Dec 2014

Blog, North America

DISCUSSION 17 Comments

Dixon’s Isle


Way back in the far off distant beginning, I wrote about the day that I quit my job. After I had broken the news that I would be leaving to the CEO of my company, he invited me to lunch and did his best to convince me not to go, and in the end suggested I see a shrink. For the sake of simplicity, in that story I opted not to mention that the company’s former CEO was also at lunch with us that day. Thus, it was both the former and current CEOs teaming up to try to convince me not to quit my perfectly good job to move into my van and drive around the world. But something funny happened at lunch that day.

Throughout our meal at the Himalayan Grill, the new CEO, Scott, was unable to wrap his head around my logic. He would clasp his head in his hands, be silent for a few moments, and then repeat the same exasperated questions.

“You’re moving into your VAN? You’re quitting your job to MOVE INTO A VAN?”

Throughout the conversation he had other win-win ideas that seemed more logical.

“Here’s what you should do,” he said, as if he had finally solved the problem. “You want to drive your van around the world, right? And it’s a hunk of garbage on wheels, right? Right. So look, just go home. When you get there, completely disassemble your van, what do you call it? Nacho? Disassemble Nacho down to the last nut and bolt and spread it out on the floor of your garage, right? Then reassemble it all. That should be very frustrating, and it will take care of your dreams of mechanical conquest. Next, take three months off, buy a bunch of plane tickets, and fly to every place in the world that you ever wanted to visit. Then come back and get back to work. Right? Can you do that instead?”

As Scott went through his suggestions, interspersed with clasping his head in his hands and laughing hysterically, I could see the former CEO, Dixon, sitting back, not saying much, with a hint of a smile on his face. Something was going on in there. Finally, right after he suggested that I see a shrink, Scott sat back in his chair and threw his hands up and said, “What do you think, Dixon? You’ve been awful quiet!”

At this, Dixon leaned forward, his gray mustache curved into a comforting smile. He looked at Scott, and then he looked at me.

“I get it,” he said. “I think he should go.” He leaned back, smiling, and then continued. “When I was about your age I wanted to travel, too. Of course we didn’t have the money, so I got together with some friends and we wrote a proposal to Volkswagen. We told them that we wanted to drive a VW van down to Central America and back, and we wanted to film our trip for a VW commercial.” Scott squinted disbelievingly at Dixon, his mouth slightly agape. “Volkswagen liked the idea, so they gave us a VW bus and a video camera and some money. For six months we drove around having the time of our lives, and when we got back we sent our film to Volkswagen, and they turned it into a commercial. So I get it. Life is short. When you get back you’ll have no trouble picking up right where you left off. Go out there and have the experience of a lifetime while you’re still able.”

When faced with tough decisions, I often ask myself which path will least likely result in me looking like a dumbass, my arrest, or my early death. After passing that initial screen, I get to the second level of decision making, which involves me imagining what other people with more sense, and who have achieved a higher level of success, would do in my situation. Sometimes I think about my friend Jay Baer. Other times I think about Dixon.

“What would Dixon do?” Usually this gets me on the right track. He’s risen through the ranks to become CEO of a division of Ford Motor Company, and of Scott Paper Company, among others, and he’s the one who hired me to the job that I would quit to embark on this trip. And that’s exactly what Dixon would have done.

The speed limit was 25 miles per hour, but we sailed through the rain at double that, hugging the shore of Damariscotta Lake on a winding road through the forest in Maine. We were late, owing to Sheena having been unable to pry herself away from a roadside antique shop selling all manner of shiny frippery and books whose smell can only be described as historical. We rounded a bend and skittered onto a dirt road leading to the water’s edge, which we could hardly make out in the downpour. Two figures approached us wearing heavy duty fisherman’s rain suits. One approached my window and looked out from under his hood and I could see that gray mustache.

“Dixon! It’s been a long time!”

“It sure has! So this is Nacho, huh? Park this thing and follow me to the boat. Meet my son, Alec.” We followed the two of them out of the trees to where a small motorboat waited. Once we were aboard Alec fired up the engine and we set off into the driving rain and waves toward Dixon’s island.

fisherman suit

under cover

I had long known that Dixon owned an island, but never knew much beyond that. People at work would mention it from time to time and it gave him an air of James Bondian enigma. He worked hard and traveled often, always smiling and beaming confidence and positivity, meeting with investors and business partners and trying to crack new markets for our company. And then, when the Energizers finally needed a recharge, he would disappear for a few days to his island, reemerging later at full tilt, all smiles and forward momentum.

Our first two nights in America had been spent in Walmart parking lots, which had only compounded our reverse culture shock, causing us to question how advanced our home country really was and to ask why, exactly, we had voluntarily returned. We soon learned our lesson and began wandering off down logging roads to camp in the woods. Our plan was to drop by Dixon’s place for dinner, and then be on our way. The rain began to let up and Alec swung the boat around in a well-practiced arc as we reached the dock.

The island was roughly four acres, flat, and a near perfect circle. From any point on the island one could see the end of the trees and the water emanating outward. A campfire ring and some walking trails provided the only evidence of man’s existence on the island, with the notable exception of two cozy wooden cabins at its center.

the cabins


“The one on the right is our place, and you two get to stay in the Ritz. That’s what we call the guest cabin. Stay as long as you want, but in a couple of months you won’t want to be anywhere near Maine!”

Inside the Ritz was comfortable and tastefully decorated with views of the lake from the three windowed sides of the cabin. A pillow with our initials embroidered on it had been placed at the head of the bed. A nice touch, we thought. We had only planned to stay for dinner, but could we really pass up an offer to stay in our own cabin on a private island? One with our very own monogrammed pillows? I considered what Jay Baer would do, then I considered what Dixon would do. It was unanimous. Just one night would be okay. That night after dinner we crawled between clean sheets into a comfortable bed, a fresh breeze flowing through an open window, and fell asleep to the sound of singing frogs and lightly lapping waves.

living room

night cabin

One night turned into two and then three, and each day we felt less urgency to move on. Alec and I would take the boat out to go fishing, and then the five of us—Dixon, his wife Gail, Alec, Sheena and I—made trips back to the shore to explore the quaint village of Damariscotta, or to visit the summer camp where Dixon had gone as a kid. We took ourselves on a margarita cruise, and prepared paella over the campfire for guests and drank sangria. We contemplated Dixon’s half-joking offer to stay until the lake froze over and we could walk back to Nacho.




On the morning of our third day I decided to dust off a kayak that was kept under the Ritz and go out for my own fishing excursion. I grabbed a fishing pole and dragged the boat to the water’s edge, and then pushed off. Once clear of the land I made a short cast, and then continued out across the lake en route to a hidden cove, trolling a lure behind me. Just as I reached the middle of the channel between the island and the hidden cove, I was surprised to see a Game and Fish warden way out here in the middle of nowhere pull up beside me in his motor boat.

“Good morning, sir. Please hold onto the side of my watercraft.”

“Oh, hello, and good morning to you!” Perhaps I’ve grown naïve with so much time away from American soil, but it didn’t occur to me that anything was amiss. I just figured the guy was bored and needed someone to talk to. I gripped the side of his boat and smiled up at him.

“Where have you come from today, sir?” he asked. I pointed to the island a few hundred yards away.

“From that island,” I said.

“And to whom is this watercraft registered?”

“I don’t know, probably the guy who lives on the island.” I thought back to all of the homemade floating crafts I’d seen while driving around the world, and it seemed a bit absurd to require the registration of a simple kayak.

“Is that right? And do you know the individual that lives on that island?”

“Um. Yes.”

“Do you have a fishing pole on board with you, sir?” I looked down at the fishing pole sitting right next to me in plain sight.

“Yes, I do.”

“I know, I saw you cast back there. So you’re fishing and you have a pole on board, we’ve established that, because I just saw you cast and you just admitted to having a pole on board this watercraft.” At this point it occurred to me that some people have a rather socially retarded way of communicating with other people.

“Yes, it has been admitted and witnessed that there is indeed a fishing pole in use aboard this watercraft, sir,” I said.

“And do you have a fishing license in the state of Maine, sir?”

I finally saw where he was going with this. My mind jumped into action. What would Jay Baer do!? No response. What would Dixon do!? Again, no response. I imagined that neither Jay nor Dixon would have gotten themselves into this mess to begin with.

“No, I don’t. It just hadn’t occurred to me that I needed one I suppose.”

“Where are you from?”

“I’m from Arizona.”

“And in Arizona, are you required to have a fishing license to operate a fishing pole?” I scoured my memory, and then responded.

“Yes, I believe it is.”

“Then why didn’t it occur to you that you should have a fishing license in the state of Maine?”

“Because I haven’t been to Arizona in a long time. I’ve been living mostly in South America and Asia. I just forgot.”

“Well do they require fishing licenses in South America and Asia?” he said, sarcastically.

“Not in most places. People there fish to survive, and charging someone to fish for survival would be unthinkable.”

“Interesting. Well here in the state of Maine we mostly fish for sport, and for that we require a fishing license. I’m going to have to write you up for that. Now tell me, do you have a life jacket aboard this watercraft?” I wished he would just call it a kayak. I looked around and didn’t see anything I could convincingly call a life jacket.

“No, there doesn’t appear to be a life jacket aboard my watercraft.”

“Well sir, it is required by law in Maine that all watercraft have a certified life jacket on board. What do you think would happen if this watercraft were to capsize?”

“I think I would just swim back to shore. Or maybe I would try to roll the kayak back over and get back on it. I guess I’d have to see how it all played out and make a decision when the time came.”

“So you’re a pretty strong swimmer, eh? You think you could survive a rollover in this watercraft?”

“I guess so. I mean, I surf without a life jacket, and that usually involves me getting repeatedly pummeled by giant ocean waves. I guess if I can survive that, I could probably survive a rollover in this watercraft.”

He stared at me for a minute, not speaking. I imagined that he must be admiring me for what I certainly described as superhuman water survival skills.

“Look, I’m going to write you up for the fishing infraction, but I’m just going to give you a warning for the life jacket infraction. The fishing penalty will be one hundred and forty dollars. Now, do you need a ride back to that island?”

“No, I think I’ll manage.”

“All right, well I’m going to wait here and watch you until you’ve reached the island just in case your watercraft capsizes.”

He wrote me the ticket, which I put in my pocket. I thanked him for correcting my bad behavior, and then began paddling back to shore.

“Sir!” he shouted after me, “please reel in your line!” he slowly shook his head, mimicking the reeling in of my line. As I paddled myself back to the island under the supervision of the fish warden, it occurred to me that I’d forgotten just how rule-driven life is here. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with a strict adherence to law and order, we just haven’t been exposed to it for a while.

That evening we all sat around in the living room of the main cabin chatting, Sheena and I having decided to finally leave in the morning. Alec, a prodigious photographer, swiped through photos on his tablet that he’d taken at a recent horse race. After a while the conversation turned to Nacho.


“Doesn’t uncle Sam have a van like Nacho?,” Alec asked, referring to Dixon’s brother. Dixon thought so, so Alec pulled up his uncle’s Facebook page and verified that in fact Sam did have a Vanagon.

“You should ask him if he’s ever heard of Drive Nacho Drive,” I said. The Volkswagen community is pretty tight knit, and most people with the patience to keep these old vans on the road are in some way involved in the community. He sent Sam a text, which Sam quickly returned.

Of course I know those guys, I’ve been following their blog for years!

At this, Dixon’s eyes lit up. “Give me your phone, Alec!” he said, and quickly dialed Sam’s number.

“Brother Sam, you’ll never guess who’s sitting right across from me out here on the island…it’s Brad and Sheena from Drive Nacho Drive…Yes, I’m serious…No, why would I make this up?” He held the phone out and handed it to me. “Brad, Sam wants to talk to you.”

“Hi, this is Brad.”

“Yeah right! How can you prove to me that you’re really Brad? Tell me something that only you would know.”

I thought about it for a minute, as nobody had ever requested this of me before.

“Um, our transmission failed in Colombia.”

“Oh come on, everyone knows that! You could have gotten that from reading the blog!”

“I don’t know. I promise it’s me. Can you hear Sheena squealing here in the background?” Sheena squealed a hello. After a while he was adequately convinced that I was me, and I promised to stop by for a visit when we rolled through the Seattle area. I handed the phone back to Dixon.

“You guys just scored me some major cool points with my brother! He told me he couldn’t believe that I know real people!”

In the morning we loaded our things on the boat and crossed Damariscotta Lake to the dirt pullout where Nacho was parked, said our goodbyes, and snapped a photo to send to Brother Sam. As we drove off I looked back and saw Dixon waving, his gray mustache curved up in a comforting smile.

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  1. Richard Korzun

    Did you guys stop at Ed’s Eat in Wascasset, Maine for there famous Lobster Roll. It has to be the Best Lobster Roll in Maine according to many famous TV shows and the state of Maine. Enjoy

    Comment by Richard Korzun on December 8, 2014 at 10:42 pm

  2. We missed Ed’s Eats, Richard. For the next time, I guess!

    Comment by Brad on December 8, 2014 at 11:52 pm

  3. I suppose I shouldn’t be all that surprised, given the amount of experience you’ve had over the past couple of years, but I have to admit I am always surprised at how “in the moment” your writing is. I assume you wrote this days later, if not longer, yet you have such vivid recall, and can tell a story so well, that the reader feels like their right there with you. Keep it up!

    Comment by Nathan on December 9, 2014 at 12:19 am

  4. Thanks, Nathan. It helps to write only about events that had strong impressions on us, or that were somehow seared in our minds. In this case the conversation with the fish cop was so odd, and at the same time kind of a slap in the face to bring me back to the American System, that it was easy to recall the whole conversation. I’m thinking now about past experiences, like “Lost at Sea” in Malaysia, which happened two years ago, and of which I feel like I can remember every instant. Same for some of the more meaningful conversations I had with people in Nepal, and on and on. It’s hard to remember the mundane things.

    Comment by Brad on December 9, 2014 at 12:59 am

  5. I really blew it by not negotiating the movie rights to your story. Your narrator voice is damn funny and your cultural commentary so delightfully digested.

    And I like this Interstellar-effect. I have no idea where you and Sheena really are, how old you are in the different parts of the story, or if we are even in the same universe.

    Gravity and love. You’ve got them both.


    Comment by Chris on December 9, 2014 at 1:07 am

  6. The Coen Brothers beat you to the chase, Chris. They bought the rights for several million dollars, which we spent commissioning a time machine. This story occurred when I was 31, but now I’m 72 and living in a city called St. Frank, which stands on the grounds where St. Paul used to be prior to the Great Cattle Uprising of ’32.

    Comment by Brad on December 9, 2014 at 1:21 am

  7. So… did you ever pay your ticket? Great story … :-)

    Comment by Kevin Beretta on December 9, 2014 at 1:27 am

  8. Yes, Kevin, I did. I didn’t want to drag out the fish cop part too long, but he actually warned me that I should pay it or else there would be a warrant out for my arrest in Maine. He explained that the fish and wildlife service funnels right into the normal criminal justice system there. I considered never coming back to Maine, but then figured paying the $140 would be better since Maine was actually pretty cool.

    Comment by Brad on December 9, 2014 at 1:55 am

  9. ernesto

    ummm q ricooooooo

    Comment by ernesto on December 9, 2014 at 4:05 am

  10. A redneck was stopped by a game warden just north of Kentucky’s Lake Cumberland recently with two ice chests of fish.

    The game warden asked the man, “Do you have a license to catch those fish?”

    “Naw, my friend, I ain’t got no license. These are my pet fish.”

    “Pet fish?”

    “Yep. Every night I take these fish down to the lake and let ’em swim ’round for a while. Then I whistle and they jump right back into this ice chest and I take ’em home.”

    “That’s a bunch of hooey! Fish can’t do that!”

    The redneck looked at the game warden for a moment and then said, “It’s the truth. I’ll show you. It really works.”

    “Okay, I’ve GOT to see this!”

    The redneck poured the fish into the river and stood and waited. After several minutes, the game warden turned to him and said, “Well?”

    “Well, whut?” said the redneck.

    “When are you going to call them back?”

    “Call who back?”

    “The FISH!”

    “What fish?”

    Comment by James on December 9, 2014 at 6:28 am

  11. I like your style, James. If I had a quicker wit I may have outsmarted that fish warden.

    Comment by Brad on December 9, 2014 at 7:20 am

  12. Chris

    Oh, brother. In the future I have been to St. Frank. A bridge between there
    and Minnie HawHaw felll due to decaying infrastructure. The District Govenor
    used the Coen Brothers’ money to repair it, then began to build public
    toilets so people wouldn’t pooh in the streets. Windows and mufflers on VW
    buses were smashed and I woke up.

    Life is short and you guys are living it fully.

    Much thanks for adding to mine.

    Comment by Chris on December 9, 2014 at 7:47 am

  13. Mom

    What do you mean you are not used to the rules in the U.S.? Remember, you became the King of wriggling out of fines, tickets, and border fees all around the world! This confrontation was peanuts compared to those!

    Love your descriptions and pictures. My dream now? To buy an island. And I will.

    Comment by Mom on December 17, 2014 at 5:06 am

  14. Mom, while it is true that I’m a master of fine avoidance, the existence of and adherence to rules and regulations were most pronounced in the US. It should be noted that I hadn’t been pulled over by the police, or seen anyone else being pulled over, since India (about a year). Game wardens and the like were nonexistent anywhere, and the flexibility of rules was directly proportional to our charisma. With that said, within the first 7 days in America we had seen at least a dozen people pulled over by the police for speeding, and I got a ticket for fishing without a license.

    Comment by Brad on December 17, 2014 at 7:40 pm

  15. mistee

    can’t believe you didn’t try a bribe, or at least offer to famously defecate in his watercraft.

    Comment by mistee on December 19, 2014 at 7:58 am

  16. Hey yanno what would be some helpful research for this story, is if you could et your friend to point out which VW commercial he was talking about, and either get a link to the vid or some stills from the commercial. It piques my interest as to what that would’ve looked like all of those years ago, vs what it looks like now, with your current … “predicament” ha-ha.

    Here on MY end, a beloved van that I’ve known for some 30yrs is heading to the crusher. Was my grandfather’s, went to me Ma, then I borrowed it for some wonderful unforgettable road-trips with my own Ex-Daughter & Baby-Momma. Heck I’m 43yrs-old and I can’t think of a grrrlfriend of mine that I didn’t make out with in that van. Of course it helps that I didn’t have TOO many lady-friends. Oh what am I saying? From a certain perspective ONE of ’em is too many! Ha-ha. But yeah, 13yrs with one and 7 with another, a spell of bachelorhood after THAT spell of bad luck ha-ha. Anyway it adds up to quite a stretch of time when there weren’t any NEW ones to TAKE into the van. Hell, you’ve gotta wonder whether I’ll ever get laid AGAIN if I let that van get crushed. Ah well I’m just trying to exaggerate it’s importance so as to get my ire up about it, light a fire under my own ass to stop this thing from happening,,,,,,,

    I dunno – I’ve always been more of a BIKE guy, can’t let go of a BIKE. And I don’t own and never did own that van. Somehow I’m torn over it ’cause on the one hand I’d love to see it saved and turned into some kind of garden shed or camping trailer … or better still go on “Pimp My Ride” and get rebuilt. As an ELECTRIC. On the other hand, it’s another friggin’ gas-guzzling four-wheeler on the crowded roads. As such I’d rather see it built as a HOUSE-BOAT!

    Ah but I’ve already got enough on my plate. Two very over-done motorcycle projects – the “CB900K0 Bol Bomber” for me, which would be an ’82 CB900F Bol D’Or done up as a tribute to the ’65 CB450K0 Black Bomber! And for another, the “KZ440LOL” I’m building for my Ex-Daughter, which has some VERY cool wire-spoke wheels coming together here. Well, it’s all wire-spoke wheels all the way – but the “KZ440LOL” (as in,”laugh out loud”, what with the teenaged GRRRL connection, the internet’s involvement, and the original bike’s designation of KZ440LTD being a laughable statement given the bike’s inherent LIMITATIONS ha-ha – Yeah seriously though, THIS bike has got some very unconventional and interesting – some might very well say beautiful – wire-spoke wheels on it!

    So that’s where MY travel ambitions lie. Motorcycle camping. Serious minimalism. Though HER NIBS is talking about a “SIDE-CAR!!!!” and me well I’m giving serious thought to a single-wheel trailer and a tow hitch from an early Goldwing! At that point, it wouldn’t be so minimalistic anymore. But it’s still something less complex than a gawddamm four-wheeler!

    SOMEONE needs to save this van. “VINCENT VAN GO” – did I forget to mention him by name? See, I’m withdrawing the affection I’ve felt, burying my head in the sand a wee bit.

    Oh but how I have loved a few certain motorized vehicles. “Bertha” was my mom’s ’70 Chevelle, took us across Canada East to West North and South, back and forth again and again. With a gold metalflake paint job faded to an Afrika-Korps SAND colour. As a boy, we used to cheer her on – “Don’t run out of gas, Bertha! You can DO it, old girl!” and “Please don’t die on us Bertha!” My mom must’ve been one sick-in-the-head bitch, to fuck with children’s minds like that! Subsequently there was my lil’ scooter an ’82 C70 Passport “Lil’ Big Red” – after the cinnamon chewing gum. The only bike which I named and repeated that name out-loud ha-ha. EVERYBODY knew that bike by name.

    And then of course there is “Vincent Van Go” – whom my ex-daughter knows by name, knows in a biblical sense ’cause she’s been inside of it ha-ha. Well, actually I’ve been biblical with her mom in that van. As I like to say to the kid – “Yo Momma” ha-ha. Whenever we’re sharing a laugh at a particularly filthy joke, I’ll add that after the punch-line. Yo Momma! Just like how some folks like to add after reading their fortune=cookie fortunes: “between the sheets”. Or much better still, the ongoing series of jokes which me and the kid and her lil’ grrrl friends have been making up from scratch since grade one, “That’s what HE said” ha-ha. Should’ve written ’em all down. Published a book, “101 that’s-what-he-said jokes”!

    Maybe then I could pay to have this VAN restored!


    Comment by SoyBoySigh on September 24, 2015 at 9:28 am

  17. Nathan

    Wow, I’d like a few kilo’s of whatever Mr. Sigh is using… but hopefully I’d remember to stay away from keyboards!

    Comment by Nathan on September 24, 2015 at 4:26 pm

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