Archive for May, 2010

Where the heck is Djibouti and what are we doing here?

I was surprised to hear a mention of Djibouti on the Ellen DeGeneres show recently,  since it isn’t a place that gets a lot of press!  The reason why it struck me is that when I was in my early 20’s, my former husband and I were on our way to Madagascar where he was being assigned to work at a NASA tracking station on that island.

We were to fly from Paris to Tananarive (now called Antananarivo), the capital of Madagascar, overnight with a stopover to re-fuel in Djibouti, French Somaliland (now called Djibouti, Djibouti).  Looking down as we were landing, it looked as though someone had painted an X in the middle of the desert!  We landed to 108 degree temperatures in November, were shepherded into a steel hangar for a “breakfast” of warm lunch meat, warm orange juice, cold croissant and a pickle (!) while the plane refueled.

Our Air Madagascar flight took off a short time later and immediately returned to Djibouti as our plane had lost an engine!  They kept a planeload of passengers in the hangar all day while assessing the problem, and since my husband, another NASA worker, and I were the only Americans on the plane, no one would talk to us!

Finally, with my fractured high school French I was able to discern that we were staying overnight while another plane was being sent from Paris!  After over eight hours in the heated airplane hangar (and we were all in winter clothes from our trans-Atlantic flights from New York and Paris), the airline personnel let us take one piece of luggage from the plane, shepherded us onto buses and drove us into town.

I felt as if we had entered an old movie about the French Foreign Legion and discerned later that there actually was a Legion outpost outside of town. Trying to find lodging for over 200 people was quite a challenge for the airline personnel, but my husband and I ended up in a room above a bar (which we later found out was a house of “ill repute”!) The adventure continued when they sent a bus around town to corral everybody, took us on a little sightseeing tour and then to dinner!

Our meal (turned out it was just an appetizer and drinks) took place at tables scattered around a little building under trees and it was a cool and pleasant setting.  While dining, we noticed several animals – a cheetah, a monkey, a camel and a few other creatures – tied to nearby trees. We learned later we had been enjoying our snacks at the national zoo.

Next, the buses picked us all up and dropped us at our various resting spots.  When we arrived back at our “hotel”, a lovely feast was waiting for us in the bar.  Filet mignon, spiny lobsters and all the trimmings!

Very early the next morning we were picked up and taken back to the airport where we saw our wounded Air Madagascar plane and next to it an Air France jet.  We boarded the new plane and finally reached our goal of the island of Madagascar, a day late, but enriched by the unexpected adventure in an old French Foreign Legion post town!

You can see why the name Djibouti evokes memories!!

Part 3: On the Road with David and Sandy

It’s an all-day trip from our homes in Florida to the home of David’s sister in the panhandle of Florida.  When we arrived, his sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew were there to greet us.  I don’t think they believed how ambitious our trip was hoping to be, but they went along with the joke anyway!

They prepared a lovely spaghetti dinner for us and we spent a fun evening feeding a little baby squirrel that had fallen out of its nest, watching TV, and telling them all the high points in our up-coming trip. We watched an episode of “Northern Exposure” and David said we were going to visit the little town in Washington State where it was filmed.  I thought – sure we will.

After a pretty restful sleep, we were off early the next morning – our first official day on our own and heading west. We started a tradition of taking a photo of the various state welcome signs to prove we had actually crossed into them and taking videos from the camera David’s folks had loaned us. The wandering adventurers were on their way!

The first official day of our journey; leaving David's sister's home.

The first few days, David refused to let me drive his car, but as we continued and he grew weary, I would take over some of the duties.  Men.

Alabama, then Mississippi, then Louisiana.  We whisked through familiar places in anticipation of new scenery.  We did make a stop in southern Mississippi and it was then I learned of David’s penchant for casinos.  Many hours were spent while he tried his hand at Black Jack and I lost my allotted $20 in slot machines.

We were back on the road and decided to keep driving until we tired.  Sometime in the middle of the night, somewhere west of San Antonio, Texas, we pulled over to a rest area to use the facilities and take a little catnap.  We awoke with the sun, still crammed into the tiny little car!  Freshened up and found a wonderful place for breakfast which featured “Texas-sized pancakes”.  Platter-sized and filling, but we felt ready to cross the state!

We stopped to take pictures along the way and decided that we should take a little side trip into Mexico at El Paso.  We parked the car on the Juarez-side of the bridge and were immediately “greeted” by young guys offering to watch our car for us for a small fee.  This made us both a little nervous but we walked around in a pretty little park (within eye sight of the parking area) and walked to the top of a pedestrian bridge over the highway to take a few photos and then scurried back to our lifeboat!

We drove around town a little bit, but didn’t see much that we wanted to explore,  so it was back over the Rio Grande and into the U.S. once more.  It had been an adventure, but David was a bit unnerved by the thought of buying “insurance” for his car and all our belongings.

We drove north into New Mexico, had some dinner in Truth or Consequences (named after an old radio game show) and decided to start looking for a place to stay (and actually PAY for – no mooching tonight) around Gallup, NM, as we had a full schedule planned for the next day.  It was fairly late and dark by the time we got to our destination and we could not find a motel anywhere.  Finally, off the highway was a cute little adobe building with pink neon letters proclaiming “Vacancy”.  I stayed in the car while David went into the office to pay.  A few minutes later he came out, with key, but grinning from ear to ear.

“The manager said that since we wanted to stay the night, we should not be too loud!”  Apparently they rented by the hour.

(To be continued…)

Mooching our way across country, a continuing saga.

We planned a tentative itinerary, spent a whole day at the AAA office getting maps, routes, etc. found someone to take care of our cats, packed his little Mercury Tracer to overflow and in less than a week, we were on our way!

I truly didn’t know how far David’s energy would take us so I kept an open mind.  I thought that he might become too weak to travel very far, figuring we would be back home in a few days, a week at the most. I thought it would be a fun adventure no matter how long we were on the road.  I am always up for a trip!  Boy, did I underestimate my friend’s energy and determination! I was pretty amazed that we were actually on the road and heading west – all kinds of unknowns were ahead of us and I was pretty excited.

David and I had long philosophical talks while we were driving and his gentle acceptance of whatever fate lay before him gave me a new lease on life.  I need to remember that these days when I start worrying about the future.  His belief was to live for the moment and I am so proud to have been with him as he explored new places and long-desired visits to friends and family.

Since we both were somewhat frustrated in our personal lives, he kept trying to convince me that I was better than the guys I had been seeing since my divorce.  “Every shoe has a mate,” he said.  “Your trouble is that you have been settling for tennis shoes when you should be waiting for your Gucci to come along”.

(To be continued…)

The Start of an Incredible Journey That Changed My Life

Today he would have been 54 years old.  He used to say that when he was a kid he could never imagine becoming 40.  He died when he was 38.

We were friends for just over 6 years, but that period of time was a life changer for me. He was 12 years my junior, a gay man, a talented performer.  I was a mother of two college age kids, just out of a painful divorce and pursuing a lifelong dream of being “an actress” as well as a professional artist.

David and I became fast friends and soul mates; from the first day we met and the poor guy had to be my partner in a production number in a play – “Pajama Game” – at a local community theater.  I know I must have crushed his toes more than once, but he never complained (well…maybe a little.  This was, after all, David!)

He and I would spend many hours together over the next years and he taught me a lot about acceptance, living life for today, and enjoying the simple things.  We would watch TV, movies and plays together.  We went out to eat a lot, went shopping and dreamed of traveling.

Since I was an artist (and at that time, an actress in film and TV.  Yes, my ambitions grew quickly!), I was always working a part-time job somewhere.  The summer in question, I was – of all things – selling snow cones at the Cocoa Beach Pier!  I didn’t make a whole lot of money, but I had a killer tan.

One day, David stopped by for a visit at the beach, as he often did, and he told me he wanted to take a road trip.  Did I want to come with him? Since he was living with an unfortunate illness, he thought this might be his chance to see places he had always wanted to visit and never had before.  Plus, there were friends and family to see along the journey.

“Oh, David,” I said.  “That sounds like a lot of fun, but I really don’t have the money to make a trip like that.”

David replied, “Hey, I don’t either.  We’ll just mooch our way across country!”  And so we did…(to be continued)

Happy birthday, my friend.  I miss you.

A Kid’s View of America from the Back Seat of Daddy’s Car

When I was just out of the first grade at Miami Shores Elementary School, my father took a job as an electronics field engineer with a company based in Baltimore.  Upon the sale of our house, my mom and I headed north to meet him after he completed his orientation with the new job.  His first assignment was at a radar station – in Naselle, Washington!  Talk about hitting the road!

We had a small, early 1950’s era Nash that took us on our first exciting odyssey across the United States.  (No Interstate highways then, just open roads!) I think my love of travel – and the ability to amuse myself for hours – was born from that first excursion.

My dad made sure we visited as many historical and interesting sites along the road as we were able to and I still remember visiting Lincoln’s home in Illinois, Mark Twain’s home in Missouri, seeing snow for the first time in the Rocky Mountains, and many more adventures. I was encouraged to keep a scrapbook of the trip and I still have it to this day!

The window next to the back seat of that car became the portal to a new world and I would stare for hours at the new and exciting scenery I saw.  From palm trees in Florida to rolling plains, from wheat fields in the Midwest to snow-capped mountains and awesome waterfalls, we saw it all. Naturally, I spent a lot of time daydreaming about the different towns we would go through and made up stories to go with what I thought I was seeing.  My dad, whose mother was an artist, made sure I always had crayons, color pencils and lots of paper to put my thoughts and impressions on.

Thus my love of travel and making art was born.

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