Dear Ken,It’s been nearly ten months since you went away. Still, every day I think of you, I miss you, and I wish we could get you back. I started making a list of memories we shared, and I’m trying to learn more about the parts of your life that were unfamiliar to me. I’m thinking of you more than usual this week, because my new book is out and I’m on the road every day. You and I didn’t really travel together that much, but whenever we did, it was a lot of fun. Looking back, I wish I’d taken you to Bangkok or Dubai. I remember one time when you were traveling in your army uniform and got upgraded on a short domestic flight. You texted me to say how excited you were. I laughed, because flying First Class on a short U.S. flight isn’t much to rejoice over. I used to send you photos of me jetting around the world on much nicer airlines, and you’d always reply with a thumbs-up or an enthusiastic comment. Read More
"Do human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?” -Emily, from Our Town by Thomas WilderThis past weekend I went back to the city where my brother and I both lived for a while. In fact, I stayed in the small hotel where I saw him for the last time. That visit was a year or so ago, and when we said goodbye he was returning to his home in Washington, D.C. and I to Portland. Ken had an appreciation for good whiskey, but on our last evening together I discovered that he had never heard of bourbon and ginger ale, a very basic and common drink. Following my lead, he had his first one that night at the hotel restaurant where we were staying. Then, the next morning, we had breakfast together in the same restaurant before going our separate ways. It’s funny how experiences like those seem so trivial at the time. Imagine writing a story composed of such details: two characters meet in a bar for a drink and talk about nothing terribly important. The next morning they have breakfast together and then fly back home. There’s no plot, no conflict, no life-altering decision to be made. What a boring story! Read More
"Every day is like a self addressed envelope we post to ourself. Be careful what you post in it.”
I went through a phase as a kid when I collected autographs from baseball players. It was a pretty short phase—I don’t care much for baseball now—but for a few moths, I spent all my allowance on baseball cards, then consulted a book that listed the addresses of retired players. I’d send off a card to five or ten of them a week, including a note asking for an autograph, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope, then wait to see what happened.
As I recall, the results were pretty good. It took a while, but on average about half of the players returned my envelope with an accompanying autograph. It was fun to get mail, and the response motivated me to send out more batches of requests so I could await the returns in future weeks.Read More
One time, long ago, I had a hard year while living in Memphis, Tennessee.
Ever since then, especially when I’ve been at events throughout the south, I’ve met a lot of people who also lived in Memphis for a time. When the subject comes up, once in a while I mention something about my hard year there, and I always add a disclaimer: “Probably it was just me.”
There are good people everywhere, and you never want to insult someone’s city. More than once, though, they’ve said “I had a hard year in Memphis too!”
As the song says, maybe it was Memphis, but maybe it was just me. Whatever it was, it wasn’t only a hard year: it was actually a terrible year where I felt very alone and afraid.Read More
It was long ago and it was far away, and it was so much better than it is today.
I had an eclectic taste in music when I was a kid. Much of it came from my dad, who introduced me to Bob Dylan before I became more of a fan than he was. There was also Tom Petty (early years), Warren Zevon, and Bruce Springsteen at some point.
I was growing up at least ten or fifteen years late, in other words.
But our generation had an edge on the previous one when it came to technology, or so it seemed at the time. I'd saved for a Sony Walkman, a prized possession acquired at age eight, and over the next few years I recorded songs off the radio for later listening. Late at night, I’d play myself to sleep on many of those songs.Read More
Yesterday I walked off the jetway into the transit area of Johannesburg’s international airport and had a flashback. I’d been here so many times... yet I always remember coming here years ago, way back in 2006 for the first time.
Back then I was beginning a new way of life. I had ended my four-year stint on a hospital ship in West Africa. I was going to a new home in Seattle—eventually. But first I had a side trip: I had to pick up a new country!Read More
We didn’t buy it, but we did in fact rent it out. Today I was working on my quarterly taxes and smiled when I saw the charge for the Oregon Zoo from last year. Aside from my house, the zoo was the largest thing I’ve ever paid for—and the largest credit card charge by far.…Read More
“The past always seems better when you look back on it than it did at the time. And the present never looks as good as it will in the future.” -Peter Benchley Back in the days when I still had hobbies, a few friends used to come over to the house for weekly gaming sessions.…Read More
Once upon a time I lived in the small country of Togo in West Africa. I was based on a hospital ship docked in Lomé, the capital, and the team I worked with had a project three hours’ north in a village. One of our team members needed to be there during the week, but…Read More
I said I was heading to the airport, and someone said they hate flying because of the TSA. "I just can't stand to travel anymore!"
I said I was passing through LAX, and someone else said, "Ugh, LAX. What a mess."
It's OK, I told them, I have a one-night layover in the city before moving on to Asia.
"My sister lives there," I heard, "and I don't know how she stands it. The traffic is terrible!"Read More
On my first day in Asia last month, I took a long walk to reorient myself to a place I knew well through countless jet-lagged visits over the past five years. In Hong Kong, you can wander freely. You can eat milk tarts. You can be a Westerner and not feel completely adrift in unfamiliarity, something that isn't always possible in mainland China. If you're like me, you can buy a can of iced coffee at 7-11 in the mornings and a can of beer in the evenings.Read More
When you first head off to places in the world that are a lot different from where you live, a number of things change. You have to learn to adapt. I still make a lot of mistakes everywhere I go, but I try to learn from each of them. Here’s a short list of things…Read More