The Time I Met a Sex Worker at a Coffee Shop

One thing I enjoy is a nice cup of coffee. Luckily there is a cafe close to where I am living in Newtown. For those of you who don’t know, Newtown is a vibrant enclave of Sydney with lots of colorful characters. I have been going to this cafe for coffee and breakfast for the last three months. It is a nice feeling walking into a place where they know your order. A few weeks ago I was there for my normal coffee and croissant when I met someone I will never forget. I was standing in line to pay when I noticed a very attractive girl next to me. I said hello and we started chatting. I think my American accent spiked her curiosity. At one point I asked her what she did for a living. She responded immediately, and in a very cavalier way, “I am a sex worker.”

I was like, “Come again?” I was surprised to hear her say that but more surprised with how open she was about it. Some people around us also heard her. I figured if she was willing to say that out loud than she would be willing to talk about it. I figured correct. We continued to chat about sex work for the next ten minutes. I was very intrigued by what she was telling me and wanted to hear more. I asked her if she would be willing to sit down with me and talk about how she got into the industry and tell me more about how it works. She agreed. We exchanged numbers and agreed to meet. It took a while to get the meeting setup. At one point she went radio silent and I assumed she changed her mind. She later told me she did have some reservations. Some of the girls she works with told her it was a bad idea. However, Amber ultimately decided to meet and talk.

Sex Work Laws in Australia 

Prostitution in Australia is governed by state and territory laws. Some places allow brothels while others allow sex work but not brothels. Federal law does make trafficking and sex slavery illegal. Testing for STD’s is required every three months but Amber says she gets tested more frequently. New South Wales, where Sydney is located, has the most open prostitution laws. This website outlines the different laws by state and territory, http://www.scarletalliance.org.au/laws/

When thinking about legal prostitution places like Holland and Southeast Asia come to mind, not Australia. I was surprised to learn that it is legal here. The debate continues here, as in many other places around the world, but Australia has gone down the path of regulation rather than criminalization.

Getting Into the Industry 

Amber and I met in a pub in Newtown. I had a beer and she had a fruity cocktail. She is 24, friendly, funny and well spoken. She could easily be mistaken for a student or bartender. Sex worker is the last thing you would assume about her. The obvious first question was how she got into the industry. Her answer surprised me. She had a friend that she was attending sex parties with. She described her friend as a very normal university student who also worked as a sex worker. As Amber attended more of these sex parties she became more sexually open. One day her friend suggested that she get into the sex industry. She had no idea how that worked.

Her friend put her in touch with the brothel she was working at. She thought about it. She was tired of struggling financially and decided to give it a shot. She contacted the brothel and said she was interested in working. She said they try and get you to start immediately because the longer they let you think about it the more likely you will change your mind. She had three days. It was a longest three days of her life. She did not eat or sleep much. She almost backed out. We all get nervous about our first day at a new job but I doubt many of us have ever been anywhere that nervous.

At that point, she had not had many random sexual encounters and was nervous about having sex with a total stranger. To deal with this she went on Tinder and matched with what she described as a good looking guy. She sent him a message and said she is getting into sex work and wanted some practice. She asked him if he would be willing to come to her place, have sex with her, and then leave. He agreed (shocking). I can’t imagine what was going through his head when he got that message other than it was his lucky day.

Eight months later she got a text from a random number asking if she wanted to meet up. She asked who it was. He responded that it was the guy from Tinder she used as a trial run for her new job. He then asked if she was down for a repeat. She responded, “Yeah, the price is $340/hour.”

Her First Day at Work

Amber showed up to work at 8 am. Her first booking that morning was at 9 am. Apparently this guy was the “new guy” girl, meaning he had the luck, or misfortune, of testing out the new girls. She described him as mid 40’s, average looking, boring and very vanilla. The appointment was for 30 minutes but he left after 20. She pocketed $110. She had two more clients that day. She left work with $500. She said she used to make a little more than that in a week. She decided that she would continue working.

A Day in the Life of a Sex Worker

Amber works 3 days a week. Her shift is 9 hours. At first she only saw 3-4 clients a day but now she sees between 3-6 on average. She works the day shift. She describes most of her clients as normal professionals. Most come for sex but some just want to talk. Many are married. She says they don’t get enough sex or attention at home so they come to the brothel for it. She also has a lot of regulars. The brothel sets the price at $340/hour, they get half and the girls get the other half. This includes kissing, vaginal and oral sex. Condoms are mandatory. If any “extras” are negotiated, the girl keeps all of that money.

There are two ways she, and other girls, get clients. One is an appointment with a regular. The other is more interesting. When a client comes in and does not have a specific girl in mind, all of the girls are called out. She says there are 10-20 girls working at any given time. They walk into the room one by one so the client can check them out. He then tells the reception which one he would like (or which ones). Reception then calls her out and tells her she has been chosen. A basic but efficient system.

Amber works as a private contractor, also refereed to as sole trader. She has an Australian Business Number (ABN) and pays taxes. She says she earns between $800-$1200 a day, working out to roughly $3,000 a week.

One thing I found interesting is that there is no training process. I guess if you are willing to get into sex work than you probably know a thing or two about sex. She says most men are easy to please. The clients will tell them if they are not happy. This is a job that you know very quickly if you are good or bad at.

One Year in the Business

She has been working in the sex industry for the last year. I asked her how she feels about it. She says she is happy to be making enough money to pay her bills and enjoy life. She gave no indication of regret, maybe because she was smiling and laughing the entire time. She is saving up to buy land in a tropical place. Taking it day by day in this industry is important to her. She will continue the work as long as it is enjoyable and profitable.

She made a point to say that this is her decision and it is a lifestyle she is comfortable with. She added that it is a misconception, at least in her case and many of her co-workers, that women get into this because they have no other options. She describes most of the girls she works with as smart, strong willed and liberated. I would argue that because it is legal and not in the shadows it is safer for the girls who choose to do it. She also draws a line between street girls, who often times have a pimp, and brothel girls, who work for themselves. She says she enjoys the power of the job and really enjoys giving both physical and emotional pleasure. She told me, “If you like sex then why not get paid to have it?”

One area that was tough for her is her parents. This was her biggest fear of getting into the industry. When I asked her if they knew she hesitated and said, “Well kind of.” At first she did not tell them but eventually they got suspicious. How was she paying for rent and taking all these luxurious vacations? One day her mom confronted her about it. She said she hoped her little girl would have had more respect for herself. All she could say was that she is choosing what she does with her body. It is something they choose not to discuss. She says they hope she is just working as a stripper but probably know the truth. 

Sex work continues to be stigmatized, albeit it less so than in the past. Some argue it is immoral while others argue the girls don’t have a choice. In Amber’s case, she has a choice. But even the most open or liberated girl will face some level of judgement for choosing to work in the sex industry. She says most girls lie about what they do to their friends and family to avoid being shamed or judged. Amber’s openness about what she does is not the norm. She says most of the girls could not date a guy who is cool with what they do. Amber says she cannot date a guy who is not cool with it. Regardless of how you feel about it, working in the sex industry can’t be easy.

A Few Stories

All jobs create stories, some much better than others. Sex work might create some of the most interesting stories. During our conversation Amber told me many stories about her work. I have chosen to include a few, I may include the rest in a later post.

Many of the clients ask for her number. There is a rule in drug dealing – don’t get high on your own supply. There is a similar rule in sex work – don’t give the clients from the brothel your number. She has done it a few times, with mixed results. One guy invited her to dinner with another girl. He paid for dinner at a nice restaurant and paid each of them $800 for their time and a little bonus. The bonus was watching them go at each other in a suite he rented. Apparently he just liked to watch.

Another client, an investment banker who visits her 3-4 times a week, told her he wanted to do a sleepover and asked her how much it would cost. She told him $2,000 for 8 hours. He countered at $1,500 for 12 hours. She did not like the idea of being low balled for less money and more time so she turned him down. Apparently he still comes to the brothel and showers her with gifts. It is less about sex and more about companionship with him.

There was one client who got overly aggressive. She says she likes being slapped and chocked, but not too hard. One guy took it too far and nearly made her pass out. She finally got him to stop and she called security. She refuses to see him anymore but he tells the other girls to tell her hello.

I enjoyed meeting and talking with Amber. Her openness shed light on an industry that is not talked about much and considered taboo by many. She does not fit the common stereotypes sex worker (originally I used the term prostitute but she told me that is a negative term and applies more to people who are coerced into the industry http://theconversation.com/dehumanising-sex-workers-whats-prostitute-got-to-do-with-it-16444). I can say one thing for sure, she chose this path and is happy with her choice. She is also a good businesswoman. She charged me $150 for her time, much less than her standard rate. So now I guess I can say I have paid a prostitute for her time, but only to talk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Time I had Surgery, in Russia…

I have had employer provided health insurance since 2010. In the period from April 2010 to November 2016 I worked for three different Alaska companies, two small IT firms and a large telecom (the second IT firm I was working for was acquired by a telecom company). All three provided good insurance but had a high deductible – around $5.000 a year for the small firms and $2,500 for the telecom. The monthly premiums were around $1,000 a month, the employers paid all or most of that.

I did not use the insurance much except for the occasional visit to the doctor or my yearly physical. I did have a surgery in 2014, which was one hell of a learning experience. I had struggled with nasal polyps for years. They are benign growths in the sinuses that make it hard or impossible to smell or breathe. Living with them makes for a very bad quality of life. The surgery to get them removed was so expensive that I was not able to do it for a long time. Luckily I was able to have them removed, literally, Russian style.

In 2011 I was visiting a good friend in Russia in a town called Cheboksary. Both his mother and father in law happened to be doctors. While at dinner one night his mother in law asked me if I was sick (the polyps make you sound like you always have a cold and you are constantly having to blow your nose). I told her no and explained that I had nasal polyps. In a typical Russian way she said, “Horosho, tebya nada govorit c vrachom” (Ok, you need to speak with the doctor). I told her thanks but I was good. Truth be told I was a bit nervous about going to a Russian hospital. Turns out my friend’s mother in law is the head of a major hospital in Cheboksary. She insisted I go see her friend, Galina Mihalovna, who is an ear, nose an throat (ENT) doctor. I agreed.

I can speak Russian quite well but when it comes to specialized topics like politics, science or medicine I sometimes struggle understanding because of words I don’t know. My friend Max told me he would go along with me. This was all during New Years. If you don’t know, Russia basically shuts down for ten days during New Years. It is an awesome party, I highly recommend spending a New Years in Russia. My friend’s mother in law set me up with an appointment to see her friend, the ENT.

Max and I headed to the hospital on a cold, Russian winter morning. The hospital was packed because New Years had just ended and people were getting back to their normal routine. I thought we were going to have to wait for hours but because I had my Russian svyazi (connections) I went right in to see the ENT. Max ended up waiting outside, so it was just me, the nurses and the doctor. This hospital was something else. It made me feel like I was in the Soviet Union. Long, dark and cold hallways. A lack of the kind of technology we see in doctors offices in the United States replaced by medical equipment that was from a different time. I was nervous. The first thing I did was go to a room with a large x-ray machine. They took an x-ray of my head for the doctor to look at.

The doctor came in to see me. She was wearing one of those mirrors on her head that looked like a big cyclops eye. She sat down in front of me and, in Russian, asked me what was wrong. I explained to her that I had nasal polyps. She looked at the x-ray and told me my sinuses were totally blocked. She then asked me to lean my head back, opened my nostrils up with a medical instrument, and shined a light to take a look. After about ten seconds she looked at me and said, “Da, y tebya ect polypa, nam nuznho deleat operatsiya srazy!” (Yes, you have polyps, we need to do a surgery right now!). My initial internal reaction was fuck that! I previously had surgery to remove nasal polyps back in 2005. It involved being put under anesthesia and took a week to recover. I was leaving Russia in five days.

At this point I really wished Max was around. Apparently he left the hospital and was going to come back later to get me. I told her, very calmly, “Spacibo no ya ne hochu. Ya ylichu skoro i ya ne hochu operatsiya kotori nyzhno anastezii” (Thank you but no. I am flying back soon and I don’t want a surgery that will require anesthesia). She looked at me puzzled and responded, “Eta ne Amerkia, tebya ne nada anastezii, ya chas deleat” (This is not America, you don’t need anesthesia. I will do it right now). I started to get more nervous but at the same time I thought to myself how bad my quality of life was with these damn things. I also weighed the fact that I was in a hospital with a doctor that was recommended from my friend’s mother in law, a highly respected doctor in Russia. I wanted to talk some more with her about what exactly she was going to do. She looked at me and said, “Tak, yestli hochesh operatsiya, davai. Yestli net, horosho. Ny ti videl skolko lyudey zhdet” (Look, if you want the operation let’s do it. If you don’t that’s fine. You saw how many people are waiting).

I weighed everything and said to myself fuck it. I told her, “Horosho, davai deleam operatsiya” (Ok, let’s do the operation). I had no idea what was going to happen. She left the room and I waited alone. I can’t recall the last time I was so nervous. Thoughts were racing through my head – what the hell is she going to do? what if something goes wrong? She came back a few minutes later with a nurse and some medical equipment. This was the point of no return.

She sat down in front of me. The first thing she did was get a vile of some kind of local anesthetic. I asked her what it was, she said dekacaine. Best I could figure was it was something in the caine family, the same family as cocaine… She then took out a very long and thin metal wire, placed some gauze on the end of it and dipped it very liberally in the anesthetic. She then told me to tilt my head back. Now it was getting real. She stuck the metal wire in my nose and went back very deep into the nasal cavity, at least two inches. She repeated this process many times. My nose and face started to feel numb. I also started to feel very anxious and high energy, I wonder why… She then took out a syringe and a different vile. Before she inserted it in my nose she told me, “Ne perizhivaesh, tvai serdtse mozhet nachat bystro bitsya” (Don’t worry, your heart may start beating fast). It was adrenaline, and damn she was right. I guess it was meant to reduce bleeding but now I was really starting to freak out. My heart was beating like I just sprinted a mile!

Now we were ready for the procedure. She took out an instrument called a snare. You hold one end between your two fingers and thumb, the other end has a wire that contracts when you pull your fingers and thumb together. She gave me a small bowl and told me to hold it below my face. She placed the snare in my nose, grabbed the first polyp and started yanking on it really hard. I could not feel a thing because of all the anesthetic. The first one she pulled out was about half the size of my thumb. She put it in the bowl. She kept doing this in both nostrils, pulling out a lot of these nasal polyps. Soon after she began I started bleeding, not a lot but enough to concern me. I asked her, best I could in the position I was in, “Ect mnogo krov, evso normalno?” (There is a lot of blood, is everything ok?). She immediately responded, “Mnogo krov, xaxa, eta ne mnogo. Ya tebya pokozhu mnogo. Ti muzhik ili devushka!” (A lot of blood, haha, that is not a lot. I will show you a lot. Are you a man or a girl!). Welcome to Russia folks.

Surprisingly not long after she started removing them I was able to breathe through my nose and even smell a bit. I had not been able to do either of those for years. It took her about 30 minutes to remove them all. One of my first thoughts was why don’t they do this in America? Likely because it does not cost nearly as much as a full surgery. A nasal polyp removal surgery I later had in Alaska cost a total of $50,000! (more on that later). Max had come back to the hospital. She gave me a list of medicine to get – some antibiotics, nasal steroid spray, and some saline solution to irrigate my sinuses. She also told me to take it easy for a few days. We went to the pharmacy, located in the hospital and got everything she told me to get. It cost about $15, I think it would have been ten times that or more in the United States. And then the part you won’t believe. When I asked her how much the bill was she said no charge. I tried to pay her something but she would not take it. I was a guest. I still can’t believe it. I sent her some nice flowers and thanked her for helping me.

Max took me back to his apartment and I went to sleep. I did not feel like I just came out of a surgery but I did feel a bit off. After a day I felt totally back to normal. I could breathe and smell! I was so happy I decided to go through with it. I returned to see her a few days later so she could take a look. She said things looked great. I thanked her again and we wished each other all the best.

As soon as I returned to Alaska I made an appointment with the ENT I had been seeing so he could take a look. I got to his office and explained what the Russian ENT had done. He looked at me in near disbelief. He told me they stopped doing that procedure in the United States back in the 1970’s. I asked why? He said it was more dangerous and also does not fully remove the polyp. The biggest risk is a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak, which can lead to meningitis. I explained that while maybe more risky and rudimentary, it did work. How many people who cannot afford the surgery could benefit from this procedure?

He was right about one thing, it was not a long term fix. The polyps had begun to reappear about a year later. I went back to Russia two more times in the following two years to have the same procedure done. Galina Mihalovna and I became friends. I even tried to get her to come to Alaska to do an exchange. I had come across a different ENT in Anchorage, Dr. List, who studied in Russia and spoke Russian. We soon became friends. I also told him about my Russian surgery experience. He was less surprised but also said that was not something ENT’s do anymore in the United States. Dr. List agreed to host her for a week and let her shadow him at his office. I offered to buy her a ticket but she ultimately decided against the long travel.

I actually ended up getting the American version of the surgery in 2014. Dr. List performed the operation. Three years later things are still good. However, that surgery had a whole different set of challenges, namely insurance challenges. Stay tuned for the next piece where I talk about navigating the complex insurance system in the United States and how a two hour procedure ended up costing $50,000.

 

 

 

 

Australia Update: My Life as an Immigrant

I’ve been in Australia for nearly three months now. The way things have gone are very different than the way I imagined how they would go. When I first got here my plan was to hang out in Sydney for a week, then go and visit some friends up north near Newcastle and Coffs Harbor, then head north to the Northern Territory or northern Queensland. I spent Christmas in Singleton and New Years in Coffs Harbor. I had a great time seeing some good mates that I met ten years ago backpacking in Germany. It was great seeing them and other parts of New South Wales.

Plans Change

The time I spent in Sydney before I went up north for the holidays got me thinking. I have met a lot of Aussies in my travels and many of them live in Sydney. I spent time with some of them and their friends when I arrived. Many of them had professional jobs in banking, marketing, IT, etc. They all said I should stay in Sydney and try and get a job where I could get a sponsored visa that would allow me to stay in Australia long term and eventually become a permanent resident. From the minute I arrived I loved Australia. The people, the culture and the lifestyle is very much in line with how I live my life. I decided after my trip up north I would return to Sydney and look for a professional job like I had back home. Before I left I found a room to rent in a part of Sydney called Newtown. That is a whole different story…

One thing I quickly figured out in Sydney is employers rarely advertise positions themselves. Most of them go through recruiting firms. There are something like 3,000 recruiting firms in Sydney! Most jobs posted on sites like Seek are posted through a recruiter, you then contact them and they decide if they want to recommend you to their client. I started looking for a job in IT sales. At first I did not really understand the recruiting thing but eventually caught on. The first recruiter I called about an IT sales position asked me if I would be interested in recruiting. She told me she thought I would be good at it and that recruiting is one of the easiest jobs in Australia to get sponsored. I had helped previous employers find people and also helped a lot of companies in Alaska find people due of my large network. The idea of working in recruiting sounded right up my alley. I love working with people.

(My current visa, 462, allows me to work in Australia for one year but limits employment to 6 months with any employer. I would need to get sponsored by a company under a new visa, 457, to stay longer than 6 months)

The Job Search in Recruiting 

I decided to try and get a job with this company. It was one of the larger recruiting firms in Sydney with offices in over 40 countries. I went through an initial telephone interview with the internal recruiter. She liked me and told me the next step was a virtual interview and a personality test. I had never heard of a virtual interview before. It is kind of Orwellian, you video record yourself asking questions they provide, then answer them. I completed both tasks the following day. She told me things looked good but needed to be reviewed by some other people. I felt good pretty good about it. From something right out of Office Space, I got a call from her at 4:59 on a Friday afternoon. She told me that, unfortunately, the results from my personality test did not match what they were looking for. I was a bit surprised to hear that. I said, “You listen to a computer about who you hire? We have not even met in person.” Clearly I am not meant to work for a company who uses a personality test as a basis for who they hire.

The one positive takeaway from that experience was that I decided I wanted to give recruiting a shot. With so many recruiting firms in Sydney it was just a matter of finding one, or so I thought… I began looking for other recruiting firms that were hiring. Obviously recruiting firms don’t need to use recruiters so it is easier getting a hold of them directly. I came across another large firm that was hiring. I contacted the person and we arranged a time to meet in person. I went to their office and we had a great chat. She was impressed with my background in IT and telecom sales and told me she wanted to advance me to the next stage, a group interview. The initial interview for the following week got moved so it was almost two weeks before the group interview.

There was 8 of us in the room, one Canadian, one Aussie, one Dutchwoman, four people from UK (Scotland, Ireland, England), and me, the American. It was pretty straightforward, we introduced ourselves, had to prepare a two minute speech on a topic we choose and then did some role playing. The role playing consisted of us trying to sell a candidate to a client about a position and the trying to convince a potential client to use us as a recruiter. This was all done in front of everyone. I don’t want to brag but I killed it. In the first part I sold my guy well, overcame objections and secured an interview. The main goal was to secure an interview and I was the only person who did that. The second one was even better. My scenario was cold calling a business where the person I was talking to had a bad experience with this firm in the past. I listened to her complaint, empathized and said I was sorry for the bad experience. I was not getting anywhere so I then said that I had a bad experience with a rep at Telstra (mobile phone provider) when I went into the store. Instead of switching I went to a different store and got the help I needed. That did the trick! At the end of the group interview I was confident I would make it through. The next day I got a call saying I made it to the next step, meeting with the managers of the different teams to find me a spot.

This felt really good. Over the next week I met with different managers of teams ranging from digital marketing, policy and strategy and the executive team. The person I was working with from the beginning made it seem like I had a job, it was just a matter of finding me a spot. After all the interviews I got a call from her. She told me that they really liked me but were concerned about “my ability to work in a corporate environment.” I was surprised to hear this as I had already went so far in their process and this was already discussed. She said there may be a position in Wollongong and that her counterpart in Melbourne wanted to talk to me about opportunities there. I never heard back from them. This was a waste of three weeks. I actually passed up on another job opportunity because I was so confident about this position.

Back to the Basics

I was not having luck in recruiting and I happened to get a call back from a recruiter that I had previously contacted about a job in IT sales and account management. She told me she was going to advance my resume to the firm. Soon after she contacted me and said they wanted to do a Skype interview with me. I had a great chat with the HR manager. She told me they would be in touch. The following week the recruiter told me they wanted to do an in person interview. I went to their office and had an interview with the CIO via video conference as he was in Melbourne. We talked for an hour and a half. He was really cool and someone I could definitely work for. This was literally the perfect job for me because it was almost identical to what I had been doing the previous seven years. He told me he really liked me and that I was perfect for the job. He did mention one thing that concerned me. He said they sponsored a few Americans in the past who did not last more than a year. He asked me if they sponsored me if I would go back home? I said, “Two words, Donald Trump!” He laughed and I went on to tell him if I got a job here my plan is to stay long term.

Met some Red Bull girls heading to a job interview!

A week goes by and I get a call from the recruiter. She tells me it is down to me and an Aussie guy. She said the CIO really wants me but his boss does not want to sponsor anyone else. She said they were going to make a decision by the end of the next day and she would let me know. She also added the CIO was really pushing for me because I was the perfect fit for the job. The next day I got a call from her saying they went with the other guy because he did not need to be sponsored. I was pretty let down, this was the perfect job for me and I was very upfront from the beginning that I would eventually need to get sponsored. There was nothing I could do. Now I knew how all my immigrant friends back home felt when they would talk about very similar challenges finding a job.

Something Different 

When I first got to Sydney I met an American guy who had been working in construction for almost a year. He told me the company he was with. I remembered this and gave them a call. The guy told me I needed to get a white card in order to work construction. A white card is required for anyone in Australia that is working on a construction site. I signed up for a day class to get the card. I had never really worked construction before other than helping friends back home with houses or cabins. Once I got the card I got signed up to work. This company is a labor staffing firm. They provide labor to construction firms so any given day could be different work. Because I don’t have a trade or any real construction experience he told me I would be doing general labor. The pay is $25 AUD an hour (around $19 USD).

I have honestly never worked so hard in my life. I have done jobs ranging from carrying very heavy doors up stairs, prying up wood flooring from a house that was flooded (that shit was never meant to come up) to carrying wood and cinder blocks down a very steep and long driveway. I have really come to appreciate people who do this for a living. It is very hard work. I was earning a lot more money back home working in an office. I often work a suit and tie to work, never sweat and never got home so sore and tired. I can say one thing for sure, Jeff Landfield is definitely a white collar guy!

One More Shot

I was eating risotto at an Italian restaurant a few weeks ago. Two girls sat next to me and cracked open a bottle of champagne! We got to chatting and they offered me a glass. I told them about my situation and mentioned if I don’t get a job soon I am leaving Sydney and heading to the outback. Turns out one of the girls works for a large recruiting firm and they are looking for an IT sales recruiter. I have since met with the girl who leads the team (she is American but has been here for 7 years) and also the managing director. I am not holding my breath based on my previous experiences but I will wait and see. I should know pretty soon if I got the job.

Plan B

Tim and I

I met a fellow Alaskan last month here in Sydney. We have a mutual friend in Alaska and she connected us. Tim was doing farm work up in Queensland for a while and was then traveling around Australia with his lady friend from Alaska for three weeks. They crashed at my place for a few days while they were passing through. She has since left back to Alaska and he is back in Sydney. Tim is crashing with me and I got him a job with the same labor company I am working for. If I don’t get this job we are going walkabout. He has a car and wants to head north. We may go to Darwin or somewhere in northern Queensland. I am heading to a good Alaskan friend’s wedding next week in the Dominican Republic for a week. I can’t wait to see so many of my Alaskan friends I have not seen in three months! If this job does not work out we plan to leave Sydney by the end of March.

Another interesting development occurred yesterday. I called into the Mark Colavecchio show to say hi and give an Australia update. Soon after I received an email from an Aussie guy who lives and works in Alaska. He said he always likes hearing me on the radio and had a proposal for me. He and his wife have a very remote cabin in northern New South Wales. He has not been there for a while and offered for me to stay as long as I like if I do some basic maintenance work. He sent some pictures and it looks awesome. It is super remote. That will definitely be something Tim and I will do if we head out of here together.

I have learned a lot in the three months I have been here:

  1. Getting sponsored is not as easy as I thought. I think it used to be a lot easier. Many friends I have met from UK and other places got sponsored 4 or 5 years ago and are now citizens. They all say it used to be easier.
  2. “Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” – Dwight Eisenhower
  3. Construction is hard, really hard.
  4. It is great meeting a fellow Alaskan and sharing this experience with him.
  5. Sydney is not at all representative of Australia.

I am very excited to see what the next few weeks will bring. Much of the excitement for me is the uncertainty. I love the quote, “It is not the destination, it is the journey.” That is definitely how I feel about things here. We will see what the future holds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Time I was Kidnapped in Ukraine

It Always Starts With a Girl

Back in early 2010 I headed to Ukraine for a month to visit a Ukrainian girl I met in Alaska. Genya and I met during the summer of 2009 at a Russian party at Mirror Lake. We started dating soon after but she had to go back to Ukraine at the end of summer because her visa was expiring. I was about to start my last semester at university. We promised each other we would stay in touch and we did. After I graduated university in December 2009 I started working at the post office as a temp to save up some money to go see her. I left for Ukraine at the end of January 2010.

I had only been to Ukraine once before. In 2006 I spent the summer traveling around Europe and Russia. I took a train from Budapest to Moscow that went through Ukraine. I spent a month in Russia on that trip, definitely enough time to observe the strangeness of Russia and the cultural differences. I was very excited to be going back, especially because my Russian had dramatically improved since 2006. Genya was from western Ukraine, a town called Chernivtsi. Chernivtsi is an interesting place, it is full of culture but also has a unique history. It was part of the Ottoman Empire, the Hapsburg Empire, Romania, the Soviet Union and since 1991 has been part of the independent Ukraine. All of this history can be seen in the architecture.

Arriving in Ukraine 

I arrived in Kiev on a cold night. I forgot about how aggressive the taxi drivers are there. My big backpack may have well been a bullseye. They don’t just hassle you, they literally grab you and try to get you in their cab. I eventually got into the city and called Genya to tell her I had arrived and about the taxi drivers at the airport. I got on a train the next day to Chernivtsi. The train ride is about 12 hours, enough time to observe the differences but not enough to get used to it all. When I arrived Genya was there to greet me.

Genya and I in Chernivsti, Ukraine

 

Before I left Alaska I connected with this British fellow who had a hostel in Chernivtsi. I told him I would stay with him. This is where it all started. Soon after arriving, Genya and I went to go meet Paul. Paul was a very interesting character. He was in his 50’s and definitely stood out in Ukraine, mostly because he was always smiling. He said he got tired of England and decided to spin a globe and go wherever his finger stopped, it ended up being Ukraine. He sold his house and most of his belongings and headed to Ukraine. He purchased a building where he started the hostel. It was a decent place and very affordable. The best part was it was winter in Ukraine so there were no other guests.

 

A Night Out 

Once I got settled in Genya went home. She told me she would call me in the morning. Before she left, as if she knew what was going to happen, she said, “Jeff be careful, this is not America. Don’t be so friendly with everyone here.” I kissed her goodbye and told her I would see her in the morning.

Paul invited me out to a local discoteca. Of course I said yes. This place was about as Russian as you could imagine. Hot women everywhere outnumbering the men 3 to 1. The women were dancing while the men stood in the corner smoking – not really paying attention. Food and bottles of vodka littered the tables. I was so excited I forgot Genya’s warning. We sat down next to a group of Ukrainians. Of course I introduced myself and offered to buy drinks. They realized right away I was not Ukrainian. One of the guys asked me where I was from. I responded, “Ya Amerikanyetz!” I could not have made myself a bigger target if I tried. We ended up having a good time with the group. After plenty of food, vodka and dancing, the discoteca was closing. It was around 3 am.

Paul and I

The Kidnapping

As we were all walking out, two of the guys invited me out to another party. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. They had a big white cargo van, the kind with the big sliding door on the side. I asked Paul if he wanted to come along. Paul said, “There is no way I am getting in that van, and neither should you.” Looking back I should have listened to Paul. I got in the van and we drove off. In hindsight this was a really bad idea. The van was equipped with a giant loudspeaker and the two of them were yelling into the microphone as we cruised along. They gave me the mic and told me to yell at people in English. Keep in mind these guys did not speak English, all of our conversation was in Russian.

We pulled up to a gas station just outside of the city. They started filling up the van and we all walked inside to get some tea. When we went up to pay for the tea and gas one of the guys looked at me and said, “Davia platit” (pay for it). I thought this was odd but decided to go along with it and then leave them. I paid for everything with the last bit of cash I had on me. We walked outside and I told them it was nice to meet them and I would find my own way back. They looked at me, the kind of look you don’t ever want to see, and said, “Kyda ti? Ti c nami” (Where are you going? You are coming with us). At this point I knew I was in trouble.

I tried to get away but they forced me in the van. We were outside of the city enough where it did not make sense to try and get away. That would only escalate things. I did not know what was going to happen next, if I did I would have never got back in. The guy in the passenger seat looks at me and says, “Davai babki i passport” (Give us your money and passport). I explained, best I could, that I spent the last of my cash at the gas station and did not have my passport with me. After a brief discussion with one another, one of them reaches into the glove box and pulls out an old WWII pistol and points it at me. He made it clear that if I did not have any money than I was useless to them. I had never had a gun pointed at me before. My response was surprisingly calm and rational. I told him to put away the gun and we would go to an ATM where I would get them their fucking money. The most they could get was $500 anyway because of my daily limit.

They seemed to be agreeable to this suggestion. As we were driving I took my ID and and credit cards out of my wallet and hid them in my socks so these guys would not find them if they took my wallet. As we were driving I thought about the best way to get out of this. I was scared but also knew I could not show them my fear. We were driving down a dark country road that had sloping sides. I thought seriously about putting my forearm around the driver’s neck, grabbing the wheel and forcing the van off the road. I ultimately decided against this because if it did not go perfectly then I was definitely going to get hurt. Giving them the money seemed like the best plan. We headed to an ATM machine.

I left my bank card in my pocket so I could easily take it out when we got to the ATM. Something strange happened as we drove through the night. The guy in the passenger seat started being nice to me. He told me everything would be okay and this was not personal. I was not sure what to make of this. The driver maintained his aggressive attitude and told him to shut up and stop talking to me. It seemed like the classic good cop, bad cop routine. We pulled up to a building with an ATM machine. The van stopped and the passenger opened the back door. I took out my bank card and was holding it in my hands, as they pulled me out of the van I dropped it and it fell in a crack behind the seat. I tried to explain what happened but they thought I was messing with them. Things begin to escalate. I jumped back in the van to try and get it but they were dragging me out. I was able to grab it as I was being pulled out for the second time. I can’t imagine what would have happened if I had not grabbed it.

We walked up to the ATM machine. I knew the most they were getting was $500 but I also knew I needed my card. It would have been a real problem getting money from the US if I lost my card. I calmly told them, “Look, I am going to put the card in the machine and then put in my PIN code while you aren’t looking. Then you can take your damn money and let me go” (I left out the limit). Surprisingly they agreed to this. I thought it was odd that they agreed so quickly. This is when I realized I was dealing with a couple amateurs. Proper thieves would have demanded the card and the code or told me they would kill me. These two clowns went along with everything I said. After I put the card and PIN in the ATM they pushed me aside. I could still see the screen. The aggressive one was taking the lead. He did not seem to know how an ATM worked. He eventually selected $1,000. I did not say anything but knew the transaction would be denied because it exceeded the limit. When it declined he looked at me and said, “Ti cho blad, gde babki?” (What the fuck, where is the money?). I told him there was money in there and offered to show him. I put the card back in the machine and told them to look away, I then entered my PIN. I selected “balance” and showed them. I only had about $4,000 in my account. The aggressive one looked shocked and said, “Blad, gde babki? Eto shutka?” (Where is the fucking money? Is this a joke?).

It became clear to me that they thought they hit the jackpot when they had an American. They probably thought I was loaded. I explained I just graduated university and don’t have much money. They looked at each other and started laughing. The aggressive one said, “Da blad, mi toge tolko okuential universitat” (Fuckin really, we also just graduated university). I suggested we try another ATM machine. I knew after several attempts the card would get blocked. This seemed like a good plan. We went to another ATM machine and repeated the same process. He again tried for $1,000 and it was again denied. I suggested he try $100, that worked. He then tried $1,000 again and it was declined. We went to another machine. He tried $1,000 again, same thing. He then tried $500. They had already got $100 so I knew this would not work. There was a message in English that said “Please contact your financial institution.” I knew now that the card was blocked. I told them it was probably a local bank issue and said we should try another machine.

Trying to Escape

It was approaching 5 am as we headed to the next ATM. I knew this was not going to last much longer but also knew I needed to try and get away. If these guys were really going to hurt me they would have by then. We stopped in front of a building with stairs leading up to an ATM machine. The aggressive one accompanied me while the nice one stayed in the van. Oddly enough we had developed a kind of relationship by this point. It’s hard to describe but I think we all realized we had a lot more in common than we initially thought. We walked up to the ATM and repeated the process. After I had the card back and he was trying to get the money I saw my chance. I grabbed him and threw him down the stairs and took off running. The guy in the car saw but ran to his friend. I was getting away. There was fresh snow on the street and it was very slippery. I was running down these old streets – turning left and right – having no idea where I was headed. I was happy to have gotten away but there was no where to go, no one was around.

As I was running down a street I saw an old man sitting in a work van. This was it! I ran up to him and tried to explain what happened and told him I needed help. At the time I thought nothing of it but looking back I realize how crazy I must have looked. He told me to fuck off. I tried again to explain what happened but did not know how to say kidnap in Russian and was out of breath. Just then the van appeared at the end of the street. They were heading right for us. I was so out of breath and by the time I thought about running again there they were. They got out, grabbed me, threw me on the pavement and started kicking and punching me. I tried fighting back but I was exhausted. The old man and I looked at each other when I was being beat up by these two. I will never forget his eyes and the look on his face. It was then he realized I really did need help but now it was too late.

They threw me in the back of the van and we drove off. I could not believe I did not get away. Something happens to people when they are in situations like this. Everyone is different but no one knows how they will react until they are put in that position. At first I was very scared, eventually my fear subsided and I felt more anxious than scared. By this point I was angry. I started yelling at them. I said, “Cmotri blad, yestli strilaesh menya togda strila. Yestli net, otpusti menya potomy shto bolsho babki ne polychit blad. Idi na xyi, menya po xyi!” (Look mother fuckers, if you are going to shoot me then do it. If not let me go because you aren’t going to get anymore fucking money out of me. Fuck you two, I don’t fucking care anymore!). This definitely surprised them. I had not yelled at them before this and had not used foul language. They starred at each other in disbelief. They then started speaking Ukrainian with each other. I did not understand what they were saying. I figured it was either about letting me go or killing me.

The Release, Well Eventually

The van stopped. The nicer one opened the back door and said, “Davai idi” (Get out of here). I got out and was relieved to be let go. But I was also in the middle of no where. It was cold and snowing. I had no money, my ATM card did not work, my phone was dead and my ribs hurt from being kicked. What happened next sounds crazy but it really happened. I asked the nicer one if I could have 100 grivna (about $12) so I could get a taxi. He asked the aggressive one who promptly said no. I told them they took $100 from me and it was cold and I had no idea where I was. The nicer one looked at me with sympathy but it was not his call. I then said, “Horosho, togda vysadit menya v gorodi” (Ok fine, drop me off in the city then). The nice one looked at the aggressive one and said, “Mozhno otpusti ego v gorodi?” (Can we drop him off in the city?). He did not answer right away. After a pause he said, “Blad, horosho no skazhi emy ne govoirt” (Fuck, ok but tell him not to talk). I got back in the van and we drove off.

The ride back in the city took about 20 minutes. It was deadly silent. I would like to think they were pondering about how what they did to me was wrong but I think they were trying to get over the fact they were giving me a ride after kidnapping and robbing me. Once I saw a familiar landmark and knew where I was I felt much better. When all of this started I noticed a Russian Orthodox icon on the dash. The irony was hard to ignore. I decided I was going to tell these fuckers how I felt. I said, “Vi znaete shto Bog evso videt i evso znaet. Shto vi cdelali c mnoi ne pravilno” (You know God sees and knows everything. What you guys did to me is wrong). The aggressive one was visibly angry by this statement and told the nicer one to tell me to shut the fuck up! We had arrived and I knew where I was. The nicer one opened the door and motioned for me to get out. As I was leaving the aggressive one said, “Ya bolsho ne hochu videt tebya. Octobit Ukraina zaftra” (I don’t want to see you anymore. Leave Ukraine tomorrow). I immediately responded, “Ya tolko priletal. Ya nikyda ne poydy” (I just got here. I am not going anywhere). I then walked off.

Afterwards

Feeling strong after I got away

I got back to the hostel around 6 am, Paul was asleep. When I woke up I told him what happened. I think he wanted to say I told you so but just said that he was glad I was okay and to be more careful. Genya was more direct. I went to her place. As soon as she opened the door she said, “Tell me what happened?” It was like she already knew everything. She said I was lucky but was glad it happened because now I would understand what she told me. Later that night I called Wells Fargo to get my card working again. The girl could not believe the story I told her. She initially said the card was going to be canceled for fraud but I explained I had the card and just needed it unblocked. I figured that $100 they got was just a cheap lesson. She believed my story and I think she felt bad because she said normally they cannot refund money unless you make a fraud claim. She said she was going to make an exception and credited me $100.

Since then I have been to Ukraine and Russia many more times. Needless to say I am much more apprehensive when meeting strangers and I am definitely much more reserved than when I am in the U.S. I’m lucky it turned out the way it did, it could have been much worse. I wonder if those two clowns tell the story as much a I do? Somehow I doubt it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Australian Healthcare: An American Perspective

I arrived in Australia two months ago in mid-December. I showed up soon after I was laid off from my previous job in Alaska last November. There is a law in the United States referred to as COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1985). This mandates that employers continue to offer health insurance to employees if they leave the company. However, the employee is then usually responsible for the entire premium. Employers in the United States who offer health insurance typically pay most – if not all – of the premiums for the employees. When I got my COBRA quote to continue with the company health insurance it was almost $900 USD a month.

I knew I was heading to Australia but also knew I needed to have insurance. $900 USD a month was way too much. I went on the healthcare exchange to purchase a high deductible plan. Without getting into how much of an ordeal that was, let’s just say it was a real nightmare. Eventually I was able to purchase a high deductible plan. The deductible is $5,000 USD per year. Because I was not working I had to estimate an income for 2017. The monthly premium was $560 USD per month. Based on my income estimate I qualified for a subsidy that lowered my cost to just under $100 USD per month. I will probably earn more than I estimated, which means I will end up paying the difference when I do my 2017 taxes.

Many Americans criticize the healthcare systems in places like Australia, Canada and United Kingdom. Most of them have never lived, or even been to, those places but they sure seem to know how bad things are. “Socialism, high taxes, long waits, bad care, death panels,” are things you commonly hear from Americans when talking about the healthcare systems that nearly every advanced western democracy have. Keep in mind America spends more per capita, and more as a percentage of GDP on healthcare than any other OECD country.

Getting Sick Down Under

Soon after arriving in Australia I headed up the coast from Sydney to visit some friends. After seeing a buddy who lives near Newcastle I headed to Coffs Harbor to see another buddy. Him and his wife had a pretty bad cough I was hoping not to catch. After five days I headed back to Sydney, cough free. Two days later I started getting sick. I caught the cough in Coffs Harbor! After a week it got really bad. I can’t remember ever having a cough that bad. I decided it was time to see a doctor.

Being the American that I am the first thing I thought was how much is this going to cost? Seeing a doctor in America can cost anywhere from $200-500, depending on the reason for the visit or if they are a specialist. That is just for the visit, not tests or procedures. I called a clinic near where I live and explained I am an American and will be paying out of pocket. I asked what it costs to see a doctor, she said $75 AUD (about $60 USD). I was surprised it was so inexpensive. She said I can come down to be seen.

I walked down to the clinic and signed in. I again asked what the cost would be. She says, “$75, this is not America. I lived in America for a few years and we don’t have the kind of mess they do.” I got checked in and waited for about 30 minutes before the doctor called me in. He was an older guy named Paul, very Aussie. Paul came to Australia with his family from Poland when he was a kid. He asked me what was wrong and then listened to my chest. He also took my blood pressure, weight, etc. This was surprising as in America this is done by the nurse or assistant. The doctor then looks at the chart when he walks in. He also asked me about my general health. We spent about 20 minutes together. I commented this was the longest time, by far, that I had ever talked to a doctor in an office. He was surprised to hear that and said, “Well how else can you get to know your patient?”

Selfie with Dr. Paul

We discussed the differences in Australian and American healthcare. Australia has a single payer Medicare system for all. They also have private insurance that people can choose to purchase to supplement the public Medicare system. To my knowledge this is completely private with no government subsidies, a true market system. It is surprisingly very affordable, usually a few hundred dollars a month. People choose private health insurance to reduce wait times or get coverage for things like dental. Paul told me that, yes, some procedures that are not critical require a wait. Wait times can range but I think they can be up to six months for some things. However, if something is urgent or an emergency, you will be taken care of right away.

Paul told me I have a chest infection and wrote me a prescription for an antibiotic. He told me about a nearby pharmacy where I could get it filled. I walked over to the pharmacy and gave the guy the prescription. I asked how long it would take? He looked at me, confused, and said, “Two minutes.” I said, “Oh wow, back in US it can take up to an hour” (Never understood having to wait for a prescription in US). He immediately responded, “Mate if it took more than ten minutes people would yell at me!” Two minutes later he gave me the medicine. I was a bit worried about what it would cost. Total cost was $30 AUD (about $23 USD).

 

The Differences 

I have only been in Australia for a few months but I have talked to a lot of people about healthcare. They are, for the most part, very happy with healthcare in Australia. Whenever the government tries to tinker or privitize the system there is major public opposition. They are also usually horrified when I tell them about the American system. I had a sinus surgery three years ago. It lasted for two hours, I was in the hospital for around five hours total. I had to pay $5,500 out of pocket (my deductible at the time). A month after I got several bills showing the actual amounts billed to insurance. One was from my doctor, this one was $21,000 USD. Another was from the hospital (Providence Hospital is allegedly a non-profit), this one was $25,000 USD. A third one was from the anesthesiologist, this one was $2,000 USD. For a grand total of $48,000 USD for a two hour procedure.

I am by no means an expert on the Australian healthcare system but it seems to be a much better system than the dumpster fire of a system in the United States. I tell people that healthcare in America is really good if you are rich and not bad if you are poor. If you are middle class then you get screwed. Middle class people don’t qualify for Medicaid but also end up paying a huge percentage of their income for healthcare. If someone wanted to invent the most complex, bureaucratic, and inefficient healthcare system, they would only have to look at the American system. Unfortunately, the lobbying power of the insurance and pharmaceutical companies means things are unlikely to change. America could learn a lot from the Australian healthcare system.

 

 

 

My Valentine’s Day: Always a Bridesmaid, Never a Bride

There are two things I really love: people and Vegas. After several trips to Vegas with friends, they began calling me the “set man.” This is because I talk to everyone at the pool. I am usually wearing a speedo or mankini. The girls really seem to love this, mostly because they are amused. The result is my single friends always end up meeting one of the girls I’ve gotten to come hang out with us. This phenomenon is not unique to Vegas. Many friends have ended up dating – or even getting married – through their connection to Jeff Landfield. This story is about two of them: Sean and Allison.

The Sean Situation

Sean and I, and a cock

I moved to Alaska in 2004 from New Mexico. Soon after I got a job as a car salesman at Cal Worthington Ford. I was on a team with five people, one of them was Sean. Sean is not the kind of person you meet and want to be friends with right away. He is a bit of an asshole. One time Sean called the main sales line and asked for me. In a disguised voice, somewhere between Iraqi and Indian, he said he had spoken to me before and was ready to buy. He said he was looking for a right hand drive Explorer. I said I’m pretty sure we don’t have those in America. He asked me to double check. I asked a co-worker, who was in on it with Sean. He told me we have some at the downtown location. I drove down there to find one. As I was browsing the lot a sales guy approached me and asked if he could help. I told him I was looking for a right hand drive Explorer. He laughed and said, “You are new, aren’t you?” On the way back I called Sean in an attempt to get even. I said I got in a car accident. He said, “Not my problem, call our manager,” and then hung up. Despite that, we actually became really good friends.

I left Cal after a year. Sean and I stayed in contact for a while but eventually lost touch. Several years go by and I run into Sean downtown one night. After catching up I mentioned I was looking for a place and a roommate, as luck would have it so was he. We started looking and eventually found a place in a 4-plex in South Anchorage. That was in early 2010. We lived in that place together for two years and had some great times. Too many to write here but let’s just say we had an awesome time. In 2012 I decided to buy a condo, which was very close to where we were living. I asked Sean if he wanted to continue being roommates and move in the condo with me. He agreed and we moved in late 2012. The good times continued. I really enjoyed what I called “ladies night.” This is where we went out to meet chicks. But all good things must come to and end. More about that later.

The Allison Situation

Allison and I at the Jim Beam Jam

I started getting interested in Alaska politics in 2010. I was attending a lot of events for work and was learning a lot about Alaska’s fiscal challenges. I ended up running for the state senate in 2012. I was always attending political events and meeting new people. At one such event I met Allison. The event was a debate watch party sponsored by a local Republican group. I spotted Allison and thought to myself, “Who is that good looking lady?” I immediately introduced myself and invited myself to join her. We had a great time chatting. When the event was over I invited her for a drink, she said yes. Things were all going to plan, or so I thought… After two drinks she told me I have had enough and to please drive her back to her car. She also informed me we would not be sleeping together. Damn.

Allison and I became very good friends after that. She became my go to partner and wingman for the Jim Beam Jam, a great party every year during Fur Rondy. She is someone I can easily talk to and she always tells me exactly what she thinks, which if you know me can sometimes be a lot to say. She ended up becoming a trusted confidant. When you are in politics it is sometimes hard to know how to talk to. You worry if you can trust them or why they are giving you certain advice. I never worried about this with Allison. She ended up becoming my communications director for my 2016 state senate campaign. Imagine being the communications director for Jeff Landfield? I was very happy I had someone like her I could always turn to.

The Meeting 

It was a warm, early summer Saturday in Alaska. I was browsing Facebook at my condo and came across an awesome post someone shared from Craigslist. It was a giant, inflatable T-Rex at a garage sale for $50. This thing is like 8 feet tall! I knew I had to have this. I told Sean and he was as excited as I was. We quickly left so we did not miss this incredible deal. We arrived and it was still there. We made the purchase, $25 each. We decided to name him Allen. We crammed Allen into my SUV and drove home. The only way we could make it fit was to have its head sticking out of the rear window. Many children were amused as we drove home. We took Allen to the balcony and proudly displayed him for the neighborhood to see. Sean put a beer in front of him and I took a picture and posted it on Facebook announcing my awesome new dinosaur!

Soon after I posted the Allen pic I got a call from Allison. She was having a hard day and in a bad mood. She said the photo of Allen cheered her up and asked if she could come by. I said absolutely. Little did I know this would put in motion a series of events that would change Sean and Allison’s lives forever – and mine too. Allison arrived soon after we spoke. I offered her a beer and introduced her to Sean. If someone would have offered to bet me that Sean and Allison would end up together, I would have bet everything I have that they would not. They are very different people. Nevertheless the first thing I told them was, “Sean, Allison is off limits. Allison, Sean is off limits. Got it?”

After hanging out for a while I told Sean and Allison I was going to play cards. I figured they would chill out and when I got back she would be gone. I returned several hours later and was surprised to see Allison’s car was still there. I came inside and did not see them. I went upstairs and heard some activity in Sean’s room. I thought to myself, “No way!” I knocked on the door and said, “What the hell is going on in there?” They opened the door, and burst out laughing! Allison’s hair was all messed up. To this day they both insist they were just playing a joke on me.

What Happened Next

Needless to say, Sean and Allison started spending a lot of time together. This bothered me a bit. Not because I was jealous, Allison and I were just friends. But I was a little annoyed that Sean was spending more and more time with her and less and less time with me. In a very short period of time I figured out this was becoming a serious thing. A month goes by and Sean tells me he has something important he to tell me. What could it be, I thought. He told me him and Allison got engaged. After a month of meeting each other! My first thought was, “What the fuck are you talking about?” But he was serious. What could I say, even though I thought it was a bit crazy all I could do was wish both of them the best. Well another month goes by and guess what? They got married! It was a small, family event. I was kind of upset I was not invited (I still kind of am).

Well not only did I lose my “ladies night” wingman and partner, I also lost a roommate. Sean moved in with Allison. This took some getting used to. Sean and I had been roommates for over three years at this point. I joked that Allison stole him from me. To be completely honest, I gave them a 50/50 chance. I mean who gets married after only two months of knowing each other. I obviously hoped things would be great, but the logical side of me thought it was pretty crazy. After not much time of being married, Sean and Allison bought a house together. I talked to them all the time and they were both so happy. I was very happy for them. Fast forward to present day, Allison just had their first child in November. A beautiful baby girl named Elise. Uncle Jeff was the first non-family members to visit.

Me holding Elise right after she was born

Sean and Allison have an awesome marriage and are very happy together. They are starting a family and building a life together. We never know how the people we meet will impact our lives. Some have little or no impact, some have good impact and some have bad impact. I am happy that my friendships with Sean and Allison have positively impacted their lives. As bizarre of a story as it is, it truly makes for a great “how did you meet” story.

What did I get out of all of this? Well, I kept Allen!

 

The Rasmuson Ransom: How I got a $700 Million Endowment to Buy Websites From Me

We have all heard the stories about companies or organizations that accidentally let their domains lapse, which are then immediately purchased by someone who demands a ransom. This has happened to the Dallas Cowboys, Microsoft and even Google. But what about companies or organizations who don’t own the obvious domain names that they should? Most businesses or organizations understand the need to buy up all the domains that contain their name, especially large and high profile ones. Some, however, do not.

The Background

I ran for the Alaska State Senate in 2012 as a first time candidate. Although I lost the primary, I did get nearly 45% and surprised a lot of people. I knew I wanted to run again. Fast forward 3 years and I decided to file again to run for the same senate seat. I heard rumors that the incumbent, Lesil McGuire, may not seek re-election. I was really hoping she would. I also heard rumors that Natasha von Imhof was going to run for the seat. I did not know much about her other than she was on the school board and is the daughter of Ed Rasmuson and granddaughter of Elmer Rasmuson. Elmer took over the National Bank of Alaska from his father in 1949. Ed became president of the bank in 1974 and chairman of the board in 1985. The family sold the bank to Wells Fargo in 2000 for $907 million (#907 baby). Much of that money went to the Rasmuson Foundation, which provides grants to Alaska non-profits.

It soon became clear to me that Natasha was going to file for the seat. We set up a meeting in the summer of 2015. She told me she was going to run. I told her I was also running. We wished each other luck in our campaigns. I knew Natasha’s family connections in Alaska, and her vast personal wealth, would make her a tough opponent. There was no way I could raise the kind of money she could, not even close. I knew I had to run a different kind of campaign, a creative one. I also figured there is no way she has ever had to deal with someone like Jeff Landfield.

When you are running against someone for a political office, you do opposition research. I learned that Natasha worked for the National Bank of Alaska (wonder how she got that job), sits on the board of the Rasmuson Foundation (secretary and treasurer) and also on the board of the Atwood Foundation. Turns out Robert Atwood married Elmer’s sister. Robert and Elmer were in business together. They invested in Richfield Oil and struck it big in the 1950’s when they discovered oil. Talk about a power family!

When Natasha rolled out her campaign she chose the slogan “Serious About Alaska.” She is a pretty serious person after all. I thought it would be funny to buy SeriousAboutAlaska.com and forward it to my campaign website. I don’t think she liked that too much, but me and many others found it very funny. Especially because the domain only cost $10.

The Purchase

I filed for the senate seat in July of 2015. Soon after, I hired Cale Green to run my campaign. I had just met him but knew he was the perfect person for the job. We have since become really good friends. So, on a cold Alaska night Cale and I were at my house discussing the campaign. At this point the Rasmuson Foundation was getting heavily involved in the debate to use part of the Permanent Fund earnings to fund government. Natasha was silent about her board position. It clearly made her uncomfortable that this obvious question was being asked. I figured because she was on the board, and in agreement with a policy her board was spending millions of dollars on lobbying, it was all fair game. I joked with Cale and said, “Damn it would be funny if rasmusonfoundation.com or .org was available” (Their website is rasmuson.org). I went to GoDaddy and to my disbelief both were available. I also picked up therasmusonfoundation.com and .org and rasmusonalaska.com and .org. In total it cost me about $70.

I had no idea what I was going to do with the domains. To be honest, I was a little nervous about picking a fight with an organization with as much power as them. Some time had passed and I basically forgot about it. But as April 1, April Fools Day, approached I had a wild idea. I forwarded rasmusonfoundation.org to my campaign website and then posted that URL on my Facebook page and said something like “Politics  aside, check out this great organization’s website.” Within 30 minutes I got a phone call from a friend of mine, turns out his company does all of their IT work. Alaska is a small town. Needless to say the folks at the Rasmuson Foundation were not amused. They initially thought they were hacked but later realized what really happened. My friend requested I remove the forwarding. I told him I would do it the next day as a favor to him. He also said they wanted to talk to me about acquiring the domains. I told him to have them contact me.

The Sale

I then get a text from the communications director of the foundation asking what I wanted for the domains. I told her I would give them the domains for a $1,000 donation to Alaska Resource Education, a great Alaska non-profit that teaches kids about the benefits of resource development. I told her the offer would expire in 2 weeks. I also said I would remove the forwarding. She agreed and said she would be in touch. Two weeks goes by and nothing. Another 2 weeks goes by and I decided to forward all the domains to my website without telling anyone and see what happens. Within a few days she contacts me again saying she wants to make the deal. I told her that my offer expired in 2 weeks and it has in fact been over a month. She said someone “dropped the ball” and should have been in touch with me. I told her the donation amount was now $2,000. Her response was awesome, she offered to meet me halfway at $1,500. I respected the hustle and told her, “I like your style, deal!” Within a few hours she sent me conformation of the donation. I went to my friend’s office and transferred all of the domains.

The Aftermath

The word got out quick. I got many phone calls from friends advising me not to pick a fight with them. It even came up at work. Months later I was at a restaurant after going door to door for my campaign. A girl was there who recognized me. She told me she used to work with the foundation and happened to be there when they realized what happened. She said they were freaking the hell out and the executive director was very angry. If I had to guess the comments ranged from, “How did that fucking guy get our website?” and “Someone is getting fired!” In the end it was no big deal and everyone made out great. The Rasmuson Foundation got domains, at a real bargain, that they should have bought a long time ago and Alaska Resource Education got a nice donation. I also was told by a friend that many Alaska non-profits and businesses went and bought up domain names they should own. I wonder how much they would have been willing to pay? I probably left some money on the table.

The “13th” Documentary, My Thoughts

Last night I watched the documentary the “13th” on Netflix. I had heard about it by several people but my sister insisted I watch it. All I knew was it was it had to do with the 13th amendment, which abolished slavery. It was about so much more than that. Growing up, I was taught that the 13th amendment abolished slavery. The award winning movie “Lincoln” details the background of how President Lincoln lobbied Congress to get it passed. But there is some wording in the 13th amendment that most of us don’t really think about.

The 13th Amendment 

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

This is the focus of the film. I could go into what it means but you should really just watch the film, which does a much better job of explaining it than I ever could. But as I watched it, I thought a lot about the history of our nation. When slavery was abolished, the southern economy was in major distress. I think most of us assume after slavery ended the plantation owners just had to start paying people to do the work. The reality is this was the beginning of mass incarceration in the United States.

This is the premise of the film, mass incarceration. I have been interested in this topic for years. I wish more people realized that while the United States has only 5% of the world’s population, it has 25% of its prisoners. The United States also has the highest incarceration rate in the world. More of us need to realize the hypocrisy of this while we claim to be “The Land of the Free.” The film does a great job in showing how the black experience in America has been shaped since the adoption of the 13th amendment. One of the statements that most struck me was one by Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House:

“The objective reality is that virtually no one who is white understands the challenge of being black in America.”

I always respected the intellect and thoughtfulness of Newt Gingrich. What he said is not only true, but also something that more people in the United States need to understand. I would be lying if I said I don’t feel different when I see a black man in a hoodie compared to a white man in a hoodie. I think the vast majority of people in America, when really pressed to tell the truth, would agree with that. Yes, on the surface many would deny that, but the truth is we have been taught to fear black people in America. Many people who read this will think I’m wrong and will say things like we elected a black president or slavery ended 150 years ago to show racism in America is over. But the truth is it is much more complex than that and the sooner we all begin to accept that, the sooner we can begin to solve this horrible problem. Another quote that struck me was that of Kevin Gannon, Professor of History at Grandview University:

“History is not just stuff that happens by accident. We are the products of the history that our ancestors choose, if we’re white. If we are black we are products of the history that our ancestors, most likely, did not choose. Yet here we are all together, the products of that set of choices and we have to understand that in order to escape from it.”

The film also illustrates that the problem of mass incarceration in America is not a partisan one. Presidents Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and many other Democrats and Republicans all contributed to this problem. Many Americans blame Republicans for racial division and champion Democrats for trying to solve the problem. The truth is both parties have contributed to this problem, not necessarily individuals, but our elected leaders.

It is no secret that the vast majority of Americans charged with a crime, 97%, do not go to trial, they plea out. Why is that? There is no way the court system could deal with trying all these people. So the result is the poor, and more often than not people of color, are coerced to plea out rather than go to trial. Plea to 3 years or go to trial and face 30, easy choice, right? In many cases the charges against these individuals are weak. What happens when someone decides not to plea and go to trial? The film addresses that as well, and it may be one of the most disturbing stories you ever hear.

Kalief Browder was arrested when he was 16 on false charges. He refused to take a plea bargain, yet he could not afford the $10,000 bail. He sat in Rikers Island for nearly 3 years. In the end, they dropped the charges and he was set free. Two years later, Kalief hanged himself, he was 22. All because he would not plead to a crime he did not commit. Imagine how many people are convinced to plead to crimes they did not commit? Would a just society allow this to happen?

As I watched the film I thought about slavery, Jim Crow, lynching and segregation. A question was raised at the end, how did people tolerate those things? Today, almost all of us wonder that. The reality is we are tolerating the logical progression of an oppressive system, police brutality and mass incarceration. I think in 40 years people will look back on police brutality against people of color and ask the same things we ask today about Jim Crow and segregation, how did we tolerate it? A black man in America has a 1 in 3 chance of being jailed in his life, a white man has a 1 in 17 chance. This is not because black people are inherently more violent than white people, it is because of systemic racism in our criminal justice system. The only way we can begin to solve this is to collectively admit that the problem exists.

Whether you agree or disagree with my takeaway from the film, I hope that everyone watches it. We must all understand these problems, and the history of them. Only then can we begin to solve them. If we don’t, we are doomed to go down the same path.

 

Thinking About Leaving the US? Are You Under 31? Come on Down Under!

Are you looking for an adventure, fed up with the political situation in the United States, or a combination of both? Are you under 31? If so, I would recommend moving down under. Australia, and New Zealand, has a visa that allows people from certain countries under the age of 31 to come work for a year. It is called the Work and Holiday Visa:

Australia visa info

https://www.border.gov.au/Trav/Visa-1/462-

New Zealand visa info

https://www.immigration.govt.nz/new-zealand-visas/apply-for-a-visa/about-visa/united-states-of-america-working-holiday-visa

Both visas allow you to live and work in either country for a year but you are limited to 6 months with an individual employer. If you complete 3 months of work in the agricultural or hospitality industry in northern Australia, you can extend your visa for an extra year. Also, if you have specific skills like engineering, accounting, IT, and many more, you can look for an employer who would be willing to sponsor you. This means after 6 months, you can get a work visa that allow you to stay in the country for 4 years to work. After 2 years with that employer you can apply for permanent residency.

The Process

Having dealt with US immigration system many times trying to help friends, I can tell you the Australian and New Zealand immigration systems are better and easier to navigate. I applied for visas to both countries online, right before I turned 31. It took me about 45 minutes to complete each application. I paid the fee, I recall around $300 USD for Australia, New Zealand, for whatever reason, waived the fee. I received emails back from both countries within a few days informing me the visas were granted. Once granted the visa, you have one year to show up before the visa expires. The visa is electronic, you do not require a physical one in your passport. Both countries require you to show proof of having $5,000 USD and health insurance. Commonwealth countries have an agreement where their citizens can use Australian healthcare. Americans do not qualify for this so you need health insurance. I purchased a high deductible, catastrophic plan. Visiting a doctor here is much cheaper than in the United States so I recommend the highest deductible plan you can find. (Neither countries customs and immigration officers asked me to show proof when I arrived, they just said welcome and stamped me in)

Arriving

I got arrived in Auckland in mid-December. I spent a few days there to check things out but also so I could activate my visa. You must show up to the country in person to activate the visa. I then moved on to Sydney. Wages are higher in Australia, the economy is larger and there are more opportunities. However, I have met a lot of people who worked in New Zealand and had a great time. A lot has to do with personal preference. I had to get visas to both countries at the same time because I was turning 31 but if you are younger than that you could do one after the other. (Both countries are currently considering raising the age to 35)

I had a hostel booked in Sydney. After I landed I got an Opal Card at the airport, this is a card you put money on that you use for trains, buses and ferries in New South Wales. You can top it up all over Sydney, it is very convenient. It costs $15 AUD from the airport to Sydney. I stayed in the hostel for a week before I found a room to rent. Gumtree and Flatmates.com.au are good places to look for a room. Sydney is very expensive to live but wages here are pretty high. You can expect to earn at least $20 AUD an hour, more if you are a native English speaker or have a skill or trade. I came at kind of a bad time, things really shut down here for Christmas, it is like their summer break. Lots of people go on holidays. Things are beginning to pick up. I am looking for a company that is willing to sponsor me, so that makes it a bit more difficult, but not much. I have met people from Germany, France, Chili, Canada, the US (by far the fewest) and many other countries who are working, or have worked, in hospitality, construction, agriculture industries all over Australia. I have also met many people who came here on this visa and got sponsored. Many are permanent residents or citizens now. If you want to work here you will find work.

So if you want to go on an adventure, are tired of the political mess in the US and want to experience a different country with great people and great opportunities, I suggest coming down under. The vibe here is great. Sydney is a very diverse place with lots to see and do. Australia is about the same size as the continental United States but only has 24 million people, a small amount compared to the nearly 320 million people in America! They want and need people here, why not be next? Nothing is stopping you.

 

Man Down in Durango – This Really Happened

We all have that crazy friend who makes us a little nervous when they party. Usually I am that guy, but I have one of them too. His name is Anton and he is Russian. This story took place in June of 2015. I was going back to New Mexico to see my parents. I remembered I had a companion fare so I asked Anton, who was my roommate at the time, if he wanted to go check out New Mexico. I added we could go to Colorado too. He had never been to either place and agreed to tag along. Several people joked that I was taking him to meet my parents. While technically true, we are just friends. I like the ladies!

Some background on Anton. He is known for claiming outlandish things when he is drunk. Things ranging from having incurable diseases to how he used to be in the Russian mafia. There are many more examples but those ones stand out. I met him when I moved to Alaska in 2004. The first time we met he told me he had a kid in Russia from a German girl he met while backpacking in Europe. I believed this for a long time, probably like 6 months. Once when I was talking to a mutual friend I said how cool it was Anton was here going to school and supporting his kid. The guy was like, “What kid?” I said, “His son back in Russia.” He went on to inform me that was untrue and that Anton likes to mess with people. I later coined the term “Full Anton.” This can be applied to anyone who is going absolutely fucking nuts. Like, “Oh shit, he is about to go Full Anton!”

Heading to Durango

So we get to Albuquerque, New Mexico. This is June so it is very hot. The plan was to hang out for a few days and then drive up to Durango to chill out and ride the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. This is an old steam train that goes up in the mountains and ends in Silverton, CO where you spend a few hours, and then ride back. We left Albuquerque and headed to Durango, this drive takes about 4 hours.

We arrived in Durango on a beautiful sunny day. We checked into the hotel and spent some time checking out Durango. If you have not been there it is one of the coolest old mountain ski towns in Colorado. We turned in early as we had to be up early for the train, it was leaving at 9 am. We woke up early and headed to the train station. We checked in and boarded the train, ready for a day of fun. We were in a cool open car that allowed for some awesome views. It was around a 3 hour ride to Silverton. This is where it all started…

Silverton sits at 9,300 feet (2,800 meters). Elevation never bothered me, I can’t say the same for Anton. We walked to a restaurant to get some lunch. Anton immediately began displaying the effects of altitude sickness. He really went downhill pretty fast. I told him he just needs to relax and he will feel better when we get back to Durango, which sits at 6,500 feet! The train ride back was not as fun for Anton. I, however, was having an awesome time sipping back Old Fashioned’s and talking to the fellow passengers, who were all quite a bit older. Anton and I were definitely the youngest ones on the train. By the time we got back to Durango, everyone on the train knew me.

One Night in Durango…

We arrive back in Durango. Anton is feeling a bit better. We got to a cool rooftop bar with a live band and lots of people. We actually met a cool Aussie couple there who I have kept in touch with (hope to visit them in Melbourne soon). After a while there, we went back to the hotel to shower and figure out the night plans. We needed to leave by 11 am the next day because I had dinner plans with a friend’s parents. We decide to go check out the Durango nightlife and have some drinks. We started at this old, rustic Durango hotel that had a bar. After a few hours of drinking I suggested we go back because we needed to wake up early and drive back. Anton was having none of it. I pleaded with him to come back to the hotel because I knew what would happen. When Anton is “Full Anton” mode there is no reasoning with him. Eventually I said, “Ok man, just understand we need to be on the road by 11.” I headed back to the hotel and went to bed.

The Next Morning

I woke up around 9 am, feeling pretty good. I quickly realized Anton’s bed was empty. Thoughts began running through my head. The first one was he got arrested or thrown in the drunk tank. I called his phone but it was dead. I was pretty worried because this was not like him and we were in a place he had never been. So I made the call. First the police, and then the hospitals. Both of those were dead ends. I then thought that maybe he met some chick but that is not really like him and his phone would probably not have been dead. It was now 10 am. I called my buddy Bryce back in Alaska to seek come council. He told me it’s probably no big deal and he will turn up. At this point I was getting a bit worried.

I called the place we were the night before to see if they had any info, nothing. I thought about going out and searching for him but did not want to miss him if he came back to the hotel. Now it’s 11 am, still no word… We are supposed to be on the road by now. Check out is at noon. Another hour goes by and nothing. I pack up the room and put everything in the car. Then I go to checkout. As I am checking out I tell my plight to the front desk person. She says, “I wonder if he is the guy from last night?” I said, “What guy? She said she was not working but the night manager told her about it. Apparently some guy had come around and claimed he was staying in the hotel but had no idea what room number and could barely talk. That had to be him. I guess he was asked to leave. She then asks me, “Did you call detox.” I told her I called the hospitals. She replied, “No, you should call the detox facility, he might be there.” She went on to explain this is where they take the tourists who drink too much in the high elevations. This sounded promising.

I got their number and phoned over. I explained who I was looking for and was told to hold. Some girl came on the phone and said, ‘We cannot confirm or deny that Mr. Anton is here, but if he is here, who are you and what is your number?” Bingo! I give my info and instead of waiting around I headed over to the the detox facility. By the time I arrived they had received his permission that they could talk to me about him. They put me in a waiting room, he was being held behind a locked door. I asked one of the nurses what the hell happened. She told me the police found him passed out in a parking lot. They took him to the hospital, where he blew a 0.37. I did not know that was possible. He was then transferred to the detox facility, which is right across the street.

Finally, Anton came into the room. He was not looking too good… He also had very little memory of what happened. He did recall meeting some guy who invited him to a bar. He asked if they guy was going to kill him, after saying no he apparently got in the guy’s car. I thanked the nurses and asked if he could be released. She told me people cannot leave until they blow a 0.00. I asked when that might be. She estimated 8 pm. I explained the situation to her and ensured her we would be leaving the city, and state immediately. Eventually she agreed to release him to me. This was around 1 pm. Before we left we went to the hospital so Anton could pay his ER bill.

Heading Back

I was relieved to have found Anton and glad to be on our way. I was, however, not happy that I was going to be several hours late for dinner. I wanted to thank the Durango police for being so cool and not arresting Anton so I gave them a call. The dispatcher knew immediately who I was calling about. She told me that when he was in the hospital they asked him where he was, he kept insisting New Mexico. They had to tell him he was in the wrong state. They were also curious how this Russian from Alaska ended up there. Luckily the police in Durango seemed to be cool as hell. Anton passed out in the car and slept the entire way home. As nerve racking as it was at the time, it definitely made for an epic travel story.