Category: Travel

Cousin Barney’s Bathroom Break

One thing I like when making airline reservations online, is picking my seat. Airplane seat, that is. I’ve heard that the safest seat in an airplane is toward the back. Apparently, more people survive crashes who sit toward the back, than those who sit toward the front.

Just the same, I don’t choose seats in the back. And it’s all because of my cousin Barney’s bathroom break.

Barney is a big man. In fact he’s so big, the United Nations blamed him for causing a famine. He’s so big, when he goes to the beach he changes the tidal calendar. He’s so big, he holds his pants up with an asteroid belt.

And all kidding aside, my cousin Barney is so big, he once got stuck in an airport. That’s because the airline wouldn’t let him aboard until he paid for two seats, to accommodate for his doublewide butt. After two days of living in the airport he finally relented, paid the double-fare, and flew anyway. Walking would have been impractical, and U-Haul was out of trucks. And he needed to get home quickly because he had to use the toilet. He didn’t like the idea of using a public restroom to do number two.

The airliner managed to safely leave the ground with Barney onboard. But shortly after it reached altitude on this transcontinental flight, a powerful sensation struck my cousin. His swollen bowels could not take it anymore. He realized he had to go. And fast. So in spite of his best efforts to hold it in until he arrived home, he would have to use a public restroom.

A clamant urge made him suddenly arise from his two seats and quickly squeeze his way down the aisle toward the restrooms in the rear. He made it just in time. And to his sweet relief, one of the restrooms was unoccupied. He frantically flung the door open and stepped toward the precious tiny toilet.

But something held him back. It was the doorway. The doorways of restrooms on commercial jetliners are not designed with people the size of Barney in mind. It’s important to save space when designing jetliners, you see. Thus, you get no legroom. And the restroom doorways afford no ass room.

Barney struggled valiantly to gain entry into the tiny cubicle. He pushed, heaved, sighed, and moaned, all the while feeling the pressure in his bowels grow exponentially stronger, like Mount St. Helens ready to violently erupt.

Time ran out and Barney still wasn’t in. But in a split-second, the adrenaline and terror pumping through his desperate brain inspired him with an idea. There in the aisle between the restrooms, Barney twisted his big body around and lowered his trousers. He planted his bare butt against the open doorway and released the fury of his internal volcano all over the restroom walls and floor.

This is a true story. And I like to remember it whenever I choose an airplane seat. I know it’s safer toward the rear, in event of a crash, but I choose the front. I’d rather die than go through what those passengers sitting by the restrooms endured, smelling the soup wafting from the restroom used by my cousin Barney.

Too bad my cousin couldn’t be assisted by a restroom attendant, who might have been able to wedge him through the door. Some airline restrooms offer assistance to passengers, as you can see in this SNL sketch, with Flip Wilson:

Gringo Gulch, 2015

According to Bill Maher, the pandemic is frickin’ over. He says it was wonderful for awhile, but now, good riddance. Now it’s time to get back to normal.

Back in the “normal” days, my wife and I went on cruises now and then. But these days we refuse to board one of those big boats until they end all the pandemic restrictions, such as proof of vaccination and the wearing of masks even if you’ve been vaccinated. We’ve been vaccinated, but we don’t like the idea of carrying that stupid, oversized card around, and having to present it to get back into the country.

What if we lose it in Mexico, for instance? Well, maybe someone named Pedro could sell us a new one, in some dark alley. Or we could just join one of those caravans, where you’re allowed to illegally cross the border with impunity.

We’re just tired of dealing with all the Covid bullshit. So no more cruises for us for now. Not that I really miss cruising. The only cruises I’ve been on have been with Carnival, and by the time this pandemic hit, I was pretty much through with them. They seem to be the Dollar Store equivalent to cruise lines. Carnival is very affordable, but you get what you pay for.

Back in 2015 my wife and I went on Carnival’s week-long, Mexican Riviera cruise. I had a different blog back then, where I posted about our excursion into Puerto Vallarta. I thought it would be nice to reminisce about the good o’l pre-pandemic days. Also, if you’re willing to brave all the Covid restrictions and you’re considering going on that cruise, then you might be interested in this post. So what follows is a repost of a post from a bygone blog:

Gringo Gulch, 2015

Maybe the most appropriate place for gringos to visit in Mexico is Gringo Gulch.

Our third and final port of call on our Mexican Riviera cruise was Puerto Vallarta. Carnival Cruise’s offerings of excursions were not as enticing at this port, as they were at Cabo San Lucas and Mazatlan. Most involved some flavor of swimming with dolphins, getting drunk on an island, or swinging through the jungle on a zipline.

Approaching Puerto Vallarta.

We prefer sightseeing tours instead, but had few to choose from. Perhaps the recent carnage from the Jalisco New Generation drug cartel made sightseeing tours outside the city too risky for gringos from cruise ships. We finally opted for an excursion entitled, “The Best of Puerto Vallarta & Shopping Tour,” for $34.99 per adult.

We boarded a motor coach (euphemism for “bus”), which first took us to a century-old church called Our Lady of Guadalupe. Here we were allowed a few minutes to pray for our safety, before exploring seedier parts of the municipality.

Guess who I caught hanging around the church?

After this we stopped in a few shopping districts established specifically for separating gringos from their money. For a fistful of dollars we could buy opal, silver, and gold jewelry. And for a few dollars more, there was an ample supply of catchpenny trinkets.

In every tienda, we were followed by anxious, overly helpful sales people, eager to be amongst the lucky few to sell their wares to us. We left 95% of these high-pressure purveyors in a wake of disappointment. And each of these abandoned shopkeepers was careful to leave us with heavy sacks of guilt slung over our shoulders, which magically dropped away within about five minutes of departing their company.

The El Malecon paseo, where we encountered many tiendas, along with some beautiful views of Bandera Bay, such as this one.

The motor coach then transported us to a scenic restaurant overlooking Bandera Bay. For about thirty American dollars, my wife and I dined on bland Mexican fare, which reminded us of our misfortunes with food on the cruise ship.

Our last stop was Gringo Gulch. This was the real, original, autentico Gringo Gulch. At least, that’s what our tour guide said. The history of Gringo Gulch in Puerto Vallarta goes back to the early 1950s, when a few artists and writers from the United States settled on a hill overlooking a gulch. These Americans happily adopted the ethnic slur, “gringo,” and decided to name their neighborhood Gringo Gulch.

Creek at the bottom of Gringo Gulch.

At that time, Puerto Vallarta was unknown to most Americans. It did not become a popular tourist attraction for gringos north of the border until the 1960s, with the arrival of film director John Huston, and Hollywood stars Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. They showed up in 1963 for a movie John Huston was directing called, “Night of the Iguana”.

Huston’s movie was very accurate in one respect. There were lots of iguanas at Gringo Gulch, including this one.

Richard Burton starred in this movie, but Elizabeth Taylor had no acting role in it at all. Apparently she just wanted to—ahem—observe Richard Burton’s performance. It seemed like a safe place for Liz and Richard to fool around because, after all, who ever heard of Puerto Vallarta? Who would be suspicious? Certainly not Liz’s husband, singer Eddie Fisher, or Richard’s wife, actress Sybil Williams.

But they underestimated the tenacity of the gossip press and paparazzi. Soon the romance of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, plus Puerto Vallarta, became international sensations.

However nothing could stop the torrid romance. They married in 1964. And together they both fell in love with Puerto Vallarta. Richard Burton bought a villa there, called “Casa Kimberly” and gifted it to Elizabeth. Later they bought a second home across the street, expanding the size of their estate. They owned these properties for more than 20 years.

Elizabeth Taylor’s villa. It’s the one on the top level, with the white arches.

Our tour guide walked us through the sylvan tropical gulch below Taylor and Burton’s villa. There we encountered a statue of John Huston, a grand staircase, and trees filled with parrots and iguanas.

Statue of John Huston.

And then our guide loaded us onto the motor coach and sent us back where we came from. Back to the cruise ship. And back to the good ol’ U.S.A.—that giant Gringo Gulch to the north.

Bishop Castle

Suppose you have hyperactive kids that always need to burn lots of energy. Now suppose you’re traveling cross-country with them, on a road trip, and your little brats are bouncing off the sides and roof of your SUV. How do you keep your sanity?

Jim Bishop was 15 years old in 1959, when he bought 2.5 acres of forest land, west of Pueblo, Colorado, for $450. He paid for it with earnings from mowing lawns, a paper route, and working for his dad in his family’s ornamental iron works business. Little did he realize at the time that his property would one day be the site of an enormous castle.

Might I suggest a stop at Bishop Castle in Rye, Colorado? Bishop Castle is free, although a donation box at the entrance might trigger some guilt and open your wallet a little. It’s a very tall castle, with corkscrew stairs leading to dizzying heights. And it’s very easy for unsupervised children to accidentally plummet over the edge, to their demise, should they get a little too rambunctious.

The bridges connecting the towers at Bishop Castle are wobbly, and not for the faint of heart. But Jim has no fear of high places. The land he bought was at 9,000 feet in the Wet Mountains of Colorado. He and his dad, who lived 30 miles to the northeast, in Pueblo, used the acreage as a campsite for the next ten years. Then they began building a stone cabin from all the abundant rocks in the area.

If your kids survive the experience, they’ll be tuckered out from all the stair climbing, and you’ll be able to enjoy a few miles of restful sanity, as they snooze in the back. But should they not survive, it’s even better, for you’ll get extra miles of sanity as you complete your coast-to-coast trip.

View from the crow’s nest of the tallest tower. People who saw the stone cabin under construction remarked to Jim that it looked like a castle. By 1972, Jim felt inspired enough by these comments to start building an actual castle. Jim’s dad refused to help with such a monstrous project, so Jim proceeded by himself. And that’s how it’s been ever since. Every stone laid, every piece of ornamental ironwork, and every other bit of construction has been completed by Jim Bishop alone, making his castle a highly unique, one-man project, that has been hailed as the largest building in the world constructed by one person.

A few members of my family and I visited Bishop Castle about a month ago. There, we found the general spirit of the place exuded the attitude of good ol’ American independence and self-responsibility. You’re free to take all the chances you want, while climbing around on this somewhat rickety and precipitous playground.

The owner has posted an advisory sign at the entrance, explicitly warning that you are entering at your own risk, that you are responsible for your own safety, and that you must be willing to tolerate the language and expressive behavior of others.

Here’s exactly how the sign reads:


We read the sign, gulped while mentally agreeing to its terms, and entered.

A tower staircase. As the castle grew, curious people from all over began to show up and admire this architectural wonder. Jim was advised he could charge money for tours. But he refused, and instead offered it free to the public, while putting out a donation box.

Upon entering, you are immediately confronted by the imposing castle. The tallest tower is 160 feet high, which you ascend through a narrow, circumvoluting staircase made of ornamental ironwork. Some of the ironwork seems to have loosened over time, so it’s important to watch your step. If you want to pass someone on this staircase, you’ll have to flatten yourself against the rocky, exterior wall, or cling to the center, suck in your gut, then tiptoe carefully while apologizing profusely for any and all unintended body contact.

One day in the mid-1980’s, a friend of Jim’s donated some scrap stainless steel. From that, Jim built a chimney for the castle’s fireplace. The chimney is shaped like a dragon, and is perched above the Grand Ballroom, 80 feet high. Jim later added a burner from a hot air balloon so that the dragon could appear as if it’s breathing fire.

I felt scared, thrilled, and refreshed to experience Bishop Castle. The heights got my adrenaline pumping, especially because some of the ornamental ironwork I depended upon to protect me from gravity had a wobbly feel to it. But it was refreshing that I was free to follow my own judgment and take my own risks, without a bunch of officious minders sternly watching me, and warning me away from doing anything foolish.

I like that about Jim Bishop, the king of this castle.

My brother and sister in the Grand Ballroom. Jim’s endeavors have not been without obstacles. The U.S. Forest Service once tried to charge him for all the rocks he removed from National Forest land, to build his castle. And about seven years ago, someone he trusted too much tried to convert his castle into a church, forcing him into a legal battle to maintain control of his property.

My brother, sister, and I spent about an hour at Bishop Castle, exploring its various rooms, floors, and parapets. We had a fun time, and I even bought a little souvenir for my wife, at their gift shop. It’s an ornamental lamp, and she loves it.

When we climbed back into the car, my muscles felt tired from all the stair climbing. I no longer possessed the excitement and vigor that animated me on the drive to the castle. I needed some rest. And so my brother enjoyed a peaceful, relaxing time as he drove my sister and me back home.

Today, Bishop Castle stands as a reminder that if you are inspired to fulfill a dream, and stick with it, you too can build something impressive in your life.

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