birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Meet Grove, Intrepid Traveler

I’d like you to meet Mr. Grove. We have known each other for 45 years. He’s my best friend and a kind of uncle to my kids. Our first meeting was memorable because it was mid-winter in suburban Washington, DC where I worked at the time. I went to a party dressed in a parka as it was freezing and lots of snow on the ground. Parkas are generally unflattering outerwear so as people arrive they are usually generic and anonymous. This was about 1975. As we removed our parkas the 40-odd people at the party were in full joyous swing, properly dressed in sweaters underneath (it was really cold). However, there were two people dressed in the then not terribly popular, somewhat odd, and definitely campy, flamboyant Hawaiian shirts. Me and Grove. We naturally gravitated towards each other and began our long friendship. Grove and I lived together some years later as I would go to Washington, DC often, for temp work and to visit my father. I put myself through graduate school working either as a waiter or as a telephone salesman for the Army Times, publishers of military trade newspapers. Grove put himself through grad school working as a cab driver. Later in life we had real jobs and Grove worked for the Maryland State Department of Health. But in those days, we both went to work around 5 pm and got off around 12:30 am. We would meet up after work, either at a bar on Capital Hill, a bar in College Park, MD home of the University of Maryland to watch co-eds, or in a topless bar in Wisconsin Ave. for our decompressing time. Some years later while I needed to travel for my research Grove would join me. Our most memorable trip was to Egypt for a month. It was a highly stressful trip because of Egypt itself and we occasionally needed to find a place we could unwind for a few days. One time we were encouraged to go our far to the west to a dusty little town called Marsa Matruh where we hoped not to run into any tourist touts and could relax. We did. One day we took a taxi several miles further west to swim at Cleopatra’s Beach which turned out to be a desolate spot on the coast surrounded by desert. The cab dropped us off in the middle of nowhere and said he couldn’t come back to get us. We began our 1/2 mile hike over the dunes to the sea arriving to a most beautiful place devoid of all civilization. We were the only people there. There was no beach, just rocks from which you could dive off into the water. We dove into the water and realized that getting out was going to be problematic. We could be smashed against the rocks. We timed our egress perfectly with the waves, thinking later how disastrous that could have been. As we dried and dressed –we may have been wearing Hawaiian shirts—we began our march back over the dunes to the empty road where the cab dropped us off. As we walked I reminded Grove that I had read in the guide book that this stretch of desert had been mined in the 1970s at a time of Egyptian-Libyan tension and that it was not sure all the mines were removed. Grove suggested that we not walk so close together. As we got to the road we realized we had an 8-mile walk back to town in the scorching desert heat. Swinging our arms in exaggerated fashion like a couple of British Army Sergeant-Majors we whistled the Colonel Bogey March heading off into the desert. Within a mile a pick-up of Egyptian workers stopped and offered us odd looking characters a ride back. They continued to look at us with faces that said “who the fuck are you and what are you doing in the middle of nowhere.”


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