Summer at the Beach

sunset

July in Huntington Beach-

Two sun kissed girls, perhaps four and five years old, run from a public bathroom toward the inviting sea in their swim suits. Their bundles of clothes underarm, hastily stuffed in floppy sun hats. The younger stops dead in her tracks, examines her heap of clothes and exclaims,

“Oh no! I dropped my underwears.”

Without looking back, she begins running again, a smile stretched across her face and yells,

“Aghh, I don’t need them anyway!”

I laugh to myself and continue up the path.

Further up the trail, a young father, slows his gate as he approaches a pair of white underwear lying atop the sand.

He hesitates.

I smile and say, “I’m pretty sure those belong to your daughter.” He laughs, shakes his head and stuffs the panties in his beach bag.

 

 

*Like the photo? Go double tap my friend Zilly’s photography @laurenzillyphoto 

She is so talented!

Freestyle Friday: Beautiful Chaos

And then, suddenly, an unexpected wind sweeps in and engulfs me in her fury.

She howls and blows and rages.

Beautiful chaos.

When she finally ceases, nothing is the same. The lens in which I viewed the world has been shattered, lost forever in the madness of the storm. I grieve for my ignorance while rejoicing in new found liberation. I am lost and uncertain. Naked and hungry.

Ravaged by the storm.

 

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A Blue Mother’s Day

I am so honored to say that this post was featured on one of the top Dodgers Fan sites on the web for Mother’s Day. I have had the pleasure of reading comments and similar stories from fans around the world over the last twenty four hours. Thousands of people are reading about my Ma and I can’t stop smiling about it. You can see my story on Dodgers Nation here.

 

Since the 2006 season, Major League Baseball players have worn pink when taking the field on Mother’s Day. In a dedicated fight against breast cancer, bearded men don pink wristbands, wear pink cleats and even wield pink bats on the second Sunday of May. With Mother’s Day on the horizon and Dodger baseball well underway, it seems like an appropriate time to share a story about baseball, cancer and my Momma.

JT

Anyone ever forced to bear the news of a loved one’s cancer diagnosis can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the “C” word. Father Time slows his steady march to a crawl when the word is uttered. Confusion ensues, ears ring.

“Cancer…

mother….

chemotherapy…

stage four.”

As the brain begins to process the gravity of the unfamiliar words at hand, they hit like an anvil to the chest

Fortunately, for our family, a strong support system of relatives and friends rallied around my mother when news of her stomach cancer diagnosis reached the edges of our social circle. As she fought for her life, undergoing chemotherapy treatments and operational procedures, my siblings and I felt love and support pour in from all directions. Friends and acquaintances held charity events, cooked dinners and even washed cars in an effort to chip in.

All the while my mother’s condition worsened. The cancer cells in her stomach were metastasizing at an uncontrollable rate, making it difficult for her to pass food regularly. Weekly chemotherapy treatments began taking their toll on her frail body. She lost weight, she lost her hair and at times… worst of all… her eternal sense of optimism. I could hear the sound of defeat in her voice.

Then one day I got a call from my mom and the excitement in her tone reached through the phone and slapped an instant smile on my face.

“Oh my God, son. Oh.. my… God! Guess who I just off the phone with?” My mother exclaimed with the exuberance of a fourteen year old girl.

“No idea Ma.” I replied through grinning teeth.

“Steve frickin’ Garvey!”

“Whaaaaat? No way!” I shouted in confusion, secretly hoping she hadn’t imagined speaking with her childhood crush in a chemo-induced hallucination. Chemo brain is no joke, but my mother hadn’t imagined a thing. As she battled cancer, a distant friend heard of my mother’s diagnosis and reached out to Mr. Garvey.

Anyone that knows my family knows that Dodger Blue blood courses through our veins. For a bunch of Los Angeles transplants living in the desert of Arizona, the Dodgers were more of an identity than a baseball team, a symbol of our past lives in Southern California, surrounded by family and citrus trees. Whenever Vin Scully’s voice hit our ears, we could taste the Dodger Dogs of yesteryear.

And no player was held in higher regard than Steve Garvey. When my Momma coached my t-ball team, she made sure I wore number six in honor of her childhood crush. She loved to tell the story about waiting for Mr. Garvey in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium after a game when she was twelve years old. Garvey pulled up in a red convertible, rolled down his window, and signed an autograph for her. She almost fainted.  After my mom passed away, I found a manila envelope filled with Steve Garvey newspaper clippings and hand sketched drawings she had collected and drawn as a young girl.

She never had an Instagram, but Garvey would have definitely been her Man Crush Monday.

Ana

The few minutes that Mr. Garvey took to reach out to my mother would have been enough. His thoughtful act brought joy and light in a time of darkness. But number six didn’t stop there.

In a last ditch effort to remove the cancer cells from her stomach, my mother traveled to the City of Hope in Duarte for surgery. If time slowed to a crawl when we first learned of my mother’s diagnosis, it stood completely still as my family sat in that second floor waiting room. The longest day of our lives. When the surgeon finally appeared, the news was grim. Six months to live. How does one react to such words?

Devastation.

As my mother healed in the hospital after the procedure, our families’ moral sunk to unprecedented depths.

A few days after the surgery, a box arrived in her hospital room. Gifts from Mr. Garvey. My mother reached inside and pulled out a white jersey with elegant blue letters flowing across the chest. Underneath, the number six flashed in a radiant red, bringing a gasp from the mouths of family members gathered around the bed. The words, “To Ana, a Sweetheart… Fight On!” were written in blue permanent marker just above Steve Garvey’s signature.

And fight she did, until the end. But first… she smiled.

ma

A few months after the failed surgery a friend sent word that Mr. Garvey was making a public appearance in the City of Industry. Determined to thank him for what he did for my family, I made the drive to the event and joined a long line of Dodger fans, eager to meet their favorite first baseman. As I neared the end of the line, I sensed a hint of nervousness enter my body. Will he remember us? Maybe sending gifts to sick fans is an everyday thing for baseball legends.

My apprehensions were quickly assuaged. As soon as I mentioned “Ana,” my mother’s name, Mr. Garvey’s eyes lit up.

“Oh Ana! How is she doing? What a sweetheart. I’ve been meaning to call and check up on her. You know what? Let’s call her now.”

My eyes drifted to the long line of waiting fans as he pulled out his cell phone and dialed my mother’s number. I silently prayed she would pick up, my ma was notorious for never answering her phone.

Nope.

Mr. Garvey laughed and left her a voicemail. We spent a few minutes chatting and even posed for some pictures. Mr. Garvey noticed my cousin and uncle waiting behind velvet ropes and invited them over so he could sign their baseballs. What a guy. If dudes could have Man Crushes, he would have definitely been mine. Okay that sounded weird, but seriously, Garvey is the MAN.

My mom finally called me a few hours after we left the event.

“Ma! You totally missed Steve Garvey’s phone call!” I scolded her.

“Honey, I have to play hard to get and be challenging. I will call him back in a day or two and he can ask me on a proper date, the rest will be history.”

She totally big timed a big leaguer. I laughed so hard I got a cramp in my neck.

My mother lost her fight to cancer three months later, but she went down swinging, and thanks to Steve Garvey, she went back to the dugout with a smile on her face. A week after she passed I got a call from number six. And of course, forever my Momma’s son, I missed his call.

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The Hostel World

 

When my brother travels, he travels in style.

Dapper Dan stays in five star hotels and orders room service.

He buys VIP tables at exclusive night clubs and always drinks from the top shelf.

I’m more of a Circus Circus and sneak through the backdoor kind of guy.

So when I told him my plan to work and live in hostels during my travels, his lack of enthusiasm was expected.

Sounds pretty cool bro,” he replied, trying to match my excitement with a hint of obligation in his voice. No one wants to be a joy killer. Plus, he’s my little brother, he’s been conditioned to go along with my stupid ideas since birth.

I recently left the great city of Barcelona where I spent six weeks living in a cramped and claustrophobic dorm-style room with seven other staff members. The smell: a lovely essence of dirty feet, butt crack and Axe body spray. It was like living in my seventh grade gym locker. But the strong bonds I formed with my flatmates made the smell much more tolerable. It also helped that I was the only snorer in the group.

Sorry guys.

I’ve received a few emails from readers asking my opinion on hostels so I’ve put together a little list for your reading pleasure. Stinky feet aside, I assure you… there are plenty of benefits to staying in hostels during your travels.

Wait, what are you talking about?

That’s a fair question. Prior to my Europe trip last year, I only had a vague, and mostly inaccurate, conceptualization about hostels and was less than optimistic when my friend suggested we utilize them during our trip. Then she told me the price…

Hostels are lodging establishments that offer low-cost accommodations to travelers (generally young travelers) who stay in shared rooms and often share amenities.

No, You Won’t Get Murdered

Okay I can’t guarantee that. But I am shocked by the number of people that have looked at me in horror when discussing my travels and said something like, “Oh my God! I would never stay there. Haven’t you seen the movie Hostel?”

Seriously, at least five people have said that to me. Yes, there is a crazy Dutchman with tranquilizers and a drill waiting for you at every hostel in Europe. Look out.

Camaraderie

Don’t let my social media accounts fool you, it’s not all camel rides and rainbows. Traveling can be a lonely endeavor. One step off the plane and you’re thousands of miles from your friends and family in a new city where you don’t know a soul, don’t speak the language, don’t have a Wi-Fi connection and all you want is a fucking carne asada burrito.

Staying in a hostel provides an immediate network of like-minded travelers and a helpful source of information about local happenings and attractions. If you’re looking for some company at that museum you’ve been dying to visit, chances are there’s someone at the hostel who’s interested in joining. You’ll soon find yourself making deep connections with people from all over the world in a matter of days.

My Barcelona Familia. I miss these guys everyday!
My Barcelona Familia. I miss these guys everyday!

Save Money

Need I say more?

Travelling isn’t cheap and aside from plane tickets, nothing hits your wallet like accommodations. A bed at my hostel in the heart of Barcelona, depending on the night of the week, can cost as little as 7 Euro. Hotels and airbnb’s start at nearly ten times that amount. Skip the fancy room and go out and explore that new city you find yourself in.

Cook it Yourself

I am definitely a street food advocate but you can only eat so many tacos and kababs. Eating healthy on the road can be damn near impossible. While visiting Rome, I lost two things very dear to me: my favorite pair of socks and my six pack.

Every hostel I’ve visited has some sort cooking area for it’s guests and not a single one of those kitchens has a decent non-stick pan. However, utilizing the hostel kitchen can save you some cash and provide unique insight into the local culture and economy. A quick visit to the neighborhood grocery store will leave you with a general idea on the area’s cost of living and how the locals eat. For example, one step into a Mercadona and you will understand just how much Spaniards love their pork. Want some cheap eggs? Head over to Lisbon where you can get a dozen for less than a Euro. Needless to say, I ate a lot of eggs in Portugal.

Find a Balance

I’ve come to realize that Americans travel a bit differently than most. Our work obsessed culture awards minimal vacation time, forcing us to take crammed, sprint-style vacations, visiting as many locations as possible in week or if we’re fortunate, two week intervals.

My extended experience abroad is rare for an American and I am truly grateful for the luxury of time that I have been given. That being said, four months of hostel living will leave the most patient of men begging for a respite of privacy. When small talk and friendly encounters with guests begin feeling like forced conversations that annoy the hell out of you, it might be time to give airbnb a look. Just be sure to time your luxurious stays appropriately. A private apartment for a week in Paris could wind up costing you a month’s rent back home. I recommend splurging in more affordable cities and getting the most out of your hard earned money.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Letter From the Road

Komo en Kasa... my favorite café in Barcelona
Komo en Kasa… my favorite café in Barcelona

 

Hey Ma,

I’ve been trying to call, but I think heaven has a crappy wifi connection.

I think you can hear me, but your voice is mostly muffled.

Sometimes I get lucky and the signal is strong and I can hear you so clearly it’s as if you’re all around me.

Those are the best days, but they don’t come often.

So I figured I’d write you a letter.

My journey has been amazing so far. Spain is beautiful. Did you know tortillas are something completely different out here? They’re like a potato omelet with eggs and onion. I ordered some tortillas at a restaurant and when the camarero brought out this thing that looked like an egg pie, I was so confused. But they’re pretty good, I think you’d like them.

Do you remember that Rage Against the Machine shirt you used to wear with Che Guevara on the front? I need to buy that shirt. Anyways, Che used to write his ma from the road too. While traveling across South America he wrote,

Querida viejita,

What do we leave behind when we cross a frontier? Everything seems split in two. Melancholy for what is left behind, and the excitement of entering a new land.

I can relate to the dichotomy, and it made me think of you. I experience things out here and the only person that would be excited to hear them is you. The road can be lonely. But so can life.

Travelling is very much like life. I anticipate the unknown with enthusiasm, the crisp unwritten page of a new day. But my soul also yearns for the comfort and familiarity of yesterday. I cling to sweet memories of days I can never relive. Days when I could pick up the phone and hear your voice. When I could tell you about my day or take you out for coffee. Remember when that waiter thought we were a couple? You were so happy because he thought you were my age. I thought it was pretty weird.

I travel through space and time as I travel the world. My mind lives in the present, my heart beats in the past. A modern day Doc Brown, without the DeLorean. The closest thing we had was your strawberry Dodge Neon that you used to let me and my brothers drive. The radiator was shot and it would overheat in the Arizona sun, so we could only drive it at night. The Night Rider. I don’t think she could hit 88, not even on her best day.

I love my new surroundings. The sounds, the tastes, the people. I walk the Spanish streets with eyes wide open and a smile on my face. I found a cool little café that I know you’d love. I sit on the window sill and write in the afternoon sun.

There is so much to see in Barcelona, but when the rush of fresh stimuli subsides, my gaze always drifts to the West.

Home calls.

And sometimes I wonder…where is home? When was home?

Home is in the past. No Neon or DeLorean can take me there. So I’ll stay on the road for a while longer.

My Spanish is getting better Ma, and I’ve been making it to mass every Sunday. I think you’d be proud.

I’ve also been thinking that you would have wanted me to go to Mexico and visit the Basilica de La Virgencita. I’ll try my best. I saw a stained glass window of her in an old Spanish cathedral the other day. The rays of the setting sun illuminated her cloak and she was beautiful.

Well, it’s time to run Ma. I’m off to meet some friends for tapas.

Love you,

Aaron

 

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Barcelona or Bust

Forca Barca!
Forca Barca!

 

Barcelona.

This is the city.

The catalyst. The motivating force that pushed me through moments of doubt and fear as I plotted my escape from my comfortable office job.

No other word encapsulates the romantic notions that my subconscious mind associates with the Spanish culture more than “Barcelona.”

Say it with me.

Lisp that “c” if you’re really into it. “Barth-elona.”

There you go.

After a spontaneous pit stop in California to surprise a certain gal for the holidays (smooth right?), I made it back to Europe, happy and five pounds heavier after two weeks of stuffing my face with tamales and prime rib. Seriously, I think that’s all I ate the entire time I was back home. And tacos. There is always room for tacos.

Tacos.

Now it’s back to Spain where I have assumed a role working in the Public Relations department for a prominent hostel near the University of Barcelona.

Translation: Me and three other lucky bastards get to live in a great city for free and meet cool people and basically all we have to do is get the party started every night. We work from 9 to 12, five nights a week and arrange activities for the guests. Last night, for example, was karaoke night. The PR team facilitates and socializes, all while trying to sign up guests for our “party bus” to the touristy beach clubs of the Barcenoleta. Once we get the guests on the bus, we are free once again until 9pm the following evening. Not a bad gig right? The schedule is perfect, leaving us the entire day to explore the city.

So far I’m two for two with the Workaway experiences.

Over the past month I’ve received messages from a few people who read my posts and have become inspired to make some changes in their life.

“Seeing the stuff you post makes me want to quit my job and travel. Really inspiring stuff.”

or

“I’ve been at my job for eight years and I fuckin’ hate it bro. I think about quitting everyday… Any suggestions?”

Their souls itch to break the chains of monotony. To make the jump and risk failing miserably.  I cannot express the feelings of gratitude and humility that overwhelm me when I receive those kind of messages. I haven’t done much. I was just fortunate enough to realize that if I didn’t make a move my life was going to pass me by in an instant. So I jumped. But we all know what it feels like to freeze. To look over the edge and start the countdown… three… two…. one… never mind.

Humans generally don’t like change, change is scary. Most of us thrive off of routine and the familiar. Our minds try and avoid it all costs, instinctively firing off self justifications and rationalizations like Bill Cosby throws out the Roofies. And Cosby don’t miss. So if you’re thinking about making some big changes in your life and don’t have a ‘Barcelona’… get one. Visualize your goal. Whether it’s you welcoming your first guest at that restaurant you’ve been dreaming about opening, or hiking your final mile on the Pacific Crest Trail. Keep your eyes on the prize. And let me tell ya, it feels pretty damn good to get there.

Our PR team is so outdoorsy. (we definitely got lost on this 2 mile hike)
Our PR team is so outdoorsy. (we definitely got lost on this 2 mile hike)

DCIM101GOPRO

 

 

The Sunny Side

For the record, this egg is not over easy, it's sunny side up. I just learned the difference, but the Sunny Side sound good so I'm stickin' with it.
For the record, this egg is not over easy, it’s sunny side up. I just learned the difference, but the Sunny Side sound good so I’m stickin’ with it.

 

I’ve done it.

The odds were heavily stacked against me.

People said it was impossible, that I was wasting my time.

But I shrugged the “haters” off and used their negativity as motivation. Every morning I’d try, and fail, but return the next day with a new sense of optimism and determination. My father’s mantra looping in my head as I focused on the task at hand, “perseverance through adversity son, perseverance through adversity.”

This morning, on the fourth day of December, in the year of our Lord 2015, I finally succeeded in cooking two, not one but two, beautiful and completely intact over easy eggs.

Now, some of you may scoff at this feat.

You could be thinking, “My eight year old daughter can make over easy eggs, dude.”

You might even be laughing as you read this. But trust me, there’s nothing funny about preparing the perfect breakfast sandwich every morning, fully equipped with the finest of ingredients: freshly baked whole grain bread, organic tomatoes and spinach from the local market, a thick slice of gouda cheese and savory pieces of world-famous Spanish ham, Jamon Iberico. Only to fail miserably with the piece de resistance and pop the damn yolks in the crappy hostel frying pan.

No amount of olive oil or butter can make the pans in any hostel “non-stick.”

The pans are beat up and tired, any trace of Teflon scraped away long ago by the backpackers of yesteryear.

The deplorable condition of cooking surfaces in hostels makes runny egg-yolks a much desired commodity. A mirage in the desert that can never be reached. But this morning I did it. When I bit into my sandwich the rich yolks exploded into my mouth and dripped onto my plate, like puddles of liquid gold.

A moment I shall never forget.

The lesson is simple friends: Never give up, never surrender.

Or… if you like over easy eggs and have the room in your backpack, bring a small non-stick frying pan.

 

The man, the myth, the legend.
The man, the myth, the legend.