Photo by Breezy Baldwin, courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons
Winter is upon us, and baby, it's cold outside. Do you find yourself dreaming of soaking in the sun on tropical beaches, dining on spicy exotic food and cocktails, exploring rain forests, or galloping on horseback with the wind flowing through your hair? You can have all this and more in one fabulous island paradise. And better yet, forget about any hassles with currency exchange and you can leave your passport at home.
I'm not talking Hawaii, but Puerto Rico.
This "All Star Island" has it all: indulge in luxury resorts, Caribbean cuisine and 270 miles of coastline beaches, including Flamenco Beach in Culebra, which has been hailed as one of the best beaches in the world and ranked within the top 10 by Travel Channel. If you're more about adventure and taking in the great outdoors, this is your paradise. Hike through the beautiful rain forest with waterfalls and crystal clear pools of water. Or try some mountain biking or horseback riding. Maybe one of the best adventures of all is the longest zip line inthe world at , soaring over a breathtaking view of the rain forest of El Yunque, the only rainforest in the US national Parks service system.
Still not convinced? Maybe you're one of those experienced travelers who seek out something really different from your other experiences. Well, check this out: Puerto Rico boasts the Bioluminescent Bays. Microorganisms in the water create a blue-green glow, so you can take a midnight swim in mother nature's marine lighting. Or paddle in the moonlight.
If you're a foodie, you must check out the local cuisine and have an icy cold mojito… or any rum drink, as 70% of rum in the US comes from here. Puerto Rican cuisine blends Spanish, African, and Taíno cuisines, with a dash of American influences for a tasty melting pot of cultural food. Try some carne guisada puertorriqueña, which is a Puerto Rican beef stew, or lechón asado, which is barbecued pig basted in a sour orange juice sauce and served with roasted green plaintains. Or if you've watched one too many episodes of Anthony Boardain or Andrew Zimmern, try some sesos empanados: breaded calf brains.
I think I'll stick with the pig roast, myself.
Are you packing your bags yet? What would you do if you took a vacation to Puerto Rico? Comment below if you dream of hopping on a plane to Puerto Rico, or if you've been there, share your experiences with us!
Next week, Chuck Ragan hits the road opening for Social Distortion, playing venues like the House of Blues and ending with three sold out shows at the 1300-seat Ogden Theatre in Denver. But tonight is another story. Tonight, Ragan isn’t just playing a small dive bar in San Antonio, but the basement of a dive bar in San Antonio.
I walk right in the unattended side door and go downstairs with nary a bouncer in sight. Ragan and his band, consisting of Jon Gaunt, fiddle, and Joe Ginsberg, upright bass, are sound checking in the partial basement of Korova, with a few random stained couches, a tiny bar and gear for five acts piled to one side of the room. No stage, no stage lights, no house sound system, no one watching except the guy whose opening band has their own sound system and is helping Ragan sound check on it. And now me, of course. I try to settle onto one of the couches, but a couple of burly staff apologize and ask me to move, because they are taking the two big couches upstairs. I sit on a once-white loveseat and listen to Ragan playing under one dingy fluorescent light. I wasn’t sure it was him at first, because the bearded man before me with a hat pulled low on his head looks nothing like the clean-cut, clean-shaven photos on his site, but the raspy voice is unmistakable. When they wrap sound check and Ragan approaches me, even I have to ask, “Are you playing here or is this the green room”?
It ain’t the green room.
Ragan is a 20-year veteran of the music business, making a name for himself in the punk band Hot Water Music and it’s folk side project, Rumbleseat, before venturing out on his own. Most of those years have been spent, literally, on the road, but his gypsy life started even before he went into music — his mother is an entertainer and his father is a professional golfer, so living on the road is in his DNA, and perhaps part of what has allowed him to live a traveling life for so long. At the ripe old age of 37, Ragan feels he has been moving his whole life, and his website bio even draws comparisons to Jack Kerouac, although Ragan himself is reluctant to put himself in that group of artists, despite some obvious parallels.
A Life Lived on the Road
“We don’t compare ourselves in any way with a lot of those beat writers, although I’ve definitely found similarities in the lives. I mean it’s just that nomadic, kind of transient, always searching, always looking, kind of hungry life of seeing what’s out there, testing the waters, taking risks, and kind of that fine line between living on the edge, but still staying in control, you know what I mean? Controlled chaos.
“I feel like it’s one of those things where if you grew up with it and it’s something you’ve always known, it’s a lot easier to handle and deal with and understand. I think people who do this are wired differently. I know a lot of friends and loved ones who couldn’t handle a week of this kind of life.”
Nor the tremendous personal sacrifices required, and the toll on the personal life of people who spend most of their lives in vans or buses and hotels. Yet, so many musicians do just that. Not only do they do it, but swear they wouldn’t trade it for anything. But even the most hardcore road warrior has their limits.
“I’ve lived this way for so long,” says Ragan, “but killing yourself on the road for the majority of your life will take a toll on anyone. It’s not a very family-conducive lifestyle. You have to make sacrifices to do it, I know what you mean as far as some people wouldn’t trade it for anything, but I gotta say, I really look forward to slowing down, I look forward to having children, I look forward to having my world turned upside down in a completely massive life change.”
At one point, Ragan tells how suffered burn out on the music business and tried to settle down and focus on his carpentry trade, attempting to build a business with his wife.
“There was a point I wanted out of the music business so bad I just naturally turned to my trade because I was able to make a decent living doing that…When I signed to the label, I remember sitting with Joe and Bill at SideOneDummy and saying, just so you know, I gotta be honest with you, I’m going to write and record records till the day I die, but if you’re looking for somebody who’s going to tour, I’m not that guy. Me and my wife are going north and starting a custom home building business.”
Trying the 9-5 Life
They moved to a more rural area, but then the economy tanked and the housing market crashed, and they found themselves in a town where 60-70% of the men there were tradesmen like himself, all scrambling for less jobs and less money. It wasn’t a conscious decision to go back on the road, but as the phone calls and gig offers started picking up, the inevitable became more clear. But not without some compromise.
“I tried it, running hard and doing everything I could, and the phone kept ringing — ‘Hey, come play this show. Alright, well cool,’ and it just kept building. At the time I told my wife the only way I was getting back on the road is if she went with me, and we toured together,” he laughs. “She was like, well great, no pressure on me! She didn’t really want to go.”
Not only did his wife come along for the ride, but has now taken an active role in management.
“I wouldn’t be in the position I am if it wasn’t for her and all the hard work she’s done for my music and The Revival Tour and she’s made a ton of sacrifices and never gets enough credit for what she’s contributed. But we got a chocolate lab and now she’s home all the time and I’m back on the road.”
And back to the road taking its toll on family life. But for Ragan and artists like him, there really isn’t any other choice.
“Songwriting, and making records — it’s my calling. I feel like it’s something I need to do just as my own therapy to get through the day to day. It’s almost something I have to do, rather than something I want to do. I mean, I want to do it, I have a passion for it, but it’s more so something I have to get off my chest. To me, writing a song is taking a step back and looking at my life or this idea or whatever it is that’s affecting me in a positive or negative way enough to move me to get it on paper. That’s my chance to kind of step out and look at my life in a different perspective or a different light and figure out what needs to happen next. To become a better person or better husband or better friend or better citizen — you name it. Expressing myself has always been just a form of therapy. That’s why I feel like whether people are listening or not, I need to do it in my life. ”
Breaking Ground with “Covering Ground”
And in order to focus on the music — and its therapeutic aspects — on his latest album, “Covering Ground,” Ragan turned over the role of producer to an outside source, after self-producing his previous album, “Gold Country.”
“We had a small budget to work with for the last record, but I just wanted control of it to be able to pay my guys and pay everybody what I felt like they deserved, and what they needed. But also to do it at my own pace and on my own time frame, and that was what I was shooting for. What I found out is that producing a record is a pain. What I never thought about was the fact of the matter is, I’m also my own worst critic — asking myself all the time am I spending too much time on this one hang up, or did I not spend enough time. And at the same time the clock’s running, the dollars are disappearing and the guys I had there are leaving in a couple of days, and I’m still trying to be creative and still enjoy the session.
“On this record, I wanted to find somebody who really understood what I was shooting for, just a like-minded person who had the same convictions I had about the record and just wanted to get into it full speed ahead. I wanted them to understand acoustic instruments, I wanted them to understand the potential of the tones and the sounds that would come from these three instruments I wanted to spotlight, which was guitar, fiddle and upright bass. Just keeping it simple. When I found Christopher Thorn, it seriously took about four or five minutes talking to him where I was like, this is the guy, no one else. I could push everything across the table and just focus on my parts and my vocals and my lyrics, and not think about if the money was running out, not think about booking the flights — I just wanted to make a record.”
And play that record on the road, even in this cramped little basement for about 50 people, a fair chunk of which are members of the four opening acts. It’s like watching bands perform in your living room, and while Ragan is hanging out with me watching one of the bands, a fan comes up to tell him how great he is, and hands him a $100 Visa gift card — for no reason. Just…because. As much as Ragan insists it’s too much, the guy ain’t taking it back. I kind of wait for him to say something to me when the fan walks away, but he doesn’t say a word. Finally, between songs, I say “How cool was that?” But Ragan still doesn’t answer — even this hardened road warrior just sort of shakes his head in wonder without being able to speak, obviously moved by the gesture.
These are the kind of moments that don’t happen in 10,000 seat arenas. Or even 1,000 seat clubs.
“As an artist or traveling musician, you can never take yourself too seriously,” says Ragan. “You can never get caught up in believing the hype of whatever the hell you’re doing because one second you’re gonna be playing a sold out show at Shepherd Bush in London for 2,500 people and the next second you’ll be in a basement somewhere with just a handful of people and half of them don’t even really care. That’s reality. That’s life.”
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
While Ragan’s music may wander through some of the darker hardships and struggles in life, what separates it from so many is a persistent, unrelenting thread of hopefulness that runs through it. Like creating music itself, anything else simply isn’t an option for him — it’s about embracing the bad with the good, and not backing down from life itself.
“I’ve always been a true believer, that all of this could be done tomorrow. I mean, granted, I want to make it home safe, alive and kicking to my wife, but the reality is, we have no idea what’s gong to happen to us when we walk out that door. And you feel it’s important to cherish what we have and love life and live it to the fullest while we have it.”
“The thing about music, at least the way I grew up knowing it, feeling it, living it, it’s been nothing but hopeful, it has to be hopeful. That’s what music is there for, for me, in my life. The bands I go and listen to, the bands I enjoy, it’s gotta be able to lift me up and make me want to keep my head above water. And I mean that’s for songwriting in general.”
Which isn’t to say there aren’t times when taking the easy route of apathy doesn’t have an appeal — maintaining hope can be far more difficult than simply giving up.
“Sometimes man, I’m not gonna lie to you, I just want to give up, throw in the towel and throw my hands up and say the hell with it. Fine I’m done. You have a good run, then you have a bad run. Sometimes its just a helluva a lot easier to throw your hands up and lay down and give up. I have a buddy, me and him always talk about this and years ago he said something to me, when I was real frustrated with something and I just felt like I was beating my head against a wall, and he as like ‘Hey man, we either roll with the punches or we lay down. And for people like us, only one of those is an option. We’re not gonna lay down. Can’t do it. Gotta keep trying.’
“Some of the best art and some of the best songs, unfortunately, comes from suffering and tragedy and hardships. Again that goes back to what we were talking about having music there for us to help keep our head above water and having it there for us as hope. Something that we can kind of hang on to when we’re falling off the face of the earth.”
Or, he tells of the wisdom of another friend:
“I have a little Irish in me, and a buddy said to me once, late one night — and I might have been a little bit inebriated at the time,” he laughs. “I was complaining about something, and he said, ‘Don’t worry, an Irishmen is never truly drunk as long as there is a single blade of grass he can hang onto to keep him from falling off the face of the earth.’”
If that’s the case, may we all have a little Irish in us.
The crowd gathers around the staging area, lit with one red and one blue bulb, with nothing but a couple of feet between them and the man they’re there for. The music they’re there for. It’s dirty, it’s grungy…yet it’s uplifting, much like Ragan’s music. The setting may be bleak, but the mood in the room is anything but as he plays such songs as “Let it Rain,” “Meet You in the Middle,” “Nomad by Fate,” “For Broken Ears,” and “Nothing Left to Prove.”
It isn’t the venue, or the size of the crowd, that matters, but the heart and soul of the people and the performance. And in a tiny little basement in San Antonio that night, there was plenty of that to go around.
Looking for adventure by working as a travel nurse? Whether you specialize in telemetry, med-surg, critical care, emergency, home health, hospice, or nursing administration, there are an abundance of nursing jobs and healthcare opportunities out there (physical and occupational therapists travel, as well.) Travel nursing is a great to make a lot of money fast, but living on the road can be hard and lonely.
And very unhealthy… trust me I know. I think my next stop is “The Biggest Loser” after years of living on the road the wrong way. But I’ve been able to visit some great and not-so-great places, including New Orleans, upstate New York, and the Navajo reservation. I even have a practice certificate for New Zealand collecting dust, but someday…
Here are a few tips this old travel nurse has picked up along the way to make your travels a little more pleasant.
Picking the Right Travel Nurse Company
There was a time when you could pretty much assume any company had its act together, and given the stiff competition, would take care of business. Not so much anymore. New travel nurse and temporary job companies are cropping up overnight, and their lack of experience can have a serious impact on you. If a company doesn’t follow through on travel arrangements, hotel and yes, even getting you paid, you may find yourself stranded far from home, so choose wisely. I recommend sticking with long established companies unless you have the bank account to bail yourself out if necessary, which many times, travel nurses can be financially light if getting the next assignment takes longer than anticipated – this can be a game of feast and famine.
Interview the Interviewers
Just as you will be interviewed for a position, you better interview them, because once you get there, if you are treated poorly and want to leave, your travel nurse contract can have severe penalties for leaving, and you jeopardize your ability to find future work. And sorry to say, but don’t think they don’t know this.
Read That Contract
And yes, including – and especially – the fine print. What are the penalties if you get there and find the conditions unbearable? What if you have a personal or medical emergency that forces you to leave early? Make sure you know what you are getting into. And the biggie: what are the minimum hours required each week, and what happens if the company doesn’t give you the minimum? Do they still have to pay the minimum hours per week? I once went on a travel assignment for home health and they were giving me 7 visits a week with no guarantee to make up for being underbooked. Harsh lesson learned.
If your legal residence is on a “compact” state and you are licensed there, you are set for working on all the states in the compact. If not, you’ll have to get licensed in the state you want to work in, and the length of time varies from state to state. Some issue temporary permits, some don’t. Check the website yourself: while your agency is fairly knowledgeable about state licensing, don’t take their word for it.
Getting There – to Fly or Drive?
Flying will limit how much you can take, but if your agency will provide a rental car, far more convenient (and better on your personal car) than driving. I have been criticized for this by some, but when I have flown, I have been known to pick up things like a DVD player and small appliances at a large national chain store, then return before leaving. The reality is there is only so much you can travel with and you need to try to make your temporary home as “homey” as possible.
If you have pets, you will most likely have to drive, but if you choose to fly, you can be pretty sure the cost of your pet’s flight will be on you.
What to Take
The more work clothes you take the less you will have to do laundry, which may be inconvenient depending on your hotel’s laundry availability. Fabrics that resist wrinkles and separates you can mix and match will maximize your options if your doing an administrative type job. Otherwise, scrubs are the default. Try to limit going out clothes to a couple of outfits – you will likely do some shopping there and many travel jobs work long hours which limit socializing anyway. Keep toiletries basic and small — you can re-buy once you are there. If you love to read I can’t recommend a Kindle enough rather than lugging books around like I have done for years. Likewise, and mp3 player instead of CDs and a laptop should cover your basic electronic and entertainment needs.
It’s always more comfortable to get an apartment, but more and more agencies are going with hotels. Sometimes long stay, but depending on the area you are working in, sometimes only short stay type hotels are available. At the very least, you want to try to get a mini-fridge and microwave, but that is far from ideal.
Traveling with Pets and Family
Agencies will accommodate your pets, but be prepare for limited housing options – the nicer long stay hotels often take no pets, and even if they do, not always dogs. Also be prepared to pay a hefty pet deposit, which you will pay yourself. Pets are great company, but do make traveling that much more challenging. They will also make it difficult to get room service while you are at work unless you can cage them all day for housekeeping staff. And small rooms limit their exercise.
Your Hotel “Kitchen”
If you don’t get a room with a kitchenette, a few appliances can make it a little more bearable:
* Toaster Oven – indispensable in a conventional hotel room.
* Electric Skillet – much better than a hot plate for frying foods
* Electric Kettle Pot – safer option than a hotplate. Many of them also serve as a steamer.
* 1-2 place settings of plates, bowls, silverware, glasses
* Plastic drawers for food, dishes and appliance storage.
Healthy Habits for Travel Nurses
A hotel gym can make fitness much easier, especially in very hot or cold climates. If you opt for fresh air exercise such as jogging or walking, be sure to check with locals as to safe areas for these activities. Hand weights and in room videos can be used IF you have enough space, but it’s usually in short supply in these rooms. Some local gyms may offer short term memberships – if they say no at first, make sure they know you aren’t staying and will not sign any long term contracts under any circumstances. If they see it’s agree to a short term membership or lose a sale, many will accommodate your special situation.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are an option regardless of your kitchen set up. So no excuses!
When people think of Colorado ski country, they usually think Aspen, Vail, Telluride… all the rich folks’ places. And if you have deep pockets, those places can be great. But here are a couple of gems close to Telluride where you can stay and eat a whole lot cheaper, and mix with a bunch of laid-back everyday folks. I’m talking the small towns of Ouray (Your-ay) and Ridgway.
Shepherd’s Pie, anyone? O’Brien’s Pub serves it up with some healthy veggies and salad if you like.
I love casual bars and dining, and especially a good Irish pub. Fortunately, I don’t seem to be alone, so you can find them in even remote places, like Ouray, Colorado. In this case, O’Brien’s Pub and Grill, right on the main drag in Ouray, with lots of wood, mirrors and good Irish whiskey.
“The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment, then where is it to be found?”
No problem in life can’t be solved — or at least made better — with bread pudding.
I popped into The Grind in Phoenix, Arizona for lunch and to use my Groupon for $30. The bar and tables have a nice, clean look to them and a quiet, low-key ambiance overall. But I can definitely see how this place might be rockin’ at times, when there are sports on TV, with all the screens they have going. There’s a row of 5-8 TVs (forgot to count) behind the bar, then two more in the rear seating area where I sat, so I could take a few photos without being too obnoxious or drawing attention to myself.
“It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.”
Moab, Utah is known for magnificent scenery and an outdoor sports culture. I was hellbent on checking out the local Arches National park, and sampling some nostalgia at the Moab Diner, but hit a small distraction on the way.
Okay, this is a single girl’s blog, and this is how I figure it. If you’re single too, you’re spending your Fridays one of two ways: Going out on a date, in which case you won’t be reading this or any blog. Or, if you’re like me, sitting at home watching movies with hot guys.