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July 13, 2012 / zachster

2. Nantucket

I stay at The Jared Coffin House: a magical place from my youth, mainly because it has the word coffin in its title. I’d never been inside, but rode past it on my bike every day of every summer I spent on the island. The room is tiny with a twin bed, but seems fitting since I’ve slept on nothing but twin beds on Nantucket. If only I had some Garfield sheets, the picture would be perfect.

 

I drop my stuff and crisscross downtown blocks. I had low hopes, assuming boutiques or restaurants catering to island latecomers replaced most stores from my childhood. I’m pleasantly surprised to see the old favorites:

 

  1. The Hub, where I binged on Mad Magazines and comic books. Near the end of our family visits, The Hub had merged with the gift shop next door and become a stuffy maze of figurines and non-comic-book-related garbage. Today, The Hub is back to its roots, walled away from the gift shop, and still selling Mad Magazine… and Penthouse.
  2. Mitchell’s Bookstore: Several times I found intricate punch and assemble activity books: Masks, Star Wars Vehicles, and some sort of medieval monastery. I don’t know why I felt like punching and assembling a medieval monastery. I really liked punching and assembling.
  3. Dreamland Movie Theater: Return of the Jedi, Ghost Busters (at least a few of the eight times Andy and I saw this in the theater, we saw it here)
  4. The White Dog Theater: Camelot. This was a weird theater. Today it’s showing first run, mainstream movies.
  5. Aunt Leah’s Fudge: They still sell the candy buttons you bite off the paper strip, consuming as much paper as candy.

 

The Jared Coffin House is very close to our old place on Cliff Road. I steel myself for the hike up the steep hill that always made it tough to head home. Today, it’s merely a shallow slope offering neither a challenge to ascend, nor a thrill if I were to bike down it.

 

The house is right where I left it, but bears little resemblance to the fort I remember. I know the folks who bought it poured money into every corner, but it seems drab and boxy. The white fence is gone, replaced with hedges coming right up to the house. Where do the kids run with the dog? The kitchen yard has been paved with stones. How will they dig for artifacts? The backyard is well kept with wildflowers, but the outdoor shower is gone. Where do they wash off after the beach? I peer in the door to the sun porch. A muppety dog lifts up from the couch but feels no need to take further action. It looks fine inside. I’m sure the new owners enjoy it. Just not as much as I did.

July 10, 2012 / zachster

1. Nantucket

Walking down the street, I am overcome. Whatever goals I have, are superseded by the memories of what lead me down this street decades before. It’s no trouble when I have no plans; when I only aim to explore. But getting home, drunk, and tired, and confused: memories are walls that must be climbed; they are doors that must be knocked down. I’m trying to walk back to the Jared Coffin House. I’m trying to get to bed. But first I have to get the cab to take this girl home by giving him directions to Force Five: I think it’s a bait and tackle shop. He knows exactly where it is. Exactly. He takes so many side streets, the term “side streets” loses all meaning. These are all side streets. This whole island is a side street.

 

I knew I would get lonely. I’m here alone, to walk in my eight year old footsteps. But those steps are small and never got very far. I covered almost all of them in my first afternoon. So I worked: for hours. And then I had a drink. And then the bartender introduced me to this girl. And the girl invited me out to play pool with these other girls. They’re all dykes. Which is great. Such fun. But we ended up on some sort of dyke mission. Some mission to discover some dyke treasure deep in the heart of Nantucket. We didn’t find it, I don’t think.

 

But this was my first night out in Nantucket as an adult. There were countless nights as a child. There was one night as a boy. Then there’s this night as a grownup; this night of Bulgarians and Lesbians and Tequila and Pool. 

 

And finally, I am just trying to get home. And I walk by the chintzy boutique that used to be the five and dime. I can’t get past it without stopping to remember. It’s all too complicated to explain. There were so many wants, and hads, and losts, all caught up in that store that I can’t even begin to explain.  And I’m stuck trying to get home from my grownup evening, but held in place, cemented to the cobblestone by memories of the boy I was thirty years ago. Thirty. Maybe twenty-eight. But that’s thirty, right?

 

I stayed away for years and years out of fear for what had changed. But the things that were mine, the things of children, have been left, preserved for decades. It’s only the grownup things that changed: new restaurants, new shops and cars and clothes. But the playgrounds and beaches and streets are all the same. All the candy is still here. All of it.

June 7, 2012 / zachster

SocialFresh’s Facebook Ad Conference

Much thanks to Jason and his team at SocialFresh for the ticket to his Facebook Advertising Conference! This is a very niche industry, and he’s got a huge number of experts scheduled to present. I’m sure there will be tons of great Facebook Ad Tips. I’m especially interested in what the speakers from Buddy Media and Vitrue have to say. They’ve both recently been acquired by large companies (Salesforce and Oracle, respectively). It’s clear that the sort of Facebook Ad Training SocialFresh is aggregating is key to their successful strategies.

I’ve been working on my Facebook ad optimization platform for about a year. It’s been difficult to keep my algorithms in sync with the behavior of Facebook’s ad server. My latest version is rules-based and makes its decisions in a linear fashion more similar to how a human campaign manager might look at different key performance indicators. While I don’t think that’s how Facebook’s ad server works, it makes it easier to adapt teachings from experts into new sets of rules to test. Hopefully the speakers at the Facebook Ad Conference will go into enough detail on their management strategies so I can test a couple of them against each other.

The more I learn about my competition, the more it seems their strategies rely heavily on experienced personnel to achieve clients’ performance goals. While this is true for any service industry, I was surprised at the extent to which it’s people, and not technology, powering the largest players in the industry. As someone committed to using technology to enhance the productivity of experts, I see this as a great challenge and opportunity.

Here’s their full list of conference presenters:
Justin Kistner from Webtrends
Marty Weintraub from aimClear
Randall Lloyd from Buddy Media
Diana Plazas from Doubletree by Hilton
Angela Leaney from the Harlem Globetrotters
Jordan Franklin from Clickable
Hussein Fazal from Ad Parlor
Tim Bosch from Likeable Media
Dan Slagen from HubSpot
Chris Tuff from 22squared
Amy Porterfield from AmyPorterfield.com
Ryan Cohn from What’s Next Marketing
Matt Monahan from AlphaBoost
Dan Benyamin from Citizennet
Katie Roberts from Walden University
Maya Grinberg from Wildfire
Mark Unger from PUSH
Jeff Widman from Pagelever
Merry Morud from aimClear
Erika Brookes of Vitrue
Lucy Jacobs of Spruce Media
Nate Riggs of The Karcher Group
Roland Smart of Involver
Jay Baer of Convince&Convert
Chris Penn of WhatCounts
Victoria Gibson of FB Ad Queen

SocialFresh first came onto my radar when they published their 2012 Facebook Ad Report. They surveyed three hundred and forty-seven people involved in Facebook advertising, including brands, agencies and vendors. I was really impressed with the amount of data they’d gathered and aggregated. Some of it was really helpful for my investor presentation and marketing materials.

September 25, 2011 / zachster

Morocco: Act III

It’s been over a year since my last travel post, and eighteen months since I returned from my first trip to Morocco, but I’m only now working up the gumption to conclude that story. I do this mainly so I can recount my recent travels with clear conscience that my previous experience will not be washed away by my failing mind. Already, many important details are gone and forgotten. But I will do my best to explain how we escaped Africa. I’m aided by the photos I took, which retell some of the story. But they end abruptly and leave quite a gap for reasons which will become clear.

The drive out of the desert is a mirror image of the drive in. Whereas we stopped at the Todra Gorge on the way in, it’s the Dades Gorge on the way out. After the uniform landscape of the Sahara, the massive features of Dades repaint the world as a diverse and volatile place.

And instead of fossils, like on the way in, we stop for the roses in M’Gouna. This is the seat of the Moroccan perfume and skincare trade. There are dozens of shops selling rose water and argon oil. It’s a bit of a letdown as we don’t see any fields of roses stretching on into infinity. I don’t remember why. Maybe they were out of season?

The climax of our tale begins as we arrive at the Kasbah Ait Ben Moro. It’s a lovely building filled with character and charm. It’s more modern than the others, with a full service restaurant and manicured grounds. After settling in and exploring a bit, we sit down to a well served meal. We order a bottle of Moroccan wine, and I explain to the waiter that I will not be having the mixed grill, as I only eat seafood and vegetables. I probably make a joke about being unable to find seafood in the desert. When he brings our food out, our waiter beams with pride as he presents me with a plate of something grilled. The owner of the Kasbah, he explains, is a big fan of seafood and personally offers me his fish dinner for the evening. There are two decent sized fillets that look bad and smell worse. But I felt there was no way I could refuse. In fairness, it might not have been the fish that set me down my dark path. I remember feeling a bit ookie even when we sat down for dinner. But Jenny felt fine before, and did have a taste of the fish. It was one of those, “this is horrible, try it” moments we all fall for every so often.

Or maybe it was the wine, or some food we’d shared the previous day. Whatever it was, it hit me first and Jenny a few hours later. Fever, delirium, cold sweats, bathroom emergencies of every variety. This is when the photos stop. My vacation reading was Paul Knowles’ The Sheltering Sky about two neurotic New Yorkers who visit Morocco when the region opens up after World War II. The book is a lovely tragedy that starts bad and ends worse. With that in mind, I lay in my darkened Kasbah room and think to myself how odd it is that I’m dying and that I know that I’m dying.

It’s a silver lining that my attack hit hours earlier. By the time Jenny came down with it, my worst had passed. It’s frightening to think what would have happened if I’d need the bathroom while she was in there. Of course if something horrible like that did happen, we would agree to take it with us to our graves, so you’ll never really know. In retrospect, I’m grateful to my body for dealing with the trauma without need of medicine or treatment. Had it done otherwise, this would be a longer and more harrowing story. By the morning, we were both battle weary, but mobile and ready to finish our drive back to Marrakech.

We booked a day at the end of our trip at the Sofitel in Marrakech as a way to pamper ourselves after our rugged desert expedition. The hotel is lovely with western amenities, a pool, and a world class restaurant. Instead of enjoying these, we spend fourteen hours dozing in our darkened room and ordering room service as we regain our strength. The next day we take a brief lap around the hotel so we can admire the features we did not enjoy. But we agree it was a fortuitous stop. If we’d gone straight from the desert onto an airplane, it could have been a painful return to western civilization. As it was, we escaped our illness before escaping Africa.

Jenny and I don’t talk anymore, but that trip remains in my memory as the most extreme of adventures. Bouncing from the joy and peace of the desert to the despair of death and disease will forever stay in my heart, and there’s no one I’d rather have shared that with.

November 8, 2010 / zachster

Hip.ly

Hip.ly

I’ve been working on Blessable, in relative isolation, for a couple of months now. It’s kind of driving me crazy. Last week, I started venturing out into the NY tech scene to see who else was rowing a similar boat. This was before I got rejected from Y Combinator, but probably in expectation of it. If I’m not going to be part of that community, I better find one here.

Mike Lewis (of Eventlo) posted a real nice blog on the struggles of the solo startup, so he and I started emailing and he invited me to a MeetUp going down that night. It was pretty random. A bunch of (mostly) dudes hanging out near Shake Shack making rounds of introductions. But I saw a few people I’d seen at a YC event, so I figured it was the right group. Mike and his friends all turn out to be interesting. I only stayed for a bit, but it got me thinking about how much else there is out there for people in technology, and how fun it is to collaborate. I started Blessable because it’s something I deeply believe in, and no one else was focused on it. But with that comes a real dearth of interactions.

Mike is focused on Events, which is something I’m passionate about as a user. I go to a lot of rando events. Mostly without much information on them. Sometimes it’s great. Sometimes it goes horribly wrong. I’ve thought a lot about better tools for event discovery and enjoyment. Mike seemed interested in working together, so we met up to talk about it.

I had this idea that we could fund a site by selling concert tickets. I went to a panel at CMJ where the Andrew Dreskin (founder of TicketFly) told his story. I thought he said their affiliate program paid “25 percent” of the sales to advertisers. In retrospect, that doesn’t make any sense, but I got Mike all excited and was pretty disappointed when I checked their site and realized he said “25 cents”. D’oh! Yeah, we’re gonna go and sell out MSG every month to make our budget.

But it still got me thinking about how I decide what shows to see. I get the Oh My Rockness newsletter and figure out what nights I’m going out. Then I have to go and listens to all the bands that are playing (most of them are unknown to me). It’s a real pain. Especially having to find their MySpace pages and navigate through that crumbling cathedral. I also like to figure out if there are a few shows close together, in case I want to make a quick getaway. These days, I guess I know where most of the venues are. But when I first moved here, this was a pain too.

So… on Thursday I built Hip.ly. Yes, it’s just a mashup. But it’s still pretty useful. Here’s what it does:

  • Lists all the Oh My Rockness shows in NY, LA and Chicago (They get paid if you buy a ticket. Support them!)
  • Lists the top 3 songs for each band, at each venue from iLike (They get paid if you buy an MP3. Support them!)

  • Puts all the shows on a Google Map (They get paid if you’re using the Internet!)
  • Comments for each show can give you an idea of who’s going. If you post the comments on Facebook, your friends can see that you’re going.

I get paid if you click the banner ad at the top of page. But it’s not like I’m expecting to quit my… oh wait… nevermind…

I think it’s pretty useful. I sure wish I had it for CMJ. I probably spent more time researching what bands to see than I spent building this.

If it seems like something more people want, I’ll integrate Facebook Connect and recommend shows based on what music people have “Liked”. If I do that, I can import more shows and add more cities. Right now I can’t do that because there’d be too much data. Oh My Rockness does a great job of picking out the quality shows. They’re the real brains of this. Hopefully they wont mind that I’m using their data. Maybe they’ll make some extra money from the ticket links I’m using.

Let me know if you have any thoughts or ideas on this?

September 8, 2010 / zachster

Mykonos: Boys at the Beach

It’s a whole new world, stepping off that boat and onto dry land. But the bumpy bus ride through the hills of Mykonos, South to Paradise Beach, brings back bad memories and fears of more cold sweats. It takes fifteen minutes, but feels like an hour. I’m in a daze as I check in to the hostel and dump my bags in the corner of my cabin. The white on white nothingness of the room is only briefly disorienting as I drop onto the mattress and sleep for three hours. I wake on the white sheets in the white room with the white storage cubby; the white shuttered window and door are closed to the fresh air outside. I’m suffocating inside an early iMac commercial.

I put on my swimsuit and step outside. I’m immediately refreshed by the cool ocean breeze under the hot european sun. The hostel is built just outside the beach, running in wide aisles of cabins and dormitories. I walk down the rows of identical bunkers, following the signs for BEACH –>. The large double doors open onto a food court with bars, food stations, and an array of eating areas. Beyond that, rocky sand. Beyond that, clear blue water.

None of the beaches in Greece have been very comfy. The sand ranges from gravel to granules with a few rocks and boulders thrown in for good measure. I wonder a bit on how Grecian beaches are always featured in those top beach lists of the travel journals and television shows. I wonder … until I turn from the natural beauty, however rough, to the clientele dotting the shore. The boys are sculpted and hairless, many holding hands. The girls are slim and tanned, many topless. Pop and hip hop blankets the sand from a dj booth farther up the beach. Dancers on tables spin inside the circles of worshippers. It’s mostly boys, piled up against each other, dancing, skin to skin. Farther out from the crowd, girls shake and bounce. This can’t be organic. It must have sprung from the screens of MTV beach houses across the world, teaching travelers what to do when they get to Mykonos.

I lay in the sand. I take to the water. I float. I drip dry.

I wander up the beach, glancing at the nudity as slyly as I can.

The Australians are hanging out too and we spend a while chatting. These aren’t the Australians from Paros (Livia, Van, Ngoc, Mina). They’re the girl friends (Amy, Kate) of the boy friends (Dan, Paul) of those Australians. It’s mostly Australians around here, I guess. Or at least they’re the ones speaking English and deigning to befriend Americans. We’re talking about the full moon party tonight at the beach club. It’s twenty euros, but promises to be a quintessential Mykonos night. It doesn’t get started until 1am, so I head into town to see what’s to see.

Like Santorini, Mykonos is adorable. Narrow streets snake through the town in a maze of art galleries, cafes, and shops. The larger venues are closer to the water, perched atop hills looking out over the piers. But the smaller ones, set further inside the maze offer more eclectic options. The paths through town are crowded. Tourists keep to lanes of traffic moving slowly past open doorways where the patrons are as pretty to ogle as the dishes and wares. I head closer to shore and eat at a cafe perched atop a cliff overlooking the water. I’m mostly killing time while I wait for the Aussie girls I left back in Paros to arrive by ferry. I’m finishing up as I see their ferry cross the horizon. By the time I get down to the port, it’s floated past and headed farther up the island. There are two ports on Mykonos, F your I. I picked the wrong one. It’s too far to walk, and I know they’ll have scattered by the time I make it over there. I say goodbye to my Aussie friends for a while and wander the streets, waiting for the clubs and bars to open.

The crowds are waiting for something. Everyone’s polished and dressed; too fancy for a night of wandering the shops. But it’s only eleven and the clubs stand open but empty. We’re waiting for a crash of revelry to let us know it’s okay to start the night. But by midnight the crash doesn’t come. It’s off in the distance somewhere, but running slower than my patience. I catch the bus back to the beach and wait for the full moon party to pick up. I stroll in around one am and it’s just starting to pick up. The headlining DJ isn’t on yet, but the dance floor is hip hopping around. It’s mostly boys dancing in big groups, with some girls satelitting near the edges. There’s a farther ring of straight guys trying to get the girls’ attention, but I don’t see much happening. The club is cool, dominated by a large swimming pool in the center. But it’s closed! And there’s no beach access from here! We can see the full moon overhead, but otherwise might well have been in town. Booze is pricey, and the bar lines are not long. An overflow of liquor would ignite the situation into awesomeness, but that’s not going to happen.

I mostly wallflower around and try not too look lonely. I’m not nearly as concerned with being lonely as looking lonely.

My favorite thing to watch is the group of Japanese boys improvising dance routines. I fear for a moment there will be a fight over who gets to be Neo in their interpretive Matrix dance. It’s a huge relief when they agree they can all be Neo.

Agent Greg is opening for Robin S (of the 90’s hit Show Me Love, obvs) and by the time he comes on, the crowd is jumping. Everyone’s having a good time, but it feels a little forced. Maybe I didn’t drink enough. It’s hard to let go when I feel penned in. It’s like one of those monster new years eve parties they throw. Everyone’s paid so much to be there, they’re sure as hell going to have a great time.

I check out around 4am with the party going strong. I saw what I wanted to see… plus a lot of dudes kissing. So it was a day well spent. I made the short walk back to my bleached beach bunker and quickly fall asleep.

Maybe it’s the ocean, or the sparseness of the room, but I sleep righteously here. I rise before noon and float in the ocean before I’m fully awake. I love the glamour and cuisine of this place, but all I really need is a good bed and a warm ocean. I head back to town and have an amazing lunch of muscles and risotto. The cafe is in a corner of town called Little Venice. There are no canals, but I dine on a balcony hanging over the sea. From the balcony next door, a little boy fishes with a little rod and catches a little fish. He goes inside for a little lunch. My wine is interrupted only occasionally by ambitious waves from the rolling water far below.

I’m back on the bus for some more time at the beach when I get a text from Van. We meet up on the sand, and I’m happy to be with a group again. Traveling alone is a vicious cycle of camaraderie and solitude; each feeding my need for the other. We lay in the sand and play in the water until the warmth fades at last. By then, the beach dance party has started (every day from 4pm to 8pm) and we ogle the gyrating crowds.

The girls wait for me to get changed, and we head back to town. Before going back to their hotel we stop at a market and buy a bottle of tequila and some mixers. Once everyone’s showered and dressed, we sit around a table and (one at a time as we have just one glass) down mixed shots of tequila and juice. When half the orange juice is gone, we fill the carton back up with tequila and start the walk back into town. By the time we get there, we’re nicely sloshed. Van especially seems toasted and eagerly grabs at the carton for more. Being the gallant gentleman I am, I finish it off to save her from further inebriation. It’s the least I can do…

Walking along the shore, we run into a young girl, playing alone with a large stick. It’s late. She’s alone. It’s weird. We strike up a conversation and get pulled deep into this odd story of hers. Her story seems made up, based on some things we tell her and things she’s heard from others. She’s from California. She’s from Orange County. Her parents work at a restaurant here. Something about the way she goes on and on terrifies me. I’ve seen too many horror films where the demon is a young child. I might actually be afraid of children now. At least when they’re carrying a big stick. As we’re talking, a number of people walking by stop and greet the girl by name. These are other tourists, and it seems like they’ve also been pulled into her stories. We play for a while, but when we leave, I feel like I’m running away.

This night is livelier than the last. The full moon parties at the beach clubs split the population but tonight everyone’s in town. We run in and out of clubs, trying to find what’s happening. A lot of them are empty. I’m especially sorry that “Jacuzzi” is completely dead. Photos at the door show half naked boys and girls dancing in a hot tub. But it’s a wasteland inside and we don’t want to be in there alone. A few of the clubs offer us free drinks to come inside. They’re all looking for that initial bump to draw a crowd. We stay for a while and take some silly pictures, but then move on to the next.

Mostly we stream down the streets, following the crowds. I think it’s the pressure of being a minority, but that’s no excuse for the hordes of straight men who roam the streets looking for girls to accost. They’re handsier than a drunk santa at an xmas party. It’s kind of a bummer to see this kind of behavior in a place where everyone is so friendly. At least they don’t seem to be American. I couldn’t take it if they were.

There’s a strong vibe that the night’s winding down around 2 or 3 when we run into Dan and Paul. I haven’t seen them since leaving the boat, and the girls haven’t seen them since Paros. Maybe Mykonos is only meant to be seen in the arms of gay men. They pull us deep into a club in Little Venice. We’d walked in this place before, but the throngs of men, grinding into each other soon pushed us back out into the street. Our respective genders and preference were found lacking. But with Dan and Paul, we slip quickly up to the second floor where there’s room to dance and booze. The guys are so fun, and there’s a steady stream of characters floating through the club. Bodybuilding boys dance with themselves in the mirrors, shirts off and eyes fixed. Tiny queens, dance with runway girls. Mina rides Paul like he’s a horse. Good times. Good times.


We stop about an hour after the sun comes up. Walking out bleary eyed into the morning light, shirtless men stand under a rainbow flag. It reminds me of the scene in City of Angels where the angels meet at the beach for sunrise. But they’re in LA, so the sun rises away from the water, so they stand with their backs to the ocean. Here in Mykonos, the boys stand with their backs to the water, facing the club where they spent the last six hours.

It’s my last day on the islands. I don’t want to miss anything, but I need a few hours of sleep. And then it’s back to the beach. We hit a different one this time. It’s a bit more posh and a bit less crowded. The rocky shore at one end has been crafted into a makeshift pool; the mossy rocks cushioning stone seats. It’s neat, but also a little gross.

We lay in the sand. I eat an ice cream treat. It’s a relaxing end to an exciting stay.

My ferry departs in a few hours for Athens. The end is in sight for me, and I pull in as much of the beach and ocean as I can.

September 1, 2010 / zachster

Waylaid!

My ferry to Mykonos leaves at noon, so I plan an hour to check out of the hotel, catch a taxi, and drive the four miles down to the port. But as I set off to the taxi stand, the hotelier gives me a nervous look and wishes me luck in a way that inspires panic. When I get there, a disorganized line of people peer back and forth across a one way street. “Who’s last?” I ask the crowd, and no one answers. I wait ten minutes and no taxis come. I walk down to the bus stop and the one loading up is heading to the airport and doesn’t know if one’s coming for the port. It’s that same feeling I get when my subway isn’t running, I’m late, and there are no cabs.

I start walking, but I know it will take me longer than I’ve got. So I stick out my thumb. A few cars pass that are mostly full. A few pass that are mostly empty. And then a little one stops and waits for me to pile in. I sit in the passenger seat with my suitcase on my lap, both so I can make a quick departure, and as protection against stabs to the chest. I was raised on a healthy diet of fear against hitchhiking and this is my first time. Somehow I survive. She’s Grecian, on holiday for a week. We share pleasant chit chat. All the while I’m bursting with excitement that I’ve hitchhiked. But she can only take me half way and drops me at the top of the sheer cliff wall, meters above the port. A series of sharp switchbacks leads down to the boats. There’s no way I can walk it. So I walk back a bit so I’m not standing at the hairpin turn and stick my thumb out again. Within seconds, an older man, speaking no English, pulls over in his pickup truck. I pile in, again with the chest stabbing protection method I’m perfecting, and we barrel down the road. When we get to the long line of cars waiting for inspection at the port entrance, he gestures me out and I walk the rest of the way. I’ve made it with fifteen minutes to spare.

The ferry’s been canceled.

There are large ferries and small ferries and when the winds are high, the small ferries get canceled. Many have been canceled over the last three days, so there’s a backlog of people waiting to travel to Mykonos. At the ticket counter, there are pleas and explanations and phone calls to travel agents, and many many wan looks. I feel equally guilty and proud over how little this affects my travels. When it’s my turn at the counter, I take my refund and ask where else I could travel today. I buy a 6pm ticket to Paros on a big ferry. I should have bought my ticket to Mykonos for the next day right then. The morning one sells out and I end up with a 9pm ticket.

I head over to the internet cafe to find a hotel in Paros. I pick a pretty random one near the port and beach. While I’m messing around, a girl next to me gets into a huge argument with the morbidly obese man running the cafe. I think it’s over the fact that she purchased a soda for “take-out”, but is drinking it in the cafe. I think there’s a price difference. They’re screaming at each other in Greek. People are very quick to yell and scream here. It might not even be out of anger. But the woman is very upset and the man is spewing forth a litany of hateful sounding words. It sounds like cursing, but I can’t be sure. The whole thing ends when she pays him four euros to keep her drink, but she keeps yelling at him so he kicks her and her friend out of the cafe. He just turns off their computers.

There’s a feeling of camaraderie at the port. Most of us had our ferries canceled, and we’re sharing plans as they’re made. I join a group of australians who are on my ferry to Paros. They’re living in London and working to travel. Their trip is almost as solidly planned as mine, and they take our detour in stride.

The ferry is huge, and the strong winds don’t push us around too much. But out on deck, it buffets me like I was back in the ancient city. I hold on to my sunglasses.

Paros is a small island, and it’s tourist population has ballooned thanks to the ferry cancelations and it’s proximity to Mykonos. There’s a lively atmosphere as we all shuffle off the boat and wander into town. The aussies leave their luggage in my hotel room. They’ll hobo it this night, sleeping on benches or at friendly cafes. It’s hard for me to accept, but I’m also envious of their freedom. We walk down the main drag and settle into dinner after one of the barkers calls them out on being Australian. They’re Asian, so they mostly get ethnic slurs from Greeks and tourists who’s senses of humor are outmatched by their cultural ignorance. It’s kind of amazing this dude calls them out on being Australians without hearing them speak. He explains that he has a gift for it, and points out a few other nationalities. We can’t confirm his picks, but the food looks good and we’re hungry.

After dinner, we buy a bottle of ouzo (the girls also share some wine coolers) and get drunk as we wander. At the end of the main drag is a fancy hotel with a pool around back. The place is deserted so we sit by the pool and drink from the bottle. I can’t resist and go for a quick swim (showing off my newfound diving skills). It’s cold, but the ouzo helps and it feels great to be sneaking into someplace. I finish it off with some very solid climbing; making my way up to a second story balcony that leads into an open maintenance closet. But it’s locked from both sides and I have to climb down again.

On the way back into town we pass a playground. There are swings and jungle gyms, and see saws. The girls get a laugh out of the term Teeter Totter for reasons I still don’t understand. The bottle’s gone at this point, and it seems like a great idea to have a round of obstacle course competitions. “Gladiator Games” as the girls call it. It’s a grueling course. Especially the monkey bars (I opt for going over, instead of under), but I think I pull ahead at the end. Maybe I cheat a little.

The whole trip, I’m on an early schedule. The habit of getting up early for the build site is hard to break. I need to get back to my hotel, but I feel bad leaving the girls to the cold hard streets of Paros at night. But there’s nothing to be done so we make plans to meet in the morning and try to sneak onto the early ferry together. I wish I could say it was difficult to sleep, knowing they were out there bedless, but I sleep hard and wake up early.

After a light breakfast, we head over to the port and wait with the crowd for the 9am ferry. There’s a question over whether it will be canceled. The wind is blowing, and when the ferry pulls up to unload, it bobs up and down against the dock like it’s on hydraulics. A couple times they stop passengers from disembarking while the water calms. Two more Aussies the girls met in Santorini are there with tickets for this ferry. They wait with us while we decide whether to make a go for it. We’re nervous about being turned back, also about getting sick from the choppy water. At the last minute, as the final passengers are climbing the gang plank, we decide to try for it. We put all our tickets in a pile and follow close behind the boys. But there’s confusion. Their tickets get torn at one line, and then we’re all directed to the line a the back of the ferry. In the shuffle, I board between them and the girls get left behind; a crewman explains their tickets are for the evening ferry. I bid them adieu with a quick glance over my shoulder and try my best to blend in with the ticketed passengers. I’m a stowaway!

Very quickly I realize I’ve made a horrible mistake. This ferry is tiny and all the seats are assigned. It looks like I’m the only one without a seat. I wander in the general confusion as people find their places and end up standing by a locked door looking out at the dock as it shrinks behind us. All the doors and windows are closed and I can’t feel any air conditioning. The boat convulses against the wind and waves. I focus on the horizon as I recount everything I ate for breakfast.

On the plus side, the unending stream of people to and from the bathrooms, and the slew of passengers standing to look out windows mask my intrusion. The crew passes out barf bags. I’ve got my headphones in, so I’m saved from any soundtrack, but I’m standing right near the bathrooms. Many go in looking sick and leave looking sicker. There’s a wheeled hard-case stored near me that’s constantly trying to slide across the deck. I lay it on it’s side and sit down for the rest of the voyage. I don’t lose my breakfast, but I’m overcome with cold sweats. Dripping. It’s only an hour to Mykonos, but it feels like three. It feels like years. I no longer feel like myself. I’m just some machine built to sweat and see spots.

Almost as soon as my feet touch solid ground, I start to feel better. It’s like I’ve been holding my breath for an hour and finally taken in a lungful of fresh clean air.

I commiserate with the Austrailians for a bit and we promise to meet up through our mutual friends in the next day or two. They pass me off to some more Australians who are staying at the same hostel as me and we board the bus to the beach.

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