The Pride of the Bay Area

The best time for cheapest hotel rates and airfares is after an international catastrophe. Unless it’s a worldwide pandemic banning travel.

After 9/11 I booked a couple of trips. One was to Vienna in January knowing it would be snowy and cold. So is Dr. Zhivago. It was idyllic: warm soups, soft cheeses, no tourists.

There were serendipitous.things like a Francis Bacon/Velazquez show at the Kunsthistorisches. But other than daily walks, I didn’t want to leave the coziness of the hotel room and its personal butler in morning coat. I was staying at one of the world’s leading hotels, The Imperial, for next to nothing.

As a Californian the trip allowed me to use parts of my wardrobe that rarely saw daylight (which totaled five hours in Vienna that time of year). Like the Prada boots and Miyake overcoat. Underneath the garments, however, the bruises on my butt and legs told a different story. I can still hear my Mother’s trans-Atlantic scolding: “It doesn’t matter how good they look, you can’t wear leather soles in the snow.”

After leaving Vienna I visited Babara in London. I gifted her with a plush robe from the Imperial. Several years later she repaid me with my own personalized tour of Tampa where she’d moved.

In Pamplona with Barbara, chasing the bullshit.

Florida was a step down from London in terms of intellectual stimulation. But she had a beautiful condo and was close to her family so she made it work. Like Babe Paley mixing the good stuff with the dime store stuff, Barbara’s curiosity and spirit in experiencing  both the Fragonards and the parimutuel greyhounds were admirable

My individualized itinerary included the Egyptian restaurant in Clearwater run by Polish immigrants and a trip to Plant City home of George Jones and Tammy Wynette. The deep fried Snickers bars there were eaten with some difficulty.

Back in Tampa a trip to the original Hooters sadly had to be nixed. But at a traffic stop on Gandy Blvd. an unscheduled highlight was looking out the window to see a biker idling on his Harley. Behind him his chick’s hands clung loosely to his waist. The back of her t-shirt said simply:


It looked like concrete poetry but read like a new form of haiku.

The trip to the dog racing park stood out above the rest. It was one of the most disgusting but fascinating sights ever. The sparse crowd was as depleted and scrawny as the canines that raced. Pregnant women blew cigarette smoke in the faces of the toddlers they were holding. A 45 year old grandma who looked 80 walked jaggedly with her severely hunched back. Probably the result of a drunken jet ski or trampoline mishap.

We were in and out of that track in 15 minutes. Like training a pup, to learn life’s lessons you sometimes need your snout rubbed in the soiled carpet.

On the trail of the Virgin, Mexico City.

My friends Kathy and Linda who I’ve traveled with often share this appetite for the odd ball. Like the sculpture park of Soviet-era monuments on the outskirts of Budapest. Or the human conveyor belt that whisked us past the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

But during our week in the Dominican Republic it looked like we’d be shut out of anything touristly unique. Our daily routine consisted of reading, going to the beach, scrabble over cocktails, having a nice dinner, then sleeping. We were quite happy with it.

In awe of the Vlad-man

As the week drew to a close we felt guilty for not doing one touristy thing. So we decided to act on the posters we’d laughed about all week. A chance to see the largest bull cajones in the Republic.

Our tour guide loaded us into the dirty flatbed of his old pickup. He spoke the international language of the carnival huckster using repeated “but firsts.” As we prepared to depart he psyched us up with a glowing description of the bull we were about to see. But first he wanted to stop at this farm with exotic snakes. Back in the truck we heard more about the marvelous bovine but first he wanted us to see this natural waterfall.

The falls was probably the best part of the tour. When he challenged us to jump off the cliff into the pool I couldn’t resist the dare. Bouncing along in a cloud of dust we continued to ascend the mountain but not before stopping at a roadside market for refreshments (so he could get his commission on the sales.) Finally our rickety climb in the ancient truck reached the summit and we saw the beast.

The poor animal looked like it hadn’t eaten since it wandered in from Calcutta. The emaciated gray body did accentuate the set he was swinging which, indeed, looked large. But then my degree is not in Bull Cajones so I may not be the person to ask about that.

Linda knee deep in Socialist Realism.

Fast forward to the present day where I will spare my readers the intimate details of an infection I’ve had. Suffice it to say it had me reminiscing about the wonder of Hispaniola. It was not painful just tender, swollen and annoying. The worst symptom was the flu-like malaise that kept me in bed most of the week with nothing to do but dream up blog entries like this one.

After a thorough (and stimulating!) ultrasound, my doctor found no trace of Lance Armstrong. He put me on an antibiotics regimen that seems to be doing the trick.

Keeping my distance as Kathy relives her Sunday school days. Handling snakes, wandering in and out of tongues, telling the story of Esther.

Speaking of stimulated packages, I do hope the Biden Pandemic Relief Bill passes. I’m anticipating a severe drop in revenues very soon and could use the cash.

The personal financial crash will coincide with my neighborhood’s collective sigh of relief. The unending stream of tourists jitneys and pickup trucks that has been circling and clogging traffic on Laguna Street will finally come to a halt.

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