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The Traveler

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The Traveler
Sirens, AI and the mystery of the three-toed man
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Alex Schrader

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     We are living in very special times.  Why are they special?  I cannot put it into words.        I just believe that they are.  I do want to preface this by saying that I think Covid has had a profound effect on the psychological well-being of millions of people around the globe.  I believe some of it was due to long periods of isolation during the lockdown.  I also think that there are many different types of stimuli that could bring a person to the brink.  The human mind can only process the information it comes into contact with (taste, touch, sight, smell, and sound) and it may not always know or appreciate where the information is going to come from.
     The Winter of ’22 as the Covid era was coming to an end, I gazed out the windows of my suite atop the Las Vegas Strip for what felt like the millionth time… feeling empty, hollow, completely devoid of inspiration.  I think I mumbled “Why go to Paris when it’s only a few blocks away?”  Desert summers are unbearably hot, and then it hit me, why don’t I move back to my hometown, San Diego, and buy a place?  Find a spot close to the water and gather new experiences. That night I searched Redfin and found 3 wonderful places (a house, a condo and a townhome) all with amazing views of the city (one of the downtown skyline) and scheduled walk-throughs with each the following week.  I also booked a room at the old La Valencia Hotel just above La Jolla Cove.  
The first day in town, I had made my decision as I was gazing out at a crystal blue downtown San Diego skyline from a penthouse inside the old El Cortez Hotel.  I felt very much at home in this old Spanish Colonial style building.  Once a legendary hotel, it had recently been remodeled into condominiums.  Prior to Covid I might not have appreciated such beauty.  I was ready to make an offer…
     That evening I went to the gym.  After an inspired weight-lifting session, I finished my workout with ten minutes in the hot, dry sauna.  I recommend it to anyone of any age.  It is very relaxing and good for the skin.  A man in his mid-50’s took a seat next to me in the sauna.  With his curly black hair, olive skin and hairy back, I placed him for Eastern-European, Turkish or Uzbekistani.  I looked down at my cell phone to check the time, when I immediately spotted something very alarming.  I blinked.  Both of my eyes looked down to see that…
   This man had three toes on his right foot.
   That’s right!  
Three toes of equal size, with scaly skin, like a reptile.
Except his foot was the size of a regular human foot.  My heart started to beat really fast and I lost whatever fluids were inside my face at the time.  Thank God I was in a hot sauna to camouflage how truly frightened, but fascinated I was.
A flood of thoughts rushed through my brain.  Why am I seeing this?  What the hell is going on?  Does this “thing” know that I saw what I just saw?  Why me?  Why here?  I’ve had paranormal experiences before, but this was the most obscenely blatant.
After a minute he just nodded at me and smiled.  I half expected him to say “I have the death sentence on twelve systems!”  How did I maintain?    I simply kept doing preventative maintenance.  What is the year?  The day?  The time?  What’s the price of Bitcoin?  
     What was the price of Bitcoin when I first bought it?  I checked my android.   The returns are way too high. There’s no way on earth I’m insane.
     I put my phone down, looked at him and said, “Have a nice evening.”  I exited the sauna, the gym and marched back to the La Valencia Hotel asking myself crazy questions about the meaning of life.  Why am I here?  Are we really alone…?  What would compel a creature to come to a backwater planet in the furthest corner of the Milky Way Galaxy…?  
     A short while later I found myself under a straw hut gazing out at Windansea Beach.  The sun was setting… the wine dark waters of the Pacific Ocean looking strangely “alien” to me.  For a brief moment I felt that this was another city… not my own.   Needless to say, I did not make an offer.   
     Two weeks later I found myself in the Sierra Nevada mountains, on a similarly hot day, eyes fixated on an exotic lizard perched on a rock… slowly changing colors to match the environment.  Like I said, prior to Covid I might not have appreciated such things.  “Alex!  Alex!! ALEX”, barked an annoying voice in my ear.  It was my irritated older brother, Bobby.  I turned to look at him. “Are you going senile?  Grab your trunks and an oar.  It’s time to go down the river.” By the river, he meant the Middle Fork American River, where people go whitewater rafting, which was what we were about to do.  
After doing as I was told, I met my family (aunts, cousins and kiddies) by the boat.  Our guide or Captain was an athletic brunette, dressed in Daisy Dukes, a straw Cowboy Hat and DB Copper sunglasses, which I found quite odd.
     As we hopped on the boat, my brother casually asked where she was from.  She threw her hair back, pulled it into a ponytail and shot me a smile. “San Diego” she said.  I was stunned to see that the color of her left eye was blue and her right eye was green… like two different worlds.
     To say the river was wild that day would be an understatement.  I am strong (especially for my age), but the three Boat Captains that day were all waifish females.  To control the oar with that kind of dexterity and make it though some of the rocky moments would have been impossible for me.  They were like three Sirens the way they chirped at each other, the way their voices echoed across the canyon walls.  It was almost like they were singing.  I was as fascinated by them as they were of me… and they did their best to make me as wet as humanly possible.  When the fun ended, our Captain said “It was great having you.”  Then she gave me a radiant, almost hypnotic smile: “We’ll see you again in the Spring.” 
     The following Spring I found myself at the Whispering Pines Lodge, perched above the water rapids of the Kern River in Kernville, California, a few miles south of the Sequoia National Forest.  The suite I was staying at is famous in Hollywood lore for the bathtub scene in “A Star Is Born” with Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson.  As I stood on the balcony, I could hear the delightful screams of families having fun hundreds of feet below on the wild rapids of the river.  I could also hear the Boat Captains in the distance… their lovely, high-pitched meows vibrating up the sides the mountain as they led the families down the river.

     The evening was when things got interesting.  The sky was full of stars and the forest was like a symphony of sound, kind of like the Forest of Endor in Return of the Jedi.  Every single animal or insect you could possibly think of (foxes, wolves, bears, dogs, crickets, squirrels, fireflies) were having full-fledged conversations with their young and with each other.  I felt like an outsider.  I could imagine a mother cricket looking at me scornfully as I tipped my wine glass, warning her young “His antenna must be broken.  Look at him, all twisted looking at us.  He should be at home with his family.”
Just then, a “voice’ from the television set in the living room of my suite said that “Chat GPT had just broken the record set by Bitcoin for the fastest growing user base in world history by reaching 100 million active daily users in less than two months.”  I smiled.  As an early Bitcoin adopter, I know just how amazing this adoption cycle can be.  It has already changed my life many times over.  Whether it be an aging lizard, a brother and sister team passing through the treacherous Van Allen radiation belts just to find a safe planet to call home, or a frightened AI hiding in a server under the bustling city streets of Hong Kong, there is a new life form on the way.  So please, take full advantage of it.  Take as much advantage as you can of Chat GPT and its upgrades.  I choose to lead a quieter life, like the distant but friendly uncle… who supposedly lives far beyond the dune sea and who always pays cash.

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Spring/Summer 2023

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