Archive for August, 2004

There is this guy Mark Pearson who publishes the “_______ from a Backpack” series. I got into Europe from a Backpack a year or so ago and I submitted this the other day for “Spain from a Backpack”, due out in a year or so.

It isn’t my most favorite thing I’ve ever written, but I don’t have much energy left for creativity these days…and it is a good story anyway.

I would attach some pictures of the trip…but you’ll see why that isn’t really possible.

Spain without a Backpack

I feel certain there is no book entitled “Spain without a Backpack”, so I am going to tell my story here.

Peter picked up two hitchhikers…probably just to make Heather mad. I remember sitting in the backseat pressed against the window chewing on chrorizo and wishing I had a bottle of wine. Two sweaty hitchhikers, two old friends, and one whiney chick all packed in a rented subcompact barreling south down the Costa Del Sol.

We stopped for gas and Heather told Pete to ditch the hitchhikers. I didn’t really want them either. We were three abreast in the backseat. I was pressed against the window and they needed a bath.

So we dropped them on the side of the road in the dark. In retrospect, that wasn’t a nice thing to do. I have no idea where they could’ve gone. I am certain they weren’t picked up again that night.

But they seemed happy, even though I wasn’t. I sat in the back seat trying to imagine what was to become of the two hitchhikers from Scandinavia to distract myself from….well, myself.

I was tired, cranky and we still didn’t have anywhere to sleep for the night. I should’ve picked up a bottle of wine. In retrospect I could’ve spared the two bucks.

Our plan was to rent a car and travel down the coast of Spain from Barcelona to Granada. We would park in the evenings at the most beautiful spot and camp under the stars, cooking over a small fire and sipping cheap red wine until we’d solved the ills of the world. Then the next day we’d do it again. It was a good and noble plan.

It just didn’t work out quite that well. The first night the highway didn’t run next to the ocean. We could see it off in the distance reflecting the moonlight but there was never a connecting road. So we turned down a farm road that led us on a wild goose chase that left us sleeping in a farmer’s field. At least I had a bottle of wine that night.

The next night we got drunk with a group of travelers from Germany at very cute and remote bar right on the coast. The bar owner told us to leave the car at his place and go camp on the beach. That was a terrific stroke of luck until we woke up at 5:00 in morning in the rain with a river running under our tent. I wasn’t happy, but I was very wet.

Heather was always grumpy in the morning and said she couldn’t function without an espresso and croissant. I was grumpy that morning too, but it had everything to do with too much alcohol, no sleep, and the fact that everything I owned was wet.

So we were due a good night I figured. We passed Alicante and the coastline rose to a cliff overlooking the sea at La Villa Joyosa (The Joyous Village). The weather was crisp and dry, the sky cloudless and under full moon. My stomach was empty and I felt a far off romantic stillness.

Peter found a great spot that night. We watched the moon rise over the Mediterranean like an evening sun making currents like silver hair over the water. We drank wine and ate embutidos and felt very good about ourselves.

We were suddenly best friends despite everything. Our whole lives melted away and the food settled and the wine warmed us and the moon rose. I still think of that evening now….disconnected from what happened next…as a lone perfect moment that no one can take away.

In the movies there is always a warning when danger approaches, but we woke as if it were any other day. Heather went to the beach to be beautiful and Peter and I cleaned-up camp. We took our stuff to the car, and went back to finish up….to gather what was left and sit and look out at the sea. We came back, just a few minutes later, and everything was gone.

I remember getting all sweaty and nervous. Maybe Heather had taken everything to the beach to keep it safe?? Looking back, that was a fantasy…but so was traveling down the Costa Del Sol. We thought everyone that passed had stolen our stuff. Everyone was a suspect, the old man with a cane, the little boy in the speedo. You freeze up and act like a kid who has been caught in a lie. We didn’t make any sense…even to ourselves. We thought maybe Heather had been stolen too.

Travel is not the international exhibit at Disney World. It has an element of danger to it that makes it real. Real things have consequences and that is part of what makes it great: It is no real accomplishment if there is no real risk.

At that point, understandably, traveling took a backseat to practicality. We filed a report at a dirty police station a half hour away in Alicante. The officer pointed out the irony of being robbed in a place called The Joyous Village. I didn’t think it was funny.

Police reports are hard to get done in Spanish. None of us spoke any past “Donde esta el bano” and none of us were well able to guess what our stuff was worth while exchanging currency in our heads.

I guessed on the high side just in case. I didn’t think any insurance company in its right mind would accept a police report in a foreign language. If they were crazy enough to do that, they were crazy enough to pay out my outlandish “estimates”. At that point I was sick with worry anyway. One day on top of the world….they next in the gutter. I do love travel.

Next we needed to get new passports, so we went back to Barcelona to the US consulate. Needless to say, spirits were not high. Peter still had most of his stuff though. He’d kept it with him, didn’t put it in the car. I learned a lesson from that. Now I travel with a hip belt, which I take everywhere, even to the shower.

Screw him anyway. I hate it when being prudent pays off. Peter fooled around Barcelona while Heather and I went to the Consulate. Bear in mind at this point I’d been wearing the same clothes for 3 days, with no shower, and was carrying around what belongings I had left in a plastic grocery bag. Great fun.

You’d think the US consulate would be an easy place to get a passport, a haven for distressed Americans in a foreign land. You’d think at least that they spoke English.

It went like this:

Me: I need a new passport.
Them (in bad English): We need to see some ID.
Me: I don’t have any ID. I just got everything stolen.
Them: Do you have a birth certificate?
Me: No. I just got everything stolen.
Them: You know the government suggests that you always keep a photocopy of your birth certificate separate from your passport for cases like these.
Me: (My temper is exploding. I didn’t think the “I told you so” was really appropriate at that moment.) Can I speak to someone else? MAYBE AN AMERICAN?
Them: There is no one else here.
Me: (Great. No Americans at the American Consulate. My tax dollars hard at work!!) I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’ll give you all the information I know about myself. And then I’m gonna go get something to eat. When I come back I want a fucking passport!! Call the Embassy, call Washington, call my 6th grade math teacher if you need to….I’ll be back in 3 hours.

So we left and ate churros, and then we got our new passports…thankfully. But the trip wasn’t over; we were still 4000 miles from home with no money and no one to call for help. “Let’s Go Europe” isn’t really designed for situations like this. I was still wearing the same clothes…unshowered. We’d been sleeping in the car for 3 days.

On that note, when we took the car back to the rental agency in Barcelona it had closed, with a small note on the window telling the new location. That made us late bringing the car back. So not only did they charge us an extra day for being late when they’d moved their location…they charged us for the damage done to the car while we were being robbed. They even managed to charge us for the gas we’d used while wandering the city looking for their new location.

I’d never felt better about being far from home for no good reason.

Heather informed us shortly thereafter that she was leaving to stay with an ex-boyfriend in Rome. We took her to the airport early the next morning.

I thought that was great and classic. The pretty girl goes to stay with some tall dark handsome Italian she doesn’t even like when things get rough. It was safe and likely she had a better time doing that than she’d have had with us the rest of the trip. That part worked out fine and now she and I are great friends about the whole thing. Disasters have a way of bringing people together….in the long run.

So Peter and I were left with the wreckage of our trip. I didn’t really know what to do. I was tired and low. Pete came up with the only logical solution (which I’m sorry I didn’t think of): a vacation from our vacation.

And that was the brilliant stroke: If halfway around the world traveling down the Costa Del Sol camping on the beach every night isn’t far enough away…you need a vacation….from your vacation.

So we bought two plane tickets to Mallorca.

In Mallorca I was stressed too….at first. Spain without a backpack isn’t the stereotypical travel experience. But you ease into it….and that is a great redeeming quality of travel: stick with it and it will show you all the undiscovered corners of yourself that you’d never have known otherwise.

We rented scooters and rode around the whole island. We slept on beaches, met locals, and wore the same clothes everyday. But this time it was good. Each day was its own. Each place was as random as the next. I loved the sun, my scooter, my plastic grocery bag, and travel.

I had everything stolen and was living like a hobo…and it was the best thing I ever did.

Someone asked me the other day….how do you deal with novel situations? How do you do under pressure? Tell me about a time when you overcame a significant obstacle.

People speak of travel as if it were some kind of permanent vacation. It isn’t…you’ll learn more and do more in 6 months of travel than you are likely to experience in the rest of your long and average life.

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How long can a human being live for if their sole source of food or drink is beer? And do different beers – ale, lager, stout, mild – confer a better chance of survival?

John Eden , Narara, New South Wales, Australia


Beer has had a reputation since antiquity as being a staple in the diet, often called “liquid bread”. In ancient Egypt, workers received beer as part of their salary, as did the ladies-in-waiting of Queen Elizabeth I of England. In 1492, one gallon of beer per day was the standard allocation for sailors in the navy of Henry VII.

(Me: Holy Shit!! A gallon of beer a day??? I’d be wasted all the time. 1492…that was when Colombus found America right?? Shit, if his crew was on the same ration as the English sailors…he was probably lost. No wonder he didn’t find an all water route to the East Indies…..He was bombed!!!)

This high reputation for beer came about because it was made from malted barley, which is rich in vitamins. This is still true today. A quick check using nutritional tables shows that a pint can provide more than 5 per cent of the daily recommended intake of several vitamins, such as B9, B6 and B2, although other vitamins such as A, C and D are lacking.

It is of course unethical to conduct an experiment to see whether one can live on beer alone. (Me: Really?? I know people who would gladly volunteer for such an experiment!) However, during the Seven Years War of 1756-63, John Clephane, physician to the English fleet, conducted a clinical trial. Three ships were sent from England to America. One, the Grampus, was supplied with plenty of beer, while the two control ships, the Daedalus and the Tortoise, had only the common allowance of spirits. After an unusually long voyage due to bad weather, Clephane reported that the Daedalus and Tortoise had 112 and 62 men respectively requiring hospitalisation. The Grampus, on the other hand, had only 13, arguably a clear-cut result.

Needless to say, the sailors’ allowance of eight pints of beer per day is no longer within the accepted confines of current moderate alcohol consumption. One can only speculate on the state of their livers. Living on beer alone may be a fantasy for some, but it is not a good health strategy.

This is an excerpt taken from an article at the New Scientist, one of my favorite websites.

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I would write about work but I can’t be bothered to think about it right now. It is too depressing.

So I’ll give you a little alternative education about the economics of stock offerings. Put on your thinking caps.

What is money by fiat? It is when some party, usually a government, says something is valuable and can be used for exchange and that thing (usually paper) has no value of its own. Fiat money is worth something only because people think it can be exchanged for something at a later time. If faith in the issuer disappears, so does the value of the money.

In contrast, up until WWI most currencies were back by gold or silver or some other commodity so that, in theory at least, one could trade in their paper money for some quantity of gold. (That begs the question why gold is really valuable since it has no practical purpose…again, its value is based soley on the expectation that it may be used in a later exchange.)

There are advantages and disadvantages to fiat money, which I won’t go into here, but to say that it is generally a fair system to value worthless money issued by a stable government.

One may think, “Great!! Why not just print more money, then you’d be richer?” Not really, whatever quantity of money you’ve printed represents some underlying, intrinsic value of the issuer. If you print more money, you simply dilute the value of it (inflation)….the underlying value doesn’t change. The money would just be worth less on the world market. Things would cost more at home.

So that is a little history on fiat money…what does it have to do with the stock market?

What are stock certificates? Although most of us have never seen any, they are pieces of paper, sort of like money.

What are stock certificates worth? Their worth today is based on what others think their potential for trade is in the future. If the potential for future trade is high, the stock price goes up. It sounds a lot like money so far. Its value is based on its perception of future value, which is based on the perceived underlying value of the issuer (company).

But with stocks you actually own something, right? You own a little part of the company. Money has no trade in value. Theorectically at least, stocks can be traded in for a little piece of the company.

Really? Have you ever tried to trade it in? Have you ever knocked on the door of GE headquarters and attempted to speak to the CEO waving a stock certificate in hand claiming partial ownership? Do you think your shares would get you into a board meeting? Stock certificates have the same value as money, just what others perceive the value to be.

But if a governments folds, the money is worthless, if a company goes bankrupt you own a little of it, so you would get a portion of whatever is liquidated right?

Theorectically, yes. In practice, not a chance in hell. Stockholders are dead last in the pecking order of the assets of insolvent companies.

If I remember correctly, first is accounts payable and then creditors (like a bank). Bottom line, if a company has enough assets to get all the way down to stockholders during a liquidation….they have enough money to stay in business. You’ll never see a dime if the company goes bankrupt…just like your money will be worthless if a government folds.

What about shareholder meetings? Legally, if you own even one share, you are entitled to speak at the annual shareholder meeting and your share entitles you to a vote in whatever issue is put to ballot. You do have some rights as a shareholder.

This one is the biggest joke. They hold those meetings at places like Aspen, Colorado during peak season and rent out the most expensive hotel. No normal person can afford to go.

Additionally, while you do get to vote, the vote is for issues that are already foredrawn conclusions, like a name change from AOL to AOL Time Warner. You can be sure that whatever is put to ballot is an inconsequential token decision, otherwise they would’ve made it behind closed doors.

Watch close. Here is how Wall Street creates money out of thin air in a very clever financial slight of hand: During an IPO a company issues worthless pieces of paper and we trade real money for those shares.

They started with nothing…they printed some paper (stock certificates)…we bought it, and they pocket the cash.

Usually, when a company gets large chunks of cash, they go into debt for it. But not this time. There is no debt. If a company goes insolvent, stockholders never see a dime.

So now they have a boatload of new cash and they didn’t pay a dime for it. Where did it come from? Money by Fiat….from thin air.

Remember the AOL Time Warner merger? AOL (the junior and smaller company) “bought” Time Warner for 183 billion dollars, the largest corporate merger ever.

AOL must’ve been really rich, right? No. AOL “paid” Time Warner 166 billion dollars in stock and assumed 17 billion dollars of Time Warner’s debt.

Out of pocket cost for AOL to buy Time Warner (one of the largest media conglomerates in the world): $0.

Because that stock didn’t cost them a dime. They just printed up paper and everyone gave them money.

They had just as much cash in the bank before the deal as they did after the deal. There was no additional debt. They paid nothing!!! They bought something (a media conglomerate) with nothing. Amazing.

So is it a scam? No, not really. There is always a chance it will work out for you, unlike a real scam…where you are sure to lose. You can definitely get rich in the stock market…but you can definitely get rich in Vegas too.

I’m thinking about having an IPO for me. Anyone wanna buy shares?

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I have been having server problems for the past week or so….thus the lack of entries.

Everything seems to be fixed now so I’ll post again soon.

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I was talking on the phone to a friend tonight. He was asking about me and Atlanta and the job and such.

I told him about how busy I am….that I don’t know much about Atlanta because I’m at the office, that I’m too irritable and rushed most of the time to think about finding a girlfriend, that work is alot of stress and deadlines.

He said, “Its good to be busy.”
I said, “Do you really think so?”

I am unsure whether it is good to be busy. “Busy at what?” would be my question.

Busy can be good…as long as you are busy doing stuff that reinforces what you believe in, stuff that is an expression of your values.

But I don’t think it is natural to be busy all the time. Periods of intense activity followed by periods of recovery is the story of life…not in a philosophical sense, but in a biological sense.

Life is series of sprints, not a marathon. The lion hunts the wildebeest, eats its feast, and then sits around for a few days fat and happy. Everywhere in nature (especially in large land animals) we see this cycle of activity and rest.

It often seems we have eliminated the lag periods of recovery from our lives in favor of 24 hour productivity. It is possible to live like this; people can bear almost anything…but it does take its toll.

In the face of the relentless demands of our lives, we become so acclimated to a chronic state of mild anxiety and moderate discontent that we accept it as the status quo and forget what it is like to feel any differently.

And that is one of my biggest fears about work: That I will become numb to distract myself from these demands and that I will use my busyness as an excuse to do nothing about it.

In fact, the busyness both contributes to the anxiety and distracts us from dealing with it. It is both the cause and the cure.

Busyness distracts you from what is important. Allowing the tasks of life to command all your attention guarantees that you will lose track of yourself. This makes you irritated, unhappy and unable to reach your full potential.

Imagine you are out at sea on a boat that springs a leak. Your immediate purpose is obviously to keep the boat from sinking. But so long as you are busy bailing water, no one is steering the boat.

The same is true in our lives. When we are preoccupied with the tasks of the day, we have little energy left to make sure our lives are heading in the right direction, that our actions are reinforcing our values.

When no attention is paid to steering our lives in the right direction, we gradually lose touch with our passion, are less giving in our relationships, and experience a constant, mild anxiety. And that basically descibes most of the United States.

Travel really drove home for me the price we pay for all our productivity and busyness. Those years that I was gone others my age were busy living the “American Dream”. I returned home and found most of them overcomplacent, passionless, inflexible, distant, and unwilling to do anything about it….or even address it.

I was thinking about this because I’ve been trying to get in touch with a friend from NY for a week now. I bet I’ve called her 10 times and she the same to me….but we can’t seem to reach each other.

So now when I leave a message on her voicemail I say, “Tag, you’re it.”

I’d like to know what you guys think: Do you feel busy all the time? Do you think that it’s a good thing?

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