Trippin'  USA 2022

What a long strange trip it was. Well, actually it wasn’t that long, only a month, July 20 to August 20, and not that strange, only glitchy and trying. For instance: after twenty-four hours in transit from Phnom Penh I was at LA International on my way to Portland. I passed through security but as I was walking along a corridor to ‘All Gates’ I came across a big doorway that said ‘Exit Only’ and on a wall on the other side it said ‘All Gates’. All Gates? So I went through and discovered I had to go through security again… being a big city, the airport was really crowded and confusing. So my advice is to avoid transiting LA or any other giant airport. Anyway, that’s what the trip was like.

The plan was to spend about 3 weeks in Oregon, mostly Portland where two of my three children, all of my five grandchildren and a great grandson live, not to mention a lifetime of friends, but then also Eugene and Klamath Falls to visit friends and then to Chicago to visit another friend, maybe Cleveland, where I was born and raised, then Minneapolis where a reunion with siblings and my eldest daughter was going to take place. From there I’d planned to spend a week in Hawaii’s big island at my daughter’s place, but like many parts of the trip that didn’t work out quite as I’d planned it.

All of the interior travel was intended to take place on Amtrak, but then, by the time my late month pension came through all the trains I needed were booked solid so I wound up flying instead, except for three train rides in Oregon and a nostalgia hitchhike.

All in all, I was on ten individual flights in this trip, four train rides – including the train from Kampot to Phnom Penh - one 220 mile (350km) hitch and one bus ride from PP back to Kampot.

There is absolutely nothing pleasant or enjoyable about flying, except maybe getting to look out the window from far above. It’s noisy, cramped and uncomfortable and the crap you have to go through just to get on the plane is a godawful experience. Twice my crotch was tagged as suspect, maybe it was the tiny metal clamp that was used in my vasectomy to close my vas deferens that triggered the scanner, and twice I got felt up. If it happened again I was prepared to threaten to drop my pants to avoid the indignity. I wouldn’t have gone through with it, but you know what I mean.

Contrast that with Amtrak which is a very pleasant ride: smooth, quiet, big seats, ample leg room and of course you’re free to move around. You are also relieved of excessive security, just show your ID and get on. It’s just really slow, not just compared to air travel, but also on its own level, because the main west coast line has only a single track (at least in Oregon) which means whenever two trains meet one has to pull off into a siding and wait for the other to pass. It would still be slow, but a lot faster and at least you’d be moving.

Portland is a fine city where I spent 20 years of my life. It’s exceptionally green, clean, comfortable, orderly and well done in the sense that it works, but everybody was talking about how far downhill it had gone. They seemed to be talking about the messy visuals of having lots of homeless around, alluding to danger, but I didn’t see it or feel it. Sure lots of homeless have mental issues, but plenty are where I would be if I lived there, trying to survive on my less than $800 pension. That might be enough to make it with food stamps and other benefits, but it would be a difficult life of penury and hardship.

The homeless are a societal problem first. They can’t be blamed for a system that that provides no housing for low income people. The elite are doing fabulously well, but somehow we don’t have wherewithal to guarantee shelter for people with issues or limited means.

It was fine being there, I enjoyed it… not saying I’d ever want to live there again… but I did even think I should go back every couple years, you know, the family and friends thing. Aside from the minor tasks of picking up odds and ends, my only real purpose for the trip was making those contacts.

I alternated between two friends on either side of town, so having stuff in two places was a recipe for forgetting things. I had no car to drive and drew a blank when it came to borrowing a bicycle for short trips. Two friends had fine old bicycles they offered me that they hadn’t used in years, but both had flat tires and the one place I went to get one fixed wanted $22! So I spent lots of time walking and waiting for buses.

It was cold, by my standards, when I first got to Portland: mid sixties Fahrenheit (18, 19 C) and people were saying it’s finally warmed up. After living in a place where it only goes below 70 (21C) a few times a year that really feels chill.

Soon after that it really did warm up and hit the mid nineties and up (35 to 38C) for a week and everybody was freaking, changing plans and all… too hot to do this, too hot to do that. Meanwhile I was just getting comfortable. It was very dry, even walking in the heat of the day I could hardly work up a sweat so it was a lot easier than Cambodia which typically has much higher humidity, though we do have a season of low humidity from December to February.

Since I wasn’t going to be doing any long distance train rides and flying from Portland to Chicago instead, I had two extra days in Oregon.

I could visit friends in Eugene and Klamath Falls in a loop back to Portland carrying only a day pack. That made the option of hitching much easier.

I’m going to split this narrative up into parts to make it easier to read.

Amtraking it to Eugene and Klamath Falls

 

After 11 days in Portland I took a leisurely train ride to Eugene. The 110 mile journey took three hours even though they move at 80 miles an hour on a straightaway. In this case it took quite a while to get out of the congested metro Portland area and those single tracks again slowed things down. A lot of money from Biden’s infrastructure plan is slated to go to Amtrak, hopefully double tracking is part of the improvements, that should easily take an hour off of travel time.

Spent a couple nights with a friend from Cambodia. One of my plans in the town was to visit the mother of one of my daughters who I hadn’t seen in 50 years… long story… that’s the way life unfolds sometimes, you just have to go along for the ride. When I told my friend where it was, he said it’s only a couple of blocks away. Turns out it was more like 15 or 20 and I added significantly to that by getting lost both directions. So my friend says when you leave the house make a right, so of course I made a left and wandered around for 10 or 15 minutes till I got my bearings. Mind you, I was out in the early afternoon on a day with the temperature up in the high nineties – 36 or 37C. Had a very nice visit, was great to make contact after all those years.

Meanwhile, I hadn’t taken note of the street names right off when I went, so I wasn’t sure how to get back. I knew it had to be close when I got off the main road, but wandered around for 15 or 20 minutes (twenty minutes of walking is at least a mile) until I finally found someone outside; he was watering his garden. Not many people are out at close to 100 degrees. At first I asked to use his phone and then realized I didn’t have my friend’s number. Just then another guy pulled out of his driveway and the first guy says, Lets ask him, he knows everybody… Do you know B? Yes, he’s two doors down… typical of my trip.

About that phone. I brought my retro Nokia with me with the idea of getting a sim card for it. A friend took me to a shop that repairs phones and the guy said they don’t make large sim cards like my phone uses anymore, but I later realized that’s not true at all. A friend recently brought me a USB modem from the states which definitely uses a large sim card. Soon after that I went looking for a burner phone, one you use for a short time and discard, but the cheapest one I could find was $40 and I didn’t think it was worth it for just 3 weeks. The time mentioned above where not having a phone caused disconnections was repeated a couple other times. My only means of connecting was through Messenger and my access to computers was limited to when my friends weren’t using theirs. In the end I managed all right, in spite of being phoneless.

The whole phone thing is far simpler in Cambodia. Here you pick out the phone you want – all are available - the cheapest retro Nokia is about $15. Then you pay $1 for a sim card from the provider of your choice, there are currently 4 or 5 serving Cambodia. Finally you purchase a pre-paid card for as little as a dollar and you’re in business.

After two very pleasant days in Eugene I took another train ride to Klamath Falls on the dry side of the mountains in the far south of Oregon. The 220 mile (350km) trip took more than the scheduled 5 hours because a freight train got sick and blocked the track for a half hour. There’s also no way, without a great investment, of getting a train through the Cascade Range quickly, it’s difficult to build a straight track in the mountains. It was still a great ride, I’ve always loved trains. They’re smooth, quiet, have big comfortable seats and of course you can move around easily.

Spent a couple days with a friend from my recycling days and his partner. I always try to include them in my travels back there. He, like a lot of my friends in America, is full of ailments, not surprising since we’re all kinda ancient. Still it’s hard to see friends deteriorate. Got out in the woods for a couple hours, only time in the trip, though Portland has some fine natural forest parks with easy access. I just had too many places to go and people to meet.

Time to head back to Portland for couple days before my flight to Chicago. I really wanted to hitch in spite of the glitches and fumbles I’d already been through on the trip. I did a lot of hitching in my younger days, somewhere between 60,000 and 70,000 miles from 1968 to 1980. I was all around the states, but mostly in the west. Half of that was without money, and I was out in all seasons including the dead of winter. There were, admittedly, a couple of close calls.(You can pick up my book, A Hitchhikers Tao, as an e-book online) In 2004 and 2005 in my sixties I did 1500 mile nostalgia trips.

I love the freedom, serendipity, adventure of hitching. I briefly thought of hitching long distance on this trip, but fun and interesting as it might be, it’s also a challenge and a chore. It’s great, but at 81 I really didn’t think I was up for it. At the same time I know I can get anywhere I need to anytime I need to if it comes down to it. I regularly get Armageddon dreams where I’m on the run so hitching is good practice.

Klamath Falls to Portland was my perfect opportunity. All within Oregon where it’s legal to hitch on the freeways and not very far, so, easy to do in one day. And just the whole attitude of the place. For instance, Oregon decriminalized cannabis in 1973, from then until it was made completely legal recently it was like a traffic ticket with a $50 fine for less than an ounce or 28 grams.

So I had to do it. I really had to renew my hitching creds.

I really enjoyed it though it turned out to be a test of will and stamina and even a test of faith since my friend’s part of Oregon is trump country. Ever since the first time I did a serious hitch people have cautioned against it… it’s dangerous, nobody picks up hitchhikers anymore, etc. And yet this time was not a bit different than anytime in the past. I waited two hours for the first ride, but later on only waited a few minutes for another ride.

My friend gave me a ride to the edge of town in a decent place to hitch. It was an intersection with lots of room to pull off.

At 81, I’m Maybe/Probably the World’s Oldest Hitchhiker.

 

Ever since I learned of the freedom hitching meant and besides had no other means of travel, I embraced it and turned it into an art form. Not saying I was the only one out there or the boldest or most extreme, I’ve met some extreme hitchers in my day… but that also might/could very well be true since I went for weeks at a time in all seasons without a penny in my pocket for food or shelter. I always got taken care of and had no bad experiences with the people who picked me up.

Only saying I had a terrible itch to hitch on this trip.

My K Falls friend drove me a few miles north of town in the direction I was going and let me off at a good place to hitch. It was an intersection which drivers naturally tend to slow down for with plenty of room to turn off. I waited there for about a half hour, but I tend to get restless just standing in place and I like to walk and see more of the countryside in slow motion so I started walking. It’s much harder to pull over for a hitcher when you’re going fast, especially if you’re in a line of cars, but I just had to move.

After a few miles, maybe an hour of walking, there was an emergency sign board next to the road which had a place where I could sit for bit. It was a very bad place to hitch since it was hard for a vehicle going fast to see me amongst the machinery, but I just had to rest. It was already hot at 10 o’clock. Finally at 10.30 two hours after I started a native American guy stopped for me. He had actually passed me by but didn’t see me until too late and doubled back to pick me up. I was already beginning to lose my faith. I mean, I had no doubt I’d get picked up.. eventually… but twice in my 70,000 miles on the road I had to wait a day and a half for a ride. Both times were in Oregon in a trumpy kind of place in the eastern part of the state… so you never know.

Getting a ride picks up your mood instantly, makes you question why you questioned your faith. He had a cooler in the front seat so asked me to put it in the back so I could sit down. I took my pack, placed it on the roof temporarily, moved the cooler and hopped in. A few seconds after we started he said, Hey it looks like something fell on the road. I look back, SHIT, it’s my pack! So he stops and I run back, but before I could get to it, it got run over. The pack was torn up, a few things got smashed including my legally purchased marijuana, and a book I was reading got tortured, but nonetheless remained intact enough for me to finish. Haha, a fitting start to my trip, I was still laughing about the absurdity of it more than 10 minutes later.

At least I’m on my way. He was a cool older guy who raised 7 kids, all successful. He was still working over age 70, but was soon to retire. He let me off at his tribe’s casino. That cash infusion sure seems to have made a difference in their lives. I waited about a half hour or so and another Amarind picked me up. He was only going a few miles but said there was a day use park farther up he road where I could relax a bit. Digression: I rarely get off the road to relax: What if I leave for a minute and my perfect ride passes by and it’s eight more hours till I get picked up?

I walked quite a ways before I saw a sign saying I still had another mile and a half to go. As I approached the park I noticed a semi parked on the far side of the entrance. Then when I got closer a guy on the other side of the road pointed at the truck and indicated he was going to give me a ride. He was checking out big machinery at a logging museum. He had also passed me by at the message sign because of the difficulty of stopping. He was a Mexican-American who was living in El Paso to be near his relatives across the border, but he’d earlier spent a long time in California. He had a lot of time to kill; didn’t need to deliver his load until the next day. He had taken his time, had stopped to eat and then peruse the museum. He said he expected me to come by. How cool was that, huh?

I rode up high in the big rig for about an hour and got off at a junction that went over the mountains towards Eugene and the freeway. I figured it was the most traveled road across. He was going further to a junction that would’ve taken me over the mountains directly to Portland, and I would’ve enjoyed it more since it went over a higher pass in a more dramatic landscape, but I opted for the busier route. With the benefit of hindsight, I probably should’ve taken the more scenic route, but really, it’s all serendipity and uncertainty, there’s no way to tell outside of reading the vibes... and I’m not always so good at that.

He was a good guy. He insisted I take a bottle of Gatorade with me and it sure came in handy being out in the heat of a very hot day. I just about finished it by the time the next ride came by. A young un-hyphenated American couple picked me up in their messy truck and got me all the way across the mountains and only about 30 minutes from Eugene.

I waited only a few minutes for the next ride that took me to the southern outskirts of Eugene. Actually I was closer to Springfield, it’s twin city. He was a middle aged guy who’d done some traveling so we got to exchange stories. He offered two possibilities for letting me off. I opted for staying on the freeway, actually I didn’t quite understand the second option so stayed the freeway course. It’s perfectly legal to hitch on the freeways in Oregon, but I forgot one of my central tenets of hitching regarding cities; that is, you don’t try to hitch in urban areas, you take buses through town to the farthest edge in the direction you are going. If I had remembered I would’ve asked him to take me to a bus stop. Maybe even there was a bus stop where he offered to let me off, it hadn’t occurred to me then.

I very quickly realized my mistake. It was 4.30, near peak hour and the road was very busy with not a great place to turn off. Besides, being at the south end of town meant 90% or more of vehicles were headed every which direction in town rather than through it to the north.

After 5 or 10 minutes of sensing the futility of it I got off the freeway and starting wandering around looking for a bus stop. It was kind of a sparse area, I saw nothing; however there was a pot shop just off the freeway and I figured I’d ask directions and replace my smashed stash while I was at it. The woman behind the counter whips out her smartphone and finds me a bus stop about a half mile away. So I trundle on over and start waiting. After a half hour or so a woman driving by stops to tell me there are no buses there. The bus stop sign seemed relatively current, but who was I to say? So I headed back to the gas station near the pot shop to ask directions and pick up an outrageously priced bottle of water.

On a vacant lot across from the gas station there was a Latino guy selling fruit so I thought I’d ask him if he’d seen buses go by and pick up a peach while I was at it. Yes he had seen buses, but as it turned out it was Saturday and no bus service there. I picked out a fruit; he gave me four and refused to accept payment. So I started walking towards the Springfield bus station where I’d been directed where I knew there had to be buses every day. It was a ways up the road, probably at least another three miles. Well figure, I was let off my last ride at 4.30 and It was 6.30 before I reached the station, so yes, even with my wait at the futile bus stop, quite a ways.

I finally got to the Eugene bus station at about 7.30. While it might’ve been theoretically possible to catch a bus to the edge of town and continue hitching, there was still an hour and a half of daylight and I’ve hitched many times at night, there was no way in the wide universe that was going to be my next move. I was wiped, played, spent, stretched very thin. I needed to get in touch with my Eugene friend to come rescue me. He’s a great friend and I knew he wouldn’t mind.

First challenge is to find a telephone… well, pay phones don’t hardly exist anymore, except there actually was a couple in the station office… which was closed. Okay, somebody will lend me their phone… and after a couple tries a young girl took up my offer of a dollar for a call.

Turns out he was heading downtown with a friend anyway for dinner and live music. Beer, eats and live music, what more can you ask for? Well, I probably would’ve preferred crashing out, but what’s a couple more hours if I’m relaxing with a couple beers. The whole day, my nostalgia hitch redux, was an exceptional test of will and stamina. But it wasn’t over. The only logical train to ride to Portland left at 5:30 am. So, get to sleep on my friend’s sofa at 11pm, wake at 4:30 to catch the train. I sure slept well when I got to my friend’s place in Portland.

Will and Stamina

 

A few months back I was mentioning (It was maybe a bit like whining) to a friend that I didn’t think I could walk very far anymore, at least without stopping a lot. After my bout with pneumonia five years ago when I went unconscious for more than two days and the resulting dehydration left my legs so stiff that initially I couldn’t lift them off the bed even an inch and couldn’t get around without a walker for two full months, it seemed my legs and back were weaker than before. And besides I’m an old geezer and everything is just naturally winding down, wearing thin, getting creaky.

So I couldn’t have been more surprised that I managed maybe 10 miles (16kms) on my hitch. For sure, I had lots of rest periods, and as mentioned before, I really was at my limit, though if pressed and had no choice I guess I could’ve carried on a bit more. On the other hand, I know from past experience when I push myself too hard, I get sick. Not this time, I managed very well.

Another dimension was the heat: I don’t mind it that much, can deal with it, but it sure weighs on you. I can’t imagine anyone liking 100 (38C), except maybe for one fellow I came across who was wearing a thermal vest over a T-shirt on a very hot day. It seemed so odd, I had to ask him about it. He responded that he had a back problem and the only time it didn’t hurt was when it was warm. Hot is easier on the body than cold, at least until the temperature gets really hot. Before then it’s relaxing compared to cold which needs fending off and brings aches to bones and such. In my case my nose starts dripping when the temp goes below 70 (21C). I’ve been through some really cold times in my life, and actively sought out the cold when I was younger, but today I’d much rather be hot. Here where I live in Cambodia it only goes below 70 a few times a year, so just perfect for me.

Lots of people live where high temperatures are common so it’s just something you get used to. Since it was very dry – around 30% humidity – while I was out during those temps, I’d be walking in the sun and barely able to work up a sweat... I’d sweat and it would almost instantly dry.

Well, sure there are people who really can’t handle it, but mostly it’s only laziness, a need to never feel discomfited. Tough luck, it’s only going to get hotter. On the other hand some of my fogey friends who keep their air-cons at chill temperatures are full of ailments. Sunset years, beset with lots of infirmities? Why then shouldn’t you be entitled to be as comfortable as you like? Then again, why spend money and use energy to make it freezing inside when it’s perfectly comfortable outside? Okay I’m exaggerating, but that’s how it felt to me.

All that is only to say I believe I owe my (relatively) sprightly condition at 81 at least partly to not letting those kinds of things affect me. Heat, or in my younger days cold, is not going to stop me from my goals and I just keep plugging away; no matter how tired I am I keep plodding, trudging along. I find it difficult to rest until I reach my destination. It isn’t just will. Stamina doesn’t come without effort and consciousness. Karma also helps: I’m blessed with a strong constitution, but by itself that wouldn’t do it if I didn’t also exercise and eat healthy.

A lot of it is attitude. If you know it’s healthy food and you care about health, you grow to like it. You don’t bemoan having to walk a little, you look at it as an opportunity. If it’s hot, what the hell, get out there, extend yourself, carry on your life, see what you can do. Don’t go overboard, just put in a little effort.

Okay, that’s enough lecturing and moralizing for today.

I arrived in Portland around 8.30 am, the train ride was uneventful, it’s always a pleasant ride.

My plane to Chicago left at near midnight on the third day so I had time to visit with several more friends and spend another afternoon with two daughters and a grandson. My last day I connected with four different friends, that was really cool.

My original plan was a couple nights in Chicago, five nights in Minneapolis reuniting with my siblings and then a week at my daughter’s place in the south end of the big island in Hawaii, then home.

First stop the inner burbs of Chicago. When I knew him in Phnom Penh my friend was working as a teacher, married to a Cambodian woman, already with two kids. We were trivia quizzers with a team that had some wins under our belt. He was young, in his twenties. In a sense you don’t pick your friends, you just find yourself hanging out with people you’re comfortable with. He was doing okay as a teacher, but the temptation of returning to Illinois to work for his father and living easier was too much to pass up. I didn’t realize till I saw him recently that he was not only returning to the states, but also to the town he grew up in. That’s really going back.

Like quite a few of my friends who became parents in Cambodia, the question of the kid’s education crops up. It’s easy enough to find good schools when they’re young, but a proper western standard education for the later years is hard to come by without deep pockets. I can see the need to migrate home, but also, there’s something about growing up in two cultures that counterbalances the technically superior education available in the west. Digression: Studies have shown that people who speak 2 languages get Alzheimer’s 5 years later than those who know only one and speakers of 3 or more languages get it 7 years later. Something about the exposure to diverse cultures keeps the mind more active and fresh.

But keeping the kids in Cambodia is a hard sell so back home they go. Unfortunately they often wind up in the burbs where almost everywhere the kids need to go they have to be ferried by the parents. And while my friends are liberal, progressive people, they’re surrounded by Repug conservatives and even trumpster types, so that many of the kid’s classmates are also such.

He and his wife both hate living in the US and since he does all of his work online he could technically do it anywhere… except working hours in the US is 8pm to 5am in Cambodia, making for a strange schedule.

He has a Tesla, so I got a chance to ride around in it quite a bit. It’s a fine vehicle, though I understand there are technical/computer type problems with windows and peripheral stuff. As for the mechanics, drive and power, it’s superior. You’re on the freeway going 60mph and you want to pass another vehicle, you hit the accelerator and almost instantly, it seems, you’re there… it was incredibly fast and seamless with no downshifting, no engine roar. I was really impressed.

The car has a monitor with a touchscreen that includes a map which can take you down to individual buildings and up to the whole state and country. It’s impossible to get lost: Where’s the fun in that? In fact getting lost and dealing with other inconveniences because of lack of a telephone on the trip makes me think I really have to get a smartphone before my next one. But we’ll see, I’ve held off so far.

After two very pleasant days I’m off to Minneapolis in the far burbs for a sibling and daughter reunion. The last time I was in the states 8 years ago I never left Oregon so I hadn’t seen my siblings, who live in Ventura Cal. and Minneapolis, for 15 years and because my daughter lives in Hawaii and it’s way off the beaten path, I hadn’t seen her since she moved there 22 years before.

Family’s important, but my life is in Cambodia, there’s nothing I could do or would want to do about that. I’m having the time of my life and feel blessed being here. Family separation is just one of the failings, unfortunate aspects of modern life, and not much can change that. But then, in addition to unintended separation, and by that I mean you don’t want to be separated, that’s just the way life unfolds, there’s also estrangement, families whose members hate each other. That’s even true of my son and his three sons. All three have sour feelings towards their father and the eldest and youngest had a severe falling out. Very sad.

No problem with my siblings and never has been, we get along fine. We mostly hung around my sister’s house, but we did make a couple of excursions; one to a natural history museum that had a full size mammoth on display, another to a large public garden, which was very cool.

We reminisced, told stories, looked at old pics, took it easy. On a previous visit, my brother-in-law asked, Wouldn’t you like to live here? Well, the burbs have their peace and lots of trees and such, but I responded, No Way, if I lived in this area I’d be in the center city where there are shops and bars, people on the streets and public transportation. The burbs have always represented the worst of both worlds to me; it’s green and far from the city, but it’s nothing like country living where you can really experience a bit of the natural world. It’s close enough to take advantage of the city’s culture, but far enough that it’s a chore and excursion every time you go. There’s nothing pleasant about driving, it’s tense and stressful, something you have to do. People drive fast for that reason, you just want to get it over with. You can’t go anywhere or do anything without getting in your car. Also where my sister lives it’s on a steep hill so not even conducive for cycling. The only time driving is enjoyable is when you’re out for a leisurely drive in the countryside on a peaceful, uncrowded highway.

One thing I did was get a checkup, free under Obamacare rules. Everything was fine except for an elevated number connected to possible prostate problems (and hypertension which I was already aware of). I was told enlarged prostate or cancer. As per Wiki, enlargement is very common among older men and doesn’t come from malignancy. Therefore according to the description in Wiki my take was that the only time you’d want or need to do anything about it, drugs or surgery, is if it interferes with urination. Before then it’s only an inconvenience, like having to pee often. As for cancer: according to Wiki that elevated number has nothing to do with cancer, further the only way to know is a biopsy which involves sticking a device up your urethra that hacks off pieces of the prostate for testing. The only way that could ever happen is back there, otherwise it’d probably cost bigly. Going back there won’t happen for at least a couple years, so I’m just going to live with it for now.

Another goal was to find a pair of quality sandals at a second hand store, but didn’t see a single pair in two stores in two cities. I only wore sandals on the trip, but had to wear socks since the cheap sandals I got here in Cambo were rubbing my feet the wrong way. Fact is the only time I wear shoes in Cambodia is for hiking, my feet like to be free.

Another goal was basic boxer shorts underwear. It took three big stores to find them in my size which is very common, and it wasn’t even the everyday brand I preferred. Meanwhile a thing called boxer briefs were plentiful. They’re just briefs with long legs, nothing boxer about them. Is there some nefarious conspiracy to force men to wear those misnomered undies? Thinking about it I probably could’ve found Hanes/Fruit of the Loom type boxers in one of the malls in Phnom Penh, but I hardly ever go there and when I do the last thing I want to do is go to a mall.

I managed to find rain gauges, to replace the one I brought here 8 years ago which was so clouded with age I could barely see through it anymore and in case other people wanted one.

It was a great visit, I’m lucky to have such a good hearted family.

Hawaii

 

The original plan was to spend a week at my daughter’s house at the south end of the big island of Hawaii. I’d borrow her car and roam around the parks and forests during the day.

My Oregon license had expired, but I didn’t see that as a great obstacle. Relatively quiet rural highways, not driving far. I drive very moderately and carefully. I spent some years driving cabs in New York and trucks in Portland, putting in a lot of time cruising the streets. In the past I would drive fast, but now I just amble along in no haste. No cop is ever going to see me as suspicious so unless someone crashes into me, the issue of an expired license would never come up.

I’ve been driving in Cambodia for 15 years, where driving is far more challenging and dangerous, with only three very minor incidents. In the US 98% of traffic is cars and trucks and everything is organized and orderly and people generally follow the rules. Here most vehicles are not cars and trucks: 80% are a variety of alternate types dominated by motorbikes. In the US 95% would be called scooters. In addition, there are motortrikes, very slow moving one cylinder diesel tractors, trailers pulled by motorbikes, pedestrians, hand carts and even an occasional pony cart. You also find people with small vehicles driving against the flow of traffic on the highway.

In America when you approach a thoroughfare from a side street wanting to turn right, you stop and make sure no-one is coming before you enter the roadway. A lot of times drivers in Cambodia, especially motorbike drivers, won’t even look before they make the turn as long as they have the space to move in. If ongoing traffic has to slow… or even brake hard?... well that’s the way it works here. If you want to make a left and there’s no space to cross over, you drive against the traffic along the curb until you see a break in the flow where you can slide over. You will often have to stop or slow down because someone has cut you off. I’ve seen scooters get right in front of big semi trucks and force them to hit their brakes.

Cambodia just got its first freeway, otherwise almost all national highways are two lane affairs often pockmarked by potholes, though infrastructure is generally improving. Sometimes a big truck will be passing another big truck coming your way and force you onto the shoulder… well that’s the way it works here, and they only do it when they can see you have space to move off the road.

Only to say that driving in the US is child’s play compared to here so when I thought about renewing my license I wasn’t sure it was worth spending $40 since I might not be back in years and I have no interest in driving in cities. Finally I was thinking in Cambodia mode, my local license expired 5 years ago.

However, Cambo mode did not go down very well with my daughter and resolutely didn’t go down well with my son-in-law so the first thing I did on my return to Portland was to go to renew my license. Got to the DMV at opening and waited 2 hours to be served. As long as it had expired less than 2 years before all you have to do is pass a vision test, which I failed. I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe it. Supposedly the test is for distance, but I can see a single tree on a mountain miles away as well as read without glasses.

Fascinating how eyes work; I can see that tree far in the distance, but sometimes I won’t recognize a friend from only 10 meters away until I see a gesture I know. I can clearly see a street sign from a block away, but I can’t read it till I’m up close. I believe it has to do at least partly with an infection I got in my right eye when I went unconscious with pneumonia. It was very strange in the beginning; In my hospital bed I’d be looking at a light on the wall and slowly the image would split into two and the right image would drift off up to a meter away from the left which remained focused. My right eye was never the same. I didn’t think about it, but I might’ve been able to pass the test with my right eye closed.

Well If I wanted a license I had to get an eye doctor to sign off that I was okay to drive, but It was too late to make an appointment, I only had two days before my flight. Son-in-law was adamant, I couldn’t come without a license. What about borrowing a bicycle, I ask. Too steep there daughter says, nobody has a bicycle. It wouldn’t make sense to go there if walking was as far as I could get.

Well daughter, hate to tell you this but I don’t have the money to buy a new ticket.. about $1100 one way MN to Cambodia. My tickets were bought on Kayak and such and unless you pay extra for insurance there are no refunds or changes allowed.

But then I thought, Hawaii is quite a ways towards Asia so why don’t I use my ticket to Kona on the big island and go to Cambodia from there, should be a lot cheaper than all the way from Minnesota and I get to stop for a day. When you look for a cheap flight from Kona to Asia, you have to go all the way back to the mainland first, but it was suggested I check from Honolulu since it’s a much bigger airport. There’s a cheap 45 minute $40 commuter flight from Kona to Honolulu that makes 6 or 7 flights a day so timing wouldn’t be a problem. Okay Philippine Air had a cheap - $650 - and (relatively) very short trip of 18h and 30m through Manila to Phnom Penh. Not bad since it’s 11 hours just from Honolulu to Manila.

At first It seemed like I might be able to find a cheap place to stay for a night. There was a place advertised for $70 night in Honolulu, but that didn’t include two different taxes that get added on in that state and looking closer there was a $170 cleaning charge per stay: it was an apartment rather than a hotel. Never happen. So I was resigned to sleeping over at the airport.

My flight out of MN left at 6AM, to Denver. After a couple hours there, the flight to Kona took 7 hours and I arrived at 3.30pm. The plane to Manila didn’t leave till the next day at noon, so I booked a later flight from Kona to lessen my layover time in Honolulu, which still turned out to be 16 hours. I found a grassy, shady spot near the terminal in Kona where I could relax for an hour or two. It’s a really small and folksy airport so grass was near.

Arrived in HNL at about 8pm and found concrete benches to crash on. I wasn’t the only sleepover traveler. An airport cop came by and directed me to a spot where he had herded the other sleepovers. To keep an eye on us and get our information. Sleeping on a very hard surface is a challenge for almost anybody, let alone an old geezer, but I managed. A thick garden kneeling pad I’d picked up in Minneapolis placed under my bum helped just a bit, but really… You know what I mean, no fun. And no way to sleep very long before needing to rotate the pressure of bone on concrete to another bone. As I mentioned before I occasionally have these Armageddon dreams where I’m on the run, and you surely know real life trials could be a lot worse than a night on a hard surface.

At about 6AM I saw people carrying take out coffee cups. I hadn’t noticed anything like that in my earlier wanderings so at first I thought they might be bringing them from outside, but then I figured I had to check it out. And there it was, a big chain coffee spot. (I’m not mentioning names since the billionaire bastard owner is a sleazy side, cheap action, union fighter.) The cheapest selection of fresh coffee; $5 with taxes. I don’t understand why airports insist on passengers having to pay exorbitant prices for everything, how fair is that? Not everybody is flush. We’re stuck, we have no choice.

Allright, I was all perked up with 5 hours before my flight and figured I’d take a bus to town just to check it out. Very conveniently there was a bus that went to downtown and the popular Waikiki beach. Downtown was very quiet for a weekday, but so was Portland’s downtown… the lingering Covid effect. Waikiki was at least a couple miles of luxury apartments and hotels. The beach was very close, maybe 100 meters from the road, but I didn’t make it. Walking around the beach dressed in heavy denim pants and long shirt lugging around my packs seemed kind of odd to me. My packs weren’t heavy by any standard other than my back’s carrying capacity, together maybe 20-25 lbs, 8 to 10kgs, and thinking about it now, I could’ve stuck the daypack inside the backpack, that would’ve made it a lot easier. Everybody’s got rolling packs now: it just isn’t me though I probably won’t have a choice before too long.

It was good enough observing the scene, I really enjoyed riding that bus. You really get a cross section of people riding public transportation. The cross section is predominantly the lower half of society but it still gives a window into the place’s vibrations. It wasn’t much time but I really did appreciate the experience and at least I can say I was in Hawaii.

Time to check in to my next to last flight. I get to the counter and the woman says I need an onward ticket before they will let me on the plane. The Philippines and some other countries in the region require an onward ticket, but that’s never been true of Cambodia. I’ve flown in on one way tickets 7 or 8 times since 1994. She didn’t believe me. I pointed out my passport full of Cambodia visas, including a current multiple entry visa. She still didn’t believe me and had to check with her manager. He didn’t believe me either but he had an out. She brought back a form for me to sign giving up the right to hold the airline responsible if Cambodia wouldn’t let me in. They’ve been laboring under false information for decades… I have a friend who had to purchase a ticket on the spot that he wasn’t going to use to a place he no intention of going. Fortunately tickets to nearby Bangkok are fairly cheap now. Right after I finish this story, I’ll send a critical letter to Philippine Air.

In the end result, I lucked out. It was a big plane, maybe 500 seats and all were filled except for around 15 or so way in the back, but I got 4 in a row… Wowee-Zowie! Compensating somewhat for the previous night’s hard sleep. The flight attendants said in the beginning that people should stay in their assigned seats and they did. I would’ve gladly shared.

All in all, five flights, 54 hours in transit and I’m home! Well, not quite, I still had to take a bus the next day to Kampot, about a three hour ride.

Before I go a few words about buying tickets through Kayak and the other cheap web sites. Twice I found cheap tickets that met my needs only to be hit with a price hike after starting the booking process. Both times they were still competitive even after adding the extra $100 bucks or so to the advertised price. Another time I followed up on a cheap ticket only to find it didn’t include a check in bag, which was another $120 added to the cost. Speaking of backpacks, mine was small enough to be considered carry on, so on the commuter flight to Honolulu I thought I’d take it on the plane. In the back of my mind I’m wondering if there’s something in it that won’t go through security. Sure enough, my Swiss Army Knife, which I had never used in the trip, required it to be checked-in. And wouldn’t you know it, there was a $25 charge for checking it in.

It was a good trip in spite of glitches from beginning to end and if I can swing it, I’ll go back in a couple years. Meanwhile I’m so glad to be home.