Not Your Usual Travel Advice

anthony bourdain

Quote by Anthony Bourdain from Kitchen Confidential

If you’re a fan of Anthony Bourdain like I am, you’ve got to respect someone who’s seen some miles, including some harrowing moments when suddenly he was trying to flee with his life.

Here’s the original article – http://www.esquire.com/lifestyle/news/a24932/anthony-bourdain-how-to-travel

..and you’ve got to figure that he knows what he’s talking about.

Having done the whole “it’s not just a job, it’s an adventure thing” with the Navy, I’ve had the blessing / curse of seeing the world both by choice and by circumstance.

So, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and own experiences with Uncle Tony’s travel advice –

Right away, Mr. Bourdain starts with advice to dress for the role. Getting through airports security is key to starting off your trip on a good note. Believe me, you don’t want to struggle with what you’re wearing – having to turn over that prized wedding gift pocket knife or losing that iPod in the security shuffle.

Oh, and yes, comfortable shoes are a big part of this, because never mind the need to put them in the security bin with your other items, your feet will swell. The longer the flight, the more you will wish you had clown shoes!

No matter how much you luggage you check in – what you put in your carry-on is essential, both for access during the fight, and let’s face it.. the more you travel, the more likely the airlines will lose your luggage. If you’re lucky it’ll be for a day or so; if not so much.. well, what you have in your carry-on may be all you have until they return your luggage or you buy replacements.

As Mr. Bourdain mentions, my iPad stays with me – between the audiobooks, Kindle app, music and videos.. oh, and a few offline games (let’s face it – wifi is great but not still available everywhere) – Angry Birds anyone? And as he points out, you may not care for the in-flight selection.

I don’t necessarily read fiction set in the location I’m headed but it’s a cool idea I’m sure I’ll try. But I do like to catch up on that pile of magazines that has built up since my last trip.

While he talks about people struggling with the overhead, here’s where I’m one of those guys who will only check in luggage only when I absolutely have no other choice.

As for food in the airport, there’s only been a few exceptions over the years where I’ve seen some improvement of value and quality. Overall, I still prefer to eat local outside the airport whenever possible. Even a food court in a shopping mall is usually a better option. Mr. Bourdain says that he’ll get ramen in Tokyo and something from the airport’s hawker center in Singapore.

It’s interesting that this Travel Channel celebrity says that he won’t try to weasel upgrades with his status. You’ve got to admire that. I think a lot of folks wouldn’t hesitate in his position.

Generally speaking, I will sleep a lot on long flights, but I avoid drinking myself like Mr. Bourdain, preferring lots of club sodas with lime and an occasional ginger ale for that anti-nausea effect. No sleeping pill needed for me!

Well, as you can imagine, Mr. Bourdain looks on airplane food with disdain. Me personally? I’ve been lucky to find most stuff edible. Maybe I’m easy that way. Heck, sometimes I’ve asked for seconds and gotten it because they often have extra!

Now I have to laugh at Uncle Tony’s fascination with inflight plumbing. Maybe the memories of multi-thousand dollar wasted on air force toilets still linger in my mind, but to me as long it flushes what it’s supposed to, that’s good enough for me.

Over the years I’ve stayed on four or five-star hotels as well as the $10 backpacker hostels. So I’m not afraid to rough it but I’m no stranger to luxury nor uncomfortable to rub shoulders with the rich and not-so-famous. If anything, I tend to splurge if I’m with someone special.

Like Mr. Bourdain, I avoid the knick knacks that people love to buy and bring home. But I’ll write postcards to family and friends who love when I share my latest destination instead of souvenirs. Sometimes I’ll bring back some fun snacks that I can get through customs or a bottle of some local beverage.

Now the meat of his advice has to be how Mr. Bourdain finds the best places to eat. I’ve got some of my tricks which I’ve shared from time to time. Sure, some of it is common sense – avoid the tourist-trap places. Going to the central market is something he’s done again and again on his shows, but getting up early will be my windmill to tilt.

As I travel more, I hope to connect with more locals around the world. Mr. Bourdain offers a fun, controversial way to stir the pot and find out what they say is “the best.”

So.. how about you? What are some of your travel tips?

What’s Your Red Paper Clip?

For want of a nail, a shoe was lost.. for want of a shoe, a horse was lost.. for want of a horse, a battle was lost..

We’ve heard different versions of this story before – it’s human nature to focus on that missing tooth, or that scab from a recent scrape..

But what about our successes? What about the good in people?
You know, those “Pay It Forward” moments that were made famous by the Haley Joel Osment? (Recently I learned more about the book and author that inspired this movie.)

Now Kyle Macdonald had a crazy idea. He asked “What if I played a real life game of “Bigger and Better”?

Like many creative folks when they started their entrepreneurs journey, Kyle realized that it wasn’t his dream job to deliver used appliances. So, when he came up with a bunch of crazy ideas, Kyle found himself torn between choosing work for the money and actually trying some of them.

A friend reminded him of a game they played in high school where Kyle and his friends would continually trade up items to see what they could get. So Kyle thought maybe he could do this just starting out with one red paper clip.

Well, he did – you can follow his red paper clip journey here.

Ultimately, Kyle ended up with a house, being a mayor for a day and along with his girlfriend citizens for life!

People on Quora ask me all the time about how to get started in business..? What does it take to start your own company? On and on..

Just start with your red paper clip.. be curious.. look for ways to help others.. Like the shepherd boy in the Alchemist see where the journey takes you.

Years ago, I had an idea to start my own business. I made plenty of mistakes but kept asking questions and learning. This led to adventures in real estate and helping folks to buy / sell businesses before leading to commercial field inspections and ultimately teaching others how to start their own home businesses..

So who you were got you here to this point, who you’re becoming will get you where you want to be!

That Day We Lost Our Soul Mate

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Soul Mates via Unsplash

Monday began like any other. After my morning ritual, I paused to briefly scan social media before getting back to work. What’s this?

Someone commented about Scott Dinsmore. I remembered him mentioning going off-line for a bit. Then began that bubble in time where the rest of the world continues in a muffled blur while you gather the facts in “surreal time.”

This felt all too familiar. Years ago I watched the news as rescue workers pulled the body of my on-wing (your assigned mentor until you solo in flight school) out of Corpus Christi Bay. Some time later someone called to tell us that my younger brother had been airlifted off a ski slope in the Poconos.

Each of these reminded me of how I felt watching the footage of jets slamming into the World Trade Center played over and over again. It just doesn’t seem real.

It’s now Thursday. The past few days have been a haze of doing what needed to be done. I’ve commented a few times, sharing some my thoughts and feelings. And only now do I feel a little more ready to add my voice to the conversation in the wake of Scott Dinsmore’s death.

What’s strangest to me is that I’ve never met Scott or Chelsea. Sure, we bantered a bit on Instagram or via email. We live in an age, of course, where we can connect in so many ways without ever being in the same place.

Chelsea-Scott-Dinsmore

Chelsea & Scott Dinsmore via Instagram

Yet, these token moments are opportunities to touch each other’s lives in ways that no one can ever predict. This butterfly effect reminds me of my favorite film, It’s a Wonderful Life where the main character George Bailey gets a chance to see what life is like if he hadn’t been born.

At a pivotal moment the angel turns to George and points out how the nightmarish alternate world reflects the void left by his absence and all the ways that he didn’t get to touch the lives of others.

Some of my personal online mentors shared their thoughts as well – many of whom I had no idea that they were even connected to Scott in any way. And that’s what I see – a life that touched so many others in so many ways.

  Gone Too Soon: My Friend Scott – Jonathan Fields

  When Friends Die: The Clarity & Confusion of Grief – Jeff Goins

  29 Ways to Live Your Legend Now – Tribute to Scott Dinsmore – Natalie Sisson

  Sudden Loss, New Beginnings and Three Simple Words – Sean Ogle

  Scott Dinsmore, I Miss You Bro – Jonathan Mead

  Scott Dinsmore, I Miss You Deeply – Leo Babauta

  Scott Dinsmore, I Will Miss You Forever – Corbett Barr

More tributes to Scott’s legacy on the Live Your Legend website.

In Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert writes,

“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that’s holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention.”

Scott often joked that after talking one-on-one with him, 8 out of 10 people quit their jobs. And he was proud of this.

People come into our lives for a time.. a season.. a reason.. often in shapes and sizes that we never imagined. Who could guess that a frat bro demigod flashing his brilliant Apollo smile was really a Yoda in disguise that forced you to look at your choices? Not me.

But this wasn’t just some guru or therapist, Scott lived this himself. He shined that same light on his own choices and stepped into his own truth.

What makes me saddest about Scott’s untimely death is how it leaves so many questions unanswered.

What was he thinking? No, not in the sense of “why did he try to climb Mt Kilimanjaro? didn’t he know it’s dangerous?” That’s something my parents would say. Scott went into things fully aware of the risks and embraced them.

What last thoughts did he have and what is left undone?

What could he have done if he were still alive?

So many questions but the biggest one is.. where do we go from here?

Years ago a friend of mine said that the reason why some souls leave this earth sooner than others is because their work is done.

Maybe so. It just sure doesn’t feel like it.

People tend to use words like “freak accident” for things like this. What’s made Scott’s passing even more gut wrenching is that it came so soon after the loss of someone else who touched so many lives, Dr. Wayne Dyer.

One of his favorite sayings is “there are no coincidences.” And, no, the irony of all this isn’t lost on me as I’m reading the chapter in his memoir, I Can See Clearly Now  where Dr. Dyer talks about the effect that losing President Kennedy had on him and his own work.

“It was no longer just about my impending career as a teacher. I began to think in terms of how I could impact the consciousness of the entire planet. I saw myself from that day forward as a man with a voice of compassion for a higher good. I didn’t know how or even what my role might be, but I knew that one person with a conscience could make a difference and I was that person.”

Each moment is a chance, an opportunity to touch the lives of others – to live your legend. Scott knew this and taught us most by living his. Now he’s given us a chance to live our own.

Camping Along the Oregon Coast Pt 2

mountain-stream

photo: Unsplash

This is Part 2 of my Oregon camping trip. You can read Part 1 here.

“There’s a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot.” – Steven Wright

I was definitely treading the.. heck, let’s face it. I was running up & down that divide!

Luckily, a neighbor was generous enough to offer part of his catch – a salmon filet from the season.

By now Molly and I had gotten down some routines.. “best practices,” if you will –

Simplify by Being Organized

When you’re running around amuck in the woods, it’s important to be organized.. There’s enough stuff to try and figure each day. A lot of stuff you take for granted – like going to the bathroom becomes a chore.

So, it helps to color code stuff, if you can. Stuff like having bags for specific uses – dry goods in one / utensils in another – comes in handy, so you can find stuff & not spend time looking for that bottle opener when you’d rather be enjoying that riesling while it’s still crisp and nicely chilled.

When we talk about a “sanitized cockpit” in aviation, we’re not talking about keeping hand sanitizer in your flight bag. Just like having clipboards for air charts and pockets for gear, you will appreciate how simpler life is when you compartmentalize.

Keeping perishables in the cooler not only keeps them fresh and handy, but you can quickly know if you’re running low on any items. Separating this from the dry goods makes sure that ingredients are the way you need them when you do.

Keeping a Smooth Camping Environment

In a lot of ways campsites become small towns in themselves. Trust is key – at some point you leave stuff out. So, hopefully you feel safe about doing so with your neighbors.

What helps to build connections with others is sharing information. Sometimes you’re the “expert” but sooner or later you need others. This applies to all kinds of resources, but information is the most handy social currency.

Within your own “village” it’s important to have self-sufficiency, yet you need to work together. Camping creates an environment that’s intense. The last time I spent this much time in such close quarters was my time in the military on a ship in the middle of the West Pacific Ocean. You learn the need to balance between keeping to yourself and connecting with others.

Part of self-sufficiency is re-use – Those paper bags for groceries then become kindling for fires. Having a “waste not / want not” mentality translates to how that plastic container may become a much needed water jug. Even though there’s more recycling and minimizing waste today, we forget some of these ideas in our “civilized” world.

What You Learn to Appreciate

Boy, do we forget some of the things we take for granted!

Things like:

Bathrooms less than 150’ away

Running water that didn’t require pump

Showers – HOT showers!

Why did we pay for such inconvenience? To be honest this was an affordable way to be with Molly. There was no way that I could have afforded hotels for the time we spent with our limited budget. Plus, we got to know each other in ways that nothing else.

It does take a self-sufficient, capable gal – camping is definitely not for your typical girly girl. At the same time there’s a lot of guys who’d probably have a hard time keeping up with someone like that. I think I did okay. Well, at least average – if not a little above-average? (hopefully, this isn’t the same way we all think we’re above-average drivers..)

I’m still amazed that we did it – not just in the sense of surviving.. unfortunately, Molly got a sprained ankle, but that’s not too bad considering we spent so much time “out in the wild.” Hey, we didn’t get food poisoning, or any number of typical nasty camping ills like poison ivy, ticks, or snake bites.

Our relationship deepened.. something that nothing else can really take its place.

What’s Your Daily Success Plan?

Over the year I’ve tried a lot of productivity tools and time management plans. But probably the most useful method has to be creating a morning ritual.

First, it does what Stephen Covey calls “putting first things first” – unless you put yourself first, no one else will.

Second, it sets the tone for your day. If you start off feeling rushed or frazzled, it’s really hard for things to get better from there.

Having a ritual really also takes away the need to think. I don’t know about you, but even after 10 years in the navy, I’m still not much of a morning person. So, one less thing to think about early is less taxing on my willpower.

Studies have shown how we have a limited supply of willpower. Think of it as your life bar in some video game. Once it runs out, it’s game over.

So how we allocate our willpower throughout the day is really important. Putting the BIG rocks first will actually make it easier to get to the little rocks – not the other way around.

My own personal ritual is based on Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Morning – if you haven’t checked it out yet, it’s a great “open source hack” for your productivity. Because there’s no need for special equipment or facilities, I can do this almost anywhere – even on the road, or while traveling. More here..

 

What’s your daily success plan? How do you “make it happen”?

 

Camping Along the Oregon Coast – Part 1

The woman looked on confused. Finally she asked “what are you guys doing?”

“It’s tango,” I replied, “Argentine tango.”

Molly and I had been dancing to a Calo vals (a waltzy classic) while waiting for our clothes to finish drying. Amazingly this laundry mat even had wifi so I got caught up on emails.

Because the dryers were so loud, we simply plugged ourselves into my ipod – each sharing an earbud. So it must’ve been quite an unusual sight. Two people dancing to the beat of some silent orchestra.

This was day 7 out in the “wilderness” of the Portland coast.

We’d stretched our fresh clothes as far as possible. Heck, I was proud that we’ve been surviving on cooking by camp fires and managing to entertain ourselves.

What was really nice with staying in one campsite for a few days was not needing to break down and set up camp each day. Although we’d gotten down our routine, it was still painful to go through that same routine day after day.

Probably the most unusual part was that we had barely known each other before this trip. Sure, we had seen and danced with each other at annual tango festivals in Portland but other than a few phone calls and online chats, Molly and I went from spending no time together to nearly every waking minute. Yet somehow things clicked, and it felt very natural.

Now I have to admit that other than running around with the Marines on a few field training exercises, the most time I had spent in the woods growing up was a couple of overnight canoe trips with friends. And even with the grunts we just plopped down our packs and slept in our sleeping bags on cement slabs inside a prepared tent.

So, the first day out involved quite a learning curve. I had to learn 1) how to build a fire 2) how to set up a tent.

Building a fire wasn’t too bad. We had picked up some fat wood and firewood. Because fat wood was soaked with dried sap it burned pretty quickly and pretty hot. So, you use it to get the firewood going and thus have your base.

It was already late in the day, because most of the day had been spent on getting supplies. There wasn’t much time to find a camping spot – much less to set up a tent before nature was going to turn off the lights out.. literally.

Luckily, we found a spot right across the Columbia River, and had the same thought ”hey, why don’t we stay here? It also helped that Molly was already familiar with the tent. (Talk about anti-sexism, right? I was the helpless one!) She walked me through what we needed to do, so I mostly just followed her lead.

Further reversing roles I made myself useful by preparing a Caprese salad with the tomatoes, fresh basil, mozzarella, olive oil and balsamic vinegar we picked up. Some ripe avocadoes added a nice twist to this classic.

We toasted our first night in the wilderness with a nice, crisp Riesling kept chilled in the cooler. (Hey, roughing it doesn’t mean living like savages in my book..) A bright moon covered the campsite as fell sound asleep.

camping-moonlight

The next morning we woke to passing barges in the misty morning before stopping by the office and paying for our camp spot. Soon we were off again with no idea what was next.

To read more visit Part 2 of my camping trip to Oregon.

Connecting the Dots

This post was actually inspired by my friend, Scott Dinsmore of Live Your Legend where he invites us to “Choose Adventure.”

connecting-dots-tangovagabond

Connecting the Dots – Steve Jobs

Like Scott, I’m a big fan of Paulo Coelho’s beloved classic, The Alchemist. In fact, I recently wrote a LinkedIn post via Pulse about why I consider it required reading for entrepreneurs and almost any business bookshelf.

As both Coelho and Dmitri Martin (see his sketch “What Success Really Looks Like”) each show in their own way, often the straight line success stories are actually full of twists and turns. One of the things I like to say is that “life is what happens while we’re making plans.”

what-success-really-looks-like

What Success Really Looks Like by Demetri Martin, This is a Book

When I look back on my tango journey, it’s definitely been full of unexpected twists and turns – but I’ve always been glad to have taken the “road less traveled.” Besides lessons in being more creative and dancing everywhere from Brisbane, Australia to Amsterdam and Nijmegen I’ve met incredible friends and enjoyed memorable moments like improvising tofu parmigiana in Berlin.

Recently, I came across the idea of the Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell said that “in the cave you fear to enter lies the treasure you seek.” That’s why myths and legends have always resonated with us as much as today’s blockbusters. Deep down we realize that from the moment the first cave man faced his fear of fire not only his life was made better but the lives of the rest of us as well.

I had no idea how far down the rabbit hole tango was going to take me. All I could do was follow my heart and see what happened. As I get ready for the next phase, I’m just doing my best to listen to the music and hear what it’s telling me to do.

 

Easy Healthy Living as a Digital Nomad

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Healthy Living Can Be Simple

We all want to live a life of freedom and passion. Sure, how we make a living and who we spend our time with are a big part of this. But first it’s important to take care of ourselves.

Without our health, there’s not much point to all the fun and adventure of the digital nomad life. It’s hard to enjoy even a good meal if you’re struggling to simply feel good.

So, this article is a little different from what I usually write about. I’m going to share some of my personal secrets to a simple but healthy lifestyle.

Rest is Essential

For me it all starts with getting enough rest. I know, this seems too simple for many reasons. There’s so much to do as an entrepreneur. And even when we’re not working, we just wanna stay up late. But getting enough sleep is just a piece of the bigger puzzle, and that is testing how things feel.

When I was a kid, I would eat and drink pretty mindlessly. Eventually, consuming junk food and sodas turned into alcohol and even cigarettes. Now I’m not going to preach about vices. Some folks may even argue that they enjoy how recreational drugs feel. No judgment here.

Check In with Yourself

All I suggest is to start gauging how what you consume feels overall. Does it make you sluggish for most of the day? Are you walking around in a cloudy haze for hours?

Don’t just go by what I’m telling you. Tune into yourself.

I like to believe that we’re here to really feel and experience things. Sure, there are parts that suck. But the point is to have clear minds and bright eyes in my book – to really experience what life has to offer.

Finding Balance & Calm in the Middle of Chaos

Recently, I came across the idea that balance is a myth. There’s probably some truth to this. Yet it doesn’t mean that we can’t find peace in the midst of everything. Taking time to reflect or meditate is just as important as doing.

When I trained for my first (and so far only) marathon, I learned that the rest days were just as important as putting in the miles. Likewise if we don’t “empty the cup,” eventually we’ll burn out – whether it’s doing work, learning or anything we want to achieve.

I share how I avoid writer’s block here.

Experiment and Explore but Keep It Simple

In general I love to try different foods. Although there are some fall back basics like pasta or soups, part of the fun is to not only eating out and trying different restaurants but learning new recipes at home (wherever home may be at the moment).

When I went camping along the coast of Oregon a couple of years ago, all we had to do was stock up on a few essentials like bread, cheese and lunch meats then buy some ingredients for interesting meals.

Fresh basil, mozzarella and tomatoes made awesome caprese salads with some virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and ground salt. Easy peasy!

Before I even knew it, I had already subscribed to the Julia Child approach towards that four letter word “diet” of trying different foods. Later on, I discovered Mireille Guiliano who wrote French Women Don’t Get Fat. She also advocates the same philosophy – all things in moderation.

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Julia Child on Diet Food


Test and Evaluate

So, that’s my overall approach to health and fitness. Try different things but constantly tune into yourself and check how they feel. I’m still learning and experimenting. More recently, I’ve been more conscious of pro-biotics after a few nasty bouts of food poisoning on set. (But that’s another story for another day..)

Please share your own ideas and tips. I’d love to learn what works for you. Let me know how this helps you, and what you’d like me to write about in more detail.

My First Digital Nomad Sale While Watching a Movie

“Wow, I just made two hundred bucks!” I announced glancing at my phone.

“Really? That’s awesome!” replied Molly.

As we found our seats arms full of popcorn and drink, I read the message again. This was what I’ve dreamed of – the whole “making money while you sleep” thing or in this case while watching a summer flick.

Ironically, this was the tail end of a great three weeks camping along the Oregon coast – not the middle of some product launch.

Years ago I published my first Kindle ebook to “demonstrate my authority” and ultimately teach workshops. I saw the need for this training because when I got started, there was little to no information available.

Although I had tried all kinds of get rich quick schemes and even programs that sincerely wanted to help you make your first dollars on the internet, I just wanted to finally make some real money online.

As I finished writing my book, there was a section about mystery shopping that felt incomplete. A friend put me in contact with Pam of IMSC (Independent Mystery Shoppers Coalition – a group for mystery shoppers formed by mystery shoppers,) and that one call launched my speaking and teaching career.

Pam not only generously took the time to talk to me about her own mystery shopping experiences, but she shared her own book and invited me to speak at the next conference in Las Vegas.

There I shared my journey as a field inspector before pitching my book and training. Although I managed to sell only a few seats, it was the beginning of my teaching online. Since then, I’ve launched other books like Local Business Alchemy and courses like “Build a Business You Can Sell” (based on my experiences as a business broker / small business adviser) and even co-produced one on Instagram marketing with a friend.

I’d be lying if I said that now I have all the answers, and I’m sitting on a beach in Thailand sipping cool drinks. There’s still a lot of work ahead. At the moment I’m doing some mix of freelance work through eLanceGuru and Fiverr. Folks are starting to contact me for things like podcasts through my LinkedIn profile.

Recently, I share some of what freedom looks like to me as a creative entrepreneur.

How about you? What does success as a digital nomad look like to you?

 

Mosquito Sunset

Happy 4th of July!

Some folks know about my military service. This is a repost of an article from a previous blog where I share some of my Navy experiences.

Sometimes you’re the windshield.. sometimes you’re the bug” – lyrics, Mary Chapin Carpenter song

Standing in formation at dusk outside the hangar, I felt the rivulets of sweat pooling into the delta small of my back. Lines of dungarees – half powder-blue, half blue jean – lined up in neat rows behind me. As the sweltering heat finally gave way to limp stickiness clinging to our skin, the floodlights finally flickered on – and so did the mosquitoes’ taste for blood. Yet, at first everyone seemed to just “grin and bear it.”

The commanding officer (who reminded me of Ned Flanders from the Simpsons) droned on about something that seemed important enough at the time to announce in front of the entire squadron. Meanwhile these flying syringes poked through our starched poly-cotton uniforms to draw blood with their hydraulic pistons, punctuating the agonizing minutes.

What Happens on Deployment, Stays on Deployment

We were well beyond two TACAN’s away from our home base in San Diego. The “two TACAN rule” was that once you were outside of the range of two of these military navigation aids, anything goes.

Such was the “wink-wink, nudge-nudge, need I say more” behind the veneer of Navy “family values.” It was an excuse, of course, for guys to get away with whatever didn’t leave permanent traces that flowers or penicillin couldn’t cure stateside.

At the time all this only mattered a little to me. Only 3 or 4 months ago my marriage had begun to unravel in the middle of our squadron’s West Pacific (WESTPAC) deployment aboard the USS Constellation.

I vaguely remember thinking at the time how radically different my life was turning out from the wife / house / 2.5 kids “fast-track to the space program” life that I envisioned for myself.

Maybe the most surreal moment was seeing our ship on CNN, patrolling during the Chinese missile crisis with Taiwan. Yet, instead of being an ending, somehow it was the beginning – the beginning of how I came to understand that

..life is what happens while you make plans.

Somehow, in the midst of feeling utterly small and alone in a steel city of five thousand, I discovered at the same time a much bigger part of myself.

Funny how there in what Navy pilots describe as little bigger than a postage stamp when landing at night, I realized that in your darkest moments there is grace – a quiet connectedness, even as you lay in your bed wondering what you’re doing in the middle of nowhere. This must be how future travelers will feel shuttling among the stars.

Slowly, it became more and more evident that it was acceptable to break rank and swat your neighbor’s tormentors. Military standards dictated that in formation you were supposed to stand at attention, unyielding as the ceremonial guards keeping watch on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (be sure to watch what happens at 4:48 – VERY UNUSUAL!)

Yet, somehow by some unspoken consensus we all agreed that, while it was bad form to relieve yourself of the torture inflicted by these tiny Weapons of Mass Annoyance, it was acceptable to swat those around you.

One or two pats gradually mushroomed into what became a flurry of mercy beatings like the popping of bubble wrap at Christmas until at last we were dismissed. Sighs of relief mixed with bursts of laughter and disbelief, as we made our way back to the shelter of the hangar bay. It felt like a comic scene out of some old war movie, except this was no Hollywood fiction. No, we were far from some South Pacific island, fighting some epic battle for our lives.

End of an Era, Beginning of New

Instead, it was 1994 – the Cold War had ended with the crashing debris of the Berlin Wall, signaling the end of the Iron Curtain era. Reagan’s proud 600-ship navy had been reduced to maybe half of its former glory. To justify its piece of the budget pie, the Navy turned to unorthodox missions like the counter-narcotics operation that brought us here to Ciba, Puerto Rico.

Night after night, our squadron launched the E-2C Hawkeye, otherwise known as the Navy’s AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System,) on sorties to coordinate various agencies that in theory intercepted the drug runners as they landed their contraband on nearby shores. While occasionally we would hear about a successful bust, it seemed like only days later there would be another story about a bigger bust stateside.

Were we really making a dent on the war on drugs? Any more than the “Just Say No” campaign? Who knows.. Some days you believe you’re making a difference. Then there are others you wonder who is really doing the swatting and who is just buzzing around.

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