Archive for June, 2009

Elton John Or Bust(ed)

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

by Liz von Achen

When I was a teenager, I LOVED Elton John. I kept close track of his record release dates, and I just couldn’t wait to run down to the music store to spend my baby-sitting money on his latest album. As much as I loved Elton John, I never had the opportunity to actually see him live in concert until I was in my mid-thirties.

It was a Saturday morning. I was supposed to get up early. Knowing that I lived in a completely different time zone than the rest of the universe, my friend Nancy thought it best if she came up with a plan. And the plan was: Nancy and I would promptly meet at the ticket outlet to strategically place ourselves in good “lottery” positions. If one of us could be among the first 10 in line, and the other among the next 10, odds would be fair that we’d get good tickets for the upcoming Elton John concert.

It was a simple enough plan. And I should have been on my 2nd cup of coffee and ready for battle by 8 a.m. Instead, a late night out at a Fort Lauderdale Blues club left me comatose, oblivious to the blare of my alarm clock, which incidentally is loud enough to be heard (I am told), from a little tiki hut somewhere on the coast of New Guinea.

At 8:45 a.m., I leaned over to push the snooze just one more time before remembering the plan. Curse words loud enough to send my dog seeking cover ensued. “The plan! Oh, my God, the plan! Nancy’s gonna hate me!”

Frantic, I threw on the same pair of jeans I wore the night before – they were heaped near my bed. No time to journey into the closet. I grabbed a big old guy’s denim shirt (that I normally reserved for yard work) and buttoned it while sliding my feet into sandals. I caught a quick glimpse of myself in the mirror as I ran out the door. I looked like crap. My entire body needed ironing. But, this was no time to be concerned about a trivial matter like personal hygiene. There were more important things at stake.

I jumped into my car and started heading east. They were supposed to be dispensing the lottery numbers at 9 a.m. That left me precisely 9 minutes to make the otherwise 20 minute trip.

I’m amazed that I even attempted this feat. And, I can’t say that I’m proud of it. In my own defense, all I can say is that people are prone to bizarre behavior when they venture into public without the benefits of a good morning shower.

I was making great time on the interstate, nearing my exit with a whole 3 minutes to spare. ‘Candle In The Wind’ was playing on the radio. I was feeling pretty good, singing along, not noticing the speedometer. Not noticing the state trooper’s car tailing me. Not noticing the red flashing light. Finally, noticing that ear splitting siren.

‘Aw, nuts!’ For a brief moment, I considered making him chase me to the ticket line. ‘Err, officer, could you be so kind as to arrest me after I snag these tickets?’ I thought about my sister’s famous tactic of playing dumb and lost, and bursting into tears. Once, it actually got her a police escort to a job interview!

Instead, I figured it would be wisest to just play it cool. I stopped.

“Please step out of the vehicle, with your license, registration, and proof of insurance,” he ordered over his loud speaker. I complied, walking back to his car with my paperwork. He briefly looked at my license, and then asked in a very police-like, authoritative voice, “Well, Miss van Arch-en, what seems to be the hurry today?”

I couldn’t think! Not having had even the tiniest sip of coffee, I simply wasn’t awake enough to conjure up an excuse that was even the slightest bit plausible. I heard myself saying that I was late for a “meeting,” and I immediately regretted it.

I winced as he eyed my grungy clothes and knotty hair. Looking extremely doubtful as to whether or not he was dealing with an escapee from the local loony bin, he asked, “What kind of meeting?”

I tried to imagine what kind of a meeting might require me to dress like a bag lady, but I simply couldn’t do it. So, I figured I might as well just tell him the truth.

“I’m supposed to mumble-mumble my mumble-mumble-mumble,” I answered.

“What!?” he demanded.

At that point, I completely caved. I could no longer withstand the intense interrogation. “Okay! I confess! I’m supposed to meet my friend to buy some concert tickets!” I cried out.

Oh, he was just soooo smug, that cop. “Well, young lady,” he said, “I think you ought to tell yer friend that you already got yer ticket!”

I just shook my head and smiled. ‘Touche, officer,’ I thought, ‘I set myself up for that one. Now, just gimme my friggin’ ticket and let me get the heck out of here, because in case you haven’t noticed, I’M IN A HURRY!’

He scribbled some stuff down on his little ticket pad, tore off a copy and handed it to me.

“Thank you very much!” I said in the most sarcastic voice I could manage.

Then I stormed back to my car, got in, and before starting the engine, I looked at the ticket. It said I was going 85 mph in a 55 mph zone. “85 miles per hour!” I screamed. “No way! Is he nuts?!”

I was livid. ‘Concert tickets, or no concert tickets, this is tyranny! A gross abuse of power! A travesty of justice, (and every other courtroom cliché I could think of)! And I’m not gonna take it! I’m gonna stand up for my rights! I’m not gonna let this guy bully me!’

I marched right back to his car and demanded to know what evidence he had to support his claim that I was going 85 miles per hour.

“I mean, look at my car,” I reasoned, pointing to the rusted heap of metal I owned at the time. “That old thing would fall apart if I went above 80! There’s no way I could’ve been going 85!”

“Oh, you were going more than 85,” he insisted.

“No way!” I argued.

“Yes, way,” he countered. “See this side mirror on my car, here? Well, while I was trying to keep up with you, this side mirror was shaking off its hinges! That’s how fast you were going!”

“Oh! Well then! That proves it! ” I was on a mad sarcastic roll. “That proves it! Your mirror was shaking, so that proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I was going 85!” Johnny Cochran would’ve been proud.

I realized at that point, that the trooper wasn’t budging. So, I left him, saying, “Well, I guess I just have to accept this. But, it just isn’t fair!”

I kicked up a few good pieces of gravel on the way back to my car.

Then he got back onto his loud speaker, FOR THE ENTIRE WORLD TO HEAR, and shouted, “Young lady!! If you look closely at that slip of paper in your hand, you’ll notice that it’s only a WARNING citation! It’s not a REAL ticket! It won’t cost you a cent! But, if you really want to argue about it, how about I arrest you for disorderly conduct, and we can go and duke it out in court!!”

I sunk my head as deeply as possible into my shoulders, and did the backwards shuffle to my car, thanking him with a sheepish smile and a demure little wave. I drove 30 mph for the rest of the day, convinced that he would have every law enforcement official in the county on the look-out for me.

I missed the lottery. But Nancy managed to luck into a number four spot. And we did get the tickets.

Several weeks later on concert day, Nancy came up with another one of her “plans.” We were to leave from her house at 5:00 p.m. This would give us plenty of time to leisurely make the half hour drive, deal with the traffic, even do a little tail-gate-partying, and still guarantee we wouldn’t be late for the 8:30 show.

It was a really great concert, and we had a lot of fun. I know we’ll both treasure the memory for many years to come… I just can’t understand why Nancy’s still ticked off about missing the first three songs.

© 2009 Liz von Achen All rights reserved.


Adventures on Bonaire

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

by Liz von Achen

Located in the Caribbean, just 50 miles north of South America, the island of Bonaire is known as a diver’s paradise, offering underwater thrills for both the beginner and advanced scuba diver or snorkeler.

Bonaire also offers land and water based thrills that are of a, shall we say, alternative nature?

If you think diving a beautiful reef is as thrilling as it gets on Bonaire, try taking a tour with one of the island’s naturalists – that is, if you dare.

If you’re a by-the-seat-of-the-pants adventurer, willing to trade a few safety factors for kicks, you might love spending an afternoon with Dutch biologist and nature guide Klaas Bakker.

Klaas Bakker arrived at my hotel in a clunky old van filled with fossils and other natural specimens he’s collected over the years. He proffered a hard-covered journal crammed with personal notes of gratitude left by some of the many tourists with whom he’s shared his expertise. In leafing through the accolades, I couldn’t help but note that there are lots of people who really love this guy.

After spending an entire day with the man, my best explanation for Bakker’s appeal is his nutty professor persona, and off-the-cuff style of guiding. His creative cookery probably doesn’t hurt him, either.

Mr. Bakker offers half or full day eco-tours that can be customized to suit your particular interests. I had a sampling of his nature hike, cave exploration, and snorkel tour.

The nature hike yielded a good understanding of Bonaire’s eco-system, and the ravaging effects of the island’s goat population, with a rather technical education on the many different species of flora and fauna found on the island. On a thrill-factor scale of 1 to 10, I’d give it an 8 if you’re really, really interested in learning the names of odd looking trees and a 3 if you’d just rather take pictures of them.

Klaas serves snacks at Seru Largu.

Klaas serves snacks at Seru Largu.

Next was a stop at a scenic overlook named Seru Largu (means “Big Hill”) for a mid-morning coffee break among a few curious lizards. Klaas serves the coffee and snacks from a wooden tray he ingeniously constructed to keep his plastic eating and drinking utensils from getting lost to the tradewinds, or covered in sand.

The following highlight of the tour was a more ambitious snorkel into the deep, dark waters of a limestone cave located just outside the Washington Slaagbi National Park. Here, caution seemed to have been thrown to the wind as Klaas unabashedly stripped out of his shorts and into his little bikini bathing suit.

“What the heck am I doing here?” I wondered, as I watched his partially revealed butt crack descending before me into the great unknown. I didn’t feel a high comfort level, since we weren’t wearing any fins (so as not to murky-up the translucent cave water).

My apprehensions were soon further heightened by the fact that Bakker carried an old flashlight which was marginally working, while I had no light of my own. The flashlight kept shorting out, and he would give it a few whacks against his hand to get it working again. I was not feeling at ease with this situation at all. Bakker sensed this, and said, “Oh, don’t worry…”

At that point, I half expected him to reveal that the bulge in his little speedo was really a back-up light source. But, instead, he said, “I know the way out.”

Now, the very real possibility of being lost in a totally dark cave, in some 20 feet of water, without fins, without a light source, and at the mercy of Bonaire’s own version of a half-naked Yule Gibbons, might be a real rush for some people. I do admit this.

And, I also admit that I actually might have found the entire experience to be fantastic had I been with a friend with whom I could share the terror.

But, call me Goody-Two-Fins, I just don’t think anyone should ever explore a spooky cave filled with deep water without a backup light source.

The fun continued when Bakker purposely turned the flashlight off so that I could experience total darkness, as well as the sensation of shrimp (apparently the only living organisms in the water) nibbling at my body.

Complete absence of light in this stillness, where centuries old stalactites and stalagmites continue to form ever so slowly but surely, was quite remarkable. And, I was actually beginning to feel an almost spiritual sense of calm … until the shrimp started to nibble.

The nibbling didn’t hurt at all. I mean, we’re talking shrimp, here. But, in that dense blackness, my imagination turned those harmless little shrimp into gigantic-mutant-killer shrimp. I told Bakker I wasn’t comfortable with the situation, and we soon headed out of the cave.

We then traveled along the coast of the National Park, with Klaas pointing out many of Bonaire’s best known dive sites.

He stopped at a secluded cove, carrying a cooler and snorkel gear down a rocky slope onto a pristine beach. The turquoise waters of the Caribbean Bay offered a picturesque backdrop for lunch, which consisted of tamarind jam and tamarind juice (both of which he makes himself from the fruits of his own garden) and meat and cheese sandwiches.

We snorkeled after lunch, exploring a pleasant shallow reef. I surrendered all my concerns about Klaas to the visual absorption of colorful angelfishes, parrotfishes, and a great variety of coral. That is, until I spotted a nurse shark, and then watched as Klaas tried to grab it by the tail, frightening the creature into retreat. Now, I know that nurse sharks are supposed to be harmless, but, again, call me Goody-Two-Fins …

At that point, I felt I had enough excitement for one day, and was ready to get back to the resort. After sharing some of his homemade yogurt (you guessed it, tamarind again), Klaas handed me a cup of tea to drink en route to the hotel. I took two sips before surreptitiously spilling the brew from the open window of the van. I had begun feeling intensely lethargic and extremely wary when Klaas admitted that he had infused the tea with a ‘special Chinese herb.’ As much as I wanted to ask him to elaborate, I bit my tongue because something told me, I probably really didn’t want to know

Note: This story was originally published in 2002. It is unknown whether or not the tour guide services above are currently available.

© 2009 Liz von achen All rights reserved.