In 2003, I made a phone call to every single magazine editor I could find. My heart palpitated as dial tones transformed into ringing in my ears. I would fall short of breath when any one of those calls became a human “hello” on the other end. Then I rambled out a rehearsed speech about wanting to be a writer. I told them, “I should write for you.” I should be, would be, could be great if only someone would give me a chance. At the time, I was considering any magazine, not just travel.
Shirley is on the right
I had just finished a seven-year stint in the film industry. I had wanted to tell stories and in those stories, tell a truth, something that mattered. I worked on a series of films: Prophecy 3, Dracula 2000, Hellraiser 6, Texas Rangers and several others that all entertained but never attempted more. There was a depression that came with working in the film industry for me: all those long hours and methodical consideration of every detail, so much money spent on illusions. So much money paid to a few people sitting on top of the industry’s pyramid. It was so difficult to move up the ranks. Still the money was pretty good toward the bottom of the pyramid where I was.
Then I had my epiphany. My depression was not the film’s fault. A lot of people worked tirelessly on these films, including me, but loved what they were doing. The problem was that I was not doing what I wanted to do. I wanted to tell stories about people and places that mattered. I felt I was drowning in idealism in a soup of existential crisis. I began to write. I began to travel as a freelance writer.
The pieces fell into place on a press trip to St. Lucia, a fairly new country (only 25 years old), deep in the Caribbean. On the trip, I met a wonderful woman named Shirley who dragged me into her kitchen at the market place in downtown Castries (booth #20). I had been wandering the market place surrounded by bananas, coconuts and tropical weather when she said, “Oh honey, you look hungry. You let ol’ Shirley make you some food.”
Like most Saint Lucian woman, Shirley dressed for a walk on the beach with flop flops and a loose fitting tropical dress. She had a wide smile that helped the bridge of her nose crinkle in a good-natured way. Her hair was had just begun to gray and her hands suggested years of a hard-working life. Shirley led me by the hand down a narrow corridor filled with stalls selling lunch before pulling me behind her counter.
Bubbling pots of ooze were everywhere, so were splashes of food on the walls and ceiling. A row of beer bottle empties sat along a thin shelf tacked to the wall. Shirley sat me down on a homemade three-legged stool and prepared a lunch of Saint Lucian vittles. The plate was piled six-inches high that ran to the edges in all directions and consisted of four kinds of banana concoction, a vegetable-like dish, bread pudding, pasta, and maybe a meat product, but I am not really sure about any of it. What I did know, it was some of the worst food I have ever eaten. It was dry, flavorless and sat in my stomach like bricks, banana bricks. Later that night, I dreamt banana bricks were the national bird of Saint Lucia.
Downtown Castries, St. Lucia - Just outside of Shirley's Kitchen
However the food was unimportant. Shirley was fun and funny, insightful and memorable, everything that is wonderful about travel. We talked about what we thought about each other’s respective homes. We both corrected each other more than once. We talked about the differences between Jamaica and St. Lucia (I wanted to know). We discussed politics and religion (not always recommended but a good choice here). And in the end, I discovered how Shirley and I were more alike than not. Shirley gave me feelings of hope and inspiration that stayed with me long after I returned home from St. Lucia’s rugged coastlines. I wanted to write about Shirley and how she had inspired travel in me.
My editor at the time said, “All that sounds great — give me a 800 words about the hotel.” I was horrified, but I couldn’t blame him. Selling an article about my brief experience with a tiny St. Lucian woman who made heavy lunches in a teeny country that most haven’t heard of before was a hard sell in a world competing for advertising dollars. So instead of taking “no” for an answer, I started In The Know Traveler with a mission to tell stories about travel and the importance of culture.
To make a long story short, In The Know Traveler hosts stories about culture and cultural exchange covering 130 countries worldwide. ITKT has lots of knowledgeable contributors for features articles. I work with international tourism boards and pr firms to help me with reliable travel news information and travel deals from around the world (and I get to do the picking).