Letters

Letters 12-22-2014

Affordable Housing Alternatives In Scott Hardy’s opinion piece in the December 15 edition, he offered six concrete ideas to address the ongoing community discussion about increasing affordable in-town housing in Traverse City.

Powerful Homeless Event Homelessness is far more complex than we thought. “Everyone Has a Story—Sit and Share Our Bench” was a wondrous performance Sunday, December 7, that opened my eyes to a wide range of experiences with homelessness, bridging the gap between “us and them.”

Long-Lasting Effects of Measles I understand several cases of measles have occurred in Traverse City. I also became aware that in Michigan, persons are three times less likely to be immunized.

Changing The Electoral College Republicans are thinking about changing how Michigan allocates Electoral College votes. Michigan, like all but two states, gives all of its electoral votes to the statewide winner of the popular vote.

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Robert Downes

 
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Monday, January 21, 2008

Wrapping it up

Random Thoughts Robert Downes There’s not much left to tell: I spent a week kicking around Malaysia in the horrible heat and humidity, lounging on the beaches on the isle of Penang and enjoying hikes in the jungle with my monkey and butterfly friends. Then came the urban jungle of Singapore, alleged to be the “most boring city in the world.”
 
Monday, January 14, 2008

All Aboard

Random Thoughts Robert Downes Clickety-clack, down the track. If you ever go to Vietnam, the Reunification Express is a good way to see the country, running some 900 miles between Hanoi and Saigon.
The tracks were bombed to smithereens during the war, but were rebuilt with help from the Russians in the late ’70s. India donated some hand-me-down trains, some of which are still on the rails. Today, the train is packed with both western tourists and Vietnamese, poking along at around 40 mph.
 
Monday, January 7, 2008

Good Morning Vietnam

Random Thoughts Robert Downes A young soldier waves to me at the 1,000-year-old Temple of Literature in Hanoi and asks if he can have his photo taken with the funny looking Westerner wearing a cowboy hat. Hell yeah.
Soon, I’m posing with half a platoon of Vietnamese soldiers with our arms over each others’ shoulders in a grip & grin shot. They’re all smiling from ear-to-ear. It’s an eerie feeling, because a generation ago, these kids would have been mortal enemies of the gringo in their midst.
 
Monday, December 31, 2007

The Missing

Random Thoughts Robert Downes You hear American music everywhere you go in Asia, and see American films and TV. There’s a “Texas Hold ’Em” pinball machine in the restaurant at my hotel, and a McDonald’s right downstairs. But one thing I haven’t found are any living, breathing citizens of the United States.
There were mobs of us in Prague, back in the Czech Republic, but after that, it was as if the people from Tennessee, Texas, Alabama and Ohio all dropped off the map. I saw a tour bus of them in Egypt, with my countrymen hidden behind black windows and sheltered in the fortified Hilton on the Nile behind armed guards -- they might as well have been traveling in a Thermos. But I haven’t found any mingling with the hordes of Swedes, Germans, Russians, Finns, Spaniards, Aussies and New Zealanders that you find everywhere here in Backpacker Land. So far, I’ve met just two others: nurses Helen and Jason, who were on my tour in Egypt.
 
Thursday, December 27, 2007

Paradise lost & found

Random Thoughts Robert Downes If you go traveling around the world in search of paradise, you are likely to be sadly disappointed. Every time you see a beautiful beach or a waterfall in a travel brochure, all it means is that the photographer was able to sweep thousands of tourists out of the way long enough to grab a shot before they all came flooding back again. We travelers tend to love beautiful places to death.

Such was the case at Patong Beach on the island of Phuket in southern Thailand, where I’m continuing my slow journey around the planet. I had expected Patong to be a bustling place, but thought there would at least be some sandy lanes and secluded beaches to enjoy. Instead, there are thousands of shops and restaurants here, packed like a train wreck into a two-mile strip of beach, with tens of thousands of tourists from all over the world: Russia, England, Germany, Australia, India -- but again, no Americans that I’ve seen.
 
Thursday, December 20, 2007

Life on Planet Backpacker

Random Thoughts Robert Downes What could be finer than riding an elephant up a jungle trail under the cool green mountains of northern Thailand? The elephants stretch out in a long line down the trail, their ears flapping and bodies swaying in the sun. Far below, a river crashes in a wild torrent through a jungle canyon. And the palm trees along the trail explode with the green fire of the sun. I’m swept away by a vision beyond my wildest dreams.
It’s just another day on Planet Backpacker, and one of the best, I might add. They’re not all this good: sometimes you’re covered with mosquito bites, wondering if you’ll contract Dengue fever (aka: “bone-crushing fever”), or stuck for 16 hours in a dismal airport lounge. Or scrambling around after midnight in a strange town and an unfriendly neighborhood, looking for a place to crash.
But that’s the gig, and I’ve gotten to know the backpacking brotherhood (and sisterhood) quite well in the past three months on my way around the world. Life on Planet Backpacker is a world with its own customs, capitals and highways.
 
Thursday, December 13, 2007

The World‘s Biggest Birthday Party

Random Thoughts Robert Downes There’s something spooky about being jammed like jelly into a crowd of more than a million people. I decide that if all hell breaks loose, I’ll climb the nearest tree and wait for it to all blow over.
By dumb luck, I’ve arrived in
Bangkok, Thailand on the eve of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 80th birthday. The Thai people are nuts about the king -- even more so now that there was a military coup here last year and he represents a sense of stability. There are billboard-sized posters of his face all over town and arches over the main roads that are foiled in gold with his picture. The king is not exactly Mr. Charisma -- he’s a bookish-looking old man in gold-framed glasses -- but to the Thai people, he’s got more pizazz than a rock superstar.
 
Monday, December 3, 2007

Stranger in a Strange Land

Random Thoughts Robert Downes If any of you are weary of winter’s chill in Northern Michigan, I invite you to jump on a plane and join me on the beaches of Goa in southern India, where -- I must confess -- it’s a bit lonely going it alone under the pulsing sun.
After two-and-a-half months of constant travel on my way around the world, I’ve left my backpacking chums to roost for 12 days on the Indian Ocean as a respite from being constantly on the move.
The village of Calangute in the state of Goa is hardly the paradise it’s cracked up to be. I half expected to find 20 miles of high-rise hotels, similar to Cancun, but instead it’s much the same squalor and anarchy as the rest of India, with hotels, restaurants and shops (and hundreds of hustlers) packed into narrow lanes paralleling the beach.
 
Thursday, November 29, 2007

On the Road in India

Random Thoughts Robert Downes A fruit bat the size of a cocker spaniel wheels overhead in broad daylight and flaps off into a grove of coconut palms on lazy wings.
 
Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Faraway Land

Random Thoughts Robert Downes The women of India are like wildflowers, each one dressed in colors to make a garden blush.
Canary and tangerine salwar suits; saris in coral, turquoise and royal purple, ribboned with silver and gold or spangled with sequins. Colors of sapphire, topaz and electric red... Most women here dress to kill, dripping with heavy, intricate jewelry of silver and gold and often wearing the tikka powder spot on their foreheads which marks them as Hindus.
 
Thursday, November 15, 2007

On Holy Ground

Random Thoughts Robert Downes The last 750 steps up the Stairs of Repentance are straight up the crags of Mt. Sinai, but once at the top, you find yourself at one of the holiest spots on earth -- the place where God delivered the 10 Commandments to Moses.
It’s a 4.2 mile hike up the mountain which is the second highest in Egypt at more than 6,000 feet. There was no trail here when Moses made the climb thousands of years ago. You can imagine him clawing his way up through the loose rock on his hands and knees, searching for a way up through the cliffs. He must have been bleeding from head to foot and covered with flies by the time he reached the summit. But here, in a state of exhaustion and ecstasy, he spent 40 days and nights communing with God.
 
Thursday, November 8, 2007

Walk like an Egyptian

Random Thoughts Robert Downes With the full moon rising behind the ancient Temple of Luxor, I find myself in what was once the heart of Egypt, far down the Nile on a trip that is taking me around the world.
Arriving in Cairo a week ago put me into a state of culture shock. This is one of the world’s ‘supercities’ with a population of more than 20 million, and most of the people in Egypt are dirt poor. The city itself is the filthiest I’ve ever been in, owing to the fact that it only rains three or four times a year, so there’s nothing to wash away the grime. Then there’s the insane traffic, with no rules and few stoplights, and temperatures in the 90s. But I’m cheered to think that the grunge will prepare me for even scruffier places down the line.
 
Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Invaders

Random Thoughts Robert Downes Word has it that less than 20 years ago, the citizens of communist East Europe were still standing in line, waiting for potatoes and beets at truck depots. Maybe that was just Cold War propaganda, but it’s true that the museums here can’t seem to say enough bad things about the bad old days of life under communism.
Today, all that has changed. I walked out of the grungy, grimy train station in Krakow, Poland and through a tunnel into a huge three-story mall as big as the Grand Traverse Mall in TC. It had your typical mall babes walking around in the latest styles and many of the same stores found in the U.S. If it weren’t for the great Polish food and generous beer steins in the food court, you’d swear you were in Grand Rapids.
I’ve spent the past two weeks barnstorming around Central and East Europe on an extended trip around the world. Vienna, Austria. Prague in the Czech Republic. Krakow, Poland. And now, Budapest in Hungary. The streets of each town are filled with invaders -- foreign tourists from all around the world. In Prague, I heard more American voices downtown than those of the Czechs. East Europe is the new ‘in’ place to visit, owing to the (slightly) cheaper prices than France, Britain or Germany.
 
Thursday, October 18, 2007

Biking to Budapest

Random Thoughts Robert Downes Greetings from Prague, the “Capital of Cool” in Europe during the ‘90s. I’m happy to report that it’s still pretty cool with its cobblebrick streets, mammoth castle, clock towers, coffeehouses and cheap beer. Also, hordes of travelers from every land crowding its colorful streets.
After biking 225 miles down the Danube in Austria and bushwhacking various ‘bandit’ campsites along the river, I now have the benefit of regular showers and meals. The downside is losing the privacy of my soggy pup tent, which means sharing hostel rooms with up to seven strangers.
As mentioned in previous columns, I’m fulfilling a lifelong dream of traveling around the world -- close to the edge -- starting out with Europe on a bicycle. So far, I’ve biked up the lush coast of western Ireland and from sea-to-sea across England; then down Der Donau, as we call it in Austria -- about 700 miles.
 
Thursday, October 11, 2007

Dear Old Ireland

Random Thoughts Robert Downes Have you ever been to Moyvore? Not many people have. It‘s a tiny village in County Westmeath in the very center of Ireland. It‘s not on any tourist route -- there’s nothing much to do there. It’s an anonymous place of lumpy fields, populated mostly by sheep and cows.
Yet it is was from here in 1850 that my great, great (great?) grandfather, Michael Downes, emigrated to the United States. I am his 259th descendant.
If you have more than a dash of Irish blood in ye, chances are that someday you’ll travel to the Emerald Isle in search of your roots. The place is teeming with American visitors, packed into tour buses.
We Americans mob Ireland searching for clues to our past in the picturesque pubs, which are as lacquered and ornate as antique music boxes. We look hopefully to the heather, the occasional thatched-roof cottage, and the rocky walls of the old country, seeking signs of our roots. It’s an impulse we Irish-Americans have, similar to the need of every good Muslim to visit the holy city of Mecca at least once in a lifetime, or the quasi-expectation of every American parent to take their kids to Disneyworld.
 
 
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