When – and how – does a tourist become a traveler?

A few years ago I was painting the exterior of my three-story house. Leaning sideways off my two-story ladder, trying to see how far I could stretch before needing to climb back down to move the ladder, I heard an engine idling on the street behind me. I turned to see a hotel van full of Japanese businessmen. Through their translator, I answered their questions. The most important one? How much was I being paid to work on a Sunday? When I told them it was my house, they pointed and chattered among themselves before the translator asked if they could take my picture. If I’d been thinking fast enough, I would have given them each some scrapers and brushes and put them to work. To me, they were tourists – voyeurs who look without seeing, observing but not absorbing the lives of others through a lens they’ve paid to look through. Read More

Sharing our public and private selves

Guatemala. There’s a couple who’ve been passing through town for the past few days. They seem like normal, active, sun-weathered people, indefinably aged somewhere between their early 50’s and healthy 70’s. We’ve seen each other in our wanderings, with the usual, “Hola, buenas dias/tardes” and a nod before going our respective ways. Saw them again this morning in my favorite local coffee shop/restaurant – great food, better owner, and fantastic selection of classical and opera on the sound system. After exchanging acknowledging nods I went back to checking email, reading the paper and enjoying my meal. Anyway, in a place where the conversation is usually in at least two, more likely 3-4 different languages, I picked up on their American accents when they took a table just a couple away from mine.

I couldn’t help but overhear. The mundane: deciding whether to go to a nearby town or not; making plans for the day’s walk. The personal: “Let’s see how I feel when we get back.” I’ll admit it was hard to get back to my paper. Next, bits and pieces about her multiple complicated ailments, with names I can’t pronounce and couldn’t begin to spell. She’s going in for surgery [again] and this time will [1] be knocked out and [2] take 3-4 weeks to recover, the longest time she’s ever had in her history of cuttings. This is her last trip before the surgery, but she wants to restore her quality of life. The quality she’s come to expect through the years. Apparently there are some age-related organic issues, as well. Her words expressed a matter-of-fact confidence in the whole process. Her voice said anything but. Read More

My Book of Mormons – surviving a visit to OZ

After years of just changing planes in Salt Lake City’s airport, I finally ventured into town. It felt good, driving into town after nearly a month of wandering in the desert with just my tent. Beautiful scenery and a great light rail system. My frequent-sleeper points got me a free room w-a-y out in the burbs, but hey, it had a hot shower, a nice mattress and a coffee-maker that I didn’t have to light a fire for. And…it was less than five walking minutes from a station and a train that got me downtown in 20 minutes for $2.50 round trip. [It also goes directly from downtown to the airport.]

Went for a walk downtown, seemed like I was the only one there, but it was excusable, seeing as how it was Friday around 5:00 p.m. and the temps were nearing triple digits. I asked directions a couple of times. For the most part, people gave me the wrong information.

But they were very friendly and polite. Read More

Is American Youth Wasted? – 4

What’s the matter with kids today? Or should the question be, “What’s the matter with their elders?”

[With apologies to Bye Bye Birdie]

Compared to their parents and elders, kids are early adaptors. That’s life.

The newest music, the newest dances, the newest whatever. Something to give them a feeling of independence from the authority figures who’ve been directing their entire lives. Would we rather breed robots who goose-step to their parents’ drum – or individuals who, if we’re lucky, will respect our experience and opinions, but won’t agree with us on everything?

In the 50’s and 60’s telephones preceded rock-n-roll – but they both came together when Conrad Birdie went off to serve his country.

Today – it’s social media. As soon as their parents began using Facebook, kids moved on to other media. Read More

Is American Youth Wasted? – 3

Many years ago, former general and outgoing president Eisenhower warned us of the dangers inherent in America’s Military-Industrial complex. Is it past time to watch out for the University-Government-Banking complex? I’ve taught at the university level. My students were kids. Not bad kids. Just kids.

What if – and this is a statement I would have cringed at 40 years ago – we required two years of national service before college enrollment? Working in healthcare, environmental work, the military, or in an updated incarnation of VISTA. If not this, what if we at least followed the example of the NFL and didn’t allow students to enter a university program until four years after their high school class has graduated? [The NBA has a minimum age as well as a one-year requirement.]

Before committing themselves to a massive debt that qualifies them to work as a barista, let the kids learn about the world. Our society needs skilled tradespeople and caregivers, retail managers and other professions where – for all practical purposes – a college degree really isn’t needed. The American university system has become an extremely expensive means of socializing our youth in the years between leaving home and becoming productive members of society. Except for a tiny minority of students, it’s really not an educational system. Maybe they’ll even find a good career that doesn’t entail accumulating all that debt that paralyzes their future and constipates the national economy.

Since this student debt also subsidizes athletic programs and the retail and real estate communities in college towns, we may also need to find ways to help these businesses readjust to reality.

Is American Youth Wasted? – 2

Today’s thanks go to Barbette Hunter, who found and posted this note on Facebook a few months ago –

Become friends with people who aren’t your age.

Hang out with people whose first language isn’t the same as yours.

Get to know someone who doesn’t come from your social class.

This is how you see the world.

This is how you grow.

Is American Youth Wasted? – 1

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala – I’m surrounded by lots of age 20-30 something Canadians & Aussies, with a handful of Europeans. They’re friendly, knowledgeable, confident and curious. There’s nary an American to be found. The ones you do see have hired guides and take taxis rather than walking and exploring on their own. I’ve had this same experience in Africa and other parts of Latin America.

Has the US poured its next generation into the jello mold of gotta-a-job-or-else?

These kids I’ve met learn more on the road than US kids learn in a classroom. They learn that, under the cosmetic differences, people are the same all over the world. They learn how to deal with the new and unexpected. They learn to deal with hardship in ways that most American kids don’t.

They learn.

They experience.

Life – unmediated and unchaperoned.