Thursday, May 21, 2015

Who Will Be The Next Manager of the Miami Marlins?

Fans of the Miami Marlins entered the 2015 season with high hopes for the team.  Several huge contracts had been signed over the winter ensuring that super human outfielder Giancarlo Stanton would be around for many years and that the team could be built around him.  Concurrently outfielder Christian Yelich was also signed to a long-term contract ensuring that he would be there with Stanton to form the nucleus of the team. 

Several trades were made to bring in "support" staff to build behind Stanton and Yelich.  Dee Gordon who runs so fast I swear he's part antelope was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Martin Prado, an excellent third baseman was acquired from the San Francisco Giants and mega-hitter Ichiro Suzuki was acquired from the Seattle Mariners. Everything was in place and secured for a record-breaking season for the Marlins.

And then the season started.

Languishing near the bottom of the standings in the National League East Division, the Marlins were soon a laughing stock and everyone was scratching their heads wondering what happened to all this expensive talent that was supposed to be the salvation of the Miami Marlins.

All of that talent was acquired by the General Manager Dan Jennings and approved by Owner Jeffrey Loria.  Despite that fact when the Marlins couldn't get their season in order, Loria fired the Manager Mike Redmond and made him the scapegoat for the managerial miscues foisted on the team by him and his general manager.

"A new direction" and "a new vision" were the two buzz phrases uttered the day following Redmond's unceremonious firing as the Marlins introduced the next manager in the team's history - none other than General Manager Dan Jennings - the same culprit who formed that team that couldn't win for which Redmond was made the scapegoat.

Jennings' managerial experience consisted of managing high school baseball more than 30 years ago but according to Jeffrey Loria, the art-collector owner of the Marlins he was "the person" for the job.

Since taking the helm of the Marlins their record under Jennings is 0-3 and the team is slipping further into irrelevance as the "new direction" seems to be straight for the cesspool.

No doubt Jennings will be made the next scapegoat of the Marlins and I want to be in line for the position.  So this morning I wrote to Jeffrey Loria and applied for the job of manager.  My experience is actually greater than Jennings (and it spans a longer time frame) having coached 4-H league softball in the early 1970s and later adult-league softball in the late 1980s.  I certainly can't be any worse than Jennings, plus I will work for much less than he is being paid.

A copy of my letter and the resume I attached to it follow.  We'll see where this leads.  Should I be accepted for the position I will ensure that all of my friends receive tickets to whatever games you want to see.  Likely you'll be the only people in the stands by then anyway.

May 21 2015

Mr Jeffrey Loria, Owner
The Miami Marlins
501 Marlins Way
Miami, Florida  33125

Re:  Marlins Managerial Position

Dear Jeff,

After Sunday’s unceremonious firing of Marlins Manager Mike Redmond, it was stated in various media outlets that the Marlins were looking for “new direction” and a “new vision” for the team.  To accomplish that goal you hired (actually demoted) General Manager Dan Jennings to the position of team manager.  Subsequent media reports stated that Jennings was “just the man” for the position.  Curiously when you hired former manager Mike Redmond in 2012 you said the exact same words about him.

As we have seen over the last three games, any “new vision” that Jennings has brought to the team is extremely blurred and a visit to the optometrist is probably in order very soon.  Three straight losses over three nights are more of blindness than a vision.  Accordingly I predict that in the next couple of months you will once again seek a new vision and a new direction for the team and fire Jennings.  When that happens, I want the job.

Unlike Jennings whose entire managerial experience consisted of high school baseball 30 years ago, my managerial experience actually consists of two levels of ball. First I coached a 4-H league softball team in 1970 to a record of 28-1.  This was in Rice Lake, Wisconsin.  Later, in the late 1980s, at about the time Dan Jennings was gaining his managerial experience at the high school level, I managed an adult league softball team in Grand Island, Nebraska.  Although our record was 14-11 it was still better than what Dan and his new vision and direction are bringing to the Fish.

Therefore I am applying in advance for the position of manager of the Marlins.  I bring to the position 31 years of experience as a wildlife biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Despite that having nothing to do with managing baseball, it’s actually more time in one position than Jennings has had over the last 31 years.

To aid you in your decision-making I have attached a 2-page resume outlining all of my relevant experience.  As far as salary is concerned I am quite open but believe, given my level of experience (greater than the current manager) that $500,000 a year would be adequate.  If you find my experience to be of greater value we can discuss an increase.  I’d prefer this be in a five-year contract so that after you fire me I can still live well for a few years afterward as your last three casualties at the manager position are now doing.

Thank you very much for considering my application.  My email and phone numbers are on my resume.  I look forward to taking the reins of the Fish soon so I can apply my vision to furthering the downfall and irrelevance of the Marlins under your ownership.


Craig Faanes
Wildlife Biologist


Wildlife Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Arlington, Virginia        Sept 1994 – March 1 2008  
·         Managed the mapping program of the National Wetlands Inventory (
·      Provided technical support, science advising and analytical expertise in biological sciences (particularly wetlands and ornithology) to other natural resource programs of the Fish and Wildlife Service, other Federal agencies and the states.
·      Managed expenditures for the $4.7 million national appropriated budget and obtained agreements with numerous Federal state and private resources for additional funding.
·      Authored the 5-year strategy document guiding the program’s new focus and direction.
·      Provided program oversight and management of the National Wetlands Status and Trends study and resulting report to the President and the Congress.

Wildlife Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Ventura,, California           Feb. 1993 – Sept.1994
·      Managed the activities of a diverse and controversial Ecological Services Field Office including supervision of a staff of 30 and budget management. The office was responsible for protection and management of 118 endangered and threatened species of plants and animals including Sea Otter, California Condor, Desert Tortoise, Red-legged Frog and many others,  in a 10-county area of southern California
·      Oversaw habitat conservation work including reviews of wetland development permits under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, NEPA reviews, and initiation of a Coastal Resources program. 
·      Developed and implemented the first Environmental Contaminants program in the Field Office.

Wildlife Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Grand Island, Nebraska              Jan. 1987 – Feb.1993
·      Participated in the Platte River Management Joint Study involving Endangered Species Program issues in Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming related to the Platte River ecosystem.
·      Developed mathematical models applied to Whooping Crane, Piping Plover, Least Tern and forage fish habitats
·      Designed and conducted studies of Whooping Crane and Sandhill Crane habitat use of the Platte River system.
·      Worked with regional and state media in distribution of information on Platte River issues including development of a statewide endangered species public education program.

Research Wildlife Biologist – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Athens, Georgia       April 1984 – Jan 1987
  • Principal investigator for recovery research on the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler in Michigan and in winter in the West Indies

Research Wildlife Biologist – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Jamestown, North Dakota  Jan 1979 – April 1984
  • Principal ornithologist at the Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
  • Designed and conducted research to elucidate factors affecting populations of song birds and other non-hunted species in the Northern Great Plains of the United States

Wildlife Biologist – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Minneapolis, Minnesota     August 1977 – Jan 1979
  • Conducted biological assessments of lands nominated to the Fish and Wildlife Service for acquisition and inclusion into the National Wildlife Refuge system in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
Education and Training

Masters Degree – Biology (Wildlife Biology Concentration) University of Wisconsin – River Falls   
Bachelors Degree –  Earth Science and Biology.  University of Wisconsin at River Falls. 

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Upper Level Management Development Program

Law Enforcement – Eau Claire, WI (provided certification to exercise game warden arrest authority in Wisconsin)

Publications and Presentations

·     Published more than 60 peer-reviewed applied science and research papers and journal articles, books, book chapters and book reviews on conservation topics (primarily neotropical migrant birds and endangered species)
·      Published my first non-science book “Somewhere South of Miami” in 2002  “Continental Drifting,” “Minor League Heckler,”  and “Sojourn to South Africa” were published as books in 2013 and “Slices of America’s Pie” in 2014.
·      Prepared research and technical reports, non-refereed articles, Congressional testimony,  case affidavits, and other public documents
·      Delivered approximately 460 public speaking and workshop presentations

Teaching Opportunities

· - Taipei American School – Taiwan – Primary presenter at a week-long environmental education program in 1991
·      Norfolk, Virginia – Caribbean College Students Program (Presidential Training Initiative for the Island Caribbean, 3-day training) – Guest lecturer
·     1988-1991 – Central Community College, Grand Island, NE – Instructor for Beginning Bird Watching
·     Other teaching opportunities –
-          Public Outreach and Environmental Education – Fish & Wildlife Service’s Ecological Services Basic Training – Seattle   Washington
                -      Educational seminar organizer – for Nebraska & Kansas oil production companies –
                      Subject:  Ways to reduce bird mortality at oil storage areas
-          Educational seminar organizer & presenter – for Nebraska Public Power Districts –
Subject:  Ways to reduce bird mortality with power lines
-          Developer and organizer – for local Chamber of Commerce – Subject: “Wings Over the Platte.”,  a public education program about the Platte River Ecosystem

Honors and Activities

·         “Environmental Excellence Award”, Department of the Interior  (group quality award)   
                 Report to Congress on the Status and Trends of the Nation’s wetlands.
·         “Thousand Points of Light”,  President Bush’s award from the Secretary of the Interior  
·         “Outstanding Contribution Award”, Director’s award from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  
                Project to establish the Wings Over the Platte educational celebration in Grand Island Nebraska
·         Earth Day – Dan Rather’s CBS Evening News – segment on my environmental education activities 
·         Manuscript reviewer for:  The Auk, Birds of North America, Birding, Blue Jay (Saskatchewan Natural History Society) Canadian Field Naturalist, The Condor, Ecology, Journal of Field Ornithology, Florida Field-Naturalist, The Loon (Minnesota Ornithologists Union) Passenger Pigeon (Wisconsin Society for Ornithology) Prairie Naturalist (North Dakota Natural Science Society), Studies in Avian Biology, Western Birds, Journal of Wildlife Management, Wildlife Society Bulletin, Wilson Bulletin  
·         Hobbies: Birding, International travel (visited 114 countries), Civil War history, music, arts, theater

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Why Does Wisconsin Hate Minnesota?

If you grew up in the great Cheesehead state, you have likely had it ingrained in you that anything and everything from Minnesota (that usually nameless state to our west) is to be despised, denegrated, and taken out with the barn cleaning every morning.  After 63 years of life I still believe that to be a noble cause and one I will likely never put aside.

However what is the origin of this seething hatred?  This article posits that we dislike Minnesota because of an off-color comment made in a conversation between a Wisconsinite and someone from that state to our west but I just don't buy it. There is way too much animosity between us to have originated from a single flippant remark.  I can see that happening between two recently-divorced people but not between a state of great historical and natural resource prowess, and that lesser state to our west. There is something deeper and more sinister at work.

About a year ago I had a discussion with fellow native Badgers of my age group about where the loathing arose but nobody could say for certain.  One theory was that when the purple football team from that state to our west was formed they posed a "threat" to the sacred Green Bay Packers and from that the intense rivalry was born.  Again, I don't buy it.  

This morning I found the website for the Wisconsin Historical Society and as I perused its many treasures of Cheesehead history and wisdom, I looked for an answer to this issue but could not find one.  So as I have done from childhood when I can't figure something out I write letters and I penned the following to the masters of Wisconsin history themselves.  

Following is the letter I sent to the Wisconsin Historical Society. Perhaps someone there knows the answer.  I would certainly like to know the answer before I die but even if I find out I will still loathe that state and especially that bunch of clowns dressed up in purple every fall who try to pass themselves off as a football team :)

Wisconsin Historical Society
816 State Street
Madison, Wisconsin 53706


I am a native-born Badger who grew up in Barron County, received my BS and Master’s degrees from UW River Falls and who reluctantly, as a 27 year old, moved away from Wisconsin in 1979.  This afternoon when I found your Facebook page and eventually the Historical Society Press website (ordered two books) I spent a couple hours browsing the many offerings you have on the history of the great Cheesehead state.

As I looked through some of the topics, I remembered a historical “issue” to which none of my friends from that era have ever been able to find a satisfactory answer. Hence I am writing to you and asking if you could shed some light on it for me and for us.

From the time I could crawl it has been ingrained in me that if you are from Wisconsin you “hate” anything and everything to do with Minnesota.  Many states, like Michigan and Ohio, have a jovial rivalry, but the animosity that exists between Badgers and those people from the state to our west is much more palpable and much more passionate.  Where Ohio and Michigan can trace their rivalry to the Toledo War of 1835 when people from Ohio referred to Michiganders as “being slovenly like a wolverine,” there is no such incident in our history that rings a bell for why we despise Minnesota so thoroughly.  The story goes that during the 1969 legislative session a legislator from near La Crosse introduced a bill that would have imposed a $100.00 toll on any vehicle entering Wisconsin that carried a Minnesota license plate.  The intent was to keep them out of our borders.  Of course the bill didn’t pass out of committee (although it was a great idea) but that is indicative of the depth of our loathing.

A year or so ago some friends from childhood and I discussed the origins of this issue in Facebook and one of the possible answers was that when the Minnesota Vikings were established they were a “threat” to the Packers and consequently something to be vilified.  There is also the possibility that something happened in the long-standing rivalry between the University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota football teams that may have set off this disgust we feel for Minnesota.  However I don’t buy either of those arguments because 1) I had a healthy dislike for Minnesota in the 1950s before the Vikings were formed and 2) the loathing extends far beyond professional or college football teams.   

I’ve searched many sources online and done a zillion Google searches on “Why does Wisconsin hate Minnesota” but so far nothing.  Flummoxed, I’m writing to you to ask if anyone in the Wisconsin Historical Society is familiar with the origins of our guttural dislike of anything and everything Minnesota. 

Thanks much for any insights you are able to provide.  I sincerely look forward to hearing from you.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Baseball's Newest Position - the Designated Recipient

Champ Stuart of the St. Lucie Mets is my 2015 "Designated Recipient"

Every baseball season I seem to find a reason to pick out one player from one of the other Florida State League teams who, through his actions, has earned the right to extra special attention when his team plays the Bradenton Marauders.  For the last two years it was Jesus Montero from the Palm Beach Cardinals.  

The St. Lucie Mets have always held a special place in my heart ever since that Dominican kid in 2009 threw a bat at me after I assisted him with his third strike out by yelling in Spanish, "You have the penis of a small boy." There has been a hate-hate relationship with St. Lucie ever since that night and it continues to this day.

In 2010 it was the St. Lucie Mets who began heckling me causing then Marauder hitting coach Dave Howard to come over between innings and say "I've never seen anything like this - a team heckling a fan."  The Mets also heckled me, as a team, in 2013 and 2014.  It might be slightly more than coincidental that the stadium where the St. Lucie Mets play was the first stadium used by Florida State League teams from which I was forcibly removed by the authorities because of my heckling.

Last night, May 1, 2015 at the St. Lucie Mets vs Bradenton Marauders game (that the Marauders won 12-1) I was giving hitting advice to several batters and consulting with the home plate umpire on his calls when I noticed that Champ Stuart, a center fielder from Freeport in the Bahamas, led the team with 28 strikeouts.  That little nugget of information was all the incentive I needed to attempt to make Champ feel less than welcome in McKechnie Field.

Adding to Champ’s need for attention was the very real fact that the night before, also in Bradenton, he made an obscene gesture toward the entirety of the Bradenton Marauders.  Few other things can be done to ensure that an opposing player receives overt attention than using obscene gestures against my team.  

As the box score from last night shows, Champ now has 30 strikeouts for the year and I’m proud to admit that I at least contributed to distracting him and helped facilitate the two new ones.  After Champ struck out swinging for this 30th strike out of the year he apparently took umbrage with my suggestion that he should “Use a t-ball stand next time Champ.”  I thought I was offering a constructive suggestion to help his career.

Champ saw things differently and began glaring at me.  He continued to glare at me every step of the way back to the dugout.  We continued our glaring contest until Champ was at the top of the dugout steps when I blew him a kiss.   This seemed to upset him, and two innings later as he stood in the on-deck circle before his last at bat of the night, Champ stood very close to me swinging his bat with considerable speed and strength.  He hadn’t done that earlier in the night and in fact had warmed up far from me.  His action and those of two colleagues before him sent a more than subtle message that they were all wishing my head was in the way of their bat.

Before last night’s game I hadn’t really chosen a designated recipient for added attention during the 2015 season. In fact I was planning to wait until after the Palm Beach Cardinals came to town because I absolutely despise them and would have preferred to have a Cardinal be the one that received a huge ration of grief each time he comes to bat.

However Champ sealed his fate last night on several levels so for the 2015 season Champ Stuart will be my official designated recipient of mountains of invective each time the St. Lucie Mets come to town.  Like any other opposing player he could have avoided this attention by simply ignoring me but he chose differently. 

The minor leagues are for learning and for player development.  Maybe after the 2015 season Champ will learn that closing his ears and looking the other way is the best policy when he plays against Bradenton.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The History of My 40 Jimmy Buffett Concerts

The stage in Tampa on April 18 2015 before all the craziness began.

Life on Grand Turk Island in the British West Indies was as close to normal as humanly possible until one night in January 1986 when Gerry Benny walked in the door of Frenchy’s Restaurant on Front Street in Cockburn Town. 

Gerry was a crazed and often inebriated Toronto banker who had been hired by a group of people (including Gordon Lightfoot), who owned a condo development on Grand Turk.  The terms of his employment were made very clear. He was to watch over the condos and make sure that people who came to stay there had a good time. Gerry Benny had a Ph.D in having a good time. 

He told me one day that as long as he lived on Grand Turk island the only music he would listen to was Jimmy Buffett music.  The only food he would eat was food mentioned in songs sung by Jimmy Buffett and the only entertainment he wanted to take part in was anything Buffett sang about.  Often, it seemed, his entertainment was taken directly out of a verse in a Buffett song.  Who could ever forget the night after the three female Canadian doctors arrived on the island and Gerry threw a party in their honor.  The theme of the party was from the song Gypsies in the Palace and right on cue, as required by the song, at 3 o’clock in the morning when Jimmy sang “Let’s all take our clothes off and form a conga line,” all 20 or so of us did just and then later jumped in the pool to cool off.

Several months after I moved from Grand Turk back to the mainland there came a knock on my door at 9:00 in the evening.  It was June 10, 1986, and the person knocking on my door was Gerry Benny.  He had flown, unannounced, from Grand Turk to Atlanta and then driven to Athens to find me.  Shocked to see him I asked what he was doing in Georgia.  “I’m going to the Jimmy Buffett concert tomorrow night in Atlanta and you’re coming along” he proclaimed.

Gerry didn’t have tickets to the show but that didn’t temper his enthusiasm.  After way too many beers and after my fourth phone call to Pan Am Airlines’ 800 number during which I allegedly demanded that Pan Am stop off in Athens and pick me and Gerry up and take us back to Grand Turk, Gerry called a friend in the Canadian embassy in Moscow, Russia.  He explained our dilemma to his friend who said he’d take care of it.  Several hours later my phone rang and the Canadian embassy in Moscow was calling.  Gerry’s friend instructed us to be at a certain intersection in Atlanta at 6:00 p.m. the following night and there we would meet a contact of his who had tickets for us.  At 6:00 p.m. on June 11, 1986 we drove to that location and a guy got out of his car and handed Gerry the tickets and we sped off to Chastain Park in the heavily yuppified Buckhead area of Atlanta.

I was expecting a scene like Key West Florida when we arrived however we were surrounded by yuppies in the epicenter of the yuppie community in the South and there was no way the place was going to look like Key West.  My first indication was the people sitting at tables in Chastain Park where their dinner had been catered by local yuppie catering companies.  Candelabra adorned some of the tables and table cloths hung from all of them.  Gallons of fine French wine flowed like nectar and pounds of obscenely expensive foie gras was spread across yuppified tongues.  Others had beluga caviar and the entire scene made me want to up chuck the cheeseburger and beer I’d had for dinner.  The last thing I ever expected at a Jimmy Buffett concert was this sort of pretentiousness.

After watching the yuppie parade for half an hour Jimmy Buffett finally took the stage.  Standing before us still with a full head of hair, Jimmy looked out across the audience and said “Looking at you people I’ll bet there are a lot of BMW keys in the audience.”

The yuppies all clapped their hands in unison but only after ensuring that the foie gras remained foied as they did so.

When the applause died down Jimmy replied saying “Well Fuck You!!! I drive a Ford Falcon!!!!!”

Chastain Park erupted, the music began, and 2 ½ hours later the concert ended with him playing “One Particular Harbour.”  Had there been any doubt beforehand I was hooked. 

There have been 39 more Buffett concerts after that first one in Chastain Park long ago and last night in Tampa, April 18, 2016, I enjoyed my 40th Jimmy Buffett concert.

There is nothing pretentious about the Parrotheads at a Jimmy Buffett concert in Tampa

Venues have extended from The Shell on Waikiki Beach, Honolulu east to Great Woods near Boston and south to the American Airlines Arena in the bowels of downtown Miami. Having lived 14 years in Washington DC my most frequently visited venue was Nissan Amphitheater near Bartow, about 30 miles west of DC. There were also several venues in Raleigh North Carolina that I visited more than once. 

The record for back-to-back concerts was set in Denver when I went to five concerts five nights in a row at Red Rocks Amphitheater.  The set list was the same each night and the stories were the same each night and everything was a repeat of the night before but nobody cared. It was a Jimmy Buffett concert and we were all in the presence of greatness and for 2 ½ hours we all got to play in a giant adult sandbox and pretend we were kids again.

She's growing older but not up.

Something memorable has occurred at every concert like in Fort Lauderdale in April 1992 when Jimmy held a benefit show to kick off an effort to protect the West Indian manatee.  Through some extremely good luck, and because we knew Jimmy’s business manager at the time, my friend Jon Andrew and I were given back stage passes to hang out with Jimmy before the show.  Sunshine Smith accompanied us into the concert area where we saw Jimmy on stage tuning his guitar.  Sunshine walked up and interrupted Jimmy telling him “You’re ornithologist is here.”  Jimmy put down his guitar, walked up to us (both Jon and I were dressed in appropriate Parrothead regalia), stuck out his hand and said “Hi, I’m Jimmy Buffett.”

Totally awestruck I shook his hand and said “Jimmy this is the first time in my life I’ve ever been speechless.”

“Speechless,” he said.  “The way you write letters how in hell can you be speechless?” He then added, “Let’s go have a beer.”  He led us backstage where he opened a bottle of Corona for each of us (I still have my bottle) and He and Jon and I sat around for half an hour talking about environmental issues, and traveling in the West Indies and bone fishing in the Bahamas. The nicest thing about it all was that despite his fame, talking to Jimmy Buffett was like talking to anyone you’d meet in the parking lot before any concert you’ll ever attend.  He was nothing at all like the pretentious foie gras eaters at Chastain Park six years earlier.

A small segment of the 30,000 or so Parrotheads dancing to "Fins" last night at the Buffett concert in Tampa

Then there was the concert in Raleigh where I was told I couldn’t dance in the aisles because it was a safety hazard and I told the rent-a-cop, “This is a Jimmy Buffett concert and I’m going to dance.  Now either join me or get the hell out of the way!”  At another concert in Raleigh he opened the show with Fins but not before a large balloon shaped like a huge shark rose up from the floor (with the theme song to Jaws playing in the background) and when the shark was fully extended Jimmy leaped out from inside it and started to play.

Even though I was able to be backstage with him and drink a beer (actually 2 beers) with him in Fort Lauderdale, and even though he verbally attacked then House Speaker Newt Gingrich for his obscene environmental policies at the 1996 show in Washington DC, and even though a year later at the same venue a tornado roared by a mile away as Jimmy kept playing, my most memorable concert was at The Shell in Honolulu.  Part of the uniqueness of this show was the location – it was a perfect spot for a Buffett concert because 1) it was on an island, 2) in the tropics, 3) at the base of a volcano (Diamond Head), 4) on a stage fringed with palm trees from which 5) parrots and parakeets regularly flew.  It was 6) near a beach (Waikiki) and offshore there were 7) great white sharks.  That was all great but the best part of it was I went to this concert with my youngest daughter Dana.  For 2 ½ hours she got to watch her dad be a kid and not a dad, and the show ended with One Particular Harbour, and I hated seeing the entire night come to an end.

I used to keep lists of the songs he performed at each concert and did so until I discovered a database of them on where someone else summarizes the songs and I don’t have to worry about writing them down.  Suffice it to say that without fail he plays what he calls “The Big 8” at every show.  This includes Margaritaville, Changes in Latitudes, Fins, Come Monday (his first top 40 song), A Pirate Looks at 40, Volcano, Cheeseburger in Paradise, and One Particular Harbour.

Last night in Tampa was no different and we were all able to enjoy the Big 8.  But last night we also enjoyed classics (“real” Buffett music as some purists would call it) that aren’t played very often in concerts – songs like Floridays (he did the raggae version from the movie "Hoot" not the original version that you can hear here, My Head Hurts My Feet Stink and I Don’t Love Jesus, He Went to Paris, Havana Daydreamin’, Growing Older But Not Up, and Tin Cup Chalice (probably my least liked of all his songs) among several others.

Buffett is now 68 years old and you can tell he is slowing down a little bit but at 63 years old so am I! Every year he reminds us that he’s not going to quit any time soon and I hope he doesn’t.  In 2010 at the Tampa show I remember seeing an 80-something year old grandma being pushed in her wheel chair toward the entrance gates.  As she was being pushed along she was toking on a joint as she sang Margaritaville.  I watched her as she got wasted away and told myself that when I’m in my 80s that was how I wanted to act at the Buffett concerts I attend. 

If I keep going to at least one concert a year between now and then I’ll be at my 60th show by the time I am the same age as that grandma.  When I reach that goal I’ll just change it to wanting to see him 100 times. Until I reach that 100th Buffett concert I think I'll just keep living my life according to that important verse in Growing Older But Not Up that goes:

"I'm growing older but not up, my metabolic rate is pleasantly stuck. Let those winds of time blow over my head, I'd rather die while I'm living than live while I'm dead."  And I will.

Fins Left.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Living Out a Childhood Fantasy in the Yukon Territory

With trumpets blaring and horse hooves flying, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon adorned the screen of our tiny black and white television set between my fourth and seventh year.  "On, King! On, you huskies!" shouted Sergeant Preston of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police as he set out to enforce the law across the frozen Yukon at the turn of the century. His sled team was led by a malamute dog named Yukon King, who was indispensable to Preston in his patrol of the vast Canadian northwest.  In the summer months it was his horse Rex that guided the Sergeant though mountain valleys and over roaring rivers in his pursuit of justice.

The show would air every Saturday morning and without fail I was glued to the television crippled by wild anticipation of the next adventure to befall my hero Sergeant Preston.  The story line was simple and the plot even more so but when you’re only five years old all of it seemed real.  Although the outdoor scenes were largely filmed near Ashcroft, Colorado, to my budding traveler mind they were 50 miles from the nearest road in the Yukon. Seventy-eight episodes of the show were presented during its three year run between 1955 and 1958.  Without fail at the end of each show my atlas would fly open and I would search the maps trying to find Dawson Creek or Whitehorse or some microscopic village in the middle of the vast Yukon wilderness.

His stories of high adventure in the wilds of Canada started my pre-pubescent brain churning as I fantasized about living off the land in the Yukon Territory just like my idol.

Six years after the show ended its short run on television my family traveled to Ontario on a quick fishing trip.  To get there required passing through Canadian Customs and Immigration in Fort Frances.  As we pulled up to the office I saw a police officer standing outside the building.  He was dressed in a red coat with a Smokey the Bear hat.  His pants were coal black and he wore tall leather boots.  To my now-12 year old eyes he looked exactly like Sergeant Preston did when he was on television, right down to the same cut of a moustache.  At the time I didn’t understand about cancelling television shows and for the life of me I couldn’t grasp why my most favorite Saturday morning program was no longer available even six years after its last episode.

Yet here on the banks of the Rainy River just over the border in Canada stood someone I was instantly convinced was him.  As the Customs agent interrogated my dad I leaped out of our car and walked up to this guy in the red coat.  He greeted me and I said, “Are you Sergeant Preston?”  He wasn’t.  I then asked “Do you have a dog named Yukon King?” He didn’t. Finally in desperation I asked, “Do you ride on a horse?”  He didn’t do that either.  Sensing my dejection this Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer explained to me that although he seemed real there really was no Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.  It was all just a television show and hearing this made me feel like I was being told again that Santa Claus is a sham!

The officer told me that although Sergeant Preston didn’t exist, the Yukon Territory where he was supposed to live really did exist.  It was way far north in Canada, along the border with Alaska and, as the officer said, “Maybe someday you can go there.”

Twenty-four years later I was in Alaska doing field work for an effort to determine the potential for bird mortality from a huge and totally unnecessary radar system that the US Air Force was hell bent on building.  I had flown to Fairbanks to meet a colleague and together we drove down the Alaska Highway to Delta Junction then continued on toward Tetlin where we had a late lunch.  As we each devoured a caribou burger Skip asked if I had ever been to the Yukon Territory.  “It’s just a few miles down the road if you are interested.”

Interested?  I had been obsessed with the place since I was five years old. 

Towing a huge boat behind our US Fish and Wildlife Service vehicle we sped past the US Customs and Immigration post at Alcan, Alaska and crossed over the border near Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory. Unfortunately that was all we did.  Crossed over.  And I mean just barely crossed over.  We drove to a sign that said “Welcome to Yukon - Larger Than Life” then turned around in the middle of the road and scurried back to Tetlin Junction.  Although I had technically been in the Yukon Territory I had seen nothing of it other than spruce trees that looked exactly the same as those on the Alaska side of the border.  No way could I see Sergeant Preston, his wonder dog King or his horse Rex.  I had been there but little else.  I needed to go back.

On July 31, 2015, while the Norwegian Sun cruise ship is docked in Skagway, Alaska, Cathy and I are renting a car from AVIS and driving to the Yukon for the day.  This time I'm going to do more than just drive over the border and turn turn around.  I won't be in a dog sled and I won't be on the back of a horse named Rex but I will be there and maybe, just maybe, I'll meet a modern-day Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer whose real last name is Preston. 

Would that be cool or what?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

I Could Live on Roatan

As a child when I would get upset with my parents I would defiantly tell my mother "I run away!"  Then I would walk out the front door and hide under the porch until it was apparent that nobody was going to come find me and I would walk back in the house in time for dinner.  The next time I ran away from home was in June 1984.  I wasn’t so much running away from home as I was running away to home.

In the aftermath of an acrimonious and unwanted divorce I needed to change my attitude and I did so by changing my latitude.  Rather than stay in North Dakota that I thoroughly loved, I switched jobs and ran off to the Bahamas.  The first time I saw an island other than one I camped on in Voyageurs National Park on the Canadian border in June 1973,  was on June 4, 1984, as I peered out the window of a gigantic Delta Airlines L-1011 on its final approach to the Nassau airport in the Bahamas.

I went to Nassau to meet government officials before beginning a research effort on an endangered species of bird that nests in Michigan and spends its winters in the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.  The bird’s population was not increasing despite our best thought out management efforts and as was common at the time many people were convinced the key to the species survival was on its winter range.  This came at a time of heightened awareness (finally) about the plight of tropical rainforests and even though there are no rainforests in the Bahamas, pointing our biological fingers at the tropics and winter habitats was not only sexy but vogue and off I went to the Bahamas.

Our plan was to spend the winter traveling the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands looking for Kirtland’s Warbler.  Many short term efforts in the past resulted in one or two random sightings in far flung reaches of the archipelago.  We would search one island for a few days and then move on to another island and continue that process until we discovered where most of the 500 or so remaining warblers spent the winter. Then we would focus on them on that island and learn everything we needed to know about Kirtland’s Warbler in the winter and ultimately save the species from extinction.

The best laid plans of biologists aren’t always the plans that work out and after spending the first winter traveling from the northern tip of Little Abaco island to the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic on the north shore of Hispaniola we discovered an amazing 10 different birds and we learned a great deal about them in the fleeting observations we made of nine of those 10 birds.  As we traveled the islands I kept track of which ones I had visited and by the end of the first winter I had been on 12 of the 700 or so islands in the Bahamas and two of the seven in the Turks and Caicos Island.  I’d also visited my first Spanish-speaking county other than Mexico and came within inches of needing to learn how to parlez vous francais if I ever wanted to go to Haiti.

The travel was actually more exciting than finding 10 Kirtland’s Warblers (nine more than anyone else had ever found in a winter).  I saw many new species of birds on those islands and experienced enough adventures on those islands to help me understand that although I grew up in northern Wisconsin and lived most recently in North Dakota, it just might be that the islands of the West Indies were where my home should be. 

We returned a second winter and I focused my attention on Grand Turk island where the year before we found four Kirtland’s warblers in an area near the airport that has now been set aside as a National Park (because of the birds).  During that second winter I started fantasizing about other islands in the islands and there certainly were many of them.   My home on Grand Turk was a house on Governor’s Beach that was very close to an abandoned US Air Force base known locally as “South Base.”  On South Base the Federal Aviation Administration maintained a navigational beacon to assist pilots flying to San Juan and beyond in the Caribbean.  The signal from that beacon was so strong that by simply turning on my radio I could sit in my home and listen to air traffic controllers in Miami directing Pan Am flights from Miami to Barbados as they sped through the giant air routes overhead.

I heard them say “Pan Am 386, turn right on heading 160 and switch to frequency 28 for San Juan control.  San Juan will guide you to Barbados” every day about noon. Somewhere up there 35,000 feet over my head, a Pan American Airways 727 was streaking along at 500 miles an hour bound for Bridgetown, Barbados.  I fantasized about what Barbados looked like.  At the time about the only thing I knew about Barbados was contained in Jimmy Buffett’s song “Presents to Send You” where he sings “Yeah I thought I might sail down to Bridgetown. Spend some time in the Barbados sun. But my plans took a skid when I smoked a whole lid. Wound up where I began.” 

Another Pan Am flight would pass over Grand Turk on its way to Fort-de-France, Martinique.  Mention of Martinique reminded me of another Buffett song called “Migration” that contains a verse that quickly became my life’s goal.  It goes, “Now if I ever live to be an old man I’m going to sail down to Martinique. Gonna buy me a sweat stained Bogart suit and an African parakeet. Well then I’ll stick him on my shoulder and open up my crusty old mind. I’m gonna teach him how to cuss and teach him how to fuss and pull the cork out of a bottle of wine.”

A Caribbean travel book I bought in the Miami airport once told me that Barbados was flat as a pancake but that Martinique was rather mountainous.  Both had a reef that surrounded the island and the people on Martinique spoke French. There was one species of bird that lived nowhere else on earth but Martinique and Barbados was as far away from my pain as I could possibly have hoped for in those days.

Tropical forests such as this one on Roatan typically drip with birds and especially in winter when millions of North American nesting songbirds funnel south to escape the relentless cold.

Along with the birds I was seeing I made it a goal to personally view every bird species in the West Indies that occurs on a single island or in a single nation.  To do so would require me to travel from San Andres off the coast of Nicaragua to Barbuda to Grenada, the island of spices just north of the coast of South America.  I needed to travel to at least 16 islands in 15 nations if I wanted to see them all and in doing so I would see more islands than I ever dreamed possible.

First there was a trip to the Dominican Republic and then one to Haiti and after it I went to Puerto Rico.  A stroke of luck in the Klamath Falls, Oregon, airport just before Thanksgiving one year resulted with me receiving a voucher for $700 off a future trip on American Airlines and with that voucher I called the airline and asked how much it would cost to fly to Guadeloupe and then Dominica and to return home from Martinique.  American said the total cost would be $699 and a month later I was on a plane to those islands with a dollar left over from American’s good will.  Later some strings were pulled and some politics played and soon I had permission from the US Department of the Treasury to travel legally to Cuba and after that I went to the Cayman Islands on a day trip and then to Jamaica and soon to Barbados and St. Lucia and St. Vincent and Grenada.  It wasn’t long before my goal of seeing all of those endemic birds was close to being realized.

As I closed in on my goal I also realized that I was absolutely enthralled with the islands of the islands and as of today I am one species shy of having seen them all.  The missing culprit still lives (hopefully at least) in one wetland in central Cuba and as soon as I get back to the island I want to search for it again.

Jimmy Buffett says in another classic song “Through all of the islands and all of the highlands, if we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.”  At one point after my divorce I was convinced that I would go insane but then I learned how to laugh and it all went away.  All of that laughing occurred through all of the islands and all of their highlands and lowlands and as of before my trip to Roatan I had visited 75 islands in the islands.  Much of the exploration was for birds and much was for self-improvement and unknown to me at the time much of it also was directed at finding the perfect island.  It would be the place where I could hang out a shingle saying “Gone coconut hunting” and never look back.

Through all of those islands I definitely had my favorites.  Dominica with its volcanic black sand beaches was right near the top and so was Tobago with its snow-white beaches.  The tourism board for Anguilla in the Windward Islands markets the island as “tranquility wrapped in blue” and once you have been there you realize that there is no finer marketing motto for the country than the one they have chosen.  Cayman Brac in the Cayman Islands also ranked right up there among the favorites for many reasons most importantly its isolation and that fact that condominium developers have for some unexplainable reason not found and defiled Cayman Brac.

I wish I was there right now

I was convinced after 31 years of island-hopping that anyone of those four island could easily be “the one” if I ever had to pick among them for the ultimate escape.  Then one day the Carnival Pride slipped into Mahogany Bay harbour on Roatan, one of the Bay Islands of Honduras, and my entire outlook on what island was best had to be completely re-examined.

From the moment I first saw it off the starboard rail on deck 5 I loved Roatan.  Even before touching its soil I could tell it was for me. Long and sinuous like Anguilla but with tropical rainforest that dripped with birds and wallowed in uniqueness and just begged me to explore it.  Then there was the impeccably clean roads, the lack of rampant deforestation, the almost total lack of condo commandos raping the countryside for personal gain and then there were the reefs.  My partner is a diver and she has convinced me to learn how to SCUBA which is next on my list of priority actions I need to take to keep my partner happy with me.  She returned from her dives on the north shore of the island and said that among the 80 dives she had made in her life the two best were the first and second dives she made that day off Roatan.

My first Honduran sunrise in 20 years was this one on the coast of Roatan on February 26, 2015.  Given that I don't have 20 more years left I need to return there sooner rather than later.  Tomorrow wouldn't be soon enough.

I spent a day walking around Roatan talking to the locals and getting a feel for the place.  One particular annoying tout refused to take the hint and leave me alone as I explained to him that I wasn’t interested in a ferry ride to La Ceiba, and I didn’t want to go parasailing, and the last thing I was interested in was paying him $100 for an hour of sex with his sixteen year old sister who, miraculously, was apparently still a virgin.  What I wanted to do was be alone and soak in his island.  Eventually he took my increasingly loud and forceful hints and apologized saying “I’m sorry for the harassment but this is how we have to make a living here.”  A sad reality of the islands.

Roatan, the largest of the Bay Islands, lies just a stones throw off the coast of Honduras.  Jimmy Buffett once said that his fictional Margaritaville was "anywhere you want it to be."  On my first trip to Honduras I thought I found mine about a mile down the coast from Tela.  Now I wonder if I wasn't about 50 miles too far south.

Honduras is one of the poorest of several very poor countries in Central America. It’s annual per capita income in 2013 was slightly more than $4,848 which is considerably less than I make after taxes in one month from my retirement account.  Not far away from Honduras in resource rich Costa Rica the per capita income is about $8,923 annually or almost twice that of Honduras.  Despite the abysmal economic picture in Honduras the country and especially the Bay Islands have become Mecca for retired Americans, Canadians, and Europeans seeking a cheap place to extend the benefits of their annuities.  A look at Roatan real estate shows that houses in the $250,000 range are common and some sell for as much as $1 million.  A one-quarter million dollar house owned by some gringo represents the sum of the per capita income of 60 Hondurans.  Clearly the economic divide here is abundantly obvious.  Yet you can’t tell that by talking to Hondurans.

Those I met that day except for the sister-selling tout were very proud of their Honduran heritage, fiercely protective of their island, and oh-so-happy to not be living on the mainland.

Humberto, a server in a beachside bar where I stopped for lunch and a bottle of Salva Vida, explained why he lived on Roatan.  “I come from Tegucigalpa originally.  My family comes to Rotan for a one week vacation and then extended it to two weeks and then three weeks and here we are 12 years later still extending our vacation one year at a time.”

My previous experiences with Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras, were reinforced by what Humberto said next.

“Here in Roatan it is safer, cleaner, more things to do and the women are hotter.  As far as I’m concerned there is no reason to ever go back to the mainland.”

Humberto was surprised that I had been to Honduras four times earlier, each trip to the mainland, but he understood more clearly when I talked about birds and about Jimmy Buffett.

I asked why Honduras and especially San Pedro Sula had become so dangerous it took him less than a nanosecond to say “drug dealers.” 

It’s a very sad reality that many law enforcement authorities now rank San Pedro Sula as the most dangerous city in the world.  Its murder rate of 40 per 100,000 residents exceeds any other city in Central and South America and the level of drug-related violence is almost impossible to quantify.  No longer are perennial favorites like Sa’ana, Yemen or Kabul Afghanistan or Karachi Pakistan or even Kingston Jamaica the most dangerous places on earth. Now that honor goes to formerly laid back San Pedro Sula, Honduras and it’s all because of drugs.

Sometimes I wonder if the answer to all of this craziness is just to give up and give in and call the failed “War on Drugs” the failure that it is and start over.  The United States alone has spent hundreds of billions of dollars fighting a “war” on drugs that has been won from the start and continues to be won today by the people we are at war with.  If drugs were legalized and they were sold and taxed by governments there would no longer be a need to spend billions on the DEA and no longer a reason for families to be torn apart by drug violence.  And very likely there would no longer be a reason for San Pedro Sula to be the most dangerous city in the world.  However I’m not president and I never will be and legalizing drugs no matter how smart it is would never fly with the religious fanatics who control the media and control the message.

Mahogany Bay on Roatan is one of the most beautiful places I have seen in the West Indies. Who wouldn't want to be there right now?

As we boarded the ship to leave Roatan it was firmly planted in my brain that the 76th island I have visited in the islands is number 1 in my mind.   There are so many things about it that putting them all down on paper would be time consuming and probably cost at least two trees their lives.  Suffice it to say that I could very easily live there for any number of reasons and I could live there tomorrow if I could.  Now I’m going to run down to the local 7-11 and buy five lottery tickets and if I win I’m on the next plane headed south and I’m only buying a one-way ticket.