Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Meet Monroe and Eddie

Eddie and Monroe, native Bahamian fishermen, live on a 20 ft. fishing boat anchored in the creek between Chub Cay and a neighboring island in the Bahamas. Their boat is as basic as they come, and does not include a sleeping cabin or galley. Eddie and Monroe sleep outside in the covered cockpit and live off the seafood that they catch. Eddie, having grown up on the water, loves his life as a fisherman. He has a strong trust in God, and makes sure to live for the day. Because he does not have a wife or children to support, he never stresses over how much money he makes. Eddie and Monroe do not wander far from their fishing grounds. Last week for Mother's Day, Eddie traveled 90 miles to Bimini to visit his mother for the first time in eighteen years. She was so excited to see him that she couldn't stop staring at him and giving him hugs.

Eddie and Monroe catch conch, fish, lobster, and turtles, to sell to the Chub Cay Resort. Chub Cay, once an unpopulated island, was sold by the Bahamian government to the British over 40 years ago, and more recently sold to a group of wealthy American real estate investors. The group privatized the island and turned Chub Cay into one large marina and resort. Although Eddie and Monroe provide the Chub Cay Marina Resturaunt with seafood, they are not allowed to step foot on the island after dusk. Monroe says that it is typical for the Bahamian government to sell uninhabited land to Americans. The land is not in use, and the government needs the funds. Monroe obeys the rules without feeling resentment. "They purchased the land with money and have the right to make their own rules," he says. Eddie, on the other hand, does not pay attention to the rules, nor does he make a fuss about them. As a Bahamian, Eddie feels it is his natural right to move about freely on the land.

Both Eddie and Monroe agree that they like having the presence of the American Coast Guard throughout the Bahamas. The Coast Guard is able to keep a good watch on Cuba from the Bahamas. Eddie and Monroe say that Bahamians are scared of the Cubans, who like Americans, want their land desperately. However, they say that with Americans, they don't fear the threat of genocide, which they would have if a Cuban government were to take over their land. Eddie says that his people are peaceful, and do not like to fight. They have a tremendous trust that everything happens in accordance to God's overall plan. Eddie laughed at me when I asked him if he thought all Americans were as rich as the ones who visit Chub Cay. He said no, because he visited Florida once, and was able to see America firsthand. Eddie and Monroe invited me back over to their boat later on in the day for conch salad, a favorite Bahamian dish. However, we had a good weather window and decided to make the crossing to Fresh Creek, Andros, Before leaving we gave Eddie and Monroe a few potatoes, which are hard to come by in Chub Cay, and two, warm, Coors beer. In exchange, they gave us advice on fishing and jury-rigging our broken prop.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Meet Penelope

Penelope moved to Key West at the age of two. The year was 1981. Her father landed a job diving for gold and hidden treasures with Mel Fisher, the famous treasure-seeker who had just found the Atocia, the Spanish gallion that had sunk off the Florida straights in the early 1800s. Penelope's parents fell in love with Key West, decided to stay, but divorced shortly after the move.

When Penelope was five, she moved onto a boat with her mother, stepfather, two older sisters and two younger brothers. Her father lived on his own boat, but still played an active father role in their lives and would often bring over lobster and crab. The boats they lived on were cheap, had no engines or sails, and didn't even move. They were anchored off the shore of Christmas Tree Island, a manmade island visible from the shores of Key West. She remembers being nine years old, playing on the beach, and her father would all of a sudden appear out of no where wearing his diving gear. He would let her breath of his diving tank. Penelope saw her father as Heman, the most handsome and strongest guy in the world who dove for gold and treasures.

Penelope remembers boat-life being a new and completely different way of life. "We were so young we just got used to it," she says. There was no notion of privacy on the boat. They peed in a bucket attached to a rope and showered with a shower bag. Her mother, stepfather and youngest brother slept in the V-birth and the other children slept in the main cabin. They did not have many toys and entertained themselves by swimming, playing cards, and taking care of their dog Bootsies' puppies. They had a couple of televisions throughout the years that didn't get much reception. "I remember spending hours trying to fix the antennas just to get Scoopy-Doo or the Smurfs," laughs Penelope. Summers were long and often her parents would go to shore and leave them alone on the boat for hours. They would find creative ways to entertain themselves with other neighborhood boat kids. The community of boater and boat children would often have camp-outs on Christmas Tree Island, where they would barbeque and wash the dishes along the shore.

During the school year, Penelope and her siblings were dropped off at the closest beach. After school they would return and hang out on the beach until their parents were ready to pick them up. Other children at school lived on boats, however, Penelope was aware that it wasn't as normal of a life as most children. It was harder for the girls to adapt to the boat life. Penelope secretly wished sometimes that she could have clean clothes and live in a house like normal children. She would get scared during storms and remembers one night in particular waking up to the boat being completely tilted on one side. She found her mother naked, hammering a screw driver into one of the water tanks to balance the boat back out.

Penelope's family celebrated holidays on the boat. Some Christmas years were more plentiful than others. In her eyes, figures such as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny were a fable. But for her younger brothers sake she would play the role and make up funny stories about how the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus rode jet skis or took small skiffs to bring presents to the boat.

Now, 28, Penelope says she would still consider raising a family on a boat, but has a bigger dream of living on a farm with tons of animals. She has kindred feelings when she meets other people who grew up on a boats. "I don't know a lot of kids who at the age of eight were sitting on skiffs, wearing raincoats, trying to get back out to there homes, having to turn around three times because the rain was too hard and waves too big to make it home without toppling out into the ocean." Penelope believes that we choose the lives and parents that we are born into for whatever reason that maybe. Growing up on the boat was hard in many ways, but at the same time she feels lucky that she was not raised in the suburbs or a trailer park. "We were surrounded by so much beauty that made our struggles that much easier."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Meet Becca the Sailor

Becca loves the act of sailing more than the destination. She describes her passion as an addiction. For the past six years, she has lived aboard her Bayfield 29 cutter-rigged sailboat named Angel. Becca writes a monthly sailing column for Southwinds Magazine about her journeys cruising in the Caribbean. Her column tells positive stories, full of little adventures, that make people excited about sailing.

Becca grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and spent much of her youth boating on the Great Lakes. Her mother's family are Salmi native, Laplander people who fished the Arctic Circle for hundreds of years until they were kicked of there lands and sought refuge in the Great Lakes area. Becca carries on the tradition of her native people. Recounting her youth, "I was just a tiny little baby bopping around on the boat and my parents said it would keep me quiet and calm. I knew how to row a boat, before I even learned how to ride a bike".

Growing up and even into her early twenties, Becca did not foresee her lifestyle today. " I just thought I would do what everybody in society does, get a house and career, and live the happy, happy American Dream", she explains. Becca loved college. She studied industrial and graphic design and received degrees in both communications and mechanical design. After college she worked as a product designer and purchased her first home and recreational sailboat that she took out on weekends. Soon, however, she began to notice a feeling of disappointment with her home. " I thought, Jeez, I'm American, I should be happy to have a house. I worked my butt off for that house and saved, but it just wasn't for me. It was the boat." In order to spend more time on the water, Becca dropped her job down to part-time. She started crewing for friends boats, and then found Angel, fell in love and sold the house.

Becca has met many cruising couples, but not many women who single-hand their own boat. Most male sailors are not shocked when they encounter Becca on the water. "Some sailors are curious and think, WOW, a girl, lets go out and play because there are hardly any girls out here", Becca explains. She says people on land, who don't know much about sailing, sometimes think she is a freak of nature. A woman who chooses to be alone on the unpredictable seas? But for Becca, it is about confidence and preparation. "It's not like I'm this fearless, macho person. I am not superwoman. I am an ordinary, very plain, 5-ft tall, little cheek-boned, Salmi native." Her confidence comes from being prepared, having the right safety gear, back-ups, and knowing that she has a strong, seaworthy boat.

Sooner or later Becca admits that it is inevitable that you will run into a storm. "You can prepare for the hurricanes, but you have to watch out for the nasty storms that appear out of nowhere. All of the sudden you think its a little rain cloud and then you are getting hit by winds that gust about 80 knots", says Becca. Last summer she withstood 40 minutes of hurricane force winds, hanging on one anchor . Boats around her were capsizing left and right, but she just got lucky with Angel. You can read about her storm experience in the online March issue of Southwinds Magazine.

Becca does not see herself ever getting rid of Angel. "We are pretty bonded. I love her and I will be with her for as long as I can." Her goal is to stay healthy, make as much money as she can to keep sailing, take good care of Angel, and meet other fun people out there sailing. "At first it sounds kind of selfish, but really, you find what brings you joy, the lifestyle that is true to yourself, and you will become more happy and productive in life and that joy will spread to others. Although it is not always that easy, takes courage and little steps at a time, if you find what is true to you everything will fall into place."

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Meet Todd

Its February and I have been living in Key West on a sailboat now for about four months. Its been an adjustment from Kentucky, but I am really enjoying the challenges of a new lifestyle and home base. I live simply, even pee in a bucket and shower in a cold shack! Yep, but it's great.

I am glad to finally start focusing more on the Meet A Stranger Project, which I have been neglecting! I purchased a new recorder, replacing my old dictaphone, with grants funds from Damali Ali. Damali also hooked me up with a mentor, April Baer, who is helping me learn more about audio podcasting. These are my very amateur attempts, but I hope to see them improve to be pretty cool as time goes by!

Below is an interview I did this week, with a fellow named Todd, who lives on the street. I was parked outside the library using WiFi, when I heard Todd singing Total Eclipse of the Heart. I couldn't help but ask him to sing it into my microphone....

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Meet Michael

I meet Michael while riding my bicycle. Michael stands outside Home Depot most days looking for work. He calls this practice, "pick up construction", and prides himself on his good sign which reads, "Will work hard, for cash today". Michael says he has learned more about home improvement by watching television shows such as Flip this House, Sell This House, and Curb Appeal.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Meet Frank

In 1992, Frank lived in a van in San Francisco, where he scoured dumpsters for food, and was attempting to build his own sailboat out of old wooden skids he collected from the back of grocery stores. Frank was poor, yet happy and relaxed with life. He didn't work for someone else, giving him the flexibility to move about at his own pace. He ate well too, even if it was the waste of strangers food. "It's amazing what people throw out, especially outside of good restaurants", he says.

As luck would have it, Frank didn't have to wait long for his sailboat. One day a man who owned a sailboat died, and his wife wanting nothing to do with the boat or sailing, gave Frank the boat. Frank lived on the boat for three years in the San Francisco Bay and then, in 1997, moved to Florida, where he spent a couple years sailing up and down the east coast.

In 2000, Frank enrolled in trucker's school. As a truck driver, Frank spent five weeks at a time, often working eleven hour days,
driving coast to coast. "They ran me pretty hard into the ground by sending me to Los Angeles then San Francisco, San Francisco to Florida, Florida back to California...", he explains. And he quickly realized that the American highway system, was nothing like its coasts. Across the country, even in the desert, Frank discovered monotony. Corporate chain stores and restaurants, exit to exit. "Its amazing how somehow, they make THIS WHOLE country look exactly the SAME!"

Although truck driving was not what Frank had expected, he was able to save because he lived in a truck and had limited expenses.
With his savings, Frank purchased another sailboat. This time a 25-ft Pacific Sea Craft he named Senshi after a Japanese mystic poet. Frank plans to single-handedly sail Senshi across the Atlantic, and he equates the voyage to succeeding in life. It explains why Frank currently spends almost all day, even in the summer heat, grinding the fiberglass hull of his boat, preparing it for the journey.

Frank has had a couple of serious girlfriends, but in the past years has spent most of his time alone. He doesn't let himself get lonely though. He's not sure how he does it so well, but contributes it to self-reliance and faith. "I have faith in the Universe. I know I am an eternal being and when I die my energy will go on. Not sure how or where, but I know it will continue and everything that I seek will happen in time." He spends his free time playing chess, guitar, and just simply thinking. He is spiritual and non-materialistic.

Frank was not always this positive. It has taken him many years to become who he is today. He used to be fairly angry, a heavy drinker (he no longer drinks), and carried his past on his shoulders. When Frank was twelve, his father suddenly passed away, and his mother decided it would be better if he moved in with his grandparents. His grandparents were strict, however, and he was depressed by these new living conditions. One day, about a year after his father passed away, Frank's frustration reached a peak and he blurted out to his grandmother in the car, " I hope you die!". The very next day Frank's grandmother dropped dead of a heart attract, and Frank was left with guilt.

Frank contributes his current peace and universal understanding to motorcycling and sailing. He has loved the ocean since the first time he saw it at age seven with his father in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Frank says that all his life he has been looking for a feeling, but he is not sure how to describe it, and has not reached it yet. He believes that he will reach this unidentifiable feeling while crossing the Atlantic.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Meet Marco Lopez Polo

Marco Lopez Polo works as a crewmember on an old 1944 tugboat that is docked on the island of North Bimini, Bahamas. Everyday since December, Marco has spent hours diving under the rusty tugboat in search of a small hole. He cannot leave North Bimini and return home to his wife and three children in Honduras until he finds this hole. But even if he found the hole, he still would need a welder, and on a small island of 1600 people that's hard to find. To make things worse, the owner of the tugboat, Marco's boss, ran himself into the ground financially and went bankrupt. Originally the crew was promised to make money off the barge full of goods it was carrying. But the barge sank outside Bimini and the tugboat sprung the leak. As a result Marco does not have enough money to return home from the Bahamas.

The tugboat crew spends their days working on what they can do -- small maintenance repairs such as painting and patching the steel boat. They all sleep and eat on the tugboat, eating a diet that mostly consists of rice and beans. Marco is proud of his recipe. He prefers to cook his rice and beans separate and then once cooked he adds his special ingredients: onion, garlic, salt, pepper, but not too much, and the occasional green pepper.

Marco has been to America, were he met his best friend Rex, who is dying on lung cancer from smoking too many cigarettes. He says that I remind him of a girl he once saw while visiting Rex in Ocean Beach, Florida. Growing up Marco did not spend time on the water in Honduras. He is from a small inland village. It was not until he started working in shipping, which paid well, that Marco became familiar with the deep sea. He likes the ocean though, and has many stories of swimming with sharks. Marco says the secret to swimming with sharks is to not let them know you are afraid. People often make the mistake of trying to swim away, and that is when the shark will attack because it thinks you are food.

I met Marco when the 26 ft Columbia sailboat I was traveling on collided with the tugboat after loosing control in strong harbor currents. I drew a picture for Marco of the sailboat and tugboat together to thank him letting us dock there while we went on land for food and water. He then helped us push our boat successfully back into the harbor where we waited out the currents. Three weeks later we traveled back to North Bimini to buy a new anchor and ran into Marco on the street. He was happy to see familiar faces, looked bored, and told us that not much had changed, but that he was growing more and more unsatisfied and impatient with his job. But for Marco all he can do is continue to dive and hope one day he finds the hole that will fix the boat and take him back to Honduras.

Monday, April 30, 2007


Incase you have been wondering, "Why no post lately?".....well I have been working overtime in order to take a month-long sailing adventure to the Bahamas. I leave in a week and hope to meet some new strangers along the way! In the meanwhile I encourage you to do the same!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Meet Scott

A month ago, twenty-five-year-old Scott left Bardstown, Kentucky for the first time in his life and traveled to Texas to work as a freelance construction worker. Scott's girlfriend, who is pregnant with twins, lives in Texas. The two met several months ago when she visited Kentucky. "She is something else, now. She has blonde hair, blue eyes and is good natured and kindhearted like myself", says Scott of his girlfriend. He is really excited to be a father, but is fearful of getting married. He certainly did not enjoy his experience in Texas and has no desire to return. The trip confirmed that he is a true Kentuckian, in love with the culture and people of the region.  After all, Scott has spent his whole life in Bardstown where he was raised by his grandparents after both his parents died of cancer when he was five. He loves his grandmother and says he wouldn't take a million dollars for her or the spicy spaghetti she makes.

Wishing to return to Kentucky from Texas, Scott purchased a one-way greyhound ticket home. However while leaving a store on his way out of town, a guy robbed Scott at knife-point and took all the money he had made in Texas. By the time he arrived at the greyhound bus station in Kentucky, Scott had no other option but to walk the rest of the way home.

This is where my friend Jill and I first spotted Scott, on a sunny spring Saturday afternoon walking down the side of a quiet highway, lugging his suitcase with a sideways tilt. We pulled up to him in our car, with the windows rolled down, and I ask Scott what was in his suitcase. "Clothes", he answered.  Jill and I offered Scott a ride back to Bardstown in exchange that he would allow Jill to photograph him along the way. Scott was not expecting a photo shoot with two random girls to finish his journey home. However, he did say that this was the most adventurous thing he has ever done and that we were the weirdest people he had ever met. We dropped him off at a gas station across the street from his home and I waved and took one last picture of him as he walked away.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Meet Colonel Don Decker

This is Colonel Don Decker, a Kentucky Colonel, who for the past three years has been the host at T.G.I. Fridays restaurant on Fourth Street Live in downtown Louisville. Don owns and wears a variety of different color traditional colonel tuxedos and ruffled shirts that he adorns with honorary medallions. He admits that his outfits are out of style for today, but comfortably says, "I am out of style too". Don's attire is, and at the same time, isn’t a costume. He would not wear his tuxedo into a business meeting, but would and does wear it around town. In fact, he owned all of his colonel tuxedos before he even started hosting at T.G.I. Fridays on Fourth Street Live.

Don, whose mother was a dancer, was raised in the entertainment business and began in Vaudeville dance at the age of three. He can act, dance and sing, and has worked in various phases of the entertainment industry throughout his life. He is most proud of his nightclub and movie performances, which include appearances in the 1960’s hits Can Can and Li’l Abner. As a child, Don dreamed of being on Broadway. "I went through New York, but quickly. I never did what was necessary to get on Broadway.... that's a real struggle”, he explains.

For many years, Don was also a bails bondsman in Florida. When he retired he moved to Louisville and found the job at T.G.I. Fridays a perfect way to supplement his social security. “I enjoy meeting people, plus I am getting old and if I don't do something, I would just sit in my chair and think, what, am I, waiting to die?"

Ten years ago, Don completed his first novel, Forfeiture, a story about a man named Danny Duncan, who shares many similar experiences as Don, and winds up robbing a bank. “A lot of people think I am Danny Duncan, or we are one in the same. And they might be right, I am not going to say one way or the other,” Don says with a smile.

Don enjoys his job at T.G.I. Fridays. On an average day between ten and twenty people ask to have their photograph taken with him. Don just happens to look a lot like Kentucky Fried Chicken's founder, Colonel Sanders. But he says it is not intentional and he does not sell chicken! Don believes that he is doing something unique on Forth Street Live, by attempting to create a greater since of hospitality.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Meet Skaters in Cumberland, KY

Local Skaters
Bank Drive Thru
Cumberland, Kentucky

Jonathan, Corey, Eric and a few other skater friends are showing off skateboard tricks at a closed bank drive-thru in Cumberland, Kentucky. The skaters are a mixture of middle school and high school students who all grew up together in Cumberland, a town with a population of under 3000. Eric, who wears a loosely tied sideways bandana, says that the police are always hassling them when they skate on public places. In fact, today, they have already been kicked off the bank property four times.

Jonathan, Corey and Eric started skateboarding because they were bored and tired of sitting on their couches. Corey explains, “I said, man, we don’t want to get fat, we got to get ourselves something to do.” After discovering skating on satellite television during the X Games and thinking it was cool, the boys rented the skate movie, The Lords of Dogtown, and were hooked. Their parents don’t mind that they skate, but they do mind that the boys won't get haircuts. The skaters consider themselves "top dogs", and like listening to rap, especially Fifty Cent and Snoop Dog. Most of them have never left Cumberland but their hopes are to be in a large city one day to enjoy a real skate park.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Meet Haley

Benham, Kentucky

Haley, an eighth grader, is enjoying a Sunday afternoon four-wheel ride alongside an old railroad track in Benham, Kentucky, originally a coal mining camp. According to Haley everyone in Benham owns and rides a four-wheeler. Today she is riding her fathers. Four-wheel trails exist throughout the mountains of Eastern Kentucky in areas abandoned by coal mining. Many towns have started promoting their trails to tourist as a form of economic recovery. Haley says that there is not much to do in Benham. Besides four-wheeling, she spends time playing softball. Haley dreams of becoming a Meteorologist one day in a city much larger than Benham, Kentucky.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Meet Men at a Shooting Competition

Sunday Shooting Competition
Bell County, Eastern Kentucky

Ben Barney, Bill Wilder, Charles Ranghard and Dale Snowden along with a couple of other friends hold shooting competitions every Sunday in their hometown of Bell County, which is located in the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky. The men say that there are few job opportunities in their county that primarily produces coal. Their local elementary school even closed down last year, due to lack of funds, and their children, as young as four years old travel on a bus for an hour to attend school. The men, who are all hunters, say that guns have been apart of their lives and culture since they were children. There is not much to do in their dry town so this provides a good source of entertainment. Ben explains, “Some weekends this place is packed and we often bring our kids out. The fellow with the closest shot to the x wins his wife a turkey or a ham.”

After the first round. Seeing who shot closest to the center of the X.

Closed Elementary School.

My friend Jill shoots a gun for the first time.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Meet Strangers and Places Full of Holiday Cheer

Sharon Old Louisville, Kentucky
Sharon is getting into the Christmas spirit by decorating the outside of her home. She enjoys going way out with decorations and usually picks a new theme each year . This year's theme is snowman and white lights. Christmas is Sharon's favorite holiday of the year, " I love the decorations and it's a pretty time, happy and joyful". Christmas also happens to be her mother's birthday, a time for family celebration. Sharon works at Dillards, a department store in the mall, and really loves her job because it is in full swing during the Holiday season. People often stop their cars, or holler out their windows to compliment Sharon on her decorations. As I was leaving a car pulled up and two men and a young boy asked if I would take their picture in front of Sharon's candy canes.

Bruce New Albany, IN
Bruce lives in New Albany, Indiana, a place where people are not afraid to be unique and elaborate with their Christmas decorations. Dark on a Friday evening, I found Bruce outside tending to his burnt-out Christmas lights as a gardner might tend to a cherished garden. Bruce has a giant snow globe in his yard, homemade globe lights in his trees, reindeer and Santa on his roof and he even has turned his front window into a Christmas display for passerby's to come view.

Random House New Albany, Indiana
Looks like Rudolf took a wrong turn?

The Doll House New Albany, IN
I love this house. These people brought out the a variety of Santa's, stuffed animals, and even their doll collection to decorate for the holidays!