Long John Gone

We knew him only as Long John.

For years, he would be stationed by a boulder on Orient Beach in St. Martin, book in hand, available for everyone’s viewing pleasure.

Women looked at him in awe, and maybe a little fear.

Men looked at him in envy, and then, with even more envy.

He apparently made his living by letting gawkers pose for a picture with him.  For a price.

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Orient is a 1.3-mile stretch of clothing-optional Caribbean delight.   There was an unwritten rule that cameras of any kind were verboten on the beach.  (Except for John’s.)

But in the five years since I was last there, that has sadly changed.  Last week, it seemed every third person had a camera or a smartphone in their hands.  Orient Beach, which had been romanticized, has now been digitized.

And what of Long John?

My suspicion is, that with the onslaught of the digital age, his business simply shriveled up.

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Into Each Life…

A little freezing rain must fall.  Actually, a lot.  In Dallas.  Where they have neither the equipment nor the manpower to deal with it.

The view from Room 712.

The view from Room 712.

So from Thursday night the 5th through Monday morning the 12th, our view was 50 shades of grey.  Grey concrete, grey skies, grey freezing drizzle, grey vapor coming off the heated pool at the Hyatt Regency at DFW.

Heated pool!

Heated pool!

Was it the Mexican oasis we flee to in December?  No.  The Travel Gods finally caught up   with us.  We were stuck.

But we had something four-thousand other travelers didn’t have.  They were sleeping on cots in the terminals.  We had a room.  With a big, comfortable bed, and all the amenities we needed to get our vacation off to a start.  An unusual start.  An unwelcome start.  But a start nonetheless.

Cots in Terminal at DFW

Cots in Terminal at DFW

DFW on a Saturday Night

DFW on a Saturday Night

We had Rummikub tournaments, watched football, read our books, browsed the internet, went shopping at the airport.

Rummikub and wine

Rummikub and wine

We talked a little more than we usually do, and over parts of five days, we had but one testy exchange, which we agreed was impressive.

Now, more than ever, flexibility is as necessary as a toiletry bag when you travel.  No matter how well planned a trip may be, and my wife is an outstanding planner, it pays to have a Plan B (or C).

And pack some patience, too.  Good thing we had plenty of that, because we knew that once the fifty shades of grey passed from one window, there would be a rainbow out the next.

Apres sunset

Apres sunset

Worth waiting for?  Oh yeah.

It’s been a great year of travel for us.  We were lucky and privileged to enjoy Mexico, Italy, London, and South Africa.

We don’t know where we’re going yet in 2014.  But I can’t wait to get to get there.

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Thanks, Rick

One of Connecticut’s finest journalists is retiring today.  His name is Rick Huntington, and unless you know him personally, you don’t know him at all.

Rick is a news photographer.  Or a videographer.  Or a photojournalist.  Pick a title, any title.  Trust me, he doesn’t care.  He has also been one of my very best friends since we teamed up at WFSB in the summer of ’79.

1983 New England Emmy Awards

1983 New England Emmy Awards

We won Emmys together, we laughed like hyenas together, we shared life’s sorrows together, we committed atrocities together, we were politically incorrect together, we partied together, and we did great work together.

We mastered the art of working quickly and efficiently, then enjoying long lunches at a good restaurant that he “just happened” to know about.

He never missed a detail through the lens of his camera.  At the scene of a news story, I would sometimes be foolish enough to ask, “Did you shoot that?”  The reply would be a withering look and a simple, “Just shut up.”

At one of many GHOs.

At one of many GHOs.

But just as importantly, he never missed a detail over the course of an interview.  He paid attention.  And whenever an interview was over, I would turn around and ask, “Rick, you have any questions?”  Invariably, he would ask a brilliant question I would never think of, or a basic question I forgot to ask.

We parted ways professionally 20 years ago, when I joined NBC Connecticut.  In the years since, his 3 sons have grown into fine young men, his always-understanding wife Wendy retired after a long career in the Farmington school system, and we have remained good friends.

We can go weeks, even months, without talking.  We don’t have to.  And when we do, it’s as if we’d seen each other yesterday.  And now, he’s ready for the next phase.

How ready?  This is how he showed up for work today.  Yeah, he’s ready.

Courtesy Eric Parker

Courtesy Eric Parker

Thanks, Rick.   Pour me a Jack.  I’ll be right over.

Posted in It's all about me, Living in the Past, Media, People, TV Stuff | Tagged , , , | 17 Comments

An Awesome Adventure

With extreme emphasis on “awe.”

Here is a final collection of pictures from our trip to South Africa.  This was one trip I wished I had a better camera for, but my 3-year-old Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 point-and-shoot continues to serve me well.

Going up Table Mountain on the Cableway

Going up Table Mountain on the Cableway

Atop Table Mountain

Atop Table Mountain

Baboons en route to Cape Point

Baboons en route to Cape Point

Old Cape Point Lighthouse (circa 1859)

Old Cape Point Lighthouse (circa 1859)

The coastline from Cape Point

The coastline from Cape Point

The view from our patio at Mala Mala

The view from our patio at Mala Mala

Mama and baby

Mama and baby

Papa and baby

Papa and baby

Mr. and Mrs?

Mr. and Mrs?

A birdwatcher's paradise, too.

A birdwatcher’s paradise, too.

Warthog

Warthog

The coolest dudes in the bush.

The coolest dudes in the bush.

The beginning of the long journey home.

The beginning of the long journey home.

For all the places we’ve been and all the places we hope to go, an African safari was never on our radar.  We were lucky to be in the company of a fun bunch of people.  And we are grateful to NBC Connecticut President & General Manager Ric Harris for inviting us along.  We now have memories that will last a lifetime.

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On the Cape

No, not “our” Cape.  This Cape!

IMAGE_95I would like to report that on our NBC Connecticut trip to South Africa, we reached the southern tip of the continent.  Alas, there’s a spot 90 miles farther south.

But hey, close enough.  And besides, who’s to quibble over proximity when you’re looking at this?

IMAGE_91IMAGE_87Before our group went on safari, we spent three days in Cape Town.  Our excursions brought us to Cape Point, and before that, the equally magnificent Table Mountain, which stands guard over Cape Town.

IMAGE_74The Table Mountain Cableway lifts you to this view of the city, with Lion’s Head to the left.

IMAGE_47And off in the distance, Robben Island, better known as the prison home of Nelson Mandela for 18 years.

We had the opportunity to visit the District Six Museum.  If apartheid was a somewhat abstract concept, it was made crystal clear by the gentle voice of a man named Noor Ibrahim, who explained what it was like to be told your neighborhood (District Six) was suddenly off-limits.  Your home was no longer yours.  You weren’t second class, you were no class.  Noor could explain it, because he lived it.

IMAGE_62Noor is still waiting for the government to replace his home.

Cape Town in 2013 is a tourist mecca.  Our hotel, the Cape Grace, overlooks a marina.  It is, in a word, outstanding.

IMAGE_30Even more outstanding, we finally found a country where our dollar is strong.  The food and drink was excellent and affordable.  And speaking of drink, Napa and Sonoma lovers would be right at home in the wine country outside the city.

Leopard's Leap Winery

Leopard’s Leap Winery

IMAGE_108Yeah, a case is on the way.

As you may have figured out, we packed a lot into our stay.  You have to, because South Africa’s not exactly around the corner.  Up next, a few random thoughts, and lots of pix to wrap this up.

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Mala Mala

It’s simple human math.  Having low or no expectations frequently equals having the time of your life.  And so it was at our all-too-brief stay at Mala Mala Game Reserve in South Africa.

IMAGE_334Aside from elephants and antelopes, lions and leopards, there’s a great bar and and equally great bartender.  Michael, in a deep, deep baritone, convincing you that you’re the wisest man in the world because you had the vision to order screwdrivers for pre-departure cocktails.  “An excellent choice, Mr. Brooks.  Excellent!”

It’s not that we didn’t expect the place to be nice.  The website offers every indication that you will enjoy comfort and luxury.  But the meter was instantly pinned when we walked into our room and discovered it had “his-and-hers” bathrooms.

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From our patio, we enjoyed cold Castle beers and watched impalas graze on the lawn below us.  (Hold the Chevy jokes.)

IMAGE_180Mala Mala encompasses 30-thousand acres.  There are no fences.  So you are encouraged to close your sliding glass back door when you leave, lest a baboon stop by to forage for snacks.  And after dark, your armed guide will walk you back to your room.  Just in case.

Two suites to a building.

Two suites to a building.

As delightful as the accomodations and amenities (yes, there is even wifi) are, Mala Mala is in the animal business, including keeping them alive.  Unless they dine on each other.

Poaching is a serious problem, an illegal business of high risk with high reward.  The tusks of elephants and the horns of rhinos are prized by poachers.

IMAGE_206IMAGE_290So prized, that poachers will find pictures tourists have posted on social media, and use the information on those pictures to pinpoint the location of those animals.  Then, they go in for the kill.  In response, Mala Mala has banned the use of iPhones and iPads for picture-taking on its property.

But there is civilization in the wild.  On our last evening expedition, to our pleasant surprise, our four groups converged for a happy hour.

My wife and I have never traveled with a group before.  She meticulously researches and  plans the trips we take.  But our NBC Connecticut group got along famously.  A fun bunch of smart people.

IMAGE_326Our guides, expert marksmen, highly-educated wildlife authorities, turned into hosts.  Our guide, Bens, mixed a lovely gin & tonic.  Note the bullets on his belt, in case there were any four-legged party crashers.

IMAGE_327Too quickly, it was time to leave the way we came. Mala Mala has its own air strip.

IMAGE_338Two chartered twin-engine planes took us back to the Johannesburg airport in more comfort (and peace of mind) than the single-engine Cessnas that brought us there.

We never got to see Johannesburg, but we did spend time in Cape Town.  Speaking of expectations…

(To be continued.)

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The Trip of a Lifetime

After 3 flights and more than 30 hours of travel, it’s fair to wonder, “Were we really there?”

But we really were.  And we have the pictures to prove it.

IMAGE_209The Mala Mala game reserve in South Africa.

My wife and I were privileged to be among a group of 24 people invited by NBC Connecticut President and General Manager Ric Harris to travel to South Africa (via London) to visit Cape Town and go on safari at Mala Mala.

We split into four groups, each with their own guide, and went off into the bush at 5:30 in the morning and 4pm for three-hour excursions.  Our guide was Bens.

IMAGE_246Bens is a native of the area.  When we asked him if he ever left, he told us he’d been to Johannesburg.  Once.  To go to church.

Bens and his wife, who also works at Mala Mala, have 2 children.  They work for 6 weeks straight, then go home for two weeks.

And no, the rifle was never used.  But it was loaded, because you never know.  Bens has the scars to prove it.  And he also had the expertise to get us five feet away from this.

IMAGE_234We asked Bens how safe it was to get so close.  He pointed to a carcass hanging in a nearby tree, and told us the leopard had just consumed another inhabitant of the bush, and was in the process of digesting its meal.  It wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while.  Bens found the leopard because he sees things we don’t see.  He senses what we can’t.  He is highly trained, and highly skilled.

He knows the order of nature.  For instance, that bird on the giraffe’s face?  It’s doing the big guy a favor by picking off parasites.

IMAGE_215We saw hippos in the drink, and rhinos taking a drink…

IMAGE_308IMAGE_322Zebras posed and lions lazed…

IMAGE_263IMAGE_282And always…always…befriend the guide with the gun.  Because you never know.

IMAGE_328Were we roughing it at Mala Mala?  That picnic basket you see at the bottom right of the picture is a hint.

To be continued.

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