Jim the Indian

The difficult thing about adulthood is that our lives are filled with so much responsibility and skepticism that it clouds the memories of those little adventures that filled our childhood. You remember childhood don’t you? It was that time in life when simple things filled you with wonder in such a way that a regular person can seem mystical in a child’s eyes.

I met someone like that on a trip in the middle of nowhere with my parents and another family. We were camped on the Skyline Drive, a dirt road that follows the ridgetops of the mountains of Central Utah. We usually went to the desert except for July when we traveled to high alpine areas for the cooler temperatures. One evening while we were eating dinner around the campfire we noticed what looked to be a cowboy just at the edge of the clearing where we made camp. He was majestic as he sat on his horse quietly observing us. Our dads approached him and introduced themselves. He reciprocated by introducing himself as Jim and explained that he was a sheepherder. We had noticed his sheep herder’s trailer and camp while we were looking for a place to camp but didn’t think twice about it since sheep camps were not an unusual sight in Utah. Eventually the dads invited him for dinner.

Mom fixed him a plate of food and took it to him. He took the paper plate and ate while still sitting on his horse. The kids gathered around and started asking him questions but the parents urged them to just let Jim eat. He was an indian. Today we refer to them as Native Americans but, in those days, he referred to himself as an indian and so he became Jim the Indian to us. The kids were told to finish their dinner and, before we knew it, Jim was gone. He had vanished as silently as he had appeared.

The next morning we saw him again racing through the trees in pursuit of a single rogue sheep. The wooly straggler was crashing through the under brush while Jim and his horse glided almost silently through the forest with only the occasional “pah-rump” of hooves touching the ground. Horse and rider would float in unison without disturbing a single branch. The pursuit raced past us as if he had wanted us to see him. I believe he may have actually glanced over at us and winked as he sailed by. Such are the memories of an eleven-year-old.

While we were eating breakfast he appeared again silently at the edge of camp. Again he was invited to join us for a meal. And again he ate while mounted on his horse. But this time he actually started enjoying the swarm of kids who would gather and ask questions. Our parents again urged the kids to leave the poor guy alone but it seemed that Jim the Indian actually liked the attention. Thinking back now, as an adult, it’s easy to imagine that Jim led a very solitary life and probably actually enjoyed all the attention and the food. I know now that when you live by yourself that you don’t usually go overboard on meals for one. So, for a few days, Jim the Indian had company and a few good meals. In fact, he showed up every morning and waited until invited to eat.

On the last morning, as we were finishing breakfast and while our dads were rolling up our sleeping bags, Jim actually got off his horse. He let us all ride the horse while he guided it through the forest. It was a rather solemn experience since we all knew that our short time together was coming to an end. Even at that young age I realized that I would never see Jim again. His was a nomadic lifestyle while our’s was carefully mapped out. Fortunately, we were afforded periodic serendipitous journeys into the wild.

The Coke Dilemma

Since giving up alcohol in 1994, I have firmly transferred my addiction to Coca Cola. Good for a sugar buzz and staying up all night, but it doesn’t make operating machinery a life-threatening endeavor. In the U.S., this works out nicely since most food places now consider Coca Cola, and other soft drinks, as a loss leader. This is because they are so cheap that food establishments still make money if they give you free refills. Consequently, sit down in most any restaurant or fast food establishment and the Cokes will seem to multiply on your table like a herd of rabbits.

In Europe, it seems, soft drinks need to be precisely measured and rationed out like a valuable commodity. For 2.50 euros, or the equivalent of $4.00 at this moment in time, you get 1/3 of a liter of Coke with no possibility of a refill. Because of the laid back attitude here (which is what we were looking for in Germany) your Coke arrives about 20 minutes before your food does. So you basically have nothing to wash your meal down with at the end of dinner.

Oh, and they don’t give you water either. You can buy 1/3 of a liter of water for about 1.60 euros (or about $2.50). What is interesting is that the beer sells for somewhere in the middle which makes me want to rethink my whole addiction thing. After all, beer was invented in Germany and tastes much better than in the U.S. Trust me!

P.S.: On our last day in Germany, we discovered that the restaurants must give you tap water for free if you request it. It’s the law. We just never thought of asking. Damn.

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The Speed of Europe

On a less weird but certainly different vein than Dresden’s history is the way we have embraced the German speed at living. There are two speeds here: the autobahn and everything else.

Upon arrival in Berlin we rented a car in the middle of Berlin in order to avoid the taxes we’d have to pay at the airport. Once rented, we were escorted to our car, which was parked in the right lane of traffic on Kurfuersten Strasse. No time to even look at the car, just jump in and drive off (we later looked at the car at a rest area so we’d be able to recognize it in a parking lot).

Then on the autobahn everyone is driving 10-20 kilometers per hour (6-12 MPH) faster than the posted speed (same as home so I felt comfortable) with Mom constantly reminding me that I couldn’t afford a speeding ticket. I ended up asking her if it was alright to pass the motorhome like everyone else. Eventually I just drove fast to stay awake since the jet lag was starting to take hold.

The other speed is totally relaxed. In the U.S., the restaurant business is predicated on how many tables they can turn around in one night. Here, in Germany, that’s not the case. We would go to an ice cream parlor, for example, and just sit and talk long after the ice cream is gone. The ice cream dishes are so good here that the time spent eating is miniscule anyway. Here, service is slow, the food arrives when it is good and ready. And no one seems to care! here, the locals know how to relax. It’s enough to make an American restauranteur just want to shit.

I could get used to this. So can Kim. And when we get back to the U.S., we plan to frustrate the hell out of the food service industry in the name of enjoying ourselves and all out relaxation. The fast-food mentality of America just needs to stop… NOW! It’s indicative of all that is wrong with America. It only leads to stress-related ailments. So I plan to save Americans one meal at a time by taking my sweet-ass time eating out.

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Dresden: Old, yet New, yet Old again

Thirty one years since my last visit to Germany. First stop: Dresden.

A couple of days travel and I am just getting used to the idea that we are in Germany. The disorientation is phenomenal. There was an odd start from the beginning when we heard the announcement in the Salt Lake City airport for someone to meet their probation officer at the world map to the first morning in Dresden when we heard Italian music playing at 4:30 in the morning in the courtyard of our Aztec-themed guest house. Getting used to being 1/3 of the way around the world is fun when accompanied by the love of my life Kim, and my mom.

Dresden, formerly in East Germany, is now a capitalistic tourist enterprise that has not yet recovered from the fire bombing by the Americans in February 1945. But at the same time it is trolling for tourist’s money by trying to replicate the Dresden that was pre-war while constantly reminding you why it is necessary. An odd combination of old and new and yet old again.

Kim reminds me that Kurt Vonnegut, whose book “Slaughter House Five” is based on his survival of the fire bombing as a prisoner of war, seemed to have been permanently affected by the incident since it shows up in all his writing. Then you realize that all of Dresden also seems permanently affected by the bombing since it is under a constant scheme of reconstruction over the past fifty years. That fact alone gives you a sense of sheer horror of the event.

The confusion on my part stems from the feeling that they should be over it by now. Most survivors have died a natural death. Get over it already! But Kim reminds me that Dresden, as part of the former East Germany, was stuck in time. During the time it was East Germany, little happened. And what did happen is hardly acknowledged by any historical markers.

There’s Dresden up to 1933, then the Nazis came, then in 1945 the United States bombed the crap out of it, then the wall between East and West Germany is built to the west of it, then the wall comes down in 1989. What happened from 1945 to 1989? Nothing. Apparently, they didn’t even move the rubble since they have reconstructed castles, churches, palaces and opera houses to their per-war glory with the original blocks. Where none survived, they made exact duplicates.

There’s a feeling of absolute majesty and a bazaar feeling that it’s all fake at the same time. It’s just weird to be in Dresden and that’s what makes it fascinating. Traveling with a history teacher and someone who lived in East Germany (my mom), it’s even more interesting. I get to see the joy in Kim’s face as she truly realizes the magnitude of Dresden’s (and East Germany’s) recent history annotated with my mom’s own experiences.

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