A Plea to No One

I’m not sure how to start this. Maybe I should start this with my first memories of my dad reading to me, when I was four or five, living in Colorado. I remember the room he would read to me in, but not anything about the rest of the house. And for some reason it doesn’t seem like our house.

Then I remember reading on my own, things like Goosebumps and Calvin and Hobbes. I used to devour Goosebumps. Oh, they were such horrible books. Each chapter would have a twist at the end of it. “Max crept along the hallway, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up. Suddenly, he heard a growl and a dark shape rounded the corner. Max screamed.” (Next Chapter) “…But, it was just his dog Terry, who knocked him to the ground and effusively licked his face.”

Calvin and Hobbes, of course, was not bad. Calvin and Hobbes might’ve been what made me a reader. Bill Watterson’s ability to make complex vocabulary not only accessible to children, but entertaining, still knows no equal. If I ever have kids I pray that Calvin and Hobbes will be strewn upon their bedroom floors.

Fast forward to high school, where I had one of only two teachers to date who’ve ever made me want to write. Which is significant, if you think about it. I’ve had a lot of teachers when you include elementary school, middle school, high school, Arizona State University, undergrad at the University of Washington, postgrad at the University of Washington, and only two in the history of my life have ever made me want to write. All the other teachers unknowingly beat it out of me. They made writing a chore. They made writing something to be feared, to be avoided. But not this man at Bainbridge High School. His name was Bob McAllister. I could try to sum up his meaning to the school and the community (and to me) with a pithy sentence, but his obituary in the Bainbridge Island Review says it best:

“Bob McAllister, Island Treasure, poet and teaching icon, dies at 73” (full article).

I remember one day in particular we came to class and he was sitting behind his desk with his arms raised straight above his head. He looked like a praying mantis. We snickered in the manner high school kids might snicker upon seeing a teacher like this, and expected him to put his arms down at any moment. But he greeted us as he did every other morning, arms still above his head. He started teaching the class. He must have had his arms up for 45 minutes. Then, with no fanfare, almost as if he hadn’t realized they were up, he put them down.

Bob McAllister was one of two (maybe 2.5) teachers I’ve ever had who encouraged creativity, who encouraged not only a close examination of the greats, the classics, of other literature (even bad literature), but of creating something yourself.

Other than in Mr. McAllister’s class, I didn’t write much in high school.

Then I got to college at the University of Washington. I can still smell the air outside Thomson Hall that rainy June. It was a French class with a teacher named Lisa. She was tremendous. She would show us pictures of apples and bananas and chairs and windows and yell the name at us in French and we would scream it back at her just as loud. This was the summer of 2005. I had just gotten back from studying abroad in Spain. I desperately needed structure and to be surrounded by people more mature than me.This was the big leagues. Arizona State was OK, but this was the big leagues.

Enter teacher who encouraged creativity number two. His name was Edgar O’Hara, and he was from Peru. A lot of the students hated him. A lot feared him. But Edgar, like Mr. McAllister, was a poet, and so had a soft spot for creation. Which meant we got along just fine. He would tell us to write an essay on “Travel,” and I would write an essay about a wild boar bleeding to death in the jungle, and he’d give me an A. He’d tell us to write an essay criticizing something, and I’d write two pages on how much I hated hippies, and he’d give me an A. Here was a teacher who didn’t penalize creativity. He rewarded it. He made me want to write. He made me see the possibilities of writing, that you, alone with just your brain and a pen or a pencil or a computer, could create worlds. You could create anything you wanted. And not only was this possible, it was necessary.

By that time I had already started writing for myself a bit. While I was studying in Spain in 2004 I kept a journal in the style of Bill Bryson, but that was lost when my laptop was stolen a few years later. Then, in 2007, six months before graduating from the University of Washington, I started my first blog. It was called Boosh Clown, named after the nickname of a famous (see: obscure) skateboarder. I wrote about various themes on that blog. I wrote about UW basketball. I wrote about music. I wrote about how much I despised Limp Bizkit. I posted a video of myself drinking hot dog flavored water.

Within a year or so I started Where’s Wetzler, and by this time I knew I was going to be writing until I was 85 years old and shaking and barely able to see the page. I still know that. It’s one of the few things I know about myself. I’ve been asked this question a lot over the years: Mark, what are you running from? Why don’t you just settle down? Why do you keep moving from spot to spot as if it will fix something? And I have no answer for this. I’ve stopped thinking about it, to an extent. But one thing I do know, no matter where I go, even if it’s to a deserted island or a settled life in city, writing will always follow me. It’s like a street dog you give one scrap of food to, and next thing you know it follows you all the way home. Except I take this street dog inside. I give it a good meal. I give it a bath. And suddenly it’s no longer a street dog, it’s my dog.

And now it’s 2018, more than 11 years after I started my first blog, and 14 years since I started taking writing seriously. And my question is: When are my 10,000 hours going to be done? Because anyone who knows anything about creative work and who’s read Malcom Gladwell or listened to the Macklemore song knows before you can make it as a writer or a painter or a singer or a synchronized swimmer, you have to put 10,000 hours in. Maybe I’m on 8,543. Maybe I’m only on something like 6,000. Oh God, that would be terrible. What if I’m only on 3,000 or 4,000? No, that’s impossible at this point. After 14 years of writing off and on, but usually at least somewhat on, I have to be coming up at 10,000.

Maybe I’m at 9,999 right now. It’s 9:04am here in Guadalajara, and I’m sitting in the Starbucks on Chapultepec, and maybe, unbeknownst to me, the 10,000th hour is just minutes away. I’ll type a few more words. I’ll take a sip of my Youthberry tea. I’ll look around at the people in line, remark on how it always smells a little musty in here, stare a little too long a the cute girl in line, type a few more words, and then a few more, and then look down at my apple wrapper, which was my breakfast, lament the screaming toddler a few feet from me, type a few more words, and that’s it. Ten thousand. A wave of euphoria comes over me. I start somehow replicating one of the first drafts of The Sun Also Rises. A cigarette magically appears in my hand. So does a cup of coffee. An old Royal Quite de Luxe typewriter appears in front of me, and suddenly I’m at the hacienda in Havana, standing by my bed and writing the first pages of a book about a man who goes marlin fishing.

Or maybe none of this will happen, because that’s not how it works. I have no idea how it works. But I intend to find out.

Support this blog:

Become a Patron!

 


Dan’s Perfect Life

The girl next to me in Starbucks has an accent straight out of Mexico City and it’s making me want to die. I just tried to change seats and just as I was taking my computer to a better seat a man appeared out of nowhere and thieved it. So now I’m back, listening to this girl, and it’s terrible.

 

But I’m not here today to talk about this girl. I’m here today to talk about my new book, Dan’s Perfect Life, which just came out (see: I clicked “publish”) on Amazon. I wrote it a couple years ago during a week in Buenos Aires. I’d go to a cafe everyday, scribble longhand, and then in the afternoon, or maybe when I had already left Buenos Aires, I transferred it to the computer.

The book’s about a guy named Dan who wants to lead a “perfect life.” To do this, he sells everything he owns, goes to a lake in upstate New York, and doesn’t eat or talk to anyone for a week. After the week is over, he starts hitchhiking West. He meets a girl from the Canadian town of Hearst, a small town in Northern Ontario that’s the “Moose Capitol of the World” and also 85% French speaking. He goes moose hunting with the girl’s dad. And then he hitchhikes to Manitoba, and Montana, and eventually to Seattle, where he has a somewhat revelatory experience while standing at the top of the Volunteer Park water tower, looking out at the treetops.

I’ll be the first to admit this is not a good book. But man, you should’ve read the first draft, which was an embarrassing disaster. But luckily, since I’m covetous and miserly with my first drafts, you shall never read it (unless you pay gross sums of money). What you can read, especially if you’re a fan of purchasing digital books from the Mom & Pop online retailer “Amazon,” is the second draft. The second draft is slightly better. It still reads a little bit like a bad teen novel, or something you might’ve written in seventh grade, but it’s a little better.

But enough talking it up!

This book is a perfect example of how caffeine makes you think you’re creative, when you’re actually not. Beware of caffeine, especially if you consider yourself a “creative type.” But! If you consider yourself a “creative type,” or God forbid a “creative,” then I’m afraid you have more pressing issues than your caffeine intake. But I don’t think I’ve ever written anything that was legitimately good while under the influence of caffeine. Caffeine speeds your brain up, but to be creative your brain needs to move slow. Or maybe “contemplative” is a better word. But when you’re on caffeine you don’t want to contemplate anything. The only thing you want to do is do push-ups and scream at people.

This book is also available on Amazon Japan here.

And at Amazon.com here:

It’s also available at a slough of other international Amazons, like Amazon Italy and Amazon India. If someone from Amazon India buys this book I think I’ll be able to die content.

Another way to receive this book is to sponsor me on Patreon, which only costs $1 a month and contributes to my ostentatious lifestyle here in Guadalajara, the fancy dinners and cars, the Youthberry teas at Starbucks, the tacos and tortas.

This is the first complete work of fiction I’ve ever written. I’m working on another novel now that’s much more appealing (at least to me), and set on the Washington State Ferries. It should drop sometime in April of 2029. For now, you’ll just have to content yourself with my daily musings, and with a novella about an investment banker who gives everything up to chop firewood in Montana and figure out what life’s really about. Even if he fails.

5 Jobs and One Bonus Job You Can ACTUALLY Do While Traveling

One thing that annoys me about travel sites that talk about jobs you can do remotely or while traveling is the feeling I get that the people who wrote the article have never actually done any of these jobs. For example, they always include “freelance writer,” as if it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. “Oh, you just, like, write an article about the coolest cafes in Mexico City and people will pay you hundreds of dollars to put it on their site.”

Sure.

So that’s why I’ve made this list, five jobs that are feasible because I’VE ACTUALLY DONE THEM. They might not pay a lot. In fact, that’s probably their defining feature. But remote jobs rarely pay a lot. They compensate for their subpar pay with the fact that they’re remote, and you can do them from your phone while sitting in the bathroom waiting for the hot water to heat up (i.e. this morning).

 

1) Search Engine Evaluator

This is the holy grail (ceramic cup) of internet jobs. Or at least it used to be. When I first did this it paid $15.00, they paid weekly, and things were great. In the US this might not be a lot, but if you’re in Mexico or Nicaragua or the Ukraine it’s a veritable fortune. And it’s not difficult work; you’re given a search term like “Best restaurants in Chicago” and you have to decide what ads are good for it.

I did this for two different companies, ZeroChaos and Leapforce, and over the years saw a steady decline in employer quality. Nowadays they still pay hourly but the wage is less and each task has a time THEY THINK it should take you to complete it. This is the only time you’re allowed to report. If they think it should take you seven minutes but it takes you 10, you’re only allowed to put seven minutes on your time sheet. Which is crooked.

Bottom line: If you’re living a country where the cost of living is low this is still a great option. To find out more google “ads rater jobs.” Look for companies like Leapforce, Appen, Butler Hill, and ZeroChaos.

 

2) Social Media Evaluator

This is my current job that I’m working remotely even though I’m not supposed to be. I expect to get fired within the next couple weeks. The job consists of rating Instagram ads. It pays $13.00 an hour. Since I’m not supposed to do it from outside the US, I’m using a program called Tunnel Bear to tunnel into a server from the US (Side note: If you need a VPN and don’t know shit about technology, Tunnel Bear is a great option. Whenever I connect it shows a little bear digging a hole in the ground in Mexico and surfacing somewhere in the US). So while I’m actually in a dingy room somewhere in Jalisco, they THINK I’m somewhere in New York. My cunning knows no bounds.

Bottom line: Don’t fire me, Appen!

 

3) Captioner for Rev.com

I have a love hate relationship with this job that leans heavily toward hate. This job has some pluses, i.e. you can do it from anywhere and there’s no one breathing down your neck or your ear or wherever people sometimes breathe, and the work is fairly easy, just adding captions to videos using the company’s well-designed software.

But man, if you calculate the hourly wage, you’ll want to cry.

Bottom line: If you can type 16,000 words a minute and have ears like a wombat (sometimes the audio is hard to understand) this may be the job for you. For everyone else it’s something to do from time to time but make an extra buck or two for cafe/beer money.

 

4) Hostel Worker

Here’s how you do it: Show up at a hostel, say: “Can I work for room and board or just room or just board or just a place in a closet where I can curl up and not get mugged?”

They say, “Yes.”

Why do they say yes? Because they don’t have to pay you. And they get someone who speaks English.

Bottom line: Hostels are good places to meet people and also observe packs of traveling Israelis.

 

5) Freelance writer

“Hey, bro, what do you do for a living?”

“I’m a writer.”

“Cool! What kind of stuff do you do?”

“Oh, you know, mostly freelance.”

Um, actually I don’t know. Because until you’re really, really established, you’re not a freelance writer.  I’ve gotten paid for a few articles, but I would never call myself a freelance writer. It’s hard to get good money for articles. It can be done, but your prose needs to be dashing, and you need to be tenacious and well-connected. One day, Mark. One day.

Bottom line: There is no bottom line.

Bonus 6) Travel blogger

It might seems like it’s all mai thais on the beach and glamour, but it’s not. It’s also a lot of being away from your family and the ones you love, and sometimes getting bedbugs. But if you have a deep-seated need to know what’s out there, to know what life is like in Japan and New Zealand and South Dakota, and you also want to share your impressions of those places with the world, then go for it.

Bottom line: It’s a tough row to hoe, but deep down you were born to farm.

 

Know of any other jobs that can be done remotely? Let me know in the comments, because I need a new job. Like, now.

A special thanks to Jennifer Gregerson for her contribution to this blog.

Support this blog:


 

Become a Patron!

 

 

 

Sunday Night Thoughts #2

Ordinary Nomad has now been in existence for almost a month. The first week it got 14 views, the second week 11, the third week 220, and this week 310. Where’s Wetzler, my old site, no longer exists. Well, that’s actually a bit misleading. It’s backed up somewhere, but it’s not accessible anymore. You can’t go to the page and read old Where’s Wetzler content. You are forced to become a fan of Ordinary Nomad.

I would say my goal for this next week is to eclipse 400 views, but unless I write something that is of New York Times quality and it gets shared in many different outlets, I don’t see that happening. The reason last week got quite a few views was because the Airbnb post did pretty well. I think my sister shared it. My sister probably has about 16 times as many friends as I do on Facebook. I’m not surprised that post did better than the other posts, since worked on it a couple times throughout the weekend and thus didn’t rush it and also did several revisions. That post made me realize that short, quick attacks while writing, and then long periods where you just leave it, followed by another short, quick attack or a revision, can be the best way to write articles. I doubt it’s the way to write novels. Writing a novel is like writing an ultra marathon. If you walked and then sprinted and then walked and then sprinted, the guys and gals keeping a steady pace would overtake you. But when writing a short article, spastic attacks can be the way to go.

Other stats about the site so far:

  • Only one person has commented (two if you count my reply)
  • Two people have donated (including a more than generous $20 donation from Peter Leslie) (two others donated but since I don’t have PayPal Pro I can’t accept recurring donations which means the only place to make a recurring donation is on Patreon, where I currently have one Patron, a woman I don’t even know!)
  • I’m now on my third WordPress theme. First it was Sight, then Hitmag, and now it’s one called Writee. I still think it looks hideous. I have no idea how to customize WordPress themes. I can’t find good information about it online. I can’t even figure out how to change the site title (where it says, “Ordinary Nomad”) font.
  • I had Maruchan spicy chicken Cup o’ Noodles for dinner tonight.
  • My rent is currently 170 pesos (just over $9USD) per night. I hope to get that down to about $5 or $6USD.
  •  I’m up to 12 knee push ups on my once broken wrist.

But enough about all that. The highlight of today, by far, was taking a walk.

Usually when I leave my house I take a left on the street pictured at the beginning of this post. I don’t know what this street’s called. It’s ugly. Or at least I used to think it was ugly. Tonight it looked kind of beautiful. But even more beautiful has been to witness how this street’s meaning for me has changed in the last week. When I first got here it was just an ugly street with dirt sidewalks and trash and pieces of broken glass on the ground. But now it signifies home, now it signifies that in just a few minutes I’ll be in a cool courtyard, sipping a glass of water, aimlessly surfing on my phone, relaxing.

But today I didn’t take a left. I took a right and headed toward the centro. I’ve been reluctant to go to the centro, because my few brushes with it have left me with the impression that it’s chaotic, dirty, and loud. I don’t like the downtown of any city except maybe Bainbridge Island, and even that’s a little too chaotic for me sometimes. But today I had the idea that I needed to “expand my horizons.”

I was quickly rewarded. After only a few minutes of walking I got to the plaza pictured just above. What a wonderful plaza. Pigeons, people sitting on benches, flanked by restaurants with people enjoying Sunday afternoon meals. It was quiet. And then I headed north a bit and go to another park with some kind of cathedral. Downtown Guadalajara is where you really feel the Spanish influence. The further you go west the more you feel like you’re in Los Angeles, but the further you go east the more you feel like you’re in Spain (albeit a slightly dingy neighborhood in Madrid save for a few nice plazas, churches, and pedestrian streets).

I ended my walk back in familiar territory, by the Parque de la revolucion. And I was happy to be home again, happy to walk down the street that I used to think was dingy, but in a week has been transformed into something else altogether.

The Best Cafe in Guadalajara

Guadalajara has plenty of becoming places to eat and sip, or so it would seem after my short sojourn here. Much of the time I’ve been here has been spent traipsing around the Bosque de la primavera, an hour and twenty four minutes west of GDL, so my knowledge of the city still leaves a tremendous amount to be desired.

My favorite cafe so far is called El Terrible Juan, located in Colonia America, near the school where I teach, near the American Consulate where I also teach, and near Chapultepec, the most famous area in GDL for nightlife, gastronomy, and restaurants and cafes.

The reason I like El Terrible Juan is one I can’t tell you. It’s embarrassing. But the reason I WILL  tell you is because I like the sandwiches, and because the outside seating area is like sitting in a garden. You’re surrounded by vines and howler monkeys and other creatures of the jungle (minus everything but the vines), and you think at any point an ivy tendril might caress your hand and say, “Come, climb to the canopy with me! Climb! Before it’s too late!”

But the best part of El Terrible Juan, if you’re me at least, is the latte art. Or the lattes. Or the art. One thing I don’t like about this place is how many foreigners there are there. I hear way too much English being spoken, though to be fair, mostly it’s by me. I have yet to enact my “Spanish or Nahuatl Only” rule, but when I do I imagine life will get much more interesting. I imagine this blog will also be harder to read, since I don’t speak Nahuatl, and you probably don’t either. Nahuatl was the language spoken by the Aztecs, and is still (if my numbers are correct, and they always are) spoken by over a million people in Mexico. As far as I know, Nahuatl is not a tonal language like Mixe or Cantonese. In retrospect, I wish I had studied Mixe in Oaxaca instead of Zapoteco, because Mixe sounds prettier than Zapoteco. One must never underestimate the importance of tones. Tonal languages are, as anyone who’s ever hear Thai country music knows, the most beautiful. The most beautiful language that’s not tonal would probably be Finnish, followed in a close second by German. German, as anyone who’s ever heard an angry man spitting while he speaks it, is also a gorgeous, lilting tongue.

But I got off track. The  coffee! The latte art! The vines!

A Day in Purgatory, or, First Classes at the US Consulate in Guadalajara

“Ay, las casualidades,” dijo Quim respirando a pleno pulmón, como el titán de la calle Revillagigedo, “valen verga las casualidades. A la hora de la verdad todo está escrito. A eso los pinches griegos lo llamaban destino.” — Los Detectives Salvajes

Yesterday I had my first class in the US consulate. This is a class I give, not a class I take. I would like to take German classes here in Guadalajara, or French classes, but right now I don’t have the money. Which means right now the only classes I participate in are the ones I give, the ones where I take impressionable minds from around the world and forge them into pillars of virtue. I teach two days a week. The pay is terrible. As in, so terrible I don’t want to tell you because I’m embarrassed. But I took these jobs because I needed something. When you arrive in a new place, you need to get your proverbial hoof through the proverbial sliding door. In Mexico that door is easy to open, but shuts just as easily. So when I heard the word “teaching in the consulate,” I said, “I’m in.”

To get through security I had to do the following things:

  1. Take off my belt
  2. Turn off my cell phone and hand it to them along with my computer and the charger for my computer
  3. Give them my headphones
  4. Make pleasant conversation
  5. Remark on how I was in the netherworld that exists between two countries, my favorite world.

After security I walked up a short pathway outside that led into a sort of quarantine chamber. There’s no better way to describe it. Sure it’s comfortable and air conditioned and there are nice seats, but it’s still purgatory. The only way you can actually get into the consulate is if someone comes and get you. So I sat there. And then, after about 10 minutes, a balding guy with a sallow face came and got me.

We made small talk. He told me about life in the consulate and life as a diplomat. My eyes light up a bit whenever he said the word “diplomat.” Oh, how I crave to be a diplomat! But not so much because of the job. No, no, I don’t care about the job. I want to be a diplomat so I can have a diplomatic passport, so I can have diplomatic license plates, but more than anything so I can tell people, “I’m a diplomat.” Sometimes I sit in my room, the lights off, just saying the word “diplomat.”

Diplomat.

Diplomat.

(Diplomat.)

I was led into a room where I’d teach my class. On the wall was a big map of Guadalajara. I like maps. My student finally came in, and I immediately liked him. Not only was his Spanish surprisingly good for relatively little study, he also spoke fluent Russian. I don’t care what anyone says, Russian is one of the most badass languages you can speak. Think of the different languages you might consider badass. Hindi? No. Thai? Ha. Arabic? Getting warmer. And then there’s Russian, the most badass of them all. Why is this? Maybe it just sounds badass to English speakers. Or maybe just to me.

The class was relatively unremarkable. My student seemed to like it when we impersonated a psychiatrist/patient, and then after the class he walked me back to the quarantine room. “I have to walk you out,” he said.

The security guard wouldn’t give me my driver’s license back at first, and was just pointing at me. He kept pointing at my chest. What does this guy want? I thought. And then I realized I was still wearing my visitor’s badge. I handed it to him under the glass and he gave me back my driver’s license. As I walked away he laughed and started to sing, and I realized that this is what happens when you exit purgatory.

“Pero te vas a arrepentir….”

Completely unrelated note: I realized you have to have PayPal Pro to receive recurring donations. Which costs something like $10 a month. Which I’m not going to pay for. So right now if you want to support Ordinary Nomad the two options are: Make a lump, gross donation on PayPal. Or sponsor me on Patreon for $1, $3, or $5 dollars a month. Or just support me spiritually, which might even be better. Money is the root of all evil. But also the root of delicious sandwiches and the latte I’m probably going to have today. 

Become a Patron!

La Rinconada, Peru: The Highest City in the World

bella durmiente la rinconada

Wednesdays are my big days in Guadalajara. I give two Spanish classes in the morning to a man who works at the US Consulate and his wife, then go to the US Consulate to give two classes there (which I’ll be doing today for the first time and am excited about mostly because I like being a part of things that feel “official”), and then give an English class from 7-9pm (though that might only be this week). So since Wednesdays are my big day I’ve decided to recycle some material from whereswetzler.com and possibly other blogs like markdoesthecamino.blogspot.com, since there’s plenty material to choose from.

Today’s post is from a trip I took two years ago to La Rinconada, Peru, the highest permanent settlement on earth at around 16,800 feet. Stop a moment to imagine that. Imagine a city built 2,000 feet higher than the top of Mount Rainier. Imagine the weather, the temperature, the way the air would feel when you breathed it, the way the sun would feel on your skin. La Rinconada was a unique place, but not necessarily in a good way. Hopefully these pictures give at least a little insight as to why.

la rinconada, peru

This was the view from my hotel room.  It cost 30 soles a night (about 9 bucks USD).  There was only a urinal.  If you wanted to go number two you had to go down to the street and use the public bathrooms.

Every street in La Rinconada has at least a small stream of raw sewage running through it.  Dogs drinks from this water.  The smell is overpowering.  It gets on your shoes and follows you everywhere you go.

A lonely miner eats lunch.

Food at the top of the world.  This is chicharron with salad and potatoes. It was good, but silverware would’ve been nice. The miner pictured above was eating with his hands, so I did, too.

La Rinconada is surrounded on all sides by trash.

This is another town below La Rinconada.  It looks like Mordor.  Notice the soccer field on the left, though, the tiny patch of green amidst a sea of gray trash and zinc roofs.  La Rinconada has several soccer fields.

Two miners make their way towards the center of town.  When I started to go down this path a woman said, “Don’t go down there, it’s dangerous.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it’s dangerous.”

“Why is it dangerous?”

“Because anything could happen…”

la rinconada, peru

La Bella Durmiente, or, Sleeping Beauty.  She presides over all of La Rinconada.  Coming into town you see a glacier, and below that a grey smudge.  The grey smudge is the town.  You think to yourself, “No one should be living here.”

I wanted to get a photo of the town with the mountain in the background, but when I tried to walk out was blocked by sewage. I only stayed one night in La Rinconada, and the next day was happy to leave.

Support this blog:


OR

Become a Patron!

 

The Pleasures of Business Class

business class

I flew business class this trip to get down to Guadalajara. I love flying business class, which may seem obvious, but I think I think I love it an inordinate amount. Sometimes I fall asleep dreaming of armrests the size of football fields. You put your elbow there expecting to run into someone else’s, but all there is are acres of space and comfort. A veritable Ohio cornfield for your arm. In coach I always find myself fighting for armrest space. If I’m in the aisle I generally cede the middle armrest, since I pity he who has a middle seat. But if I’m in the middle seat I’m like a full-grown hippo prowling the edges of a watering hole, protecting what’s mine.

The thing I love most about business class, though, and I’m not exactly proud of this, is the way people look at you when they get on. They’re generally tired, harried, stressed out, and as they walk by business class they look at you like, “What the hell did you do to be able to sit there?” Meanwhile you’re reclined in a seat that’s more La-Z-boy than airplane seat, sipping an orange juice with oranges freshly imported from somewhere outside Jacksonville, wondering what movie you’re going to watch.

(Actually, orange juice on planes, regardless of class, is crap.)

Before this trip I’d flown business class several times. The first was a United/Copa flight to Medellin, Colombia. Then I flew business class back from Santiago, Chile, to the US, significant because it was my first experience with a nearly lie-flat bed. Sleeping on a transcontinental flight? I’d never dreamed of such opulence.

But one thing you don’t want to do is fly business class too much. You don’t want to get used to it. Because then all the sudden it’s not special anymore. This happened to me on probably business class flight #3 or #4. I boarded a domestic flight to somewhere like Sacramento or Houston, and as I usually do stuck out my ring for the flight attendant to kiss and expected her to pick up the bottoms of my robe so they wouldn’t be sullied by the airplane floor. But she didn’t kiss my ring. She said, “Welcome aboard, sir, please take a seat,” as if that would somehow suffice. There and then I learned complacency is the number one enemy of the business class traveler.

My favorite thing about business class is something people wouldn’t expect: the hot nuts. This is because I always forget about them, and suddenly a flight attendant is in front of me, thrusting a tiny tray of heated almonds and cashews into my hands. It’s the simple pleasures, after all. Hot nuts in hand I recline my seat back as far as it will go and usually put on some kind of bad movie, like Pitch Perfect 2. And just as my eyelids start to flutter closed, or comfort turns to boredom, they come by with dinner. Dinner is always served on business class flights, and it’s usually decent. The biggest worry becomes whether or not to sit upright to inhale my cheese enchiladas, or continue reclined at a 45 degree angle, spilling salsa all over my shirt as I groan in ecstasy.

One thing I still haven’t done is fly first class to Europe or Asia. This is the big leagues. In fact, this is in a different league altogether. Etihad first class is actually little compartments with bench seats where you can sit across from a friend and chat, and Emirates first class has showers a and loung/bar on the plane.  Can you imagine showering on a plane? I can.  It would probably be like showering on ground, except this time you’re 35,000 feet high.

In the end, though, I don’t need my own first class compartment to be happy. As they say, “He is richest who wants least,” which is why I like to think that even when I’m able to fly business class all the time, I’ll continue to fly coach just to keep things in perspective. Because let’s face it: when they give you that tray of hot nuts, perspective flies right out the window.

 

Have you ever flown first class to Europe or Asia? What was it like?

Support this blog:


 

Become a Patron!

 

What Airbnb Ratings REALLY Mean

apartment

If you travel enough you’ll inevitably stay in an Airbnb. I like Airbnb for the most part, it can be a great way to meet people and a cheaper alternative to hotels. But one thing I don’t like about it is how inflated the ratings are. My rule of thumb is: Don’t stay anywhere with less than 4.5 stars. Which is ridiculous. Four point five stars should mean amazing! Four point five stars should mean your expectations were exceeded, the bed was perfect, you were greeted with fresh mint tea, you made friends for life, and had the kind of experience you’ll remember forever. But these days 4.5 stars means nothing. Five stars almost means nothing. Airbnb ratings are pretty much like Uber ratings: If the driver gets you there without killing someone or killing you or verbally harassing you, you give them five stars.

Thus, for the sake of clearing things up a bit, I’ve created this guide: What Airbnb ratings really mean.

5 stars:

The place is probably pretty good, and could even be great. But, due to rating inflation, there’s no way to tell. Until the place I’m staying in right now in Guadalajara which reminds me of a prison cell but still somehow has 5 stars, I’d never been disappointed by a place with 5 stars. Usually 5 stars is pretty solid (especially considering it couldn’t get more solid).

4 stars:

If a place has four stars it means at some point something significantly bad happened to one of the guests. Maybe the host wasn’t in town to receive the guest. Maybe the pictures in the ad showed a completely different place. Maybe there were cockroaches. In the letter grade scale 4 stars should be at least a B, but on Airbnb it’s a D. Again, my rule: never stay anyplace with less than 4.5 stars.

3 stars:

If you see a 3-star you’re in for a treat, but not one that comes from staying there. Instead, read the comments. You’re almost guaranteed to come across, at some point, the following elements: insane accusations, personal attacks, acid-like sarcasm. Something like, “The host seemed pretty nice at first but then he stayed outside my room all night making slurping noises and yelling the words, ‘Mi piace!’ in Italian.” You’re also usually guaranteed a similarly hostile rebuttal from the host/hostess. A 3-star rating is enough to ruin a property.

2 stars:

Someone died in this apartment.

1 star:

I’ve never seen a 1-star rating. I don’t think it exists. If a place did have a 1-star rating it would probably be removed from the Airbnb website. However, just for the sake of this post, let’s pretend you did somehow manage to book and stay at a 1-star property. I imagine your stay would go something like this:  You open the door to the apartment/chalet/house/cabin. Someone promptly bludgeons you over the head. Two hours/days later, you wake up in a basement chained to a ventilation pipe, where you’re forced to watch episodes of the Big Bang Theory/have bamboo shoots shoved under your fingernails until you divulge some kind of information and/or die.

If you’re like me you now want to explore the Airbnb site just so you can see how low a rating you can find and what kind of comments there are. I wouldn’t recommend it. The internet comment world is dark and dingy and smells like aftershave. When in doubt, stick to my rule: 4.5 stars and above: OK. Anything less: Keep looking.

Enjoy this article? Help me not starve:


Become a Patron!

 

Sunday Night Thoughts #1

“So, Max goes for the Ruy Lopez, and it’s not very clear if Max Deutsch really knows that this is the Ruy Lopez.” — Agadmator

I’m  testing the waters with this “Sunday Night Thoughts” thing. I figured it’d be a good way to recap the week, reflect on things that went well, things that could’ve gone better. I can also talk about how this blog is coming along as well as my writing career. For example, Ordinary Nomad almost hit 100 views/day the other day, which isn’t a big deal, but considering how new this website is, it kind of is. Of course hopefully soon 100 views will be laughable, to be replaced by 200, and then 500, and then 1,000, and then….

I might have to do a little spam for that.

Another exciting thing that happened this week was I got my first donations, both on PayPal and Patreon. This is one way I plan to monetize this site. I’ve been (weirdly) watching a shit-ton of chess videos lately, mostly by this guy “agadmator” (link to YouTube channel) from Croatia, and I like how he has clear ways to donate and also displays the name of people who’ve donated and amount (“Hello everyone!”). So I’ve added this to the sidebar on my website. The weird thing about watching all these chess videos though is that I have no desire to actually play chess. I just like watching good moves. It’s soothing.

I might have to get drunk tonight.

OK, well maybe not drunk. But I’m staying in this Airbnb in GDL that’s depressing, and I’m also a bit depressed because I just spent a week in a beautiful place surrounded by people (even if I wasn’t constantly interacting with them), and a wonderful dog named Laila and Laila’s best friend, a cat named Campanita.

Now I feel like I’m in prison. There’s an American dude staying in the room across from me. His room has no windows to the outside world. He’s constantly talking on the phone to who knows who. His light isn’t even on. So I guess I should retract my statement about feeling like I’m in prison. THAT guy feels like he’s in prison.

But it’s cheap. And it looks clean. And there’s a courtyard I could actually be chilling in instead of chilling in my cell. And the people that live here, a couple named Rodolfo and (I think) Adriana, are nice. I had one of my usual nomad moments of despair earlier in the park today, but now I know what to do: Quit complaining, think about all the good things in your life, do little things to make your life better (like sit in the courtyard), and quite bitching.

And maybe get drunk.

That’s it for tonight’s Sunday Thoughts. What’d you think? Should it be a regular feature? Should it condemned to digital draft oblivion forever? Why does this place smell like toast?

Support this blog:


OR

Become a Patron!

My First Job as a Nomad

seignosse, france

“And that was how I left Bergen” – Karl Ove Knausgaard

 I kind of despise the word “nomad,” because I feel like people don’t really know what it means. They misuse it. I misuse it.The dictionary definition is: “a member of a people having no permanent abode, and who travel from place to place to find fresh pasture for their livestock.”

However, the second definition is: “a person who does not stay long in the same place; a wanderer.”

And it’s this second definition that’s come into prevalence today. I don’t know many people today who call themselves nomads who actually keep goats.

The thing about being a so-called nomad, if you don’t have livestock (though that’s obviously the dream), is that you must have a job. I had my first nomad job back in 2014, when I started working for a company called ZeroChaos as an Ads Quality Rater in Spanish. What does this mean? We’ll get to that. First I’d like to mention a few other traveling jobs I had before my first “real” nomad job.

  1. Pizza maker in Puerto Varas, Chile (I was the assistant)
  2. Bed and Breakfast morning attendant in Puerto Montt, Chile (I washed dishes and talked to people from Argentina)
  3. WWOOFing (if you haven’t heard about WWOOFing it’s where you work five hours a day for room and board. I did it in Finland).
  4. Hostel jobs (mostly reception)

But then, in 2014, I got a job evaluating Google Ads based on search terms for a company called ZeroChaos. My friend Sonia had told me about the job. Sonia grew up in Rome and speaks (natively) English, Italian and Finnish, and also has a Masters in French. “It only pays $15 an hour,” she said. “But it’s easy.”

la push

Look at this emo nomad.

The problem with the job was that you weren’t supposed to leave the US while working it. I observed this for the first summer. I went to places like La Push, Washington (pictured above), making small trips and working a little while on the road. But I yearned to know: Could I somehow do it abroad? Could I be in a leafy plaza in Madrid in fall rating Google Ads and murmuring to myself, drunk on the sweetness that was nomadic life?

So I tried it.

First I went to Mexico. Los Cabos. And they didn’t catch me. I was devious. I used a VPN to make it look like I was in the US. Much later, however, I would realize that “catching” me probably had nothing to do with it. They just didn’t care.

By this time, a few months into the job, I was a seasoned ads rater. Here’s what the basic task consisted of: You get a search term, like, “Restaurants near Minneapolis,” and you’re shown an ad that may or may not be useful for someone who’s entered that search term. You evaluate it. You explore the landing page the ad links to. You evaluate it. You look around and realize you’re in Mexico City making what, for Mexico, is an insane hourly wage. You smile. And then you do it for six hours and kind of want to cut yourself.

la push

Rollin’ with the homies.

Not only was this job good for nomadic life, it actually encouraged it. Due to the relatively low pay and repetitiveness, changing up the outside surroundings was critical. I went to Cabo. I flew to Mexico City. I flew to Paris. I lived in Southwest France for three months, renting a room for $400 euros from a wonderful woman named Frederique. Every morning I’d get up, check the waves, if they were good I’d surf, and if they were bad I’d work, then go to the grocery store/skate park, work some more, and in the evening, chill. Then I walked the Camino de Santiago. Five hundred miles of walking, working the ad rating job every single day to pay for it. Then Morocco. Then home. Then back to Spain, this time San Sebastian, an hour away from where I’d lived in France. Again, a similar routine. Wake up, surf. Work. Take a break. Work. Have lunch. Work. Go to the skatepark. Chill.

I look back on those two months in San Sebastian with tremendous fondness. I lived in a four-bedroom apartment with two people from Spain and one girl from Ethiopia/Italy. None of us knew what we were doing in life. We were all in the same boat. We had a wonderful view of the ocean, and every morning I’d put on my wetsuit (in my room!), dash downstairs, run across the street, and within 10 minutes be in the water. At night we’d sit in the living room and roll cigarettes and laugh.

Anyway, the great thing about this job was the flexibility. I could work up to 29 hours a week but I only had to work 10, which meant if I found something better for a short time I could do that, like when I worked as a tour guide for El Camino Travel in Colombia and Nicaragua.

I also wrote my first book while doing this job. I flew to Belgrade and traveled overland through Romania, Ukraine, Poland, and finally into Germany. I wrote 1,000 words a day five days a week. After two months, I (sort of) had a book. You can buy it here. But don’t. It’s terrible.

digital nomad

Finally, after a year and a half of ad rating I decided to call it quits. No more ZeroChaos.  Now that I’m back in Mexico and struggling to get rolling I wish I could have this job back. Fifteen dollars an hour in Mexico means you’re a veritable Czar. But I’ve emailed ZeroChaos. I’m not even sure they exist anymore. Either way, they’re not doing re-hires.

What did I learn from this job? You either find a job that you love and that pays you and that’s your life. Or, you find a job you can tolerate that allows you to do the things you love and that’s your life. The first one is better. But the first one takes time and dedication. Which is what I’m working on now, one blog post at a time. One instant coffee at a time. One (proverbial) day at a time.

Have you ever had a nomad job?

Know of any good ones?

Let me know in the comments.

Support this blog:


 

Become a Patron!

The Hardest Word to Spell

annihilated

I’ve just drunk (the past participle of “drink” is “drunk” though many people, in spoken English, say “drank”; in 50 years this will probably be completely acceptable) a cup of instant coffee made from hard-boiled egg water. Delicious? Obviously. Think of the nutrients! While most people drink coffee with filtered, pure, sweet water using some kind of reverse osmosis method, my water comes from a well under the ground and is mixed with the essence of eggshell. I’m convinced this will make me strong.

In fact, maybe I’ll drink another cup.

I must work on the novel this morning, and take the test for my new online job working for a company called Appen. I’m technically not supposed to work outside of the US for this new job, so I’m using an app called Tunnel Bear to “tunnel” into a server in the US. So instead of looking like I’m in the forest in MEH-hee-ko I look like I’m in the Bronx. Or somewhere in New York. I can’t remember where.

(side note: the song “Africa” by Toto has just come on, and I’m instantly nostalgic; I’d say I spend 4-5 hours each day in the punishing grip of nostalgia).

I also need to figure out where the EFF I’m going to say as of Sunday. Should I stay here and be an indentured servant? Should I move into Guadalajara? Why are decisions like this so crippling?

I might as well tell you now I fell in love for the 346th time yesterday. God. It took about five minutes. I think it was when I saw her carrying her phone with her left hand. I thought, Oh my God she’s left-handed, we’re destined to be together. Think of the wonderful little left-handed creatures we can make. Think how creative they’ll be! Right-handed people are so lame!

This coffee has adversely affected my brain today. I don’t want to talk about anything having to do with “nomads.” I don’t want to talk about my uncertain future. In fact, I want to talk about the Tao Te Ching. Every time I read the Tao Te Ching: A New English Version (Perennial Classics) (always the Stephen Mitchell translation, which is something short of sublime), I take something new from it. When I listened to it the other day the part that spoke to me was the part about fear disappearing when the self disappears. Basically, it says that if you want fear to disappear, you must stop thinking of yourself as separate from everything else in the universe. Think of every person, every living thing, every non-living thing, every rock, every tree, every washing machine, as an extension of yourself, and treat it accordingly. When there is no self, how can you worry about the self being annihilated (I’ve probably spelled the word “annihilated” right without the aid of spellcheck twice in my life)?

Anyway, now the song “Wake me up before you go-go” has just come on and I do kind of want to be annihilated. And I also want another cup of coffee. And I also want my fingers to not be so cold. And I also want to take a moment to commune with the things around me that are really just an extension of myself: this computer, this table, this cup of coffee, this trash can, this bottle of water. This bowl of dog and cat food. This hose. This grass. This terrible music. This yearning.

Here’s the book, linked to in my pathetic attempt to garner affiliate earnings:

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Want to support this site? Please don’t.