Monday, May 2, 2022

Mexico - Flopping fish and heading home


It was the final morning meeting for Walking Club. I had a slight bit of fog in the brain from the excesses the night before so the fresh ocean air helped as I walked south along the beach. But something was very different today. Thousands of fish were inexplicably beaching themselves and flopping around. They were fairly small, mostly between 8 and 12 inches, and I had no idea what was going on. I’d flip them back into the water, but they would swim around haphazardly then rocket right back up onto the beach and start thrashing around. Most of them were still alive but many were dead. I saw one Mexican man who had a big bag and was walking down the beach picking them up and tossing them in. That’s easy fishing.

Ana and I made breakfast last as long as possible, enjoying the beautiful warmth, the sun, the fresh moist air, and the Pacific breeze. We checked out of our room in time to catch our 11am taxi to the airport. And the rest of the day? Well, let’s just say that before long we were once again cruising down the 401 highway, fighting traffic, trying to keep warm, but very much looking forward to seeing our kids after a most satisfying week away.

Mexico - The White Party


Our last full day in Mexico started calm and ended crazy.

We had a nice sleep in and long breakfast then walked south on the cycling path all the way to the shopping mall where we bought a bottle of that famous Mexican vanilla and some small presents for the kids then then enjoyed a coffee before taking a bus back to the resort. After 20 years of marriage Ana and I still haven’t run out of things to talk about and we’d found that being on our own without the kids was an exercise in bliss. No arguing, no negotiating, no unexplainable crankiness. We do love all the amazing trips we’ve done with the kids but did recognize the risk that once the kids were no longer there, we might struggle to be on our own. No such thing. I felt like we were able to pick things up right where we left off nearly 18 years ago as a team of two, but with a bit more grey hair, a few more wrinkles, and hopefully a touch of wisdom.

Something was different in the resort today. The staff were busy building a new bar and reconfiguring the theatre area for the weekly “White Party” which we had seen signs for in the lobby. What we didn’t realize was that this party was open to guests of the other two Riu hotel resorts as well. By the time we finished our long and leisurely dinner at the Italian themed restaurant, busloads of people dressed in white started arriving and once darkness fell the show came to life.


A DJ began feeding his stream into the massive sound system and the rumbling bass shook the ground. Male and female dancers appeared on stage, all dressed in scanty white costumes, and started shaking it. Ana and I were standing at one of the three bars watching the scene unfold. What was out of place was the crowd; instead of 20 year old techno-ravers there were families, middle aged couples, and groups of 40-something friends, some of whom may have remembered their own clubbing days, and others who were perhaps experiencing this for the first time. Many just stood there, confused, unsure of how to react. Others let the music take over their bodies.

The party escalated. Stage dancers were sent out into the crowd to fluff up the fogies and get them moving. The volume spiraled. The graphics playing on the screen behind the stage intensified. All at once the dancers scurried and jumped one each on top of the giant boxes which had been strategically places all around the exterior of the space. Cage dancers without the cage. Gyrating, sexy beasts surrounding us everywhere. From the edge of the frenzy a robot appeared and started moving throughout the crowd, dancing robotically and slapping high fives. Two acrobats climbed onto a trapeze and began swinging and spinning wildly. A thousand white balloons were released into the crowd. The music pulsated, the crowd heaved, Ana and I danced. It was an unexpected and crazy end to an incredible week.


Mexico - Retirement Planning, Bucerias, Sabrina's


Morning Walking Club took a slightly different route today. I would normally walk out to the beach and either turn left or right, walk until half my energy was spent, then I’d turn around and come back. But this day, I snuck into one of the other hotels instead. I just draped a towel over my wristband, cleverly concealing the different colour and had a nice walk around the facility. It was then I crafted our ultimate retirement plan. We are going to sail our boat to these areas rich with all-inclusive hotels and bring a big box full of plastic all-inclusive wristband bracelets, in a menagerie of colours. We’ll anchor our sailboat near the beach then rip the dingy into shore first thing in the morning and stash it somewhere in the bushes then find a hotel we like, strap on the appropriate coloured bracelet and go for breakfast with our fellow guests. If we like the place, we’ll stay all day, but if we don’t then we’ll just wander to the next hotel, do a quick switcheroo on the bracelet, then bam, ready for lunch. At the end of the day when we’re all drunk and stuffed we’ll just mosey on back to the dingy and ride back out to the boat, satisfied and happy and not one dollar poorer. This is how smart people retire early – watch for my next e-book “Retirement For Shady Fuckers” coming out soon.

After the morning feeding, Ana and I headed north on the street side pathway and walked a couple of miles to Bucerias. We walked one of the main streets and checked out a few shops then continued along to the main market which was a little gritty but cool. It felt a bit thrown together, but when you looked closer each of the vendor stalls were like small garages with doors that closed at night to lock everything up. As we walked around, the vendors tried selling us the local specialties like bottles of vanilla, cigars, Mexico tshirts, sombreros, and so on but they didn’t try TOO hard, like in Asia where they will sometimes follow you down the block tugging on your shirt until you buy that counterfeit Lonely Planet guide you happened to glance at in their stall.

We found a small café restaurant where we sat down for a rather horrible coffee, but were more intrigued with the mountain bikes for rent, which we did indeed hire out for around 20 bucks for the entire day. We hopped on and rode off, enjoying the wind blowing through our hair and the supersonic speeds we were achieving. We decided to ride up this steep hill and as I tried changing gears the chain popped off so I rechained it and got my fingers and hands coated in grease. Luckily Ana has clung onto the habit of always carrying web wipes (adopted when the kids were young but carried through to this day) and I was able to wipe myself up. Once we reached the top I tried changing gears again and the whole damn chain blew apart leaving links scattered over the broken pavement.

As I was struggling in vain to reassemble the chain a Mexican boy loaned me his Leatherman multi tool, but even with the pliers I couldn’t get it back together again. I Freddy Flintstone’d the bike back to the shop and was somehow able to go nearly as fast as pedaling. With no replacement bikes the owner just gave us a refund and we walked back to the hotel along the beach.

The afternoon was spent hanging around the pool and the beach then around 6 we met Tony and Angela in front of our hotel and walked back to Bucerias, but this time to see how it looked at nighttime. We went to an artist collective for the weekly Art Walk and checked out some of the pieces and drank a shot of tequila with the owner which was, in my opinion, the highlight of the Art Walk as it was a rather low key affair.

Once darkness fell we walked over to a restaurant called Sabrinas – an amazing venue with incredible art showcased in the large lobby then a dining area in the back that was magical. Most of the tables were in the courtyard, open to the sky, but we sat in a covered area where the ambience was incredible, with lanterns hanging from the roof, more art decorating the walls, well dressed servers, groovy music playing in the background, and wonderful smells emanating from the nearby kitchen. We enjoyed a delicious, slow meal with our friends and the only uncomfortable part of the evening came when Ana and I walked with our empty plates back to the kitchen looking for the buffet to scoop up some more food. When they refused to give us more we showed them our bracelets, but still nothing, so that was a bit awkward, but not as awkward as when the server brought a little piece of paper over at the end of the night with some numbers written on it and a Moneris machine in her hand, then just stood there looking at us, waiting for something. Our friends explained that we had to PAY for the food, and after recovering from that shock we did find a credit card that worked and settled up, relaxing everybody in the vicinity.

We finished up the evening with a little stroll around the night market and a visit to the churro cart for dessert – delicious.

Mexico - Day at the Resort, Towel Theft, Grass Dancing


We had noticed that Angela and Tony were looking thin, weak, and hungry due to their non all-inclusive setting there in Playa Royale so we invited them to spend a full with us at the Riu to beef them up a bit. The day was very straightforward – after a huge and lengthy breakfast we went to the beach and kayaked then went to the beach restaurant for a massive lunch, then took a long hot walk on the beach, then had a bunch of drinks in our room on the balcony, followed by a gigantic dinner then more drinks and maybe a cigar in there somewhere.

Beyond your typical resort day, there were two items of interest. First, somebody stole one of the towels off our chair when we were on our walk, so “we” (not going to say who) stole one back from somebody else, kicking off a chain reaction of towel theft that went on all day and was great fun for all those guests involved. Second, during dinner there was an amazing saxophone player ripping out elevator classics like Careless Whisper, Piano Man, The Girl from Ipanema, and many other foot tapping dandies. We were so overtaken by joy we had a little barefoot dance on the graahhs, Ed Sheeran style.

And that was an excellent day.



Mexico - Sayulita, the Ultimate Burger, and Bragtiming my Brother


During my long early morning beach walk I did something I haven’t done for a very long while – practiced my Pakistani squat, which I learned while living in Karachi in the 90’s. It looks deceivingly simple. You plant both feet on the ground then bend your knees and crouch down with a straight back until your butt is nearly touching the ground, then stick your hands straight out in front of you to provide the required counter balance to avoid falling backwards. Pakistanis can sit like this for hours. Sometimes you’d see a whole line of men doing this, appearing much like crows on a powerline. It is a great resting position and is much better than sitting on the usually filthy ground. But it seemed in my advancing age, my muscles and tendons aren’t quite as stretchy as they used to be as I was unable to keep my feet flat on the sand and had to sort of roll onto the balls of my feet. Once in position, I was able to hold it for a while but I’m going to need a lot more practice.

After our morning feeding we jumped in a taxi and told him to take us to Sayulita, about 30 kilometers northward, and a 350 peso ride (about $22 Canadian). My brother Curtis and his family had spent a month in Sayulita on two occasions about ten years before and they absolutely loved it so we couldn’t pass up a chance to visit.

We loved it right way. It felt like any of a number of gritty backpacker towns we’ve visited in the past – skinny streets, some dirt roads, densely packed shops, groovy restaurants and coffee shops, and dreadlocked beach hippies walking around barefoot. The beach was nice and packed with restaurants and beach chair for rent, as well as surfboards for hire as there was a modest beach break providing ridable waves.

We found a place for coffee and grabbed a table on the patio, which was really just part of the street. Despite the backpacker look and feel, the prices on the board didn’t quite match up with expectations; everything was expensive. Coffees for five bucks, smoothies for eight, breakfasts for fifteen to twenty. Seems things have changed a bit since Ana and I have been on the backpacker trail, but it made sense. The more popular places get, the more expensive things become, and in these days of loose and easy money, higher prices should be no surprise.

I did truly enjoy our coffee date. All I did was watch the traffic go by as Ana and I chatted. Here comes a huge Sprinter van, I wonder how he’s going to squeeze through? Then a pack of people on bikes. Next, a brand new BMW. Then a noisy and muddy quad, followed closely by a side-by-side. A series of cars and utility trucks passed by, spewing fumes, then a larger tourist bus (oh, oh), followed by a platoon of electric golf carts. A few taxis passed, then a man came walking through guiding a wheelbarrow full of candy for sale. The only vehicles I didn’t see were a donkey cart and a Batmobile.


Leaving the coffee shop, we explored many streets and I found a barber shop, but wasn’t able to walk in so signed up for an appointment one hour hence. Ana and I split up – she hit the clothing stores while I hit the convenience store and bought a nice old Corona which I enjoyed sitting in the park and watched people while I waited for my appointment. A local lady came by and dug through a large garbage can, extracting cans and bottles, singing to herself, and me in proximity. A street dog passed by, looked at me briefly and nodded, then got back to his business. A loud American dude wearing a Bud Light singlet and stars and stripes shorts entertained two lady friends with shots and beers in a bar across the street. Traffic volume increased rapidly with many tourist busses dropping off loads of fresh consumers eager for aimless wandering. My appointment time came, so I went in and got a haircut. A long haircut. Perhaps the longest I’ve ever had. The boy with the scissors spent what felt like hours with clippers on the sides and back of my head, going over and over the same spots. I asked him to cut about half off the top but he was reluctant to, and just snipped off a millimeter or two, then got back to trimming the sides. I was finally released back into the wild with a mediocre cut and Ana was waiting for me in the park. If the streets were busy before, then were chaotic now. Tourists everywhere. Diesel and gas fumes. Congestion.

We decided to skip Sayulita lunch tacos and instead found a taxi back to the hotel, slightly disappointed with afternoon Sayulita; we preferred her morning face.


Back at the hotel we had an amazing long lunch at the beachside restaurant, where I crafted the ultimate hamburger – jalapenos, mayo, lettuce and tomato, salsa, cheese slices, olives, onions, all washed down with cool glasses of red wine. We then set up on beach loungers and read books, listened to music, swam, watched a huge iguana scale a palm tree and, best of all, gave my brother a Facetime call to tell him we had finally visited Sayulita. As he was connecting I noticed my happy sunstained face was framed in by palm trees and a blue sky as I leaned back on my lounger and had a sip of my beer. As Curt came into view, I could see he was sitting at a desk, likely looking an Excel spreadsheet, in a dark room, probably with snow blowing around outside. And you know what he did? He gave me the finger! Can you believe it? He just flipped me the bird and didn’t say anything. Then it occurred to me – he thought I was Bragtiming him, which I suppose I was but didn’t think too much of it. Once he got over the shock of my unusual glee, we had a nice chat about Sayulita and Mexico. But before too long, my beer was empty and I had to go get another free one while he just had to get back to his Excel spreadsheet so we parted virtual ways and I think he may have given me the finger one last time as his image faded from view.

Mexico - Puerto Vallarta, Monkey Suits, and a Whale Sighting


After only two days the wonderfully predictable weather pattern of Mexico’s Pacific coast had become apparent. Lows of 18 and highs of 25 meant air conditioning was not required and we could walk for miles every morning before it got too hot. The days begin calm but the winds pick up around noon every day making it pleasantly breezy for sitting on loungers or going for afternoon beach walks or kite surfing. The sun gathered strength in the afternoons, providing skin sizzle opportunities for the tanners in the crowd. Evenings start to cool, but remain warm enough for shorts and a t-shirt. For a person that despises winter as I do, I can’t imagine a more perfect climate than what we were experiencing here.

I went for an early morning swim in the pool then in the ocean. The past few years I have gotten back into swimming and regularly do laps at the YMCA when I am working in the office in downtown Brantford. Having the luxury of an entire pool and ocean to myself, and all the time I needed was liberating.

After breakfast we walked to Angela and Tony’s condo, making it there in just under one hour. Nuevo Vallarta is a planned three mile stretch of large and newer hotels with security gates on both ends and not much else besides a few restaurants at the southern end. While the beach is nice for walking, there is also a beautiful bicycle and walking path built on the boulevard which runs the entire stretch and is nicely shaded by palm trees.

The four of us walked to the nearby marina and hired a water taxi to take us into Puerto Vallarta, which is also located on the massive Banderas Bay, south-east maybe six or seven miles. As we’ve found with our sailboat, nothing compares to arriving to a new city by water, especially when you see a humpback whale surface along the way as we did!

Pedro the boat cabbie navigated the swells at the public dock and got close enough for us to leap off the boat. The town was bustling, and much different than where we came from as the central area was densely packed with shops, restaurants, bars, tourists, and Mexicans, all held in by a Malecon - a boardwalk than runs along the oceanfront for at least a mile. I immediately loved the vibe. Tony and Angela had been here before, but it had been a number of years, so they were happy to just wander around with us exploring.

We took a few photos, explored a church, tried out some rocking horses in a park, scoped out lunch options – one of which featured a man in a monkey suit trying to draw in customers. At one point we heard some commotion in a second level unit, then heard people chanting “Sell, sell, sell!!” then a round of cheering and applause. Time share training, no doubt, and a clear sign to avoid any offers of freebies in exchange for a time share presentation. These guys were professionals.

While the ladies checked out a string of clothing shops, Tony and I grabbed some beers and sat down on some beachside steps to smoke some Cuban cigars. It was glorious sitting in the sun, watching the activity on the beach and in the air (parasailers), and the rotten weather still clinging onto southern Ontario seemed far away; in fact, about 4,200 kilometers away.

We had a mediocre tourist lunch but above average chat session then walked around a bit more before catching taxis back to our respective home bases. We changed into our beach gear and hung around the beach and pool for a while. One activity offered here that we haven’t seen elsewhere is beach horses for hire. I will freely admit that I do not like horses, have never liked horses, and will probably never learn to like horses. But I like them even less now after a dude rode his rental horse right in front of our beach chairs then stopped for the beast to unravel its massive penis and unload a torrent of horse urine. It’s too bad there wasn’t a sandcastle with a moat there as could have filled it up with his bubbly yellow piss. The rental horses also left poo nuggets littered along the beach which I suppose were eventually picked up by the tide and swept out in the bay overnight as nutrients for the fish as didn’t see any droppings during my morning walks.

We finished up the day with a large feeding at the International buffet, some coffees in the lobby, then a bit of tv back in the room, instead of attending the Michael Jackson show being held in the theater. On these trips I am always beat by evening time as I’m always up early, we’re usually busy all day, and we’re not much for napping. Besides I saw a great Michael Jackson show in Cuba once. That’s enough for me.

Mexico - Brantfordians on Tour and Mall Rats


Our room's sleeping situation was of the Fred and Wilma Flintstone variety – two separate beds, but these were pushed together to create one gigantic bed with a big crack down the middle you had to navigate around as you slept. But there were no kids squeezing into the bed, or sleeping on a cot, or staying in an adjoining room. The difference was striking.

In the large bathroom/grooming room there was a sizeable mini-fridge which had been stocked full of cans of beer, water, and mixers. Why would you need mixers? Well, for the spirits box, of course. On the wall hung a cabinet with four litres of booze – tequila, rum, vodka, and gin – turned upside down and connected to shot dispensers. A little sign hung below the cabinet – “Proudly Sponsored by your Local AA Chapter.”

Breakfast offered a hundred options, but I went with the scrambled eggs on a freshly baked bagel with salsa dumped on top, then on the side were a few sausages, pile of hash browns and a bunch of papaya wedges jammed in the available spaces. Ana had a big fruit plate, toast, and eggs. Two little kids I saw at the buffet each had a plate containing no less than four doughnuts, with chocolate sauce scooped on top. Their smiles spread from ear to ear.

Our friends Tony and Angela Henrique were also in Mexico and staying in a condo complex called Playa Royale also in Nuevo Vallarta, but we weren’t sure how far away it was so we took a taxi. I could tell vacation mode had already set in because we forgot to ask them what room they were staying in and hadn’t exactly decided up on a time to meet – unheard of omissions in our regular life of times, scheduled, deadlines, and pressure. When the security guards at the property gate refused to let us in we went for a walk instead and found a small shopping mall with a Starbucks. One of the things I like least in life is hanging around shopping malls, but when they are located in a different country that changes things, as it’s a chance to see locals and absorb a bit of the culture. I went right to the supermarket to browse around and ended up buying a fine set of swimming goggles while Ana visited many of the other stores. Prices were generally comparable to Canada and there were no deals to be had.

Just to prove that vacation scheduling is completely unnecessary, Angela and Tony found us sitting outside of Starbucks having a coffee. We hadn’t seen them for several months as they had been on an RV cruising around the southern US, so were already brown and relaxed. They had just returned from playing pickleball – a sport I’ve recently learned about but have not yet experienced. It’s been described to me as a retiree version of tennis but since I’m not yet retired and am still in my 40’s (not for long) I will choose to avoid this sport for now. Also, I’m a firm believer that the morning “pickle tickle” should be something that happens in a bedroom and not on a tennis court. We’ll see what happens when I turn 50.

They invited us up to their 6th floor apartment and we enjoyed a cold beer on the balcony while enjoying the remarkable view over the grounds and the Pacific Ocean. They are often able to see whales in the bay, but the season for them was coming to a close so there had been fewer sightings. Our friends led us downstairs and out to the beach restaurant where we had a nice slow lunch and great chat. We had really missed them this winter and it was great to finally catch up with them again. During lunch we told them all about this Youtube channel we’d been watching with a couple who were sailing their 40’ Beneteau sailboat from Norway all the way down the cost of Europe then across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, then later would be continuing through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific to New Zealand. Previously Ana was not interested in taking our boat across the Atlantic, but after seeing this couple in action with little more experience than we have, she had warmed to the idea and right there announced confidently, “We can do it!” Music to my ears.

After lunch we headed to the pool and found half of Brantford there. Brantfordians seem to travel in packs and we had a lovely time drinking happy hour margaritas with them. I also tried out my new goggles and did a few laps in the pool until that got boring then went back to happy hour for round 2.

By late afternoon we found ourselves back on the street waiting for a local bus or collectivo to get back to our hotel. After half a dozen of them stopped, but none of them were going our way, we grabbed a taxi back. I didn’t actually mind waiting as it brought me back to the days when we did not have computers in our pockets that could tell us everything all the time and sometimes you just had to wait and not know. Or talk to people. Or take a chance.

We had dinner at the Mexican themed restaurant and it was amazing. We again dressed up for dinner and got a lovely table for two where we enjoyed an excessively slow meal as we talked, watched people, then talked some more. There was a family with two beautiful little girls who resembled our nieces so we talked about them a lot and missed them. Ana and I discussed all kinds of things and I felt overwhelmingly happy that we were here on our own, with so much time, and nobody to take care of or be worried about except ourselves. Selfish, maybe. But that’s okay.

Let's Ditch the Kids and go to Mexico

I remember one of the yearly goals I set shortly when the kids were very young. It was for Ana and I to do a beach trip on our own and have one of our three grandparental sets watch the kids. I think I was pining for our carefree days as globetrotting adventurers and not entirely accepting the fact that our lives had changed. That trip didn’t happen, and for a very good reason; we decided that our family would always travel as a team. Wherever we went, the kids would join us. We did this because that is exactly how both Ana and I were raised. We dragged those two little suckers everywhere we went and, coincidentally, it was right around that time the previous torrent of dinner party invites dried to a trickle. The rare invites we did receive were usually from other new parents, resulting in less spectacular cuisine (hot dogs) but more booze (to dull the guilt of locking all the kids in the basement while we piled into the kitchen to pretend they didn’t exist).

Now, with Magnus nearing the end of grade 12 and Stella grade 10, we finally made that solo trip – to Mexico at the start of April. We had three big events things to celebrate - our 20th wedding anniversary in September of 2021, Ana's 50th in November, and also my upcoming 50th in May. And let's add a fourth - the near end of an unusually long and gloomy winter.

Our family is in a transition phase now, cornerstoned by Magnus getting his driver’s license which has truly changed everything. There’s not much for public transportation where we live so getting anywhere requires a vehicle. Magnus has adopted this newfound freedom and possibility with gusto and is an enthusiastic and responsible driver. Stella is not too far behind him - she will be eligible to receive her G1 learner’s license in a few months.

Ana and I are transitioning too into a world in which we are no longer required to be around 24 hours per day and 7 days per week to support our kids. With them both having part time jobs and spending so much time focused on school and their friends, they have had less time for us, and taking them away from school for longer than a day or two for a vacation is simply no longer possible. So Ana and I decided to finally take a beach trip on our own – a week in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico at the start of April this year.

We flew from Pearson airport at 6:30am - our favourite time for departure as after gaining a couple hours of time flying west, we were settled into the Riu Jalisco in Nuevo Vallarta just in time for lunch. The hotel was grandiose, built in an enormous U-shape with half the rooms looking down into an epic courtyard with a series of magnificent fountains in a long pool surrounded by dozens of palm trees and acres of manicured tropics grass. A wide pathway through the courtyard led down to two large swimming pools and a beautifully shaded and expansive lounging area fronting the beach.

Our first lunch was delicious and I knew that I was going to be in for a week of overeating. With the massive spread of options, I wanted to try everything but there is insufficient room on one plate or in one stomach so the trick is to pace yourself and just keep that glass of red wine topped up to wash it all down gracefully..

The majority of all-inclusive trips we’ve done have been to Cuba – a place we truly love, for many reasons. But it wasn’t until we experienced this Mexican all-inclusive that I really understood what Ana has always said about the food in Cuba: it’s good, but not too good. She is absolutely right. At Cuban resorts I can always find something I like, but I don’t feel the need to try everything. Here, because everything was so delicious, it seemed that not trying everything was doing myself an injustice.

After lunch we went for a beach walk, hoping to walk northward along the beach to a town called Bucerias, but after what felt like hours I finally asked a dude on the beach where it was and he waved us on saying to keep going. We collapsed in the sand instead and just layed there for a while absorbing the hot sun and watching the kite surfers flying back and forth across the bay. I think Ana fell asleep but fortunately I did not, otherwise we would have been toast. Blackened, charred, smoking toast. It’s been a long winter in Canada and our skin was white, ghoulish, and unprepared for the sonic radiation.

For our first dinner we went to the Asian themed restaurant. We had scoped it out earlier in the day and the sign clearly said “Long pants required” so Ana and I dressed appropriately for dinner. We clearly exposed ourselves as newbs, as some of our fellow diners weren’t wearing much more than their beachwear. Most of the dudes were in beer singlets, dirty shorts and flip flops. One lady was dressed in this ecstatic, multi coloured robe that barely covered her gigantic breasts. I feared one of them was going to flop out and swing through the salsa or guacamole pot as I waited beside her at the Asian taco buffet, and I’ve never had to respond to a social faux pas like that. I probably would have said something like, “Maybe I’ll try the pad thai instead” then handed her a napkin.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Is the Covid-19 Pandemic Over?


Have we reached a turning point in the pandemic?

Nearly every prediction I’ve made throughout this pandemic (it won’t be a big deal, it won’t last long, they’ll never be able to create a vaccine that fast, of course people will get vaccinated, there’s no way they are going to lock us down again, now that we have three shots we won’t get Covid) have been proven completely wrong. It’s been a wily and unpredictable virus. Politicians have made mistakes. Public health officials have made mistakes. Scientists have made mistakes. Pharmaceutical companies have made mistakes. Citizens have made mistakes.

But you know what? I believe that everybody is trying their best. And doing what they think is right.

There was recently a rally where truckers and other folks concerned about overreaching government mandates for vaccines, social distancing, masks, and so on, drove into our national capital Ottawa and occupied a large area of downtown near the parliament buildings. It was called the Freedom Convoy and they blocked streets with their trucks and for nearly three weeks took over that part of the city. There was horn blaring, rallies, parties, monument desecration, money raising, food kitchens, sign waving, hot tubs, bouncy castles, calls for Freedom, and undoubtedly a sense of brother/sisterhood, solidarity, and exhilaration with sticking it to the man. Similar groups blocked bridges and roads connecting Canada and the US – key arteries responsible for the transport of billions of dollars’ worth of goods. These protests certainly made a point, but also wreaked havoc on the public, causing a huge amount of distress and problems for the wider population. Many provinces had already released plans to discontinue vaccine and mask mandates and most others were in the process of doing so.

After no less than three levels of government failed to address this problem and clear the protest, (proving our country’s weakness and ineptitude) our leaders finally realized that “The right to swing your arms ends just where the other person’s nose begins” and the prime minister enacted an Emergencies Act which enabled the cops to clear the protest within a couple of days, dragging a few people off to jail, but just mainly sending people home.

The protesters were calling for freedom. Which was ironic to many, as the freedoms we’re given in this country are exactly what enabled them to hold such a protest. Such a thing tried in Russia or China or North Korea would have been met with bullets. That is what a lack of freedom looks like.

Interestingly, just days later, Russian troops invaded Ukraine, starting an unprovoked war. Regular Ukrainian people were asked to take up guns and instructed how to make Molotov cocktails, to support their country and resist the invader. Canada has asked its people to take a vaccine, wear masks, and socially distance to repel our invader. An interesting, and perhaps instructive contrast. What does freedom mean? Are we just a bunch of spoiled, rich brats crying over spilled milk?

After these two events, it feels like things have changed. Mandates are coming down and people have decided to live with Covid-19 and the deaths it will bring. But in Canada, I feel like we’ve all done our jobs. The high vaccination rate here and more extensive restrictions has provided us with only one third of the deaths per capita as compared to the US. We should be proud. Sadly, there has been a cost.

The last two years has created a huge array of problems across the country. Small businesses and some entire industries have been decimated, governments are wallowing in debt, people have become unbelievably lazy, kids have missed school and lost critical years of developing social skills, and the debates over vaccines have broken up families and friendships. It is very hard to say what the longer term impacts of this damage will be, but I am sure it will be studied for many years. But with any bad, comes some good. The proven ability to work remotely will pay grand dividends for years to come in the form of reduced carbon emissions, better work/life balance, more adaptation of technology, and a more efficient allocation of resources. And when we do go to the office or school, the old heroic measure of showing up despite being sick with a cold and coughing all over everybody is thankfully no longer socially acceptable. With the use of masks and social distancing, the flu has been almost completely eradicated for two years – who would have ever thought this possible? Lastly, people learned how to slow down and maybe appreciate the simple things a bit more.

I haven’t been journaling much throughout the pandemic, but I thought it was time to take stock of where I’m at with this; where we’re at with this as a family. In the future, we are going to look back to this time and it will be increasing difficult to remember what it was like, and what we were thinking, and what we were feeling.

When I think back to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which has now been with us for 40 years and killed 35 million people, I remember being terrified that I was going to contract HIV, despite never being in a high risk group and taking all precautions. At the start there was no treatments or cure so contracting this disease was a death sentence. Information was thin at first and details were patchy, and sometimes wrong, like when it was reported that only gay men could get it. But as more information became available and more experience was gained, the information gained accuracy. Of course, there was media hype but the media back then was limited to television, magazines, and newspapers. And what you read, you assumed, was true; or at least as accurate as they could get at the time with the information they had. But not once do I remember anybody saying to me, “AIDS is fake. It’s not really a disease. Nobody is actually dying from it. The government is just trying to scare you so they can control you more. Don’t worry about condoms, just eat a good diet, stay healthy, and it can’t get you.” And when therapeutic drugs came along I didn’t hear, “People are crazy to take those drugs, they don’t work. The pharma companies created AIDS so they could sell drugs to fix it. Those drugs will make you impotent.” Maybe these things were being said, but I didn’t hear it. Now we have social media, and there’s little need to point out where that has taken us.

Recently, we met up with some people who we love dearly and had decided against taking the Covid vaccine. Because of this, things have been frosty over the past two years, our get togethers infrequent, and our conversations shallow. It felt like we were never going to be able to have a conversation of substance ever again. How could they be one of “those” people? Didn’t they care about protecting the elderly, weak, and those that were medically unable to take the vaccine? Didn’t they want this to be over? Weren’t they scared by the potential consequences of getting Covid? Why couldn’t they just take the miniscule risk of taking the vaccine just like the rest of us had done? Had they turned into these people who haven’t picked up a book in twenty years, but in the past two years have somehow become virology experts, authorities on health policy, and investigative super sleuths?

We had it out. For 13 hours we stood, sat, leaned, paced, trembled, and raged in our kitchen. We held nothing back. Uncomfortable questions were asked. Accusations were made. Beliefs were challenged. There was face to face screaming, and I mean literally nose to nose. It was glorious. It was therapeutic. But mostly, it was a relief. The night ended (and was interrupted many times) with hugs and kisses. Throughout, we respected each other’s opinions and the challenges came from all sides. It wasn’t always “us against them”. Sometimes it was “us against us” and “them against them” – a sign of a rousing, productive argument.

Here is my belief after hearing all the arguments from what I’ll call the other side for lack of a better term. It is simply about trust. Some of us trust what our governments and health officials have been telling us and we’ve acted accordingly. Some of us do not trust them and have searched out alternate sources of information on which to base our decisions. But when we cannot agree on basic facts, it hurts our democracy and makes it nearly impossible to communicate to each other. This is where we have been the past two years – the majority of the population living in one reality and a minority living in another. Neither of these groups is smarter than the other, or has better access to information, or has better reasons for doing what they are doing. It’s about trust.

In the end, nobody knows the truth and nobody ever will. So let’s not pretend that we can. But we do need to decide how we want to live our lives. Do I want to believe everything the government tells me is a lie because they are trying to control me? Do I reject everything doctors and scientists tell me because they are being paid off by the pharmaceutical companies? Do I refuse to trust all major media sources because they are “in on it”? Do I want to look upon every government statistic with contempt, assuming it is all lies? No. I don’t what to live like that. I can’t live like that. It would turn me into a person that I don’t want to be - distrusting, suspicious, paranoid. But I do need to decide what my reality is. And my reality is this. I believe that democracies are good, but flawed, and fragile, and need to be vigorously defended otherwise they crumble. I believe that democratically elected governments are better than autocratic ones because they are held accountable. I believe that people act primarily in their own self-interest, which means some become corrupt and abuse their power, but I also believe that the vast majority of people feel a sense of responsibility to others and usually try to do the right thing. I believe that people crave certainty, but there is precious little of this in life. Finally, in this age, with a camera and recorder in every pocket, surveillance cameras on every house, a pervasive internet, and an activated public, it is impossible to keep a secret.

At the end of our 13 hour discussion, nobody changed their minds about much. But we all felt heard. And that was something that was long overdue. This is why I feel we are at a turning point. People have been heard. The unvaccinated have been punished for long enough. The vaccinated have done what’s been asked of them. Many thousands of lives have been saved because of Canadians’ efforts in getting vaccinated and masking but we also must admit that the vaccines have not delivered what the government and health officials promised. We are all getting Covid now despite our vaccination status and we are going to have to live with that.

It’s time to move past this and get started on repairing all the damage. Mending our social connections. Going out again and supporting local businesses. Shutting off the goddamn television and putting down the toxic phones. Seeing peoples’ faces again and being happy instead of scared. Letting our kids be kids. And if (when) another more dangerous Covid strain comes along, will the people demand we handle it differently?

We have a lot of work to do. Somebody said getting out of this pandemic is going to be harder than living through it.

Let’s hope not.


Sunday, January 2, 2022

A New Year's Eve Adventure


It was the night we needed during a time we didn’t.

New Year’s Eve 2021. Pandemic raging. Care factor zero. It was time to lash out, rage, and take it back. Take it all back.

My lady looks at me. Her deep brown eyes, her dark flowing hair, her full lips that mouth the words, “I love you,” then presses her body against mine, and we lock together like magnets, in a steel embrace, never parting, until we do.

“Let’s do this,” I whisper gently into her ear. In the mirror, I can see her smile, chin on my shoulder. A dangerous smile. She is ready.

We dress. She wears tight, black leather pants, dancing shoes, a flash top that clings to her enticing curves, and hair pulled back tightly, creating a perfect line. I too wear black, the devil’s shade. My belt brandishes a skull. My shirt is long sleeved, epic. My hair is wild. My silver-buckled boots are heavy. It’s time.

The boy sits at his computer, on the after-hours exchanges, trading. He is focused. Gorillaz play in the background. He gives me a nod. I nod back. The understanding is there.

The girl is away tonight, with a friend, creating her own adventure.

We strap on jackets, helmets, gloves, then mount the matching Ducatis and ignite them. The bikes yearn to go, and go fast. We scream away from the house, in parallel, rip past the feeble stop sign and race down the street, lean steeply into the exit, and are on the highway, accelerating wildly, smiles hidden behind our helmet visors. We are like bullets, but defying gravity, moving ahead, charging ever faster, weaving around vehicles, owning the road, owning the night.

Ozzie’s Oyster House is where we stop. It is in the city. Though the hot bikes despise it, we power them down, lock our helmets to the hot frame, then walk in the entrance together, as if staged. As we step inside, we are noticed, eyes attracted to us, then diverted quickly. The hostess shows us to a table, but we take the bar. I have a gin and tonic, she has a wine, no explanatory toast is required – we know we drink to us.

The oysters arrive, magnificent on the shining plate, moist, sensual, promising. We tap shells, then slide them back. The taste is exquisite and I hold the mollusk briefly on my tongue, letting the salty water trickle down my throat, feeling the ocean, honouring the creature. My lady’s eyes are closed as she consumes the oyster, embracing the moment, existing in another place. A sea place. Together we travel wordlessly in our shared mind’s eye.

Surrounding us are people. Some laughing, some talking, some silent. Nobody approaches us, but they sneak curious glances. They can feel our energy and they want it. But it is not theirs to have.

Shells are emptied, drinks are drunk. We hold hands and face each other, smiling.

“Ready?” she says.

“I am.”

We are back on the road, twisting through city streets, passing trees, passing buildings, passing people, as if at random, but we know this city. It is winter, but the surfaces are dry and the temperature is mild. I see the reflection from the arrogant moon on my gas tank. It is a nice night for a ride.

It is 11 o’clock when we enter the club. The entrance is concealed and unseen. Nobody is supposed to be here, but many are, looking to fill their voids, reclaim their lives. She holds my arm, and the attention of onlookers. My lady is the most beautiful woman here, as I knew she would be. It can be no other way. We see our friends, in the far corner, at a table, being beautiful, but in no hurry to do so.

“T-dog,” I say.

“We meet again,” he says, giving me a knowing handshake and a wink. When he releases his grip, two white pills are revealed in my palm, each imprinted with the image of a throwing star. Ecstasy. I place one on the tongue of my lady, and one on my own, and there they dissolve, releasing the mind-altering chemicals rapidly, catching up to our friends

“Queenie, so nice to see you again,” I say as I kiss her on the cheek and put my hand on her shoulder. My lady exchanges embraces with each of them, then we sit together for a round of drinks, then another. As the E’s fully penetrate our minds, stillness is no longer an option - it becomes imperative to dance. The four of us push to the dance floor, unstoppable, full of love, and we submit to the music, who is an unflinching and joyful master.

Sweat. Bodies. And the beats. We writhe, sway, and gyrate together, caged in by the throbbing crowd, driven by the all-consuming bass, and the flashes of light in the darkness, the glimpses of blissful faces, the energy of the charged moment, the magic of the drugs, and the relentless desire for motion. My lady is with me, face to face, body to body, with my hands on her, and hers in the air, welcoming my advances, offering herself to me. We move together as one as the chemicals flood our brains, and we become pure love.

Then, a gunshot. Was that the music? Another shot. The adrenaline surges through my body, obliterating the other substances in my system, bringing focus, clarity, purpose. Our hands clasp and we move rapidly through the crowd towards the entrance, scanning the scene. Another shot, and I see the lightning from the muzzle of the gun. A young punk. Two young punks, shooting at each other, hiding behind partygoers. Without speaking, we release hands, and do what we need o do. I advance on one of them, my lady targets the other. In an instant I am in front of the fool, and with an open hand I strike his nose, upwards, shattering cartilage, maybe puncturing his brain. He is on the ground, motionless. I seek out my lady in the crowd. She stands above a crumpled body, fist clenched, eyes ablaze. We exchange a look, she points to the door, then we move to the exit and leave. This part of the night is over. T-dog and Queenie are already outside, safe.

“Never a dull moment,” Queenie says.

We smile and nod, then mount our bikes as they disappear, together, into the city.

Highway lines are a blur as we accelerate, fueled by the adrenaline, far more powerful than any synthetic. I smile beneath my helmet, then laugh out loud. Our bikes are moving in unison, and I reach out to her. Our gloved hands, fighting against the wind, touch and briefly lock. I know she too is smiling.

The engines scream in ecstasy as we wind them up – 150, 170, 200, 240 and there is yet room in the throttle. There is little traffic, but the cars we pass scarcely perceive us; maybe a peripheral flash, a momentary whine, dark rockets, then nothing. What was that?

We return home, exhilaration still fresh, ghosts of club music in our ears, the chill of the night clinging to our jackets. The boy lays on the carpet, surrounded by glasses and an empty vodka bottle. Doing shots with the hamster again. L’il Lenny is on his wheel running, off balance and tipsy, but nonetheless, the victor.

“You okay buddy?” I ask him as I prod his side with a toe.

His eyes open slightly, and he smiles. “I made a hundred grand tonight, so we celebrated. Those hamsters sure can hold their booze.” He collapses back into sleep.

My lady and I exchange a smile. Crazy kids.

I shut the ordinary bedroom door behind us. Clothing is rapidly peeled away, discarded on the bluish-green carpet. The pace is frantic, urgent, burning. We submit to the flesh. We own each other. We love each other. We’ve taken back what is ours.

It is 2022.