Sunday, May 13, 2018

Fascists, Communists, and the Road to Hell

In the winter of 2014, as I traversed the United States entangled in work, I was religiously tethered to National Public Radio listening for updates from Independence Square in Kiev. After Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, rejected a European Union association agreement in November of 2013, in favor of closer Russian ties and money, shit had quickly hit the fan. Clearly, Vladimir Putin, who, it is believed, had a former Ukrainian presidential candidate poisoned, and rigged what would be a recall election in 2004, had been hard at work attempting to do with Rubles what poison could not; return Ukraine to the Motherland. Young Ukrainians that wished for future inclusion to the European community were not fooled, and completely opposed this corrupt direction of governance. They took to the streets in protest, and I was with them in spirit as I rushed to finish my work in the States so I could return to my motorcycle stored at a farm in Northern Romania, five miles from the Ukrainian border.
  Though protests had taken place throughout winter, between the 18th and 21st of February Independence Square was a fiery, smoke
filled, Hell. The reports I was listening to were incomplete at best. Information was often
inconsistent, and there seemed to be no hard proof of what was transpiring. At the inception it had been clear that the protesters were poorly equipped, brandishing clubs, and hurling Molotov cocktails in the clashes with riot police. However, what they lacked in equipment, they made up for in numbers. Reportedly, somewhere between 10 and 20 thousand demonstrators were at battle with the government forces. It didn't take the rag-tag army long to overpower the police, and government anti-terrorist snipers were positioned at strategic positions overlooking the Square. The opposition's body-count quickly rose. In an effort to thwart the snipers thousands of tires were set fire to black out the sky. A frigid snow storm blew snow into the mix as the fighting continued. I hung on
on the words of every new report as if my freedom depended upon this skirmish's outcome. I wanted to be there. The Clashes came to an end on the 21st, and Viktor Yanukovych fled Ukraine for Russia, claiming that terrorists had overtaken the government. 
    By the end of February I'd finished my work and scurried to depart the US for Romania. I would collect my motorcycle and head directly for Kiev. However, just before boarding my flight East there was a disturbing development in the Ukrainian saga. Vladimir Putin had taken Crimea. What were his intentions? How far would he go? After my plane touched down in Bucharest I was met by a good friend, and Romanian diplomat, Vlad. We had plenty to talk about over lunch and the trip to the train station. He was of the opinion that closer ties to Europe would be an uphill battle for Ukraine due to broad corruption, but that the revolution as a whole was a good thing for Europe, given that it presented resistance to Russia. He wasn't quite sure about the Russian annexation of Eastern Ukraine, nor did he possess insight confirming or denying reports of fascist groups involved in the revolution. Following an insufferably long ride on an old communist era train I reached Suceava, Romania, were I was met by Maurin, the farm's mechanic, and given a ride to Dersca, a village near the Ukrainian frontier. I arranged the supplies for my trip North and gave my Yamaha some basic maintenance. After packing my steed I took the remainder of the day to rest. My father called that evening to inquire about the trip to the farm. As it was big news back in the States, conversation drifted to the conflict in Ukraine. I address both the issue in Crimea and the Russia Today reports of Nazi involvement in the ousting of the Ukrainian president. National Public Radio had't given any reports about fascist elements within the revolution, but their coverage, though pervasive, seemed to be missing lots of details. I was apprehensive about accepting Russia Today news at face value. It had once been a good source of news, but at this point it was entirely State sponsored. My father was unsure about the situation in Eastern Ukraine, but as to the question of whether or not unsavory elements were involved with the opposition in Kiev, there was no hesitation. "I guarantee it", he said. "It's the communists vs. the fascists. It's been that way up there for a long time. There ain't a nickel's worth of difference between them. You aren't going to Ukraine are you? Tell me you won't go to Ukraine." I lied and said I wouldn't.
                 "This ain't no Upwardly Mobile Freeway.... This is the Road to Hell"  -Chris Rea

  I've never spoken much about my trip to Kiev in March of 2014. It's not that it wasn't a story worthy of telling, rather it was an experience that stole my words along with a portion of my humanity. I didn't want to think about what I saw, much less struggle finding the means of expressing my understanding of what had transpired. It would still be trapped within my mind were it not for a recent event in the United States that sadistically rousted my dormant memories of that night exploring a disorganized, burned out, practically post-apocalyptic Independence Square, and those suspicious stares of apprehension and mistrust. I'd have never imagined that any social problem in the United States would unravel to the extent that the madness in Kiev would look like a possibility. However, Stateside, desperation has supplanted sanity in the years succeeding the Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis. After several banks plunged into insolvency, casting global markets into peril, the richest were the first to receive help generating easy wealth with generous loans from the FED. They flourished, and though the economy improved those at the bottom never really benefited. As unemployment rates descended to levels that would have raised incomes of the poorest Americans, monetary accommodations were lifted. The economy slowed and income inequality continued to widen. People awoke each day to find their plight had become more desperate. Regardless of political affiliation, or belief systems, desperate people do desperate things. They haphazardly trust when they no longer believe in themselves. The American Dream is a distant memory for some, and nothing but an apparition for others. I wasn't all that surprised seeing political divisions deepen, however, I can't say I was prepared to see Fascists fighting Communists on the streets of Virginia.

Wondering if I should apply both
  I departed the friendly confines of the farm in Dersca, Romania for the 350 mile trip to Kiev a
couple of weeks after the fighting had ended. I figured the journey would be safe enough as long as I avoided the contested Eastern portion of the country. Engaging folks frequently along my path North, a few things became clear; The people that could be bothered to talk politics seemed very critical of the "kids" in Kiev, they had a soft spot for Putin, and Ukrainian girls quite liked me (must have been the beard). The roads in Ukraine are of the bone jarring variety. Rarely is anything smooth. Bikes deal with rough surfaces better than cars, but the going was still relatively slow. I rode well into the evening, but the late night winter temperatures had me searching for a good place to climb into my sleeping bag. A John Deere dealership with a gap in its fence provided just the sort of accommodations I was looking for. I slept soundly and didn't emerge from my tent till the mercury had risen well into my morning time comfort zone. I slugged down some sort of diabolical Ukrainian energy drink, packed up, and parted the company of my guardian tractors. It was a beautiful, bright, and cool Sunday for the remainder of the ride to Kiev. I grinned every time I passed old communist war memorials, and sighed in relief each occasion I was waved through a police checkpoint. This day the sparsely occupied roads weren't quite as rutted, and I covered the final 130 miles in about two hours, leaving plenty of daylight to make my way to the heart of town.

  The Dnieper river led me north into the city. On the outskirts there was a large group of police profiling passers by, but apparently they were doing nothing aside from observing. The multi-lane highways leading into the city were almost entirely devoid of traffic, and I didn't see another cop the entire time in was in Kiev. As I drew closer to the downtown, I was overtaken by two Porsche suvs leading and tailing a Maybach Mercedes in very close formation. They were traveling somewhere in the vicinity of 110 miles per hour, and the convoy's mighty jet wash blew my well loaded bike to the shoulder. Those were clearly not the guys anyone wanted to mess with. They were no doubt as well armed as they were corrupt. I crept into downtown and was troubled to see a litany of well dressed, youthful Ukrainians wrapped around the block serving the passport office. Weren't these the protesters? Hadn't they prevailed? I assumed their flight was due to Russia's invasion of Crimea. I couldn't say that I blamed them, but, but in hindsight, perhaps they knew more than I.

  After a minimal amount of wandering I found my way to Independence Square. Though other parts of town had seemed abandoned and quiet, the Square was anything but. A vibrant crowd filed around the encampments, barriers, burned out buildings, and disabled government vehicles. I pulled my motorcycle next to a broken police riot truck for a photo op and was intercepted by a fellow biker named Oleg. He tied a Ukrainian flag ribbon around my handlebar, and then asked the usual battery of questions. I had a list of questions my own. Oleg gave me a daylight tour of the Square, and had answers to all my queries. "The police snipers were up there, and there". "The tire tires were for fires which helped to stifle the snipers". "Here is the memorial to the 120 protesters killed". "These guys are singing a song belittling Communists". "Yes, there are Neo Nazis among the opposition". Not that I really had needed confirmation of that last bit. They stuck out, even in the crowd. In the daylight stern confirmation of Nazi presence within the ranks of the government opposition, though disheartening, somehow seemed justified. I mean, most of the people here weren't fascists, they were fighting against a corrupt government that was dragging them back to the USSR. I tried to overlook the skin-heads as a case of the enemy of my enemy being my friend. However, these goons never have been, and never will be, my friends. I decided to leave Kiev without digging further into the Maidan Revolution. After finishing up my tour of the Square, I left town in a state of ambivalence.

   I turned my thoughts towards reaching the exclusion zone of Chernobyl. Oleg advised me to ride North and cross the Dnieper river into Belarus and then return to Ukraine near Chernobyl. I should have done some homework before leaving town. In my haste to depart from Kiev, I neglected to check if it was even possible for me to enter Belarus. It was not. Fortunately, after wandering around the sandy banks of the Dnieper river (and a troubling encounter with a drunk, ex-con, boxer, also named Oleg, that wanted to trade shoes), I abandoned my plan to utilized a railroad trestle to enter Belarus after getting my bike stuck on the tracks. I was lucky a passerby saw my plight and came to help unhinge my Yamaha's skid-plate from the rail's lip (I saw a train crossing the bridge within 30 minutes after being freed). Eventually I came to a legitimate border crossing and was informed by the Ukrainian authorities that if I attempted to enter Belarus without a visa I would be arrested. Even I occasionally listen to reason. So, I road through the cold night back to Kiev.

A barrel fire at the International Center for Culture and the Arts
   Somewhat impulsively, as I reached the outskirts of the city, I decided I would return to Independence Square. All of the the turns I made on my way to the center of town seemed to be the correct ones, and I quickly found myself at the barriers surrounding the outskirts of the square. The mishmash of used tires, bricks, and Czech hedgehogs (armored vehicle impediments) blocking the entrance to the encampments was under the guard of walkie talkie equipped university students. At first they were very skeptical of my appearance. My yellow riding gear had the likeness of a HAZMAT suit, and I'd not shaven in six months. Nothing about me looked ordinary. Upon realizing that I was an American, they lowered their guard and the one that was apparently in charge briefly spoke into his radio and told me that I could enter on foot.

 The high pressure sodium lights' gloomy orange glow did little to overcome the darkness shrouding the square. The bright light of the day before had been kind to the makeshift camp. Even the Nazis
seemed somewhat innocuous, if not comical. The murkiness of a new moon had very much the opposite effect. The piles of tires, bottles, and general rubble complemented random barrel fires in an ominous, pit of Hell, fashion. Still, I was an imposing looking American, and I felt, perhaps foolishly, impervious to harm. I strode up the hill where so many of the opposition had been struck down by police sniper fire only a couple of weeks earlier. As I climbed the hill toward the arched trellis bridge connecting the International Center for Culture and Arts to the Music Conservatory I peered towards the buildings overlooking the street where the final strongholds' of the ousted government had been. Following comprehensive defeat in street clashes the police had requested assistance from the military. They were denied. "Anti Terrorist" snipers were then placed in strategic positions around the high ground of the northeast portion of the square. At first they made quick work work of the protesters. It had been like shooting fish in a barrel. The opposition fire bombed the building housing snipers closest to their encampment, and lit tire fires around the square to obscure the sight from less accessible positions. That was the status quo for the
days leading up to president Viktor Yanukovych's flight to Russia. So, there I trod, snapping pictures, attempting to assess my shifting opinion of what had transpired and what the outcome would be.

  Upon taking to the bridge, with a commanding view of the soot covered, and blood stained, street below, I was alerted to large group of camouflage clad pseudo military types chanting in unison as they passed the encampment and made their way up the hill in my direction. Their chants were brief. I suspect they were intended to announce their undertakings to those in camp. What were they doing?  As the group drew closer, I could see that they were being led by someone wearing a nicer, more form fitting, uniform and a beret. There were also two guys in non-military dress. The one towards the front was just a kid. He was clearly in distress, he could barely walk and was gripped by the two soldiers marching at his sides. The other civilian looking fellow, I've determined after examining the photos, was equipped with a camera and looks to be free. The cavalcade made their way to the top of the hill, past the Hotel Ukraine, and out of sight. Approximately one minute passed before a gunshot pierced the night. It's a memory that I will take to my grave. If I'd felt secure in myself on my way to the bridge, that courage was shaken and I found myself looking over my shoulder regularly on my way back down to the encampment. At
one point I nearly leaped from my boots when a couple of curious, camouflaged, commandos approached me behind as I was taking a photo. They spoke no English but the they understood the word American, and the inquisitively critical looks faded from their continence. After calming myself I snapped the duo's picture and continued on my way to the main camp. A memorial had been erected on the outer wall of a large prominent tent on the corner of the largest encampment. Just as I was about to photograph the many pictures of the deceased my attention was diverted to the growing sound of an
office chair rolling on asphalt. Two under-aged smokers came rushing by engaged in cheap thrill seeking. I snapped my favorite photo of the night. Kids will be kids, I thought to myself, even when the skinheads in the camp next door are executing people. Still, their youthful exuberance was infectious. After returning to survey my picture the duo invited me into camp to make a copy for them. As I came to find out, there was clear division among the various sects of the opposition, from their attire to their encampments. My two new friends were part of the plebeian camp. The contengent here had no uniforms and, from what I could tell, consisted primarily of poor kids and the working class. As I was led into the camp I was offered a rather warm reception. Though I was on the receiving end of an awkward glance or two, I didn't feel as though the people here were all that bad, certainly they weren't evil. These folks simply wanted more from life than what their corrupt government would allow them to have. They could see the prosperity growing in Poland and Romania, and wanted nothing to do with Putin and Russia. If the revolution had consisted entirely of these guys I'd have been more at peace. They simply wanted the freedom to work without having to compete with corruption.
  Unfortunately, as my young friends gave me a nocturnal tour of the square we came across the skinhead camp. There were several different sects of ultra-nationalist, skin-head, Nazi, motherfuckers encamped adjacent to the square. All fell under the directives of Svoboda (loosely translated "freedom" (freedom, my ass. they hijacked that term)), the largest, best known, opposition to the government, though they already held a voice in parliament. Svoboda was formed in the mid 90's as an anti communist organization. Given the failure of communism in Ukraine, one could understand
the desire to oppose it. However, rather than expanding freedom for the Ukrainian people by safeguarding against corruption, this organization simply wanted all the powers of oppression for themselves. They were feared by their own supporters, and when I critically spoke of the Nazis in our midst, my English speaking tour guide quickly quieted me and whispered that this encampment acted as the police for the movement. Clearly these turds were not to be crossed. I was struck by ambivalent feelings of both pity for my young friends and hatred for their leaders. These assholes were the ones that had marched the poor doomed kid under the bridge earlier. They wore ruthless countenances, and embraced terror. The vestige of their misdeeds enveloped the square with a malevolent stench. These were evil men. As I directed our group away from the monsters, a trio of well groomed officers passed us in conversation. One of them, a physically attractive, and no doubt wealthy, young lady in a well tailored uniform stared at me as they passed. She smiled broadly, and giggled a little. I gazed blankly in return, and though of the gunshot earlier. What a dirty fucking bitch.
  I had seen enough. My stomach was churning, and I was ready to hastily depart Kiev. I led my new friends to my motorcycle for a photo op and said my goodbyes. Though their names are now lost to me, I will always remember their faces. Unlucky kids without an escape. I sped out of Kiev and didn't look back. I was nearly to Poland as the sun rose, and I bedded down in a forest looking for sleep that refused to come. Though I'd left the demons of Independence Square behind, their evil pervaded my thoughts, and stained my memories. How duped I'd been. The Ukrainian revolution of 2014 was a farce. It hadn't brought peace or prosperity, or freedom. It wasn't a path forward. It was simply a marker along the road to Hell.



Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Another Brick in the Wall

                                                                 DIE MAUER
Government constructed barriers are silly. This sentiment is clearly shared by Berlin's distinctly youthful population. While on a cruise around the city teenagers and twentyish year old plebeians were seen littering the river banks regardless of high grass, fences, or even perilous drops. They all had beer or wine and
I'm unsure of what this means but I think I like it. 
Reminders of the past decorate a diverse Berlin.
smiles on their faces. Waves and happy exclamations came freely and often. I couldn't help but think that back in Johnson City, Tennessee cops would be cracking down on this sort of behavior and business at juvenile hall would be at a record high. They wouldn't be smiling then would they?! Fortunately, the police in Berlin have priorities that are more in line with legitimate security than generating buisness and I thoroughly enjoyed the kids' simple, if inebriated, celebrations. The city's rough edges weren't at all threatening. In fact, I found them refreshing. There weren't any serious attempts to circumvent reality and the glittering often shared scenery with the demure. Though purely conjecture, I'd like to think that this is due, in part, to a mutual understanding between classes. Ultimately, their goals aren't all that different. Although freedom hasn't brought a Mercedes to every driveway, destruction of the wall made everyone's lives more fruitful.

                Interesting  Timing

 Just before our arrival in Berlin, The Guardian, a UK newspaper, after receiving classified material from a intelligence whistle-blower (Snowden), revealed to the world that the U.S. government has been illegally collecting the private information of its citizens (in addition to others, inclucding the German government). Oh, the irony! The state funded Stasi museum was housed next door to our hotel. The collection of once classified GDR documents and archaic spy tools it housed made me laugh. What the Stasi wouldn't have given to have the U.S. government's current spy
Cheeky Berlin artists project their views onto the American Embassy
technology? They'd have been in authoritarian heaven. It seems that our nation is suffering from acute amnesia. I remember well the celebrations of freedom at 10 years old. Watching walls crumble as oppressive governments passed into history. These moments shaped my life and world view. Free thought, free speech, free assembly, free trade, and most importantly, free movement. The U.S. was helping to lead the way to a new level of international civil independence. Alas, my understanding has proven dated, if not outright misguided, and as I write this a wall is under construction along the southern border of the U.S. and the Government there continues tightening its grip on citizens' lives.

                                            Scattered Reminders of Oppressed Lives

There is much to see in Berlin, however, this is its best time machine.
 In addition to portions of the wall left along the river, and the admission-free Stasi Museum, there was also a terrific, semi permanent, exhibition close to the hotel which helps document past oppession. From the exterior, Die Mauer appears as a 40 foot tall cylinder in the heart of town. However, the interior uses a collection of old photographs and artistic renderings to recreate a full scale point perspective panorama of what it would have looked like at the location 25 years ago.

It has been said that "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it".  Fortunately, if somewhat perversely, wounds from the past are still fresh in Berlin and distrust of the powers that be are pervasive. It is no small coincidence that I felt more freedom here than anywhere in the United States.  My, how the tables have turned. We've grown so complacent, we've lost touch with our freedom. I reiterate the words of JFK spoken in support of those trapped on the wrong side of The Wall, almost exactly fifty years ago, "All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, 'Ich bin ein Berliner".
                                                            Ich bin ein Berliner !
Who's Watching You?

Monday, July 4, 2016

Uship, A Drug Dealer, and The American Dream: The Destruction of Happiness

  I awoke Sunday morning, June 12th, to an inescapable heat which had invaded my tree shrouded van around 7am. The previous day had been a sweltering affair. I'd driven 750 miles from my childhood home of Jonesborough, Tennessee to the northern edge of Orlando, Florida before finding a nicely wooded Episcopal church parking lot to rest at the witching hour of 4am. The mercury reached 95 degrees during the previous afternoon in some Godforsaken portion of South Carolina where humidity's omnipresence stifled even shady corners. I lamented bypassing Savannah and, that den of banking secrecy, Jekyll Island, both of which hold places of prominence in my heart. There was no time for enjoyment, my customers, one of which caused this extra trip to Florida at great expense, were more insufferable than the difficult climate. My perseverance began to pay off around 9pm and I dispensed with the less difficult patron as twilight draped Jacksonville in merciful darkness.

  Having lightened my load by one abusive customer named Lanair, who's motorcycle was delivered three days late following delays due to other customers in Maine over Memorial Day Weekend, I opted to leave the interstate in favor of the A1A coastal highway as far as Daytona where I would catch interstate 4 to lead me through Orlando to Lakeland for pickup of a Ducati bound for Miami. Driving along the coast offered some respite from the stress which has been mounting upon my shoulders over the past 10 months. More than 120,000 miles have passed my mirrors in that span, but the source of my anxiety isn't the long hours, frequent solitude, or non-running Harley Davidsons. Rather, my grief is rooted in the selfishness, greed, dissatisfaction, and lunacy of others. From loathsome hood rats to the most powerful companies, innocuous circumstances all too frequently make me public enemy number ONE. It's a tiresome affair, often being accused of laziness, or stealing motorcycles and their parts. Dealing with stupidity is difficult, however, dealing with insanity is impossible. I encounter both situations all too regularly. It's a constant battle which robs me of my happiness.

  I took to abandoned beach access somewhere south of St. Augustine around midnight. No Nighttime Parking signs are littered all about the public land still remaining in Florida and this National Park beach was no different. I pulled my Sprinter cargo van directly in front of one, gave a brief thought to
Teddy Roosevelt, and scampered off to the Atlantic to peer into the distance. The halfish moon provided adequate illumination to navigate the sandy banks without the aid of a flashlight but the lack of companionship left me wandering in the dark. My most reliable friend, Daisy, had been left in climate controlled comfort for the redundant trip to Florida. A week-long heatwave was engulfing the Southeastern just I departed for a delivery I'd already attempted to make.

  Miami, I've found, is a good place to avoid. Its climate is rarely to my liking and it is filled with assholes. My trips there have generally been hot, frustrating, affairs, and I'd taken to avoiding Florida altogether. However, the purchase of a van off Ebay necessitated a return to the southern reaches of the Citrus State. Though I wished to make the stop quick I decided to book some work around the trip. There were two Suzuki enduros bound for Miami from Denver. These bikes can be packed tightly and don't take up much space. Given that I was passing through Denver anyway I made a competitive bid and won the job. My portion of the bid was to be $500.
When I called to arrange pickup in Denver my customer, Mike, informed me that the bikes were to be crated. Since the listing didn't mention the crates and I was low on space this presented quite the conundrum. Uship, the company I booked the shipment through has a cancellation policy which punishes me for excessive cancellations. It doesn't matter which party requests the cancellation, 95% of the time it is my customers that capriciously book then quickly cancel, I am hit with an additional 5% fee, bringing the total to 25%. In the case of this shipment the difference is $25. Over the last 10 months I have perpetually been charged this higher rate. About 200 jobs. 200x$25=$5,000. This incentivizes continuing on with jobs that I would, and should, otherwise cancel. So, rather than telling Mike, who was very indignant that I even express concern about the 500 pound apiece steel crates which would require triple the cargo space of the bikes alone, to take his misrepresented job and shove it, I instead attempted to reduce the harm it would do to my business. I offered to take the additional items for $300. Mike insisted on $200. This easy job was shaping up to be a lot of work. What would have been a 10 minute pickup in Denver required two hours of drudgery. I arrived at the delivery address in Southwest Miami on Monday May 9th having informed Mike over the weekend of the impending delivery and the need for the shipment's payment code to be made available to me at that time. Florida was working me over well and the trip began as a failure. The van had been completely misrepresented on Ebay and, though I had already paid for it, I walked away without it.
My friend that met me in Miami to take the van had made the trip for nothing. I took
a hotel and awaited Monday so I could make my delivery and get the hell out of town. I had deliveries as far north as Maine and I was behind schedule. As Murphy's Law would have it, Monday was a comedy of errors. The address I had been provided was incorrect and when I did locate what I
thought to be the proper address they were unaware of any motorcycle deliveries and nobody knew anything of Mike. I called, texted, and emailed Mike to no avail. After two hours of waiting I called Uship to explain my difficulties and have them attempt to contact him. An hour later, I called and told them I had to leave. Not only was there no payment code for me to be compensated for my very difficult work, there was no one ready to accept the delivery. The extra load made all of the subsequent stops exponentially more difficult. Compounding the pain of added complications and no pay I would, in all likelihood, be forced to abandon my planned trip to the Isle of Man, for which I'd already invested $6500, in favor of a return to Miami, Florida. What a pain in the ass.

  I finished my lonely late night walk along the beach with a quick dip to wash away the day's accumulation of sweaty grime. It was about one am and I realized I how hungry I was. I'd not eaten all day. It had been far too miserable to consume anything aside from liquids. The Denny's in Northern Daytona wasn't as busy as I anticipated for around two am Sunday morning. Upon exiting the van I noticed that my driver's side rear tire was very low. I'd deal with it after dinner, I thought, and went inside to order a large plate of greasy delicacies and a bottomless cup of coffee. I decimated my meal along with three cups of coffee. I wanted to make it through Orlando before sunrise and I still had a tire to fix and around 100 miles to cover.

  I'm not sure if it was the fact that I had been consuming eggs and bacon like a recently found castaway, or that I looked as if I'd bathed in the ocean; perhaps it was my dirty van and its deflated tire, but mostly I believe it was a very sad look upon my face that was the impetus for an anonymous patron to pay for my meal. Whatever the reasons, when I asked for the check my waitress informed me that it had been taken care of and my benefactor had already left. I looked out the window and a SUV's lights illuminated and quickly backed from alongside my van. I waved and attempted to muster a smile before peeling myself from my seat and pumping a can of Fix-a-flat into my screw penetrated left rear.

  The big local news from the previous day was that some reality show competitor had been followed home and shot in a murder-suicide. Fortunately my newest van has a cd player and I grabbed an old
cd case my mother had unearthed from somewhere within the bowels of my house back in the hills of Tennessee before I left for Florida. I'm becoming a firm believer that, on the aggregate, no news is good news and I dug out an old favorite album to keep me company on the road between Daytona and Orlando. Live at Pompeii is possibly Pink Floyd's most inventive work. It encapsulates human emotions leading up to, facing, and following the chaotic horror that crops up in life. At about 2:30am I pushed the cd into the dash and made my way towards Orlando.

   I've driven and ridden all over the world, and I have a particular skill at finding places to sleep when my determination is overcome by weariness. The key is finding green spots on the GPS, which generally denote parks and public spaces, and then investigating. In Florida this is no longer so simple. The State has sold off nearly all of its public land since the sub-prime mortgage crisis, at what I'm sure were rock bottom prices. So, when I left interstate 4 at 3:45am, I wasn't terribly surprised to find that the parks on my GPS were now gated communities or in the process of becoming gated communities. I quickly gave up my search and pulled into an Episcopal Church parking lot just on the northern outskirts of Orlando. There were two large twin oak trees in the upper portion of the lot that blocked the security lights' glare. I backed as far under them as I could, popped open the rear doors and quickly passed out around 4am.

   Advertising is a devilish thing. It is devised to mislead and manipulate. No matter how resistant we think were are to its sway, in truth we can do little to subvert its inertia. I am no exception to this principle and after the morning's humidity rousted me from my slumber, but before any curious Episcopalians came calling, I returned to the interstate to see a sign for 80's music and cut off Pink Floyd. 107.7 may indeed have the best mix of 80's music in Orlando most of the time, however, last Sunday morning there wasn't a tune to be heard on it or any other station. "We have 50 dead and 53 injured" was the eventual explanation for the lack of music. As I followed I-4 through Orlando I peered to my left to see a sky cluttered with helicopters circling the dead like vultures. I felt nothing but revulsion and an absolute desire to be somewhere else as soon as possible. Florida, what a shit hole. I shouldn't have even been there. I made Lakeland, swiftly collected the Ducati bound for Miami, and delivered it to its new owner within four hours. Immediately afterward I checked into a vastly overpriced hotel to escape the stifling weather and prepare for an early morning delivery of the motorcycles and their damn crates.

  A couple of days after the last attempted delivery of the bikes and their crates I received a call from Mike apologizing that the folks at the delivery location knew nothing of the delivery and he had not been available to provide me with the payment code. He explained that the company I'd tried to deliver to had been hired by his Costa Rican lawyer friend and now things were fixed. I was less than happy with his explanation due to the fact that I'd given him two days notice to be ready. I was already in the heart of Georgia on my way to Maine then the Isle of Man. It would be quite a while before I would return to Florida. He passed along my phone number to his buddy in Costa Rica, Andres, that held interest in the motorcycles. He called to discuss the situation and asked if the bikes could be delivered sooner. I told him I would be forced to hire a driver or miss my trip to do it myself and that I would talk to my driver, Oleg, to see how much he would require to get him to make the trip. There was no huge rush for a resolution I had lots of business in the Northeast and they couldn't be brought to Florida till June at the earliest regardless how the extra trip was handled. Andres seemed content with this. Mike, who ironically owns a Marijuana dispensary in Colorado, was far less pacified. He sent me a steady stream of crappy texts threatening lawsuits. What a shit head! His inept attention to detail for the delivery was costing a great deal of stress while I was busy attempting to leave the country. I told him that the motorcycles and their colossal crates were at my home in Tennessee when ever he wanted, all I wanted was the payment code for the delivery I'd attempted to
make. I wasn't even inclined to ask for anything to cover the substantial work required to load and unload around his undeliverable items. Sadly, Mike still wanted me to make the delivery and he continually sent me threatening texts. Maine, Iowa, and finally another in Tennessee. I was getting fed up with this dickhead. He began accusing me of stealing the bikes and their parts. His patience was non-existent. He wanted to know why I hadn't got in touch with Andres to offer a dollar amount to make the return delivery. I had in fact already done this and informed Andres that I would require $800 for the unscheduled trip from Northeast Tennessee to Miami. I forwarded the correspondence between Andres and I to Mike and he quickly asked for a PayPal address. I didn't have one but gave him the address of a friend of mine traveling the U.S. with her therapy dog. He sent $774 to my friend and I explained that I would be heading to Miami the coming weekend to deliver the bikes and he needed to be on point for the delivery. He thanked me but I had the feeling it was less than sincere.

  I departed from the Diplomat hotel Monday morning. 100 yards from the front doors I began to sweat. I climbed into the van and drove to the shipping agency to undertake the backbreaking task at hand. Thankfully, this time Mike was available. It took about three hours to remove the bikes and their crates from the van and get them into the building. My clothes were saturated by perspiration and my eyes burned from the unceasing flow of sweat when Mike was informed of the successful delivery. He told me to have the contact from the shipping agency call him to confirm the delivery and he would then forward me the shipping code. Thank God! I'm glad to have that one behind me, I thought.

  I drove west through the everglades in a state of despair. The stifling conditions only reinforced my
despondence. Not even thoughts of harassing alligators with my drone were enough to pull me from the doldrums. I passed multitudes of the soulless creatures and my quad copter remained within its case. I'd sacrificed the past year of my life to work and save. What a sham! When other people's incompetence complicated my life I indulged them at my own expense. Save for a winter trip up the ALCAN highway to Alaska, 37 has been the most miserable year of my life. Never have I felt so overwhelmed and underapriciated. The Unites States, Uship, and its shitty customers were unwilling to loosen their grasp on me long enough to take a fresh breath of air. Hell, I shouldn't even be in this shit hole I continued telling myself. I should be watching the last of the TT races on the Isle of Man. Has the money I've made over the last year been worth the loss of my happiness, optimism, and humanity? Fuck no, it has not!

   Nearing the western reaches of Southern Florida I realized that Mike never contacted me with my
payment code. I stopped at a pull-off where a dead gator laid covered by a dozen or so vultures. It reminded me of the previous day's scene in Orlando. I grimaced as I typed out a text to Mike asking for the payment code. I waited, watching the apex predator get picked apart by the scavengers. No response was forthcoming. Mike was attempting to screw me. I turned my van around and booked a hotel back in Miami. I don't think so you son of a bitch.      

   Mike Kollarits was trying to fuck me from the very beginning. Those crates were purposely omitted from the uship listing to save him a chunk of money. He was underhanded and aggressive throughout my dealings with him. From what I can tell it's his typical behavior. This is made all the more infuriating by the fact that he is a wealthy guy. Here is a copy/paste from a post regarding unionization in the medical marijuana industry in which he opposed worker's rights. Mike Kollarits, the Medical-Marijuana Industry spokesperson said, They didn't see the need for unionization in an industry still in its infancy. Colorado voters approved Amendment 20, on November 7, 2000. After 12 years, how can the Medical-Marijuana Industry still be in its infancy.??? Public records indicate in the last 6 years, Mike Kollarits bought a half-million-dollar home in Oswego, Illinois for his wife Jill Kollarits, and he bought the same for his girlfriend, Betty Schroeder, in a gated community in Genesee, Colorado. For himself, he bought a Beach-Front Home in Costa Rica, where he Swings and Conducts his International Business Operations away from the US Government, see: Mike Kollarits owns a $1M, 1987 Dassault Falcon 100 Jet to travel between his three homes, and a $80K, 2010 Mercedes-Benz SL500 Roadster for when he stays in Denver. Mike Kollarits owns four dispensaries including: CMMO Meds & Dacono Meds in Dacono and in Patients Plus & Simply Pure Dispensaries in Denver. I'd like to point out that this was well before recreational pot became legal further bolstering his profits. He set up his most recent shop just over the Nebraska line . What a turd.

  During my trip back to Miami Uship forwarded me an email from Mike in which he accused me of extorting him. It was chocked full of B.S. and he made threats of litigation over the shipment of his clearly misrepresented, and then, due to his own incompetence, undeliverable, load. I pulled out my guns the following morning at the hotel and asked friends on social media to pass on their concerns over Mike's unscrupulous actions to his dispensary's facebook page . Bad business is difficult to hide in the age of social media. 

  Later that morning I arrived at the shipping company as they opened at 9am with the bill of lading in my possession. It documented the shipment that I'd made the previous day and detailed that the payment code be provided to me upon delivery (which it had not been). I explained the situation to them and told them that if Mike did not produce the payment code by noon I would be forced to take the motorcycles and their damn crates with me to Tennessee. They had no choice but to let them go. I had the bill of lading. Mike threatened lots of law suits that morning and representatives from Uship decided to support him rather than me. They claim that they are an unbiased third party, but that is crap. When it comes to me getting paid, they certainly do nothing to help, claiming that it is solely my responsibility to get the payment code. However, when irrational, or even overtly nefarious customers make bogus claims, even as serious as theft, when it is clearly not the case, they tighten the screws and suspend my account if I'm unwilling to accommodate them. I'd been left with a bad taste in my mouth from previous deliveries where I'd not been compensated and it wasn't going to happen again. I was getting paid or the bikes were going with me.

  I don't have much use for most hipsters. They produce very little other than scorn, and yet tend to have inflated sense of self-worth. Unfortunately, I suspect most of the cogs in Uship's Austin, Texas based machine are these pop-culture brats possessing the omniscience that only those with life experience relegated to swiveling chairs in climate-controlled surroundings can have. When they called to admonish me for doing what had to be done to get paid for this job, I stood firm. Unbelievable, I thought. This asshole is doing his best to fuck me and Uship is intent on assisting him. I told them that he had 15 more minutes to provide me with the code or I would recover the motorcycles and head to Tennessee. At 11:55 Mike provided the code and payment was received. I thanked the folks at the shipping company, apologized for the trouble, loaded into my van and headed north. I prevailed, but a reprisal was on its way.

  When the dipshits at Uship tell you to bend over and grin, you will do so or they will extract revenge. They expect that you will capitulate. Myself, I'm too tired of getting fucked to give a damn. They may all go straight to hell! I am very upset that I cancelled my trip to the U.K. to cover for Mike's mistake. In hindsight, I realize that I should have left those bikes and their fucking crates in Tennessee till I returned in August. I doubt that it would have made a sliver's difference in the outcome in Miami, but at least I'd have had my vacation and Mike would have been left waiting. It's what we both deserved. I was driven to try and protect the business that I've worked so tirelessly to build. But it was wasted effort. Uship cancelled my bids and all of the shipments I'd booked but had yet to collect. They emailed all of the customers telling them that I was being investigated. Fortunately, I was able to deliver the motorcycles I had on board headed north, but there is one bound for Denver that has yet to be delivered. By cancelling other westbound deliveries they ensured that
this delivery has been greatly delayed while I have arranged other business. Before it was even late, Uship suggested to this customer that the motorcycle be reported stolen. Those assholes will get what is coming to them. But in a way I'm happy for the push out the door. I'd made them about $35,000 over the past year, and they treated me like shit. I was the #1 motorcycle transporter in the world on their site. I had booked shipments for them all over the United States and throughout Europe despite the struggling economy there. Nonetheless, I was still someone that they were willing to fuck. I'm better off without them. They should have treated me better.

 After my account was suspended, before I even made it out of Florida, I made my way to Jekyll Island, a fine place to formulate ideas, to decompress and think about what's next. I have a plan.

Michelle T. (uShip)
Jun 21, 10:31 AM CDT
There is no reason his suspension should keep him from completing loads he already has, and if he cannot figure out a way, then you would have no choice but to report the motorcycle as stolen. Israel, surely you can find a way that does not involve the police?
Michelle T.
Trust and Safety Team Lead
Israel Gillette
Jun 21, 11:06 AM CDT
Yes, it involves other shipments. I am amassing them at the moment. The shipment is simply delayed. I'd like to point out that you cancelled several westward shipments that I had booked. Had you not done this I would have been in CO by now. Your urging Heather to report the motorcycle stolen, when clearly it has not been, has been noted and this correspondence will be forwarded to my attorney. You are deepening your liability.
Israel Eugene Gillette
Sent from my iPhone







Saturday, June 4, 2016

Quakers, Seabass, and a House of Ill Repute: A Blissful Day in Costa Rica

   I awoke this morning to the sound of rain, the presence of which has plagued my time in Costa Rica from the moment I arrived. Upon emerging from my room, within the not quite dingy hostel, I was informed that I needed to move my bike from the secure confines of the commons room for a non programmed (silent) Quaker meeting which would be taking place shortly. I quickly moved the lame BMW into an adjacent room as the Quakers began to file in. A bit curious, and in need of some inspiration for my next story, I decided that silence was in order and joined this meeting of nothingness. Following 45 minutes of reflecting on equal parts broken motorcycle in Central America and dysfunctional life in Tennessee the quiet time ended and a broad and informal discussion of general topics ensued. I must admit, I enjoyed it far more than having some overbearing know-it-all shout at me for half an hour. At the conclusion of the gathering the fellow directing the service and conversation, Q.D. (Quaker Dan), invited me to lunch.
  The restaurant Dan drove us to on the far side of town, in his late model Japanese sedan, was bustling if a bit plain. QD led the dinner conversation with constant, if measured, questions regarding my trip. Though I had queries of my own, as to how a Quaker ends up in San Jose leading services at a clapped together hostel teaming with fledgling revolutionary hippies, Dan's responses were brief and general. He was from Pennsylvania but did little to explain his departure from the States. When the inquiry was made he simply said that life there no longer suited him. I finished up my meal of Seabass and chips wondering what drove QD south while simultaneously delighting in the quality of the free food. Upon departing Mexico my cuisines' palatablity had taken a nosedive. This hip expatriate dive was a tasty place to dine. There wasn't a bloody plantain in site. QD paid the bill and asked rhetorically, "ready for drinks?". Quickly he added, "I know a place".

  We departed the expat side of town in favor of one of the old high rise hotels in the center of San Jose. As we walked up to the entrance QD explained that it was "sort of a sports bar". I entered the establishment to find a collection of well dressed 50ish year old men sat beneath an expanse of flatscreen televisions adorned with football matches and horse racing. We took a table and ordered drinks. Dan possessed a commanding demeanor. He stood about 6'3", and though perhaps in his mid 50's he was of solid build. He was well spoken, his words few and carefully chosen. He would have surely been a man of some importance in the Quaker community back in rural Pennsylvania. Before I again attempted to make sense of his place in Costa Rica our drinks arrived along with another American. This fellow, dressed in a cream suit more Matlock than Panama Jack, was acquainted with QD. As he was introduced to me and told of my motorcycle trip we were joined by two scantly clad ladies sporting broad smiles. If my presence held any of the stranger's attention it was very quickly diverted. He turned, engaging the young women in a torrent of fluent Spanish, and took each under an arm. The girls then questioned Dan and I, one offering me up a wink. QD's Spanish seemed good, but his response appeared dismissive. I simply shook my head and uttered poco Espanol. With that, Atlanta's greatest attorney wished me luck on my journey, said good bye to Dan, and disappeared into the bowels of the hotel bar with his new clients.

   I finished my first drink quickly and ordered another. There was a lull in the conversation following  the interaction with Mr. Confidence and I'd not quite figured out how to renew the inquisition of Quaker Dan. My benefactor looked to be contemplating something serious and he jostled remnants of his gin tonic. Just as my fresh beer arrived QD swallowed the rest of his drink and asked if I could find my way back to the hostel. I smiled and told him that I don't get lost. "I didn't think so" he replied. He had some business to attent to and needed to be going he explained. As he parted he told me how much he admired my trip, and just before walking away his final words
to me were, "The girls here will ask for one hundred but they'll take fifty".

  I took my time finishing the beer and strolled past a trio of smiling ladies in mini skirts sitting at the bar. I avoided their gaze and wandered onto the street. The rains, so persistent over the previous days, had subsided and the following couple of hours were the best I'd spent in San Jose. Roaming the streets in solitude I was happy to be alive.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Optimisim, Determination, and a Five Year Bridge: Israel, Austria, Coppers, and Palestinians... Some Things Change and Some Things Don't: Part II

If you look very closely, it says, "you're screwed"
  My time in Vienna stretched on and on while my van's tags remained within the 13th district
Police Station. Each of my many trips to retrieve the tags possessed a new task delegated by the authorities which needed to be done in order to retrieve my number plates and get back on the road. After completing each of these my tag's captors would contrive new, and increasingly difficult, chores for me to complete. Though my dismay was great, I was very fortunate to have the support of good friends in Vienna to house Daisy and I as I formulated a plan to make my escape from Austria. Making plans isn't something that has come easy for me. I'm more capricious than calculative. However, as I've grown older I have learned a lesson or two of how to avoid being bloodied.
                                                                    Back to Taba
  Scotch, how smoothly it goes down. One swig after another, I felt no physical opposition to what might be considered outright swilling. On a night as warm as the whisky infused lining of my stomach, I was playing the part of infidel in the midst of a sea of Palestinians. Though I was breaking rules of Ramadan, none of the plebeians stuck behind the fence of the Israeli border crossing at Taba particularly cared. They were focused on spending Eads with their loved ones in some other God forsaken land of rock and sand. Perhaps I was somewhat aloof to Muslim tradition, however, I am always acutely aware of humanistic desire. I am, after all, very human.
  My new friend, Chris, was busy photographing the scene as I engaged some of the Arab contingent in conversation. "They are always doing this to us!" exclaimed one particularly vocal woman, abrogating a somewhat innocuous dialog in which I was engaged. It was a honest and concise statement. One which I felt at my core. These guys weren't a part of Hamas, and I certainly wasn't. And even if they were, this contingent of tramps and lowlifes were on their way out of the country. The only reason that I could see to keep them behind the fence was to make their lives difficult. Though I take issue with many oppressive Arab states, and feel that life in Israel is better for the average person than within any of the surrounding countries, it was clear to me that in this case the Israeli government was bullying those without recourse. The circumstances made for an odd pairing, for on this warm, humid, evening along the Red Sea Israel was aligned with the Palestinians.

                                         Bureaucracy, the Answer for Nonexistent Problems
  It's been my observation that people like looking down on others. It's a hollow sort of pride, reinforcing some demented value in one's existence. Generally these ideas are rooted in fear and ignorance. When it comes to government, economic difficulties magnify this irrational hatred in a marketable way. Jews are ruining Germany, they must be stopped! Better dead than RED! If you're not with us, you are against us! The illegals are bringing ebola, nukes, and Islam while simultaneously taking your job as they ride the welfare train. The talking points may differ, but the message is the same. You are not safe, we can save you, TRUST US.

Should you trust them? NO... FUCKING... WAY!

  Sure, some places are better than others when it comes to freedom, but ultimately bureaucracy is diametrically opposed to liberty. The fundamental need to feed government growth is the undoing of free will. In an almost cyclical fashion civilizations, societies, nations, or even municipalities become overrun by onerous rules and strict enforcement. The worse the laws, the more brutal the control. Eventually, too many of the plebeians are alienated and it all comes down around the leaders' heads (which are occasionally already rolling around on the ground;). Regardless where you find yourself at the moment, there is a government official nearby working to satisfy interests which contravene your own.

                     The Austrian Police, Better than Those in the U.S., but still Pains in the Ass
   I undertook the tenuous task of replacing the tire which supposedly caused my van's plates to be taken, then turned up at the police station for an inspection and to pay a fine. The guys at the station reprimanded me for moving my tagless van and informed me that the Daisycam was not allowed in the police station. Somehow they ignored the camera I was wearing.

  Though the video seems to cast a favorable light upon my plight, reality was not so kind. After disabling the cameras and reentering the police station. I was informed that I must go to the Polish embassy and retrieve a decree from the ambassador that I was allowed to drive with the plates. Who dreams this shit up? If my imagination were this active, I'd be rich.

                                     David's Knee or my Head, Which was Harder?
  Following a bit more scotch, and chatter, I approached the fence, which had been closed following my initial inquiry of the Israeli border guards (see part 1), whilst simultaneously pulling my passport from my hind pocket. I raised my ID to the sky with my right hand and forcefully shook the gate with my left. "I'm an American citizen!, "This is a 24 hour border crossing!", I exclaimed, "Let me go!!". One of the contingent of Israeli military looked directly at me and gave me a toothy grin. It was not a devious one. Perhaps he just enjoyed the reprieve from, what may have otherwise been, a night of monotony. Regardless of the reason, it was a gaze which I will never forget. I turned and retreated from the fencing into the sea of Gentiles.

   I was now of more interest to the massive contingent of Arab plebeians and there was a constant stream of inquires and advice making its way in my direction. A distinct parity existed between the words from the women and those of the men. The fairer sex advised me to be patient. "These things happen frequently, just wait", one of them told me. The men were of a diverging opinion. One of them asked me to approach and talk to the border guards once again. My retort was simply, "I already talked to them, they didn't care what I had to say". The cheeky Palestinian replied, rather loud and forcefully, as he pumped his pointing finger in my direction. "This time you tell them, you tell them Obama is your cousin!". This brought my eyebrows up, and a smile to my face. Laughing heartily I parleyed the notion that I didn't think this would help. Though I was beginning to have ideas.

 Another hour or so passed, and I was becoming aquatinted with my captive brethren. "Hello, Muhammad. Nice to meet you. My name is Israel" was repeated more than once. My BAC maintained a steady ascent and I was feeling rather good. I moved from conversation to conversation with a certain ease. I may have looked out of place, however, I felt right at home. Chris was drifting in and out of my periphery, snapping photos and occasionally stopping by to listen in on the chatter. We had entered the third hour of waiting when I approached Chris and said "take plenty of photos". I'm not quite sure how he responded, or if he did, I was focused on the two and a half meter tall gate that separated Us from Them. I took to the chain links with a determined gusto and the Israeli border guards rushed over to try and repel me verbally. Though my hiking pack was fully laden, I quickly crested the barrier, and the military contingent assisted in an even quicker decent on the west side. It was the last time I ever saw Chris.



Sunday, July 27, 2014

Optimism, Determination, and a Five Year Bridge : Israel, Austria, Coppers, and Palestinians...Some Things Change, Some Things Don't : Part I

   The sun's uninhibited glare shines through a 4th floor flat's window overlooking Vienna. I sit in bureaucratically imposed traction wondering if the number plates, which now rest in the 13th district Polizei headquarters, will make a miraculous return to their rightful place upon my van's bumpers. I, of course, know better. It was Thursday afternoon when an Austrian copper spied the Polish tags on my legally parked van and decided it needed closer scrutiny. It turns out that I, a supposed Pole, was endangering the Austrian public with a shoddy tire. My tags were removed and I've remained here since.  During the past ten days I have watched the world stew within a cauldron fired by greed, fear, and hatred. The land of opportunity is chucking immigrants into cells at an alarming rate as its police continue to pillage the innocent. My hope for the future in Europe is crumbling under the weight of crushing austerity. As to whether fools in Ukraine intentionally blasted a MalaysianAir jet out of the sky is immaterial, roughly 300 innocent people are now dead. Finally, my namesake has been proving very efficient at exacting revenge for the deaths of their boys. Here, then, I sit, in the midst of it all. I have relevant stories regarding each of them. However, the most personal, I now present as honestly as I know how.
   I spent the summer of 2009 having a marvelous time baking away in the Middle East. The trip began under auspicious circumstances as former President Jimmy Carter was on board my friend Arie and I's flight from Atlanta to Tel Aviv. The last good man to the lead the United States snubbed, taxpayer funded, private charter to travel with the plebeians. He went to each and every passenger personally greeting them. The first words written in my beloved hand bound journal were, To Israel   J Carter. My life has never been typical, but from that moment forward it's not been the same. The journey, in its entirety, was a thing of beauty and I was on the cusp of international incidents twice. The first of these has already been captured by my pencil but the latter has been stewing within my head for five years now.
It would have been amiss of me to spend two months in the Middle East and not make my way to Egypt to gaze upon Giza. Though by this juncture I'd already done quite a lot of traveling, as well as drinking, and my pockets were virtually empty with two weeks remaining till Arie and I returned to the States.  Fortunately, my buddy offered to loan to me some money to make such a thing happen. Thanks again, Arie. His last words upon my departure were, "Be Careful".
  I caught a bus out of Jerusalem headed for Eilat and, as it so happened, there were other English speaking folks on board. As is typical of me, I left them alone. There were some wealthy Arab kids seated between myself and them. They proved to be a bit aggressive. They muscled their way around and over others on the bus to congregate in front of me, smoking cigarettes and talking shit. They did so at the expense of those a bit less willing to accept their abrogative behavior and quickly ganged up on their neighbor from the UK who dared to speak up against them. I was less than impressed and interceded on behalf of the girl whom was losing her seat to the smokers. The three Nike clad thugs were quick to direct, in unison, their attention in my direction. They felt that 3 on 1 were pretty good odds. So did I. I maintained my stance and after the lead punk pointed at me and uttered, "You're crazy man!" and the bus was stopped, the girl got her seat back. I abandoned my place to take up a spot on the floor, away from the kids (late teens/early twenties) I'd just schooled. Briefly I became the center of the passengers' attention and I exchanged glances with the group of folks I'd help to defend. One of them, Chris, approached me and thanked me for the help. He sat with me on the floor for the remainder of the trip, telling me of his time assisting in the development of schools for Bedouin children. I took an immediate liking to Chris and upon our arrival in Eilat we hovered around the fringes of the group he was with, musing of travels and sipping scotch. During the evening Chris concluded that he would join me on my trip to Egypt.
  The distance from Eilat to the 24 hour border crossing into Sinai is roughly 10 kilometers. Being that we were in good shape, and of thrifty minds, we opted to walk. The night's warm temps were aided by the Red Sea in producing a tacky atmosphere that clung to our clothes as we passed through on our way to the doorway out of the Promised Land. We arrived at the Taba border just before midnight on Eid to find it a cluttered mess. Empty buses and taxis were engulfed by a sea of Palestinians waiting to get through the border, presumably to feast with their families following Ramadan. I was quick to assess the situation and saw that the queue wasn't diminishing. After half an hour of watching I walked through one of the open border gates, used for passing vehicles, and inquired of one of the Israeli guards, "what's going on, why isn't anyone passing?". The young soldier replied "go stand back in the line, please". "Oh come on", I prodded. Reiterating my earlier question, I received the exact same answer. I walked away, catching the eye of another soldier that shot me a grin, and they closed the fence behind me. Chris and I chatted briefly about possible causes for this, but we arrived at similar conclusions. There was no reason to prevent this this Arab exodus from Southern Israel. It was a power play. Chris went about documenting the scene with his camera. Myself? Well, at this point I should have thought of my friend's parting advice back in Jerusalem, but instead I dug Glenlivet out of my backpack and thought about how much I dislike fences. The night was still young.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

125 MPH in the Custody of the Queen: A Scottish Holiday

  It was a terrific Saturday, the first in over a month that I'd not found myself in a rush. Between rumbling across the U.S. in my van from Seattle to Atlanta, via Dallas, to catch my flight back to Romania, in the span of 5 days, and a not quite direct motorcycle trip to the U.K. to collect a van for European rambling, I'd worn myself thin. Transferring the money from my account to the van's seller proved to be an arduous affair and I was ready to split from Newcastle to a more rural setting once paperwork for the Sprinter's transfer was finalized late Friday afternoon. After driving into the evening, along the coast, I spotted a nice flat spot and stopped.  I awoke the following morning to find a Pay and Display parking meter in the lot which I had passed out. These have spread like the plague in the UK since my first trip here, and you now find them in cow pastures. I checked my pockets for change to find 90 pence, a far cry from the 2 pounds (Thanks to the stodgy Canadian setting monetary policy in the UK now, about $3.50) needed for the first two hours. After digging through a variety of Pesos, Shekels, Bolivianos, and Quetzal (amongst others), I found another 30 P. I rolled my eyes and thought about the $9 per (US) gallon diesel I'd filled up with on my way to North Sunderland. Surely to God there was enough tax there to fund some bloody parking lot out in the sticks. I put it out of my mind and hiked through the field down to the shore.
  It felt good to hear the North Sea waves crashing on the beach and sense the slap of cool, rushing, wind as I sauntered along. I had nowhere to be and there were castle ruins on the horizon. My goals for the day were to be flexible and simplistic, a good fit for me I figured. One foot in front of the other, look around, repeat.
  Though the sandy patch of earth was far from crowded, I saw dogs, horses, golfers, surfers, both machine gun, and sand, bunkers before reaching the castle which loomed over the entire journey.

This fellow looks to have a pretty good arm. He must play cricket.

A walk spoiled?

Perhaps Pine Oaks should consider adding one of these to the back 9.

 I returned to the car-park/cow pasture in an ambivalent mood. Between the 15, or so, miles I'd covered and the restless wind, I felt a bit shagged, but oddly rejuvenated. The semi-euphoric second wind inspired a look at the map. Shit, I was at the doorstep of Scotland, one of my favorite places, and home to a friend from a former life.
   My days at Washington College Academy are held in high regard, and many of the kids I met there are still friends, and likely will be for life. The virtues of private school are topics for another day, but it was during my time roaming the grounds of WCA that I met Kate. We aren't overtly similar, unlike me, she wasn't expelled, and she has gone on to reach some lofty heights. I suppose the mountains of East Tennessee must feel a universe away for her now as she attends to the needs of Old St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in the heart of Edinburgh. Though perhaps odd that I have some sort of connection to a priest in Scotland, I suspect that there is something vaguely appropriate about it. I'd always thought of Kate as having an obstinate streak, one she's likely had to suppress, more than to her liking, to reach her goals in life. Conversely, my recalcitrant composition is something that cannot be subdued and a caprice, roller-coaster, life has made aspirations difficult to chase, but still, I have a nagging desire for success and the trappings therein. Perhaps we aren't altogether different. So, I sat there looking at Google maps. Old St. Paul's it is, I concluded, and pulled my ticket laden van from the parking lot on a northerly course to catch the following morning's service. In hindsight, I should have stayed put.
 By the time I reached the Scottish border darkness had fully enveloped the sky, but Edinburgh was
just another hour up the A1 so I stopped briefly to recall a memory and snap a photo for posterity. When last I was at this mortar and stone ode to the freest part of the UK, I was out of jail on $25,000 bond. In an attempt to help some poor sod back in my home town of Jonesborough, Tennessee I'd summoned a shit-storm of anti-1st amendment sentiment amongst the most steroid addled coppers in all the land. They exercised a great deal of imagination, but very little concern or restraint, in concocting a story and levying charges intended to destroy me. Though victory was mine in the end (if it could be called that), when I first reached Scotland, little over a week after defending myself at a preliminary hearing, the toll taken on my life seemed large indeed. So-called friends would no longer be seen with me, and murmurs of my stupidity were hard to bear. I wondered how trying to help someone could transform me into such an outcast.
None the less, before the judge, I stood tall and I fought hard. I recall leaving the court-room after the preliminary hearing in the newly-finished, multi, multi million dollar Washington County Justice Center feeling less than happy. There is little justice to be found here. How can they build a case from nothing? Fuck them, and Fuck this place, I thought, this isn't living, and this is not my home. Rather than putting off my planned motorcycle trip across Europe, I pushed forward. I sold everything easily liquidated that I owned, including my beloved Ducati, scratched the head of the only girl that didn't mind to be seen with me at the time(Daisy is the best friend a trouble-maker like me could ever have) and headed for a new environment.
  Shortly after departing the border monument I passed a Volvo wagon (or estate for the right-hand drive crowd) adorned with the distinguished markings of the Scottish police. I noticed that the Swedish cruiser balked as I passed, but thought little of it, though similar behavior from police in the States would have left me looking for a place to pull off and hide. It took a while, however, blue lights illuminated the sky and I quietly cursed the Polish tag that hung from my bumper. The two officers hastily approached after I pulled over, they went to the front of the van then the more wiry of the pair came to open drivers window, while the other surveyed the interior through the sealed passenger's window, and asked me to switch beams. He then returned to the front of the van and called for me to join him. He pointed to the extinguished low beam. It then became obvious that he'd expected a Polski. When I removed my passport, while explaining the lack of warning lights for blown bulbs in Sprinter vans, he said "You're an American?". The dark haired copper began an inquisition into how I came about having a Polish registered van. The other guy just looked on in silence. I produced paperwork for the van and he somewhat dismissively said, "This means nothing
to me". Things weren't looking good. He asked about insurance, and I replied that I'd only bought the
van the previous evening in Newcastle and I'd not had a chance to acquire any. There was unmistakable glee in his eyes and voice when he informed me that they would be seizing the van and it was going to cost about 200 Pounds, at the least, to retrieve it. Damn my honesty, this guy wasn't going to be cool in the least. The lanky chatterbox escorted me to the back of the Volvo so they could collect some information. After directing me to the back seat and closing the door, he took to the phone and returned to my van. The bulkier, and until this point mum, officer was seated in the front passenger seat and inquired, as we waited for his partner's return, "do you have a bike in there?". "Yes" ,I responded, "how did you know?" He said, "I saw the Isle of Man TT patch on your jacket in the van". He went on to tell me about his Fireblade (that is the 900-1000cc CBR Stateside) and asked about camping on the Isle for the TT. Why couldn't this guy be in charge, I thought. We continued with our motorcycle centered conversation till the other officer returned and directed the discourse in a more stressful direction. The call to the tow driver ("I need a job created", he said. Great, a Keynesian copper) went unanswered, so the friendlier bloke took to the wheel of my new van and followed Glasgow Slim and I to the impound yard. I was told I could take my things from the van. I explained that I had insurance on my motorcycle and I wanted to use it to go on to Edinburgh since Monday was the earliest I could retrieve the van. My young driver had started to soften as he heard of my journeys and relented, after all, it had insurance. The biker helped me unload, and pack, my Yamaha. Once finished, I was instructed to follow them to the station in the town of
Dunbar. Ironically, this birthplace of the father the modern conservation movement, and proponent of the formation of U.S. national parks, John Muir, is also home to a massive coal-fired power plant. Once past the monstrosity of a plant, made more dingy by the high pressure sodium bulbs illuminating its austere exterior, we reached a large roundabout and the Volvo pulled away for the 270 degree right-hand turn. Not so fast I thought and put my on bike its side motoring up to the exhaust pipes of the cruiser as we exited the roundabout. It was a taste of things to come. With the power plant out of site, the, quaint, sleepy burg showed little movement for
a Saturday night. We passed John Muir's monument in the middle of town and I thought about the U.S. National Parks pass in my hip pocket. It had been useless, a few month prior, during the government shutdown. Oh, how apt bureaucrats are at taking something good and turning it to complete shit. We pulled into the abandoned bread-box of a police station and I settled into the employee of the month parking spot.
    I have a knack for finding myself in interrogation rooms following relatively innocuous infractions, you might even call it a gift, having now done so on four continents in seven countries. So again, I found myself sitting at a table intended to separate the investigator from the suspect. Alone, sipping on coffee procured by the biker, I came to the conclusion that this was taking far too long. The duo of sweater clad bobbies finally entered the room and Slim spoke up. "Well", he said, "You are having a bad night, and it's about to get worse. We ran the tag on your bike and the MOT expired last month (MOT is an acronym for Ministry Of Transportation, these are the government screws that get to say that your car or motorcycle is in good enough shape to be used on the roads. Once a year your vehicle is scrutinized and, if passed, given a certificate. When I bought my Yamaha here a year ago, I never dreamed it would return to the UK, as it was intended to carry me to Siberia) and you cannot provide us a U.K. address. Given that we have no way to contact you and your motorcycle is not road-legal here, we have to take you into custody". I grinned broadly and gazed at the two and said, softly with my best Scottish accent, "Fookin' great". This prompted a little chuckle from the Jr. partner. "Right then", said skinny, "you'll be going to court on Monday in Selkirk, but till then you'll be kept in custody in Harwick at the detention facilities. That's 60 miles from here, but before we take you we'll need to document all your belongings not packed away and locked in the motorcycle". That's a lot of documentation, I thought. And the two cops went about accounting for about 100 separate items in my two bags. They got a big kick out of my Breaking Bad tee shirt. "In legal trouble? Better Call Saul!"
     After all my baggage had been itemized, I was placed in cuffs and taken to the Volvo. They managed to have some difficulty fitting my bags, coats, and helmet into the Wagon. "I fit that on a 660cc motorcycle, surely to Christ you can fit it into an estate" , I quipped. The biker laughed, and I was belted in place with cuffed hands between my torso and tightly woven nylon. Friendly took a seat alongside me in the back, and Glasgow Joe grabbed the wheel. By now, it was after midnight and their shifts should have been over, but this gave them opportunity to show the American a good time. We reached the roundabout and Slim put the peddle on the floor. The hash-marks of the A1 melded into a solid line as the turbo whirred. It was foggy, and misting rain, as the Swedish grocery getter's speedo needle eclipsed 120 Miles Per Hour. I looked over at my neighbor and inquired as to whether or not my rapid taxi was equipped with All Wheel Drive. I was mildly relieved to find that it was. It must be said, I have a very high tolerance for speed and 125MPH in a straight line isn't the sort of thing that accelerates my heart rate but I certainly found the restraints disconcerting. Upon turning onto the A6112, my assessment of the situation changed. The rural routes which snake through the Scottish countryside are not to be taken lightly under the best of conditions. They are narrow, hilly, and crooked. My first girlfriend lost her life here in a motoring accident, and I thought of her as we barreled over a blind rise which bent to the left. Displacing rain and mist, the Scandinavian brick briefly battled with gravity and pressed heavily back into wet asphalt as it sprinted off toward the next terror. Only another 50 miles of surprises, I pondered, what a pity. I spoke up in my flattest, deadpan, tone, "I take it you drive these roads a lot". There was only a laugh in response, and it may of well been emitted from a wicked clown. Even knowing these roads well, as Slim clearly did, it was still the folly of a young man showing off, and I was not amused. At
least they are well insured, I mused as we set off the flash of a speed camera taking an apex ascending yet another hill. You could tell the driver's familiarity with the roads began to dwindle the further into our trip we reached, and he was forced to make corrections mid-corner on a couple of occasions. The worst of these came when his radio clicked on, taking his attention precisely as the transition between breaking, acceleration, and steering input needed to be fluid. Following this mishap the wheelman reduced our speed by about 15% and I was much happier. The remaining 20 miles transpired in relative bliss.
  Upon arriving at the detention facilities, run by the friendly folks of Q4S, the jailers were more than a bit surprised to be looking after an insurance offender. I was taken to my windowless, 10'x10', cell and promptly passed out. The jailer came by and woke me on the hour, to ensure I hadn't offed myself. I suppose there really isn't much to report. It was 40 hours of solitude, save for the 40 check ups and 2 showers. I suppose it is worth mentioning the DNA sample though. "You can tell the Queen that she can fuck off" I implored "If you want my DNA, you are going to have to forcibly take it" The officer was caught a bit off balance, he'd not expected resistance. I had, until this point, been a model detainee. A senior officer came in to assist. "Come now" he said, "it's just like brushing your teeth, we know you brush your teeth". I thought quickly of my showers and the odd device provided for oral hygiene. It was a cylinder about 2 inches long with a diameter of half an inch. You unscrewed the cap , jettisoning the outer tube, to reveal an attached, brush-like, rubber instrument to place on the
index finger. Why not simply brush with your finger?  I inserted the little rubber brush into its vile after I'd finished, placed it with my wet towel and called for an escort back to my slice of Scottish oppression. I realized the sneaky fucks already had my DNA. They were threatening to keep me longer if I didn't relent, and I decided that they had it either way, what did it matter? In hindsight, I wish I'd made more of a stink, but alas, I am getting too old for that.
  Shortly after making a fuss over forking over my DNA, I was taken to a G4S prisoner escort truck. Each passenger had their own portable cell. How nifty! As we got going the radio was notched up to ear bleed setting for the 10 mile trip to Selkirk. My little window possessed a red tinting that had not been noticeable from the outside. There was an impossible classic rock trivia game taking up an inordinate portion of the air-time on this particular BBC station and, even coming from the red-neck rock capitol of the world, I was oblivious to the answers to most all of the queries. I was focused on little red sheep prancing about red pastures divided by red fences when the pointlessly obscure trivia was interrupted by Kansas. "Carry on my wayward son. There'll be peace when you are done. Lay your weary head to rest. Don't you cry no more". Fitting, the red landscape continued to pass my gaze as I listened to this song I'd heard at least a thousand times before, I concluded, in silence, you can't make this shit up. "Carry on, you will always remember. Carry on, nothing equals the splendor. Now your life's no longer empty.
Surely heaven waits for you." On que, this was about the time the paddy wagon pulled into the Sheriff's court of Selkirk, to a building was more akin to a castle than a court.
  The wait to speak with my solicitor (lawyer) proved to be a lengthy one so I took to people watching. My cell-mates were of the typical faire, young, poor, and uneducated. The major differences between inmates here and back home was that none of these were here for drugs or DUI. I wonder what Q4S would give for a good, old fashioned, drug war in the UK?
  The two lawyers representing those in custody were both young. One was a sharply dressed man with far too much gel in his hair to be trusted. The other, a lady, looked to have spent too many nights awake without a break. Fortunately, I was given the latter to represent me in court. She went about collecting copious amounts of personal information to present to the Sheriff (that's the judge). She couldn't believe that I'd been arrested for an insurance violation, I wished I felt the same, but these sorts of things no longer surprise me. She informed me I needed an address to give the court. I told her that if she could arrange to get my phone from the bags containing my property, I could get an address. There was no signal to be found in bowels of the courthouse, but there was one address that I had at my disposal. I looked at the google maps history. 39 Jeffrey Street, Edinburgh, Scotland. The address, of course, was to Old St. Paul's Cathedral. Sorry Kate, desperate times call for desperate measures. Perhaps there is something fitting about it. After all, shouldn't St. Paul have some sympathy for the traveling prisoner?
   At about 5pm I was cuffed to one of Q4S' finest and marched up out of the depths of the holding cells to the arena that is a Sheriff's courtroom. As the accused, I was stood, along with my tethered escort, at the lowest level of the room with all other seats surrounding me at higher levels. I felt like an examined specimen. The prosecutor began the proceedings expressing some confusion in the multiple tags and registrations attached to the charges. I spoke up to clarify that there was a motorcycle involved as well as the van. This was clearly not the time to help, and the entire court took a collective gasp at my audacity. I pled ignorance, apologized, and the prosecutor finished her brief, misguided, citation of the charges.
  I must say, Sarah, my solicitor made me sound pretty impressive. "Israel Gillette is an honors graduate from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga where he studied business and economics. He is in the midst of extensive travels which have seen him in 40 countries over the past 5 years. He is in the UK to acquire a van needed to expand his motorcycle transport business to include Europe." She continued on to explain the technicalities of the van's acquisition as well as its seizure and mounting tow bill. I was really amazed with Sarah's performance, she hadn't paused or stumbled during an extensive narrative. Now, it was the Sheriff's turn. Speaking up in a most dignified and aristocratic voice, he delineated the particulars of the insurance motoring law of 1988. He went on to recognize that though I'd only just acquired the van, insurance was compulsory prior to my operating the van on UK roads. "It is something we take very seriously here", he said, adding, "however, I have never see anyone taken into custody for it, In light of your extended stay at her majesties' pleasure and the mounting tolls for the release of the vehicle, I will modify the penalty from 120 pounds to 80, and assess 6 points to you license (what license?)" I was taken back down the stairs and released.
  It was time to get to work, I had 3 jackets, 2 bags (packed to the gills), and a helmet. The impound yard was 50 miles away, I was on foot, and I had 1 pound 20. I emerged from the courthouse looking like a motorcycling hobo, missing a motorcycle. A lady standing outside approached me and asked if she could be of help. She'd heard about my court appearance. More infamous than famous I thought, and pulled my, nearly dead, phone from one of 20 available pockets and asked that she snap a photo. Things were going my way!