I was six months into my first journalism job and dreaming big. Afghanistan, Iraq, I had war dreams where I wore Army issued spectacles and carried a 5D around my neck and a notepad in my hand while giving people a real picture of war.
There are few things I like more than waking up in a new country. New people to observe. New flavors to taste. Big pictures to put together.
I’d sit at my desk and try to envision the steps it would take to get to the New York Times. But the contrasting mind-numbing stories coming from the Marion County Board of Commissioners didn’t promise much of a future unless I could find a huge cover up or a sex scandal.
During the most mundane part of summer, those journalistic doldrums where you can’t reach a source to save your life, I sat at my desk trying desperately to drum up county stories. Aside from a little piece on some new natural product the county was spraying on area dirt roads, I had nothing.
My dad happened to call me that day to let me know he was going to Cuba that summer. The list of interesting places my dad travels to on a regular basis would make the Travel Channel blush.
“Do you want to come with us?”
“Does the Pope pee?”
Dreams often stand on legs we don’t recognize as our own. But they are more often than not related. You parents, your wife, your brothers and sisters.
The sun shone so bright on that first day in Havana, that I thought I was going to go blind. Caribbean blue and colors the rainbow never dreamed of made it difficult to focus on one thing.
We walked through markets and I sat on the Malecon and people watched to my heart’s content.
For five days I observed life in one of Havana’s famous neighborhoods and fulfilled a long-time desire to visit Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s Cuban home.
I remember looking up at the huge banners flying above some of Havana’s most famous buildings. They wished Fidel Castro a happy 80th birthday. Still months away of course.
But the world’s most famous dictator was holed up in one of his residences apparently in great pain and worried for his life that day. Word began to leak out that the great revolutionary was on his death bed, and by noon the following day, power was passed from Fidel to his brother Raul, the first such exchange of power in Cuba in more than 50 years.
And I was there to write about it. I wrote a story for our front page and a reporter’s notebook story that I tried to send from within Cuba. I was foiled by the nation’s tough Internet security. But an hour’s flight to Cancun and the wifi at a beach-side hotel provided the link up I needed to get my story back to my newspaper. The story eventually went out on the wires, and I received notes from people who’d seen it on the AP wires the next day.
Dreams don’t always look like you think they might. Sometimes you can force a dream out of thin air, and sometimes they come to you when you least expect it. Dreams are the result of luck, hard work and family. They don’t happen every day but even once in a lifetime can be good enough for those who learn to appreciate them.
It wasn’t the New York Times, but for a day, I was an international reporter.