Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Book Ideas

I have a book idea that I want to write at a rate of about one a week. Some of these come and go and some have some staying power. I want to keep a list of the these book ideas. I will post them on Facebook from time to time and take votes on what ones I should pursue. If you have a favorite, one you would like to see me write, one you want to start writing, or most importantly one you would be willing to actually purchase if I wrote it, let me know in the comment section. Also if you think I am an idiot on one of these ideas I would be happy to hear it. My thoughts are not conventional but it is how I feel and I am as passionate about hearing why I am wrong as I am about feeling I am right.

First Books I have actually written or have started on

Of Pigs and Priests- The story of a Priest in the 1500's who finds himself in love with the local pig farmers daughter. Being very committed to the priesthood he doesn't do anything about it, that is until Queen Elizabeth comes to the thrown, they all become part of the Church of England and by introducing the Common Book of Prayer, suddenly Priest's can marry. The problem becomes that given the position of clergy in the 1500 he went from off limits to the most eligible bachelor in town. Everyone and their mother wants to either marry him or have him join the family. Follow him as he tries to win his love, raise some pigs, fix the whole in his church and keep the local Duke from setting him up.

Marriage Counselor's Bride for Hire (Need a better name, so if you have any suggestions let me know) - I have been releasing this book a chapter at a time on my blog (For Chapter 1 Click Here). It follows, Dr. Byron Lewis, a marriage councilor devoted to his profession, so much so that between reading about, writing about and saving other peoples marriage he has never found time to get one himself. This begins to have negative impacts on his work and that is when he decides he needs a marriage, even if it's only on paper. Taking in ad out in the local paper he begins his very unusual journey into married life. And despite all he knows about marriage it's only a matter of time when he has to take some time to save his own.

Teton Dam, 50 Years Later (I hate this title, so please let me know if you have any ideas for this one also)- I have begun work on this book and plan to have it completed for the 50th anniversary of Teton Dam failure in 2026. I don't need to go into alot of detail but this goes over the history of the dam, some related dams and how they impacted Teton such as Ririe, and Fontenelle. Goes over many of the compelling story lines before the dam itself was completed and what happened after failure, both the deaths and how the community came together. I am very excited about this book and may tell some of the things I have learned in tidbits on the blog.

The stories never told- This would be a book of biographical sketches of homeless and what we can learn from them. I have done many short stories on the homeless (Here is a link to my Homeless page). It would go over these or others stories and also go over national statics and solutions on homeless. What different communities are trying, what is being successful and what is not.

So those are the ones I have written or started to write. Here is the very long list of the ones I have not started but would like to write at some point.

Rather than Rob a Bank- I came up with this book a long time ago and I would be lying if my desire to write this has not diminished. What inspired this was I heard several stories back to back about students at university's who robbed banks to pay for the high tuition costs (Here is an article of one of them).  I wanted to write a book that compared ways of making money and compare the likelihood of them actually working, for example, the lottery, other gambling opportunities, robbing a bank, robbing other stores, panhandling, stock market, writing and singing a smash hit, and the last one would be writing a book. I planned to donate a portion of the proceeds for the tuition of the guys who robbed the bank if they choose to finish college when they got out of jail, but they will probably be out long before I get to this one.

The Blessings of Poverty and How to Acquire them even when Cursed with Riches- I grew up in a home that was technically below the poverty line. I say technically because my Mother and Father were so good with money and surrounded by such wonderful family and friends that I have to admit we never felt poor or went without, as long as you don't count those cracked wheat tacos, that was a sacrifice.  But I am very convinced that many of the blessing my parents passed on to me were not in spite of being poor but rather because of it.

  • For example, the lesson that happiness and money are not dependent variables. 
  • Hard work, we were delivering papers at a very young age in order to help the family pay the bills (Some will argue that the pace at which I delivered papers doesn't qualify as hard work, but we can leave that part out.)
  • Learning that if you want something you can earn it or go without, when my friends got Nintendo's for Christmas I was getting clothes, (Don't get me wrong we had wonderful Christmas's but the big, cool ticket items were never a part of it for us) if I wanted a CD, movie or pack of baseball cards, I had to find a way to earn the money and buy it, there was no point in asking Dad or Mom to buy it. 
  • Education was valuable, but it was my responsibility to pay for it. Both my parents had Masters Degrees but when my Dad dropped me off at college he gave me a bag or oranges and essentially said, "If you are every hungry come by but that is all I can help you with." He said this with a bit of sorrow, you could tell he wanted to help me with tuition and books, he just couldn't. I count this as one of the greatest blessings in my life. I took college far more seriously than my friends who had parents footing the bill, I graduated in three years with an engineering degree. I went on to graduate with honors with a masters degree, all with no debt and all without asking my parents for funds. Something all my siblings did as well (My cousin wrote an article about it in the Desert News and you can read it here).
  • The Lord has more control on life than does your bank account. No lesson is more important to me than seeing over and over again in my parents and in my own life as I tried to find ways to pay tuition than having no idea how I was going to make it and the Lord opening up the windows of heaven as he promised (Malachi 3:8-11). 

I could go on but the point is that these are things my parents taught me in large part because they didn't have any other choice, necessity drove them to act the way they did. I believe the same lessons can be taught to those who have money, and lots of it, but it's not easy. It is easier to say no to your children when you don't have a choice, no matter how painful it may feel you can't say yes. The challenge is being able to say no when you have the ability to say yes.

Get Out- This is a book on the history of large evacuations and how they are run. I have to admit my interest in this has mostly been focused on dams but over time evacuations as a whole have had great interest to me. Why do some people evacuate and others not? What makes an evacuation notice effective or not? Does society hold leaders responsible for the lives of those who choose not to evacuate or fail to evacuate?

Killing Leo Ryan- This is essentially a biography on Leo Ryan. Who is Leo Ryan? You know, you just don't know you know. Leo Ryan was the congressman who was killed in Guyana by Jim Jones just before they all drank the cool aid. I first learned about Leo Ryan because he was an advocate for Dam Safety and chaired several of the hearings after Teton Dam failed. The more I learned the more I was impressed. He wanted to improve education so became a substitute teacher in the classroom to better understand the issue, he wanted to reform prisons so got himself in undercover as an inmate to see what prison life was like. When he saw in issue he jumped into it and tried to get first hand account and solve the problem. Ultimately it cost him his life trying to understand and free people from The People's Temple. He has become one of my hero's and there is no biography on his life and that is a crime that needs to be corrected.

Selfish Sex or Sex as Service- God's way of improving your love life. The target audience would be LDS couples and LDS young adults. I think there is no topic more poorly understood both in and out of the church than sexuality, and while there are several good and not so good books on the topic. I want to add my zero authority voice to the topic. Things I think need to cover:

  • Selfish sex versus service sex. Satan works so hard to convince everyone that sex is about self. The whole reason sex exists is to make you happy. God's path is the opposite, sex is all about service. It is all about making your spouse happy. You want to have a wonderful sex life then forget about your sex life. While it applies to many aspects in our life I think we would do well to apply Matt 16:25- For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever swill lose his life...shall find it. If you  are obsessed and work to save YOUR sex life, you will lose it. If you lose it, meaning sacrifice what you want for your spouse you will find it.
  • Sex is not easy for anyone. There is a fallacy that Satan continues to perpetrate that because sex is and is meant to be enjoyable that it should be easy. Sex isn't easy for anyone, sex isn't something that you avoid until married and then is all the sudden a magical part of life. It doesn't matter if you are not married and trying to live the law of chastity, struggle with same sex attraction and are trying to live the law of chastity, if you are married to someone who for physical or emotional reasons does not want to or cannot participate in intimacy the way you would like, or if you are happily married and trying to live the law of chastity. The natural man is an enemy to God  and will be forever and ever unless he yields to the enticing of the holy spirit...(Mosiah 3:19). What a perfect scripture this is for this principal. Satan wants us to assume everyone else has amazing sex lives, because than he can convince us of lies like: If only you had a spouse who shared your same preferences, your sex life would be good. If only the church would change its standards on who you can marry, your sex life would be good. If you can just make it to the alter of marriage then your sex life will be good.
  • The fallacy that Satan likes Sex and God does not. Satan has worked very hard to convince people that his political position is pro sex and that God's party is anti-sex. "Yeah, my opponent allows it in marriage with one person, but I will let you have unlimited sex, with whomever you want, whenever you want. I'm Satan and I approve of this message."  This is a lie. If the truth was to be out there, I am convinced that Satan is very anti-sex. He has no body, he does not want you or anyone else to enjoy anything let alone the type of joy true intimacy can bring. But if he is opposed to it, why does he promote it so much? Because he will promote it with the idea that if he can get you to abuse and mis-use sex then you  will lose it forever. Not just in the next life but this one as well. Extremes of this are obvious. If he can twist your mind so that the only joy in sex is with little children, you are not likely to have access and if you do gain access will likely go to jail. But this is true for what many would call mainstream relationships. Cohabitation leads to divorce at much higher rates, and single folks who are sexually active have far less sex than those who are married. And as they age the disparity increases. (While I will need to compile the data, here is just one such article showing this.) So, if your one goal in life was to maximize the amount of sex you  have, the best way to do this would be to have a healthy and happy marriage, which side promotes that?
  • Not sure if there is room for it and how I would do it but I would also want to do research related to sex workers. I live in Las Vegas area and as such see the many ill effects of sex work.It is sold as very glamorous. I would love to do, or find research that shows what it truly is? Where do most dancers, prostitutes, and other similar professions end up when age makes it difficult to earn money in their chosen profession. I honestly don't know, but would guess the statistics are not good, but need to find it out before I speak. At one time I thought I would make it, its own book but maybe just include it in this one.
Ghost Detective- This is a fiction book about a man that works as a detective on the other side. Basically he is dead and his job is to interview dead people try to solve murders and then influence the living to try to get the right person convicted. His name is Llewellyn Hanson. His has a new case with his new partner. His new partner is very new, just died in the last week or so. 

Unity Politics- This would be a book that focuses on the idea that if the only things politicians did was focus on things that the vast majority, 60-75% of Americans believed in they would still have plenty to do. The idea behind this is that the major political parties and voices that associate themselves with these parties, Shawn Hanity, Rachel Madow etc.. have a vested interest in keeping us divided. They focus on issues that are split 50-50 and really never go anywhere. If you re-frame the conversation I think there is vast agreement on a lot of issues and by focusing on those we could get a lot done.  Let me give a few examples:
  • Abortion- Both sides of the abortion debate are so dug into an all or nothing strategy that we have lost sight of the portions we agree on and could focus on and really get good things done. People who are pro-life would like to end all or most abortions and become blinded by the idea of making them illegal and overturning Roe vs. Wade, people who are pro-choice say they believe in abortions being rare, legal and safe, but have been so sold on making them legal have lost almost all sight of truly trying to make them rare. Why? because they don't trust the other side, they see any move to make abortions rare as one step in trying to take away what they feel is a legal right. So, what does unity politics look like? It means the right saying that until we can persuade 60-75% of the population to believe that abortion should be illegal we will stop trying to make it illegal or take away peoples access to it.  Rather we will work with the other side to truly make it rare. What if we took the baseline of how many abortions were performed in 2018 and reached across the isle and tried to bring that number down. How could this be done? Both Democrats and Republicans believe that adoption is good, and there are literally 1,000's of couples waiting to adopt babies and many more who would join them if we reduced red tape. What about starting a social movement praising mothers who chose to give their child a better chance with adoption to a good family?  How about we help mothers who choose not to abort their children with medical expenses and other things? Whatever they look like we could find common ground and find things that would reduce abortion that 60-75% of people believe in rather then hoping for certain justices to retire or kill over and just the right time so we can win in the courts. 
  • Transgender Bathrooms- Democrats cry that transgender are not equally respected, Republicans cry that it is not safe for their young daughters to have to go to the bathroom with a predator of a man who claims he is female. This debate has sprung over into school locker rooms. One I understand because I have children. The reality is that I see more common ground than not on this one. With the amount of risk today given the fact that we all carry video cameras everyday and can almost instantly stream that video for the world to see we simply need more secure, individually locked restroom and changing areas. Would this provide both sides what they need? I think so, but than why doesn't it move forward? Because if that is done no one side gets to declare victory. No one gets to feel like they won. But that is what Unity politics is all about, its about giving up winning to actually making our policy's better.
  • Last one- Immigration. Both sides love and honor legal immigration, so, why so much focus on what to do about illegal immigration, that is the side no one can agree on. Rather why don't politicians focus on the improving the legal system, something that could get bypartisan support? Democrats didn't do it when they were in the majority and Republicans aren't doing it now, in this particular case I think Democrats were fearful of energizing the fringe Republican vote and Republicans are worried about offending it. This is the part that makes unity politics so hard, both parties have 10-25% that are very active that want to win and be right more than they want to get something done and politicians feel forced to appease these groups to avoid losing their seats (Jeff Flake is a good example). But unity politics is about moving beyond those groups when a significant majority of Americans want to see movement. 
I could go on about almost all politically divisive issues but that is what the book is for.

Killing Professional Sports- This one wins as my most controversial book idea, and really idea in general. The book would focus on why we should stop supporting in every way professional sports. Many would assume that this is simply the rantings of a physically inferior man who simply finds himself unable to perform any physical feat beyond touching his toes. To this I have two comebacks, I was listed as an alternate for an athletic scholarship to Southern Utah University (true it was in cheerleading, but athletic none the less), second I can't touch my toes, so there. The reality is I love sports, I love playing them, I love watching them and I think they bring about many important qualities in our kids, teamwork, hard work ethic, over coming challenges, and always pushing yourself to do better. So, when I am writing promoting the end of professional sports it is not the end of sports but just the professionals. Why? 
  • Professional sports make professions wherein a few get very rich and the vast majority of people who pursue it do so in vain and at great expense. Freakonomics did a story on the upside of quitting where they followed people who try to break into the major leagues through the minors. The problem is most of these men take on very low paying jobs in baseball while they pass up moving along in other careers, what freakonomics showed is the longer they  stayed the less successful they were. I think this would be true in most major professional sports, there further someone gets towards becoming a professional the more likely they are to bank on it, but they are still far from likely to actually "make it". 
  • Even the vast majority of those that "make it" find that fame and money too much too early and it leads to poor life outcomes. Hence you get high bankruptcy and incarceration rates.
  • This is particularly of concerns in sports that have long term negative physical outcomes. These sports use "nobodys" to beat up their bodies in order to weed out the best of the best who they can use to make millions of dollars. I was in a restaurant one day and they had a TV show that was put on by UFC. They put a bunch of guys in a training program who then beat the brains out of each other for the chance to be a UFC fighter. So, what did most of them get? Nothing besides major health issues. While it is less direct in some ways the NFL is no different, they rely on high school kids who have had endless promotion about the sport to get beat up every friday in hopes of getting beat up on Saturdays, so the NFL can makes millions why we watch them get beat up on Sundays. I am not opposed to bruises and scrapes but if further studies find that long term brain damage is found in high school football players it should stop being offered in public schools.
  • Another alarming trend is the amount of tax payer dollars going to fund professional stadiums. Study after study has shown that this is not economically beneficial for the cities that do the heavy lifting. We just got the Raiders to come to Las Vegas and it will cost $550 million dollars in tax funds. It is sold by saying it will be money that is paid by visitors however, no matter how the money came in there are many things that money would be better spent on than promoting a billion dollar business. 
  • College sports are a problem as well, but notice it is only in the sports that have big professional followings. You don't get sports allowing swimmers who can't pass a third grade math test onto their teams. You don't get boosters paying off the players of the volleyball team. Many argue that the college football and basketball programs promote the college. I am not so sure that this promotion is not more of a distraction. The stakes of football have become so great that most colleges spend more on the program than they bring in. (Here is a great article on this). No doubt football and basketball are big business but for most schools it is more a big drain than a big money maker, not only that it is a drain of time a resources not to mention publicity. Pick any school and enter the name into google news. I just did it for BYU of the first 20+ stories that came up 1 was not a sports article. BYU is a major university with research coming out daily in physics, engineering, literature, math, family studies, religious studies, and many more topics. They hold weekly forums or devotionals with major addresses from great minds of the world but most of that goes uncovered, but if the head coach of the football team sneezes in the off season, you will hear about it.
  • The obsession with sports in wasteful and unhealthy. I am the first to admit that I was a victim of this. For years every week during football season I would read every article analyzing weather or not BYU would win or lose that week. Then I would watch the game, listen to the game, or even watch the internet update each play on ESPN if I couldn't get to the radio. If they won I was elated and read every article reliving over and over the glory of the win. If they lost I was devastated and walked around in a gloomy cloud for the next three days or so. In the off season I obsessed to think that this was our year and thought out in my mind the glory of them bringing a championship to Provo. Then one day I realized something. I was handing over my time and emotions to something I had 0, and I mean 0 control over. I was wasting excessive amount of time and energy on something I not only couldn't control but that meant nothing to my future and as such it should have nothing to do with my ability to enjoy life. I stopped watching BYU football that day. I might see a play now and again but I don't think I have watched a hole game since then. I am better off. Has my pride in BYU diminished? No, I love my school more than ever, in fact it's made me take off the blinders and realize the reason I love BYU has nothing to do with Basketball of Football. It's what I learned and what I hope millions of others will learn from that amazing University. The world is chuck full of sports commentators analyzing every breath of the players and even fuller of people wasting time listening to them. Sports obsessions are unhealthy and I only notice this in professional sports and college sports that are heavily tied to professional sports, mostly basketball and football.
  • What about city unity? Right now Las Vegas is enjoying the joy of having the Las Vegas Knights or first true professional team play for the Stanley cup. I'll admit it's fun to see so many people get excited about the team, there is a tremendous amount of shirts, hats, bumper stickers and other support. But what is really behind it? Do any of the players have any unity to this city? No, most aren't from hear and if they get paid more to play elsewhere next year they will be gone. Most owners have very little loyalty to a specific city. 
  • While sports can bring out the best in us it can also bring out the worst. Along with loyalty is often crude, rude and violent behavior done in the name of sports. This is true of all sports, even little league, but I think it most often shows up in the stadiums and bars in relation to professional sports.
So, what should be done. I am not supportive of making policy against professional sports rather people realizing they are consuming too much of our time and money and simply pulling back. I would love to see expansion of local amateur sports. These could be full of people who love the sport for the truly the love of the sport, not the money. We could be proud that they are from our local area and we could enjoy a good sport game that doesn't cost huge sums of money and is kept in proper balance. This is why if I take my sons to see a game it will likely be a high school track meet, or college volleyball game. I will support my kids playing sports, preferably sports that don't have big professional following, but if they want to play golf, or play basketball I will definitely not encourage them to go pro.

Well that is all for now. I will probably have another one next week.

It is now 7/26/2018 and I have three more to add

Southern California's New Homeless- This is and idea based on some of what I have learned from Austen. The book follows people in Southern California who make 100K plus and yet are homeless. The cost of living is so high they decide to live in their cars, on the streets, couch serf with friends etc... This follows interesting stories and asked the question that is a high octane economic machine, such as southern and central California has provided, that provides so much good but leaves housing and basic necessity costs so high that it leaves behind even some of the elite, worth it?

Foreign Brides- This follows the whole story and industry around foreign brides. What is the history that has gone from war bride, to mail order to internet? Why do men/women look for them? What countries are most commonly targeted? Can these marriages be successful and if so, how? What causes these marriages to fail? How many of these things are scams for the men/women who chase them? And how many women get involved from the foreign side and get taken advantage of?

Scam Lunches- I have always been intrigued by scams. I love the series American Greed that follows various scams and how they turn out. One of the ways you can often catch a scam is as we all know is promising something too good to be true. Another good way is free lunch. People have often said there is no free lunch. So, when they want to tell you  about your business by offering a free lunch/seminar, good chance it is a scam. I would love to attend these and write up a chapter on each of them, outlining what the scam is. I would also write about the free lunch scam related to insurance that has made me thousands of dollars.

Homelessness in America - This would take some of my homeless articles and mix them with statistics about the homeless and potential policy decisions. I read a book recently called Fifty Sandwiches and it was an excellent read and my book would follow it's format but be less picture focused and have longer write up's. This one could come together quick because much of it I have already written.

Mulroy a Modern Mulholland - This would compare Pat Mulroy and William Mulholland and how she got water for Las Vegas so that it could grow into a modern powerful city just like William Mulholland did for LA in the turn of the century. There is many good comparisons with the owens valley water grab and Pat Mulroy's plan to get the Northern pipeline to bring water in from Northern Nevada. The difference is Mulholland was all about infrastructure to get the water needed. Pat mixed infrastructure with conservation and did almost miraculous things, attacking both the supply and the demand side to ensure the cities availbility to grow.

One of the other neat ties is it was California that really drove the original compact in many ways because they wanted to secure the water they needed at the time and one of the key players was LA Water and Power, and Mulholland pushing for Hoover Dam to ensure that LA could get another source, which, of course they did through the pumping plant at Parker Dam. The reason this is such a key interest is California is the big user in the lower basin 4.4 million acre feet, but the tiny player is Nevada with it's measly 0.3 million acre feet. Mulholland's effective ability to get water helped drive California's lion's share of the water. This left Mulroy handicapped in getting Vegas the water it needed and in a large part led to her neccesity to look at conservation as a major means to get the water needed to grow. Something she did in ways and to extremes that no one really ever felt possible.

She almost became Secretary of Interior under Obama, instead of Sally Jewel, but California feared that she would be too biased to Nevada and conservation.

John York- John York is a master of disguise, wit and matchmaking. He works for high-end clients on jobs that require him to take on all sorts of identities to help the future come out in the way that his clients request. But at the end of the day, John York cares more about love than anything else and a common thread in all his cases is that he helps others find their true loves. This is driven by his only true desire, to be reunited with his love, his wife, Melinda York. She too is a master of disguise but unlike York plays in a world where the stakes are life and death. The world of espionage, and has left John for the sole purpose to save his life.  We follow him on his adventures as he seeks to become the man who is ready to enter her world and once again be by her side.

Unplanned Pregnancy- This is a romantic comedy that follows a young man, Stanton, who is the classic view of the modern bore. He is a smart computer programmer, who has fallen into our modern world trap of having very little social life outside of the confines of the internet. Not anti-social per say, but not outgoing either, and with little opportunity placed in his way has run into an endless routine of work, and private hobbies. The turning point in the book is when at a regular late night grocery store run he literally runs into Jennifer, a young, beautiful girl who happens to be carrying around an extra 40 lbs around her belly in the form of her unborn child. Upon collision with our computer programming friend her water breaks, he is left to drive her to the hospital. With the arrival of the child progressing quickly and Stanton finds himself unable to get away. It doesn't help that due to some miscommunications the nursing staff thinks he is the Father and have interpreted his clear desire to get out the door as a sign that his is more delinquent than Father, something they are sure to correct.

By the time he gets out the door he is so entangled in the lives of Jennifer and her new child that he begins to get involved, and well perhaps you can guess the rest (or can you?)

Suicide Island - This book finds us a top of the golden gate bridge with Troy, about to jump. A mysterious figure comes out from the fog and offers him an alternative to a cold splash of an end to his life. Once the offer is given the figure disappears. Curiosity gets the best of Troy and he finds himself with the stranger in a small room discussing this new option. Troy is offered a new life, free of many of the things he wanted to be rid of, but he must give up his identity. Agreement is reached, and before long Troy finds himself alone, on a tropical island. Here he must discover and rediscover if he really does want to live, and if so how to get back a truly get his name and life back.

Pizza Private Eye (PPE) - Riley has always struggled from one job to another, and when he gets fired for the forth time in less than a year he can barely bring himself to go home and tell his wife and three young kids. His dream has always been to be an officer but neither his health, or school test scores are up to the task. He tried several times to enter the academy, but failed to get in. When he gets home his wife and he get into a fight and he ends up back on the streets, determined to do something. It's a Friday night so he drives by a pizza place and sees how busy they are and decides to get a job delivering pizza. They tell him they have to give the pizza for free if it takes more than 30 minutes to deliver. Well on his first delivery he sees some suspicious activity and decides to investigate. What he finds makes it pretty clear who is guilty and who is not on a large case.

He fails to meet the 30 minutes and gets fired, but doesn't care. He figures he could solve crime for a living after all. He would be a private eye and make the police pay him for clues and to solve cases, starting with the one he already solved. He goes into the police station and they don't take him seriously at all and are totally unwilling to hire him to work a case. That is when he remembers the way they sold pizzas (30 minutes) or less. He promises he'll solve the case in 30 hours or less or they don't have to pay him. They decide there is little to lose and hire him, the clock starts. He uses the information he already has and gets to work solving the case. He makes more in that 30 hours than he ever made in a single pay check.  He opens his job and in homage to what inspired his marketing plan of 30 hours or less names his business, Pizza Private Eye but to avoid saying it calls it PPE.

Just Outside the Park - If you ever travel to Bryce Canyon, Zion or any other national park, they are always two things, beutiful and crowded. But those I know best, I also know that there are places just as beutiful or very similar, outside the official boundaries. There areas are often both free to go to and much less crowded. The idea is to compile a book of the best hikes to those in the parks but that are just outside the park. That way when you go and the place is so crowded you can't even get in you can simply follow the directions in my book and find a hike that will be left to you.

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Saturday, May 5, 2018

On their backs

Beach in Thailand

I never expected to be laying on the floor trying to sleep in a hot room with no air conditioning between a bunch of immigrants from Cambodia, but there I was, and of all the things I did in that beautiful beach town, it was the most memorable.

Early that day I walked through glimmering walking streets with neon lights everywhere, I visited the huge shopping malls with their beautiful and elaborate displays, I waded in the warm ocean water, and I sat in the shade of a palm tree reading the entirety of The Alchemist while someone brought me fresh coconut water until the sun slowly set over the ocean waters into a beautiful evening. It had been the definition of picturesque, the type of day that would be written about in travel logs and put in advertisements for tourism and hotels. Yet it was not the most interesting, or most treasured part of my short trip to the Thai beach town. That would come later, when I planned to be far away from there.
I planned to stay only few days, and the few days were up. What is more, I only had money for a few days. I had been in Thailand some time and no longer had a bank card, or anyway to get money. My only option was the cash I carried. I was running low, but I was not worried. I just needed the 500 bhat or so for a bust ticket and I would be gone back to my home in the north-east of Thailand. That is how travel had always worked for me before, but not this time.

“Mae Sot” I said to the lady at the counter, “Full” she replied, and pointed me to another bus company. I went there and got the same response. After exhausting every bus company in the city I realized I was not getting home that day. I went through a lot of crazy stuff in Thailand, but this is the first time where I felt genuinely panicked. I had not realized is that it was a holiday weekend and everyone was headed back home. Every bus was full. I was stranded.

I was an American in beach town Thailand, who didn’t speak more than a few phrases of the language, almost out of money (with no way to get more) and no place to go. I could not afford another night in a hotel and still have enough to get a bus out of the city. With my phone nearly dead (I had to find some outlet in the bus station just to keep it alive) I reached out to a few locals I had met and randomly got contact information from (even though I had no real intention of ever talking to them again). I'm not in the habit of asking to stay at the house of people I recently met, but desperation is a powerful motivator. The first person said I couldn't, but then on the next I lucked out. She was not even Thai, she was Cambodian, and I had no idea what was about to happen.
It was about 10 p.m. when I got to her place. I had walked most the way because I couldn't afford a taxi. She didn’t get there for about another hour. Most her flatmates didn’t get there for a few hours after that. If these were Americans you might think they were late night partiers. But these were not Americans. These were Cambodian immigrants.
The town is in many ways the Las Vegas of Thailand. Both in their way are beautiful with a facade of bright lights and spectacular shows, huge modern shopping malls and luxurious hotels. It was full of tourists from Russia, Germany, Australia, and just about everywhere else. There are so many Russian tourists that most signs are in both Thai and Russian, a strange combination you would never expect to exist.
And just as in Vegas, to have clean hotels and cheap food, someone, usually immigrants, needs to clean the hotels, wash the dishes, and make the food. In Vegas those people are often immigrants from Mexico, in Thailand immigrants eagerly come from Burma, Laos, and Cambodia to hopefully earn some more money than they could in their home country. In fact it might come as quite a shock to some western tourists to realize that their “authentic Thai food, at a Thai restaurant, in Thailand,” was actually made by a Burmese cook.
Regardless, in this place I will generously call an “apartment” there lived seven (four guys and three girls) of these immigrants. While most westerners in the town were out partying, I was with the people that made all the partying possible. The guys were all dish washers and cooks at restaurants. They got home about 2 a.m. The girls were either masseuses (as was the girl I knew) or maids and janitors for the many hotels and guesthouses. They got home between 11p.m and 2 a.m. One of the guys came in about 3 or 4 (I was in a sleepy daze by that point and could not pinpoint when it actually was).
The outside of the apartment probably most resembled one of those apartments they always show in documentaries about Detroit. They lived on the second floor. The stairs condition did not suggest to me that this was going to be any more of a luxurious stay than the outside had.
However horrible experience you have had with apartments, I assure you, your perception of apartments is a much too generous a mental image for what I saw. It was a single cement room. The walls had probably been painted at one point but at this point it was impossible to tell what color exactly. Some hue of grayish blue would be my best guess, but I'd more confidently bet on horse racing and I know nothing about horse racing. They did have electricity, and a fan. Air conditioning was of course completely out of the question in the over 90 degree swampy air. There was a single cupboard which they put some clothes in, but most their clothes and belongings were just stacked in piles around the edges of the room. They had a few “windows” or rather square holes where something that loosely resembled a screen to stop bugs was in place.
There was no bathroom in the room, but rather a single bathroom for the whole floor, which had about 5 or 6 other apartments which I could only imagine consisted of similar arraignments as the one I was visiting.
After walking around in the previously described weather all day, I was glad to have the chance to shower. The shower consisted of a bucket and a bowl. The bucket was full of water and the bowl was to pour said water over you. This was the nicest part of the apartment.
When it was time to go to bed, they put down several mats (the hard plastic-type) and blankets across the floor, then they all laid down in a row, the girls on one side, guys on the other. No beds. There was no carpet in the room, and some sheets you could have read through were used as blankets. That was their living experience. That was the sum total of their apartment. I did not get to know them very well as I mentioned, they got home pretty late and as you can imagine were pretty eager to get some shut eye. A few of them had children back in Cambodia, and most had not known each other previously. They were in the city of fun and pleasure to work, get some money, and get back home.
I laid there on the floor, hardly able to sleep in the sweltering heat, with hardly any space to move wondering how in the world I had arrived at that point. Earlier that day I had walked through some of the nicest buildings I had ben in, and here I was. It was amazing. The previous night I had stayed in a guesthouse with air conditioning, cable TV, and large and comfortable queen bed with a heated shower. Would I have welcomed one of these people into my room if they had missed their bus out of town while hardly knowing them? I don't know, probably not. I had truly been blessed. None of them were Christians, they were all Buddhists, yet they really were the people described in the words of Mathew, “I was a stranger, and ye took me in.” I was that stranger. As I lay on that floor, for a moment my anxiety about essentially being out of money and not having any idea how I would get home went away. How could I ever thank them enough.
The next morning I had to leave early with my fingers crossed I could arrange some transport. I thanked them as best I could (they spoke limited English, I spoke even less Thai, and even less Cambodian) and was on my way. Looking back now and thinking of that crazy apartment that they let ME stay in, I'm just overwhelmed at how blessed I was to run into such amazing people. I had multiple experiences like this while I was down and out with nothing while in Thailand, and always someone was there to help me. The world, for all its darkness, truly has many wonderful people.
It has been over three years since this little adventure. In that touristy town. While there I did do at least a few of the “touristy” things. Yet my favorite experiences from that trip were A. reading the entire book The Alchemist (as described above), eating breakfast with a German professor (a story for another time), and my last night staying in the most poverty-stricken of circumstances with a bunch of Cambodian immigrants. I guess this is to say there is nothing wrong with taking that big vacation to Disneyland or five star resort in Mexico. I'm sure it will be a great time and create many memories. However, sometime when you don't want to spend so much try something a little different. You don't need to go to Thailand or even get on a plane, just talk to some person you would never talk to normally. Find out about their life and how they live. It won't cost you much of anything and you may get a memorable experience out of it. Also, you may one day be stranded in a city with not even enough money to get a hotel, and you will be grateful for that connection you made and the chance to lay on a floor, and regardless of how destitute the circumstances, I promise it will feel better than a palace.