Who Am I?

Who Am I?

They say you are only as sick as your secrets.  I try not to have any secrets today and I certainly do not hide the fact that five and a half years ago my life completely changed as I reached both a physical and spiritual bottom.  It was at this time that I faced the biggest crossroads anyone could ever face; change or die.

Breaking the number one cardinal rule of any 12 Step Program, I break my anonymity and say that my name is Rick and I am a recovering alcoholic.  This is neither the first and certainly not  the last time I will take this daring step of breaking my own anonymity as I have become comfortable enough over the last five years to do so willingly and without reservation.  I am proud of my journey, grateful for the path that has been set before me and in extreme debt to those who have shown me the way to a better life in sobriety.

While completely mindful and respectful of others anonymity, I choose to be open about my disease of addiction, my past, and most importantly my recovery. I choose to discuss it with anyone who may benefit from my experience, strength and hope.

October 27,2007 I was scared, alone and homeless.  I literally had nowhere to go following the ultimatum by my Mother to leave her house.  This tough love and admittedly one of the hardest things she has ever had to do set my reality in place and made me face the grave circumstances of my existence and the dire consequences of my actions.  May it be known here that this harsh action by my Mother was a saving grace and I am eternally grateful for her courage, dedication and love. You helped save my life Mom, thank you.

By a series of circumstances, divine intervention, a guiding light, little Baby Jesus or whatever you may

BillWDrBobwant to attribute it to, I ended up going to the west side of Dixie Highway in Pompano Beach, FL to a neighborhood that could certainly be classified as “The Hood”.  My last resort to find a place to stay took me to a halfway house for men in a neighborhood I had never been in nor thought I would ever venture into.  Sitting with the owner in his small yet neat and comfortable living room, with tears in my eyes I gave the short end of my life story practically begging this man to take me in. I quickly had the realization that my life had become completely unmanageable.  I had lost the battle, lost the war, and now I was surrendering and admitting defeat.  I could no longer continue living my life in the manner I had done for the past 35 years.  In that small living room, on the west side of Dixie Highway I sat; a beaten and broken man.

Once the formalities of the rules, expectations, etc were discussed and I was offered a bed, to which I readily agreed, this complete stranger I had met a mere 30 minutes earlier walked over to me, asked me stand and gave me the most sincere and loving hug I had ever received while he softly said, “Welcome Home”.

Home it was.  I lived in this amazing place with 13 other men who were just like me, at a crossroads, for the next eighteen and a half months.  Some of them made it, changed their lives, stayed sober. Most of them did not.  It’s the nature of the beast called addiction. I learned so much about myself and mostly of who I did not want to be.  I learned to live with other people and accept a whole cast of characters I had never been exposed to before.  I was taught the true meaning of trust and friendship.  I was taught how to ask for help, how to humble myself and most importantly how to be honest.  The lessons were life changing and continue to affect my life today in purely positive ways.

Among one of the toughest and most rewarding experiences I had at this place was being asked the very simple question “Who are You?”  The search for this answer continues to this day as it still eludes me to a certain point.  Here’s how it happened.  Having been a resident for a few months and starting to get my life back on track I became frustrated, disillusioned and complacent on where my life had ended up.  I was 35 years old, had nothing, and I was working as a cashier at a gas station.  My fancy sports car had been repossessed and my  Harley soon followed.  A college graduate, professional salesman, business owner, home owner, earning over 6 figures a few years earlier, my life had come to this as a result of an addiction to booze. I would ride a bicycle, a train and a bus to get to work. What the hell had happened?

Seeing my restlessness and irritability the man who had welcomed me home a few months earlier brought me back into his living room, slide05-anxious-manasked me to take a seat and asked me what was going through my mind.  After I purged a ton of nonsense solely fueled by selfishness and self-centeredness this man looked at me and simply asked me, “Who are you?”  As I began to give him my list of accomplishments, where I had worked and what I had done in my life he said “Stop.  Not a resume.  Who are you?”

I started again.  I told him how I was a son, a father of two girls, an only child, “Stop” he said again sternly.  “Who are you?”  I looked at his face, in his eyes, for what seemed like an eternity and could not answer this question.  I had absolutely no idea who I was.  Bewildered I got up and walked out.  How was this possible?

As my journey into a new way of life continued I started to learn who I had been and certainly who I didn’t want to be.  Through work on my recovery, with guidance and most important willingness to change I began to realize that I certainly wasn’t who I erroneously believed I was.  I was a liar, a cheat and a thief whole stole the most valuable things anyone can steal; love and trust.  I was an egomaniac, as ironic as it may seem, with ridiculously low self-esteem.  I was a master manipulator and a master of disguise.  A chameleon who could blend into any situation playing the ultimate Oscar worthy acting role.  I was different things to different people in different situations.  I morphed and became, or acted like, the person I thought you wanted me to be.  Sincerity was foreign to me and non-existent in my life. Few things mattered to me and I was merely existing rather than living. I was a lost soul who couldn’t answer the very simple question of who he was.

I knew things had to change and the only way for that to happen was to take action.  I admit it, I despise working.  The mere thought of going to a job every single day, doing meaningless tasks for a paycheck and spending my free time cleaning, doing laundry, paying bills, and sleeping creates a repulsive feeling in my stomach.  I cannot call that living, it is merely existing.  We work to pay our bills, we pay our bills to exist, we exist to be able to work.  I needed more.  I needed to start living and my favorite line from the movie Shawshank Redemption came to mind, “Either get living or get busy dying”.  I totally took this to heart and for the first time in my life I was going to get busy living.

My life revolved around recovery and staying sober.  I ate, slept, breathed recovery.  There was no other choice.  As I often say I know that without a doubt I have another relapse or run left in me, but with certainty I also know I don’t have another recovery left.  This path I am on is a one way street.  Failure is a very real possibility but not an option.  I will not face another crossroads again and while the journey has been nothing short of miraculous it isn’t one I wish to start from the beginning again.

I started working at a drug and alcohol treatment center with a detox and 30 day inpatient residential program close to my 2 year sober anniversary.  I began working as a BHT or Behavioral Health Technician which is really a fancy name for low paid babysitter.  “Observe and Report” were among my basic duties.  I can romanticize the position and claim that I was responsible for patient safety, working alongside nurses and doctors in the crucial daily operations of a 54 bed facility.  While part of this is true, the reality is that we did head counts and tried to get patients to where they were supposed to be.  Techs are glorified gophers who truthfully are way underpaid and don’t get enough credit for what they do.  They truly are essential for the smooth operation of any treatment center as menial as the job may seem.

It was here, as a BHT, that I began to learn the difference between existing and living.  For $10.50 an hour I could have taken the attitude of simply going to work, doing the bare minimum, punching in and out at the assigned times and going home.  Existing.  However, something unexpected and awesome happened.  I made a connection with the patients, I saw myself in their faces, I was able to feel their pain and discomfort, I could relate to everything they were going through and I could genuinely celebrate their successes.  I found myself looking forward to going to work, I began to develop a passion for what I did, as simple as it may have been, I began to live.

I quickly found that with humility, sincerity and love for others I was enjoying my work.  It stopped being a job and it became my purpose.  There were many trying and frustrating days.  There were days I couldn’t wait to go home.  There were days where I questioned why I was putting so much of an effort into something that seemed pointless.  Yet right when I was ready to revert to my old ways of indifference and not caring about anything something would happen that would recharge me, inspire me and fuel me to keep going. It was often as simple as a patient saying “thank you” or asking me for a hug.  I was making a difference in people’s lives, I was offering hope and love in the same manner it had been offered to me in that living room by a complete stranger at a halfway house in the hood. My only reward the knowledge that I had helped another human being.

I started to look at the other techs that worked with me and I began to see that they too were doing the same thing.  Yes, there were some who hated their job and could have cared less, but the majority of the people who worked there shared the same commitment and passion that I was starting to develop.  I began to observe the more seasoned techs and learned from them.  I wanted to have the ease and comfort in reaching out to the patients that they had.  I wanted to follow their example.  I learned that the techs were truly amazing and caring human beings who worked at this facility for the mere reason of offering love, hope and caring.  What an incredible group of people I have had the honor of working with.

There have been some heartbreaking days.  I remember a young lady in her mid 20’s, a heroin addict, who came in as one of the angriest people I had ever met.  In 30 days this bitter, rebellious scared little girl changed and became a radiant, smiling, kind, generous woman who was full of life, who was full of hope and was making plans for her future.  The classic example of the worm who became the butterfly.  She was going to make it.  In her 5th rehab, this time it was going to be different.  She was going to follow the suggestions and continue her life in recovery.  I was so proud and so full of hope for this beautiful woman who became an inspiration to many in her short time at our facility.  We received a phone-call from her mother two weeks after she completed and left treatment.  She was found dead of a heroin overdose. That one hurt.  It hurt real bad.  But rather than discouraging me, or making me wonder if my efforts were worth it, it revitalized and recharged me to go even stronger.  I had to keep going and not allow this tragedy to discourage me from continuing to try to help others.  After all, I was finding my passion, my purpose, my meaning and who I was.

After a year and a half of working at this facility I was transferred to a desk job with different responsibilities.  Literally in a closet, my office consisted of a safe used to keep patient cash, Id’s and credit cards which also doubled as my desk.  I would have to open the safe in the mornings so I could scoot my legs inside.  Behind me was a large file cabinet with additional patient belongings and storage shelfs above the safe for paperwork, office supplies and anything else that required safe keeping.  The area was so small that it was impossible to rotate a full 360 degrees in my small office chair as the walls, safe and file cabinet prohibited me from doing so.  It was the greatest office I have ever had and I proudly walked in it every single day.  I was able to see beyond the cramped closet, the four walls that almost seemed to be closing in on you, the lack of air circulation (there was no A/C vent in the closet) and saw the significance behind my tiny office.

My closet, not really worthy of being called an office, was a symbol of trust, of progress, of hard work.  I had proven myself to my boss as someone who was honest, dependable and could get the job done.  I was trusted with every patients belongings including credit cards, checks, cash, jewelry, etc.  I was only one of two people in our entire facility to have access to the safe; I had to, it was my desk!  This new position was truly representative of the changes I had made in my life.  I had gone from unemployable, untrustworthy and certainly not dependable just a few years earlier at the peak of my addiction, to someone who could be given great responsibilities and be held accountable.  There were times I screwed up royally and while my first reaction was to lie my way out of it or make excuses, my new-found/taught way of thinking made me tell the truth regardless of the repercussions.  I was truly enjoying my new outlook, my new demeanor, my new way of conducting myself in a professional setting.  This experience and what it meant further added to what would become my answer to the question, “Who Are You?”

Today, approaching the ripe age of 41 and God willing 6 years sober, I can begin to answer the infamous question.  Clearly I have defined Who I Am Not.  I am not who I thought I was or pretended to be.  I am not that scared, lost 35-year-old child with no friends or family to turn to for support.  I am not a pitiful active alcoholic who has lost all sense of reality.  I am not a liar, a cheat or a thief.

So “Who Am I?”  Following one of the basic principles that was instilled in me I can summarize it the best possible way.  I am a spiritual, sober man who tries on a daily basis to make a positive impact on someone else’s life for the mere motivation of helping another human being. I am someone who attempts to live their life with meaning, passion and purpose.  The best part is, I’m OK with that today.

Who Are You?

Do you or someone you know need help with addiction issues?  Send me a confidential message and I will provide a list of resources and assist you in finding help.

Costa Rica 2012

Pura Vida!

A lone traveler’s adventure in Costa Rica

“Pura Vida”.  The literal translation from Spanish to English is “Pure Life”.  In Costa Rica it is used as a greeting, a farewell and to express pleasure.  I wouldn’t really understand the true meaning and power of these words until I could fully process my adventure in Costa Rica.  Five days in a foreign country and alone; how much trouble could I get into?

My trip was all about soul searching.  Having never travelled alone for pleasure I was certainly leaving my comfort zone.  I am rarely alone.  I work 8 hours a day in a treatment center with 50 patients and more than 30 employees.  I live with a roommate I actually spend time with.  I socialize with friends on average four nights per week.  Could I really stand being by myself for five days? Would loneliness, fear, uncertainty and boredom overcome me?  I was about to find out.

Day one found me boarding a flight from Fort Lauderdale to the Capitol City of San Jose where I would spend my first night in Costa Rica.  I had researched the world famous Hotel Del Rey in the heart of the city and thought this would be the perfect place to begin.  In typical Latin fashion the haggling and negotiating began as soon as I walked out of the airport and looked for a taxi.  Committing the cardinal sin which I had been warned about in the numerous travel books I read prior to my trip, I hired an unofficial, unregulated, unlicensed “pirata” taxi to drive me the 30 minutes to my hotel. While the ride was fine and went without incident, I was here to experience new things and I honestly felt like somewhat of a rebellious adventurer doing the exact opposite of what I had been told to do.

Upon entering the Del Rey, I was astounded at the numerous women patiently waiting in the lobby for a “date”.  Was this a hotel or a brothel?  Arriving at 3pm on a Sunday I was amazed at all the gorgeous young ladies, dressed in their “Sunday Best” waiting to meet a generous gentleman.  Understand, prostitution in Costa Rica is perfectly legal, accepted and readily available at The Hotel Del Rey….enough said.

The real adventure of my trip would involve travelling three hours out of the city to the small town of La Fortuna de San Carlos, population 1,500 and home to Arenal Volcano, the most active volcano in Costa Rica and according to some, the third most active in the world.  Wanting to save time I opted to take a local airline from San Jose to La Fortuna.  Nature Air would prove to be an adventure within itself.  Arriving at a regional airport on the outskirts of San Jose I boarded a single engine twelve seater plane for the 30 minute flight.

Sitting just behind the pilots I was afforded an amazing view out the front window and a glimpse as to what it takes to keep an airplane in the air.  Almost a full flight, it seemed as though I was the only one enjoying the experience based on my fellow passengers’ comments. Ironically, I was also the only passenger travelling alone.  One of my favorites was once we landed the lady sitting diagonally from me telling her husband with great conviction, “We’re driving back”.  Priceless!

Landing in La Fortuna was certainly primitive at best.  A gravel runway carved in between corn fields made for an interesting landing. The only employee at the airport had many responsibilities including ground crew, baggage handler, bartender to the small bar within the airport, airport tax collector and taxi coordinator. The airport was located on private land owned by a local who charged $7.00 per person for landing rights on his farm payable as soon as you walked away from the airplane.  You were told you would be charged another $7.00 for take-off rights once it was time to fly back to San Jose.  You have to love Latin America!

A 20 minute taxi ride to my hotel would give me the first glimpse of La Fortuna where I would be exploring, living, and looking for this “Pura Vida” thing for the next 3 days.  With a lot of agricultural land on the outskirts of town, the center of this small and humble city is concentrated around the only church and community park.  Clearly this was a town built and surviving on tourism as the majority of businesses and shops catered to just that.  Numerous souvenir shops and tourism companies made up “downtown” complete with a Burger King which appeared ridiculously out of place.

La Fortuna offers accommodations for every desire and budget.  A few weeks prior to my trip Will Smith and an entire LA film crew stayed at The Springs Resort while shooting scenes for a movie.  A luxurious hotel/resort costing approximately $500.00 per night, these accommodations were certainly not in my budget nor part of the experience I wanted to have.  I chose the much more bare-bones location of the Miradas Arenal Hotel. Among the selling points on their website is the fact that their showers have hot water.  I knew I was in for some very rustic accommodations and exactly what I wanted this leg of my trip to be all about.  Their website boasted of magnificent views of Volcano Arenal and I was not disappointed.

Owned by a family who live on-site in a modern family residence, the hotel consists of bungalows or cottages built throughout this fairly large property that also functions as an agricultural farm.  Modest, simple and fairly secluded accommodations made for a very relaxed and low key stay.  This would be my “base camp” for the next three days and looking down directly at me while I laid in bed looking out the open terrace was the majestic Arenal Volcano whose peak disappeared into the clouds in the sky above.

My first day in my new surroundings was spent simply in reflection and thought.  I couldn’t believe I was actually here.  The craziness of the Del Rey and the two charming sisters I had met, hardly gave me any time of solitude but here in La Fortuna the rain forest air, gentle breezes and nature’s tranquility were conducive to introspective reflection.  I spent hours sitting on the back terrace looking at the volcano, the trees and listening to the sounds of animals I couldn’t recognize.  I thought about the family that lived on this property and wondered if they enjoyed and appreciated the beauty that surrounded them as much as I was currently doing. If you ever doubted the existence of a Higher Power, this place would surely convince you otherwise.  As far as the eye could see, everything was just ridiculously perfect, in complete balance and ultimate harmony. There was absolutely no denying the presence and power of God in this spectacular place.  This truly was part of a Spiritual Experience and I believe I was starting to understand “Pura Vida”.

To know me, is to know that I have absolutely no problem sleeping.  I am famous or perhaps notorious for my daily naps.  No emergency can occur between 5 – 7 pm as this is when I am in my deepest slumber.  My friends and family know better than to count on me during this two hour period.  My naps are part of my daily routine in very much the same way that brushing my teeth and eating a meal is as well. With that said, my first night sleeping in my tiny bungalow in the middle of the rain forest was some of the best sleep I had experienced in years.  Amazing what some fresh mountain air can do.

Day two would take me to SkyTrek Adventures for an incredible adventure of Zip Lining through the rain forest.  After a 45 minute bus ride through dirt and gravel roads up the mountain, the final ascend to the top would be in an open air gondola where the views of the rain forest, the volcano and Lake Arenal were purely spectacular. Nearly a 25 minute gondola ride to the top, my fellow zip liners and I clearly questioned what we were getting into.  In full safety gear including helmet, gloves, and harness we resembled cave explorers more so than zip lining amateurs.  Upon reaching the top platform we were given a brief safety lecture and instructed on the proper techniques that we would use on the nearly two mile, eight line trek downward.  Several platforms along the way would give us a necessary break and the opportunity to talk to our fellow adventurers about the experience thus far.  Again, I was the only lone traveler amongst a group of about 17 yet found the camaraderie we shared unique. In dramatic fashion, you could say that we were all cheating death. We were survivors! At every platform we would discuss the previous zip and marvel at the distance, speed and scenery we had just experienced.

I am not a fan of heights. Frankly, I’m downright scared.  I have learned that in reality I am not scared of heights, but rather of falling.  The incredible thing about my Zip Lining adventure is that I felt completely relaxed, safe and at ease. At nearly 3,000 feet above sea level you would think that fear would take over but this was exactly why I had come to Costa Rica; for the adventure.  With the scenery surrounding me, the only sound being that of the pulley screaming down the zip line, and a complete sense of a spiritual existence, I didn’t want this experience to end.  This was indeed the closest I had ever come to flying free like a bird and truly an indescribable feeling.  Flying through the air, attached to a single wire above your head in the middle of the Costa Rican Rain Forest is the most freeing thing I have ever done.  Without a doubt, this was Pura Vida.

By the time we went through all eight zip lines and reached the bottom I was exhausted.  While there had been casual conversation with my other adventurers, I remained mostly to myself trying to absorb the whole experience.  I didn’t want to be distracted by idle chatter or frivolous attempts at carrying on conversations.  I had a huge desire to take everything in, focus on the experience and allow the feelings that would come naturally to surface without interference.  Luckily I was able to do just that and concentrate on nature’s majestic beauty which engulfed me.

Returning to my small bungalow I was drained both physically and emotionally.  At approximately 5pm I laid my head down for one of my famous naps not to awaken again until the following morning.  This truly had been a once in a lifetime experience.

My third and last full day in La Fortuna would find me white water rafting on the Balsa San Carlos River. I honestly did not expect to enjoy this adventure as much as I did, but then again when you are surrounded with such spectacular scenery, tranquil ambience and amazing peace it is hard not to.  There were those exhilarating ra

pids where it seemed we were paddling for our survival, but the spots in which the gentle currents allowed us to gingerly flow down the river where absolutely amazing.  While I was on a raft with 5 other people plus our fearless guide, hardly a word was spoken amongst us.

There was too much to absorb, too much to see, too much to take in.  Nature’s “voice” consisting of the sounds of the flowing river, the gentle breeze passing through the trees and the animal inhabitants made for some of the most peaceful and serene music I have ever heard. 

Halfway through our trip we stopped along the river bank where our guides and the other rafts in our group convened giving us the opportunity to enjoy some dry time on land to rest and partake in some freshly sliced fruit prepared by our hosts. Our guides, native Costa Rican’s were incredibly proud of their country, truly seemed to enjoy their job as river guides and were more than willing to share with us some history and interesting facts about Costa Rica and the picturesque scene that surrounded us. They shared what life was like in their beautiful country; a peaceful, quite and simple existence based on family, faith, hard work, and humility with Pura Vida at its central core!  Yes, I learned that to Tican’s enjoying the simple life was of utmost importance. I was fascinated as I listened to their detail of a different way of life. I had travelled to escape from the pressures of my own job and life, to spend some time resting and relaxing, enjoying nature and the simpler things.  These men lived it on a daily basis.  To a certain degree I was envious of this simpler way of life and momentarily considered staying in Costa Rica and becoming a river guide.  Yes, a boy can dream.

Our day ended by stopping at a roadside restaurant for lunch where I enjoyed some of the best home cooked chicken and rice I have ever had.  It was the perfect ending to an amazing day out on the river.  It was time to head back to the sanctuary and silence of my bungalow where my solitude, would once again allow me to reflect on the day’s activities and the reasons why I had embarked on this trek.

Having purposely travelled light and with minimal necessities my last night was hardly spent packing for my flight back to San Jose. My luggage consisted of a carry-on bag with a shoulder strap, containing mini versions of shampoo and toothpaste supplying me with just enough for five days.  My clothing, although exactly what I needed to be in the rain forest, was bare minimum and my only luxuries were my camera, IPod and headphones.  I was packed and ready to leave the next morning in under 5 minutes.  The last few hours of daylight in my bungalow were spent out on the porch looking up at my incredible volcano making a promise to return again soon. As darkness approached the volcano and the rain forest that surrounded it disappeared into the night leaving me with only the sounds of critters going about their nocturnal activities. The magnitude of stars in the sky were something like I had never seen before and while their light wasn’t significant enough to be bothersome, they clearly made a presence and let me know how truly infinite our universe really is.   The temperature cooled, as it normally did during the evening hours, and I was ready to sleep in this tranquil peace of paradise for one last time.

The following morning after eating a home cooked breakfast prepared by my hosts and served in their poolside cabana I was ready to head to the landing strip and my brief flight back to San Jose.  I had some extra time before having to leave and used the opportunity to walk around the property I had called home for the past three days.  I wanted to absorb this place one last time.  I wanted to make mental notes of everything, make sure I missed nothing and spend my last hours in reflection and thought.  I had done a lot of that in the last three days and wasn’t ready for it to end.  Almost as if he knew I was leaving, the family dog, clearly a mixed breed mutt and usually shy and reclusive, followed me on my walk.  I really didn’t want to leave this peace and tranquility, but as they say all good things must come to an end.

I arrived back at the rustic landing strip with 30 minutes prior to departure.  Other than the caretaker of the air field who readily collected my $7.00 I was the only other person at the airport thus far.  Starting a conversation with the only other soul in this barren airfield, my new friend Miguel offered me some food he had cooked up in the small kitchen behind the airport bar.  Rice and black beans, fried plantains and a delicious chicken certainly hit the spot as I waited for the plane to arrive.  Growing concerned that I was still the only passenger present I asked my new friend if the flight was on time.  He informed me that it was, and that I was the only passenger on this leg of the trip.  Yes, I would be flying alone.  You can’t make this stuff up.  I had my own private plane for my flight back to San Jose.  I most definitely felt like a rock star!  Miguel informed me that the airline had waited to see if I showed up at the airport before sending the plane from San Jose and it was currently on the way.  This was just awesome!

Arriving back in San Jose I took a scenic ride back to my hotel where I would spend my last evening in Costa Rica.  Wanting to experience as much as I could, I opted to stay at a different hotel than my previous visit to the Del Rey.  La Amistad would be my pit-stop prior to returning to the US the following morning.  Certainly different from the Del Rey, this place billed as a “Boutique Hotel” was anything but.  Located next to a railroad track the city noise and lack of serenity were certainly a drastic change from my last three days.  Having had enough solitude in my mountain bungalow I ventured down to the hotel lobby where I met a fellow traveler from Australia.  A research scientist who had recently sold his business for a hefty profit, he had come to Costa Rica to spend a small fortune celebrating his financial success. His research and wealth had been conducted in the area of drug addiction and we spent several hours in fascinating conversation on the subject matter.  He would give me the scientific side, while I discussed the psychological and treatment side.  This was truly the last thing I expected to do in the middle of a hotel lobby in Costa Rica and found the whole experience somewhat surreal.  After several hours of conversation our male instincts kicked in and we took a cab ride to the Del Rey to enjoy a change of scenery and continue with stimulation of another kind.

My trip had finally come to an end and it was time to head home.  I was fortunate enough to be the lucky bastard to be sitting next to the only crying infant on the plane headed back to The States, and I have never praised Steve Jobs as much as I did during that flight.  Drowning out the screams of the two year old next to me, my IPod became my best friend.  Setting my playlist at “Meditation” I lost myself in the sounds coming through my headphones, my thoughts and my tranquility.  Had I found what “Pura Vida” really meant?  I had met a simple, humble people who exuded happiness and a joy for life.  I had been treated not as a guest in a foreign country, but as a long time friend.  I was taught that sometimes the simplest things in life are the best.  I learned how to disconnect from modern technology and pay attention to the world around me.  I realized that spending quiet time with me is actually a reward within itself.  I laughed, I learned, I lived…..I indeed experienced Pura Vida.

**To view more images from my trip, click the following link**

Costa Rica Album

Singers, Dancers, and Musicians

Latin people are historically known as incredible dancers, singers, and musicians along with possessing many other both positive and negative traits.  For the purposes of this BLOG entry, we’ll focus solely on the dancing, singing and musical aspect of this wonderful culture. A proper disclaimer at this point would be that I was born in South America and lived there until my family moved to The States when I was 8.  My Father, a true Catalonian, was from Spain; my Mother a mixture of American, Irish & Trinidadian.  Together they created the melting pot that I am today.

My earliest recollection of a Latin musician comes in the form of old re-runs of “I Love Lucy” where invariably Ricky (played by Desi Arnaz) would utter the line…”Lucy, jew have a lot esplainin’ to do!”  As my musical horizons expanded and I grew, I became exposed to other Latin talents as Jose Feliciano, Santana, Julio Iglesias, and “El Puma”.  More contemporary and certainly readily recognizable Latin artists include Selena, Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias, Shakira and Marc Anthony. 

In all honesty I am the farthest thing from a typical Latin male.  Growing up in the good ol’ US of A, my musical taste leans towards AC/DC, Journey, The Rolling Stones, Jimmy Buffett and the occasional Billy Joel.  Regardless, you would think being the melting pot that I am, I would have inherited some kind of musical genius from my Latin ancestors.  Never mind the genius, I would have settled with some simple musical talent.  The ability to carry a tune, is that too much to ask?  So since step 1 of any 12 step program is honesty, I humble myself and admit that I have absolutely no musical talent what-so-ever.  I don’t sing, I don’t dance, and I don’t play a musical instrument.  The extent of my musical “genius” is downloading a song from the internet and burning it on a CD to joyfully play in my car at a later time.  Life can be so cruel.

Back in October of 2010, a new neighborhood spot opened up called AWA NA KAVA (in the heart of Fort Lauderdale) From the rumor-ville I hear this awesome little town Kava Bar will be reviewed on FatFreddySays.com shortly!  Yet, as always….I digress.  Awa Na Kava started hosting open mic nights on Sundays and as a faithful and loyal patron I was and am privileged to witness music magic happen every Sunday by relative amateurs combined with semi-professionals. 

Indulge me for a brief moment and go back to the 5th grade with me. Enrolled at American Heritage School in Plantation, Florida I guess my Latin roots came-a-calling.  I joined the middle school band and decided I was going to play the trumpet.   On my second day I realized that the instrument that was going to make me famous was clearly a lot more difficult than I had originally thought.  On the night of our first band concert I was completely unprepared, didn’t know the music, couldn’t play the notes, hadn’t practiced but did an amazing job of simulating and pretending to play along with the rest of the orchestra while not a single note emerged out of my horn. My trumpet playing pantomime was so convincing that at the end of the evening’s performance my parents, with gleaming and proud eyes, told me I had done a wonderful job and could clearly see a future for me in the brass section of any renowned orchestra. This night would prove to be the first of many performances where my acting skills would certainly outshine my musical talents. 

The trumpet was quickly given up, followed by brief attempts at the drums, percussion, and the saxophone.  All of my musical instrument attempts had the same result; utter frustration, lack of dedication, discipline & practice and eventual surrender.  Yet my musical endeavors weren’t over…….oh no…..music was in my blood!

The whole instrument thing wasn’t working, but in order to honor my heritage I had to continue on my music quest.  A moment of brilliance came to me and I decided to trade the orchestra for the CHORUS.  It was 7th grade and I was ready to sing!  Tenor, soprano, bass, it really didn’t matter.  I just wanted to be a star!  (My selfishness and self-seeking started at a very early age.)  Long story short, I was asked not to come back the following year for various reasons.  The chorus would not be an option for me as I was not welcomed.  Acting would come next, but that is subject for another post.  By this time, at the tender age of 13 or 14 my musical career was over.  I couldn’t help but feel like I had let my ancestors down.  That “musical” gene seemed to skip me and left me with a musically deaf ear, no talent, let alone any ability.

When open mic started at Awa Na Kava I was somewhat hesitant and unsure as to what to expect.  Of course I was biased in my own abilities, or lack thereof, and figured that listening to a group of people playing instruments and singing, who had never practiced or played together, could not end well.  I was astonished at the incredible results I witnessed.

Truthfully, the first few attempts were not the greatest, but as simply a bystander the fact that I could actually recognize a song that was being played amazed me.  I saw one guy play acoustic guitar rather well, then sing, then hop on the drums and masterfully play with incredible ease.  I was truly impressed.  As the “Sunday Night Jams” continued this group of musicians became increasingly more synchronized and amazingly good.  Every Sunday I sat at my usual stool and watched with great admiration as this talented group of individuals played some great music together.    

Based on my limited and what could be called “traumatic” musical experience in my early days, I sit in awe and watch these guys make magic together.  I certainly do not intend to sound melodramatic when I say “magic” but the knowledge, dedication, and talent I witness is inspiring.  I witness not only solid musical abilities but also a passion and enjoyment rarely seen in other venues.  These individuals perform not for fame or money, not for recognition or star status but simply for the pure enjoyment and love for the art.  I have been present when there were only two patrons present and these men played with as much heart and passion to rival any Pop-Star playing a sold out arena.

I am truly blessed.  I am part of a group of people who on a weekly basis get a chance to express their creativity, share their talent and inspire people like myself.  I consider myself part of this group because although I don’t sing, dance or play, I can sit back and admire these men for what they are…..true artists.  With an eclectic group of people, other talents have emerged as well.  We have photographers, videographers, t-shirt artists and producers to name a few.  Such is the talent present during these Sunday Night Jam Sessions, that two members of the group have collaborated and have produced, performed, recorded and published a song now available on ITunes. (Search for WoCo, Planet Pretty Girl)    

If you are ever in the Fort Lauderdale area, I encourage you to visit Awa Na Kava, located on the SW Corner of Oakland Park Boulevard and Bayview Drive near the beach.  They are open Tuesday-Sunday 6pm until 2am.  Open mic nights are every Sunday, Open Karaoke on Wednesdays. I’ll be the guy sitting on the stool watching with awe and amazement. Hope to see you there!