EXCERPT: Living through the coronavirus pandemic abroad

Read the full story here: https://themilsource.com/2020/03/16/an-american-in-madrid-living-through-the-coronavirus-pandemic-abroad/

I wrote this about the last week in Madrid as the COVID-19 pandemic spread and Spain imposed strict rules to fight the spread. This is just the first portion, follow the link to read the whole piece.


Thursday was a tipping point. It felt that way when I woke that morning. United States President Donald Trump spoke to the US on Wednesday from the Oval Office to explain the US government’s efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic. On the list of measures was a ban on travelers from Europe’s Schengen Area.

I learned of the travel ban a few hours later after waking up in my apartment in Madrid, Spain (inside the Schengen). In less than a month, my girlfriend, Helen, and I were set to travel to the US. It would be my first time in my home country since the summer of 2017, and her first time meeting most of my family. With the president’s announcement, though, plans were suddenly uncertain.

As an American citizen, I am permitted to travel to the US. Helen, however, is British and has lived in Spain for 11 years. There is no reason to hope she would be granted an exception.

It’s Thursday morning, and everything is up in the air.

Spain amidst COVID-19

Earlier in the week, the Spanish government designated three regions of the country – Madrid, La Rioja, and the Basque Country – as transmission hubs for COVID-19. Schools were required to close in those regions for two weeks, starting March 11.

In Madrid, that directly affected my friends who are part of the sizeable “expatriate,” or expat, community. They are teachers and auxiliaries. The program of “Auxiliares de Conversacion,” which literally means “conversation assistants,” places thousands of native English speakers in elementary and secondary classrooms around the country.

We are among the many Americans, Canadians, Britons and more who came to Spain to teach English as a second language. There is a considerable market here for English speakers, as Spanish people are eager to learn the language.

With concerns about COVID-19 intensifying, the expats in Madrid were adapting to their changing situations.

“It’s been very chaotic since no one really has a clear understanding about what’s going on,” explained James, a friend who works at an English academy. Shortly after the original announcement of school closures, he learned the language academies were not required to close, so his situation remained uncertain for days. Eventually, like most businesses in Madrid, his school closed.

My friends told me they’ve been in contact with people back home. Both Casey, originally from Minnesota, and Calla, from Kentucky, said they had spoken with family back home about the situation both here and in the US.

“I think we’re all at about the same level of concern,” Casey said of her and her parents. “I’d give that about a six out of 10. I feel much safer being in Spain than if I were back in the states because one, the healthcare system here is very good and two, with the amount of Americans that don’t have access to proper medical care and treatment, I believe things are going to be much worse in the United States than here.”

They all expressed a desire to keep living life as normally as possible, but acknowledged that might be easier said than done.

“I would prefer to be out as I normally would,” Calla explained, “than to complete self-quarantine until it’s totally necessary.”

In less than 48 hours, it would no longer be a choice.


Papel higienico

Who We Are

My apologies ahead of time if this post is not what you come here to read. It won’t be very funny (not that they ever are).

When I decided to bring this blog back from hibernation, I did so with the intention of writing exclusively about travel and directly related topics. Long time readers of this page know I’ve never been shy about getting into politics and writing passionately about social issues. Going forward, though, I wanted this page to eschew those topics as much as possible, to be a positive page buoyed by the joy of travel.

To ignore what is going on in my country right now, though, would be a disservice. To write some random entry about a failed trip I once took would be a lie, because that isn’t where my mind is right now.

This is not a political post. I want to write about who we are.

Put simply, this Travel Ban – the Muslim Ban, the Refugee Ban, whatever you would call it – is not who we are. I refuse to accept this as a Conservative versus Liberal issue. Shame on us if we allow it to become so.

Since World War II, when America was forced to reconcile with the tragic results of banning refugees in the 1930s, we have been a nation that said we were a home for the outcast. It has been our identity in the world; it has been our beacon, a figurative idea made literal by Lady Liberty who stands roughly 5 miles from where I type this.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

This has been the spirit of this nation for over 100 years. That is not to gloss over our numerous failings as a nation, especially as it relates to foreign policy. Our actions have rarely lived up to our ideals. But we have had those ideals, and they have been what united us as a nation, even if we couldn’t agree how best to achieve them.

For eight years, dyspeptic voices warned us that President Obama was fundamentally changing the character of this nation. Well, in eight days, Donald Trump truly did it.

You can be fiscally conservative and see this is wrong. You can be socially conservative and see this is wrong. You can love your children and want to protect them and not turn your backs on others – that isn’t love, that’s fear. This isn’t Right versus Left, this is a basic question of our humanity. To shut our doors on those in need under the guise – the lie – that it will keep us safe is to fail on every level to be the nation we have claimed to be for a century.

I won’t post pictures of the children caught in the Syrian war because I don’t want to be accused of using emotional manipulation or propaganda. But you have seen them. You have seen these children, these mothers, these fathers; you have seen their suffering. They are no less human because the God they pray to answers to a different name than yours.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

I have been told often that we are a Christian nation. When will we act as such? How can we be a nation that professes that it is in God we trust, yet we have no faith that we will be protected if we do what is right?

I don’t know what motivates you. I don’t know which truth you hold most dear to your heart. I don’t know which belief guides your choices.

Here is mine: Humanity is flawed; it is capable of great evil and depravity, motivated by selfishness, greed, hatred, and, more often than anything else, fear. But within humanity is also the capacity for tremendous acts of love and sacrifice, resilience and hope. I believe that humanity at its best surpasses humanity at its worst. And I believe that there is no Judgment Day awaiting, no eternal reward or punishment; just the beating rhythm of our own conscience too often drowned out by the frightened bellows within us.

To those living elsewhere in the world: Know that the actions of these particular leaders are not the will of much of the people. It is not my will. I became a traveler because I do not believe in walls. I travel because my humanity is awakened when I open myself up to new experiences and new perspectives.

To those of you living in the US: Now, we must resist this spreading evil, just as generations passed resisted tyranny in Europe and elsewhere. We must not grow complacent or irresolute in the face of this onslaught of cruelty. This is not who we are as a nation. This is not who we are as people.

This is how we resist:
ACLU = https://www.aclu.org/
CAIR = https://www.cair.com/
IRC = http://www.rescue.org
Southern Poverty Law Center =
Planned Parenthood = https://www.plannedparenthood.org/

We are different; we are not separate.




What can a white, heterosexual, cisgender male do? Listen.

This past week has been loud.

Our entrance into the Gilded Phage erupted in protests, violence, and hate speech, while Twitter fights, Facebook rants, and, most vital, thoughtful blog posts remain at pre-Election levels. Voices are still reaching the cheap seats as dire warnings of an encroaching wave of racism and bigotry are met with caustic dismissals demanding people “Wait and see” and “Stop whining.” It’s a wall of sound that would make Phil Spector tumescent.

This election proved one thing: there are a lot of white, heterosexual, cisgender males in this country, and despite assertions that they are the new oppressed minority, they remain both the most powerful and vocal force in American politics. As a member of that demographic, I have never felt so dismayed to be so visible.

For the last year, ever since I completed 10 Cities, I’ve been largely silent. Up until last week, this website had gone dark and I had minimized my Facebook presence (I’ve remained somewhat active on Twitter; my apologies). I’ve been practicing a skill that doesn’t come naturally to me: Listening.

Listening to voices that aren’t white, heterosexual, cisgender, and/or male is critical for the continued growth of our society and for our growth as individuals. We only need look at last Tuesday to know what’s at stake when we don’t.

One of the ways I’ve been reminding myself to be a better listener is intentionally seeking out voices that wouldn’t naturally enter my sphere of interests. As a white, heterosexual, cisgender male, I’m striving to engage with the points of view of those who aren’t. I’ve not intentionally avoided or ignored those voices in the past, but by nature of our societal structure, I’ve done it all the same.

So far, this endeavor has had the greatest impact in my consumption of art, particularly music and literature. I’ve read assault narratives and about rape culture (Alice Sebold and Kate Harding), read fiction from people of color (Colson Whitehead and Zadie Smith; Zadie pisses me off because her first novel is just so damn good) as well as non-American authors (Arturo Perez-Reverte). I’ve read many other authors (including plenty of white males) this last year, but I hope to find even more diverse voices next year. 

Additionally, and to a much greater extent, I’ve been listening to a more varied slate of musical artists. My musical taste has always been eclectic, but my go-tos have generally been white, straight dudes. It seems like a trivial thing because it’s an easy thing; I love music and I love finding new artists. And yet, as easy as it is to do, it still had to be a conscious choice. Ultimately, that minimum effort to expand my palate has been deeply enriching.

To that end, I’m concluding this post with a by-no-means-exhaustive list of artists who are not white, or not male, or not straight, or not cisgender. The list could expand indefinitely, but these just happen to be some that I’ve come to really appreciate over the last year and who, importantly, offer a broader perspective.

And, finally, to my fellow white, heterosexual, cisgender males: There’s no prize for listening, no pat on the back; there’s just the pleasant reality that so many voices deserve our attention and we are invariably enriched by the simple experience of hearing a new perspective.

I hope you enjoy the music and that you’ll keep listening.

Gallant – Episode

Against Me! – Black Me Out

Tegan and Sara – Boyfriend

Lydia Loveless – Midwestern Guys

Solange – Don’t Touch My Hair

What I Want To Say, But Can’t: A Post-Charleston Shooting Reflection

I want to say something.

I want to say something, but I’m not really sure what.

I’m not sure I have the words for what needs to be said.

I want to say that when a white man enters a black church and kills 9 black people, it is obviously racially motivated. When the man says, “I want to shoot black people,” we don’t have to wonder what his motivation was. We don’t have to wonder if racism is still an issue in America. We can know.

I want to say that just because a mass murder happened in a church, it doesn’t mean Christians in America are under attack. There are places in the world where Christians do have to fear for their lives, and to pretend like America is one of those places is to do their struggle a disservice. To claim victimhood when you are not a victim is a monstrous act of narcissism.

I want to say that we create laws and regulations to protect us against those who would do us harm. We create laws to protect us against ourselves. Society, politics, the rule of law, these all exist because without them humanity is a chaotic mess. With them, we grow incrementally less messy.

I want to say that we do not live in the wild west, and that’s good. The wild west was horrible. People died, frequently. John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies have led us to romanticize the old west as a time of Real Men and Real Women. In fact, it was a horror of constant dangers: lawlessness, poor health, racism, sexual violence and poverty. Why would we seek to emulate that period?

I want to say that a person who would put his or her right to own a gun above the lives of his fellow humanity is a terrifying human being. I don’t have children so I don’t know what it feels like to believe that I must do anything in my power to protect them, including being ready and able to shoot any attacker. I do have loved ones, though, family and friends and lovers, and I do know what it’s like to hear they have been attacked, hurt, violated. I know what it’s like to want vengeance, to want to inflict pain, violence, righteous punishment. I know the craving for justice. A gun isn’t justice.

I want to say that the world will never be perfect but that doesn’t mean we have to stop striving for it. A sailor will never reach the horizon, but she can still follow the setting sun.

I want to say that this shooting in Charleston will make us stop, consider and finally act. It won’t.

I want to say so much. Every. Single. Time. this happens. Every time a psychopath enters a church, a school, a theater, a synagogue, a mall – anywhere they damn well please – and obliterates innocent people with easily purchased guns, I want to say something. I want to scream. I want to grab people by the shoulders and yell in their face.

I want to say something.

But I can’t. Because if I do say any of that, I’m just politicizing these innocent people’s death. If I say something, I’m the bad guy because I didn’t have the decency to wait until after the mourning was finished. If I want to say something, I have to wait until there are no more tragedies, no more senseless acts of violence, no more crippling flashes of horror. I have to wait until there are no more mass shootings.

So I will never say anything.


Which Region of the U.S. is Most Racist? A Game for 2 or More Players

Welcome to the great new game to play with all your white friends:

Which Region of the U.S. is Most Racist?


     Which Region of the U.S. is Most Racist? can be played with as few as two (2) players, but it makes a great party game and there’s even an online version that can be played in the comments section of any article about a non-white celebrity or politician.

     The rules are simple!

     The first player picks any Region in America that isn’t ‘The South’ and states I Do Declare: “[Said Region] is more racist than The South.” Ex. “The Northeast is more racist than The South.”

    Once the declaration has been made, that player must then supply one Intolerance Anecdote that illustrates the overwhelming racial prejudice of said Region. More points are awarded to stories that are specific and invoke “a black friend.”

     Now the second player has two choices: They can counter with a Southern Gentleman, an example of more egregious racial prejudice from The South, or they can Up the Antebellum by picking a brand new Region and stating I Do Declare: “[New Region] is even more racist than [Previous Player’s Region].
Ex. “The Midwest is even more racist than The Northeast.”

     The round continues until all players have had their say. Then the first player has a choice to either provide another Intolerance Anecdote or they can choose to invoke Brotherhood and ratify another player’s declaration of racial prejudice. If this occurs, both players must provide Intolerance Anecdotes in defense of [Said Region]’s prejudicial dominance.

     (In case of only two players, this officially ends the game. This ending is incredibly rare.)

     The game ends when the players have gotten sick of each other and themselves. The winner is the player who maintains the least Cognitive Dissonance while proclaiming entire regions of the country ‘racist’ without a sense of irony. They are deemed the Carpetbagger and awarded hours of smug self-satisfaction.

Happy Gaming and Good luck!


     *Warning: “Which Region of the U.S. is Most Racist?” is not recommended for children under 13 or for groups of mixed ethnicity.

Snap Judgments and Self-Fulfilling Prophecies


“It was a Jump to Conclusions mat.” ~ The fat guy.

I’m seriously not trying to read too much into this because it was really an insignificant moment.  But it illustrates a point so I’m gonna mention it.

A little more than a week back, at that whole Soul Club Shebang (maybe they should change the name to that), I had this minor, 15-second interaction that amused me.  When I arrived at the club, my friend and her friends were already there and dancing.  I ordered a whiskey and waded through the throngs to find them.  Once I did, I stayed on the outside a bit so I could drink until I achieved my dance-intoxication level.

A couple of the friends of a friend were a lesbian couple that I had met the night before.  We had chatted some that evening (not a lot) and parted with hugs.  As I was standing at the periphery of our group’s moving dance circle, mostly watching and sipping on my whiskey, one of the ladies in the couple curtly said, “Excuse me,” before gently jostling me aside so that she could dance next to her partner.

Now, I knew even before she addressed me that this woman didn’t recognize me.  There was a tenseness in her body language that told me she thought I was a stranger hovering around her (mostly female) friends.  It was a dark club, I was wearing a hat the night before, I wouldn’t have expected her to pick me out after only one other interaction.

Once she did recognize me, she apologized and it was no big deal.  It wouldn’t have been a big deal even if she hadn’t apologized.  I wasn’t offended and I knew what must have been her assumption:  I was just some creepy guy trying to grind up on some girls at a club.  I’ve seen plenty of guys do it and I’m sure she’s seen more.

An aside:  Hey guys, why don’t we all just agree to not be the creepy guy grinding on girls at clubs.  Deal?

Snap Judgments

It’s an interesting phenomenon, the snap judgment.

From an evolutionary point of view, it’s a necessary trait.  Creatures that react quicker to potential threats live longer.  Yeah, you might offend someone (or just look dumb), but at least you’ll still be alive to reproduce.  And that’s what it’s all about.

We jump to conclusions about people pretty easily, based on very little information.  Some times we get the opportunity to reconfigure those judgments over time.  Often, though, we never see those people again, or only ever briefly, and that initial picture we formed lasts. 

I know there is nothing profound in that observation, it’s part of our daily experience being human.  Yet, for a trait so obvious and, to be honest, banal, I can’t help but notice how frequently we ignore it and allow our snap judgments be our guide.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

The real issue with the snap judgment isn’t that we make them, but that so often when we get a chance to recognize them for what they are and perhaps correct them, we instead stand firm and hunker down in our shortsighted opinions.

That chick was rude to you the first time you worked together?  Obviously a bitch.  So what do you do?  You treat her like a bitch every time you see her and, what do you know, she acts like a bitch to you from then on out.

It’s called a self-fulfilling prophecy and it is this common psychological phenomenon that is at the root of all stereotyping and prejudice.

The example I used earlier was minor and by no means an indication of that woman being prejudiced against men.  But it does illuminate the issue I’m referring to, which is our need to review every situation.  We don’t always have the time or mental capacity to give every person and every situation our full attention.  In order to take action, we have to form some sort of judgment, so we hastily form an opinion on the details that are most readily apparent.

There is nothing wrong with that, it’s an evolved survival technique that has obviously done our species a lot of good.  But it’s also done us a lot of harm, and the one great thing about our highly-developed minds is that we have the ability to rejigger an opinion after we’ve made it.  Unfortunately, we seldom do.


I am not a tourist.  Tourism is fun, it’s a way to briefly experience a lot of different areas, cities or countries in a short amount of time.  There are lifelong tourists who will experience ten times as many places as I will experience in my lifetime of travels, and I feel a pang of jealousy knowing that.

But there is only so much you can truly know as a tourist.  I’ve fully admitted that even in a year I don’t feel like I’ve ever had a definitive experience in a city, but when a tourist visits a city (for a day, for a week, maybe even a few months), they get an impression of the spot and then afterwards they are expected to tell their friends and family what that city is like.  It’s understood that this is just that one person’s experience, but it so often becomes the de facto experience of the city in those people’s minds, especially if there is no other opinion to serve as a counterpoint.

(Yelp, while helpful and usually insightful, is largely made up of tourist and one-time visit reviews.  From a customer service standpoint, I understand that “You only get one chance to make a first impression,” but one bad waiter or meal at a restaurant shouldn’t become the definitive review of any establishment.  I’ve been in the industry long enough to know that everybody has a bad day.)

How many times have you gone to a movie or a concert or on a trip with a friend, and when it was all done, they had a completely different opinion of the event than you did?  Granted, because they’re your friends, you probably tend to agree on most things but I’m sure disagreements happen from time to time.  Comparing multiple experiences, especially contrasting ones, is the best way to get a richer understanding of anything.

Arguments and Counterarguments

Most of us take our experiences and barricade ourselves behind them, seeking out the views and experiences of others only when they serve to reinforce our own.

When I wrote about the (weak) arguments against gay marriage in a previous post, I mentioned that if there is even one example of a gay couple raising a well-adjusted and successful child, it fatally wounds the assertion that gay couples can’t raise healthy children.  But some people still hold to that belief.

When we hear a counterargument to a longstanding belief or opinion, we very rarely try to process that new information and adapt our views.  Instead, we almost always rationalize away the dissenting view.  We all do it.  I do it.

When a view is a well-established and heavily supported fact or opinion, it’s fine to be intensely critical and skeptical of conflicting accounts.  For example, after a research team purportedly discovered neutrons traveling faster-than-light, a feat that is considered impossible and would undermine Einstein’s most famous theory and all the knowledge we’ve gained from it, the research understandably came under heavy scrutiny.  Even the original researchers were pretty sure they must have made a mistake somewhere (and it looks like they did).

But, when a view is nothing more than a snap judgment made because we didn’t have time to make a more thorough analysis, any contrasting view should be given equal footing.

The real danger of a snap judgment is that we’ve usually already fallen into self-fulfilling prophecy mode before we even take the chance to second guess the original judgment.  By the time we are in a place where we can question our initial evaluation, we’ve already self-selected, through our bias, examples that support our view.

Frankly, it seems like our entire political system is based on this sort of irrational conclusion-jumping.

As a species, we aren’t going to suddenly evolve out of snap judgments, but as rational beings, we can do our best to be aware of them.  Taking that extra ten seconds to contemplate a situation further could have momentous effects.

But, sometimes, the dude standing next to your girlfriends at the club really is just a Creep.