The phone rang.

‘What's up Lee?’

‘The Harry Dean Stanton Band is playing this weekend.’

Both Lee and I were of the mind that it was likely some cover band that would play Tex-Mex and perhaps songs from some movie theme album. He gave me the address in downtown San Jose. It didn't leave me much the wiser. I'd been out there in CA for about a month, working for a UK company and living out of my luggage in a hotel with a company car and a stone's throw from my temporary office.

It was the early nineties, before mobile phone GPS route apps, and I was not the type get an award for map reading. They could have almost been as useful a Jackson Pollock painting. Fair enough, that's an exaggeration for slight satirical effect. Needless to say, airing on the side of caution I set out earlier than need be for someone who knows their way. My reasoning was, I'd park up early, wonder around, get some tacos or burrito and wash it down with an ice cold one before the concert.

As you might of guessed, I took a wrong turn on the outskirts of the city, and soon realised I was totally on the wrong side of the town in more ways than one. Not being a complete neophyte; I had grown up in a city and realised I could be in trouble. Fortunately there was still daylight. Seeing a car parked on bricks and graffiti, less than a couple of minutes off the freeway; I thought it best to get directions, fully conscious of the fact I drove a rental that shouted shoot me and steal my ride. Dressed in a hat, jeans and boots, though not sticking out like a complete sore thumb in little Mexico, but more worrisome like the Midnight Cowboy; I shuffled into what looked like a small convenience store. That was a safe bet for directions.

Pushing back a tacky plastic strip fly curtain, bright daylight was shed on a wall with covered with rows of Mexican titled VHS videos. At that moment, perhaps I didn’t realise how fortunate it was to be bilingual. That coupled with the fact of looking a little on the Mediterranean side, if you get my drift. As my eyes adjusted to the dimmer light within, I noticed a high counter, rack of booze behind, a large bodied man in a white vest and another man stood further down. Both silently eyed me, and I could have sworn for a moment I'd entered a Spaghetti Western. Like the scene when the gringo stranger steps in the bar a the piano player suddenly stops. The silent paused dragged out, then for some inexplicable reason, and without thought crossing my mind; I broke out in Spanish.

‘Buenas tardes, disculpen, como puedo llegar a la segunda Avenida San Jose. Creo que me perdí.’ – Good afternoon, excuse me, how do I get to Second Avenue? I think I'm lost.

The pause thereafter lengthened uncomfortably probably only for me. Suddenly they chuckled and grinned. A wave of relief washed right over me.

‘Hombre! buenas tardes.’– ‘Good afternoon man!’ He said cheerfully.)

I thought, thank you Jesus as I stepped towards them. Just as a Texan who had never come across an Englishman might be pleasantly curious to hear the same language in a foreign accent; more so these Mexicans hearing whom they likely believed to be a genuine Spaniard. After a brief exchange I was given clear and easy to follow directions. I was about to leave when he beckoned me closer.

‘You best leave before it gets dark.’ You could see there wasn't an ounce of humour in his tone or eyes. The other guy appeared to give a slight nod.

‘Entendido, muchas gracias.’ – Understood, many thanks.

To my relief, I found myself driving down a main city street lickety split. And there was a blurring of time and memory, but I found myself easily parking within sight of the venue. I made my way up into the open hall where bar stretched the length of the wall. Some guys were setting up, and the place was near empty. There was a guy prepping behind the bar. Down the end was a women standing beside a shorter man I couldn't quite see. I didn’t give them a second glance. I needed a drink as much as a man who had stepped out of the Sahara after eating a sand sandwich. I ordered a shot and beer. That cold beer tasted like heaven, and for a moment I imagined some guardian angel standing beside me and patting me on the back with a smile that said, son, if only you knew what you just dodged.

The women at the end of the bar left for the rest room. It was then I noticed the slender somewhat slightly dishevelled man standing with a glass of white wine before him, or so I remember, maybe it was hers. That’s definitely Harry Dean Stanton, I thought. You might argue it could have been a lookalike, but brother, you know someone you meet if you've seen a fair degree of their cinematographic work. I walked up. I appreciated that the guy, as much as anyone else, likes their privacy and would prefer not being pestered, especially if they’re prepping for a show. He observed me in a relaxed manner as I drew closer.

‘Excuse me. Are you Mr Harry Dean Stanton?’ I offered as you might do calmly and politely with anyone.

‘Yes I am, and you are?’ He replied in a relaxed personable manner and stretched out his hand. I was unable to contain a smile at that moment. I noted his easy smile and imagined him thinking, ‘Ok son, cool enough.’

We had a brief exchange. He asked me what I was doing in country and how I came to be at the venue. I relayed the discussion I’d had with my friend, made some brief reference to his works and quizzed him about the set. I offered to buy him a drink, though I recalled some time after that he had not touched the one before him on the bar.

‘I better not. It’s going to be a long night.’ His expression became more serious as he looked directly at me, hinting honestly at some backstory. I nodded and enquired no further. Seeing that the women who accompanied him was returning; I said I would trouble him no further and thanked him for taking the time to chat. There was no way I was going to sully the exchange by asking for an autograph. He said that after the session, he’d hang out with people for a drink and that I’d be welcome to join if still around. I didn’t take him up on the offer. It was not so much that conversation detail remains as a clear memory; more so, what was not verbally transmitted by two men unknown to each other simply having a polite exchange.

There was a steadily growing crowd when my friend turned up and I waved him over. It turned out I had also saved myself a five dollar entry cover charge, not that it was a big deal, thought it felt like the small cherry on the cake. I told Lee to check out who was at the end of the hall that had become a stage sorts.

‘No way, that’s Harry Dean Stanton.’

Over a couple of beers and between songs; I gave him a run down of what had transpired until a short while back. To which he said.

‘No way dude. That’s awesome.’ It sounded as if he was holding back his complete credulity. I raised my hand and told him that I sweared to every word...


...The complete first leg of the trip was over. The night city heat and humidity hit hard before and after the interminable, yet relieving air-conditioned cab ride down what felt like one of the longest streets on earth. Known as Sukhumvit, it subconsciously suggested to succumb to it, as there was no alternate option. Could there be something in that place that had already started working on a form of reasoning.

Forty kilometres south of the polar circle a red sun peaks above the horizon. A silent frozen still landscape pulls eerily at the depths within...

Large snowflakes silently battered the windshield as the headlights lit a white mist almost impossible to perceive beyond. The slushy highway ran like a winding scar through the white covered pine and rocky landscape leading up to the wilds of Swedish Lapland. The endless falling white washed away what trace there was of the road and even the streetlights became like a misty dim memory.

The landscape was filled with reflected silver light and absolute silence. Deeper darkness hid between pine tree trunks. Each deep footfall, breath and movement sounded clearly against the eerily still background. The layers of clothes and environment suit warn as protection from the plummeting dry cold gave the sensation of being an astronaut, treading a strange hostile yet alluring landscape that made one feel small and vulnerable.

In certain places where the forest pealed back and across to the other side of Lake Avan; the presence of life was discernible upon Sörbyn’s landscape in the distant familiar but solitary shape of sloped roofed houses under a dense white blanket. The warm glowing lights from within and the wisps of smoke that trailed into the dawn and dusk daylight tinted sky evoked memories of picturesque seasonal postcards.

With a hearty breakfast of moose bread, caviare, various cured meats, cheeses, cinnamon rolls and lashings of coffee, it was time for some chores. Calorie counting in such external environments was a touch redundant. My guide Richard, kennel owner, musher, chef and friend, asked me to accompany him on the snowmobile to check the state of the trail the dogs would be running. Camera in hand, we ventured out into the creeping dawn, stopping along the way to cut out growing roots and tough knotted tall grass that poked through the surface of the narrow track. The slithering trail that went through areas of thick forest and across the frozen lake had to be clear so as not to trip the dogs or snag the sled; a luxury not afforded in competitions through the semi-charted wilds. Aside from an injury to a fallen husky, a tumbling sled could harm both the dogs and musher where help could arrive too late, if it arrived at all.

Guessing the time of day for the uninitiated was confusing. The effort and time taken to do the simplest of tasks drained our energy and brought us close to midday. The sun had only shifted a short distance above the horizon and cast hews of amber, ochre, lilac to purple across the land and sky. Many colourfully descriptive narrative adjectives sprung to mind. A frozen white wild silent beauty barely described a near spiritual sensation the place encouraged. Richard’s wife and children who were playing tirelessly in the snow by the kennels stopped to watched us ride in. They had already fed the dogs and the huskies moved excitedly about their roomy enclosures, they sensed the time approached to hit the trail. The sled was uncovered and wrenched into place through the soft yielding snow. The harness and tethering was laid out and the dogs one by one set in their place with Brimer and Hanwi as the dependable sturdy leaders to rein in the zeal of the younger dogs that twitched with impatience.

The brake was released, the cry sounded and they yanked off at a pace onto the main road that lay beneath packed snow. The runners swooshed through the packed snow surface and the ice cold air burned the face. Another call and they ducked to one side off the main road, down a narrow tree lined trail that was more akin with a dangerous bob-slay track, before shooting out into a soft glow upon the expansive frozen lake. The deep blue cloudless sky came right down to the flat white majestic expanse. The enigma that is the isdimma, that low hanging frozen fog in the twilight, where ice particles shimmered and sparkled as only fairy dust could in the imagination; rose in clouds amongst the panting pounding dogs as the landscape unfurled in every direction.

Sweden has its own particular brand of Christmas culinary delights. Richard prepared the traditional Julbord or Christmas buffet as we sampled some newly acquired single malts. There were many wonderful home cooked dishes to prepare. Cured game, köttbullar, prinskorv - Swedish meatballs and mini sausages, Janssons Frestelse - Jansson’s Temptation, a casserole of potatoes, onions, anchovies and cream baked in the oven, laxpaj - salmon pie, Inglad sill - various recipes of pickled herring, gubbröra - egg, anchovy salad whose name means ‘old man’s mix’. Julskinka - Christmas glazed ham, leverpastej – liver paté, various cheeses, pickles and salads. Desserts and sweats included lussebullar - saffron buns, pepparkakor – ginger biscuits, Julbröd - Christmas bun, prinsesstårta – princes’ cake and other home made sweets. All washed down with Swedish bear and glögg – a spiced and sweetened simmered wine with raisins and almonds.

The most memorable holidays or travels do not necessarily consist of glamorous locations, accommodation, restaurants or entertainment; they can consist of special people who share of themselves and show you rare places off the well beaten path. Through these unique opportunities one can submerge completely in a culture, language, food and friendship in a foreign place. Not so much a holiday experience but memories for a lifetime.

A curious guest house

From the unpublished book - From Stockholm To Koh Chang

...The complete first leg of the trip was over. The night city heat and humidity hit hard before and after the interminable, yet relieving air-conditioned cab ride down what felt like one of the longest streets on earth. Known as Sukhumvit, it subconsciously suggested to succumb to it, as there was no alternate option. Could there be something in that place that had already started working on a form of reasoning.

With keys and complimentary bottle of water in hand; I was shown to my room by a pleasant, but completely dotty young woman who was suffering from uncontrollable giggles, if not some other undecipherable malady that could eventually unnerve one, especially after a long tiring trip.

Could there have been something in the air aside from the draining humidity and dim light causing this apparent phenomena, and for a moment, paranoia toyed with my weary mind. It occurred that I might have been the origin of her humorous state, which was rather than mildly disconcerting, acceptably amusing.

My colourful charactered and odd bell-girl wore a glittery star shaped hair clip that for some strange reason covered the greater part of her cranium and looked as out of place as I would amongst a crowd of Thai people waiting at a bus stop. Could it have been her Silver Star Intergalactic Communication array for transmitting her findings back to her home planet? Seriously, she was peculiar, and that gave rise to my bizarre flight of fancy.

She hung about giggling and fussing with the bed covers. I realised with embarrassment that she waited for a tip, how could I have been so short sighted. Goodness, it had been so long since I was in a hotel, well in this case, shabby but clean and comfortable guesthouse. It was down to earth and unpretentious. Definitely not a place for luxury seeking wingers who find fault with anything and expect to be constantly pampered in a princely manner, despite being petulant and pompously repulsive. Though I could ill afford starting an endless string of small gratuities; it was my first day.

Without a moment passed in the room alone; the mind was off again, without even an excuse me. The door had clicked shut and at the barred window I stared blankly into the night. Then enchanting sounds drifted on the dark heat and over dim glowing lights, and I dreamed of peaceful island beaches, quiet sunrises and sunsets, soft waves and being in the comforting embrace of clear watery depths. There had been sacrifices, losses, poor choices, and the apparent injustice of life. Peace was now sought with generous and spacious quantities of solitude, but things rarely work out as one may wish even for those with simple dreams....

…Crisp cold darkness fell upon Yellowstone. Drowsiness began to seep in and driving through the park to Jackson in search of a motel was not such a good idea. I cruised steadily, headlights revealed clear stretches and bending road. The light’s reach hinted at a feature rich wilderness spreading beyond sight of approaching and surrounding night. There was nothing in my life that had prepared me for what awaited a short distance away. My mind had drifted to that memory that was still surprisingly present. Every time thereafter it sprung to mind; those moments were clear and detail rich.

‘You’re not from around these parts?’ The barkeep eyed me as he poured a drink. My accent had obviously given me away, perhaps also the cut of my jib in western clothes was not convincingly authentic. The life weathered barkeep had seen and heard plenty from his side of the bar. He had with little doubt pretty much sized me up. He took a step back and grinned. I offered a partial nod, smile and greeting.

‘You almost had me with the whole dusty hat and clothes, but that is no accent from these parts.’

I expect he was making polite conversation. We both knew the unsaid, I was a holiday cowboy. There wasn’t one authentic thing about me, aside from my Wranglers, hat and boots. I reached forward and took a sip.

‘So what brings you out west?’ He spoke as he smiled easily.

‘An authentic ranch holiday experience, if you can believe that.’

‘You’re in the right place for that.’

‘I got a heck of a lot more than I bargained for. Yes the whole authentic experience and then some.’

‘Well, colour me curious, how’s that?’

I went on to relate the story. ‘Relief is up there with a near pants crapping experience. We grow up on doses of western movies. Some with the classic scene of a cow poke or child stuck slap bang in the middle of a stampede. There in the midst of the charging horned cattle, little Billy Bob or Mary Jane, cling for dear life on a solitary precarious looking tree, hinting at the fact it might just keel over at any moment causing the children to be trampled under hoof into an unrecognisable bloody mess.

We could be forgiven for thinking the scene was near comical on the big screen with old special effects. If you haven’t been caught in one, I guarantee you it’s no joking matter. If I was a tribal person I might have thought the whole experience spiritual. Maybe it was, and if so, I would have probably received the spiritual name, Stands Among Running Bison.’ I chuckled and took another sip of whiskey.

The late afternoon traffic along the highway slowed to a stop shy of the park entrance. Some folks wondered from their vehicles for a better look, but the stream of cars continued down and out of sight. Some stretched their legs; others looked as if in search of a reason for the hold up. There were two large RVs with retired couples in front and a group of young guys in a pickup behind.

Wondering as to the hold up was short lived. News drifted back that the road would be closed several hours for urgent repairs. The folks thereabout seemed to take the delay with amiable calm. It served as an opportunity to get acquainted with others on their journey down the freeway. The friendly and curious group of young guys from the pickup explained that they were on their way back to agricultural college after working on ranches during the summer break. The two retired couples in their RVs were in the midst of a shared adventure travelling around the entire country. They were cheerful folk who offered me, the young guys, and some others there close by fresh coffee and home made donuts.

After the road had opened; night approached upon entering the park. It was a relief to catch a souvenir and supply store still open. I took the opportunity to buy a patterned blanket which I use today as my bureau table cover, a pair of warm socks I was sure to need, water, some snacks, not forgetting jerky, which I had become to like very much. The days were warm enough, at times even hot for the time of year, but with sunset a cold dry curtain dropped right down over everything that October.

Curled up in the blanket on the reclined passenger seat; I needed to get some sleep before continuing. It was difficult to know how long I had been out when there was a sharp knock against the glass. Harsh torchlight beamed in and made my bleary eyes squint. After cracking the window I called out.

‘Hey man, please take the light out of my eyes.’

He angled the light away against my body. Thereafter I surmised it was to assure himself I was unarmed and of no danger. In the low light I got a partial view of a uniform and hat. It turned out to be a park ranger.

‘Sir, you can’t park here overnight.’

I was unaware of the prohibition or its reason, and although the message was to the point, I didn’t get the impression of displeasure or annoyance, but an informative tone. I wound down the window further and rubbed my face of sleep to the cold air before easing the door open to sit up. After I explained the reason for parking; he offered easy to follow directions to to an RV parking area a short drive away where I could rest for the night.

Parked up in close range of various recreational vehicles; I left the engine running a while to warm the interior before settling down. I hadn’t been asleep long when my rest was interrupted by discomfort, and with the sudden sensation of cold; I didn’t want to wait out the rest of the night. With a few hours left before dawn; I drove off, roughly calculating to reach Jackson for an early full American breakfast.

It was pitch black save the reach of the headlights. There wasn’t a soul on the road. The rubber against the road, and muffled engine sounded under the low hum of the heater. The curves in the road straightened out for a spell and my speed was well within the limit. There was a slight inexplicable sensation almost imperceptible at first. A gentle tremble worked its way up through and into the car, and I eased off the gas as the tremble increased. The rumble was now audible outside the car. By then I’d slowed to a crawl as the ground shook harder and windows vibrated with the noise. It sounded like distant thunder, and as the car came to a complete stop, the shaking became more violent, and the rumble intensified as if drawing closer. It couldn’t have been a storm, and geyser seemed unlikely. Earthquake appeared the most likely explanation, never having been in one until later in life; I had no experience to compare.

Dry dusty earth began to rise from the ground and drifted about the car in view of the headlights. Concern was surpassed by curiosity and excitement. An elk suddenly dashed across my path some distance ahead, then another. A smaller bison, then larger sprinted across even closer. The tremors increased and the several stragglers in moments became a herd. I sat transfixed by the sight. My eye caught red light from the brakes in the rear view mirror. To my surprise, bison were running in front and behind the car. It dawned on me they were coming sideways on from the passenger side and veering off around.

I was caught in the middle of a stampede. I was in awe as I slowly turned my head to the front passenger side window. It was dark save dashboard light reflections. My imagination swam at the idea of those great beasts running right at me. It was clear that if one of those massive creatures hit me side on; there wouldn’t be much left to recognise from the mangled bloody body mixed in with smashed car and bison parts. My brain would unlikely have time to register pain. Perhaps I’d get a momentary glimpse of a giant fury head framed by flying glass and twisted metal, then lights out for good.

In the certainty of that knowledge, and the fact that I was helpless to affect any change to the possible outcome; I naturally expected to be afraid, even paralysed with terror as I observed unfolding events. To my utter surprise, a calm washed over me. I was resigned and accepting of the possible fait. I returned my gaze to the front, released my grasp from the steering wheel and let my hands fall slowly to my lap. I was in awe, engrossed within the sights and sensations that surrounded. They seemed to continue endlessly.

I can’t say whether it was luck, the instinctive behaviour of animals to circle a stationary object or some other influence; the herd began to thin out and the noise subsided. Shortly thereafter it ended as it had started. I remained stationary in silence as I absorbed the extent of the experience. My camera had been at hand, and yet it had not occurred to me to lift it. Though, upon reflection, they were the days of film camera, my iso wouldn’t have allowed me more than a blur or heavily darkened images.

Sometime after, my dark sense of humour imagined a different outcome. Like some terrible B movie gore scene. The Park Ranger who had previously woken me arrives at the scene with a rookie. Shaking his head sadly, and whilst taking in the bloody scene; his colleague would be close to vomiting.

‘Yup, I recognise the vehicle. A young foreign guy was sleeping in the parking lot by the souvenir store. God damned shame Billy. I told the guy to rest up for the night at the RV park.’...

from the unpublished book - Travel Shorts Stories

night in yellowstone


from the unpublished books - From Stockholm to Ko Chang

...Glinting ripples and bright light upon the thin film of water that had washed over the pier footpath made the distant slender locals appear as if walking upon water...

Early morning tropical sounds were drowned out by the noise of the engine. We bounced about on the truck which rumbled on a road that snaked its way through tall slender palm trees. Upon one side, glimpses of hypnotising turquoise waters, upon the other; the thick lush jungle that seemed to whisper, come in if you dare. The light was strange, as if coming from a unique angle different to other places. It created startling contrasts between blinding bright and occulting dense shadows amongst trees. Due to my passion for the captured image; I paid special attention to light, and aside from the changing seasons; each country seemed to have its own differences that became startlingly clear with closer observation.

The heat had intensified when we arrived at Bang Bao port. The restaurants and shops that refreshingly lacked ostentatiousness stood on groaning stilts. The pier was little more than a cement gangway that ran like a spine between the waking businesses that seemed to yawn. At the far end; moored boats of all shapes and colours tugged and gently bobbed shoulder to shoulder. Despite the narrow strip; carts, people and the occasional scooter moved along its length with relative ease and little fuss. High tide partly submerged the pier and the locals supplying the boats appeared as slender deeply tanned saviours walking upon water.

The wooden boats rocked in anticipation of the open sea. Their bows adorned with flowers and ribbons. It was Buddha’s place, and it seemed appropriate as some of the vessels looked as if they would easily sink if it were not for an impalpable miraculous intervention. The dive gear had been stowed aboard. Motors that coughed and spluttered into life did not whole heartedly nourish confidence about their seaworthiness, but the anticipation of being upon an expansive gulf and the depths that awaited erased any possible traces of anxiety.

The boat chugged into open waters and the port became a thin blurry distant memory. There was ample time for a snooze on the upper deck accompanied by the lullaby of the rhythmic engines and cradling sea. When the engines ceased; the boat skated further upon the mirror like surface. The equipment was briefly heavy before the large step off into the warm clear waters. We mirrored our readiness signals, released the air from our buoyancy vests and descended into the encompassing blue. The pressure of the surrounding sea brought every sound close to the ear and the sunlight saturated with waving curtains of magical light. By the time we had bottomed out at thirty plus metersr, bubbles warped and struggled to rise against the weight of the sea. At first the visibility was little over a meter due to the sediment we had disturbed as our knees gently touched bottom. We were there for a practical part of depth exercise requirements. As the sediment cleared we carried out a cognitive test and moved off.

A ray shook sand from itself and effortlessly drifted away. We had drawn uncomfortably close for it to remain lying camouflaged and motionless. Upon ascending some meters the visible distance extended and more light filtered through again. There were brightly coloured schools of fish that drifted and darted one way and another quite uninterested in what we were doing. A large barracuda hung close and motionless. Unfazed by the bubbles its unflinching eye inspected the odd looking organisms in its realm. Its strong streamlined body deceptively poised to race off in the blink of an eye. Batfish accompanied us so closely it felt that they wanted us to be part of their school. More than likely we were merely their safety cover in open stretches of water. White eyed moray eels curled and peered from well lit rocks. A resting turtle under a ledge grew weary of our curious intrusion, taking gentle flight into open depths; it merged steadily with the distance beyond visibility. I never envied another soul as much as I envied the perception of its freedom from all the trappings above the sea, and that which they call the civilised order of dry land.

The fifty plus minute dive evaporated as briefly as the lifespan of an ascending air bubble. The fifty bar gauge marker was reached by one of the divers signalling the end to the dive and the beginning of our decompression ascent. Breaking the film separating the two worlds returned me to a place I no longer wished to call home; the depths were a true place of peace. The harsher sights, sounds and smells were as alien as they might have seemed to a man from a deep sea Atlantis...