A Not So Auspicious Start

In perusing my “z-Old” folder on Google Drive I came across a folder called “Beat the Path.” This was the travel blog that I intended to keep and eventually monetize about my indefinite world travel (which ended up being 8 months).

Well, I got too caught up in actually enjoying my travels and it kind of fizzled. But in that folder, I found 5 or 6 blog posts that I wrote and never published. (I ended up not publishing any). Pictured below is the graphic I made for my blog’s banner.

Today, I would have paid someone from Fiverr to do a much nicer one.

As I read these drafts, I was brought back to events that have sort of been pushed to the back of mind what with building a settled life for the past 4 years.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to post a couple of the better ones. The posts that I actually wrote back then are all rough drafts, so I’ve edited them a bit – mostly for grammar and typos.I’ve also inserted some commentary from 2018 Matthew.

The following posts was probably written in July of 2013 recounting the events of my first day of travel, July 12th, 2013:

A Not so Auspicious Start

After a painful goodbye (2018 Matthew note: to the person of whom I am now married!) at Richmond Airport at 9:00 AM…. I was off to my travels! I got in the TSA line to go through the usual invasive routine. I placed my meticulously packed and arranged bag (so as to fit into carry-on storage bins) on the conveyor belt. I went through the superman machine (the thing where you put your arms over your head so they can body scan and irradiate you) and got pulled aside.

I stared in horror as they tore apart that well-packed bag piece by piece, searching for whatever they thought that they saw that wasn’t there.

“No matter,” I said, “just doing their job, now off to my flight.”

Enter my layover in Boston.

I left the domestic terminal and made my way to the international terminal. I got in the TSA line to once again go through the invasive rigmarole. I once again placed my perfectly re-packed bag on the conveyor belt and walked through the super man machine.

Upon exiting the machine, I got pulled aside and watch in horror as another TSA agent ripped apart that well-re-packed bag looking for a water bottle that I forgot to throw away upon changing terminals. I didn’t realize that I would have to go through TSA again, so I carried the bottle with me to refill so as not to have to buy water at the airport for who knows what ungodly sum. Sigh.

I board my flight to Reykjavik, Iceland, land, and mentally prepare for my 8 hour layover- ready for a nice 2 hour nap (it’s 12 AM at this point).

Chatting with the nice older couple I wound up in the customs line, and accidentally left the international terminal, activating my period in the Schengen VISA area of 90 out of 160 days, which I was making a point to avoid.

Since I “exited” the airport, I had to walk all of the way around the airport and go through security…. again.

No bag check. Yes!.. something going my way.

I spent the next 8 hours trying to sleep in every possible position I could imagine, getting in maybe an hour of total sleep, which was about as long as the sun goes down in Iceland in July.

Finally the time came to fly into Prestwick Airport in Glasgow, we landed, and I exited the plane. I was greeted by a customs agent that grilled me on how much money I had and how long I planned to stay being that I had no return ticket or other way out of Britain (I planned on buying a bus ticket to Paris while end London, which I did). I now had to kill 3 hours in Glasgow before catching the bus to Edinburgh. St. George Square, the one place that I wanted to see, was closed. So I bought a local SIM card for my unlocked phone, enjoyed my first pasty, and watched some street performers until the bus arrived.

Finally, I arrived in Edinburgh and followed my Couchsurfing host’s directions to her flat.

First, I walked a mile out of the way on Edinburough’s main throughfare. Eventually, I found my way and made it to where she said her flat is (Argyle Park Terrance). At least I thought it was Argyle Park Terrace, but it was actually Argyle Place.

Being exhausted from lack of sleep and toting a 20 pound backpack around for 6 hours, I arrived at the Argyle Place house and knocked.

No answer.

She said she was home and so I walked in.

Nobody there.

I walked up the stairs briefly. Nobody there.

Keep in mind that these flats are old tenements, so the apartments look just like the houses.

So I knocked on the first door in the house (she said she was the first door) and a gentleman walked out. I ask for Hannah, and he responded with “who’s that?”

It appears that I had just done a home invasion.

I apologized profusely. Luckily, he was a good sport about it and helped me find the street that I was looking for which was a block away. I arrived at Hannah’s (huzzah!) introduced myself to her and her friends and commenced with the craic – which I learned from Hanna is a Scottish term for a good time or conversation. She thought it proper to explain this as I looked on with horror that this group was talking so casually about people who have good crack.

But no, that’s not where it ends.

The next day we went to Sandy Bell’s pub. I was drinking with my host and chatting with some locals at the bar while listening to some Scottish folk music. Hannah (my host) then introduced me to the two other people who live in the house that I invaded at Argyle Park Place, Shirley and Kieth.We chatted a bit talking about the irony and exchanged numbers.

I got “snackered” (Scottish speak for moderately insensible) with them and their friends the next day.

And who says crime doesn’t pay?

2018 Matthew: My Couchsurfing host, Hannah, has since become a professional, licensed tour guide in Scotland. She gave me a great tour while I was there.. and that was before she was a professional tour guide! Her website is: http://www.scotlandwithhannah.com/

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Stories From The Road: How I Got the Nickname “Cowboy” in Cambodia

Chillin at Utopia, where I worked for 6 Week in Cambodia.

Chillin at Utopia, where I worked for 6 Weeks in Cambodia.

My nickname while I worked at Utopia in Sihanoukville, Cambodia was… “Cowboy.”

There was a stray cowboy hat that said “Cambodia” across it that was laying around at Utopia, the hostel/bar I worked at in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. I picked it up, washed it and started wearing it.

Every day.

All of the time.

Because I’m from the United States, wore the hat, and used Snuss (chewing tobacco, which I have long since given up), Europeans, Aussies, and Brits started calling me “Cowboy” (mostly because they couldn’t remember my name, but remembered the hat). It is, by far, the coolest nick name that I’ve ever received.

The nickname doesn’t fit at all. Yeah I might be Libertarian leaning, but I grew up in the Bay Area, California. Though, I did live in Reno, NV for about 7 years which is the Wild West…so I guess there’s a bit of Cowboy connection.

My friend ("Buddha") invited me to join their table because they liked the hat. He wore it. A true privelege

My friend (“Buddha”) invited me to join their table because they liked the hat. He wore it. A true privelege

Anyway, I lost it at a bus-ride rest stop somewhere between Mui Ne and Hoi An, Vietnam. I genuinely felt a sense of loss. I had grown very attached to that hat. Since I was in the middle of a harrowing, fiasco-filled 24 hour bus experience and had already read all of 1984 by George Orwell, I decided to write about it in my travel journal. This is not masterful prose by any stretch of the imagination, but a pondering of why I felt such a sense of loss. It is also a journal entry, so it is not proofread.

“I lost my hat. My Cambodia hat. It has been with me for only one month but it has been with me through so much. I will never own a hat quite like that again. It gave me an identity, a recognition, a “look,” impressed the ladies, gotten me goodwill from foreigners and the locals alike, shielded me from the sun (both asleep and awake), and was my prized souvenir of my travels.

I left it at a rest stop in Vietnam. I hope that hat is found, worn, and treasured by someone. Perhaps it will shield them from the sun preventing sunburns or skin cancer. Maybe it will help another guy with the ladies. Maybe a local will pick it up, have a good laugh with his friends, and toss it aside to be left as garbage. That hat has passed between 3 people, and my hope is that it continues to be picked up and passed on living on in other people’s photos; forever a part of their trek through South East Asia. It’s a magical hat of sorts. It’s a symbol of freedom from the drudgeries of daily life, and a symbol of joys and hardships experienced on the road.

Maybe it’s that as my trip comes to a close, that I’m ready to part with a life on the road in which that hat represents. Perhaps it’s a sign that I need a new hat to adventure with until that is too lost and passed on to the next worthy wearer. A symbolism of shedding one phase and moving to the next.

If that hat represents freedom does that mean that I’ve lost the freedom that the road has given me? NO! I’m always free in my own way.

Or maybe my hat just blew away and is thrown in the trash…”

My friend from Spain who I met on the bus and later kicked it with in Hoi An, Vietnam said “I don’t get it. Why don’t you just buy a new hat?”

He just… didn’t…understand….

IMG_0864

Tuan who I met in Da Lat, Vietnam and brought me to his friend’s house for a Tet party

 

In Mui Ne, Vietnam

In Mui Ne, Vietnam

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat

At the Elephant Waterfall in Da Lat, Vietnam

At the Elephant Waterfall in Da Lat, Vietnam

Hey! That's not what cowboys ride!

Hey! That’s not what cowboys ride!

How My Changing Musical Tastes Have Come Full Circle

(Note: Most of the links in this article are to YouTube videos of the songs)

Browsing my Pandora station list, I spy the recent “Celtic Thunder” addition and I can’t help but think of how my musical tastes have so radically changed over time and have come full circle.

As a kid, I listened to whatever my parents had on the radio (although I pretty much constantly jammed to my Ninja Turtles movie soundtrack on my Walk-Man). It was usually Oldies (a collective term which both robs authenticity from and is the highest compliment of a song) and a bit of modern country. My Dad’s best efforts to expose me to good music (Credence Clearwater Revival, Beatles, Dooby Brothers, The Lovin’ Spoonful) and my mom’s best efforts to indoctrinate me with Elvis (more on that later) were very much in vain. When I was 10 I loved Coolio’s hit “Gangsta’s Paradise” and I played the hell out of my sister’s Fuji’s CD and TLC “Waterfalls” single. Then of course there was the WWE Entrance Music CD phase.

But for the most part, I never had a huge interest in music.

Then came 8th grade and I listened strictly to hip-hop and rap. This is pretty much all owed to Eminem’s “Slim Shady LP.” I was an akward 15 year old white kid with kind of baggy pants (sorry, no surviving photos…) and all of the lyrics to Snoop Doggy Dogg, Dr. Dre, 2Pac, and Notorious BIG songs memorized word for word. By far, my favorite CD was NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” album. I loved those old school kicks and the hard rock-based bassy beats. To this day, I have a complete gap of knowledge of anything non Hip-Hop/R&B that was released between the years of 1999 and 2010 except for a few token very popular songs (ie: Papa Roach’s “Last Resort” and Blink 182’s Enema of the State album). I couldn’t and still can’t name a single Third Eye Blind (except for Jumper, because of the Yes Man movie version), Matchbox 20, Sixpence, Creed, Nickelback, or any alternative rock songs (as Monday night trivia at FW Sullivans has made abundantly clear).

This was compounded by the “Hyphy” movement of the early and mid-2000’s. This was the second San Francisco Bay Area Golden Age of Rap. I dug the heck out guys like E-40, Mac Dre, The Team, Turf Talk, Yukmouth, Keak Da Sneak, and countless others who most people have never heard of, but are widely known throughout the Bay Area. This also made me a fan of Bay Area rap from the early-90s when first wave of Bay Area rapper’s blew up like Spice-1, Celly Cel, JT The Bigga Figga, and Too ShortRappin 4 Tay made one of my all time top-10 CDs “Don’t Fight The Feelin’,” featuring the hit “Player’s Club” (it’s just an everyday thang).

Something happened around when I was 18 or 19 (2004). I was going through a rough time in life, and I actually discovered Johnny Cash and Country music. I think I liked the story-telling, song-writing aspect of this music; which is what I liked most about Hip-Hop. I also dabbled in some other songs and music, but I still pretty much exclusively listened to rap.

Then I moved to Reno when I was 21 (2007) and pretty much stopped listening to music. There was no version the Bay Area Heritage Hip-Hop Station 106.1 KMEL there, Pandora didn’t exist yet, and most of the radio was terrible. I mostly just listened to NPR through college, though I also started listening to the Classic Rock station and flirted with other songs I heard that I liked (most notably “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” by John Denver).

Then, something magical happened. I discovered Karaoke.

Enter… the Elvis phase.

I became almost as obsessed with Elvis as my mom was. One thing to understand is that my mother was an Elvis fanatic, with a capital F. Growing up we had walls and shelves full of Elvis merchandise There was always Elvis’ silver-tongued lyrics coursing through the stereo system. I guess when I hit 24, my Elvis gene activated and BAM! – I was all about some Elvis. Elvis led to Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, and others of that Rock & Roll and Rockabilly style.

Then came Memphis, Tennessee.

Posing in Sun Studios on the microphone that Elvis supposedly used.

Posing in Sun Studios on the microphone that Elvis supposedly used.

With a half-desire to be an Elvis Impersonator, a yearning to experience Graceland (somewhat underwhelming),and a thirst to behold Sun Studios where Elvis recorded his first singles; “the birth place of Rock & Roll” was a natural stop on my 2012 road trip that I took on my move from Nevada to Virginia.

It was a musical awakening.

Memphis opened up a whole new world of music to me. B.B. King’s Rythm and Blues museum and the Staxx soul museum showed me the roots of where this Rock & Roll and even Hip-Hop music came from. I learned about Soul music via Otis Redding and Sam Cook; and Blues music such as BB King and John Lee Hooker. I learned about the fusion of Black Gospel and Country that led to Blues and then Rock & Roll, and, basically, all modern music.

What I knew as “Oldies” suddenly split into at least 6 different genres (Soul, Funk, Blues, Rock & Roll, Folk Rock, and Rockabilly). Songs that I heard as a child on the “Oldies” station suddenly had artists with names, producers, studios, influences, and off-shoots.

I began to appreciate Blue Grass while living in rural Virginia by attending the Blue Grass Festival in Amelia, VA. I learned that Blue Grass is actually countrified Irish and Scottish folk music.

On a whim, I typed in “Cool Jazz” in Pandora and was enjoying a genre that I had never been remotely interested in before.

I completely lost interest in Hip-Hop, other than a few select artists. I think it was more of a function of hating radio hip-hop and just over-saturating my brain with it when I was younger, than not appreciating it.

I met some traveling musicians in Spain who I later visited in Italy called the “Rubiconians” who played a Punk/Ragae/Island fusion that blew my mind and helped me to appreciate that Latin style.

The one type of music that I never really got into, and assumed that I never would, was very fast metal. Then Chris Jericho played his band Fozzy’s songs on his Podcast. I liked them, so I bought the CD. Even the really fast loud growling stuff was good to me. I tested the water with a Seether Pandora station and enjoyed it quite a bit. I even began having an understanding that Metal and Punk are completely and why. (Thanks Chris Jericho!).

Now I’m enjoying for the first time, in a long time, my “Bay Area” Pandora station.

The only constant through all of my life musically?: A thorough love of Weird Al Yankovich’s entire collection.

What Are Freemasons? and Why I Am One

mason logoI am a Freemason.

When people find out that I’m a Freemason, I mostly get the question “What is that?” Although sometimes I get jokes about world domination and a couple times, fear. There are a lot of misconceptions about Freemasonry, so before I get into why I’m a Freemason, let me define it a little and talk a bit about what Freemasonry is.

Freemasonry is the world’s oldest Fraternity. Wikipedia sums it up pretty well:

Freemasonry is a Beautiful system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols. The symbolism of freemasonry is found throughout the Masonic Lodge, and contains many of the working tools of a medieval or renaissance stonemason. The whole system is transmitted to initiates through the medium of Masonic ritual, which consists of lectures and allegorical plays.”

The ritual, despite what some may believe, is nothing evil or scandalous, and does not involve any sacrifices or goats.

How to become one? Simply ask. If you know a Mason, or even just happen to meet somebody who is one, ask him to become a Mason. You then fill out an application. The one you ask can probably describe the process to you.

What are the requirements? Be over 18 (a man), belief in a higher power (there is no specific higher power that you have to believe in), be recommended by two Master Masons (have a coffee with a couple of them and get to know them), and be a good person.

Brotherhood

Masonry is a worldwide brotherhood. If two Masons meet each other, there is an automatic connection. You are both in the same club and have a lot to talk about. Sometimes people who are already your friends join and sometimes you make new friends. You can chat and hang out before, during, and after the meetings. All Masons are considered equals. In the 19th Century, English Princes (including a few future kings) sat side-by-side in Lodge with every day Joes. John farmer from down the street might have been sitting in lodge with George Washington or John Marshall.

Trust

A part of this brotherhood is trust. I would trust doing business with a fellow Mason before a non-Mason. For example: I had a Realtor try to rush me into purchasing a duplex that would have been a terrible investment. She didn’t care about that, as long as she got her commission. Luckily I ended up not buying. Then I joined a Lodge and met JJ Ballard of  Ballard Company, my current Realtor whose company also manages the property for me. You know what? No pressure and honest opinions on properties and viability as an investment. This wasn’t simply because I am his brother, it is because men can’t become Masons if they are of ill repute. I know I can trust a fellow Mason because if he is not trustworthy, he wouldn’t be a Mason.

Mentors

The brotherhood of Freemasonry is also a rich source of mentors. Freemasons are of all ages. From men in their twilight years to men in college. One of the things that anybody who has had success will tell you is that they have had mentors. (Check out this Art of Manliness Article on the topic).

A part of the process of becoming a Master Mason is memorization of a ritual that is passed down by word of mouth. You learn this ritual from an older more experienced Mason. Its not just the ritual that is discussed, however. You also get to know your mentors and become good friends. The amount of knowledge from a life of experiences is invaluable. I had two different teachers for my 3 degrees and both had different lives. You can get a perspective on things that you might not otherwise get from simply hanging out with your peers. This is especially true for me as I lost my father when I was 21 as I was just getting old enough to appreciate the wisdom that he could provide.

Moving To A New Place

In the summer of 2012, on a whim, I took a position as an Americorps VISTA in Amelia County, Virginia. Amelia is about 2600 miles from my then home Reno, NV. I knew nobody. I had no friends. Making friends in a new place is one of the hardest things to do. I found the local Lodge and started going to meetings there (you can be a member of multiple lodges, or simply switch affiliations). Between monthly pancake breakfast fundraisers, selling food out of our truck at community events, family days, ladies nights (where Masons and their significant others get together), visits to other Lodges, work days on the Lodge, meetings, and degree work; I had a group of people to hang out with. Until I met my current girlfriend, Masonry was my primary, if not only form of social interaction at the time. And all I had to do was show up.

Now, in my new home of Henrico, I’ve joined a new lodge, Westhampton 302.

Traveling As A Mason

The other aspect of the brotherhood of Freemasonry that I have enjoyed is that of travel.

My first experience of this was visiting a Lodge in St. Louis, MO. I arrived and upon proving that I was a Mason (and even before) I was readily accepted in the group. I ate dinner with them, sat in Lodge, and then got a couple of drinks afterwards. These guys had never met me before but we ended up hanging out like we had been friends for years.

The next instance of this occurred in Memphis. On my move to Virginia, I made a nice road trip out of it. I arrived in the city and hopped on the rail to go to Beal Street (yeah its stereotypical, but there’s a reason its popular). I was asking people on the train how to get there and a random gentleman offered to show me and walked me there. We ended up talking and it turns out that he was a Freemason. After exchanging the words and grips of Masons, there was an automatic comfort level. We ended up hanging out most of the time I was there as he showed me around the city. We were two different people and, odds are, would have never otherwise hung out.

Then there is international travel. Freemasons are in most countries. I was in the small town of Tamazula, Jalisco, Mexico for my friend’s wedding in 2012. I came in from the pool to buy a beer at the bar and the bartender recognized the square and compass (the main symbol of Freemasonry) that is tattooed on my arm (tattoo’s aren’t a requirement, by the way) and we started talking. My Spanish wasn’t so great at the time, so it was very superficial, but it was great experiencing that connection..

In Granada, Spain, I ended up attending a lodge there. It was completely different and I couldn’t really understand what was going on, but it was fun hanging out and joking around with this random group of guys who I had never met before in my life. I learned all about Spanish Freemasonry.

I also visited the Grand Lodge of Scotland and the Grand Lodge of England. Both had impressive buildings, cool museums, and I got a tours of the lodges. Lodges there don’t meet in July or August, so I sadly did not get to attend lodge. I did end up having lunch with two of the Scottish Masons who were visiting on that particular day as well.

Personal Development

Moral and Psychological

The other aspect of Freemasonry is personal development. I mentioned earlier that Freemasonry is a system of morals (mostly based on Christian morality). Most of it’s pretty straightforward stuff. Help out a brother in need. Be charitable. Be an upright man in society. Don’t screw over other people, especially a fellow Mason. Have fun, but don’t overindulge in things such as alcohol (Ie: You can drink, but don’t get p*** drunk). Don’t be consumed by riches and greed. Continue to improve yourself by reading and learning new information and skills. This is all stuff that most people know, but by committing them to memory and making an obligation to hold true to these teachings, there is a constant reminder to act in such a way. Every meeting is a reminder to live this way, as these tenets are often repeated.

Aside from the moral improvement aspect, there is an intellectual improvement to be attained from Freemasonry. Freemasonry was founded in a age when knowledge was both precious and feared by the people in power. Freemasonry encouraged free thought and its lessons were very much a product of Enlightenment ideas. Men like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington were influenced by these enlightened principles. We still study these today and there are often philosophical discussions among Freemasons regarding Masonic tradition and the ideas that we were founded upon.

Practical Skills

A more practical aspect is that the consistent memorization of rituals exercises the mind and keeps it sharp. There are 90 year old men who can remember word-for-word every aspect of every ritual in Freemasonry. It’s darned impressive.

Masons also learn rhetoric and public speaking. When you hold position in the lodge and you have a certain part of the ritual to recite. This is also the case when you are proving your degrees (proving is reciting from memory the process of initiation that one went through before officially being moved to the next higher degree). It is important to be able to have at least some speaking acumen in front of a crowd and this ritual work helps a lot with that.

Masons know how to work as a team. Because a Lodge is also a functioning entity, it requires teamwork to perform the ritual, run the lodge finances, organize events, and raise money for various charitable causes. I organized an event for the first time as a part of my lodge. Surely enough, that task fell to me at a job that I had some time later.

It’s Darn Cool

Honestly, the main reason that I initially joined the Freemasons was because so many important men in history that I admired were Freemason’s. These include: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, John Marshall,  and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle among countless others. The links to the American Revolution intrigued me.  The rights of Initiation, Passing, and Raising that I went through were almost exactly the same experience that people like Ben Franklin, Teddy Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson went through.

Now that’s good company to be in!