Portillo’s In Fountain Hills, Arizona

At closing, Portillo’s, in Fountain Hills, is almost empty.

The eatery specializes in Chicago food, hot dogs, polish sausage and Italian Beef.

The restaurant is gleaming and has checkered tablecloths, old style movie posters and employees dressed in sporty uniforms. It is a place that Vinnie and the boys would come to eat after taking care of numbers rackets, breaking some arms,blowing up a competitor’s vehicle with him inside it.

There are more employees in the place than customers this time of night, and, as we finish our late dinner, the help is sweeping floors, closing out registers, getting ready to hang the ” Closed ” sign in the front window and go home to late night movies and Chinese take out.

In the parking lot, the bass player, Tom, has backed his car into a close to our table parking space, in plain view, so he can keep an eye on his expensive irreplaceable stand up bass. I watched him slip the big instrument into its custom made case, at the gig, and roll it out to his car like he was pulling a suitcase in an airport terminal. He carefully laid the bass down in the back seat of his small SUV and covered it with a cheap looking Mexican blanket that would hide something worth stealing.

Instruments, like your best set of golf clubs, your best operating scalpels, your best culinary knives, or running shoes, have to  be kept close.

The mood is up and the music tonight was a joy.

They are all jazz pro’s.

Pro’s always give their best and make what they do look like I could do it.




Greg’s Trio at Fountain, Arizona Pizza IS EXTRA

The occasion that brings us to Arizona is a live jazz performance.

Escaping Chicago in the winter months, Greg and Judy rent a Fountain Hills house, from a musician friend, and play every Saturday night at a close by Fountain Hills eatery. They are joined for the gig tonight by a friend from Seattle, Tom Wakeling, who plays bass with Lee Konitz.

The restaurant is full and Chadd, my jazz teacher, invited me to ride over with him from Albuquerque to enjoy Greg, Judy and Tom’s free three hour performance. It is one thing to talk about jazz, but the best learning is listening to players do it who know how it is supposed to be done.

The trio, for this job, plays standards out of the Great American Songbook, takes requests, and play tight, yet loose, in the small  Italian restaurant.

Their accumulated professional years ,of these three, nears a hundred and this is just one gig of many they have played in their hundred years.. How do you put a value on an art that is gone after it is played? They never play the same song the same way, and that, is something you can take to the bank. These player’s skill sets are not less complicated than those of doctors, lawyers, athletes, businessmen, but making a living is always tough for a musician. For all those who make it big, there are thousands of others working day jobs at the post office.

Even better, than the music ,is going out for an after closing bite to eat with the gang after instruments have been packed away and the Italian place shuts down for the night.

Jazz musicians, musical God’s that they are, still eat the same kind of food the rest of us do.



Hand rolling cigars in DR-Video In the Zona Colonia

The little cigar making room, entered through a small corner tobacco shop in the Zona Colonia, has four men inside. One is reading the paper, another is watching the cigars being made, two men are working – making cigars, by hand, one at a time. 

” He is muy rapidio, ” I remark.

” He can do 300 in a day if we don’t talk to him, ” one of the non-workers says.

By the look on both men’s faces, who are working, they must be paid by the cigar. They are intent on what they are doing, responsible for making cigars so people that smoke them won’t smoke any flaws.

This workplace smells like tobacco.Tobacco leaves, dry and thin, are clumped around a press on the floor. There are pieces of leaves on the desk of the man in the gold colored shirt, and more on the work table of the man in the blue shirt.. It appears the two workers make a team. One man makes the rough cigars, stores them in a wood sleeve that the other man pulls to his table and finishs. The tools both men use are simple and not any different from what either might have used a hundred years ago to do the same job.

I watch the finish man pick several cigars up from his finished stack to check the smoking end to make sure, once lit, the cigar will draw air and keep its combustion.

These men take pride in their work.

If I was a cigar smoker, I would like to smoke the ones they are making this day I am watching them.

Men will turn themselves into machines if it profits them, but men, bottom line, were never made to be  machines.





Street Empanadas One street over from Calle Estrellita

Every time I pass, I see customers at this little empanada stand – ordering, sitting in these plastic lawn chairs,visiting, stopping a moment in life, standing, moving away, replaced in moments by someone else.

It is all very random. The process is like those parts of the atom scrawled on our high school Biology board – the protons, electrons, neutrons and all the things not up there that we still don’t know about, and may never know about.

The empanada menu here is extensive and all are less than one U.S. dollar apiece. This morning, for breakfast, my order is a ham and cheese empanada, a pollo empanada and two orders of pineapple juice naturale, served with ice in a dixie cup. 

I should have tried these empanadas earlier in the trip but stuff always crowds you on trips, distractions and diversions, side trips and just plain not getting around to it. The point is, there are always places to get a quick bite within walking distance of where you are staying, if you look. 

I  appreciate fine dining with exquisite tastes and beautifully designed plates served on white tablecloths with a candle and the best silverware, but I always regret having to pay for a meal and then having to go buy more food to feel full. 

If I lived here, I would be a regular and D would give me the local price, like anyone else.


Dirty Laundry four blocks away

Dirty laundry catches up with all of us.

Only bringing a carry on suitcase this trip, and looking at my pile of dirty clothes on the bed, I am down to my last clean socks and shirt. I could have brought a bigger suitcase but I wanted to travel as light as I could. Doing with less always takes more imagination than taking the kitchen sink.

In my neighborhood, this lavenderia takes my clothes in the morning, gives me a receipt, then hands my clothes back clean, folded in a plastic bag, after lunch. The charges are six bucks, which seems high, but, then again, someone has to deal with them by hand. Just putting them into the washer and dryer, unloading them, folding them nicely, putting them in a plastic bag, writing up the receipt, taking my money, all takes someone a percentage of their total life hours.

It turns out, when I get back and ask, the La Puerta Roja  guesthouse, where I’m hanging my hat this trip, has a washer and dryer I could have used for free, just paying for the detergent I use.

Next trip back, I’ll remember to ask first, and act second.

The trouble with learning most new lessons is that you probably won’t be able to use what you have just painfully learned any time soon.

Since dirty laundry is a traveler’s constant companion, I resolve, next time, not to be so impatient.

After all, dirty clothes don’t care how long they sit in a pile on the floor.


Trip to Sanoa Beach From Santo Domingo

Those going on this day trip from Santo Domingo to Sanoa Island start at the Pizzerelli Pizza Palace at six forty five in the morning.

There is no one on the street this morning when I walk to our assigned pick up point, but, at the pizza place, there are five of us who are met by Isidro of Colonial Tours. He checks our receipts and we follow him down stone steps, out of the Colonial Zone, where we load onto our tour bus transport. We pick up more passengers in Boca Chica, along the way, and are full by the time we all get to Bayimbe where we board several small boats and a catamaran and sail or motor out to Sanoa Beach, our destination.

Santo Domingo is, I have found,  far away from the best beaches of the Dominican Republic. The real sand and surf activities are on the north shore of the island and at Punta Cana,

The Colonial Tour is a good tour. We pass through countryside with sugar cane fields as far as the eye can see. Bayimbe is a cute little town being discovered and developed by foreigners and Sanoa Beach is clean and secure for all travelers even if locals walk the beach selling jewelry and local crafts that you have already been showed a hundred times.

On our sail back to the mainland, where we board our tour bus to return to Santo Domingo, there is dancing on our catamaran, too much booze, but very happy passengers.

It is dark when we all get home, a twelve hour trip for sixty five bucks, a value when you add all the pieces. I never see these beaches without wondering about sailors marooned, Robinson Crusoe, pirate treasure buried by the foot of palm trees marked by an X on a yellowed map, deep in an old chest under an old overcoat that has been in storms around Cape Horn.

A trip to the Dominican Republic isn’t complete without getting sand between my toes.

After each trip, new moments join old moments in one big jigsaw puzzle.

Today’s moments can stand on their own, but, they seem to pick up depth and velocity when they hold hands with others.

Comparing moments bring wisdom, but the some learning is best done with a pina colada in one hand and a barbecue wing in the other.




Shoe Problem Impossible to clean

These are a pair of Scott’s work shoes from when he used to work hard.

Instead of being covered with paint, which was Scott’s income when public school teaching became intolerable,one of these shoes has residue from floor tile adhesive on one toe.

Not fussy about work shoes, the adhesive has been there a few years.

The issue is wearing these when I go to public historical places like the Zona Colonial. In historical places there are shoe shine men and kids who want to clean this pair of shoes on sight, Before I see them they have swooped down and are fiddling with my shoes even though I raise my hands and insist that I and my shoes are perfectly happy to be left alone.

Part of travel is using precautions. Make a copy of your Passport to show to people in lieu of the real thing. Don’t wear flashy jewelry. Don’t tell strangers where you live. Don’t drink water, except bottled. Go in groups at night. Don’t do things abroad you wouldn’t do at home. Get all your shots. Use sunscreen. Use local currency. Don’t insert yourself into police business or arguments between men and women.

My newest precaution, before traveling again, is going to be to clean this adhesive off my shoe.

I hate to tell people no when shining shoes is their livelihood.


Fixing a Leak Plumbers are needed

The main water supply line from the street to the house is accessible from the sidewalk. You lift a little metal door in the sidewalk and quickly find a leaking coupling that joins the city part of the water line with the homeowners part of the water line.

This plumber has removed the old connection, a rigid piece of PVC, and is replacing it with a flexible, expandable, temporary PVC coupling. One end of the flexible coupling slips over the pipe from the sidewalk to the main city water line and the other end of the flexible coupling slips over the pipe from the inside the house to the street.

This plumber has an audience with the lady of the house watching him through her wrought iron front door, and a neighbor and me making sure he knows what he is doing.

Water continues to bubble out of the break as he works.

When he closes the little door, the leak fixed, he might be the only one in this entire city to solve a problem today.

What I’m wondering is when is someone taking out the flexible coupling and installing the meter that measures the water usage of this household?

Water, last time I looked at my bills, wasn’t free.

I’m guessing, as I leave, that, before long, a long bill will be sent and paid.

In the end, we always have to pay, and, leaks that aren’t fixed ,cost us dearly.


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