I sat there in my middle seat fiddling with my mobile when someone came and plopped down right next to me. I was flying to from Dallas to Madrid on a milage awards ticket and didn’t have much choice in picking a spot. At this point in boarding, there was hardly a soul on this international flight. Practically a sea of empty seats. I was getting anxious hoping they would shut the door soon so I could snag an entire center row for myself. You never know who might have the same idea. I’d hate to have to trample some little old lady just to sleep horizontally during a nine-hour flight.

After what seemed like forever, the flight attendant finally shut the door. I popped out of my seat, apologizing to the person next to me for my abrupt move and claimed my row. What great travel karma! Four whole seats to sprawl out over. An armful of pillows and blankets to myself. All that and cute little complimentary bottles of whiskey.

Opting for in-flight wifi, I busied myself with Facebook and Instagram while slugging back my cute whiskies. Finally, after wolfing down my “Chicken or pasta?” dish, I nestled into my little lumpy-bumpy, yet horizontal sleep cocoon and shut my eyes.  This was an opportunity to get as much sleep as I could as I was on my way to Granada, Spain via Madrid. Breakdown: A five-hour bus ride after a nine-hour flight.

“I must really want to make this trip,” I thought as I drifted off to sleep.

The fact is, I did want to make this trip. Five weeks in Spain. It was a huge challenge for me. I was going to rent a flat in Granada and take a month-long Spanish immersion course. After that, I was going to Madrid for five nights.

My husband Ray and I spent three weeks in Spain last May. We went to Madrid, Barcelona, Sitges, Valencia, and Granada. I was a bit under the weather in Madrid so going there again on this trip is a redo for me. In hindsight, it’s kind of funny to think I’ve spent two of the last five months in Spain.

I love the Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport. Its design is fluid, organic and open. It was surprisingly empty–which was much preferred. I was travel weary and didn’t feel like dealing with a crowd. I found myself pondering my upcoming experience as I walked through the airport. There was something almost surreal about the emptiness of both the plane and the airport as well as the ease at which I was traveling. Everything was moving along like clockwork. There were so few people in the airport that it almost felt like a dream.

I picked up my bag, went through customs, and hopped into a taxi for the bus station. I speak no Spanish other than basic phrases. Buying my ticket was a little hectic but I managed to get the right one and board the correct bus. For someone as directionally challenged as I am, that’s pretty damn good. I sat in the wrong seat though. Lo siento.

The interior of the bus was a little tired but it had complementary wifi and the seat was cozy. (From here on out, when you see, “wifi” you have to pronounce it “wee-fee” like they do in Europe. C’mon, it’s fun!)

The scenery from Madrid to Granda reminded me of the rolling hills and golden landscape of Thousand Oaks, California. My home town. Except here it was all covered with groves of olive trees that seemed to go on forever like a live Renaissance painting. My mind started to wonder. The reality of what I was about to do started sinking in. I’m not just vacationing in Spain. I’m living there for a month. Alone. I can’t play stupid tourist. I can’t eat out for every meal pointing at menu items. I have to cook, shop, clean house, take out my trash, do my laundry, walk to school, go to school, most importantly study.


K through 12 were difficult years for me. Struggling with focus and attention, I would interrupt the class a lot and talk to everyone. I repeated third grade and was expelled from high school permanently just a few months into my first year. My parents and teachers said I was lazy and didn’t care. I felt like I was damaged, like something about me was broken. It was the 70s. That’s just how things were I suppose.

Fast forward to the age of forty-five. After going my entire adult life with focus and concentration issues, I was diagnosed with ADHD. The diagnoses and medication turned everything around in my life. Suddenly I could remember things. I had a sense of direction. I stopped interrupting people and learned how to listen. I felt…awake. I thought I was losing my mind and realized I wasn’t. With that, it dawned on me that I am not broken. Not at all.

I laugh at those who think ADHD is some thing manufactured by pharmaceutical companies. Diagnoses and medication changed my life–and it sure as fuck would’ve been nice to have had that as a child instead of a lifetime of being confused and filled with self-loathing. But I digress.

The bus pulled into the Granada station with a jolt. I had arrived. I know from my past history in school that my brain is not wired for passive learning. This is going to be a huge challenge. I am an active learner. I learned how to fix electronics by working on them, not by reading books on how to work on them. I need to learn a language by speaking it. Studying, books, notes, whiteboards, and handouts are very difficult for me.

Oh fuck, I’ve signed up for a month of this.


I planned my summer holiday way back in January. Since the hotel and airfare were paid for up front, I was confident this would be a perfect getaway. All I had to do was get there.

Last year’s solo trip to Barcelona surpassed the legal limit of how much fun one person can have on holiday. This year, I made a very strong effort to put any expectations out of my head to avoid any disappointment should this trip not be as fantastic as the last. For seven months, I counted the days like a kid waits for Christmas. I knew Barcelona would come. I knew I would have an incredible holiday and I knew having zero expectations would make the trip just as good as the last – if not better.

Well, my plan worked like a charm. This year, with my expectation meter set to zero, I got way more than I expected. I got the worst fucking vacation I’ve ever had.

It’s one thing to get a little ill while on holiday. I’ve traveled with an occasional cold, sinus infection, mild stomach bug, etc. You just kind of put it in the back of your head and make the best of it. Never in my life have I experienced most of my travel time feeling like a steaming pile of dog shit.

Aside from a horrible headache and gut-wrenching stomach cramps; I could hardly eat, was completely fatigued and had random projectile diarrhea every forty-five minutes. For days!

After the initial onset which lasted about three days, I had a couple of not-so-bad periods where I tried that “make the best of it” thing. Even ventured out to Sitges for a bit after chowing down a box of immodium. Sadly, even immodium couldn’t control my exploding ass. At one point, I crapped in my pants en route to el baño and because of that, I was terrified to get too far from my room. For two weeks, the farthest I ventured from the hotel was about a mile and that was to spend a day in the hospital hooked up to an IV getting pumped full of medication and fluids. Yeah, I was that sick.

My employer does not offer sick time and vacation. They just give you PTO (Personal Time Off) for any time. When I was hired, I was told I had ten days of PTO which was perfect as that was the exact amount of time I needed off. Two days before I left, I was told since I started my job in March, my PTO was prorated and I didn’t actually have enough time to take off so when I return to work, I have to put in ten-hour days for a week and a half to make up time.

Now, It would be one thing to make up time like that after an insanely wild trip and say, “Who cares? It was worth it!” But no, I’ll be making up time for laying in a fetal position shitting my brains out. To add a smidge of insult to injury, I had this last-minute notion to pamper myself so I upgraded to a Premium room the week before I left.

Yeah…nothing like shelling out an additional 400 euro to shit in a luxurious room with a view and a balcony (that I couldn’t see from the bathroom). Do I know how to travel or what?

The real highlight was hearing the couple next door screwing constantly. The common wall between the two rooms was, you guessed it, the bathroom. I don’t know what he was doing but she was quite vocal in expressing her level of enjoyment. It wasn’t exactly the sound of them having sex, it was the…well, let’s just say the word stamina comes to mind. Hours of operatic vocalizations while the headboard slammed against the wall in a percussive fashion. Of course I can’t really complain as I am confident they got their share of my frequent grunts and groans accompanied by the thunderous reverberation of my butt cheeks playing the toilet bowl like a giant tuba.

It wasn’t all bad. I did see a few people from last year and met a handful of new people. That was a treat. The last two days I had an strong appetite and socialized as best as I could. It’s kind of hard to be outgoing when you’re not feeling well. I tried to salvage the last fleeting moments of my holiday but, for the most part, it was pretty much a disaster and in all honesty, I’m really fucking pissed off at life right now – which is stupid. I can’t be angry at something I cannot control. It is what it is.

Shit happens. Yes, I just said that.

Tonight, I will arrive at my home, get into my shower, slip into my bed with my wonderful hubby who will wrap his arms around me, tell me he loves me and make it all melt away. Ray is awesome like that. I miss him terribly. Parker kitty will be there. We’ll all be safe and comfy together at home and for me, right now, that’s the perfect remedy.

I overheard someone say the plane had only been in service for nine days. I’m no expert in aviation so there’s no possible way I could know this but, the air in the cabin did have that new plane smell.

The plane really was quite fancy-schmansy. Passing through the first class cabin seemed like land of the pod people. The seats literally reclined into a private pod/bed! At 6’2″, I could only dream of such luxury.

This was my third trip to Barcelona. My second traveling solo. I went last summer by myself and had such a good time, I had to do it again.

IMG_3789Getting to Europe involved a series of flights. This was the long haul from Los Angeles to London. Fortunately, because of Ray, I scored a deluxe coach seat. More  space to recline with a ton of legroom. I was finally going to be able to be able to get a good night of sleep on an international flight. Or so I thought…

Right after they served dinner, I got my neck pillow thingie, put my seat back and got all blanketed up. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath…exhaled and at that exact moment, a fierce wave of nausea passed through me squeezing out cold, clammy sweat from every pore in my being. This was accompanied by two invisible hands reaching into my gut and wringing it out like a dishcloth. Just when I thought it couldn’t possibly get worse, I started to lose consciousness. I was sitting down, leaning back and yet, I was passing out!

Drenched in sweat, I put my head between my legs. The air valve over my seat was blowing on me. It felt so good, so cool. Have you ever been that sick? Where laying on a cold hard bathroom floor is the most comfortable thing in the world? Well, at least you’re at home, in your bathroom. I was on a fucking plane two hours into a nine-hour flight. I’m sure the elderly couple sitting next to me were wondering what the hell was going on.

“Don’t mind me. I just like looking at my shoes while I fly.”

I just kept praying, “Please don’t make me barf, please don’t make me barf.” Thankfully, I had taken a sleep aid before all this started and was able to fall asleep. In fact, I slept through the whole flight. I slept through the flight from London to Barcelona. I got to my hotel at 20:30 and was so tired I took off all my clothes and slithered into bed.

During all of this, I was nauseous, fatigued and had major stomach cramps. As the time went on, I found myself having to use the restroom more and more frequently. After getting to the hotel and passing out, I awoke at 3:00 AM while in the process of completely shitting myself, in and on the bed, running to the bathroom, and all over the toilet.

At least I didn’t puke.

While I was able to clean most of it up (room has hard floors), my luxurious hotel bed with crisp white sheets and down comforter didn’t quite clean up so well. I’m sure housekeeping has their eye on the freak in room 215.

By yesterday afternoon, I was a bit more stable. I slept for eighteen hours. Whatever it was knocked the…well, knocked the shit out of me. I went out for a little bit but was still pretty tired. Slept some more that afternoon. When I awoke, I made my way up to the rooftop bar/deck where I was greeted by some people I had met here last year. They talked me into having dinner with them. Even though I wasn’t quite 100 percent, it got me out.

This morning, I was up early. I needed to venture out in search of bottled water – lots of it. As I was walking along the quiet city streets, processing the ordeal I had just been through, it suddenly dawned on me…I’m in Barcelona!!

Let’s have that holiday, shall we?







20110913-112539.jpgThe kitty cat whimpered from her carry case as we drove along to drop her off at Goin’ to Grandma’s. I was a little concerned boarding her for three weeks but we’d done this last year and she handled it well. Still, I can’t help but worry for the well being of a pet. The dirt road was bumpy and before long, her whimpers got deeper and kind of throaty.

Then she puked.

The lady at the kennel was sympathetic and cleaned out the carrying case. We said goodbye to the kitty and headed out for our ninety minute drive to the airport. We’d been planning this trip to Germany since January. Three flights, two layovers and we should land in Berlin tomorrow at 4:00 – just in time for cocktails!

It’s hard to get away from work for three weeks. I really have to make an effort to let everything go. Last year, we went to Spain, France and Italy for three weeks. It was heaven. Ray and I were able to disconnect from everything.

I have discovered that Americans don’t take enough time off. Even if you can’t afford to go somewhere, you should get away from work and take time for yourself. I work with people who get annual notifications to take some of their vacation or they’ll lose it. I can’t imagine what that’s like. I’m always struggling to save vacation time because I take it so much.

So here I am, blogging at the airport just about to embark on an exciting journey. My plan is to blog and post images/videos as we go along as opposed to waiting until we get home. Stay tuned…

The hardest part about being an artist is the media in which you choose to express yourself. As an artist, I see life in technicolor and have this overwhelming desire to express to others what I’m experiencing. Whether it’s photography, video, music, writing, acting, dancing, singing (all of which I have dabbled in), the challenge is expressing not only the event but the internal emotional state of mind of the person having the experience. Take a look at the photo on the upper left. I shot it last night during an amazing summer storm. To you, it’s stunning. To me — ok to me it’s pretty fucking awesome but it’s not awesome enough. It doesn’t encapsulate the smell of the desert rain, the surround sound of thunder reverberating across the high plains and the overall visual excitement that one can only experience with depth perception. The split second captured in the photograph is much better in realtime being viewed with two eyes than looking at a flat static image.

There’s no lens that can see what our eyes really see, no microphone that hears what our ears really hear.

There’s no device to record the sensation of the little hairs standing straight up on the back of your neck when your two eyes and two ears experience several bolts of lightning and claps of thunder rolling across the expanse of the high desert plaines.

If I could come up with such a device, I’d be a very wealthy man.

But this artist must keep expressing himself or he’ll die. That is one of the biggest things I have discovered about myself. The true core of my soul is to act as an on-the-spot reporter of life. I have this uncontrollable urge to not only see what’s happening around us but to express it from my own biased point of view. I’m going to show you what happened…to me.

Film at 11.

When I was a child, there was an annual festival in town called Conejo Valley Days. It included a rodeo,  parade and my favorite, a carnival. I loved carnivals! Rides, music, lots of colored sparkly lights (the latter was particularly appealing during my teenage druggie years). I couldn’t get enough of them. Whenever we passed a carnival in the car I would curse my parents under my breath because my pleas to stop, just for a little while, were always met with a resounding “no”.  Such cruelty.

I was always taken by the carnies who operated the rides. Who were these people? Where did they come from? A lot of them were adorned with tattoos. They were mysterious and edgy. I wanted to be a tattooed carny! I wanted so much to be mysterious and edgy, traveling to strange exotic places, staying up all night operating rides like the Tilt-A-Whirl, Toboggan and my all-time favorite The Zipper. Of course this fantasy quickly faded upon the realization that I kinda liked having a roof over my head, regular hot meals and the option to bathe any time I wanted. I also came to terms with the fact that I’m pretty much “Bob the white guy”. I’m not mysterious nor am I edgy. I’m milquetoast.

However, the tattoo fantasy never diminished. I was fascinated by them. As a young adult, I noticed a lot of gay men had tattoos. I was attracted to that. There was something about a tattooed hunk that was appealing to me. I have this thing for men and masculinity.

You can have androgynous David Bowie any day. I’ll take Henry Rollins.

I was never into boys my own age. I liked men and when I say men I mean manly men. (Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?)

The young blond skinny twink who worked at Hanover Shoes in the Oaks Mall (Yes, I just described myself.) never did it for me but the beefy, stubbly-faced UPS driver with thick furry legs and strong tattooed arms caught my eye every single time. How I wished I could be like that. I loathed being a twink.

I became obsessed with getting inked. There were only two problems. One, I wasn’t the type of cool person who could pull it off. Two, I had no idea what to get. I didn’t want some off-the-shelf thing branded on my person. I wanted something that was truly unique. Something that was an absolute expression of me.

This kept me from getting a tattoo for years. By the time I was ready to actually get one, something had changed. Everyone had a tattoo! They were ubiquitous and for me that was a deal breaker. Tattoos were no longer edgy and mysterious. Having a tattoo didn’t set you apart from the rest of the world, it assimilated you into the Borg.

Resistance is futile.

I decided to forget about it…until I moved to the Arizona desert, grew a stache, turned forty, got a motorcycle and started being addressed as “Sir” or “Daddy” by young gay beard boys (so glad that shaved-body-bleach-blond-Ken-doll phase is over). I have to admit I’m kinda digging the Sir/Daddy thing. Even though I’m at the zenith of my mid-life crisis re-evaluation, there are a few perks to getting older.

So once again, getting a tattoo became an obsession for me. I started thinking about designs. I’m a left-handed Sagittarius. Something on my left arm with a centaur would be cool. I came up with a unique idea along those lines but could not think of a way to make it happen. Still working on it — have been for a while now but I’m not in a rush because a couple of weeks ago, I was suddenly inspired for a new idea by a hummingbird.

Ray and I have noticed this summer that we have a hummingbird that appears to have chosen our place for its home. It likes to rest on a little branch high up on the olive tree in our front yard as well as another little tall branch on one of the mesquite trees in our backyard. It’s very territorial. Whenever other hummingbirds come into the yard, it buzzes around making all sorts of noises and chases them away. Contrary to popular belief, hummingbirds are kinda bad-ass.

I have an appreciation for 78 RPM records. I have always been a music fan and have a small collection of 78s that I occasionally play on my old Pathe Brothers phonograph. One evening I was having a cocktail in the pool. I was thinking about tabletop phonographs and how they have the big horn that looks like a flower. Suddenly the hummingbird buzzed past and this totally random image hit me; a hummingbird drinking the music/nectar from the phonograph horn/flower. That would be a cool tattoo.

That would be a cool tattoo!

I went online and started searching for images of tattoo hummingbirds and phonographs. Then I went to work in Photoshop.

Here are the three images I found.

This was my creation (before I added the wraparound banner).

My tattoo artist (Zach) sketched it out and made a transfer. This marks my skin so he has an outline to follow.

The ink caps. Lots of colors!

Two hours into it. Outline is done. Touching up on the shadowing.

Does it hurt? What do you think?

All done!

I decided to get this one on my right arm. It took four and a half hours. It really didn’t hurt much…at first. The last hour was, well, needles jabbing into an open wound repeatedly at a high rate of speed. What the fuck do you think?

I’m very happy with it. It’s mine. I made it. It’s very, very me. By the way, Lopaka is Hawaiian for Robert (my first name). Lopaka Lounge is not only the name of my website (which wasn’t always a blog), it’s the name of my studio where I create music, photography and other multimedia projects. I still plan to have my other arm tattooed with my other design. It’s in the works. I’m not in a hurry. Hell, I waited forty-something years for this one. In my opinion, the key thing about getting a tattoo is to take your time. Make the right design choice. Try to come up with something original. At one point during my tattoo, we overheard some woman come in the shop and say, “Oh my God! Tinkerbell! I want Tinkerbell!” I looked down at Zach and said, “I bet you fucking hate that.” He stopped, looked down shaking his head and said, “Yeah”.

Many people warned me about getting a tattoo. “You’re going to regret it when you get old!” These were all people who don’t have one. The only regret I have ever heard about a tattoo was the style or design not the tattoo itself.

I went to Zach at Sacred Art Tattoo in Tucson. He was awesome. I plan to have him do my next tattoo. Oh yeah, one other thing: Tip your tattoo artist. This is how they make a living.