Road trips are wonderful, don’t you think?

roadtrip2010by Brooke Allen

Road trips are wonderful, don’t you think?

That’s what I’m thinking, at least.

That’s to say, when I’m thinking at all.

One nice thing is…
… what was I thinking? Hmmm…
… I know, I was thinking how wonderful it is that there can be thirty miles between one thought and the next. What are those? A herd of moose? Some farmer is raising moose? Those clouds seem ominous. I wonder if we’ll see a tornado this trip. I’ve really got to fart. That dog with his head out the window looks like he is having the time of his life. Davis and Zhenia are asleep; if I squeeze one out I don’t think they’ll notice. There goes a van covered in playa dust.

What is today? Saturday? If it’s Saturday then it’s been a week since the Man burned. If it’s Sunday then it’s been a week since the Temple burned, but we didn’t get to see that. I wonder if I ever will. It can’t be Friday; the traffic doesn’t seem right for a work day. Monday would be too long; it hasn’t been much more than a week since we snuck out of Black Rock City before dawn, ahead of the crowds.

This feels nice; really really nice. It feels like love; as snug as five hippies in a VW bug.

Except that we’re in our white 1996 Isuzu mini-van; three across in the bench seat in the middle. I’m on the right, wedged between my son in the middle and the door on the right. I have a pillow between the window and me to keep my head from rattling against the glass as I drift in and out.

It’s 2010 and my son, Davis, has just graduated from McGill in Montreal with a bachelor’s in physics. He’s fast asleep, head back, not snoring but making the occasional gurgling noises one does as your throat fills with saliva.

Wedged between Davis and the door on the left is Zhenia, a few years younger than Davis. She’s still in college. She’s the black adopted daughter of my best friend, Andy. He’s Ukrainian-American and was named André at birth and that is what he insists people call him now. But when we were housemates in college in the early 1970’s he wanted to be known as Andy. I think he wanted to fit in then. Now, I think he wants to stand out.

Andy’s driving. My wife, Eve, is riding shotgun. She’s my better-than-best best friend – a lover-of-life; my lover. I love our life together.

I feel a seismic disturbance. Davis is fast asleep but Zhenia is stirring and her motions are transmitted through my son’s body to me.

threeofusatburningmanI lean forward to see past my son. Zhenia’s coming up out of slumber. She’s struggling to get her hand in her pocket.

Shit. She’s going for her phone. Please, God, no. We’ve been off-grid for two weeks and it’s been bliss.

It’s a mighty struggle to get her hand into her pocket without waking Davis. She sees that I’m watching her. Softly, she says, “Next time, let’s take our van. It has four captain’s seats in the back.”

I look at her pleadingly. I hope she can feel what I feel and know what I know. Has she learned how to read minds yet? I hope so.

She gives up on her quest. She looks at me for a minute or so. Then she says, “Actually, this is pretty good.” She slumps back, rearranges her pillow and goes silent. I hope it’s insight and not laziness.

I lean back against my pillow and let my mind wander in wonder. Why would a farmer in Iowa raise moose? Does he sell them for meat? Or, do people keep moose as pets. Google knows, I’m sure.

But, what motivates this particular farmer? I guess we could go back and ask.

I think back to the horse ranch near Provo that we found on the way out. Remember? We stopped and asked if we could ride their horses, and they said, “Sure.” Then we said we didn’t know how to ride and they said, “We’ll teach you.” Now, you remember, don’t you? Surely, you remember that a few years ago their daughter moved out of the house into an apartment she built in the barn just to be closer to her horses. How cool is that?

Road trips are wonderful, don’t you think?

That’s what I’m thinking, at least.

When is you next road trip?

Will you take me with you?


My Story by Joshua Febres

As told to Brooke Allen and Janusz Gilewicz at the Tick Tock diner in Manhattan on January 7, 2019

johsuaatdinerI was born Josue Febres. I am 40 years old. My life story started in Atlantic City, New Jersey. At fifteen years old I became a provisional boxer, welterweight glove. It was in Paterson where I started boxing.

At 27 years old I had a car accident. In one of my legs and one of my arms I have metal in it so definitely my career was over. From Atlantic City we moved to New York.

Unfortunately I caught cancer in my lungs from smoking cigarettes and I got HIV from messing with a woman.  

I became homeless about three months ago because I lost my mother, my wife and my daughter who got burned in a fire in my apartment. I was sleeping and it was a Saturday night and I fell asleep with a cigarette in my hand. I did what I wasn’t supposed to be doing; sleeping with a cigarette lit in an hand with kids around.

So, unfortunately the house caught on fire. I tried saving my wife and my daughters and my mamma was already telling me to take them out. My mamma was 69 years old so she didn’t care about herself, only about me taking my wife and my baby out. You know how a grandmother is. If a mother is crazy, imagine a grandmother. My baby was an only grandchild she got from her youngest son; the youngest one in the family.

Things went crazy; I almost killed myself, committed suicide twice. I’ve been homeless for maybe three months, no more than that. Life is hard. I sit down sometimes in a corner and I think about what is going on with my life. Who is going to handle my life; who is going to come and rescue me; who is going to help me?

When I was in the hospital they give me what I’m supposed to have. My medications, my psychiatrist; my history. They gave me everything to get back to my life.

But they tell me I can’t have a job because… it can’t be; it can’t be, because of HIV. HIV kills everything.

They don’t want me around nobody because they’re scared; they’re scared. I’m scared too because I’m sick and I don’t want to get nobody sick and I don’t want nobody to think about that. Because I’m sick they are going to get sick. But you cannot catch HIV like that; that easy. HIV has got to be blood transfusion. If not, you’ll never catch it. Same thing happen with Hepatitis-C. I don’t got it, but it’s the same way.

Cancer? I can’t say anything ‘cause it runs in the family. Also, with smoking so. Asthma? I was born an asthmatic as a baby. Diabetes I got; after 25 or 30 years old is when I found out I was a diabetic.

Other than that, I’m happy because I’m still alive.


johsuaonstreetMy friend, Janusz, is an artist who I commissioned to paint a portrait for me. We agreed to meet the Tick Tock at 10 A. M. on January 7th, 2019. I arrived early so I struck up a conversation with Joshua, who lives on the grate in front of the restaurant.

Because Joshua seemed hungry I invited him to have breakfast with us. His story was fascinating so he agreed to let us record it on my phone and then Janusz sketched a sign for him. 

Stop by and visit him to learn more. If you hurry up I’m pretty sure he’ll be there on the northwest corner of 34th and 8th. I know he was there Sunday morning, the 13th, when I took this second picture. He gave me $3 and asked me to buy him a coffee with seven sugars. 

Just like him, you might want to tell your story to somebody too. If the people who love you are too busy to listen, you might want to stop by and visit with Joshua. He has time, for now at least.

Listen to his story in his own words.

He has more to say about his life and about his hopes and aspirations on the audio. He says he is a pretty funny guy (which I can confirm) and he can rap in both English and Spanish. 

Professional Tradesman

1200px-1963_volvo_122s_b18_4-door_sedan_(2016-01-04)_02It is 1968.

I have just turned 16.

It’s a Saturday.

My father says, “Hop in the car.”

“Where are we going?” I ask.

“You’ll find out when we get there.” He drives. I sit in silence and look out the window.

“There” turns out to be Bolek’s Foreign Car Repair where Bolek is the Polish mechanic who services my parent’s blue Volvo 122S.

“This is my son,” my dad says. Bolek looks curious. “He needs to learn how to work and get his hands dirty. I’m going to drop him here every Saturday, and you give him something to do.”

Then my father takes a $100 bill from his wallet and says, “Don’t pay him anything; he isn’t worth anything. This is to cover any damage that he does.”

My dad drives off. Bolek looks at me blankly. Neither of us know what just happened.

Bolek looks around and spies a broom. “Here,” he says, “clean up the shop.”

On the way home my father says that every man needs both a trade and a profession.

He says most people don’t know the difference between the two, especially professionals.

A trade, he says, is where a craftsman sells his skilled labor for money. Tradesmen are limited in how much money they can make by the market value for their skills, the demand for those skills and the number of hours they can work. What a tradesman wants is an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.

A professional, on the other hand, is paid for something quite different.

A professional, he says, is paid for putting the interests of others ahead of his own. You should always be honest in all your dealings and in most cases jump at the opportunity to put the interests of others ahead of your own because it usually pays better, but not always.

Sometimes the business you work for might be destroyed by so-called professional managers. At other times they can even destroy the whole economy.

During those times it is important to be a skilled craftsman so you can trade an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.

I have no idea what he is talking about.


I graduated from Rutgers in 1974 with a degree in Mathematics and I got a job as a computer programmer. Starting in 1982 I went to school in the evenings and graduated with an MBA in Finance from NYU in 1986. Merrill Lynch hired me as a manager. It paid better than programming but was less soul-satisfying because the job mostly involved fighting for resources whereas previously I’d been a “resource” people fought over.

That job took me to Japan in 1990. While I was there the Nikkei dropped from above 38,000 to below 16,400. Then I was let go.

I returned to the States in August 1993 with a wife, two kids and no permanent place of residence. The economy was in recession and I found only one guy who was willing to talk to me. He said he had no jobs but he’d give me the opportunity to practice interviewing.


IBM_Model_M_Space_Saving_Keyboard.png“I’m sorry but we have no jobs,” he says. “We need programmers but we have a hiring freeze.”

“Then how does the work get done.”

“We use contractors,” he says.

“I’d work on a contract.”

“Are you incorporated,” he asks.

“No. Do you need me to be incorporated?”

“Yes, we do. I’m sorry to have wasted your time but we can’t hire you. Now I have a meeting to go to.”

“May I use your phone while you are gone.”


I call the 800 number for The Company Corporation.

I say, “I’d like to incorporate in Delaware.”

She says, “Will that be Visa or MasterCard.”

When the manager returns, I say, “I’m now Bravo Alpha, Incorporated.” I write my new Federal Employee ID number on a scrap of paper and slide it across the desk to him.

“I thought you said you weren’t incorporated.”

I say, “That was then. This is now.”

He says, “OK, how much do you want to make?”

I say, “One hundred dollars an hour.”

He says, “The most we pay is $87.50.”

I say, “I’ll take it.”

He says, “How do I know you are any good?”

I say, “I guarantee my work. If at the end of the month you don’t think I am worth what I billed you then cross off my number and write in any number you want, including zero.”

He says, “When can you start.”

I say, “A week from Monday.”

He says, “Good.”

Two weeks after I was hired he was fired. There wasn’t enough money for both of us so they decided to keep the guy who was doing the work.

Boy, it felt good to be a tradesman again.

LinkedIn as Artist’s Medium (and congratulate me on my work anniversary while you are at it)


I have discovered that LinkedIn is an amazing new absurdist medium for creative expression.

I started to realize the potential of LinkedIn as Artist’s Medium in February, 2014, when I retired from Wall Street. After updating my end-date for my old job, on a whim I added a new position:

I know, it’s a hamster wheel and not a rat in a race, but it’s the same idea.


Title: Rat

Company: Rat Race

Dates: July, 1968 – February, 2014.

I was just having fun. I didn’t expect anything to happen. Who looks at anything anyone writes on their LinkedIn profile anyway? The modal message is, “See how great I am.” That is only slightly less annoying than Facebook, where everyone is screaming “Look at me (and what I ate for lunch).” Yuck.

But after I officially retired as Rat from The Rat Race I immediately began receiving the most charming notes from people. I reconnected with some people I hadn’t talked to in a long time and made some new friends.

It was wonderful for a while, But, then it died down.

Then I added a new entry called Human at Human Race, that runs from October, 1952, to present.

I got a new flurry of new messages, and it was all good again.

For a while. Continue reading “LinkedIn as Artist’s Medium (and congratulate me on my work anniversary while you are at it)”

In Praise of Talking to Strangers, Gun Safety, and Pheromone Blink 182


In September, 2014, I returned from Europe on the QM2.

While working out in the gym I noticed that a man lifting weights next to me was covered head-to-toe in tattoos.

I said, “Great tats,” and asked if I could look at them. He said, “Sure” and for perhaps 15 minutes he showed them to me and explained what each meant.

I asked him what he did and he said he was a drummer. After gigging in Europe he was returning to the States and liked traveling by ship because the rooms were so sound-proof that he could practice without disturbing neighbors.

After he excusing himself he left for dinner. Another man who had been watching us said this to me, “I’m the drummer in the ship’s orchestra and that man is my hero. Do you know who he is?”

I said that I did not, and he said that I’d been talking to Travis Barker, whom he considers the greatest drummer who ever lived.

When I got home I looked up Travis on Wikipedia and was very impressed by his accomplishments. I also learned that another reason he preferred ships is because from childhood he was deathly afraid of flying, imagining he’d die in a crash one day. And then, on September 19, 2008 he was only one of two survivors of a plane crash.

The ship’s drummer had been stalking Travis and hadn’t yet worked up the courage to speak to him. I too had once been deathly afraid of speaking to strangers but in 1970, at age 18, I’d begun hitch-hiking. Talking to strangers comes with the territory and the unwritten contract of the road is that while the ride might be free you have to be more interesting than the radio.

One of my proudest moments as a parent came decades ago when we asked our son in the first grade what had happened in school that day.

He said, “A policeman talked to us, but he’s stupid.” We asked how so, and he said, “The policeman said drugs are bad and we shouldn’t talk to strangers. He’s stupid because some drugs are good and everyone is a stranger until you talk to them.”

I’m reminded of this story because yesterday my now-adult son sent me a link to a promotional video for a new show where Sasha Baron Cohen tricks pro-gun lobbyists (and the congressmen they keep in their pocket) to show their true colors by convincing them to support a program to give automatic weapons to toddlers.

If you are charged with raising toddlers into adulthood (or training lobbyists and congressmen to be humans) then I offer these three rules regarding talking to strangers:

  • Talk to strangers because everyone is a stranger until you talk to them.
  • Don’t be an idiot.
  • Don’t be evil.

You might think that not being an idiot and not being evil are good rules that can be assumed without saying.

But, apparently I’m wrong.

As evidence, consider watching the promotional video for Showtime’s new show.

And while you do, look for the reference to Blink 182.


by Brooke Allen

In February of 2014 I retired after 30 years of navigating the moral minefield that we call Wall Street.

I was looking forward to a stress-free retirement.

Fat chance.

My problems began when I spent the month of August, 2014 in Edinburgh for the largest arts festival in the world, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The summer I was there 23,762 performers from 51 countries put on 49,497 performances of 3,193 shows in 299 venues.

Continue reading “”

Is Cheating by Colleges Just Another Clever Marketing Ploy?


by Brooke Allen

Should “caveat emptor” be the operative philosophy when colleges market to students, or should they hold themselves to a higher standard than, say, a drug dealer?

Emory University confessed that for 11 years it has been fudging data it sent in for U. S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges rankings. The publisher said that, “Our preliminary calculations show that the misreported data would not have changed the school’s ranking in the past two years (No. 20) and would likely have had a small to negligible effect in the several years prior.” (Read the article here.)

This second confession by U. S. News only serves to prove that their ranking methodology is deeply flawed. Since integrity is such a major part of character, confessed cheating should drop you to Dead Last in the rankings, and a cover-up should get you barred altogether pending review by the accrediting authorities.

Of course, despicable behavior by colleges may be just another clever marketing ploy intended to send a message to the vast pool of students who embrace cheating: “Come here; you are our kind of people.”

Continue reading “Is Cheating by Colleges Just Another Clever Marketing Ploy?”