Travels With Babakar

The Gulf Of Mexico

Day 1

Again I set off with my friend Babakar. The Headwhiz album is getting close to completion but once again a trip I had planned came up so this time I just went ahead and suggested Babakar go with me. As we’d had a blast last September I figured we might try it again. This time we were heading to the Gulf of Mexico on the Alabama coast. My Dad and step mom used to winter there and I had always loved the atmosphere. Very relaxed so when the city forced us to take furlough days I figured a spring vacation was in store. Its funny because if I had thought of it sooner I could have gone somewhere that Babakar might have wanted to go. Maybe next trip if he is still in the country. Again we had everything packed and ready to go the morning of the first day. Babakar stayed at the Mind Fry compound the night before. We wanted to get up early and hit the road and put a lot of asphalt underneath us the first day.

The drive the first day was long. Almost 8 hours and I did it all. Babakar offered to drive I declined. He mainly rode a horse when he had to get somewhere so I really didn’t want him driving. In fact because it was a rental car I was the only one allowed to drive. I had set this up this way intentionally. We stopped a lot. I think we only skipped one rest stop opportunity all day. We listened to a lot of music on the way down. Kentucky is a very pretty state to drive through. Lots of rocky hills and rolling roads. It was great because this time we’d gotten a rental car with a direct line to Lisa Sue back at the Mind Fry compound and she could tell us directly when to get on this road and what not so we didn’t even need a map, we had one, but we didn’t need one. Just good ol’ Linda Sue. Of course this meant not staying on the road all day because she needs her time off. She said she had to be at the office anyway getting the design together for the Headwhiz album and most of the trip, the first day, involved just I-71South. It was fun. Of course it was weird because she would type the information in and a voice came out all computer sounding, there was none of the normal gentle tones of her sweet sounding voice. As with the Badlands we started the trip with a Dylan compilation. Not sure why he sounds so good at the beginning of an adventure like this but he does. Amongst other artists were Billy Bragg, Deb Talon, Zakir Hussein and more. It was fun just driving along listening. The car had cruise control so that was cool.

Eventually we got to the Drury Inn in Bowling Green Kentucky and as we were approaching the exit for it we were being passed by about a dozen Corvettes (We had just passed the Corvette Museum a couple miles back.). They all pulled off and headed to the Drury so when we get to the inn there is a line 12 deep. We decided not to check in and we would go in search of some good small batch Kentucky bourbon. We find a store. It has a nice array of bourbons. I ask the guy for recommendations and he says with his Kentucky drawl and the vocal inflection of the voice behind the Wizard of Oz that about 4 he would recommend. I grab one and thank him. He hardly acknowledges me (the bastard...). I also buy a bottle opener as we have cold beer in the trunk. That is what I want more than anything is a cold beer after all this driving. The whiskey would be for later. So we drive back to the Drury and the line is gone and a young lady named China checks me in. She seems nice enough although I sense that she is only nice in the professional sense. Nice because its good for her job and the business. I didn’t necessarily sense she would be nice if you knew her in some other context. Babakar said he didn’t see that in her and asked me how I came to that conclusion. "I just know Babakar, I just know..." was all I could tell him. He would accept that although he still didn’t agree.

We got to the room and went about setting up shop. I plugged the computer in and he grabbed the ice bucket. Even though he drank way less than I did he always grabbed the ice bucket immediately. What a guy! I pulled out my guitar, we again both brought axes, strummed it gently and then put it down. At this point Babakar came in with the ice. I offered him a Blonde, that was the beer, an organic California Blonde Ale, and he accepted. I opened his first and then one for myself. The first pull on it was a long slow one and I listened to the sound of the beer being swallowed through he vibrations in my skull. It sounded like it was a quenching experience and indeed it was. We both smiled at each other understanding just how good that first taste was for each other, especially after the long drive.

"John, there is a slight problem I think with your plans to swim." Babakar said.

"What’s that?"

"Well I just walked by the pool and it is filled with lot’s of loud screaming children. It seems there is some type of boys softball tournament and many are staying here. "

"Hmmm.. Oh well, you’re right though I don’t want to swim now. We could jam quietly if you want.

"Actually I might read for a bit, feel free to play though I won’t be bothered."

But I didn’t play I sat at the computer for a while and then wrote in my journal. After a bit we both had a nip of the small batch and then went out in search of some food. The room had a nuke and a fridge. We walked up the road where there was a Kroger. We ended up getting some nuts and fruit, cheese, wine and some boneless teriyaki wings, those were for me (Babakar was wise in not eating then...). We returned to the room and the pool was still teeming with those vermin. Too bad it was just too crowded. Now if had been nubile babes in that concentration I would have indeed jumped in. Heh heh heh...

After we ate we had a little more whiskey when I noticed it was a 90 proof. "Better watch this stuff. I had done that one night with a single malt and the next day I noticed it was 94 proof and knew why my head fell like it was filled with dried cotton.

Day 2

We took our time leaving Bowling Green because the drive to Birmingham was only 4 hours. Babakar had gotten up early and gone for a walk while I slept off some of the small batch. By the time he got back it was time for breakfast and we went down to it together. There was a group of men older than either of us. From their loud talk it seemed they were here to golf. Alabama is known for the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail which I believe is a series of professional level golf courses (though we were in Kentucky... I assumed they were heading that way. They may have well been playing courses in Kentucky who knows???) . Not being a golfer I’m not up on that much. I leaned forward to Babakar and said quietly "You think by the volume that they were the only folks in the breakfast room or possibly the world" A small smile crossed Babakar’s face. Later when we were back at the room I asked him what he thought of them. He declined to comment merely saying he didn’t know them well enough.

"But you have to admit they were loud?"

"Yes this is true."

"I mean do you think the lady and her small boy sitting over I the corner really needed to hear what these guys were saying? It’s just their attitude. You get the impression that everyone around them gives them their way and so they just assume that everyone else, who doesn’t know them, will too. It’s arrogant."

"Perhaps."

So I worked on a story for a bit while Babakar played softly on his guitar. It was a nice combination. He was working on something I could tell. He kept playing one part over and over and then trying to make a change. Every now and then I could tell he had made a little advance in the composition because something slight would change and then as he kept playing it he always played it that way. It was interesting to observe. I wondered if I did the same thing when I worked on music. I probably did.

We finally left around 10:30. Once again I drove and Lisa Sue guided us with her electronic voice. The drive was uneventful. Again we stopped often to stretch and we even remembered to steal some plastic ware from the Drury so we could make peanut butter sandwiches. We got to Birmingham and went right to the Wingate hotel. We got our stuff in and set up and then it was off to Vulcan Park. This is where the largest Cast Iron statue in the world is. It’s the god Vulcan, god of fire and forge, and he stands on this great big tower that is about 6 stories high. We went to the top via the stairs. There is an elevator but the stairs were more intriguing and healthier too. I took photos as we ascended and then when we got to the top it was a little scary. There were girder type things that held the meshed surface you walked on. I tried to make sure where I stepped was over a girder. Babakar seemed less fearful of the heights. We stayed up there and there were some fine views of downtown Birmingham. Then we went down and went into the Vulcan museum. There was a section that included historical bits of the city to it wasn’t just about Vulcan, although there was a good bit of that. The section on the Civil Rights era in the city was very intriguing. After seeing that we decided to head down to that section of the city where the Civil Rights Institute was. Unfortunately it was closed by the time we got there. Missed it by minutes. So we hung out and went through a Freedom Walk around the Kelly Ingram Park. There were water cannons and some other sculpture. There was one metal sculpture of the infamous dogs that were used. As you walked through it 3 of them were lunging out at you. It was eerie. At one point a women came up asking for money but she was indecipherable. I kept asking what she was saying but the words were jumbled. She had no teeth and a crazy look in her eye. Finally Babakar said "She wants some money and took a 5 out and handed it to her. She smiled and sat back down on the bench she’d been sitting when we came by. Babakar was very quiet as we read the different placards and stood before the statue of Martin Luther King Jr. It was a moving experience. All the things that have gone on and all the hatred and pain that has been caused simply because of the color of peoples skin. It is stunning. The hate that could be caused by the ignorance of prejudice. It is stunning. Even today it still exists. I do get the impression that the kids today are less concerned with that type of thing. This is good. Perhaps in time prejudice will disappear. Eventually we left but we stayed there a long time. At one point Babakar just sat on a bench while I continued to read some of the placards and take a few pictures.

We finally left there and headed to get dinner. We passed by some trendy places but finally settled on a Carrabba’s. I’d only eaten at a Carrabba’s one other time when Dan and I were stuck in the Fort Meyers airport because the flight attendant had popped the escape ramp and we had to spend an extra night there trapped in a shopping area with no car. But that’s a story for another day. It was good. We sat at the bar and talked to the lovely bartender. She hardly seemed old enough to be serving alcohol. Thin with dark hair and eyes. A very pretty smile. "Babakar, I’m having impure thoughts" I whispered to him. He smiled and said nothing. The dinner was good enough but the wine was very good. We each drank a couple glasses of the Ravenswood. Then we went to the room and by that time it was going on 10 so we had a night cap and then crashed.

Day 3

We got out of Birmingham around 10. We could have waited but we both did what we needed to do in the morning in terms of reading, writing, playing etc and there was no reason not to leave. Today we would hit the gulf coast. This was the big enchilada. The reason for the trip. Actually the reason for the trip was just to get away. I could have gone almost anywhere at this point. Not going away wasn’t acceptable and this was something I had wanted to do for a while. Just come hang out on the Gulf. So we drove south and the drive was uneventful. As we moved farther south the landscape was being taken over by a lot of pine. There was still the bright green of the deciduous trees in the spring but the pine and evergreen were starting to dominate the landscape. I-65 is at this point a relatively boring route. Long ribbon of highway. As always we stopped a lot. South of Montgomery we even made peanut butter sandwiches and drank a cold beer. I know you aren’t suppose to but we wanted to and it tasted so dang good. Especially when we first stepped out of the car and the air was noticeably warmer and more humid. We were in the south. It felt like it for the first time on the trip. We had heard the southern drawl as far north as Kentucky but this was the first time it was warm... warm and humid. We sat by one of the picnic tables with our beers poured into our travel mugs for covertness sake and just chilled sipping the frothy goodness of this organic blonde ale. We also had Bass ale but today we wanted the organic.

So we finished our beers and continued on our way. Things went well and soon we were getting off I-65 and heading south on the Gulf Shores Parkway. (Alabama route 59, I think). Boy did that sound good. We dropped the windows all the way cranked up some music (Midnight Oil- Diesel and Dust if I recall correctly) and were getting there. The sense of the oceans nearness was palpable. Then there was trouble. Linda Sue’s directions were erroneous. We knew when we set off there could be problems because the Loop road the hotel was on wasn’t yet registered into the data base Lisa Sue was using to guide us. She told us to take a right on Collegiate Avenue but there was no road. Then she says to take another right which takes us right in front of the Orange Beach Police Headquarters, us with our beer stained travel mugs. Finally I told Linda Sue to shut up and quit saying anything. ( I realized later that I had been rude.) I used my human instinct and pretty soon we were on Perdido Beach Blvd. I stopped at a light and notice the Winn Dixie that we had used when visiting my father and step mother. Lo and behold the Fairfield is right next to it. I take a right and tell Lisa Sue that we are here and we both thank her for her constant guidance. We would contact her for the return trip. I went in and checked into the room and Babakar and I started carrying things up. The room had a fridge which I could have paid extra for so that was good because we didn’t. I would need to get more beer... we only had 3 left. It was about 3:30. We sat and rested for a bit. We both opened a beer. Babakar had the last Bass while I drank organic. He played guitar gently as we enjoyed our beers. My hands were tired from grabbing the wheel so I didn’t feel like playing. I decided to take a walk to the beach. Babakar said he would stay there for a bit. I grabbed a coffee from the lobby and took it with me. There was an access boardwalk just across the road from the Winn Dixie shopping center. I walked and as I got to the end of the walk the beach opened up and there it was the Gulf Of Mexico. I had arrived. It was gorgeous. It was rather calm. The waves hitting the shore were very small . There were a lot of plovers and other fast moving long beaked type birds running amongst the water that was coming inn. I just stood and took it all in. Then I started to walk down the beach. There was a great Blue Heron standing on the beach about 30 feet ahead. Now the Herons in Cleveland take off well before you get that close but this one just stood there. As I was within 10 feet of him his mouth opened and he wiggled his tongue at my (much like the Canadian Geese will do up north), but I kept walking and he didn’t budge. I should have attacked him and snapped his neck just to teach to never trust a human, but I didn’t. After walking a ways down the beach I decided to turn back. About ½ way I ran into Babakar. We stopped and chatted for a bit.

"I thought I might find you." He said and he handed me my travel mug. It had cold beer in it.

"Dude, you rock. Didn’t you want the last one?"

"No I’ve had enough beer for the time being. We can get more at the Winn Dixie. I’m going to keep walking for a bit. I will see you back at the room John." he said and of course that meant he felt like walking alone. I can’t say I blame him although at this point I certainly would have joined him.

After he returned we went and got dinner. We were tired at that point and it was late so we settled for what was within walking distance. Hazels. Don’t eat at Hazel’s. It wasn’t very good. I had the shrimp etouffle and while I ate it, it gave me no pleasure. Babakar went for the seafood buffet. He said it was alright. Now Babakar doesn’t like to say bad stuff about people or things so a rating of ‘ok’ from him is tantamount to "this is crap" from me. So we went back to the room and had a night cap. At that point I fell asleep while watching tv. Babakar had gone out to get some of the night air into his system. I’m not sure when he got back. But he turned the TV off and the next thing I knew I was awake and it was still dark out.

Day 4

I looked out the window and sunrise didn’t seem imminent. I wanted to get up and see if I could catch the sunrise on camera. I got up and went to the lobby and poured a couple cups of coffee, they had that there 24 hours. It was old but it had caffeine in it and it meant not having to risk waking Babakar making that tolerable but not preferred ‘pod’ coffee in the room. I drank 3 cups while sitting in the lobby looking out on the lake that was behind the hotel. Feeling energized I walked over to the beach. The same heron was standing in the same spot. I am assuming it was the same although I really have no idea. I walked out to the area where I would be as close to the water as I could without risking getting my pants wet (I’d worn long pants because it was cool this early.) I looked to the east and there it was. SOL! Rising just above the horizon so I was seeing a good 85% of the disk the rest was blocked by the clouds. It was kind of overcast but right at the horizon there were no clouds so this wonderful glowing orange disk would appear and then disappear into the clouds it was rising behind. It was a beautiful site. It was a powerful sight. I snapped off several pictures and then concentrated on the small plovers that were zipping here and there sticking their long beaks into the ground like a hypodermic and then zipping off to do the same somewhere else. They were awesome to watch. Then I noticed out in the water a dolphin. I had never seen dolphins live in the wild and here one just jumped out of the water. I grabbed my camera and set it on video and started to watch and shoot. There were many of them. At one point I could distinguish at least 8 different dolphins. For the most part I would just see their dorsal fins roll out of the water and then disappear. None dove like the one that caught my attention. But still it was very cool to see. I stood there a long time watching them when I felt a presence. Sure enough I turn and its Babakar.

"Dude, you’re up."

"Yes once the sun started to lighten things up I usually wake up. Here." and he handed me a cup of coffee."

"Dude you rock, thanks. Look there are dolphins out there. You can see their fins roll out of the water every now and then." I said.

"Over there, 2 side by side, they are in love." Babakar speculated.

Then one of the dolphins started to jump out of the water and move towards the shore where we were standing. I was afraid he was going to beach himself when suddenly I heard Babakar say

"Oh my goodness, my friend, my friend." And the dolphin came close to the shore and projected out of the water like Flipper used to do on the tv show. That was when Babakar ripped off his shirt and went running into the water.

"Babakar, what are you doing?" I yelled but he was laughing and then diving into the water. He grabbed the dolphin and they rolled around a bit in the water with the dolphin nudging him and pushing him out of the water. I heard Babakar let out a release of laughter as his body was flipped up out of the water only to go splashing into it again. Finally after minutes of this interaction between he and the dolphin he stood up with the water about waste high and yelled to me.

"Don’t be alarmed. We know each other. I met him years ago on the Senegal River when I was down in Banjul. I am just surprised to see him on this side of the Atlantic." Then he dove back in and amidst the splashing I could have sworn I heard Babakar making dolphin sounds. It was like he could talk to the dolphin. He motioned for me to dive in. I was feeling rather odd but I peeled my shirt off and dove in, long pants and all. I swam out to where the 2 were in the water.

"John, meet my dolphin friend and then he said to the dolphin "this is my good friend John. We make music together. The dolphin nodded his head up and down like he understood."

"So Babakar, while nothing about you surprises me any more but, were you actually talking ‘dolphin’ to him?"

"Yes. He also understands English but cannot speak it. To be honest I am not very fluent in his language either. A lot of what I was saying was the equivalent of whoopee, yahoo and what not. We are just happy to see each other again."

"Ok then..., that is pretty fascinating, ya know?"

"I know John, do not be alarmed or freaked out."

So we stayed in the water for a while and eventually I was getting cold. I decide to leave and let them to get reacquainted. I returned to the hotel and showered and shaved and then fell asleep for bit.

When I woke Babakar still hadn’t come back so I called up a bike rental place and got a bike. They would deliver it to the hotel. I knew Babakar wasn’t interested in riding so I didn’t bother getting one for him. When the bike arrived I went to the front of the hotel to meet the guy delivering it and Babakar was walking in. "You weren’t interested in joining me were you?" I asked just to make sure.

"No I think I’m going to go write for a bit." He said and smiled. Despite the smile there was something sad in his demeanor. So it seemed to me. It briefly concerned me but being the self centered bastard that I am I pushed that thought aside and turned to thinking about my bike ride. I made the arrangements with the bike guy to pick the bike up the next day after 3. It turns out the bike guy went to school at Kent State. He was telling me how they used to drive up from Kent to Cleveland and watch Jim Brown play football for the Browns. Small world. Then I got on and took off riding. It was a big 3 speed with big round tires with big whitewalls on them and it had coaster brakes. This was probably the most difficult thing to get used to. I was used hand brakes normally so every time, initially anyway, I quit pedaling I would actually start braking. This was something I eventually figured out. I started off along Perdido Beach Blvd. for a while and then saw the entrance to Gulf Shores State Park and turned in there. It was wonderful. The clouds were a bit overcast so I wasn’t even sweating all that much. It was the south but it was early enough in the year where the humidity hadn’t kicked up too much yet plus there was the ocean breeze. I had a map of the parks bike paths the bike guy had given me. And I set out to ride all of them. It was magnificent. Here I was riding through this great park with the Spanish moss hanging from the trees and the different plants and birds that were here as opposed to what I was used to in the midwest. I have to say seeing this big old tree with gobs and gobs of Spanish moss just dripping off it was a sight. I had to stop and just stare for a bit. One other thing I saw, and I saw it a little too close for my comfort, was a gator. I was riding along and 2 women on bikes approached me and as they passed one said "There’s a Gator on the path by the bridge." I said "Thanks" and when they were out of sight I hit the brakes I progressed slowly. As I approached the bridge I didn’t see a gator on the path, which would have been obvious I was thinking. So it must have moved off. Now my heart really started to pound. I wasn’t sure if gator’s blended in so they could come out of no where and eat me or if they stood out so you couldn’t miss them. I wasn’t sure how leery you should be of them. Was it like a skunk in Ohio where you just let it know you are there and don’t startle it and it won’t bother you or do you avoid them at all costs. I inched forward getting ready to shove the bike at the gator and take off running. Then as I was almost to the bridge I saw it. It was off to the left down below the bridges railing. It probably couldn’t get me quickly from there so I got on the bike and rode across the bridge. As I did this it opened its mouth and made a gator noise. I kept pedaling looking over my shoulder. I stopped once I was out of the gator area and looked a the map. The path looked like it went out to Perdido Beach Blvd. So I figured I would do that and then ride out of the park and then back to the inn. But the map was wrong. The path ended and it became so sandy that I couldn’t ride through it. I had to go back, which meant going past the gator again. I’d had enough of having the crap scared out of me and really didn’t want to do this but I had no choice. So I started to pedal back with much trepidation. Then after about 5 minutes luck smiled upon me. The bike path crossed a service road that took you out to Perdido Beach Blvd. So, whether I was suppose to ride there or not I was doing it. I got out to Perdido Beach Blvd. And headed east towards the inn. When I got back Babakar was napping. I sat and wrote in my journal when I noticed a gator sunning himself on the shore of the lake behind the inn. I grabbed my camera and ran down the steps, jumped on the bike and rode over there to get some pictures. From this distance I didn’t feel it was dangerous. By the time I got over there the gator was back in the water but I still got a few shots of his head moving through he water. Just like the Tarzan movies or something. When I got back on the bike it felt good riding so I headed east on the boulevard towards the Perdido Bay bridge and rode across that. I stopped on top of the bridge and just gazed north at the bay. It was a great view from up there, except they had chain link fencing up, probably to dissuade suicidal types from jumping. Then I kept riding and soon was coasting at a fast pace on the down side of the bridge. I rode this way for about a half an hour. I had a back wind which meant riding into it on the way back. I didn’t care. I felt magnificent. Eventually I turned around and faced the head wind and just took my time. When I got back I took the bike up into the room as I was pretty sure I wouldn’t use it again today. Babakar was up when I came in with a guitar in his hand.

"It was nice meeting your friend Babakar. Kind of amazing ya know." I said. The whole time I had been riding this was something that was on my mind.

"It is, I am lucky he trusts me."

"He didn’t care that you told me." I asked.

"No he trust me, he knows I wouldn’t tell the wrong people."

I smiled, I was glad I fell in the category of trustworthy folks and said "Ya up for some seafood?"

"Yes. I have much hunger." he said. He seemed happier than when he’d come back from the beach earlier.

"Well lets get some place better than Hazels. That sucked." I said.

After a cocktail in the room of the small batch we decided on a place call Big Fish based on the opinion of the women at the front desk. It was a short drive from the inn up on Canal Rd. It had outside seating which we opted for. We were seated by a lovely women with curly blonde locks and what I thought was a German accent. We both had the catch of the day which was Halibut. I had mine blackened while Babakar had his grilled. It was excellent. We split a bottle of Pinot Noir and had a long enjoyable meal. Of course the conversation turned to his dolphin friend who I still was amazed by. He told me much. It turns out he met him originally while vacationing n Banjul the capitol of The Gambia. He was staying at a hotel right on the Senegal River and while swimming the dolphin approached. He understood English. He had acquired that ability when he was a captive dolphin. He managed to escape and was always very fearful of humans. He held no malice towards them because he felt they were not as bright and didn’t feel you couldn’t hate someone because they are stupid. But he sensed something was different about Babakar and approached him. As Babakar spoke to him he noticed that the dolphin seemed to genuinely understand him. He started to ask him questions of a yes/no type and the dolphin would nod yes or shake his head from side to side. Eventually he had taught Babakar some rudimentary dolphin. They have been friends ever since. He often goes to Banjul and runs into him. He has even run into him at the mouth of the Senegal river up near Saint Louis in the north of Senegal. He said he never knew that he traveled this far from the African coast. He said he was with a female companion and some other friends of his. They were not real happy that he had been so blatant in approaching me. But they also knew that along this coast the people on the land are pretty passive and non-threatening. By the time we finished the last drop of wine it was well after sunset so we returned to the hotel and had a night cap and then crashed. It had been a long wonderful and amazing day. I would not have a day like this again for some time, if ever, I was thinking as I drifted off to sleep.

Day 5

So of course the next morning I woke first. I went to the lobby and got a coffee and went on line to check out rooms for the return trip. I figured I might as well do this. Babakar would be up soon enough. I found rooms in Decatur, Alabama and then the last night would be in Cincinnati. As I printed out the itinerary Babakar appeared. We went over to the breakfast area and got our food and a table near the window.

"Do you think we will see him again today?" I asked as we sat down to some coffee and bagels.

"He was with a lady friend so perhaps not. It would be good to see him but if not I will see him back in Senegal at some point. We went to the shore and were wandering along the beach with the waves being very calm and the sea not quite glass but surprisingly still. It was about as still as I had ever seen it in my few experiences here on the gulf. I, of course, was wading ever deeper. Soon my shorts were completely soaked. The water was still kind of cold so I wasn’t really planning on doing a full immersion. Then I noticed a look come across Babakar’s face as he watched me from the shore. It was fear and horror. I felt something bump awkwardly and it spun me around because it was big. That was when I saw the dorsal fin. SHARK! It turned and came back at me. I managed to move out of the way although part of my arm was bleeding so a tooth or something must have slashed me. At this point I felt no pain plus it had pushed me into deeper water. The fear was almost paralyzing but I knew I’d be doomed if this path were taken. It was about then that Babakar came running into the water. It’s the first time I’d ever seen him swim. He cut gracefully through the water and soon was approaching shark. He was also making some of the dolphin noises from the previous day. The shark was about to strike me when Babakar hit it on the nose and then simultaneously hit both its eyes. He stunned it briefly and this gave us an opportunity to move towards the shore. At that moment suddenly the water was alive. All around us were dolphins and they were all attacking the shark. The shark knew he was outnumbered and made a fast getaway. Babakar’s dolphin friend came over and his nose rose out of the water. I thanked him and he nodded his head up and down. Then Babakar came over and said "This one (pointing to his friend) taught me the maneuver hitting the nose and the eyes.. Without that we both might be dead." I was stunned in silence. This was all so much to take in. Here I am alive because of some dolphins and what one of those dolphins taught my friend. With that Babakar’s dolphin friend rose out of the water and turned towards his lady friend who had also helped deal with the shark. They swam off quickly joining the rest who swimming away. Babakar and I just looked at each other briefly. I shook my head and smiled. Nothing else could be said. At this point there was a fair group of people who saw everything. I turned to them and not knowing what else to do I raised my hand and waved. At that the two of us walked away down the boardwalk that led to the crosswalk on the way back to the inn. It was getting near eleven a.m. I could only lay down at that point. The slash on my upper arm was nothing that needed tending. I was lucky. Eventually someone from the ADNR or something like that, perhaps they were with the State Park system, anyway they came and asked us a bunch of questions. It seems no one noticed that we were actually communicating with the dolphins. Apparently no one heard Babakar speaking dolphin, or perhaps they just assumed dolphin sounds come from dolphins. Either way they never asked us about any of that. They just wanted a run down of what happened. We conveniently left out the part about being able to communicate with dolphins. It had been a very strange 2 days. Now I sat up after napping and Babakar was gone. "Probably went for a walk." I thought. Indeed I sat playing the guitar for a bit when he came in. He seemed depressed. "What’s up dude, you don’t seem so bright in the eyes?"

"Oh perhaps its just been a long day. This is vacation remember we aren’t supposed to have to deal with this stress."

"Yeah, who’d a thunk a shark would come here?"

"Seeing my friend also hit me." Babakar said.

"Yeah..." I said.

"Oh it’s been so long since I’ve been home. He reminded me of home and then I thought of Amadou and all my friends. Perhaps I am homesick."

"If you need to we could put the album on hold so you could go back to Senegal." I suggested. I don’t think I’d ever seen Babakar longing for home so much.

No, we need to do this. I need to do this. The members have worked so hard getting these pieces together I must get this done. To go home with it unfinished would taint my return and leave a bitter taste in my mouth. We will finish it."

"It’s a good album Babakar. Those mixes we brought with us were cool. It’s not done but it is getting close.

"This is true. It is getting close."

"Will you see you dolphin friend again, What’s his name anyway, you never told me that."

"They don’t go by names. They just are."

"How do they call each other like ‘yo Babakar, wanna beer or fish or whatever" I asked.

"I’m not sure. But their intelligence level allows them to perceive more out of an audible communicative sound than people are able to. That’s the best explanation I can give. I’ve not mastered their language by any means."

"You speak Dolphin, my pal here speaks Dolphin."

"Are you hungry, John?" he asked me.

"I could eat. I think my nerves and head have sufficiently calmed down that food would be a good thing. Some booze would be cool too."

"A glass of Malbec would be good if it were available." So after some discussion we went back to Big Fish. It had been so good why risk another Hazels. We were again seated by the lovely blonde women with the German accent. I would have married her right then and there just because she was so cute and I am a dirty old man. I ordered scallops while Babakar had the catch of the day which was grouper. His looked better than mine and mine was really good. Just not enough. It looked nice on the plate though so that’s important. I started with a Manhattan while Babakar got his Malbec. We toasted his dolphin friend sipped our drinks. When the meal was brought I asked for a glass of Pinot Noir and we ate in silence for a bit. Then Babakar spoke

"I’m sorry John for laying my problems on you. It’s not fair to you."

"Dude, it’s what friends are for, and you know that. Believe me when my heads a mess if you’re around you are going to hear about it." With that Babakar smiled as he looked down at his fish and continued eating

Day 6

So we got up early and tried to get off rather quickly. We’d been taking our time for the most part after the first day. Now that didn’t keep us from walking down the beach one more time. We both had woken before the sunrise so we went out just as it was coming up. It was much like the first morning except there were no clouds this time, but it was big and red and orange and fiery. The ocean was again calm. Just a soft slapping of the shore by the waves. We walked in silence. I could tell Babakar was hoping to see his friend one more time. It wasn’t to be. They had left the area he was fairly certain. All the commotion probably made his friends concerned that someone might come to capture and study them. Just to make sure he went out and slapped the water surface with the flat of his hand several times. Nothing. So we decided to go back to the inn and pack and get going. We were both tired and I was starting to feel a certain longing for home too. My cat Erin, while being well tended to, misses me and I her. I know that seems odd, a cat and a 50 year old fart being pals. But its true. Anyway we drove to Decatur, Alabama. The drive was pretty uneventful. We stopped often just to stretch or use the restrooms. We got to the La Quinta in Decatur and checked in. It was the first kind of icky hotel we stayed in. I’ve been in worse (

"Indeed, I still think it was you they loved"

"No I think it was you with your rock star long hair. You are an obvious heart throb John."

"Yeah right, me and Mickey Rourke!" I said.

This made us both crack up laughing as we went inside. Dinner was adequate, nothing fantastic but we figured that going in. We were tired and just needed some food. Babakar had the Cajun pasta while I had a chicken sandwich of some sort. I wasn’t that hungry. We’d also nibbled on bleu cheese stuffed olives and some hummus we had in the cooler while having our cocktails back at the room. After we went back to the room and it was fairly quiet. Babakar went out for his nightly constitutional and I turned on the Cav’s game only to see them lose their first game of the playoffs to the Bulls. They held tough to the end but they lost. I suppose someone had to. Why is it such a terrible thing? They won’t lose the series. Maybe this will give them a wake up call. Perhaps they need to know they can lose. I think this is the year and that Cleveland will finally bask in the glory of a professional sports championship. (NOTE: Of course I now realize how wrong I was and that LeBum may be a monumental choker...) I’m not sure why that is so important. They’re just a company. They don’t really care for any of their audience other than their wallets. There is no need for allegiance to a company. I mean who roots for Home Depot, or Wal-Mart or K-Mart or BP or well you get the idea. I don’t. I lost interest in pro sports when the Browns left and then they took advantage of all that loyalty and made us buy them a stadium and then pay for the right to buy tickets. It’s pretty screwed up the way that all went down. Anyway for the most part it was a day we both existed and now it had come to an end. Babakar got back to see the last 2 minutes of the game. Then I tipped back a glass of the small batch and went to sleep. Babakar turned the TV off but stayed up reading. The next day we hoped to get to the Queen City. Cincinnati.

Day 7

So we got up and had breakfast. This La Quinta’s breakfast was about as bad as they come. They only had cinnamon raison bagels which I’m not real fond of so I had a bowel of Cheerio’s, juice and coffee. The coffee was lame. It tasted like Burger King coffee which is really bad coffee. I did manage to take a couple of banana’s to eat in the car. We both like bananas and they are easy to eat while driving. We loaded the car and made sure the important things were packed like electronics, guitars, journals, the things that can’t be replaced and then we were off. North. We entered into Tennessee and for some reason it seemed more beautiful than when we came through it heading south.

"Perhaps it is the time of the day. We are earlier so the light is hitting the landscape at a different angle." Babakar suggested. It could be. We seemed to be floating on the top of the world which we were in the sense that we were at the highest point at that point of the earth but by that logic walking across Death Valley was also walking on top of the world at that point. Still we were up although I am not sure how high of an elevation we were at. There were times where they had to cut into the earth to make way for the road which left sheer walls of sedimentary rock exposed. We drove on enjoying the view then Babakar put in a CD by a dude named Damien Dempsey. Irish songwriter. Good album. It’s called "To Hell or Barbados". This kept our conversation to a minimum. We as a rule would stop whenever a rest stop came up and about 5 songs in there was one but we were enjoying the music and didn’t want to stop. Then the sign came that said the next stop was 82 miles. Could we hold our coffee laden bladders that long? Probably not, the music would have to be paused for a spell. I pulled the car over and parked. We got out and stretched. It was a good long slow stretch and it felt excellent. It probably meant that it was a good thing we stopped. Babakar headed in to the loo and I followed. As I walked in and I could hear a guy throwing up in one of the stalls. A boy outside of the stall was saying "Dad, are you OK?" And the guy would vomit and tell the kid to "go the fuck outside, Jimmy." Jimmy didn’t. He seemed worried about his father. When I got outside Babakar was standing looking at a map of Tennessee. I went up to him.

"That was pretty curious, Babakar?"

"What’s that?" He asked. He had used the left side of the mens room which was a totally separate room so he’d not seen Jimmy and his vomiting, swearing Dad. I told him what I had observed and he just shook his head. You could hear the man vomiting even out in the lobby area. We returned to the car and hit the road and it was Damien Dempsey right where we’d left him. We passed Nashville and then Louisville and soon we were approaching the Queen City. That was when traffic came to a dead halt. Up ahead nothing was moving. We sat. We sat. We sat some more. Then having done that we sat some more. Few things drive me crazier than being in a car and not moving. It didn’t seem to bother Babakar much. He got out and got the binoculars out of the trunk to look ahead but couldn’t see the cause of the back up. It was beyond the bend in the road. Couldn’t even see any flashing lights. He got back in and told me this and I looked around. Going the other way was Exit 72 so I looked this up on a map and pulled over half on the grass and half on the berm and passed about 8 cars which got me to the emergency turnaround. I gunned the car and shot out cutting across 3 lanes and exited at exit 72. From there Linda Sue guided us through some rather beautiful country with lots of up and down roads and cliffs with no guard rail. Very nice. I think it was route 42 and it paralleled I-71. We actually could have taken this all the way to Cleveland. It turns into Pearl Road at some point. Eventually we were driving through suburban type areas. This was slow and dull. Then we got to a point where 42 and I-71 intersected and it was moving again so we jumped back on the freeway only to have been delayed enough to time it so now we are contending with Cincy rush hour on a Friday night. Poop! Another delay.

Well we eventually got to the Comfort Inn. We had planned on going to check out a coffee shop called the Roh Street Caf

"We can hope!" for that was a really good place. Maybe it was just that the 2 times I’d been there I was primed for food and drink. Still it stands out as one of the best Mexican joints I’ve eaten at anywhere! As it turned out it this place was quite good. Not sure if it rivals Norfolk but very tasty. We filled up. I had a carne asada thingy with rice and beans and 3 tortilla’s that I’d wrap as much of the other things up in and eat it. That plus a good house Cabernet. Although the waiter initially brought a glass of Chablis...the imbecile, I smacked the glass off the table spilling the wine and yelled "Get this out of my sight and bring me what I asked for. You fool!"... OK I didn’t really do that. I wouldn’t embarrass Babakar by doing something like that. In fact I wouldn’t embarrass myself doing that either. We returned to the room and I was going to go for a walk and smoke my last cigar. I’d brought 2 cigars. The first I’d smoked on the beach the second would be smoked in the suburbs of Cincinnati strolling though the parking lots of a strip mall. Babakar said he was going to play some and might join me if he can find me later. I went and walked back over to the shopping area we’d been in previously. I couldn’t go into any of the stores because of the cigar but it allowed me to wander out in the middle of the parking area and get a great view of the sky. It was something I had learned years ago, when I lived in a seminary, about malls and shopping centers. Because they are so big and flat a large swath of sky gets opened up to viewing. So I stood in the middle of this parking lot and watched the remains of the sunlight fade. Tomorrow we would be home. I was ready. This had been a good trip but I am, deep down, a homebody. I like my familiarity. I know how to deal with it. Although I have also found that after a week on the road it takes a bit of doing to get back into the old swing of things. All in all these are worthwhile endeavors. To see the world it all its wonders is worth the effort. I can think of no time where I have regretted it. Senegal, Ireland, Mexico, the Gulf of Mexico, the southwestern desert. Even last years hotel in Tucson didn’t make me regret the trip as a whole. The Chiricahua National Monument alone was worth that trip. But I do miss my routine also. Also, as I mentioned... I miss my cat.

Day 8

The next day came. It was the last leg of the journey. It would also be the shortest one. I had laid out the plan so we could get back into Cleveland with plenty of time to return the car to Hertz and get across town via public transportation. I was hoping P.V. would be available but I knew ahead of time he might have gone out of town. We left by 8. We got a decent breakfast. There was even biscuits and gravy which Babakar had but I stuck to cereal and a bagel with cream cheese. Of course we both drank coffee. I also snagged a couple apples for the ride. We ended up not eating them but they didn’t go to waste. I took them to work in the following week and used them to augment my lunches. So after breakfast we loaded the car and were on the road, as I said, before 8. It was raining and overcast and very, very Ohio, very, very Cleveland even. We drove in silence, each carrying a travel mug of coffee we’d taken from the Comfort Inn before leaving. The drive, as we had a hotel on the northeast side of Cincy, was only going to be about three and a half hours. It was relatively uneventful and we listened to a couple more CD’s as we drove... Serena Postel and Shakti. Quite a contrast, the former was an independent singer-songwriter out of Winnipeg while the other was a Indian/Jazz fusion band with Zakir Hussein and John McLaughlin in it. We both loved all of these artists. In fact Serena had used a quote of Babakar’s from her CD Baby page on her own website. He was happy about that. "You know John, I really find her album a joy to listen to. I’m so glad you introduced me to this women’s songs."

"Not a problem, dude, not a problem. You have certainly turned me on to a lot of great stuff." It was true. It was indeed about the only way I ever heard new stuff was through friends. We didn’t stop at every rest stop, only when one or both of us actually had to use the restroom. I sensed that both of us wanted to be back in Cleveland and even once we got there I still had to get Babakar out to his place in Amish country and we still had to return the car. If PV were available that was going to be a big help otherwise I might not get home until 8 or 9 that evening. As it turned out we were back at the Mind Fry complex by eleven in the morning and PV was able to follow me to the rental car return. Babakar stayed at the MF complex while PV and I returned the car. When I got home Babakar and I had a cup of tea that he had prepared but then it was time to take him back to the cottage J. Kinslow had rented out east in Amish country. That took about 2 hours as when we got there Babakar invited me in for a glass of Calvados (a type of French brandy made from apples instead of grapes). We sat and sipped the Calvados and talked about the trip. It had been more than we’d bargained for with the introduction of his dolphin friend and the shark attack. "Still, I am glad that you allowed me to come. It was a fine adventure and while seeing my dolphin friend makes me long for home it was good to see him and I am glad that you know him now. Plus it has given me renewed resolve to finish up the album. You know I really loved crossing over Perdido Bay one time when I had gone out for my nightly walk. It was a distance but that evening I felt really strong and just kept walking. I am not sure how far I walked. But it seemed to draw me to it. I walked out on to the bridge and stopped and pressed my face against the chain linked fence and stared north at the bay. There was still some light in the sky but it was fading. I felt so good at that moment. Having seen my dolphin friend and being on this sojourn with you. It was good

"I have to admit Babakar, I have always loved the sound of the word Perdido. Ever since the first time I came down here to visit my Dad and step mom. There was something in the tone of the word ‘Perdido’ ya know what I mean?" I said, and I truly meant that. There was something poetic in the sound of the word. "I had no idea it meant ‘Lost’ though. I probably should call my next album Perdido also. I always feel lost in this world. It would almost seem stupid to state the obvious in my case." I said trying to be self deprecating while hitting the nail squarely on the head, although I never got the impression that Babakar too felt that way. He always seemed so grounded. An anchor. We are all human I suppose.

"We shall see. Perhaps I will run it by Samba or Barney or some of the Consort members. We shall see.." With that it seemed it was time to go. The glasses were empty and we seemed to come to that point where we should part. I stood up and grabbed my jean jacket. "Take it easy Babakar and thanks again for traveling with me. There will always be times where I travel alone but I am sure there is at least one more trip together for us, and probably more, that is if you’re interested."

"John, the pleasure is all mine and sojourns like this are always welcome from my perspective. Remember it was a grand sojourn you took back in 1990 that allowed us to meet. For that I am forever grateful to your brother. It was a good thing indeed. Have a safe drive back to Cleveland." With that I got back into my ‘97 Honda Civic and headed safely back to Cleveland.

The End

 

 

Postscript: While we were in Alabama the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank. At the time we had heard about it but as we were not paying much attention to the news and that sort of thing we didn’t think much of it. Since then British Petroleum has been trying unsuccessfully to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf. Tar balls have washed up on the very beaches we enjoyed. It is a sad thing. They say they may not be able to completely stop it until August. Babakar speculates his dolphin friend may have left for that very reason. But it is just speculation...