Buddha in a Catholic church

I drove the winding yellow flower roads that led to the mystical bear so many had worshiped. I was doing 45 in a 30 mile an hour zone and locals passed me with conservative aggression. I made it to an early morning café and drank hot brown water listening to a man talk of the rising price of cement. I pulled my “America’s #1” baseball hat down over my eyes and sipped the warmth, hiding. I knew all along I would be found out. I can mingle with them but the nose ring is always a giveaway. One of us, not one of us. The large flat screen TV above the fireplace played CNN horror stories and I didn’t care. Even in satisfaction we can find dissatisfaction. Some find satisfaction in dissatisfaction. I sat like a Buddha in a Catholic church. Simple and happy to be… anywhere.ontheroad. Simple and happy to be… anywhere.

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Tibeau Cemetery: Falling into the Sea

The taxi driver repeated it back. “You want to go to the Tibeau Cemetery?” He seemed confused and probably suspicious.

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The previous day, I asked the innkeeper about the cemetery.

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Someone who grew up in these islands told us about it and I was very curious.

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Climate change. The innkeeper said, “You must have noticed since your last trip here, we are losing land.”

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The cook overheard me ask, “Are people going to be upset if we’re down there taking a bunch of pictures?”

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“We’ve had some trouble, you know.” She said, “They are stealing identities of the dead.”

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“Oh, really?” I said, “I think that’s how Trump won the election.” She doubled over laughing.

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Some of the dates on the graves were old.

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But some of the ones in the water were as recent as the 1980s.

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I saw a bone.

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It could have been from an animal.

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I thought I should take a picture of the bone because no one would believe me.

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But it felt disrespectful, so I didn’t do it.

(no photo)

Photos by: Daniel Overberger and Nancy Winebarger

Vampire Bait

My nerves twitch like roaches in hallways of fumigated apartment complexes.

In the 1960s and 1970s, government trucks roamed the streets spraying DEET into the neighborhood trees. My mother called us inside and shut the windows while the neighborhood kids ran after the trucks laughing and playing in the fog of chemical death.

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That Cleveland summer and every Cleveland summer, I got eaten alive by mosquitoes. Fourteen bites in one night is my record. My father may have me beat but he’s a stoic man who never talks about such things publicly.

If only I could make a deal with the insect vampires of the world. Every night I would gladly leave them a half pint of my finest blood if only they would stop biting me. These things, sadly, are not arrangeable. Some have said money can buy anything, but it is not true. These insects are clumsy degenerates that will compromise all to get just a tiny taste.

It’s like that show Monkey Thieves, where a monkey and his tribe find food in the city and they all run over and go crazy eating it while they spill 90% of the proceeds of their conquest all over the floor to be wasted. We cannot make deals with such vagrants. So I lay under a mosquito net covered in DEET in the tropics with my socks on, knowing full well that I will wake up with three to four new bug bites in the morning. I guess this is what rum is for. I’ve heard it also called acceptance.

I worried often about the mosquitoes, but alas, I was being bitten by sand fleas. The price of paradise for those of the sweet blood tribe.

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Airport Rhythm

The Miami airport has its own rhythm. Maybe I should say “unique,” since every airport has a rhythm. More often than not, it’s an unpleasant rhythm. LAX is at the top of the unpleasant rhythm list. It’s surprising in its awfulness, especially since Los Angeles has a decent musical history.

But Miami has a fresh rhythm… definitely a conga backbeat with a laid back rhythm that is easy to ride. It’s shy on low end, which is a little surprising, like a bra that sets off metal detectors. It might be a South American thing. Lots of high end, not enough bass.

How anyone misses this is only mildly understood. It’s the economics of electronics. Loud and bright, cheap and fast. The Caribbean is the exception: it is the world capital of low end. No one does it better. It’s a reggae thing. (By the way, the bottom needs to be big and tight, not just big. Ask a Rasta.)

I hear two people talking in Spanish. Good rhythm. No low end. N sits next to me talking in the rhythm of the South. She’s wishing her North Carolina kin a happy holiday. I feel like I am at the center of the earth… wherever I am.

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Song and Dance

It rained every day but we barely noticed.

We waited between downpours under the overhangs of unattended bodegas on Boxing Day.

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We walked past a cemetery and took pictures of goats tied to graves. I told Nancy that if anyone asked, we would say we were taking photos so we would remember to pray for the dead when we returned to America. Having grown up a Catholic, I am aware of superstition, the possibility of misunderstanding and the appearance of a lack of respect.

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The pelicans don’t care about the rain… they dive for fish all day long and into the night.

Four young boys sing us Christmas songs, one keeping time with a shaker. Ironically, it’s a tourist shakedown. We give them one dollar (US) to make them go away. But under the influence of rum, I decide we should follow them. For half a mile, they look back over their shoulders trying to figure out why we won’t go away. Turnabout is fair play. At the end of that half mile, I thought about asking them to sing again so we could film it. I didn’t ask, knowing it would have blown their little minds wondering if we were going to continue following them and asking them to sing from time to time.

The rum brought out the ghost of my grandfather. He would have asked and followed them into their homes demanding more songs and commenting on their pitch and timing, telling them they should practice more and maybe get matching outfits.

N would have never let this happen. But for me, it is often just as fun—if not more fun—to imagine the what ifs.

The rain has stopped. My shoes, socks, pants, shirt and paper are moist. But in 85 degrees, it hardly seems like a problem. A bird sings a song I think of stealing until at last I have forgotten the melody.

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The locals set up speakers in the street outside the bar. The bass thunders across the entire island. It would not be possible to hear or think anything else. The bottom is big and tight.

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Abandoned house in the Caribbean

I found this house on the island of Carriacou. There are many structures like this around the island… much of it due to the hurricanes of the past.

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I have a deep attraction to these abandoned…things. It is a reminder to me that the earth will take everything back… eventually.

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I’ve always thought that if humanity abuses the earth enough, it will just evict us and start over with very little trouble.

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It’s a beautiful message of impermanence and mortality.

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How long will it take the vines to pull all of it back down into the soil?

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The rhythm of insects singing in the distance.

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No one here gets out alive…

Warclaw, Poland – 2007

I had never been to Poland before. Why would I have? I’m not much of a vacationing type and Poland is probably not on anyone’s Top 10 Destinations list.

Normally, we (the band) would drive into town and then keep driving until we saw the town get a little dark or dangerous looking. As the area got worse, you always knew the gig was just around the corner.

Poland was a little different. I didn’t notice a nice part of town. But I did notice, everywhere I looked, some of the most beautiful women I had ever seen, and they were just walking around on these shitty streets.

The club was down a back alley in a basement. I was the first to climb down the stairs that went to the center of the club. The stairs had rusted chain link fence on either side so you wouldn’t fall over and off. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, the three people in the club looked at me with a look that said, “Who the fuck are you?”

During sound check, my rented JCM 900 amplifier stopped working. The road manager said, “Get your back-up amp.” I said there wasn’t one. He then went insane, ranting and screaming at me how he couldn’t believe the last tour manager left him with such a fucked-up mess of a tour.

There was talk that I might not play the show and possibly not play several shows until a replacement amp was found. No one in the band did or said anything except the other guitar player, who let it be known that it wouldn’t be a problem to do the gigs with just one guitar player: him.

I was outside trying to figure out how to get a taxi to the nearest airport, when I remembered my 3-watt Smokey cigarette pack practice amp. I had read a review once where Keith Richards had used it in the studio and that it was capable of powering a 4 x 12 Marshall speaker cabinet at low volume.

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I had the sound person mic the speaker cab and then put me in the monitors as loud as it would go. It worked… just barely.

By the time we went on, the club that could hold about 100 people had nearly 200 jammed in. The stage was only four feet deep and five inches high. The audience—full of giant Polish men and beautiful women—was right on top of us. If they rushed the stage, there was nowhere for us to go.

I start the first song. Our singer walks onstage and his costume immediately gets caught on the drummer’s overhead mic stand and it falls over. The singer panics and stumbles a little, knocking the drummer’s cymbals over. Trying to avoid further disaster, he swings around 180 degrees and catches a fishnet part of his wardrobe on the tuning keys of my guitar.

I use every ounce of my strength to pull myself free in one snapping yank away from him. The fishnet does not break free and he falls further in my direction, pulling parts of the drum set down with him. We stop and there is yelling and laughing from the audience.

Everyone untangles themselves and I start the next song. The audience goes nuts. The beautiful women are right up front, elbowing and slamming into the giant, scary men. I feel that we are just seconds away from a totally out-of-control riot.

I’m on a 5-inch stage with my back against the wall, half thrilled and half terrified, playing out of a cigarette pack amplifier as a Polish audience sings along with our lyrics in English. I keep my eyes open for an escape route. There isn’t one.

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Shaking Hands with the Lepers

When he (the rickshaw driver) introduced me to his father, I had no idea he would be homeless, let alone a leper. I reached out to shake his father’s extended hand. His fingers were rough and different sizes and lengths, as if part of them had rotted off. I held his hand and thought of the scene from Papillon, where the leper hands Steve McQueen his cigar and Steve McQueen puts it in his mouth and takes a long drag off of it. The leper asks him, “How did you know my leprosy was dry?” And Steve McQueen says, “I didn’t.”

I put my hand in my pocket and made a mental note not to touch my face or anything until I washed my hand real good. Like you can just wash off leprosy. Good thinking.

I had seen the man’s father around town. Everywhere he went, he had his skinny yak with him. It was his only possession.

April 20, 2006
Mysore, India

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A message from the past

When I think of humanity 4,000 years ago, I don’t think of them having a good time and laughing. I think of them hunting and often fighting to survive. One day while hiking in the Valley of Fire in Nevada, I found a very old rock painting… a petroglyph. It showed a dog sniffing another dog’s butt. I laughed and could not believe it. I imagined the person who painted it 4,000 years ago showing his friend and both of them laughing and holding their bellies. Then I imagined the entire tribe showing up to look at the picture and they all laughed, even the uptight members of the tribe laughed. They laughed long into the night as their fires went out and everyone fell asleep with a smile on their face. This gave me a new perspective of our ancestors and it gave me great hope for humanity.

Petroglygh Valley of Fire State Park

4000 years…

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Notes from the West Indies

Sometimes my favorite time is breakfast. It’s the beginning of the day and maybe you don’t know what’s coming.

We walked a couple blocks down the street to access Hillsborough Beach. It’s a one mile stretch of beach that runs the west side of  Carriacou island. We walked the long beach with our backs a little sore from the sunburn we got snorkeling in the Tobago Cays the day before on Dave’s Boat tour.

NancyUnderThis being our second snorkeling experience — plus a refresher in shallow water the day before — made it extremely cool. I don’t know what I was thinking on the first trip when I just jumped off the boat in the middle of the sea thinking, “Yeah, I’ll just figure this out as I go.” I drank a whole lot of the Caribbean Sea that time.

Anyway, at the end of our mile long walk on the beach — completely empty because it was Christmas day — we found a ship that had run aground years ago.

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As we approached the ship it instantly reminded me of the final scene in the 1968 “Planet of the Apes” film. The closer we got to the ship, The Gulf Coast III, I seemed to be taking on more and more strange emotions. Something very connected to mortality. The  ship had a large hole cut in the side of it that I very slowly crawled into. A couple feet of murky water stood in the bottom of the ship and I felt almost panicked standing inside in the low light, balancing on a piece of metal that hovered just above the dark water. I had trouble catching my breath and tried to breathe slowly. I felt as if somehow I could be swallowed up and dragged down into the dark abyss of time long gone. I felt a big, strange, exciting fear. I took many pictures and looking at them now I am definitely getting a sense memory of that feeling of mortality I felt while I was there. (See more pictures here.)

After our walk, we returned to the Green Roof Inn. They have a great staff. The chef, Leslie Ann, prepared me a vegetarian meal that was not on the menu. It’s an island, so everything we ate was mostly local. I didn’t eat the fish but Nancy did. It was pulled straight out of the water we walked along an hour ago. The eggs we would have for breakfast were from the chickens that ran around the yard under our room that overlooked the sea.

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I had a couple rum punches with dinner. In the Caribbean you never have to ask, “What would a pirate do/drink?”

The next morning, near 5 am, the rooster started his calls.

“Cock-a-doodle-do!”

“Cock-a-doodle-do!”

I rolled over and said, “Alright, mother fucker!” And Nancy said,

“Cock-a-doodle-don’t.”

We laughed and went back to bed.

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There are emotions and feelings that we can experience but cannot express. These are the moments that connect us to the universal Truth that cannot be written into a sentence, a paragraph or a book. These are the things to swim in like the deep pool that is the collective. No life rafts, no safety bars. Just the stillness of primitive man looking to the skies and knowing nothing is explainable.

 

 

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