Living in Other People’s Homes

It has occurred to me a number of times over the course of the past few weeks that for the past six months we have been living in other people’s homes. Because we’ve been renting on the short-term rental market (Airbnb, Homestay, VRBO) we’ve stayed in hotels maybe 10 nights out of the 180-odd nights that have passed since we left Denver. By the same token, for that same period of time, other people have been living in our home in Denver. We get updates every so often from our property managers, but for the most part, we don’t hear anything, so I can only assume that things are just fine.

Living like this prompts you to think about the nature our lives together and the domestic spaces we inhabit. Sipping coffee from other people’s mugs, eating dinner from other people’s plates, relaxing on other people’s sofas and sleeping in other people’s beds for a considerable period of time makes you wonder about things: Where is our home? How do the things we surround ourselves with hold our memories?  What holds us together? What pulls us apart?

A house is brick and mortar. It’s something you buy and sell and occupy or allow someone else to occupy for you. A house is defined by legal documents like the deed or mortgage that sits in a box in your basement, and it’s defined through space–there’s a foundation, walls and a roof and there’s a fence that separates your property from your neighbors’.

A home, on the other hand, gathers up the emotional current of family life; it holds our memories, conversations, arguments, joys and failures. A home is the box of Christmas ornaments in your storage closet, the creaky step on the stairs that you just can’t fix and aren’t really sure that you wish to. A home is the way your front door key slides into the lock and the window in your bedroom that you gaze from in the middle of the night when you can’t sleep.

A hotel room is an instrument–you use it for a night or two, maybe three, and it’s primarily a place to drop your bags and return to after a day of sightseeing. There’s a bed and a bathroom and there are some mass-produced cups and glasses and towels, but a hotel room isn’t populated with material objects that hold memories, that carry on traditions and that shine a light onto the interiors of our lives. A hotel room doesn’t leave anything behind. Once you leave, the cleaning crew comes through as sweeps, dusts and wipes away what you left behind.

I often wonder how living in other people’s homes has changed our experiences on the road, and while I’m sure staying in hotels would have been just fine, I also think that we would have missed some of the things we’ve gained. Beyond the costs and the inconvenience of staying in hotels, living in Airbnbs gives you access to a different kind of travel. It’s a travel of existence, as opposed to a travel of instrumentality.

Because you communicate directly with the Airbnb hosts, you learn things about their lives just through exchanging information and sorting out arrival and departure plans. My favorite Airbnb homes are the ones that are occupied by the owners. This situation was actually quite common among the places we stayed and it’s especially the case when you rent outside tourist regions and when you get off that tourist grid. In these homes, you can, in some ways, literally see and feel the imprint of other lives in the houses you are visiting. Generally, these properties are the primary residence of the owners, who clear out when renters arrive. I like these kinds of arrangements because you are actually living in someone’s house and you are sharing in a part of their lives. It’s a home that is populated with material items that have personal and family history.

The owner of the shotgun row home we rented in Sydney, Australia collected Asian art and had children’s drawings (his nephews and nieces, I presumed) taped to the refrigerator. The flat we rented in Phnom Penh, Cambodia was owned by a British national whose bookshelves were stuffed with French literature and Cambodian history and whose walls were lined with  portraits of family members. With their fine English suits and dresses and their knowing, confident gazes, they looked like they came from a long line of diplomats. The frayed edges of the blanket on the sofa of the young woman’s flat in Tokyo, the chips and stains in the tea cups of the Chinese couple’s hi-rise in Auckland, the weathered picnic table in the backyard of the farm house in Rotorua, New Zealand–all these things, all this stuff, makes up the history of other people’s lives that we, in some small way, participated and shared in. It causes me to wonder: what will our home in Denver feel like when return?  Will it feel, for a time, just like another short-term rental which we are passing through? Or will we immediately reconnect with the material world that we’d left behind?

Five years ago, the short-term rental market barely existed so we would have spent the better part of the last six months in hotels. There are some real benefits in renting off the short-term rental market. From a purely economic perspective, you save a lot of money. A three-star hotel room in any given European city would be a minimum of 150 euros a night, about twice what we generally spend on an Airbnb. So, thinking like an economist, this is great for everyone: we have more money in our pockets to spend in restaurants and shops and the local economy, in turn, the community benefits from our extra Euros floating around. By the same token, our house in Denver is nearly fully occupied, so are we bringing in revenue to pay off the mortgage and there are people in the house, making it less likely to be broken into or flooded from a broken pipe.

The short-term rental market also offers you a wider range of geographical places to stay in most cities. Most hotels, that is, are located in central tourist areas (city centers) or commercial areas (like near airports) so you can get caught in tourist traps and geographical spaces that are dominated by multinational commercial interests. The short-term rental market, though, is made up of properties in all kinds of neighborhoods throughout most major cities.  When we were in Sydney, for instance, we stayed in Surrey Hills, a neighborhood about three light rail stops from the main business district. We ate in locally owned restaurants, shopped in small markets and just sort of mixed in with the other residents of Surrey Hills. This was the case, as well, in our stays in Phnom Penh, Tokyo, Budapest, Rome and Seville.

But lest this starts to sound like free advertising for the short-term rental market, let me say that there’s also a dark side to this whole thing because while it’s easy for me to hail the cost and convenience of Airbnb rentals, the reality is that Airbnb rentals can do real damage in many places. Think about it: you own a two bedroom flat in downtown Barcelona and you start to realize that you can make more money renting your place through Airbnb. What are you going to do? Or, worse: you are an estate agent/real estate developer and you start buying up whole apartment complexes in downtown Barcelona, turning a majority of the units over to Airbnb rentals. That’s great for the developer and the landlord and for people like me, but if you live in one of these areas, how would you feel if swaths of the real estate market in your neighborhood started getting turned over to short-term rentals?

It took me way too long to come around to this understanding. In fact, I remember almost the exact moment that I snapped out of this optimistic haze and started thinking about the deeper and darker implications of short-term rental market: Sujata and I were out for a stroll in Barcelona on Christmas Eve. It was such a beautiful evening. There were loads of people out on the streets, there was music in the cafes and bars, folks were walking around with bags of groceries to make their Christmas meals and bags of presents to give to their loved ones. Everyone seemed happy and I just kept looking around in wonderment that I was here, in the middle of Barcelona, one of the world’s most beautiful cities, during the holiday season. Sujata broke my naive reverie by declaring, “You know, this is great and all, but what is this city going to look like in five years when this whole neighborhood is turned over to Airbnb rentals.”


Most of us enjoy living where we live because we know and trust our neighbors. Strong communities and strong neighborhoods are made up of families and individuals who have a stake in the communities they live in and who watch out for each other. Back home in Denver, there have been countless times when I’m making something in the kitchen and realize that I’m short one ingredient so I just send the kids over to our neighbors to make up the difference. They go over to Wayne and Darlene’s for an egg or an onion or down to Matt and Malia’s for a fist full of basil (or more likely, two fingers of whiskey). And what we take is always paid back: homemade cookies for the eggs, a bowl of fresh pesto for the basil and, a beer or two for the whiskey. And it’s not just about borrowing household items. It’s quid pro quo; you take a little and you give a little and in the exchange you develop relationships with your neighbors. Sure, you get people watching your back, but you also get the richness of knowing the people who live on your block.

You can’t operate that way, though, in a community that’s dominated by short-term rentals. It’s not so much that people don’t trust each other; they just don’t know each other and ultimately not knowing breeds mistrust.

So, I get it that great cities like London, Barcelona and New York are wary of short-term rentals eating into their communities. This dynamic is a testament to the complexity of living in the globalized world we live in. The benefits abound, and an argument can be made that those benefits are shared, to some extent, across a diverse and wide range of participants. The deleterious aspects are there as well, although they are a bit more difficult to see (or easier to ignore). This, I suspect, is the nature of the economic world we live in.  Multinational corporations like Apple and Airbnb (I think it will be offered as an IPO this year) provide us with reasonably inexpensive goods and services that make our lives easier on many levels. So easy, in fact, that it benefits us to ignore what lies underneath. That said, I don’t expect that we will stop renting Airbnbs because of ethical considerations. But it does, I think, point to the fact that we need strong and ethically-minded public officials who know how to establish fair and thoughtful legislation that allows for the kind of freedom and adventure that a traveler experiences through Airbnb and, at the same time, protects and nourishes the integrity of community life.





The New America Comes to Rome . . . Or Does it?

We have been in Rome for five days and I am happy and relaxed because traveling like this tends to keep my mind off The Unraveling of America. I am more focused, for instance, on admiring the multitude of public fountains, obelisks and statutes in this great city than I am on checking in on the latest Cabinet appointment or tweet from #45. That is as it should be. There will be plenty of time to mire myself in and fight against the reactionary forces that have become my country. For now, I’m just trying to bask in the ancient sunlight of Rome.

For the most part, that’s all gone fairly well. Until last night, that is, when Sujata and I, in that hour or two after sightseeing and before dinner, left the kids in the flat and trundled down the stairs and out the door to a quiet, cozy little wine bar just steps from the Pantheon.

Sujata had stopped in on her own the day before to get a bottle of wine for dinner and the young Italian barkeep, Alex, greeted us warmly and welcomed her back.  We sat ourselves in the middle of the bar’s only table–a long narrow wood-top that faced myriad bottles of Italian wine.  Alex suggested a bold, fruity Cab and in no time at all we were swirling our wine in glasses and chatting with Alex about his life in Rome. Alex is an uncommonly friendly and generous host. He shared stories about his own life and asked us where we were from and about the travel adventures we’ve had over the course of the past four months. At that point it was just the three of us in the bar and we were all laughing and enjoying the conversation.

I felt a cold breeze at my feet and turned to see the door swing on its hinges. A tall blond woman with a fur coat emerged from the street and behind her was a man in a Patagonia jacket and carrying (could it be?) a forty ounce bottle of beer in a paper bag. They had that charmless American habit of talking (loudly) as they entered a room and that, combined with the accents, gave them away as American passport holders within seconds.

Fair enough, there are plenty of Americans here in Rome and most of them we have had contact with have been perfectly nice, so I just tucked my feet under the chair for more warmth and turned back to the conversation with Sujata and Alex.

It became, though, increasingly difficult to focus as the New Arrivals paced up and down the bar, making audible observations about the decor and announcing to Alex that this was exactly the kind of wine bar that they planned on opening in St. Louis. The woman began taking photographs on her iPhone while the man, hunched over his beer, began a discourse on “price points” and square footage.

Alex, who was very happy to serve Sujata and me and to go into great detail about wines we were sampling, made the New Arrivals serve themselves. I was ready to down the wine and get the hell out of there, but, at the same time, I was enjoying myself and why should these people force us out? We stayed, ordered another glass and the New Arrivals, after 15 minutes or so of  continued public observations, picked themselves up and scuttled out the door, in search, no doubt, of another space to call their own.

While all this was happening, I (unsuccessfully) tried to supress a dark thought, so I just whispered it to Sujata. She winced.  Maybe my speculation was just that, just speculation. But, maybe this was it. Maybe this was that Two Americas that we’ve read about since 9 November, that has divided homes, enboldened some citizens to sucker punch, verbally harrass and deface the property of other citizens. The New America that we have  been protected by from our travels.

I hope I was dead wrong and I hope that my thoughts were rash and harsh judgements on perfectly reasonable and kind fellow countrymen and women.

But the sad thing is that the thought even occured to me and that I believe it is occurring to people all over the United States, every day and every hour.

Thoughts on the American Election from Abroad; or, Blue on the Danube

When I woke up in Budapest at 4 am on 10 November, the early returns started coming in, and it didn’t look good. By 4:30, we were all awake, huddled around my laptop, eyes glued to the live CNN feed. Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania had all gone red.

It was over, and a new chapter of American life had begun.

I started to feel like the walls of our flat were moving in on me, so I laced up my running shoes and jogged up the Pest side of the Danube. It was a hazy, blue-gray morning. The sun was rising behind me, and I kept the Danube to my left as I ran west past the Chain Bridge and the Parliament Building before finally turning around and heading home.

Blue Danube alright.

It felt good to move, but my chest and my gut were hollow and I kept thinking of Yeats’ words, “All changed, changed utterly.”

Almost 80 years ago, Allied bombs destroyed all of the major bridges that connected Buda and Pest. As I ran up the river, admiring these rebuilt steel spans and watching the runners, cyclists and walkers moving across them, I couldn’t help but think of the political climate in Europe at that time–a period of rampant nationalism, forced marches of vulnerable people across international borders and truculent rhetoric aimed at outsiders. We say “never again,” but the words of Trump and his followers are not that dissimilar from the war cries heard across this part of the world in the middle of the last century. I worry that the threats of political violence that Trump and his supporters expressed during the vitriolic campaign season won’t be neatly put in a nice box with a bow on top.

The Chain Bridge, below. It connects Buda to Pest

When I got back to the flat, Atticus greeted me with a long, sad hug. He knows what all this means and he feels it deeply. I, for better or worse, don’t hold much back with him–I think he should know how his parents deal with this sort of thing so I just grabbed him and said, “We lost our country today, son.” That’s not hyperbole and it’s not whining. It’s just a fact.

Sujata comes from a family of immigrants, we are a mixed family, and brown and black people will be marked in news ways in this new America. I fear for my kids, but I also know that we have a good deal of privilege and protection so I fear more for my undocumented friends, my LGBTQ friends, and my black and brown friends who are more vulnerable than we are. I will help, support and be an ally for them when I return.

So, we move on.

I’m in Budapest to give some lectures and visit some classes at Karoli Gaspar University, a beautiful campus just south of Budapest’s Inner City. We’ve been treated with kindness and we’ve witnessed random acts of graciousness just about everywhere we have traveled in this beautiful and welcoming city. The professors, administrators and students at Karoli Gaspar have accepted me, a guest, a stranger, with open arms and even on the busy Budapest metro we’ve seen people helping each other out. This all feels so contrasting to the images we are getting from the States.

On Monday I lectured to a master’s level class of theatre students. I talked about the theatricality of American political and public life from the nineteenth century to the present, and I concentrated on the historical trajectory from PT Barnum and a nineteenth-century culture of public exhibition to the branded politics of the the Trump campaign.

Today, I was scheduled to talk to a class that has been following the American election for the past six weeks. The professor asked me to begin with some personal reflections on what it’s been like following the election from aboard and then to talk about how the United States has arrived at this political and cultural juncture.  I prepared a set of notes long before the class and before I left the flat to go to class, I took the notes from my back pack, quickly read them over . . . and then crumpled them up and tossed them in the trashcan. Those notes were written, I realized, with the assumption that things would basically stay the same. What I assumed then, made no sense now.

I draw a great deal of energy from teaching, and I always look forward to being in a classroom with students. Today, though, I dreaded walking into the classroom. My legs felt heavy and my tongue felt thick. I felt ashamed of the racist, misogynist, xenophobic and hateful America that elected Trump, I felt angry at the Democrats for letting it get to this point, and I felt helpless that there was nothing I could do about it. I was also very worried that I’d break down and cry in front of these strangers and that I’d further tarnish their sense of who we are and what we have become.

I didn’t weep, but I felt heavy and somber for the first 20 minutes or so and then as we began interacting I started to feel some physical and emotional levity. The students asked good, thoughtful questions and I think they sensed my sadness and reached out to help. It felt good (cathartic) to speak a bit about how this election has affected me and I’m grateful to those students for listening and dialoguing with me about it. Afterward, I spent the last hour walking them though a short history of populism in the United States. From Shay’s Rebellion to the fear of secret European societies (the Free Masons), Catholics, Jews, Communists, blacks, Asians and now, just about everybody, populist (what Richard Hofstadter called “The Paranoid Style of American Politics”) sentiment has become a significant st(r)ain on our collective political and cultural life. Today, it reared up again.

There’s another more noble and honorable strain of American public life and, for me, it’s best represented in Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” so I closed the class with that, thanked the students and wished them good luck. They’ll need it. So will we.

This class felt important to me. Sometimes I feel that the academic life is too conceptual and abstract. What are we really doing, anyway? Are we making a difference? Are we helping to make a more just, thoughtful and civic-minded society? Most of the time I can’t answer those questions in the positive, but given what just happened in America, at least for myself, I feel a new obligation and a new energy to show students who we are as a people and to provide spaces for them to talk, disagree and shape their own lives and societies.

We are back on the train–heading home to Timisoara. It’s just 24 hours since we heard the news, but it feels like a lifetime.

I’m looking forward to getting back to Timisoara. I can’t wait to see my students tomorrow and to hear what they have to say about the election. More on that later.

Blogging Methodology

A note on my blogging methodology, if you can even call it that.

When we arrive to any given country, I search for one or two books to download to my Kindle. In Indonesia, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I downloaded Elizabeth Pisani’s Indonesia, Etc. In New Zealand and Australia, I read introductory books on the history of those countries and I also bought a few bound copies of bird and tree books. Buying the bound books is a bit of a problem because they are more expensive and they are also heavy–we are all still carrying one backpack and we’ve even lighted our load by shipping things home periodically so anything we buy has be fit in one of the packs.

As an aside, I’m not generally a savvy or interested shopper, but shopping in Bali was intoxicating. There is stuff everywhere and it’s cool and off-beat and cheap, so you just want to purchase things everywhere you go. We’ve been relatively careful, though. Before we left Bali, I gathered up the things we bought, sans the Garuda and dancing dolphin miniature woodcarvings that the kids bought (and had already been wrapped up). It’s not too much:


Oh but I forgot to mention the sauer wood dining table we purchased from Ketu, a woodworkers in Ubu:


Back to the methodology: I’ll read the Kindle and bound books at night, if I’m not too tired, and I’ll take notes on some of the things that I think will make it into the blog.

During the day, I try to talk to as many people as possible about anything that has to do with the history or culture of the place where we are. The reading helps with this, because I know just enough to ask questions that are laced with a modicum of intelligence and, I hope, demonstrates my interest in the place to the person I’m talking with. I’ll take notes on these conversations, sometimes as I’m talking with the person, sometimes after I get home.

In Bali, it was easy to talk to just about anyone. The Balinese are a gregarious, friendly people and they want to know where you are from, how you like Bali and what you have seen. They are also very keen to talk about Hindu ceremonies, the village banja or entertain questions about Balinese culture, like rice production or wood carving. I did not find this to be the case in Australia or New Zealand. It wasn’t that the Aussies and Kiwis were unkind or rude, but they are more closed off and suspicious of strangers, more like Americans, I guess.  I generally have been waiting until we leave or about to leave a country before I write my posts because I feel like I’m gathering information that builds and builds.

I write the posts pretty quickly, usually within an hour, although, I might start one, leave it for a bit and then begin another one.


Colorado Beer

As I was riding my bike home this evening, I stopped in at Mondo Vino, our local liquor store in the Highlands. Mondo is the premier spirits store in Denver, maybe in the the whole State of Colorado. It’s owned by Duey Kratzer, a good friend of ours. Well, Duey is a good friend of just about everybody in the Highlands. He keeps us happy.

Mondo is the kind of place where you can approach anyone who works there, look them in the eye and say, something like, “Risotto with asparagus, walnut salad and pan-fried zucchini,” and they’ll, without a moment of hesitation, walk you over to the exactly-appropriate pinot noir or Beaujolais often with the accompanying question, “French, domestic or Kiwi?” I try to stump them, but they always prevail.

Today, I picked a six-pack of Dale’s Pale Ale out of the cooler, walked to the register, placed the beer on the counter and, like I usually do, started bantering with the folks that work there. Josh is a Michigan guy and a cyclist, so we usually talk about one or both of those things. Matthew always asks where the kids are (if they aren’t with me) and I always say, “I have no idea.” Shana always wears a beautiful scarf, so I complement her on that. When Duey’s there, I give him a big hug and we talk about our kids, who are all friends. As I was chatting with Josh, it occurred to me that this was the last six-pack of Dale’s that I’d have in quite some time; that is, I don’t think I’m going to find any in Phenom Phen or Osaka. Oh my. I got a little teary-eyed at that thought.


That’s to say that for us here in Colorado, craft beer is a really big deal. Colorado has an interesting history when it comes to beer. Everyone knows about Coors, of course, that monolithic brewery just a few miles west of Denver. Coors started brewing beer in Colorado around 1873 and, except for the dark years of Prohibition, has been churning out a watered-down version of a Czech pilsner since then. I will admit, though, that I will drink Coors sometimes, and that I kind of like it. In a pinch.

After Jimmy Carter signed a bill in 1978 that made it legal for bars to sell home brews (HR 1337), the craft beer brew tradition started in Colorado. The first craft beer brewery in Colorado was the Boulder Beer Company, and it’s still going strong, but, I have to say, it’s been outpaced by some of the other breweries, like Oskar Blues and Odell. Currently, there are over 300 craft breweries in Colorado. My good friend, Cath Kleier, is a professor Biology at Regis, and she also started a Brewing Certificate in our Biology program, so even academics can get in on the beer action here in Colorado. If you live in Colorado, you could probably only drink Colorado beer for a good portion of your life and be quite happy.

Given the attention to local breweries and craft brews, there is a vibrant brew pub culture here in Denver. Here’s an example: last weekend my folks came to visit from Pennsylvania and on Sunday afternoon we said, “Let’s go to Goldspot [a brew pub adjacent to my University], have a few beers and play Trivial Pursuit,” to which my folks replied, “What are we going to do with the kids? You can’t take kids to a bar.” But the truth is that a brew pub isn’t a bar–it just serves beer that it makes, and the culture in just about any brew pub in Denver is family friendly–they want you to come in with your family, sample their fare, play some games, talk to people from the neighborhood. It’s a kind of a malty democracy.

Beyond all that, though, Colorado beer is important to me not just because it tastes good and because when I buy it I’m contributing to our local economy. It really has more to do with memory and relationships. When I have a Dale’s, for instance, I always think of our dear friends, the Sheas, who introduced me to Dale’s and always have at least a six-pack in their fridge. Every Easter weekend, the Sheas and the Fretzes go to Fruita or Moab for a mountain biking weekend and after a long day on the single tracks, we sit around the campfire, clutching our Dale’s and watching the children burn marshmallow after marshmallow.

Even if I did find a Dale’s in Bucharest or Bratislava, I guess, it wouldn’t taste the same as it does here, in the high desert. That’s okay, though. I’m sure I’ll find plenty of other beers to drink and plenty of other folks to love and care for, as we make our way.






I can’t recall how much of the story I’m going to tell you actually happened and how much of it was a dream:

A few weeks ago, Sujata and I stayed overnight at the cabin of our friends, Rudy and Liza. The cabin is close to Nederland—just up Canyon Road on the way out of Boulder. We go up there three or four times a year with Rudy and Liza and our families, but this weekend, we were celebrating Liza’s 40th birthday so were 30 or 40 other folks there and about 15 people stayed overnight.

I was hazy by the time I crawled into bed that night. We had been there since the early afternoon and we were drinking and dancing until we all collapsed around 2 am. Sujata was already asleep and I always have trouble sleeping up there—I go into a kind of misty slumber where I’m aware that I’m awake, but I’m not alert.

We were staying in the master bedroom on the second floor. It’s large, beautiful room with a small sitting room and a large bed. There are exposed beams in the peaked ceiling and there is a large sliding glass door that you can open and step through out on to a long and narrow porch.

This is the part where I can’t distinguish dream from reality.

Sometime in the middle of the night, I got out of bed and started pacing around the room. I walked around the sofa in the sitting room and then found myself in front of the sliding glass door. It was a warm night, so I grabbed the door handle and gently slid the door open. I could make out shadows down below but nothing was moving, and all I could hear were cicadas and some soft rustling in the bushes. The sky was clear, and the moon was full and bright, but it was on the other side of the house, so the light it cast was indirect and the shadows jutted outward from where I was standing. I didn’t have my glasses on, either, so that added to my visual confusion.

I decided to step out onto the patio and as soon as I picked up my right foot and lifted it over the threshold, I had a sudden and fearsome sense that the patio wasn’t actually there—that the patio floor that I could dimly make out was just an illusion and that if I stepped out with my other foot, I’d fall two stories onto whatever was down there—I couldn’t quite make it out.

So I held on to the door frame and with my left foot firmly planted on the solid ground, I lifted my right foot over the threshold and gingerly felt for something firm with my right toe. All clear! My toe and then my foot settled on something hard and firm, so I let go of the door frame, slid my other foot across the threshold and there I was, standing on the patio.

I gripped the railing, looked across the meadow and up into the foothills. My heart was racing from the thought of the fall, and I was still disoriented. I was about to turn around and go back to bed, or at least get off the patio, which was addling me, when I looked to my right and I saw a spiral staircase that led from the patio down to the ground. The staircase was black so it melded into the night, and I couldn’t really distinguish between the staircase itself and the shadows of the trees. Part of me wanted to just get back inside, but then another part of me wondered about the staircase. I gingerly moved across the patio and toward the staircase and when I got to where the patio ended and the staircase began, as I stepped my foot off the patio, I had the same terrifying thought as I did a few moments before: what if this staircase is not real? Again, I looked down and I couldn’t see what was there, but my agitated mind saw a dark hole, 30 or 40 feet deep.

If I took one more step, I might just plunge right into the hole.

It was 3 am—no one would hear me fall, I’d descend and crumble–like a piece of toast smashed by a hammer–at the bottom of the pit. I’d lie there for a while, in great pain and agony and then, well, I’d just expire. In the morning, no one would be able to find me—they’d search in vain until, finally, close to noon, someone would peer down into the pit and see my lifeless body below.

With that, I wheeled around on my left foot and basically hopped back into bed. I was sweating, my mind was racing, I didn’t know if I was dreaming or awake. There were a few anxious moments where I thought I actually did fall into the hole and that I was imagining being in bed! I reached over and felt Sujata—she was there for real, so that calmed me a bit.

I didn’t say anything to Sujata the next morning, nor to anyone else, but that feeling and that sensation that I felt on the patio hasn’t quite left me—I guess that’s why I’m writing about it—to get it out, turn it upside down and around in my hands, gaze at it a bit and try to figure out what it was.




You probably have a place in your neighborhood where you like to go—maybe it’s a favorite restaurant, bar, or coffee shop. For us, in the Highlands, it’s an ice cream shop called Sweet Cow.


We’ve been going to Sweet Cow pretty regularly since it opened four years ago. We’ve become friendly with the owner, Ross, and a lot of Regis kids work there. You can always count on running into neighborhood friends there as well so it’s become a favorite stop of ours while we are walking around the neighborhood. Oh, and the ice cream is delicious.

Yesterday, the kids and I walked down to Sweet Cow to say goodbye to Ross—we hadn’t seen him for some time because he’s been opening up a new store, so we contacted him and agreed to meet up before we left on our trip. I forgot to take a photo of Ross and the kids, so I just took this from the Sweet Cow site:


(Ross if you don’t like this photo–send me another!)

Ross started telling my kids silly jokes. The kids particularly liked this one:

How do you catch a unique rabbit?

Unique up on him.

How do you catch a tame rabbit?”

The tame way, you unique up on him!

My son, who loves wordplay found this amusing.

We fell into an easy conversation. My daughter informed Ross that she plans on opening a Sweet Cow in Manhattan when she enrolls at the Pratt Institute where she will launch a new line of Sweet Cow clothing that will include pants and shoes. This was news to me. We started talking about all the places we are traveling to—the kids volleyed names of countries we will be visiting, and Ross, who is well traveled, told us to go to a baseball game and Japan and he had some other good travel advices as well.

Before we left, Ross told the kids to pick out a Sweet Cow t-shirt or hat—they chose the hats and my daughter has not taken hers off since then.


As we were leaving, he looked at the kids and said, “Here’s the best bit of advice I can give you, though: wherever you are and whatever you do, be nice to people.” He paused and asked, “Do you know why?” My son, ever the utilitarian, replied, “So they are nice back to you!” Ross gently shook his head and said, “Yeah, maybe, but really, it’s just the right thing to do, and if you are nice to other people, they’ll be nice to other people and people will be happier.”

It’s good advice from a good person.

We will miss Ross and all the good folks at Sweet Cow and while we will look high and low, I doubt that we’ll find a better ice cream shop anywhere in the world.