Dateline: Patong Beach, Thailand-
And the trip is close to coming to an end. I’m here tomorrow day until I catch a redeye from Phuket to Seoul and then the long haul from Seoul back to Atlanta which takes fourteen hours, but only 30 minutes on the clock due to the number of time zones crossed. I have no idea if I’ll be in a position to do an update tomorrow night or if it will have to wait until I drag myself back into Birmingham. I’m due back sometime between 3 and 4 pm Birmingham time on Sunday. No one better plan on seeing me until Wednesday morning as it’s likely to take that long to get my inner time clock recalibrated. I have a feeling I may be making 3 am trips to the 24 hour drive through down the street that first night as I’ll be hungry at some weird hour.
Today was very quiet. I slept in, had a leisurely breakfast, sharing a table with a chemist from Shanghai who had been a student at Berkeley at the same time I had been a student at Stanford, and then decided to amble on in to the town of Patong and explore the beach area. It was about a two mile walk from my hotel into town with far more hills than I would have liked but I figured I could use the exercise. The road in was a mix of the rich (luxury condos) and the very poor (shacks selling odd clothes and a recycled liquor bottles of gasoline out of their living areas) living cheek by jowl with each other.
The town of Patong is no different than any other large tourist beach town I’ve ever been to. It could have been Cancun or Sitges or even Miami Beach. Full of T shirt shops, cheap jewelry, small places to eat, and various tchotchkes of dubious utility, designed to fall apart six months after you get them home. The beach itself is very nice and I did do some swimming, although I’m not exactly sure as to the cleanliness of the water. I can’t say I entirely trust the Thai sewer system. More than anything, I soaked up a little sun (covered in sunblock as we’re relatively close to the equator here), did some people watching, had a beer, and eventually toddled off to do the last of the shopping I wanted to do and have a leisurely late lunch.
I was in no mood hike two miles back up the hill so I caught a taxi back to the hotel and spent the late afternoon on their gorgeous pool deck, watching the sun go down into the Andaman Sea. Then back to the room and quiet time. I’m storing up my sleep and rest today and tomorrow in order to be ready for the journey. I won’t have the adrenaline of new adventures to carry me through and the time change west to east has always been harder on me than the one from east to west.
A Tommy story tonight. Steve and I had always enjoyed fun in the sun vacations and went on a lot of them over the years. A lot of them run together in my mind but they were mainly to Hawaii and Mexico. When Tommy and I got together, I assumed we would have a similar pattern. I hadn’t counted on Tommy’s Irish coloring and skin which did not mix well with tropical sun. Just walking across the pool area, even with spf 1000 sunblock was enough to turn him bright pink and he usually had to hide out in the shade somewhere. He didn’t have great skin to begin with and sunburn just made everything worse. We did go on a few, but they were far less common than I had been used to.
One of them was in early 2005. We had just started to get involved in the world of Birmingham theater together less than a year previously and we were still in our pre-theatrical patterns. I had just spent a couple of years getting the new geriatric clinic at UAB up and running and Tommy was the chief nursing officer at an outfit called Birmingham Health Care, a collection of federally qualified health centers providing care to low income individuals. We had booked an Atlantis Cruise together. Atlantis is an outfit that specializes in group vacations for gay men. Steve and I had been regulars with them, even before they did cruises, and Tommy and I had also been on a couple of trips. Dates had been submitted to employers, everything was cleared and we were to fly out Saturday to catch the boat in Miami. On the Friday, just before, Tommy’s boss called him into his office, told him that a major grant was due right after we were to return and he expected it finished and on his desk. Tommy, with his incredible work ethic, simply took the grant with us. We spent the cruise in the cabin working on his grant, more than anything else. I was livid.
When we got back, I told Tommy in no uncertain terms that good people did not do to their employees what had been done to him and it was time for him to leave that job. He thought about it for a while, and ultimately did decide to go about six months later. It was the first step on the road that took him back to school at the University of Montevallo and his new career(s). Years later we figured out what was really going on. Tommy, in addition to being chief nursing officer, was also ethics/compliance officer for the organization. Unbeknownst to him, his boss and the senior staff had cooked up various schemes to enrich themselves through various unethical and illegal means off of federal contracts and they knew Tommy would never stand for it so he had to be made miserable enough to quit. He had the last laugh. The federal government eventually caught on to their hanky panky, the organization collapsed and most of the senior staff has either gone to jail or spent most of their money on lawyers to keep them out