Friday, June 30, 2017

Budding Book Worm

At the end of my first day of high school, more than two-and-a-half years after I left Century P.S., I decided to return to my old elementary school for a visit.

Halfway through the sixth grade, my family had moved from Nepean to Chelsea, across the Ottawa River, on the Québec side. I didn't get to finish my last year at my old school, which was a shame: my teacher, Mr. Townsend, was perhaps my favourite teacher of them all. He focused on our writing skills, encouraged us in our creative writing, and had the greatest influence over my decision to become a writer.

Just as I was beginning to flourish in what he said came naturally to me, we moved away.

My second-half of grade six was a challenge. Everybody in the class knew each other, had grown up together. I was the new kid. No one, for the longest time, wanted to welcome me into the fold. Many students in that class, and even the teacher, never fully accepted me.

French was also a challenge for me, as the lessons in Québec were far more advanced than the level taught to me by Monsieur Leflock. To me, everyone in my new class was fully bilingual, except for me. I had a steep learning curve to ascend and never quite reached it.

My family moved back to Ottawa shortly before I entered grade nine, and I was looking forward to seeing my old friends, hoping that most—if not all—would be going to the same school as me.

My first day back was the most depressing day of my young life. Some of my old friends weren't at the school, had gone to another one, a short distance away. Other friends remembered me but had formed bonds with other kids in middle school. I was a recognized face but they had moved on.

I had been replaced.

At the end of the day, feeling dejected, I needed something familiar, and so I took a detour on the way home and returned to my old elementary school.

All of the students were gone for the day, but the brown metal doors were still unlocked. I walked past the principal's office, but the name on the door was new: Mr. Gordon was gone. There was no one around, so I was unable to ask where my old principal had gone.

Walking past the vice-principal's office, I saw another strange face behind the desk, talking on the phone. Mr. Gouge, too, had been replaced.

Up to the second floor, I went to the one place where, in my six-and-a-half years, I had spent the most time.

The library.

The lights were still on but as I rounded the corner, I didn't see anyone. Seconds later, though, I heard a voice from the far end.

"Hello, Ross."

It was the librarian, Mrs. Redmond. She was crouched low, placing books on a bottom bookshelf. Tidying up at the end of the day.

My heart lifted. I had been remembered by one of my favourite people in the school, by a person who, even more than Mr. Townsend, had had a huge influence on me.

"What are you doing here? I thought your family had moved away." Yes, I had been remembered.

"We've moved back. I'm going to J.S. Woodsworth, now."

"Welcome back. How was your first day?"

I told her about how I had felt like I had been forgotten, how all of my old friends had treated me like a stranger. I told her that I returned to Century because I needed to be around something familiar. I let her know that I was glad to see her and even more glad that she remembered me.

"You haven't changed much, except you've grown taller. I could never forget you."

Mrs. Redmond was the best storyteller. From kindergarten until I was old enough to pick out my own books to read, she would sit in a large chair in the back corner of the library, her voice animated and varying as she read book after book. I would sit with my peers, cross-legged on the floor around her, and be mesmerized.

In later years, whenever the weather was too poor to be outside, during recess, or when I was on a lunch break, I would come to the library to pick out books to read to myself or look through the latest puzzles in the Highlights magazines. Whenever I was looking for something new to read, Mrs. Redmond would be there to show me the books that she thought I would like.

I always liked them.

We talked for a while about the past couple of years, about my time in the Québec school system. She told me about the changes at the school, the new principal, and some of the teachers that were still around from when I was a pupil: Mr. Fulcher, Mr. Meredith, and Mr. Townsend were still there, among others.

Mrs. Redmond looked at her watch and told me that she needed to leave, but that I could come back any time I wanted. I left the library and headed toward Mr. Townsend's classroom, but when I got there, it was empty.

I saw him a couple of times, a few years later, when I worked at a camera shop in the Merivale Mall. He still remembered me, but I never told him how he had inspired me to continue writing.

I never returned to Century Public School. Not until last weekend, as the classrooms were being packed up for the last time. The school board has decided to close its doors for good, citing low attendance.

When I walked into the library, this last time, it had changed. The rows of bookshelves were gone; whatever books remained were packed away in labelled boxes. In the back half of the room, a partition separated the reading tables from rows of computers on desks. We didn't have computers in my day.


Where the big reading chair had sat, where Mrs. Redmond had read countless stories to me and my classmates, was a desk with a monitor and keyboard. Did the librarian still read to the kids?

I almost expected Mrs. Redmond to be there, tucking books away, looking up, and recognizing me, all these years later. I would have loved to hear her voice, in recognition, one last time.

"Hello, Ross."

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Bad Boy

I choked up when I told DD16 this story.

She came with me to the school, wanted to see where my education began. She helped me carry equipment and followed me as I recounted stories—the room where Monsieur Leflock taught me French: the vice-principal's office, where, for a time, he had set out a chair for me.

More on that, later.

We had ventured to the second floor, to find that the lights had been turned off. All of the classroom doors were closed and locked. Grades 4, 5, and 6 had been held up here. It's where I felt like one of the big kids, even though I was one of the smallest in all of my classes.

There were no light switches: at least, none that we could turn on. Each required a special key to activate them. The only light emanated from the far end of the corridor, where a set of doors took you to the stairwell that led out to the courtyard. It lit the two doors at the far end: one led into the library; the other, to the room where I had my grade 4 class.

I set the camera on my tripod facing down the darkened hallway. It wasn't a straight hall: it was staggered, with corners in which you could duck out of sight. I gave DD16 an external flash, turned it on, showed her the button that would activate it. I had her stand around a corner, out of sight from the lens. I took a second flash and hid around the nearest corner.

The camera was set for a 20-second exposure. In darkness, with my remote control, I activated the shutter. "Now," I told my daughter. For the 20 seconds, we both continuously fired the flashes, turning the darkness to light.


The photos captured, we continued toward the lighted end, hoping to find the library unlocked.

To the left of the library door, an alcove was lined with several hooks for hanging jackets. A bench, low to the ground, stretched below. This is where students for the classroom, beside the library, would store their outdoor belongings. I looked to the part of the bench, closest to the library door, and teared up.


"Oh my gosh," I said to DD16, my voice almost a whisper, "I just remembered something."

Our vice-principal, Mr. Gouge, was also my fourth-grade teacher. I received good grades, but I wasn't the best of students. I was a bit of a mouth, always quick with a smart-ass response. I was also the type of kid who would try anything, once, just to see what would happen.

I threw snowballs at buses and bus drivers.

I acted out quips from Get Smart.

I talked back to sarcastic teachers (or, teachers who I felt were being sarcastic).

One time, talking back to Mr. Gouge, he asked me, "How would you like a detention tonight?"

"I have no plans," I replied, "I'd love to keep you company."

"How would you like a week of detentions?"

"How about two?" came from my smart mouth.

"How about three?"

"Let's make it a month!"

"Done."

I had a seat set out for me. Mr. Gouge would give me pages of exercises from the lessons of the day, to keep me occupied.

Our notebooks were supplied by the school, their off-white or yellow jackets had Carleton Board of Education blazoned upon the covers. I used to doodle on the covers, and one day, Mr. Gouge walked by my desk as I had squeezed the word IS between Carleton and Board, and had changed the spelling of the latter word to Bored.

Carleton is Bored of Education.

"Come with me," said Mr. Gouge, softly, picking up my notebook. To the class, he instructed, "Finish your assignment and I'll be back in a moment." He said that he would be back. He said nothing of me.

We headed out of the classroom, into the hall, and sat on the bench beside the library door. I sat in the spot where the bench ended, closest to the library. Mr. Gouge sat next to me, his knees coming up high, almost to his chest.

"Why do you hate me?" he asked.

"I don't hate you."

"But you challenge me at every turn. You talk back. You distract the other students." He held up my notebook. "You do this." He flipped through the inside pages, examining my work. "You're a bright kid. I want to like you but you make it very difficult. I get the feeling that you don't respect me. What have I done that makes you dislike me."

I started to cry. "But... I do like you. I just think that this is funny. I want to be funny. I'm sorry I hurt your feelings." I cried in earnest.

Mr. Gouge put a gentle hand on my head. "You can be funny, Ross. But when it's time to pay attention and be serious, I need you to be serious. Be funny when we're having a break. Can you do that for me?"

I nodded, sniffling and trying to compose myself. I could see in Mr. Gouge's eyes that he was holding back tears, too. We sat quietly for a few minutes. He looked at my modified book cover. A tiny smile told me that on some level, he thought my changes were clever.

"Are you ready to go back inside and focus on the lesson?"

"Yes."

For the rest of the class and for the rest of the school year, I made an effort to show that I could pay attention, that I could get my work done without distracting other kids, without interrupting or being a bad boy.

Except during the breaks. At those times, all bets were off.

I told DD16 this story, knowing that the exact conversation was a distant memory, but the tears from that day almost came back. I recounted the story as best as I could, my voice breaking at times.

We tried the classroom door, to see if we could look inside: it was locked.

We tried the door to the library, and it was unlocked. I picked up my camera gear and we headed in...



Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Gathering Point

Do you remember where you were when Paul Henderson scored the winning goal in the 1972 Canada-Russia hockey series?

I remember where I was.

I was sitting on the cold floor of the auditorium, which doubled as a gymnasium, at Century Public School. There were a few classes, huddled around a TV set that had poor reception. I wasn't a hockey fan—had never been interested—but it was an excuse to get out of class.


When the final horn sounded on that eighth game, the auditorium rang out in cheers. Teachers high-fived. Students threw up their young arms. History had been made.

The auditorium/gymnasium was where we gathered for our Christmas concerts, where we sang carols loud and clear. Our principal, Mr. Gordon, would personally select the students who would be in the choir: we would stand and sing "Oh, Canada!" at our desks, and Mr. Gordon would walk around the room, stopping behind each student to listen. If he liked your voice, he would gently tap you on the shoulder before moving on to the next student.

Not to brag but I was always selected.

In grade 5, we learned how to square dance in Mr. Fulcher's class. Up on the stage, I got a little too close to the edge and almost fell off. Years before then, after a rehearsal for a class play, I hopped off the stage instead of taking the stairs, as we were always told to do. I sprained my ankle and spent two weeks on crutches.

As a kid in elementary school, the gymnasium/auditorium seemed massive. Visiting it last weekend, it seemed as though it had shrunk, as though the walks had closed in on themselves. The floor had been refinished, was now an off-white linoleum-like surface. I remembered it to have a wooden surface in my days: class photos in front of the stage seem to support that memory.

Standing in that room, as empty as it was, I could see rows of small kids, sitting cross-legged on the floor, looking up at the stage, where Mr. Gordon, with his white, short-sleeved button shirt, dark, polyester slacks, his dark hair Brylcreemed and combed back with a perfect part to the side, long, thin sideburns, stood in front of the microphone, trying to get their attention so that he could deliver an important message.

"Shh... shh. Listening. Listening. Shh... "

It worked every time.


The spacious room where I saw hockey history is forever ingrained in my mind, remains an unforgotten piece of my history.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Unlocking Memories

I knew that revisiting my old elementary school would bring back memories but I never expected that, at every turn, in every room, I would see my younger self, hear the voices of classmates and teachers, remember the sound of my old principal, softly calling for attention.

"Shh... shh... listening. Listening... "

I found Mr. Gordon, in a framed black-and-white photograph, posing with the vice principal, Mr. Gouge, and a crowd of young students with their Safety Patrol sashes. The students were from my grade, many from my class. I recognized Pam and Joanne, who I had known since kindergarten, standing near the front of the crowd. I also remembered other faces but couldn't put names to them.

Everything seemed smaller, as though time had shrunk the gymnasium. My kindergarten classroom, whose sloped ceiling seemed infinitely out of reach, had sunk with age. Tables and chairs were doll-sized, the hallways shortened.


Not everything was the same: the wooden climbing apparatus, which would swing out to make an indoor jungle gym in the auditorium, was gone. The partition that separated two classrooms, but had been opened when I shared a split class in grade 3 and 4, was gone. The double room had become one single, large space, now a third kindergarten classroom.

And the library—one of the places in the whole school where I spent most of my time, where the librarian had encouraged me to read—had been divided from one large space to two smaller ones, one that held computers: devices that didn't exist in my time. The reading corner now housed a workstation.

Now, all the bookshelves are empty, all the books either already gone or packed into cardboard boxes and labelled, ready to find a new home.


Over the next couple of days, I'll try to share memories from my childhood school days. With these memories, I'll share photos of the school, now closed for the summer, now closed for the last time. Century Public School only lasted half a century but for me, my memories will last a lifetime.



I would like to thank Dave Petrie, Century Public School's current and final principal, for kindly allowing me to wander the halls one last time and capture images, which awoke so many memories.

Tomorrow, I'll show you the auditorium, which doubled as the gymnasium, and where I saw history made.



Monday, June 26, 2017

On the Right Footing

Bridgehead. I cried in Bridgehead.

Not in loud, blubbery sobs that would turn heads and have other patrons talking and pointing fingers. You would have had to look closely to see my watering eyes, to notice my chest convulse, despite my attempts to hold it together.

If you were there, you would have seen me typing on my smartphone, staring at the screen, and you would have wondered if I was suppressing a whole-hearted laugh. That is, until that big blob of a tear fell and left a wet mark on my shirt.

Yes, I did have a bit of an emotional outcry, in public, but I did my best to keep my emotions in check. When I thought I might erupt again, I chugged the last of my coffee, cleaned off my table, and swiftly left the shop.

My tears weren't ones of sorrow. They weren't particularly of joy, either. My emotional outpouring was more of relief, of hope, and of optimism.

I had just come from a visit with an orthopedic surgeon at the Civic Hospital. My meeting came after more than a year of waiting, to meet the surgeon who would be operating on my left foot, to hopefully cure my Kohler's disease/Mueller-Weisse syndrome (it's name is a mere question of semantics, the surgeon told me: they are essentially the same condition).


Until my Friday visit, the surgeon had a basic x-ray image from which to assess. The specialist who I visited, last summer, who referred me to this new surgeon, told me that the clinic that took the x-ray was using basic equipment, a machine that was good at determining whether a bone was fractured but not at providing fine detail. The equipment at the Civic could obtain a much sharper image and so, upon my arrival, I was taken to the imaging lab.

When I met the surgeon, who told me to simply call him Brad, took time to listen to my whole foot history. He was interested in learning that I cycle and would like to be able to go for long distances, again: he even shared this interest. He had me walk, noticed my gait, and asked me to pinpoint exactly where the pain was felt the most.

When I touched the area, he was puzzled: "That's not where the Mueller-Weisse is concentrated," he said. He felt around, had me walk some more, heard the bone crunching on bone. "I'm going to send you for more x-rays," he said. "I'd like to look more closely at the bones around your ankle."

Fifteen minutes later, we were sitting down together, looking at the new images.

"You can see this darkened patch," he pointed out, "there's definitely some rubbing there. I'd like to examine it even more closely, but you'll need a CT scan. I'll order one.

"Have you ever had injections for your arthritis?" he asked, pointing to the top of both feet.

"No. What kind of injections?"

"It's a type of steroid that reduces the inflammation. You've really had no relief for your osteoarthritis?"

"Never."

"Wow." He was silent for a moment as he studied the x-rays. "Of course, we'll need to treat the Mueller-Weisse but I think your arthritis should be a priority and we'll figure out why your bones are rubbing."

I told him about how I wasn't above hacking off my feet to eliminate my arthritic pain. I've lived with it for more than 30 years and not a day goes by where I'm not in pain.

"Well, I won't rule that option out," Brad said. "But let's try the injections first. What do you think?"

"You think it'll really relieve my pain."

"There's a good possibility but it's not a guarantee."

We ordered the injections. They are done by another doctor and the wait is about a month. The CT scan will happen around the same time or a few weeks later. And as for the surgery for the Mueller-Weisse? It's not critical at this point because it doesn't seem to be the cause of any of my pain. Brad and I will meet in October to take more images and see if there are any changes.

I've spent almost three-quarters of my life in pain. So much so that I have no memory of being pain-free. The mere notion that my pain can be reduced was powerful. It was like learning that I had won the lottery. That I had been given a new freedom. My emotions became overloaded.

In Bridgehead.

There's no guarantee that the treatment will work. There are no guarantees in life. But for now, I remain hopeful, simply because for the first time in my life, I heard someone tell me that they wanted to work toward helping me not hurt.

And that's a powerful thing.

 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Photo Friday: Summer's On

On Wednesday, we saw the longest day of the year.

Or, rather, the day with the most hours of daylight. Every day is 24 hours long.

On a cloudless, warm day that marked the beginning of summer, the best place to say goodbye to the setting sun and the blue and orange sky was by the river. I could have stood there and watched until the blue grew darker, until the sky filled with countless points of distant light.

If not for the bugs. Those pesky, biting, summer bugs.


Happy Friday!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Beer O'Clock: Industrial Pale Ale

Every so often, I venture to my basement to take inventory of the bottles and cans of unopened beer, to see if there's anything that I bought but somehow neglected.

You would be surprised to know that there are times where, atop the wooden wine racks, stacked with dust-covered bottles of old vintages, sits a flat shelf that is even-more stacked with cases and individual selections of ales, lagers, and stouts.

With the beginning of summer, I'm looking to shed any of the last remnants of heavier, winter beers, to make way for the light, refreshing summer ales.

I was surprised to find several bottles that have been in my basement since the beginning of the year, plus cans that I had bought at the beginning of spring.

Too late for spring cleaning: time for summer clearance.

Tucked behind a half-empty, spring-sampler six-pack from Mill Street were two cans that held promise. I knew that I hadn't had the beer before because with two cans, I was looking at my taster can and my potential review can. I always buy two cans when I'm looking to review a beer, just in case one is off.

After opening the first can, I was ready to do my review.

Located on a small peninsula where the Port Dalhousie Harbour opens into Lake Ontario, Lock Street Brewing Company claims itself to be the first authentic micro brewery in Port Dalhousie—ignoring the fact that this small community has been swallowed by St.Catharines, home of Plan B Beer Works, and is also a short jaunt from Silversmith Brewing, Niagara Oast House Brewers, The Exchange Brewery, Taps Brewing, and more on the way.

The Niagara Peninsula is a small region.

Nevertheless, Lock Street has established itself in a 140-year-old building that was originally a hotel and opened last year as a brewery, one of 400 in Ontario.

The beer that I found in my cellar was the breweries pale ale. Let's examine my findings.
Industrial Pale Ale (5.5% ABV)
Lock Street Brewing Co.
Port Dalhousie (St.Catharines) ON
Appearance: a clear, copper-orange body with a creamy, light-beige head that formed a thick, solid cap.

Nose: malts come out ahead of the hops. There's a citrus that is almost sour with grassy tones.

Palate: there is an even distribution of malt and hops, with grapefruit and caramel competing for attention. A heavy finish brings it all together.

Overall impression: calling this pale ale Industrial is apt: this is one heavy pale ale, but at the same time it's easy to drink if you're used to a typical IPA—it's not as bitter but it has a full body.

For myself, I wish I had consumed this ale in the spring, when I first found it and when the weather was cool and damp. With the summer heat and humidity, you're going to want to choose a cool, air-conditioned environment in which to drink it, rather than on a hot, summer patio.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3

Cheers!

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Most Important Day

Sure, Mother's Day is nice, but I think that dads sometimes get treated as the underdogs of the family.

Mom is always sensible.

Mom always thinks ahead.

Mom is the practical one.

But father's are important, too. We look out for the safety of our kids but we also throw caution to the wind, thinking it's better to show a life lesson after the fact than to shield our kids from the experience.

Dad's are there, no matter what. We always see our children as children, and we have our kids' back through thick and thin.

And so, on Father's Day, it's okay to be spoiled, to let our kids fawn over us. Let them make us breakfast in bed. So they messed up the kitchen: that's okay.


For all the dads out there, I hope you had a great day, yesterday. I hope yesterday was the most important day for you, when you were not the underdog of the family, but the centre of it.




Friday, June 16, 2017

Photo Friday: Not Pleasing the Missus

My wife isn't happy about my year-long photo project.

Oh, it's not the content of the project: with most of the photos, she's given me an "oh, that's nice" or a "that's a beautiful shot," or even "I love that one."

She wasn't crazy about my Photo of the Day (POTD) pic of that young woman on the beach at Playa Pilar, but what can I say? I'm at heart a childish, dirty old man!

One of my favourite photos, so far, that was shot on our recent trip to Cuba, was a street scene in the town of Morón, an hour's drive from our resort on Cayo Coco. DW liked it so much, too, that I earned one of her "I love it" praises.

Here it is, for Photo Friday. (Notice how I keep with my current Cuba theme?)
 

So just what is DW not pleased about with my POTD? It's how I process the RAW image.

For years, I've been using photo-editing software that her company produces: Photo-Paint. PaintShop Pro. Aftershot. I've always been happy with the results that I've gotten from these products. They give Adobe Photoshop a run for their money—even exceed that industry standard in ease and speed of some features, at a fraction of the cost.

And, because DW works for the company on these products, we get them for free.

Part of my self-imposed criteria for my photo project is to not only shoot a different photo each day but to also get it out on social media in that same day. Depending on the time of day that I capture the image, I don't have a lot of time to get it off of my camera, process it, and share it on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Flickr.

About a month ago, I took a photograph at 11:37 in the evening. By the time I got home, I had less than 10 minutes to retrieve the photos from my D-SLR, select the best one, edit it, and deliver it onto my social-media sites.

I can't do that on a computer: I would need to pull out the dedicated cable that connects my camera to my laptop, transfer the images, open an app to view them, open one or more of my photo-editing programs, clean up the image, save it, and individually upload it to Facebook, to Twitter, and to Flickr.

Because Instagram doesn't let you upload from a laptop, I'd have to grab either my phone or my tablet, copy the image from Flickr, and then upload it to Instagram from the mobile app.

I'm tired just describing the process, and I know that all of that would take far longer than the method I use. And this is where DW is not happy.

Using my tablet, I establish a WiFi connection with my camera, and a Nikon app displays the photos as thumbnails. I quickly scan the small images, pick one or two that I like the most, and download them onto my tablet as RAW images.

I then open Snapseed, a powerful, free photo-editing app that is extremely quick and easy to use. It's not as robust as any of the programs that I have on my laptop—I can't work with layers nor do any fine touchups—but it's really good at popping colour saturation, sharpening details, and creating more contrast. It also has lots of filters for special effects.

Once my finished image is completed, I can go into Instagram, where I can upload and share the photo to that app, Facebook, and Twitter in one fell swoop.

After then, the photo goes into my Flickr POTD album.

Done and done.

I still use my laptop apps for other work: this week's Wordless Wednesday, for example, shows photos that were exclusively edited with PaintShop Pro. Even the firebreathing shot, which I had originally posted as a POTD from my tablet, thanks to Snapseed, was re-done on my laptop. 

DW doesn't like that I turn my back on her company's apps for a faster, easier one, but she understands that the constraints of my project call for mobile abilities. And I haven't completely forsaken these wonderful apps that she works on. I still rely upon them when I need to take great care at fine work.

Who knows: maybe her company will create a mobile version of its apps?

Except, it's hard to beat free in this competitive market.

Happy Friday!



Thursday, June 15, 2017

Going with the Flow

"You really don't know where we're going?" DD16 asked, eyes wide, the look of terrified anguish on her young face. She's a worrier, one of those people who, when she hears galloping hooves, assumes that unicorns are headed her way.

"No idea," I said, "let's go!"

I had, at most, five pesos in my pocket. It was late on our second evening at our resort, and I had already had my fill of Cuba Libres, which flowed freely from the lobby bar, next to the theatre. My next intended stop, after the live show, was back to our so-called bungalow—which was three-stories tall, despite its name. One of about eight structures that housed the guest rooms.

The show was a dance interpretation of Romeo and Juliet, performed by a group of young dancers that we would see perform in two more shows before we would head back to Canada. The story was told through contemporary pop songs, some that made DD16 and DD14 look at one another, roll their eyes, and smile.


The choreography, they concurred, was mediocre, but most of the dancers were very good. This, coming from girls who had danced competitively until a few years ago.

The show over, we left the theatre, and DW and I contemplated one more drink before we turned in. It was after 10:30, but we were on vacation. We could sleep in, tomorrow.

While we sipped one more rum and cola, the sound of drums could be heard at the entrance to the resort. Men were singing. There seemed to be a group of guests moving toward the sound, so the four of us followed.

Just outside the front entrance, five men stood in a near circle: three slapping the skins of tall congas, a fourth using a softened mallet to get notes from a steel drum, and the remaining member clapped his hands and sang. We listened for a couple of minutes, as DW and I drained our final Cuba Libres of the evening, and prepared to turn in.


But things were just getting going.

As we set our empty glasses on an empty table, the members of the dance group, in matching, blue outfits, came out to the entrance. They started to dance along with the musicians as they pounded out complex rhythms. Out in the road, two tour buses pulled up.

We were ready to bid our entertainers good night when one of the young dancers asked me in heavily accented English, "Are you coming to the carnival?"

"I don't know," I answered her, turning to DW and shrugging my shoulders to say, what do you think? "How much does it cost?" I asked her, remembering that I didn't have much cash in my pockets.

"It's free!" she smiled. Already, resort guests were climbing aboard the first bus. The musicians followed and the driver pulled out. The second bus moved forward and opened its doors.

DW looked at me and, without a word, indicated, through body language, why not?

The dancers joined the second wave of guests, and we filed in behind them.

"Where are we going?" asked DD16.

"I don't know," I said, "but it looks like fun!"

She hesitated, ever the worrier. "How long do you think we'll be?"

"Beats me," I said, "but I doubt they'll have us out too late." I put my arm around her and led her onto the coach.

We sat but the dancers remained in the aisle. The young woman who asked me if we were coming along stood beside me. "You were really good, tonight," I told her. She smiled and thanked me.

The bus, once full, pulled out from the resort and onto the dark roadway beyond.

"You really don't know where we're going?" DD16 asked for the third time.

"Sometimes," I said, "you just have to go with the flow. It's times like these that you can have the best adventures." I had to assure her that the resort wouldn't sanction a late-night excursion if we weren't completely safe. Everything would be fine.

The journey took only about five minutes. We pulled into the parking lot of a plaza, it's buildings lit with neon. I spied a sign for a bowling avenue and a spa, and saw a statue of a couple of flamingos. Out of the bus, we were led to a plaza that had a stage and lights, with two giant TV screens that displayed the Cuban flag.

Already, people were dancing to recorded music. Other dancers who were not on our bus and were dressed for a festival were leading people from the first bus in rhythmic motion. The girls and DW moved in and to my surprise, started dancing.


I switched my D-SLR to video mode and began recording.

Shortly thereafter, the percussionists who were in our resort lobby arrived, with a new singer, and they marched in beat to a spot near the stage. The dancers from this evening's performance, with some of the other dancers, followed behind and they all moved onto the dance floor.


A new show started up.


Afterward, two shirtless men moved up for their performance, juggling machetes and chopping sugar canes, demonstrating how sharp the blades were. They then proceeded to run their tongues up and down the edges of the machetes, somehow displaying how their tongues were tougher than cane.

These showmen then produced flaming batons and began to dance with them, rolling them up and down their bodies as though they were impervious to fire. Which they were.


They put the flaming ends into their mouths. They threw the fire sticks into the air and caught them in their trousers. For the finale, they blew fireballs that lit the plaza and added heat to the already scorching night.

DD16 was enthralled. Smiling. Dancing.

"See?" I said to her, on the bus ride back to the resort. "Adventures happen when you least expect it, when you're willing to just give in to the unfolding events."


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