida. The starry night interrupted only by the paper mill and the prison, both loom ugly and yellow, a couple of dirty open secrets of Taylor County. We stop between them just to pee on the side of the road and wow at all the stars. Cars blast past and I realize the ugliness one car creates to the eye and the ear. The violence of sound and light and wind, then gone. Then nothing.

Finally, U.S. Highway 19 N from Perry, FL. My home away from home. Every inch my front porch and doorstep. The victory lap.

Then home, and cat, and bed.



Trip Report

*photo taken in a GA gas station bathroom, just out of the shot are OBAMA SUX and HELEN IS A WHORE apparently inscribed by the same implement. This indeed, is why we can’t have nice things*

A bear lurking in the darkness can do things to the mind. The camp citizens were rattled after two days of cooler sorties occurring in daylight and darkness. Slabs of ribs, deli-wrapped packages of knockwurst and corned beef, dozens of eggs. Not content a thief, this bear destroyed things, tearing camp kitchens asunder and leaving his calling card teethmarks in coolers. There were babies to protect, and sorely few armed among the besieged.

We, our party of two, were not the cavalry. We should have left the van packed, and ventured into the north Georgia wine country. Instead we joined the refugees, failing to recognize the terror in their creased and inebriated faces.

Like all marked for doom, we huddled in packs and whispered.

Sunlight is scarce on this mountain, tucked into the crotch as we were. The day is spent in a cool shroud, where the night air never dissipates and harried campers hustle through chores because night is coming.
Night is always coming, coming ,coming.

In darkness we huddle around the oily fire of damp logs and the children sing songs against oblivion. We laugh at gallows humor and cut it short only to pull from a passed bottle of com-misery. We wander off into our tents in pairs and knots, hoping our camp is a bit tidier than our neighbors, our poor sloppy neighbors who bring this threat down on our heads. Let it be their Chorizo tonight, not ours!

We drift off into nervous sleep to the sound of, WHO’S OUT THERE? WHAT WAS THAT? and I THINK I SEE IT MOVING THROUGH THOSE TREES!

Sanity is always the first victim.