As those who know me or read Vagobond almost certainly know – I’m a serial business creator – also known as an entrepreneur. When I was around eight-years-old- my grandmother was having a day with me, my siblings, and my cousins – she asked everyone what they wanted to do when they grew up. She chewed on the answers, asked questions, and generally approved. I told her that I wanted to be a scientist and she said “No, that’s wrong. You’re an entrepreneur.” I didn’t know what that was and she told me that it was a person who made things. She was right. I am.
My projects have been many – from a failed beer delivery service in 1995 to Conchsense and Cascadia Magazines in the late 1990s to Sun Sea Adventures in the early 2000s, then to Vagobond itself along with Morocco Blogs, Reedsport Antiques, my little newspaper in Reedsport. I’ve started and run quite a few businesses. Most recently, in the past year, I’ve put together ZguideZ – which aims to automate the tour industry and Iwahai– which lets you record audio on a map. While there has been some aspect of tech in almost every business I’ve started – these two have the distinction of being the most ‘Silicon Valley’ and by extension the most scalable – which is what brings me to San Francisco.
For the past year, I’ve been neck deep in learning what it takes to conceive, build, and scale a start up tech business. I’ve taken part in Hawaii’s East Meets West Conference for two years running, I was one of twelve companies selected for the Hawaii Wefunder Workaway, and I recently graduated from Y-Combinator’s Start Up School. In addition to all of that – I’ve built two pretty amazing tech products and created two corporations from the ground up without anything that could be considered capital. I’ve filled the roles of product manager, CEO, and nearly everything else in my organizations while I have built products that work – even if only in a minimum viable product sense. And this is what brings me to San Francisco.
San Francisco is the global capital of tech finance. There is no event which represents that as well as Tech Crunch Disrupt – a conference where the ‘global elite of tech’ converge to see what the future holds, look for amazing new ventures, and meet the founders of amazing new startups that may become the next big thing – like me.
There is nothing cheap about San Francisco and there is nothing rich about my bank account or finances. The name of this website is Vagobond and that comes because I am one of the modern masters of making something out of nothing. As a quick reminder – in 2000, I became a homeless person by intent to show the world that it was possible to live a life without being beholden to corporate masters – from that point forward I traveled to more than fifty countries, moved to Hawaii, started a family, and have started multiple businesses. I’ve got to tell you though – it’s fucking exhausting making ends meet on the fly and always having to hustle to meet expenses.
So, ironically, here I am asking the masters of global capital to invest in my startups so I can scale them. I had to do it on a budget though. I paid for my flight using my Hawaiian Miles points which I’ve accumulated through paying for nearly everything with my Bank of Hawaii Mastercard. I was able to get a ticket to the 3-day conference for around $300 because I’m a startup founder (regular price is $1500+) and as for hotel – I tried to find a Couchsurfing host without luck and had to get a room but after searching for deals managed to get a room for right around $110 a night near Union Square which usually has hotel rooms for somewhere in the $300-$500 per night range. Four nights of that gave me enough to get a room using Hilton points for another night and finally, I found a room for my last night near the airport for $120.
In terms of meals, I’ve worked the system as best I could. Coffee in the hotel is free. The conference had several invite luncheon sessions where I was able to get the proverbial free lunch while listening to pitches for Taiwan or from big financial services companies. A nearby restaurant offered $10 credit to conference attendees (so lunch was $4). I skipped breakfast and enjoyed modestly priced dinners – a slice of pizza, some Indonesian fried rice, a burrito, some Japanese ramen. Grand total on food has been right around $80. I’ve got a few days left and I expect that I’ll probably spend another $100 on food. I’ve had to use Uber a few times and that has added up to about $70 total.
So, for those not keeping track – here are my totals for a week long trip from Hawaii to San Francisco to one of the most expensive tech conferences in the world.
Conference Ticket: $295
Grand Total: $1125
I will probably spend a couple hundred dollars on entertainment and tourist stuff while I’m here, but maybe not. In any event, I feel like the price was well worth it. If I’d wanted to go further into savings I could have aggressively hunted for a couch to surf, skimped further on food, and volunteered at the conference for a free ticket – but I’m almost 48 years old and just don’t have the energy to be that cheap any more.
Opportunities – well hopefully they will translate into being worth millions, but we’ll have to see.
It’s a little hard to believe – but I’ve pretty much ignored video as a medium. This isn’t because I don’t believe in the power of video – but mainly because of technological issues. After all, in 2008 when I graduated from the University of Hawaii – my main focus was anthropology and my secondary focus was film making through the Academy of Creative Media. But here is where the issues with technology arose. I left Hawaii with a small suitcase (carry on) and a backpack. I brought a Sony Handycam and a Vaio laptop with me. I had a huge and heavy external hard drive that I left behind. I had professional grade software for film editing on the Vaio but the storage technology in 2008 was such that importing and using raw video files wasn’t really something that could be done on a rig as light as mine. When my Vaio failed in 2009, I opted to go lighter and moved all of my web work to an Acer Netbook with a 10-inch screen. My Razr Flip-phone took video and I would sometimes take video with my 8, 10, or 12 megapixel cameras – but mostly the quality was terrible and the editing I was now doing on a Windows Movie Maker freeeware program was sub-optimal.
It was during this time from 2008-2012 that Youtube as a platform took off. While I was building Vagobond and writing a half dozen books on my netbook – the pay off for struggling to make bad video just wasn’t worth it. And, to be honest, I was a bit camera shy which probably didn’t help. Moving back to the USA in 2013, my priority became building my antique shop, my small community newspaper, and moving my family to Hawaii.
It’s only now – a decade after I left Hawaii that I find myself with the proper technology and time to sort through my old video and put them together as something hopefully interesting. The sound I recorded on my flip-phone, my cameras, the handy cam, and then my progressively better smartphones was terrible – so in many cases I’ve cut the sound and replaced it with music. I’m still not some rich guy with great tech – but I recently bought a Macbook Air and my iPhone 6s does decent video – so hopefully the quality of these videos will improve as time goes on. My mission is to first sort through and use my old footage and then to start creating new videos. I’m less camera shy now – so you’ll probably see more of me in future videos.
I’ve created a new YouTube Channel “Vagobond Travels’ – the name is a bear until I get 100 subscribers, but then I can change it to something easier to remember. So, please click through now and pound that ‘Subscribe’ button.
Unfortunately, right now if you search for it on Youtube or Google, Google automatically corrects the spelling to Vagabond so you get lots of other peoples channels. I’ve also started to put my older videos on a specific page here Vagobond Travel Videos
To get you started – here is the first video I’ve put together from my old clips – it has a few clips from Hawaii and my trip across the USA before I left for Spain in January 2009.
and here’s an old favorite called Hawaii Chicken – if you skip to the end you will see how I got to Hawaii
The world has changed a lot since I originally wrote this article back in 2011. Almost a decade later – populations have shifted significantly along with everything else. I’ve got this idea in my head these days that I want to visit all of the largest cities in the world. I’ve been to some of them – but not all – so this might be a good focus for my travel plans in the near future. The hard part is finding a list that is accurate – this is the best I could come up with but I found at least five very different lists all based on the same criteria! New York City, Jakarta, Manila, Chengdu, and a few other cities made it to different lists fo the Top 10 largest, but the cities below were the ones that seemed to be the most consistent in terms of reported population.
The world is growing at an alarming rate. There are a huge number of estimates on the number of cities in the world, but it certainly would be safe to say that there are more than 300,000 cities in the world currently. Of course, this depends on what one defines a city. In most cases, a city is considered to be a place that is large and well-populated, and assumes more importance than a village or town. Now assuming more importance leads to several things, like better living conditions, more choice in all respects of life, and so on. These are what lure people to cities, and make cities experience population growth. Because of the large population, cities are generally managed by an authority, which in most cases is the municipal corporation of the particular city, and this body looks into all the things that make up the city. A typical city consists of further sub-areas, called districts or precincts in most places. This division of a city into smaller parts helps in better administration and ultimately leads to providing better living conditions.
For the traveler, the largest cities in the world can be an intense experience as the sights, smells, sounds, and sometimes the feel of the population can be exhilarating.
World’s Largest City by Population – Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo is still the largest city in the world with a population of approximately 37.5 million people. Formerly named Edo, the Tokyo Metropolis formed from the merger of Tokyo Prefecture and the city of Tokyo. Tokyo is referred to as a metropolitan prefecture or a MegaCity.
On 1 July 1943, the twenty-three special wards of Tokyo merged with Tokyo Prefecture to become the Tokyo Metropolis. The residential area of Tokyo proper has 13,617,445 residents. The rest of the population lives in the Tokyo ‘burbs’.
World’s Second Largest City Delhi, India
Back in 2011, this rapidly growing city was fourth but today it has jumped the que to second. Delhi is one of the oldest cities of India, and is home to the Parliament and Supreme Court of India.Delhi rose from the fourth largest city in the world, to the second! The population of this city went up by more than five million people. With a population of about 29.3 million. Delhi’s NCT boundaries include Faridabad, Noida, Sonipat, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad known as Central National Capital Region which is the third-largest urban area according to the United Nations. Delhi is also the wealthiest city in India after Mumbai. It is home to several billionaires.
World’s Third Largest City – Shanghai, China
Back in 2011, Shanghai was the second largest city, but today it has dropped to third with an estimated population of 26.5 million people.
Shanghai has been the largest city in China for quite some time. Once just a fishing and textiles town, Shanghai grew quickly because of its port, and it is the world’s largest cargo port since 2005. Shanghai attracts millions of tourists every year, who flock to the city, which has got many attractions, with the City God Temple, the Oriental Pearl Tower, and many more. It is a major transport hub, with the busiest container port in the world. Shanghai gained recognition worldwide due to its trade and strong economic potential. During the First Opium War, a victory of the British over China forced China to open its foreign trade. The subsequent treaty of Nanking and the treaty of Whampoa allowed Shanghai to spread its trade all over the world. Shanghai is home to the Shanghai Stock Exchange, one of the largest stock exchanges in the world by Market Capitalization. Additionally, Shanghai has numerous Industrial, Economic, and Technological zones.
World’s Fourth Largest City – Sao Paolo, Brazil
Sao Paolo grew from the seventh largest population in 2011 to the 4th largest today. Sao Paulo is also known as Alpha City. It is the largest city in Brazil. The city has a strong influence in arts, finance, commerce and entertainment. Current population is about 21.9 million residents. It is the largest city in Brazil, and is named to honor Saint Paul. It has one of the largest helicopter fleets in the world. Sao Paulo is famous for its majestic skyscrapers.
World’s Fifth Largest City – Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico City is home to around 21.7 million people and they live over 2,137Km square area. The rate of population growth is lower compared to New Delhi at 0.6% annually. Mexico City is the fifth largest city in the world.
World’s Sixth Largest City – Cairo, Egypt
Cairo has a population of about 20.5 million residents.
World’s Seventh Largest City – Dhaka, Bangladesh
Dhaka is the seventh largest city in the world. It has been a commercial center since the 17th century. With a population of 20.2 million (from 13.5 a decade ago!). Dhaka is considered one of the most important cities of South Asia.
World’s Eighth Largest City – Mumbai, India
Mumbai has 20.1 million residents. It is the wealthiest city in India with more billionaires and millionaires than all the other cities of India combined. Mumbai is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Elephanta Caves, Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the city’s distinctive ensemble of Victory and Art Deco Buildings. Mumbai is the commercial, financial and entertainment capital of India and has several financial institutions such as RBI, the Bombay Stock Exchange, National Stock Exchange, And SEBI. Mumbai used to be known as Bombay.It is the entertainment capital of India, home to Bollywood and many architectural wonders.
World’s Ninth Largest City – Beijing, China
Back in 2011, Beijing was the 3rd largest city. Today in 2019 with a population of approximately 20 million it has dropped to the 9th largest cities in the world. Beijing is an important city in terms of business, politics, education, finance, economy, culture. Beijing is a megacity. It is home to the headquarters of China’s state-owned companies. It is also a major hub for the national highway, expressway, and high-speed rail networks. Beijing International Airport is the second busiest airport in the world. Beijing has seven UNESCO World Heritage sites – Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, Great Canal, Ming Tombs, Zhoukoudian.
World’s Tenth Largest City – Osaka, Japan
Osaka is home to around 19.2 million people in 2019. That number is growing by about 0.04 percent yearly, The total area of Osaka is mere 2,720 Km square and that means the city is pretty crowded. Osaka is 10th in the list of largest cities in the world.
Since leaving Turkey (and even while I lived there), I’ve watched a beautiful country on the verge of an amazing future start to dismantle itself, create sectarian conflicts, and become something ugly through extremist religion and ideology. What does that have to do with Reedsport, Oregon?
During the election of 2016 and the aftermath of that disaster- I watched this little town do something similar. A beautiful little place filled with good neighbors became a place where one kind of person was welcome and another kind wasn’t. But that comes later…
I found Reedsport, Oregon when I realized that I didn’t have enough or earn enough to find a house with a yard that wasn’t too far from the beach in California or Washington. The two areas I would have preferred to settle would have been the San Francisco Bay Area (extending east to Sacramento, North to Santa Rosa, and south to San Luis Obispo) or the area from Olympia, Washington to Bellingham, Washington. I just didn’t have the income or savings to rent a house in those areas and starting a business seemed unlikely given the startup costs.
So, I focused in between. Reedsport sits about 20-miles south of Florence, Oregon and even though it was in the same county as both Myrtle Creek and Canyonville – it was far from both. I found a nice little 3-bedroom house with a big back yard for $675/month. It was an older house, but it was near a good grade school and in a friendly neighborhood. Reedsport was mostly a retirement community but had a health food store, a good coffee shop, and a quirky vibe that I liked. It was a fishing town with the Umpqua River going through it and a big Elk preserve nearby. The Oregon Dunes extended into it on the coast and the little village of Winchester Bay was just a couple of miles from our house. I was in love with Reedsport, to be honest. It was a little slice of heaven.
Now, to be fair – there’s a lot of poverty in Reedsport. The education level is on the lower end of the spectrum. The winters are long and grey and rainy. And…people tended to be white, conservative, and a bit on the racist side – which wasn’t obvious at first (the racist part) but came out as we drew closer to electing a racist president.
My credit was good. Between Ebay and online work – I was earning more than enough to pay the rent. The landlord looked at my application and instantly approved it “Most people around here don’t have a credit score anywhere near that, ” she said. I was surprised – it wasn’t that good, really. Somewhere in the 700 range.
So we packed up our estate sale accumulations and moved from the squat house in Sacramento to a place with our names on the lease in Reedsport, Oregon. My wife took a job cleaning in a hotel and I started working for Banker’s Life Insurance – which didn’t suit me at all. I got certified, made a little money, and then said ‘fuck this’. Selling bad life insurance to senior citizens wasn’t something I could do. So, instead of that, I jumped back into buying and selling.
I opened a little antique shop on the main drag in Reedsport. My rent was $300/mo and I caught all the travelers driving down the Coastal 101 Freeway. I became a regular at all the estate sales (and garage sales) and soon began to run estate sales for other people (which is where the money really is). The little town paper ‘Coffee Talk’ announced it was shutting down and I began putting together an alternative. As soon as Coffee Talk sent out its last issue, I was at every advertiser they had offering a new paper Reedsport.info. I was able to create a website version and figured out how to print a weekly version, where to distribute it, and within a very short time – I was earning more from the ad revenue than I was making in my antique shop.
I needed a bigger shop and rented a big abandoned storefront in Reedsport’s dying downtown. There was not much there. The only book store in town was closing down and was right across the street from me. I bought his shelves, his fixtures, his neon ‘Books’ sign, and everything else I could get. It was fire sale prices. In my little newspaper, I was a big advocate for marijuana after Oregon legalized it. I suggested that Reedsport could enjoy a huge benefit from bringing in dispensaries and catering to weed tourists. This didn’t win me any fans. I had several advertisers threaten to pull out if I continued to make jokes about ‘Weedsport’ – so I toned it down.
On a whim, I decided to enter politics. I ran for Umpqua Port Commissioner, a county level post. I got nearly 40% of the vote without really doing anything. It was becoming increasingly clear that my ‘liberal California’ ways were not loved by most of the folks in Reedsport. My wife (thankfully) had left the hotel job and gotten a job as an educational assistant at the elementary school. She began the process of getting certified to work with special needs children. We were doing pretty good, actually. Our daughter was in kindergarten, our businesses (and her job) were earning us a nice income, a brewery had opened up across the street from my shop, and the little downtown was coming back to life. This was late 2015 and early 2016.
That’s when things started to get ugly. My wife is Muslim, technically, I converted so I am too, but I’m not a religionist on any level. First the Trump rhetoric started on the campaign trail. His hate talk towards Muslims activated people. His racist talk made people feel it was okay to be racist. I began having more and more old white men come into my shop, see that I was a small town white guy, and start saying hateful, mean, violent, and racist things about President Obama, about Muslims, and about immigrants, Mexicans, African-Americans, and Jewish people. They just assumed I was part of their club – I shut them down the best I could and generally raised the prices from where they might have been. Great thing with an antique shop is that your prices are generally set 200% above what you really want – I would only let these guys give me a large profit for the stuff they wanted. Their racism cost them.
I became hyper-alert and anxious because I was living in a town where my wife and my child were targets because they weren’t white or Christian. I didn’t need to worry about my 5 year old getting harassed for saying “Allah” in kindergarten, but that time was coming. I knew what small town bullying looked like. I watched with disbelief as Trump got more and more support. My fellow townspeople loved him! They actually carved chainsaw statues of him and put them up on the three roads coming into town. To me it screamed “We’re racist here!” One of the guys who worked for the state highway department began driving around with a huge confederate flag flying from the back of his pickup truck.
I was an early Bernie supporter. My “Feel the Bern” signs didn’t bother anyone too much though a couple of old guys felt the need to explain that I was supporting a ‘Jew Communist’ -but when Hillary got the nomination – the ugliness of 2016 really came out. “Hillary = WWIII” “Lock the Bitch Up” – these were actual signs I saw people put out in their yards or bumper stickers on cars. I was never a huge Hillary supporter, but of course I was going to vote for her because the alternative (Trump) was so much worse. There were a few signs that went up supporting her that I saw on my drive to work one day – on the drive home, they had been stomped, broken, or thrown in the river. This happened multiple times. I was still trying to do business in this town, so I didn’t put Hillary signs up in my shop – but I did start selling bumper stickers that said “Vote Neither in 2016 because WTF….NOOOOO!” – I would have made a killing selling Trump hats and stickers, but I refused.
The town was filled with Trump signs and Trump supporters. More and more old white people were saying things to me like “When he gets in there, the (N-word) are going to have to pay” or “He’s going to lock that (N-word) Obama up”. I lived it, on the ground as a white person at Trump ground zero – I know why they voted for him. People voted for Trump because they are racist. Period. You don’t vote for a racist because he is a good business person unless you are a racist. And by the way, he’s a terrible business person.
You know the story, Trump won. I had seen the dirty souls of the people around me. I no longer felt like my family was safe. I listed my shop and my newspaper for sale and hoped that a buyer would come along. That buyer did show up and right around the same time – our landlord informed us she was selling the house we had been renting. It was all the confirmation I needed.
I couldn’t leave fast enough. We closed the deal on the shop and paper, had a huge sell off garage sale at our house, and I packed a trailer and shipped it to Hawaii. Honolulu may not be perfect – but it’s filled with a diversity of people and racism isn’t a big problem like it is on the continent. Hawaii is the least violent place in America, and Hawaii voted 70+% against Trump. Plus, and this is true – Hawaii had always felt like it was home to me – I finally had enough money to get my family there and give us a start.
I made a quick trip to Honolulu, landed a job as an archaeologist, rented a little apartment – and then went back to Reedsport for the last time to pack up my family and bring them to Hawaii. In a way, this was the conclusion of the trip I’d started back in 2008 when I left Honolulu to see the world. I’d come full circle.
To be honest, the whole thing with Reedsport really broke my heart. I loved that little town. I loved the location, the outdoors, and the untapped potential. I liked living in a friendly small town (before Trump). We had a lot of friends there. Our businesses were doing good. I’m not sad that we came back to Hawaii – but I’m sad that things went they way they did. The fact that a government worker was allowed to drive around flying that confederate flag and the awful Trump statues proclaiming ignorance and racism – and making the families there who weren’t white, Christian, straight, or Republican feel like they weren’t welcome. Those racist old white dudes suddenly feeling like it was okay to throw the n-word around in public – all of it – it makes me sick to my stomach to even think about it. There are some great people in Reedsport. It’s a cute little place with a huge potential – but as much as I loved it – it wasn’t worth having my family in a situation where we were at the mercy of heavily armed bigots. On a strange note – the David statue has been converted to a Trump statue by the new owners of my old shop and now sits in front of their shop without the city offering any protest.
Incorporated in 1919 near the confluence of three rivers – the Umpqua, the Smith, and the Scholfield, the City of Reedsport is located on the beautiful Oregon Coast on Highways 101 and 38 on the banks of the Umpqua River – the largest river between the Sacramento and the Columbia. Located in the heart of the Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area, Reedsport is in close proximity to over 17 freshwater lakes and is just four miles from Winchester Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Reedsport is the home of the Umpqua Discovery Center a Natural and Cultural Interpretive Center. It has a population of about 4500 people.
Reedsport is located in Douglas County on the central Oregon coast at the intersection of Oregon Highway 38 and U.S. Highway 101. The City is approximately 195 miles south of Portland, 87 miles southwest of Eugene, 70 miles west of Roseburg, 25 miles north of Coos Bay, and 21 miles south of Florence.
Once we had my wife’s green card, I made a plan. It wasn’t a great plan, but it was a plan. I bought our plane tickets – me, wife, and baby. We were flying from Morocco to Dubai then to San Francisco. Using some travel contacts, I managed to get us a three night stay in Dubai at the Atlantis Resort – we were going to do the desert safari, visit the Burj Khalifa, and many other things. However, since Dubai has apparently had a problem with Moroccan residents not going back to Morocco – they require all Moroccan residents to have a return flight to Morocco. This was ridiculous as we were flying onward to the USA – but they wouldn’t budge – my wife would not be allowed to leave the airport unless we bought her a return ticket. Emirates allowed me to change the flight to a 10-hour layover and we missed our chance to do anything in Dubai except wander through the mall-like airport and look at the night lights shining where we couldn’t visit them.
My plan then involved landing in San Francisco where my sister had said we could stay for up to a month while we figured out housing, jobs, etc. Unfortunately, she was going through a nasty divorce and had moved into a security building with uptight rules and my brother and his family had come out to visit at the same time. We had a hotel for the first couple of nights and then tried to stay with her – but it was a small place, there were four small kids there and five adults. My plan was to find a job in a startup – to put my blogging, social media, writing, editing, and magazine publishing skills to work in the USA the same way I had in Turkey, Morocco, and Europe.
Instead, crazy culture shock, astounding jet lag, and dysfunctional family dynamics led us to Redding where not only did I not want to be, but we were very quickly made to feel not welcome at the other place we had been assured would ‘always have an open door for us’. I ran into an old high school friend that I’d always gotten along with. He told me how he and his girlfriend had been squatting in 2008 foreclosures in Sacramento for years. Honestly, my plans had not involved emigrating to America, demonstrating my dysfunctional family to my wife, and then squatting in foreclosed houses with my wife and infant child – but we didn’t really have a choice. Redding was a very unpleasant dead end. We couldn’t afford to rent in San Francisco because no one would rent to me without a job or a million in the bank. I figured we could squat in Sacramento, I could continue job hunting in San Francisco, and we would find a place to rent before we were evicted by law enforcement.
To be fair – it was a very nice house. My friends were going through a process where they were trying to legally claim the house by paying utilities, keeping the yard up, taking care of appearances etc. They were attempting to use loopholes in the legal system to take a house from the banks who had taken the house from someone else with loopholes. I helped to file some of the writs and papers. We were in the Arden Arcade neighborhood of Sacramento. It was a great neighborhood. We made friends, I looked for work, we had fun and enjoyed life there. I mowed the grass, we planted a little garden, and all in all – it was good. However, the uncertainty of the situation was hard on my little family.
I turned to how I always made money in the past – writing, buying & selling things on craigslist, through classifieds, reselling books from garage sales, and then I started to realize there was a lot of cash being left on the table at the many estate and yard sales in Sacramento. I became a professional picker and I did good at it. I educated myself on what sold and what didn’t, I learned about antiques, collectibles, furniture, gems, jewelry, watches, and art. I began buying and selling a lot. But not enough to pay the first, last, and security deposit on a house in Sacramento (let alone San Francisco) – It was going to be $8000 to move into a place – we’d moved to the USA with right around $5000 after all the flights, the expenses of the green card, and more. I just didn’t have it. I applied for multiple tech jobs in San Francisco and Sacramento but the salaries were always less than my expenses would be. I couldn’t do it.
I was making enough with Ebay, Amazon books, and garage sales – that I figured out that I could afford to move to the cheapest town on the Oregon Coast, rent a decent house, and have a pretty good life for my family without being too far from the ocean – which, for some reason, is important to me. I found a three bedroom house in Reedsport, Oregon just in time – the squat was going to have to be abandoned. The legal maneuvers had failed.
We’d accumulated a lot of stuff from estate sales and garage sales. I rented a trailer and we filled it up and headed up to our new life in Reedsport, Oregon. We squatted in Sacramento from April to August of 2013. It wasn’t part of my plan at all – but I’m grateful that we found someplace to live when my entire plan and backup plans had completely fallen apart.
Sacramento is the capital of California – which, were it not a part of the USA, would be the fifth largest economy in the world ahead of France, the UK, and India. Without California, the U.S. would fall to just about the same GDP as China – so, Sacramento is a pretty important city. Founded in 1808 by Spanish Missionaries – the city has about a half million people. It rose to importance when John Sutter found gold there in 1848 – Sutter was a Mexican-Swiss citizen and his find led to the eventual stealing of California from Mexico by the United States. It’s interesting to note that California was an independent nation “The Bear Republic” from 1846-1848 before Mexico re-established control and then the U.S. claimed it. For three months each year, Sacramento is the sunniest place on the planet – and during those months – it’s best to hide inside with air-conditioning. Old Town Sacramento is an area of the city that has preserved many of the buildings from the 1850s and 1860s. It’s a fun tourist area. Sacramento is filled with parks, universities, museums, and a growing tech scene – but the primary business in Sac is and always will be one thing – government. Sacramento is home to the Sacramento Kings basketball team and the Sacramento Republic Football Club.
As a child I had to go through Portland a couple of times while taking Greyhound Buses from Myrtle Creek to see my grandfather in Tacoma and then in high school I rode with a friend who used to drive up to Portland from Redding to buy pounds (you know what I’m talking about and if you don’t then never mind). So I didn’t have a great impression of Portland. Bus stations and bad elements.
When I moved there from Florence, most of my good friends from Bellingham and a couple of them from Redding had moved there. One of my best friends was living in a van in a neighborhood between where two of my other friends rented houses. I moved into the neighborhood with my VW. It was pretty rad. A bunch of my friends were musicians and we had frequent jam sessions and drinking bouts. I got a job tending bar at a pretty funny gay bar in Southeast Portland. If I had been gay, my love life would have been busy…but as a straight guy living in a van, I still did alright.I was looking for a place to rent but didn’t have to hurry as it was only September and Portland was laid back and cool. This was a pretty radical city and nobody worried much about George W. Bush as it was obvious he was a one term president. We drank, we made music, we built shit on computers, we had fun. Then it was September 11th, 2001 and everything changed. We all gathered at my friends’ Tony and Ray’s place and watched with horror – we knew it was going to mean war. I went to Fred Meyer and bought some spray paint – I painted my sheet to say “No Retaliation. Enough Dead. Drop Bread not Bombs”
I hung it up next to the freeway and then parked some distance away to see what people’s reactions would be. A couple of guys in big trucks stopped and ripped my sign up. I understood their fear and anger, but over the next weeks watching the American flags get waved, seeing the ‘Merica’ mentality take root, and understanding that the open minded and progressive 90’s were never coming back ripped my soul apart. I saw ignorance and racism bubbling to the surface. I wanted no part of it.
I bought a ticket to Hawaii and parked my VW van in my mom’s back yard. I had $180 in my pocket. I’d never been to Hawaii but I figured I could find a way to make it work and I hoped that with a population that wasn’t dominated by white people, that maybe the unhealthy patriotism sweeping the mainland wouldn’t be as oppressive and ugly.
Two years later, I came back to Portland following a flight attendant I thought I’d fallen in love with on Oahu – I got a job as a stock broker and rented a room in Ray’s house for six months – but that wasn’t the life for me. I found a publisher for Rough Living:Tips and Tales of a Vagabond and quit my job as a stock broker. I was good at it, but my breaking point came when our analysts told us that it would be easy to sell Krispy Kreme stock as we moved into war with Iraq because people were freaked out and needed comfort food. I moved on doing what I called my ’50 Book Tour’ – fifty was the number of author copies my publisher had given me. I loved Portland – it was cheap, had great food, a hip and progressive community of smart people, and plenty to do. The winters in Oregon however bummed me out. I drove up to Bellingham where I sold books, did author talks, and then took a job on a salmon boat so I could earn enough to get back to Hawaii.
Portland is the largest city in Oregon and the 25th largest in the USA. It has a population of about 650,000 people. It is divided up into four quadrants Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, and Southwest. Portland is a city of cool hipster neighborhoods and great food. It was once a blue collar port town with a reputation for being a haven for organized crime but in the 1960s a bunch of hippies and counter-culture types began to move in. During the 1990s and 2000s, it started to become a bit of a high tech hub – with spillover from Seattle and Silicon Valley. Intel is based in Portland. Portland sits at the point where the Columbia and Willamette Rivers converge and is characterized by many bridges. Portland is home to the world’s largest bookstore Powell’s Books.
I first went to Florence, Oregon in 1999 just before the excitement of the World Trade Organization Protests in Seattle. My hippie aunt and uncle had a cabin on a remote lake there. It was summer, the weather was perfect, and I stayed in the little boat house at the end of their dock. It was a true hippie heaven with a composting toilet (on the end of the dock) and the gentle lapping of the waves against the dock to put me to sleep.
A few years later, they had moved on and I had just returned from an epic adventure in Asia where I climbed sacred mountains, walked the Great Wall of China, learned to scuba dive, and had many more extraordinary adventures. A ticket to Canada was cheaper than a ticket to the USA so I flew into Canada, hitchhiked down the West Coast stopping to see friends in Bellingham, Seattle, and Portland and then finally made it to my mother’s house in Redding where my VW bus had been sitting in her back yard.
I quickly left Redding and began to make my way up the coast thinking to go back to Seattle or Bellingham – but my bus had other ideas. It broke down in Florence. I didn’t have any money. Okay, I’ll be honest – it didn’t break down, it ran out of gas and I didn’t have any money to fill the tank. So I had to get a job. My hippie relatives were no longer there, but I’ve never been afraid to work so I looked for a help wanted sign and applied for the first job I saw.
I was a dishwasher at a shit-hole restaurant called Fisherman’s Wharf in a small Oregon coast town. I slept in my van and sometimes went out drinking with the locals. A regular at the Wharf offered to rent me her single wide trailer for $350/month. I went for it. It was in a decent trailer park with a pool and a bunch of seniors living in their RVs. They liked starting jigsaw puzzles on the tables around the pool…and I liked finishing them.
I liked Florence. It was trashy in an Oregon Coast kind of way, but it had a hippie commune vibe. Turned out that a strange guy named John Patric had set up shop there after World War II. He wrote a book called Yankee Hobo in the Orient. I decided it was time to write about my adventures as well, so I took my stories from Asia and the Northwest and incorporated them into what had been “Our Time is Our Own” and came up with “Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond”
I sent out my stories to every magazine I could and I sent out my manuscript to every publisher I could find. I tried to emulate my heroes and hang my rejection notices as badges of honor, but ultimately, I figured there must be something wrong. Maybe I’d do better up in Portland where many of my friends had migrated to from Bellingham and Seattle.
I collected my last check from the Wharf, filled my gas tank, and moved out of my single wide. I said goodbye to my puzzle starting friends in the RV Park, the Oregon Dunes, the Siuslaw River, and the Lane County Historical Association. I moved Northward to Portland. It was late summer in 2001. The world seemed like it was going to hell in a hand basket – but at least we were aware of it. George W. Bush had stolen the election but at least he wasn’t being given a free hand to reshape the country. We were still free…
Florence is a cute coastal city on Route 101 in Oregon between Coos Bay and Newport. It is home to the largest sand dunes in North America and surrounded by beautiful lakes, the Pacific Ocean, and plenty of pine trees. The closest major city is Eugene, Oregon. Florence has a population of about 8500 people. It has some great thrift and antique stores and a cute waterfront town. Sadly, the Fisherman’s Wharf is no longer there…but there is now a great farmers market weekly.
I loved living in Seattle. I had been there for the protests that shut down the WTO in 1999. Seattle has great art, music, food, museums, and is surrounded by some of the most epic nature of any city in the world. I probably would have stayed there if the start up I was working for, TechPlanet, hadn’t of been an early crash and burn victim of the dot com crash in 2000. When I first started working there, I was commuting and after that couch surfing during the work week with friends in Shoreline and coworkers in Greenwood. Techplanet sent a bunch of us to Houston to take a crash course and become network engineers and all around tech gurus and after that three of us from the same cohort and office rented a house in Green Lake. We had stock options, we had good salaries, we were working in one of the fastest growing and best funded dot-com startups of that era – and then the venture capital dried up and one day we went to work and the corporate office in Menlo Park, California had simply closed. Suddenly, there weren’t all that many jobs in tech and those with more experience snapped up the jobs at Microsoft and Amazon.
One of my room mates became an insurance salesman, another one teamed up with some of the other guys from our old office to try to build a consulting firm, and I bought a VW van, got a job as a community organizer with ACORN (Association of Communities Organizing for Reform Now) and began attending a lot of anti-capitalist, anti-government rallies and meetings. ACORN trained me in identifying discontent, organizing community members, and working towards legislative and social change (they also trained President Obama in this). I was working in poor communities like White Center and South Seattle and I was mainly working with people who were the victims of predatory lenders. Their neighborhoods were being gentrified and they were being preyed on by companies like Countrywide Mortgage. It was agonizing and horrifying work. It was terrible to see what was being done. These were the early days of what would lead to the Great Recession of 2008 and the robbers were feasting on the flesh of the poor with impunity. I suggested radical action – too radical for ACORN – specifically, a neighborhood group I’d organized in South Seattle said they didn’t want the gentrification to continue AND they wanted the police to have more presence in the community – I suggested they break a window in the new local Starbucks every night. ACORN asked me to leave.
I moved out of my house, moved into my bus and began writing what would eventually become my first book Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond. The first title was Our Time is Our Own. My goal was to move into my bus and demonstrate and document a viable alternative to what I had begun referring to as ‘the money chase’. I lived in my VW van, did gig work on the side including ghost writing, web design, tile work, yard work, dumpster diving, book selling, and whatever else I could find. I endeavored to learn how to ‘work the system’ like ‘the system was working everyone’ and I used everything I could figure out – food stamps, unemployment, food banks, soup kitchens. I became a full time activist working with newspaper strikers, Food Not Bombs, and every other cause I felt sympathy for. It was a lot of work to not have a job. By winter, I was exhausted and it was getting too cold to sleep in a bus. In summer and spring it had been easy to find girls to cuddle with who wanted to explore my alternative lifestyle – but in winter – I was cold and alone most of the time.
One day in December of 2000, I drove up to Bellingham to see friends. I stopped at a Native American Casino along the way. I hit a jackpot on the slot machine of $1700. On the way back to Seattle the next day, I hit another jackpot of $1900. I bought a ticket to China and applied for a job teaching English north of Beijing. They offered me the job. I flew out of Seattle at 10:45 am on February 28, 2001. The Nisqually Earthquake hit ten minutes later. It was a 6.8 m earthquake and shut down the airport! It was quite a send off!
Seattle is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest of the United States and while it isn’t the political capitol of Washington, it is the cultural capitol. With a total metropolitan population of about 4 million Seattle has a bit of everything you could want – unless you want more than two months of sunshine a year.
Seattle has an amazing jazz and arts scene. It is the home to Amazon, Costco, Microsoft, the Seattle Seahawks, the Seattle Mariners, Starbucks, Nordstrom and many other big businesses and teams. I’m grateful to have been there when the Sonics still played there.
As I mentioned, things in Bellingham were going pretty well for me in 1998 and life was good. I had traded my TV and VCR for a broken down VW bus through a thing we did at 92.9 FM called Tradio… I got the bus running and outfitted it for an adventure. I moved out of my house, bought a ferry ticket to Alaska, and set out.
It was May and the journey up the inside passage was incredible. I’ll write about it sometime in the future. When I arrived in Juneau, my plan was to live in the bus, find a job, and learn everything I could about Alaska. My uncle owned a restaurant (The Hangar on the Wharf) in Juneau and I stopped by to say hello and see if he knew anyone hiring. I didn’t know him well, but he proved to be my favorite family member (besides my siblings) – no offense to anyone else in my family, but he was the first person I’d met in my family who actually seemed to get me.
He landed me a job working at his girlfriend’s knife shop. I found an amazing spot to set up camp out at Eagle Glacier but after about a week of freezing and a particularly terrifying night when I had a group of bears circling around my VW van. It was me and my dog Shakra at that point – she was blue heeler and timber wolf. Small but bold. She was a great frisby dog and a great friend. In any event, after that night, I realized I needed to rent an apartment.
I found a little place above the Alaskan Hotel (the only place you can drink an Alaskan with an Alaskan in the Alaskan). To pay for the apartment, I needed a second job so I got a bartending job at the top of the Mt. Roberts Tramway. About two weeks into that job, a bunch of movie people including the director John Sayles came into my bar. They were making a movie called ‘Limbo’ in Juneau and their craft services director had just quit. They liked me (because I’m a likable bartender) and offered me the job. The pay was better and the hours were longer and it was a chance to break into Hollywood. I’ve always been a storyteller and I dreamed about writing a screenplay and seeing it produced.
It was an amazing summer. I’ve had some great summers, but that one – truly mind blowing in terms of people, romance, fun, adventure – Juneau is a very special place. Maybe I should have stayed – but I didn’t. Alaska is a hard drinking place and some of the movie people I was working with – they were hard partiers – especially my good buddy and assistant Danny – and to be completely honest, I’d been suffering from PTSD and using alcohol to deal with it for years – I went off the rails in binge drinking. At the wrap party, I drank too much and ‘gave it back’ to the people who had been the worst to me on the set – if you’ve ever worked on a movie set, Craft Service is the bottom of the hill that shit rolls down – a couple of people, including John Sayles wife (a producer) and the 1st Assistant Director, had been absolutely awful to me. I got drunk and told them off. John Sayles is notorious for keeping the same people around him and inviting those who work well back to his next films. I was never invited.
For some reason, I sold my VW van, moved out of my apartment, and then caught the ferry back to Bellingham with my dog. When I got there – I found out that my grandmother had just died. She and I were very close. She had rescued us many times from our hellish childhood in Myrtle Creek. I was devastated. I didn’t know what to do. It was October and I booked a ticket to England with the idea of seeing the Isle of Skye in Scotland where her family had come from.
Juneau is the capital of Alaska. It is located in Southeast Alaska on the Alaska panhandle fronting the Gastineau Channel. Like, Honolulu, it is a state capital that connects to no other states by road. Juneau has about 31,000 residents and an abundance of natural and outdoor resources. They say that the quickest way to make a million dollars in Juneau is to start with 2-million. It’s an expensive place to live and relies on the industries of mining, fishing, oil, and government for its economy. Juneau is a major stop for cruise ships and the downtown is sometimes flooded with plastic bag poncho wearing tourists from the ships. It rains frequently in the warmer months and the days are long. Juneau is one of the only places I’ve ever been where I was drinking beer with friends on the beach in the sunshine and then realized it was 3 a.m. and the sun hadn’t yet gone down. Juneau is an amazing place filled with opportunity and a different kind of people that embody hard work, hard play, and doing things in their own way.
Thinking of Bellingham, Washington always makes me happy. I’m not going to lie and tell you that my life there was always happy, but for me, Bellingham was a magical place. I rolled in during the worst blizzard in decades. I wasn’t worried, I had a huge 4×4 and had first learned to drive on mountain roads in blizzard conditions up in Big Bear Lake.
I’ll never forget those moments on January 2nd, 1996, of driving up I-5 and seeing frozen waterfalls on the side of the highway as I blasted Rusted Root and the Grateful Dead on my far too expensive car stereo system. My dog was next to me, everything I owned was in the back of the truck, and the world was good. I’d left my terrible childhood memories, my troubled times in the Marine Corps, and all the drama with the girl in Raleigh behind. I’d been the one pushing for Bellingham when we were talking about moving together. She’d wanted either Boulder or Las Cruces – this was my town.
My dark blue 1988 full size Ford Bronco with big ass tires had brought me through the Rockies and across the continent. I’d passed through and by Redding, Canyonville, Myrtle Creek, and Tacoma without stopping. I had no idea where I would live, what work I would do, or what would happen – but Bellingham would be home for the next five years except a couple of small breaks in Juneau, Alaska and London, England in 1998.
I got a coffee at a hippie coffee house on High Street and began looking for work and a place to live using The Echo – a free classified newspaper – it was like Craigslist but in newspaper form. I quickly fell in love with KISM 92.9 FM Independent Rock – the most amazing radio station I’d ever listened to. Great DJs, amazing announcers, absolutely amazing music programming, and superb fun shows. The morning show DJ, Dave Walker, would end every show with his tagline “You live in the coolest place in the world, go out and enjoy it.”
He wasn’t lying. Bellingham has everything. The San Juan Islands, Mt. Baker, the Northern Cascades, the Alaska Ferry system, great music and art scenes, Western Washington University, amazing literary talent, beautiful gardens and forests, spectacular beaches, and four glorious seasons.
Those first months in Bellingham weren’t easy. No one wanted a new roommate with a dog but finally, I found a house full of heroin addicts who rented me a room. I got a job at a saw mill in Ferndale, Washington. The junkies were too much for me – it was a constant threat situation and it came down to either living with the junkies and having my dog or finding my dog a new home so that I could find a new home. Using The Echo, I found a cool guy with a cool family who loved my dog. It was heartbreaking, but it was my only option. After that, I found a very cool roommate situation in the hippie burg of Fairhaven on the south side of Bellingham. The guy who adopted my dog helped me to find a job with the company he painted for. I escaped from the mill and the heroin house. It was a tough decision, but it was the right one.
As a painter I made a bunch of new friends. I also made new friends through my new roommate, Alyssa. Every day, I listened to 92.9 FM while I was working. One day, I told my co-worker – I’m going to get a job at that radio station. At a blues festival hosted by the station, I saw my chance. I met the programming director, a guy named Ken Richards who was also one of the DJs – I cornered him in the beer tent and told him “I want to work for 92.9 FM, I don’t care what it takes – I’ll clean toilets if I have to.” He gave me his card and told me to call him the next week. I did. He offered me a job as an producer/intern on ‘The Morning Deal’ – I would have to quit my painting job and it was a serious pay cut, but I took it.
Over the next year, I managed to take every job that came available. I took the late night DJ slots, became the full time producer of The Morning Deal, did part time work for the station’s engineer cleaning the garage, cutting brush, wiring new equipment in – anything – then I took a job as a commercial copy writer. Radio didn’t pay great, but I loved it. That guy who I’d heard when I first rolled into town “You live in the coolest place in the world, so go out and enjoy it” – he became one of my best friends. I started writing a weekly column for The Echo called Rambling Man. Between the radio and The Echo, I was suddenly kind of famous. I had also enrolled at Whatcom Community College. My life was full and beautiful. I met a great girl and we began seeing each other.
The girl was great but she had two children from previous relationships and I wasn’t ready to be anyone’s dad. Then, one day, I met a girl I fell head over heels for – she was all I could think about for years. I pursued her with a single minded determination that utterly failed. All she ever wanted from me was my friendship, but I wanted more. That desire (the root of all suffering) destroyed me, destroyed my ego, and left me disjointed and dis-satisfied. It left me completely unsettled despite my very cool life, great friends, minor fame, and decent income. I wanted her and since I couldn’t have her, I wanted more from every other aspect of my life.
In 1998, I bought a 1976 VW bus, left my job at the station and moved out of my apartment. I decided to go to Alaska and see if I could shake the sickness that had enveloped my soul. It didn’t work. I sold the bus and went to London, England to pursue something else – but it didn’t work. My desire for her was like a fungus that had grown inside me and wouldn’t let me do anything else. In both places (and in Bellingham) opportunities were presented to me like golden apples – but I could see nothing but her. I kept coming back, trying to impress her, trying to win her. It didn’t work.
Back in Bellingham, I started a magazine and co-founded an early internet startup. Once again, there were plentiful opportunities presented to me in work, in life, and in love – but she was all I saw or wanted. It was a sickness, this love and obsession – and whenever I would find myself healing from it – then she would appear – at a party, a call out of the blue, in the street, at a coffee shop, or showing up at my door. She wanted me in her life and yet, the one thing she didn’t want was a romantic relationship with me. It was all I wanted. Finally, I realized, I just had to get away from her. She wasn’t doing it on purpose, but she had eaten my soul.
I took a tech job at a start-up in Seattle. The first months involved a four-hour commute each day from Bellingham but eventually, I rented a house in Green Lake with new co-workers. The girl would show up still or she would call me – but I was healing – I was recognizing that I needed to end the friendship and put some emotional distance between us. It still amazes me that she never wanted me – and I still wonder what the world might have been like if she had. She’s the one part of Bellingham that doesn’t make me happy when I remember that place.
In any event, that’s what led to me leaving Bellingham, abandoning my startup, and changing my life – again.
Bellingham is a treasure. It sits 20 miles south of the Canadian Border and 90 miles north of Seattle. It is sandwiched between the San Juan Islands and the North Cascade Range of mountains. There are about 92,000 people who live in Bellingham and it is the northernmost city in the USA with a population of more than 50,000. There are numerous lakes, streams, waterfalls, and great hiking, mountain biking, and outdoor recreation of all kinds in the area. Summers don’t get hotter than about 90 Fahrenheit and winters can get incredibly cold – well below zero if caught in a Nor’easter. The population of Bellingham has nearly doubled since the time I arrived there – I’ve heard that Fairhaven is now more of a retirement community than a hippie burg – which is too bad. As a side note – I’ve just looked at the cost of buying or renting a family home in Bellingham due in no small part to nostalgia in writing this – it turns out that the increase in population has led to a housing shortage – good old B’ham, which used to be cheap – is now way out of range for nearly everyone with rents nearly as high as in Honolulu and Seattle…All I have to say is it’s a damn shame…
Raleigh, North Carolina was the first place in my life that I ever chose to live. Everywhere before had been chosen by my parents or chosen by the Marine Corps. When I ended my active duty in 1994, I looked around the USA for where I wanted to live. It was scary. I thought about moving back to California, but frankly, my experience with Redding, Big Bear Lake, and the bases in San Diego had soured me on my home state. I look back and realize that’s a bit of a shame as 1994 was a great time be in California.
Instead, I looked to the only real city I had ever spent considerable time in. My brother and his wife had moved to Raleigh while I was still on active duty. I loved taking leave and visiting with them. At this point in my life, Raleigh seems like a small city or a big town – but at that point – it was amazing! There were bagel shops and Middle Eastern markets! There were bars and coffee shops and business districts. There were hotels that were more than two stories high and there were universities…and there were girls. Oh, goodness yes, there were so many girls. One of the worst things about being stationed in Jacksonville, North Carolina was that there were 50,000 male Marines all prowling around for the same 3,000 girls. I’m not even close to six foot but most of those guys were – and during my entire time stationed at New River Air Station, I only went on a dozen dates – and only three or four followups. So, Raleigh? It looked like heaven to me. There were educated people, entrepreneurs, a variety of religions and religious experiences – it was nothing short of awesome.
I moved in with my brother and his wife while I waited for one of my good buddies from the USMC to complete his enlistment. I got a job at the tallest hotel in Raleigh working on the top floor at the bar where all the State Senators and Representatives hung out when the legislature was in session. My brother and his wife had opened a furniture store and were renting a big Victorian house – the landlady was a real piece of work and one day when I got home from work my brother told me “Pack up, we’re moving.” We moved into the warehouse they had rented for their furniture. For the next month or so there was only a thin sheet of plywood between where I slept and the tire warehouse next door.
Finally, my buddy got out and we rented a townhouse. He got a job in the same restaurant and we lived it up! I enrolled at North Carolina State, I joined the Rugby club, bought an old motorcycle, and life was really good. My brother and his wife bought a house and my friend Mike and I went to raves, clubbed, met girl after girl after girl, worked in the ‘Top of the Tower’ and brought home good money as bartenders. It was a golden year…and then a girl came along. I met her, she sat at my bar and I fell into her eyes – she said she would wait for me to finish work and we would go out. Mike came in, he was already off work – he suggested they go somewhere else and meet me later – and that was it. They were a thing and I was resentful as hell.
When they broke up, I didn’t waste any time, I swooped in and scooped her up. She was still sleeping in the same house but in a different room and honestly, no friendship can survive that shit. Mike moved out and the whole thing became sort of ugly – she and I started planning a move to the West Coast – somewhere. We poured over maps and books and guides – we narrowed it down to three places: Boulder, Colorado or Las Cruces, New Mexico or Bellingham, Washington. I was sort of like “Fuck it, I lost my best friend but I have this awesome girl I’m in love with” except – part of the reason she wanted to move to Boulder, it turned out, was because she was involved with another guy who had moved there and as things got more complicated with us, she pined for him. Suddenly, I was completely fucking lost.
I started spending more than I was earning, maxxed out my credit cards, bought the huge 4×4 truck of my dreams, and packed everything I owned (including my dog, Scooby Doo) and moved out of my apartment, dropped out of school, sold my motorcycle and set off for Bellingham, Washington.
Raleigh, North Carolina
Raleigh is the capital of the state of North Carolina. It has about half a million people in it and is the home of North Carolina State University and the Research Triangle Park (which also includes nearby Durham and Chapel Hill – the combined area has about 2 million people). Raleigh is an amazing place. There are a lot of very smart people living there and as such there are great book stores, art galleries, shows, exhibitions, museums and other interesting things to see and do. Raleigh is a beautiful city with a rich history and a vibrant cultural heritage.
I joined the Marines to see the world and escape Redding, California – unfortunately, they only showed me bootcamp in San Diego, California – Marine Combat Training in San Onofre, Californi – Air Traffic Control School in Millington Tennessee – and then they shuffled me to Jacksonville, North Carolina. The good news is I never had to go to war but the bad news was that the places they showed me were worse than the places I was trying to get away from. I was in Jacksonville for a nearly three and a half years. I was posted at the New River Air Station as an Air Traffic Controller. I achieved the rank of Sergeant, the positions of Supervisor, Trainer, and Crew Chief, and while I was stuck in the anus of North Carolina – I had the opportunity to explore what is otherwise, a pretty beautiful state. North Carolina has the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Outer Banks, Asheville, Boone, Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Wilmington, and much more – but Jacksonville had nothing but shitty strip bars, too many Marines, and the people who relied on them for an economy. I can recommend nothing about Jacksonville, North Carolina except not going there. Since I was nineteen but allowed to drink on the base, I didn’t have a life off the base, and there was virtually nothing to do on the base – I developed a fairly severe drinking problem. The reason nineteen year olds aren’t allowed to drink in society is because they aren’t old enough to do it responsibly – so thank you, Uncle Sam, for giving me a way to waste all my money, destroy my health, and not deal with life while I was stuck in a shithole.
Jacksonville, North Carolina
Jacksonville has a population of approximately 70,000 – the average age is 22.8 years which is because of the tens of thousands of Marines based at Camp Geiger, Camp Lejeune, New River Air Station, and nearby Cherry Point.
I would love to say that I had lived in San Diego, but Marine Corps Boot Camp and Marine Corps Combat Training don’t really classify as living – and that was all the experience I had in San Diego and San Onofre. I’d left Redding by joining the Marines (which again, for the record, was a stupid decision – if I would have had good guidance from the adults around me – I would have gone to college at Stanford or Berkley). The Marines had been impressed by my test scores and promised me a career in aviation. I’d always dreamed of being an astronaut and becoming a pilot seemed like a good step in that direction.
Unfortunately, I’d been misled. You needed to be an officer to become a pilot and after bootcamp, my choices were to either become an enlisted navigator or an air traffic controller. During the flight swim qualification, the beefy monster I was trying to demonstrate rescue technique on decided he should really ham it up as a drowning victim and dragged us both under. That left air traffic control (ATC). ATC school was in Millington, Tennessee – near Memphis. I’d been told that because of my scores, I would be assigned to one of the bases I’d chosen on my ‘dream sheet’ but that was a lie. Instead of being sent to Okinawa, Japan or Kaneohe, Hawaii or even San Onofre, California – the USMC sent me to Millington,Tennessee and Jacksonville, North Carolina. These were the only places I saw during my time in the service and frankly, both of them were cesspools.
I liked Memphis. I loved the blues bars, Beale Street, and the whole black southern vibe of the place. Millington, on the other hand, was a typical military pit filled with strip bars, tattoo shops, pawn shops, and other businesses that appeal to 18-20 year old men who are away from home for the first time – as well as the predators that prey on them. Millington was filled with hustlers, scamsters, sharks, and criminal elements preying on the military. I got my first fake ID in Millington, I was 19 and about 5’7″ – pretty obviously male. The ID said I was 24, female, and 6’3″ – but it worked everywhere I went.
I did what you might expect in Millington. I was robbed once in Millington and I got jumped and beaten by a group of angry guys on a corner in Memphis once. My crime was being an obvious military guy, by himself waiting for friends to show up. Memphis gave me a lifelong love of the blues and a taste for soul food and Southern barbecue. I lived there for a bit over four months.
I can’t really say very much about Millington. The base closure and realignment act of 1993 changed the base and I’m sure the town is different now as well. If I would have enlisted a few years later, my ‘A School’ would have been in Pensacola, Florida – which is a much more desirable location. It was in Millington that I first learned the term ‘Hobo Jungle’ – it was one of the places forbidden for us military personnel to go – the bushes where the hoboes drank. Millington was a transient camp in the 1930s during the great depression and apparently the hobo jungles never went away.
I didn’t go straight from Myrtle Creek, Oregon to Redding, California. Instead, I went back to Big Bear Lake where I lived with my father for a little less than two years – he wasn’t a suitable parent for anyone – let alone a kid who had suffered through the hell that I’d been through in Oregon – so it didn’t really work out. He was still living and loving his rock star lifestyle. He was in bands, had girlfriends, bought a boat, had a nice house on the lake, bought a corvette, disappeared for days at a time (and once came back from Vegas with a new wife – which lasted a couple of weeks). He didn’t have the attention span nor the patience to be the father I needed and as a result I was allowed to fall into company that led me astray. By the time he noticed that I was running around with criminal youth, it was too late for him to do anything about it – we fought and I ran away from home several times. I bounced around from place to place – eventually moving in with one of the girlfriends he’d dumped along the way. She was sweet and while she had her own problems, she was the first adult I’d known in years who acted like a parent.
Eventually, my mom escaped from her monstrous husband and came back to Big Bear. She quickly found a new younger husband. He was a solid and good guy who had no idea what he was getting into – but he stuck with it and somehow made it all work. My sister lived with our grandmother at this point and my brother had gone his own way. After they had been married for more than a year, I moved in with my mom and her new husband. At about this point, they decided to move to Redding, California. All the way on the other end of the state.
There are many people who love Redding. I’m not one of them. It was hot, the town was filled with tweekers, and I was an angry 16, 17, and 18 year old when I lived there. I graduated from Shasta High School and on the advice of my step-father joined the Marines and got out of Redding as quickly as I could. I’d gotten in some trouble with alcohol at the homecoming game. My overworked public defender suggested that the judge would go easier if I was enlisted in the military. I took her advice and joined the branch my step-father had been in. It was a stupid thing to do – I should have enrolled in Stanford and moved to the Bay Area – I was smart enough, but not smart enough, if you get my drift.
Looking back, a lot of my anger came from other places and the truth is – Redding was pretty good to me. I was dating cheerleaders and had some great quality friends, if anything, my issues were that I chose to spend time with other people who were serious losers – I was surrounded by drugs, guns, and violence. On weekends, we would all drive around downtown Redding to meet up, find parties, and find trouble. It was called ‘The Cruise’ and it was outlawed sometime later in the 1990s.
Redding was the first place I saw a person killed – I was at a party and a local gang called ‘The Winds’ showed up looking for a guy ( I didn’t know him – he was a drifter wandering through). They found him at the party and beat him to death with bottles (I presume he died because I can’t imagine anyone surviving that), they then put his body in a blanket and threw it in the back of a truck and drove off. I saw all of this while hiding in a slatted door closet with the girl who lived in the house. I never saw a news story about it – so maybe he didn’t die, but at the time, I was certain I had just witnessed a murder. We all had – there were at least ten people who saw it – but when the police showed up, none of us wanted to be the one to point their finger at the gang members – we’d just seen what would happen if we did.
I left Redding shortly after that and I never looked back though I have visited my mom from time to time over the past thirty years.
Redding is a city surrounded by the wonders of nature. Drive in almost any direction and you are sure to find something mind blowing. Mt. Shasta , Mt. Lassen, Shasta Lake, the Sacramento River, Whiskeytown Lake, the Trinity Alps, Burney Falls, Shasta Caverns and much more. Like many of the towns I lived in growing up, Redding sits on Interstate 5 (I-5). It has a population of about 90,000 and was originally called Poverty Flats. Redding has a rich mining and timber harvesting history and as such – fell into hard times in the 80s and 90s when those industries declined. It has never really recovered, though it has tried. There are a number of prisons that surround Redding and this contributes to the economy – also, many of the prisoners stay in the area when they are released of furloughed and sometimes their families move to Redding while they are incarcerated.
Temperatures in Redding often push the 120 degrees Fahrenheit mark and locals are smart to spend time in the Sacramento River or the area’s many lakes.