30 September 2008

Blood & Coffee

"Romeo is bleeding as he gives the man his ticket
And he climbs the balcony at the movies
And he'll die without a whimper
Like every hero's dream
Like an angel with a bullet
And Cagney on the screen..."
- Tom Waits "Romeo Is Bleeding" (1978)

Random Tuesday morning thoughts...
• Tried a new coffee shop on the way to the train station this morning, Intelligentsia. I have to say I was not too impressed. A bitter brew.
• Very happy about the new, later train that I can take into work now. Started last Monday, while I was in Vegas. Now I can leave the house at 6:30am instead of 5:45am - a much more civilized hour. So happy to be back on the bike too.
• Tom Waits amazing song, "Romeo is Bleeding" came up randomly on the iPod this morning and I had to play it thrice. God help me, I love that song. Such a great story, great mood, great music. (The title of which also inspired the half-way decent 1993 movie of the same name starring Gary Oldman.)
KJT - Seattle (2008)

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28 September 2008

Vegas Sucks:
Observations from Interbike

"Such a muddy line
Between the things you want,
and the things you have to do..."
- Sheryl Crow "Leaving Las Vegas" (1994)

1. Vegas Sucks.
I used to love Las Vegas. From the time I was 21 through about 27 or 28 years old. Now, not so much. I used to think Vegas was the epic party place (and it was/is) - 24 hours of debauchery: blackjack, roulette, craps, drinking all night, drinking all day, strip clubs, rock shows, no sleep, over-indulgence, etc. Now while I had a blast doing that, and I don't regret it, as I'm nearing 40, I find that it appeals to me less and less. Especially now that I've been to Las Vegas probably 11 or 12 times in the last decade and a half, five of those times just with Raleigh for Interbike. I can safely say I'm over it. The last four times I've visited the city I haven't gambled a penny, and I didn't have one hangover this entire trip - and there were plenty of opportunities. Walking through the casino on the way to the convention center every day, seeing the same sad, vacant people plugging money into the slot machines over and over left me with a depressed feeling. Because I live in Seattle I've gotten to where I take it for granted that there is no smoking inside. The smell and the smoke in the casinos and bars sucked. And don't get me started about the heat. 100 degrees at the end of September with no humidity - that sucks. You wince when you step outside, like you've been hit in the face with a hot cast-iron skillet. You have to use the air conditioner all the time, and that sucks too. 
Fake plastic city for fake plastic people.

2. Alaska Airlines Sucks.
They used to be a great airline, easily one of the best. I don't think I've flown on an Alaska Airlines flight in the last 5 years that has left on time - including both flights this jaunt. WTF?

3. Flying Sucks.
I don't like any of the other airlines either, and I have a special hatred for Southwest and their goofy, cattle-call boarding. Ridiculous. Flying gets you where you are going fast, but that is THE ONLY redeeming feature. I wish we had bullet trains in America. Please vote for that, California! (link)

4. Upper respiratory/Sinus Infections Suck.
Vegas hates me back. Not sure what it was, but from day one my sinuses were killing me, my nose was running, my throat felt like I had gargled broken glass, and I generally felt like shit all week. Friday night, the last night there, was really the only night I felt half-way decent. Was able to stay up till all hours and witness some extreme stupidity.

5. The Interbike Tradeshow went great for Raleigh. Our bikes rocked, our catalogs rocked, our graphics rocked, and everyone seemed pretty jazzed on all our stuff. The Raleigh Rainier Cross bike, with my graphics, really seemed to draw a lot of attention, even landing on the VeloNews website. (link)

6. I went to the CrossVegas Cyclo-cross race on Wednesday night, and that was a blast. Jeremy Trebon won, and Lance Armstrong raced. This was the second time I got to see him race live. (I was on the Champs-Élysées in Paris in 2000 when he won his second Tour de France.)

7. After the show wrapped up on Friday, our V.P. took about 20 of us out for a celebratory dinner at a restaurant called Rum Jungle in Mandalay Bay. The food was amazing - a full-on meat-o-rama. Unlimited skewers of spit-roasted meat carved right at the table. Marinated beef, bacon-wrapped chicken, chorizo sausage, habanero/mango-glazed turkey breast, roasted lamb chops, grilled jumbo prawns, bacon-wrapped scallops, and broiled salmon. The meal also came with a killer chop salad with a creamy mint-cilantro dressing, and Cuban rice, black beans and fried plantains. Epic feast.

8. More than ready to get back to my comfortable routine with Stacie and the dogs (just got back from a long walk with all of them).

9. After an entire week, I can't wait to get back on a bicycle.

10. I LOVE 64 degrees! Thank you, Seattle!
KJT - Las Vegas (2008) 
Lance photo: Kurt Jambretz/Action Images; Raleigh Rainier bike photos: Matt Pacocha.

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21 September 2008


"I'm going in... to Sin City,
I'm gonna win... in Sin City."
- AC/DC "Sin City" (1978)

Heading to Las Vegas for the huge Interbike trade show all this week for work... don't know how much I'll be able to get to a computer, since they haven't deemed it important enough to get me the laptop they've been promising...
KJT - Seattle to Vegas (2008)

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19 September 2008

False Bravado
(Battle In Seattle - WTO)

"On the last day of November, swellin' in ranks
Went to chant down the mighty IMF and World Bank
A gathering of people in peaceful assembly
Onward to Westlake to disrupt the entry

Walk along steady, riot squad ready
To protect every last dignitary's ass
But this started when they herded us like cattle in a fence
Protesters gettin' restless without an exit

50,000 deep, and it sounded like thunder 
when our feet pound the streets..."
-Blue Scholars "50K Deep" (2007)

The movie "The Battle in Seattle" opens today. I have no idea whether it will be any good or not, but it did spark some poignant memories and I had to dig out this journal entry, written on December 1st, 1999 of my own personal experience during the WTO riots:


Seattle. Tuesday, November 30, 1999. We had been anticipating trouble for weeks. The World Trade Organization was meeting here the last week of November, and was supposed to draw over 50,000 protesters to the city. Rumor had it that the FBI, ATF, and government anti-terrorist units were flying in and hospitals had been put on biological warfare alert. They were building decontamination chambers, stockpiling vaccines, and drilling repeatedly. Talk of police snipers on downtown highrises and fear of anthrax had the city on edge.

At work during the day I had occasionally checked the CNN & BBC website for updates on the protests. 20 to 40 thousand AFL-CIO unionists were scheduled to march from the Seattle Center through downtown to the Kingdome in protest of the WTO. Civil disobedience. Thoreau for the modern age. Tying up traffic and shutting down the core of the city in non-violent demonstration.

It appeared to begin with this generous spirit in mind - a brotherhood of like ideals protesting the greater evil. It was spectacular really; this cause had thrown some unlikely crusaders together, united in a common goal. The Labor and Union people were side-by-side with the environmentalists, human rights champions, and social justice folks. Needless to say, it was an eclectic mixture of protesters.

With that many people filling the downtown area, rogue elements and anarchists began to make their presence known. Dumpsters were overturned and set on fire, shop windows smashed, and businesses looted. Buildings, buses, and even police cars were tagged with graffiti. Throughout the day the feeling of the protests took a gradual turn towards the ugly. The tension rose. The legitimate protesters tried to shout down the criminals, but slowly the lawlessness spread and the police responded with an overly heavy hand. Tear gas and mace were employed liberally and rubber bullets were fired into the crowds. Two dozen people were arrested and many treated at various hospitals for gas inhalation and cuts and bruises.

By the time I got off work at 5pm, the governor and mayor had declared a state of civil emergency and had begun the process of calling in the National Guard. A curfew had been issued for the entire downtown area. From 7pm that night until dawn it would be illegal to venture into the city core. I took the backstreets home, through the Rainier Valley and over the backside of Capitol Hill so I wouldn't get caught up in the street closures. Once home, I walked up the hill to the community college for my evening class, only to be denied. Signs posted on all the doors informed us that the college was shut down for the night because of the state of emergency. I walked back to my apartment in a light rain. From downtown I could hear occasional loud bangs of concussion bombs and tear gas canisters and overhead helicopters continually swept the city with intense spotlights.

Once home I turned on the radio to hear updates on the confrontation. Unsure of what to do with the unexpected night off, I quickly decided to 'fatten my life experience' and wade into the maddening fray. I walked out of my apartment and over to Pine Street. Turning right, I made my way down the hill towards downtown. There seemed to be an electric buzz in the air and the streets and sidewalks were bustling with people - most of them seemed to be curious clowns such as myself. Rounding the corner at Melrose, the downtown vista opened up before me. The scene looked like something out of a movie: some kind of surreal war zone. I felt like I was outside myself, observing something I wasn't a part of. In the gathering darkness there was an eerie mist hanging over the main downtown blocks. Nervous but intrigued, I followed dozens of other curious rubber-neckers around the barricades and down the hill towards the unruly mob of protesters below.

From my vantage point as I made my way across the interstate overpass, I could see what seemed to be at least 10,000 people spread out in the streets from the Pike Place Market up to the Paramount Theater. I continued down the hill, past bits of paper and broken bottles, abandoned protest signs and stained articles of clothing. I got as far as 8th Avenue. Ahead, the police had an armored personnel carrier parked in the street. "The Peacemaker" the media had been calling it. The riot squads were splitting the crowds, an attempt to divide and conquer. A part of the crowd had been pushed up the hill to where I was standing, and they were taunting the police. To my left, a line of officers in full riot gear cut off the access to 8th leading to the Convention Center - where the trade delegates were meeting. Black-clad with helmets, visors, gas masks, and body armor, the police stood shoulder-to-shoulder, silent and impassive - holding three-foot wooden truncheons at the ready. Bottles and rocks flew from the crowd into the police line. I could now smell some of the gas wafting up from the streets further down.

I wandered over to the left, standing under the marquee of the Paramount, five feet from the line of policemen. Beside and around me were protesters and idiots, spread out in a disorganized, haphazard fashion. Some were still chanting anti-violence and anti-WTO mantras, but the majority just seemed to want to taunt the police. A young man with a red crew-cut and goatee stood some distance from the cops, screaming at them. He couldn't have been more than 19 or 20 years old. He was working himself into a frenzy. Spit flew. His face contorted with the strain.

"Come on you pussies! You think you're so tough? Why don't you step out of your gear you faggots! Pigs! Come on you fuckers!"

He also appeared extremely anxious, hopping from one foot to the other - getting ready to run. He reminded my of a nervous squirrel. Others too were screaming anti-police chants and launching bottles. Some simply held up two fingers in the "peace" sign, trying to maintain vestiges of the original idea of the protests.

From 6th Avenue I could see a loose line of police forming and slowly moving up Pine towards us. Some of the protesters ran before them. Others called for calm, yelling at the crowds to walk, not run. The police line had formed a tight gauntlet and was moving up the hill towards us at a steady march. They fired tear gas canisters into the crowd. My irritated eyes gushed with tears and my throat closed. I began walking up the hill backwards, holding my gloves over my mouth and nose in a vain attempt to keep the gas out of my seared lungs. Many protesters wore handkerchiefs over their faces. Some of these people ran to the tear gas canisters as soon as they landed. They picked them up and hurled them back at the police line.

The police would move up the hill a hundred yards at a time, sweeping everyone in front of them. They would then stop and secure the area they had just cleared. While they halted the protesters would cautiously creep back down the hill towards them. I tried to stay off to the side, right in front of the police line and among the first wave of protesters. I stayed calm, with my hands in my jacket pockets, neither shouting nor running - just observing the chaos. After securing the area behind them, the bellicose police would then charge the crowd, running at them with their batons up. I continued to back up the hill in front of them. I saw the red-haired punk sprint past me like the hounds of hell were on his heels. False bravado. Cowardice.

The 'real' protesters continued to call for the crowd to stop running and peacefully fall back as the police advanced. After charging forward for 50 feet or so, the police would slow to a march again. If someone in the crowd was not moving fast enough in front of them they were pushed and struck with the truncheons. More tear gas was fired. By now the streetlights overhead were encased in a thick fog of gas - lending an even more dream-like quality to extraordinary evening. Again canisters of gas were thrown back at the police. This time the police raised their rifles and fired into the crowd. Another wave of panic broke as the screaming protesters ran under fire. I turned my back and hunched my shoulders against the onslaught. I was fairly certain they were shooting rubber bullets (painful, but hopefully not deadly) - but I didn't want to get hit in the face or lose an eye.

A man next to me got hit and knocked down. He yelped and jumped up and ran off. I walked over to where he had lain. I picked up the smoldering nylon beanbag that had been shot at him - knocking him clean off his feet. It was charred and torn from the force of the muzzle velocity. It was still warm and sand ran out of the rip in the corner. I held it for a moment and then put it in my pocket. Suddenly I felt a great stinging in my calf that nearly buckled my leg. Looking down I saw a hard, rubber pellet the size of a marble roll away from me into the gutter. I moved back out of the center of the street, trying not to get shot again.

As we backed across the interstate overpass, a few rogues began yelling to throw the gas canisters down onto the busy freeway below. Those with higher morals and clearer heads quickly shouted down this idea. At the top of the overpass someone began yelling frantically,

"Over here. He's been hit - bring water!"

A tall Indian was staggering as some people held his shoulders and arms. He had been hit in the face with a gas canister. Blood ran from a huge gash in his forehead and tears gushed out of his swollen eyes. A man ran over with a bottle of water and flushed the injured man's eyes. The water-boy wore a motorcycle helmet onto which he had taped red crosses on a white field - a makeshift medic. Several people bustled the Indian off to safety down a side street.

Again the police charged and again we fell back. A couple of older protesters continued to yell for calm among the crowd. Telling people not to run, not to throw anything at the police. I could image them years ago at civil rights protests or Vietnam sit-ins. A young man with rivets running down the sleeves of his denim jacket began pulling a large dumpster out into the middle of the street. Two of his friends ran to help him and together they managed to push it over on its side. Plastic bags and refuse spilled out into the street. People began to close in, yelling at them to stop, not to destroy the city streets. The vandals appeared unconcerned - feeling anonymous and nihilistic, caught up in the mob mentality. Another ruffian ran over and bent down to the garbage. He flicked a lighter and began trying to set the trash on fire. A man with an English accent and a woman carrying a sign protesting false imprisonment stood over him, yelling at him to stop. He laughed and continued until another man approached and shoved him down in the street. The young pyro gave them all the finger and ran off into the crowd.

We were now backed up past Bellevue Avenue and the police line was held at Melrose. More officers were making their way up behind the first line of police. Once they reached the line, it began to move forward again. Tear gas rained down through the trees. At Summit Avenue I broke from the crowd and jogged the half-block to my apartment. My curiosity satiated, I needed to wash my eyes out. Later, sitting at the window and sipping a beer, I could still hear the concussion grenades and rifle shots a block over. Throughout the night the helicopters continued to circle and a police cruiser remained parked outside my building. It's strobe light cast nightmare shadows on the ceiling long into the night. Martial law had arrived in Seattle.
KJT - Seattle (1999) Picture from zmedia

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17 September 2008


"Will I see you tonight,
on a downtown train..."
- Tom Waits, "Downtown Train" (1985)

For the past several months, since mid-June, I've been commuting to work by bike and train. I live in Seattle and work in Kent. Driving to work sucks because, well, driving sucks. And I found that riding the bicycle all the way in and then home every day was just a bit too tiring. It's a 38-mile ride, door-to-door, round-trip (19-miles each way) and by Friday I was shot (especially since that last full mile is all uphill). I discovered that Sound Transit started running one "reverse-commute" Sounder train from Seattle to Tacoma in the morning, and one returning in the evening. 

The first stop on this line is Tukwila, which is just under 4 miles from the Raleigh offices, so it works perfectly for me. I ride about 3 miles from the house, downtown to Union Station on the edge of Chinatown, put the bike on the train to Tukwila, and then ride the rest of the way into work. Do the opposite on the way home. It's about 13 miles of riding a day, plus I get to take the train, which is one of my simple pleasures anyway. They have a niche at the end of each train car with room to tie up two bicycles, so it's a really great system. It's only $6.50/day for the round trip, and I'm saving a ton of cash on gas. I've only filled up my tank 4 times since the middle of June, and I've only driven into work about 5 times - most of those being when I had to take Kaiser to the vet, or pick him up. If I drove every day I'd have to fill the tank about once every six days...

The detriment is that the one train I can take leaves Seattle at 6:10am, so I've been getting up at 5:00 every morning and leaving the house by about 5:45. Luckily, the powers that be have decided to add one more reverse-commute train to the line, so starting Sept. 22, I will be able to catch a train at 6:50am - which is really nice since I won't have to leave the house "in the 5's" anymore. Coming home I catch the 5:24pm and get in to Seattle about 5:40, ride back up the hill and finally home right around 6pm. They will add a second train in the evening which I could catch around 6:15pm if I had to work late or something, but I don't anticipate using that one very much.

I still try to ride all the way in, or home once a week or so - but it's been nice to have the train option.
KJT - Seattle (2008)

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10 September 2008

Surprise, surprise, surprise...

"The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. 
It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us."
- Ashley Montagu, British-American humanist (1905-1999)

So my wickedly clever and wonderfully devious wife leads me to believe we are throwing a surprise party for a friend of ours. It's going to be at our house, in our backyard, and we are having a huge New Orleans buffet feast: red beans & rice, andouille sausage gumbo, fried catfish, shrimp/bacon/cheese grits, seafood enchiladas, macaroni & cheese, strawberry cake, peach cobbler, and we hired a bartender to work the party too.

I'm up for it, sounds fun, etc. Then she tells me that I have to go to the airport and pick up our friend's brother. I grumble at this, whine a bit, but end up going out to the airport. I'm slowly cruising past the arrivals and I see this guy pointing at me and smiling. As he starts running towards me I realize it's an old friend from my Colorado days, who has lived in Tennessee since the early 90's. We still communicate fairly often, but I've only seen him once or twice in almost 15 years. My first thought is, "Wow, he must be out here for business - how random that I see him at the airport." Then he opens the door, throws his bag in the back, and climbs in. "Surprised to see me?" he laughs. I just stutter. "You'd better call your wife," he says. I just mumble, "What, uh, what?" I'm completely confused at this point. He laughs again, "Just call your wife."

Turns out the 'surprise party' is for me, for my 40th birthday. This is quite a surprise, since my birthday is at the end of December. Told you she was devious, and the weather out here in Seattle is much more conducive to parties in September than in December. We had 40 or so of our best friends, including my mother and a few old ones I hadn't seen in ages. Great food (my wife is an amazing cook), beautiful weather (upper 70's), great bartender, lots of mojitos, way too many shots of Jameson and Bushmills (not one for religious discrimination am I), numerous beers, the dogs and cat, the sweet sounds of Dr. John, Rebirth Brass Band, Big Sam, Professor Longhair, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. We were all in our cups late into the night (early morning actually).

It was a blast. Wish my sister could have made it too, but she's on secret work detail for the government (very hush, hush!). She called and laughingly wished me an 'early' happy birthday. Good times...
KJT - Seattle (2008) Kaiser guarding the food, pre-dinner drinks as the sun sets...

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03 September 2008

Quick Trip Up the Hill

"May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds."
- Edward Abbey, American naturalist/writer (1927-1989)

We caught an early (7:30) train from Venice to Bologna, Italy. Switched trains in Bologna for Rimini. In Rimini we took a bus out to the ancient principality of San Marino, a tiny, landlocked country completely surrounded by Italy in the Apennine mountains. The Republic of San Marino has the smallest population (29,000) of any members of the Council of Europe (it is not a member of the EU) and one of the highest GDP per capita in the world. San Marino has a land area of 23.5 square miles (in Europe only Vatican City and Monaco are smaller). It is the world's oldest constitutional republic, being founded on this day, 3 September, in 301 A.D. by a Christian stonemason, Saint Marinus.

We made our way up to the mountain-top capital, San Marino City. The view from Cesta, one of the Three Towers of San Marino on the highest peak of Monte Titano were spectacular, even in the hazy mid-morning sun. We wandered the small city, up and down the staircases and winding alleyways, and stopped for a small lunch of hard salami, cheese, and fresh bread. A shared bottle of wine, and then it was back down to catch the bus out and onward. Back into Italy proper and the continuation of our adventure.
KJT - Serenissima Repubblica di San Marino (1998)

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01 September 2008

Palermo, WTF?

"Nun c'era beddu lu putrusinu, c'ii lu'attu e ci piscio."
("It was not such beautiful parsley, 
and then the cat went and peed on it.")
- Sicilian Proverb

We stepped off the train directly into the Twilight Zone. This was supposed to be Palermo, Sicily, but it felt as though we were no longer on our home planet. One of RJ's songs began to echo in my head, "Bad Vibe..." how appropriate. There seemed to be an actual feeling of animosity in the air. An undercurrent of unfriendliness that was just barely discernible. Not a downright, open hostility, but a definite hint of unwelcome, of mean-ness.

I came with the idea of Mediterranean paradise: blue skies, sun, palm trees and beautiful sandy beaches. The world we entered upon leaving the train station was dingy, colorless and lifeless. The skies were overcast and forbidding, draped in what seemed like smog. The streets were dirty and rundown. Trash, refuse, paper, bits of broken gadgets mixed in a sea of human discard to fill the avenues and line the alleys and sidewalks.

We walked. The streets eerily devoid of life. The air felt heavy and oppressive. We had the unpleasant feeling we were intruding. The few people we passed seemed to stop what they were doing and stare at us. We slouched by, trying to fade into the scenery, to become transparent. We came to the "beach." The land ended and the sea began. Instead of the beautiful sandy beaches of my dreams there were huge blocks of broken concrete, each the size of an industrial refrigerator tumbling down into the water. Oil tankers were docked across the bay. To our right factories coughed smoke and soot into the grey skies. The water was grimy. Trash washed up over the concrete blocks and an unpleasant oder wafted towards us from the bay.

We walked on. Over oily, broken sidewalks littered with debris and animal droppings. The town felt old and very poor, used up and forgotten, dirty and depressing. We passed a small park with some lush growth and palms. We felt hopeful. We came upon an open-air marketplace. Outdoor food stalls lined the narrow cobblestone streets, selling a host of diverse foods. Here there was life. The market was jammed with people. A cacophony of strange sounds floated above. People haggling in rapid-fire Italian, yelling at and to each other. Sellers screamed the appeal of their goods. Cleavers fell on huge chopping blocks, parting gristle and bone. The noise was chaotic and the scene a jarring sensory overload. A serious, matronly woman fed pieces of raw animal flesh from her bloodstained fingers to her sniveling, rodent-like offspring. The whelps gulped down the bloody offerings with their drooling maws and rolled their eyes back in pure animal ecstasy. A retarded boy rode his bicycle, careening through the crowd, making motorcycle noises with his mouth at full volume and ramming into people. Most appeared unconcerned. Just another day in the life for Palermo. We slowly realized that people were starring at us. They knew we were foreigners. They seemed to sense our differentness here more than any place we had visited yet. We passed stalls with fresh squid, octopus and fish of endless varieties. Men with bloodstained aprons constantly hacked a multitude of meats with their big, heavy cleavers. At one stall a small boy was pulling the skin from a rabbit that was hanging upside down, effectively turning it's coat inside-out. We tried to buy cheese from two hard-looking men with beady, shifty eyes set close together under furrowed brows. We asked prices, they simply took the money out of our hands with knowing smiles and sideways glances. We left with a small piece of questionable cheese, surely paid for with a king's ransom.

Staying even the night was out of the question. We knew we wouldn't survive to see the dawn. We carefully made our way back to the station and purchased tickets for the next possible train to Rome, 8:30 that night, some four hours distant. We dropped our packs out of the way against a wall and hunkered down on them to wait. The seconds ticked by with agonizing slowness, it seemed time had surely stopped. We decided to buy postcards and send them from the station, in hopes that they would make it home in the event we did not. The authorities would have some place to start their investigation at least. Everything was closed. Sicily was conspiring against us. I walked a four or five block circuit around the station looking for any shops that were still open while D guarded our packs. Everything was closed and it soon began to get dark, ghouls and wraiths seemed to materialize out of the dusk. I hurriedly returned to the station. There, I watched the packs while D roamed the inside of the building in search of postcards. She eventually found some being sold from a cart owned by a man of questionable intelligence and negligent hygiene. His main items of commerce appeared to be videos of extremely homely men and women engaging in a smorgasbord of sexual acts with horses, dogs, mules and snakes. A fine, upstanding citizen. A definite asset to his community. We purchased the postcards, declined the videos.

The minutes passed slowly. D remarked that she had never seen so many cross-eyed people in one place. "Inbred," I muttered under my breath. A filthy, pregnant dog limped through the station, one eye closed and her tongue lolling. She stopped in the middle of the concourse, squatted slightly and urinated on the floor. Again, I observed no one who was not indifferent to this repugnant sight. Finished with her business, the mutt dragged herself onwards, her swollen teats swaying as she limped out of view.

A retarded man repeatedly came up to us, holding his crotch and picking his nose, trying to shake our hands. His pants rode up above his ankles, exposing yellowing, grimy socks. He wore an ancient plaid sports jacket whose sleeves were much too short. The jacket was filthy, stained and stiff with who-knows-what. He finally gave up trying to shake our hands. With a crooked grin and a rivulet of saliva hanging from the corner of his mouth he stumbled off to hug an unsuspecting old lady. Her husband began shouting and cursing at him. He pushed the retarded man away from his wife and began swatting at him with a folded newspaper. Suddenly uncertain, the cretin shuffled off.

Two old, derelict-looking men sat shoulder to shoulder on a bench beneath a tree-like plant. They were lovingly rubbing each others knees and drooling on themselves. One of them coughed suddenly and hacked up a wad of greenish-brown phlegm onto the floor at his feet. They smiled at each other with wide, empty, toothless grins; looking all the world like they had been lobotomized.

A teenage boy stumbled over to us, demanding a cigarette (we think). We were unsure if he was heavily drugged or just mentally distant. We tried to express that we, being non-smokers, had no tobacco. He frowned at us from behind heavy-lidded, vacant eyes. Angry, he repeated his request as he swayed in front of us. I tried to make it clear that we were no longer amused by this little charade. I stood up and stepped closer to him to emphasize my point. Myself being a good two feet taller than he, he stepped back and looked up at me with a surly expression. Abruptly he turned on his heel and stumbled off to pester someone new. I slumped back down on the packs. Would this night never end? D and I leaned against each other and observed the hostile Italian world with our backs up against the Palermo train station wall. 

A commotion arose. A pack of wild boys were harassing an old retarded woman. Calling her names, laughing and running around her in circles. She screamed at them and shook a scolding finger. They laughed again, pulling at her clothing and pushing her between them. Then they turned and ran out of the station, yelling and hooting with ignorant bravado. She continued to scream at them, long after they were out of earshot.

8:30 arrived like a blessing. We boarded the train with palpable relief, locked our cabin door, and made fast our exit.
KJT - Palermo, Sicily (1996)

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