I bought this guitar, a Gibson ES-335, in 1984 for what I recall was around $900. A chunk of change for a high school senior. If I’m doing the math right, this instrument has been a central part of my life for some 13,000 days now, making the cost about 7 cents a day, so far. Now that’s my kind of investment!
Patience has never been my thing. I need resolution, fast. What I desperately want is to board a plane full of people, even noisy kids, and travel somewhere, anywhere, even squeezed into a middle seat. I want to check into a crowded hotel. Shake hands. Hug friends. Sit next to coworkers and strangers. High-five my sweaty comrades at the skatepark. Gather with musicians in a tiny room and jam for hours. Belly up to the bar. I want to be fully involved, mask-less and unconcerned. I hear "We'll get through this" and know it's just as hard for that person, too. Look, I realize I've got it pretty good and am thankful, always. Yet here we are, restless and dreaming, in pretty much the same place we've been for two months and counting. It's a perpetual rainy day, and I’m ready for the sun to come out. Even partly cloudy would be nice.
For an instant I thought the woman was speaking to me. It was a slow, reassuring voice. “Hey, you know where you’re goin’?” She was close, maybe 25 feet, but all I could make out through the scrub palm was a vague shuffling. Even though I was arguably lost, she wasn’t talking to me, probably didn’t even know I was there, wrangling her small child and crunching her way down the trail. This oasis of old Florida, the Tibet-Butler Preserve, isn’t a place I’ve visited much. It’s small, just over 400 acres, but almost entirely removes you from the annoyances of traffic and subdivisions and strip centers just beyond its boundaries. Meandering along trails, some grassy, some sandy, becomes slightly eerie when all you hear are the sudden movements of small creatures just out of sight, scampering in the ferns and palmetto and stopping behind fallen tree limbs. I sidestep a gopher tortoise. The boomy bellow of a frog, I think it’s a frog, echoes across a swamp. Sunshine filters through the cypress. I’ve escaped, for a moment, the hum of civilization, not to mention the dread of a global pandemic.
... Never in my life have I had such a good reason not to shave. There’s no place to go, no one to impress. And maybe this act of defiance is my way of giving the virus the finger. ”You look like Papa Smurf,” my smart-ass, I mean delightful, wife says. True, there’s a lot of gray (OK, white) in my scruff. But I’m giving this beard a go until it becomes ridiculous. Which might be soon.
... Just the semblance of a cough now freaks us out. I hear my wife hack on the sofa. I shoot her a look and ask, “Is that a dry cough?” “No,” she insists, finishing a gulp of something. “It’s an I’ve-got-orange-juice-stuck-in-my-throat cough.”
... All of a sudden I realize we’re going to need chemicals for the pool during the shutdown. A call to Pinch-a-Penny is answered by a peppy guy eager to please. “We are number 21 on the list of essential businesses,” he informs me. And I’m glad for it. I drive over and grab a jug of chlorine. “You’ve got to take care of your pool,” he says. “It’s built-in entertainment for the kids.”
... It isn’t bread or toilet paper we’re after. We want music. An old jazz album by McCoy Tyner for me, the new Harry Styles for my daughter. We yearn for vinyl so start calling record stores from the car. The good guys at Park Avenue CDs are in and check their inventory and find Lucy’s choice but not the old man’s, though their jazz selection is usually extensive. For the first and hopefully last time, we arrange to make our purchase over the phone and pick it up curbside at the store. “Thanks guys,” says the tattooed clerk, handing over the brown paper bag with latex gloves. Oh, and I’ve discovered that Harry Styles is actually really good, quite an imaginative musician. “He’s so vibey,” is how my girl puts it.
... Where did all these people come from? Neighbors everywhere! We walk around the hood in the evening like we usually do and encounter folks we’ve never seen before. Couples, families, young people, all strolling, biking, skating. Everyone’s friendly. “Hello!” “Hi!” “How are you?” An outing early the next morning is a little quieter. “It’s so nice to hear the birds chirping,” says a woman I pass on the sidewalk. “They don’t know anything’s wrong.”
"Hey Taylor, what’s up man?"
Did that guy just call me Taylor?
"Hey, good to see ya," I say.
I decide not to correct him mostly because I just want to get to the task at hand, skateboarding. So that's what happens. I move on, he moves on.
Then I start thinking about the name. Taylor. Definitely youthful and handsome sounding. He's probably a snappy dresser with a good haircut and an Apple Watch.
Not much later a woman among the morning's riders at Orlando Skate Park makes a beeline for the exit, saying to me, "See you next time, Taylor." Oh great, now it's spreading. Looks like she's in a hurry so I don't bother slowing her down and correcting her either.
This isn't the first time my name has been confused or jumbled or simply forgotten. And my name is pretty straightforward, so I bet this happens to most everyone. I get Dillion a lot. With the extra i. Like million. My first and last names get reversed. I was addressed as Mr. Paul in a rejection letter from a big newspaper where I applied to work long ago and I'm always ready and willing to answer to Dylan or whatever.
I'll never forget how I was called Mr. Gillum to my face on multiple occasions by my landlord in Jacksonville in the 90s, despite the fact my monthly check to this guy was emblazoned with Dillon and not Gillum, every time. I chuckled once when I opened an email to Phil, thinking at first it was sent to the wrong person but quickly realizing it was yet another twist.
If you call me something strange or not quite right, I promise not to take offense. I really don't care, although I'll probably write it down.
Later at the skate park, my buddy makes his way back over to me. "I think I had you mixed up with somebody else earlier. You're Paul, right. I know a few Pauls. The Paul that works at Disney, right?"
And just like that, it’s all cleared up. And I'm a little disappointed. My bubble is burst. It was cool being Taylor for the last hour and a half. I felt more spry and capable. Smarter and funnier, with more promise.
“Yeah man, no problem," I tell him. "All good."
It strikes me as odd but then again, this is Florida. Guys walking out of one set of doors with their newly purchased rifles and boxes of ammo, and squads of high school cheerleaders skipping past the gun show into the adjacent building for the Universal Cheerleading Association Regional Championship. Weird, right?
OK, where’s my daughter? I’ve lost her in a sea of glittery hair bows and lipsticked teenage faces. Oh, there she is, with her team in a corner of the room. Competition is underway and the applause and yelling and of course cheering is deafening.
I tap Lucy’s arm and make eye contact to let her know I’m close by.
“Go away, go away,” are her exact words.
“I just wanted to say hi.”
“OK, hi. Go away,” she says again, like I didn’t get it the first time. I now fully realize how a gray-haired, 53-year-old dad can cramp a daughter’s style.
Now my stomach is growling. At least I think it is. I can’t actually hear it but I feel it. Luckily lots of snack options here, popcorn and hotdogs and nachos and Cuban sandwiches. Did I mention this is Florida? I roll the dice on a Cuban and have to say, it’s delicious.
There must be 5,000 people in this room at the state fairgrounds in Tampa. It’s like a big warehouse with bleachers. So full there’s no place left to sit and hardly any place to stand, especially when it comes time for the awards ceremony. Anticipation builds. “Crazy Train” blares. I do love Ozzy. Then it’s “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift. Man, the juxtapositions are killing me!
Honors are bestowed. Dang, those trophies are huge! Announcements are made followed by screaming so loud my ears ache. My daughter’s team, Olympia High School junior varsity, takes sixth in their division and advances to Nationals.
What is it that cheerleaders have? Not sparkle. I mean they do have that. Spirit, that’s it! Never in my life have I seen so much spirit in one place, not to mention laughter and smiles and proud parents.
On the drive home, the one who was quick to flick me like a flea around her friends warms up when I suggest hitting the Chick-Fil-A drive through. “Thanks for coming to my competition, dad,” she says. “I’m glad you were there.”
One of the most rewarding parts of my job is having a hand in inspiring people, connecting them to a common purpose and seeing them react positively, even joyfully, to content I’ve helped to create.
Today, after four weeks of traveling and putting on shows for more than 3,000 Disney Cruise Line team members, I’m one satisfied dude.
With the assistance of many, many others, I’ve been supporting crew assemblies on all four of our Disney ships. They’re essentially business updates hosted by our president and each ship’s respective captain, accompanied by live Disney entertainment, lots of video clips and fun giveaways. These shipboard town halls make our oceangoing teams feel a stronger kinship with our larger Disney organization.
“It’s wonderful to come together like this and get excited about the future,” one of our entertainers, Kristina, told me this morning on the Disney Wonder in Nassau.
I’m not going to say these shows weren’t taxing. We took a lot of flights. We packed up and sailed at sea. We took ubers and hailed cabs and did rehearsals in the wee hours. And of course we had to continuously update scripts and slides and incorporate ship-specific details into each program.
But the outcome, while not absolutely perfect, has been everything I’d hoped it would be. Most of all, I’ll remember the cheers during certain parts of the show and the smiles and thank-yous from the housekeeping staff and the dining room servers and the engine room crew.
“I love it when we do these events,” said Jo, a member of the Disney Magic team, in her charming British lilt. “It energizes me and makes me proud to be part of this great company."
It’s hard not to fall for the laidback flow of the islands. Great weather, beautiful water, total vacation vibe. But you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t peel back a layer or two.
“There is so much about the Bahamas that our visitors don’t know,” says Sidney, my cab driver. He has spent his whole life in Nassau, at least 60 years. I ask him, have you ever considered living elsewhere? “No!” he says. What keeps you here? “The beauty of it all.”
Sidney gave me a veritable history lesson on the Bahamas including how Columbus landed here before finding his way to Florida and how pirates ruled these waters centuries ago, and lesser-known tidbits like how the Bahamas is home to the world’s third-largest barrier reef and is the source of a majority of the world’s salt. I did not fact-check my new friend, mind you, but he sounded authoritative.
What intrigues me most about the islands these days is their growing and quite inspired creative community. Just step into The Current, a gallery of regional contemporary art set amid the slot machines and overpriced cocktails at the sprawling Baha Mar resort. Tonight I had the whole gallery to myself. What I saw weren’t trite beach pastels but powerful statements of color and rhythm and possibility.
Sidney will tell you that not enough people take the time to see the real Bahamas. “The rich history of the Bahamas has never truly been told,” he says. “But it should be. There’s no other place like this in the world.”
This is David Dillon, the brother I never knew. I want to take a moment to celebrate him and all that he means to my family. He would be 60 years old today. Any time we talk about David or just think of him, it’s usually a sad, heartbroken moment. He died two days before his fourth birthday in 1963 from encephalitis. But today I want to show everybody what a cute little guy he was and pay tribute to his short but joyous life. He brought great happiness to my parents and grandparents. In every picture and portrait of him on the walls of my childhood home, he’s smiling, almost laughing. “He was a beautiful boy,” my mom said just last week. “He was my buddy.” Today I refuse to be sad about David and instead applaud his spirit and his sparkle and all the promise he embodied so long ago.
It was a good, simple question asked by a great friend. “What’s the one thing you miss most about living in North Carolina?”
Automatically I answered: “Everything.”
I miss you for sure, I told him, and of course my family and friends and the landscape and the smell of fall. I miss the red dirt and collard greens on the menu and the comforts of ... well ... home.
“But you’ve been in Florida so long, you must have roots there, too,” my buddy said.
“Oh yeah, definitely.” That’s where I met my wife, where my kids were born, where I’ve built a career. I’ve worked with some amazing people in Florida and made lifelong friends and memories. It’s a wonderful place to be.
“I realize this is totally schizophrenic,” I tell him, and it’s true. It’s my tale of two hometowns: Winston-Salem and Orlando. Oh well, so be it. It’s only those times when my heart aches, for one place or the other, that I’m thrown off balance. Like now.
The polite little girl seated next to me this morning, maybe 6 or 7, had never flown before. “This is my first airplane ride,” she announced, without an inkling of fear. “I can’t wait to take off.” Once in the air, this tiny, freckled blond person with a purple stuffed monkey and flip flops fidgeted incessantly, devoured an entire bag of Cheetos and couldn’t stop taking selfies. “Just look outside!” she chirped, and I pushed way back in my window seat so she could take photos of the clouds. “Madeline, don’t get the gentleman in your picture,” said her grandma. The girl agreed. “Yeah, people will look at it and say, who is that guy?”
When disaster strikes someplace else, across a time zone or continent or sea, we can feel helpless. Sure, we can donate money for relief, and the company I work for matches contributions dollar for dollar. That's a great thing. But people ache to DO something, to roll up their sleeves.
This week, more than 100 Disney Cruise Line employees gathered in the lobby of our Celebration, Florida, offices to pack personal hygiene kits for delivery to hurricane evacuees from Grand Bahama and Abaco. "Giving money is critical, but participating in something like this is equally important and so helpful,” said one colleague, as she stuffed soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes and socks into plastic baggies. These items won't singlehandedly solve the Bahamian crisis, but they will absolutely make life more comfortable for the thousands who have been displaced from their homes and moved to shelters in Nassau.
In total, and with the support of the nonprofit Clean the World, we packed 1,500 kits, each containing a handwritten note to the recipient. One of our ships, the Disney Dream, is delivering the kits as we speak. And in some makeshift shelter in Nassau, someone else will now take a little better care of themselves and feel just a little better about an otherwise dire situation.
Our hearts hurt for everyone whose lives were upended by Hurricane Dorian – and we stand by them as their communities rebuild and recover.
I wish I had a dollar for every time someone said, “They’re sooooo cute!”
This weekend we visited an alpaca farm for my wife’s birthday. She loved it, can you tell? We all did. These lamb-like creatures, indigenous to South America, saunter right up to you with their tall necks and big, smiling eyes. They let you feed them and rub their fluffy heads. Everybody who encounters them, from kids to grown men, ooh and aah.
In their native land, alpacas are raised for their hair, or fiber, and as a food source. “If you go to Peru, it’s on their menu,” says King Fowler, the local farm’s co-owner and a heck of a nice guy. In all, 37 alpacas and three llamas (they’re related) roam this farm in the quiet hills of Lake County, along with a smattering of chickens and ducks. Fowler is a breeder and competitor and just returned from an alpaca show in Kansas City. It’s mostly a business for him, though he says sitting around with your favorite drink and just watching these beautiful animals is “therapeutic for sure.”
What a fun family outing. Best of all, the birthday girl hasn’t stopped talking about her new friends. “They’re sooooo cute!”
Nothing gets the adrenaline pumping like a hurricane threat.
Heard and overheard of late …
“Everybody in Florida is essentially freaking out.”
“The first thing I did was fill my shopping cart with wine.”
“I really don’t have time for this.”
“Oh great, my eye’s twitching now because of frickin’ Dorian on my birthday.”
“Now Paul, I’m worried about your family. It looks like Florida’s in real trouble. You still have time to bring everybody up to Winston.”
“Yeah, I’m ready for it. Why not?”
“I got this, no problem. It’ll be a breeze. Ha! Get it?”
“The only time I watch TV is for This is Us and when’s there’s a hurricane.”
“I’m not going to let something called Dorian wreck my weekend.”
Be safe, ya’ll.
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