StoriesMichael Shapiro’s writing ranges from travel to the performing arts to environmental issues. And he still does some investigative reporting. Below is a selection of Shapiro's work.
The best part of this interview may have been hearing about a tree Jane loved when she was a child. She spoke to me from the home her family has occupied since that time, looking out the window at that very tree.
In October, 2018, my wife and I joined a group of trekkers led by Jamling Tenzing Norgay, the son of Tenzing Norgay, who in 1953 was the first person (along with Ed Hillary) to reach the top of Mount Everest. For our trek in the Kingdom of Mustang, which borders Tibet, we had to alter our route to avoid a new and busy roadway along the trekking route. Even so, our trail intersected with a new highway that was being built. Hearing the bulldozer after pristine days of natural sounds and quiet nights was shattering.
My editors at National Geographic made it clear to me that they did not want a personal reminiscence about Jan Morris after she died on November 20, 2020. They wanted a piece about Jan’s deep and abiding connection to her adopted home, Wales. She was half Welsh and half English but she consciously chose Wales, the place to which she always returns after her journeys through the Middle East, to the slopes of the Everest base camp, to Venice, to Sydney, to Hong Kong and so many other places.
This essay began forming as I took long walks in April 2000, after being diagnosed with Covid the month before. I focused on the silver linings of the pandemic and how this terrible wave of disease...
I first heard Sarah McLachlan’s voice in 1990. I was teaching at an outdoor education school in the Santa Cruz Mountains and my housemate had a cassette tape of her first album. It was love at first blush. Her work was raw then; it wasn’t until four years later, when she released Fumbling Toward Ecstasy, that she became a global sensation.
As a whitewater raft guide for 30 years, I’m very familiar with the power of moving water, and I have a tremendous respect for it. On Dec. 30, 2019, my wife and I, while hiking the Kalalau trail along Kauai’s Napali Coast, stopped for lunch on the rocks above Hanakapi‘ai beach. We were probably 40 feet above the waterline. As it turned out, that was not far enough to evade a sneaker wave.
Sierra magazine, June 2020: The Case Against Cruising. Proposed legislation seeks to clean up an environmental pariah
The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how risky it is for people to go cruising. But even after the pandemic eases, there are reasons to reconsider cruising due to the damage ships do to oceans and their inhabitants, including colliding with whales and dolphins.
The Press Democrat, July 1, 2020: ‘California Rocks’ at Sonoma Valley Museum of Art shows the heyday of rock ’n’ roll
How could anyone possibly capture the intensity, passion and emotion of rock and roll in a photo? It seems impossible, but talented photographers catch moments that speak volumes. For a story about an exhibition at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, I interviewed some of these legends. Some of these photographers have been working with rock stars since the 1960s, getting up close and personal with Hendrix, Janis, Zappa, Stevie, Jerry, Carlos, and other greats who can be identified with a single name.
“There’s a responsibility to tell the story of the team. You have to make these players come to life to the listening audience,” Krukow says. Baseball is “a volatile, ever-changing story. When somebody’s red-hot, there are two guys who are stone cold. When somebody’s just coming into his prime, there are two guys who are just hanging on by their fingernails.”
Some years ago, Krukow, 67, began to notice his strength declining. Initially he attributed that to aging, but when he had difficulty with stairs and started tripping over curbs, he saw a neurologist. He feared that he had ALS, a fatal disease, so was relieved when he learned he had a rare condition called inclusion-body myositis (IBM), an inflammatory ailment that’s not curable but not fatal. Though Krukow can no longer call every game of the season, a marathon of long days that lasts at least six months, he works almost all home games and goes on some road trips. “I’m not able to do 162 (games a season). I can do 110 now,” he says. “We love our time here and we really take it seriously.”
When I see my locker, with the uniform bearing my name in an arc across the back, the feeling is electric. I dress from cap to high socks in professional gear, making sure I don’t miss a belt loop or leave a pocket out, infractions that would get me rung up in Kangaroo Court (more on this baseball tradition later).
I’m dressing across from legendary pitcher Vida Blue, who was almost unhittable in his prime. “Hey Vida, I saw you beat the Cubs in 1986 at Wrigley Field,” I tell the still-fit pitcher, recalling that he only gave up one run on that perfect summer day in Chicago. And he hit a home run – a rarity for a pitcher – in that game. “You remember that homer!” Vida, now in his late 50s, exclaims. “Down the line, baby. Down the line.”
Dozens of my fellow campers and I lace up our turf shoes and head to the batting cages behind the right-field wall for instruction from veteran Giants infielder Joel Youngblood. As bats crack against machine-pitched balls in the cage, he tells us to “hit (swing) horizontal to the ground. You want a straight ball to give fielders the least time to get there. If you hit it correct, you always hit the ball hard. If you try to hit it hard, you won’t always hit it correct.”
Darrell Evans, whose nickname is “Doody” due to his facial resemblance to “Howdy,” strides in front of the batting cages. “I don’t understand a thing he (Youngblood) just said,” jokes the burly third baseman. “You always hear, keep your eye on the ball — the guys who say that, they couldn’t hit either!
As we circle Evans, now in his early 60s, he takes a poke at the conventional wisdom of hitting up the middle: “Who are the best fielders? The shortstop and center fielder. And where’s the deepest part of the park? Center field,” he says. “So why the hell would you want to hit it up the middle?!” His final targets are TV announcers who say a batter swung too hard. “You never hear them say that when they hit it.” Two guys driving a garbage cart out of the stadium roll by: “Those guys couldn’t hit,” Evans cracks, “and look what they’re doing!”
Which is how Phyllis, who recently celebrated a milestone birthday, and I found ourselves arriving at Vienna’s airport, greeted by billboard-size posters of Bruegel’s art with the caption: “Once in a Lifetime.” My mom suggested: “That could be the title of your story.” I said I didn’t know if I’d write about this, and she said, “Oh, you will.” Part insight, part command. The following day when we passed the museum in a hop-on-hop-off bus, my mom raised her fists and shook her arms in excitement. …
Our group of about 25 people trundled over to Children’s Games. Phyllis darted ahead so she could be front and center during our guide’s narration; I’d hung back a bit. Out of nowhere my mom’s arm reached out, and with superhero strength grabbed my right wrist and pulled me next to her. We would be together for this. Painted in 1560, Children’s Games is known as a wimmelbild (busy picture) because it has hundreds of small figures. “Never before in art had children been given a stage of this size,” read the program for the exhibition.
Yet what impressed me most were the painting’s luminous colors—nearby Antwerp was known for the high quality of its red pigment—and the ebullience of the kids wrestling with one another. They are walking on stilts, climbing walls, swimming in a creek, and playing all sorts of other games. One young child learning to swim uses a pair of floaties, probably made from the bladders of pigs.
Last September, a year after Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, I was sent to the island on assignment to report a story about how some farmers were shifting from export crops to growing food for local people. I met some savvy, organic, badass farmers, such as Daniella Rodríguez Besosa, who are eager to grow food for people rather than profit. And I met chefs such as Juan Jose Cuevas who oversees San Juan’s top restaurants and who are working with these farmers to help them survive. It’s the type of story that involves so much of what I love to cover – I even shot all but one of the photos for the story.
A lot of people excuse their bad behavior toward fish by saying, “Oh, they don’t feel pain.” That’s absurd. Fish have all the equipment we do to feel pain. Don’t make up stories to try to spare your conscience. You either choose to inflict pain on other creatures, or you don’t. But do they feel pain? Of course they do. Do they have emotions? Do they have a social structure? Do they bond with one another? Absolutely. It’s a smallness on our part, a narrowness of spirit and mind and heart, to think we are so special. Why not be thrilled that we have so much in common with other creatures? … Humans today are empowered with knowledge that did not exist even fifty years ago and that gives us the gift of responsibility; we have an opportunity not to lose this extraordinary living planet.
Imagine if we did not know. Most people choose not to take advantage of this most precious knowledge we have, which no other generation before us could have. It’s the key to our survival. It’s an opportunity that will never come again. Why aren’t we excited about being able to take what we’ve got and turn it to our long-term advantage? We can be the saviors of humankind. I say humankind because life will go on with us or without us. It did before, and it can after. It just won’t be the same assemblage of life. We’re already altering pieces of the puzzle. We’ve lost a lot of species due to our actions. When we destroy a coral reef, we lose its residents, all the unique species that evolved there and nowhere else in the universe. Some species of lizard fish have a very limited range. Shrimp-like creatures called stomatopods have unique eyes that see a much broader spectrum of light than humans can — the broadest spectrum we’ve been able to identify in any creature. So we destroy the reef, and we lose that piece of the puzzle. We’ll never have a complete picture again.
Annie tells me that Thomas wrote hundreds of poems in this house, with his greatest output coming between the ages of 16 and 20. He worked in the morning and drank late, Annie says. Unfortunately Thomas couldn’t hold his alcohol, perhaps because he’s now believed to have been a diabetic, so he became a “performing monkey,” she says.
“Obnoxious behavior became his calling card. In London he was a performer. That’s not creative, and it’s tiring. He had to keep coming back and recharging here – not just this house, this town,” she says. “He’d say when he was on the train to London (that) he wasn’t going to England, he was leaving Wales. He was leaving his heart, he was leaving his safety.”
Like a protective mother, Annie denies that Thomas was an alcoholic. There’s “such a lot of work of such high quality that alcoholism is not considered.” I refrain from listing all the great writers who overindulged in alcohol. Annie refills my glass with Cotes du Rhone and I ask about Thomas’ most famous poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night” written as Dylan’s father, a frustrated poet, lay dying.
“Listen to it from a child’s point of view,” Annie says. “His father wouldn’t give Dylan the words he needed like ‘well done’ or ‘I’m proud of you.’ The work between father and son wasn’t finished.”
She asked him: “Bernie, how are you going to make an album if you can’t speak or sing?”
He replied: “I want you to be my voice,” but initially she didn’t think she could do that.
Dalton kept sending Goldman handwritten lyrics, asking her to help him put music and melody to his words.
“I was working on my own album,” she said, a follow-up to her 2016 release, “Black Wings.”
“But he’s persistent, extremely persistent, and he kept sending me the lyrics in the mail. He said, ‘This can be your next record.’ And there was just something so important and heartfelt about what he was doing.”
Goldman launched a GoFundMe campaign that raised more than $23,000 to pay for producing Dalton’s album.
Members of Goldman’s band joined Goldman and Dalton in a recording studio and knocked out a song a day. Dalton was involved in every aspect of song creation, from the melodies to the horn parts, offering his comments on a dry-erase board or giving a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to the musicians’ suggestions.
They named the band Bernie and the Believers and titled the album, “Connection.” Last February they had an album release party at the San Francisco club Slim’s.
Located downtown in the city’s historic Carriage & Baggage Building, once a garage for horse-drawn carriages, Pine Street Market brings together nine of Portland’s top food and beverage purveyors. All affordable, options range from steamed pork buns and other Korean specialties at Kim Jong Smokehouse to chicken al carbon at Pollo Bravo. For classic American fare, try Bless Your Heart Burgers and hot dogs from OP Wurst. Top it off with a soft-serve cone from Wiz Bang Bar, which features ice cream from local favorite Salt & Straw.
Every acclaimed restaurant aspires to achieve a moment that wows diners. At SingleThread, the Sonoma County restaurant that earned two Michelin stars last fall, less than a year after it opened, that moment happens before you take your first bite. On your table when you arrive is an edible work of art, an assemblage of more than a dozen delicacies—in shells, on little wooden planks, and on handmade ceramic plates—garlanded with greens and flowers from SingleThread’s farm, just five miles away. The tablescape is so beautiful that, like a waterfall or Japanese garden, it can take your breath away.
“These are beets, roasted in the hearth with shaved purple cauliflower from our farm,” says our server, explaining that every item is emblematic of the late autumn season (when I ate there). “This is a salad of lotus root with silken tofu made by one of our sous chefs; he’s been working on the recipe for about a year. There’s also some mustard greens from our farm. This is Golden-eye snapper wrapped around braised kombu and sea palm. We have some sesame-dressed young broccoli from the farm with a broccoli blossom. Moving on to the boards: Fort Bragg sea urchin, which is just beginning that season here in Northern California, served raw with some ahi tuna and a little bit of tamari dressing.” And that was just part of the first course.
Once thought to be so vast as to be immune from human degradation, the oceans supply us with vast amounts of seafood, regulate global temperatures, absorb a tremendous amount of carbon, and serve as venues for recreation such as sailing, kayaking and diving. But now we know oceans are not too big to fail: the health and stability of the sea is threatened by an array of powerful forces: rapacious overfishing, plastics pollution, acidification that’s killing coral reefs, and rising temperatures that are melting polar ice. These dramatic shifts in the oceans have largely happened since the middle of the 20th century, a blip in geologic time.
“Here’s the thing: the ocean comprises the great majority of our life-support system,” said renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle, 82, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. “It shapes climate and weather and holds the planet steady with respect to temperature. It’s where most of life on Earth exists; it’s where most of the oxygen is generated; it’s where a great amount of the carbon is captured. It’s one big system and until recent decades the oceans have been largely unaffected by us.” Earle, former chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the subject of the film Mission Blue, said: “Now we have evidence, clear evidence of the cause-and-effect relationship of what we are doing. … Now we know, maybe just in time to save us from ourselves. This is good news.”
In Tuscany, food isn’t just something to eat – it’s something to do with family and friends: harvesting wild mushrooms, picking olives, canning tomatoes, sharing big bowls of pasta, and gathering for dinners where everyone helps cook and conversations flow deep into the night. “There is an intense passion for local food, and it’s particularly focused on what you can find yourself,” Mayes told me last fall. (2016) “And that’s what I see that is so different from living” in the United States.
“In Tuscany right this minute (early October) everybody is out looking for the mazza di tamburo, the mushroom of the moment. That means drumstick – it’s shaped like a drumstick with a long stem and a big flathead. You find them on your own land and saute them with garlic,” Mayes said. Italians “don’t even want them on pasta – they just want them on little crostini because they so want to taste this wild mushroom. And in the spring it’s strange things like the green almonds. Everybody loves those crunchy green almonds before they really turn into a nut. To me that’s very much an acquired taste, but local people really like them.”
Amiot and Laurent hope their message is about more than turning junk into art and reducing the amount of waste going into landfills. They hope their work demonstrates how a neighborhood can be a “magical place” where kids grow up thinking anything is possible.
“All of a sudden, it’s normal to have something big, bold, and crazy in front of your house. That to me is way more important than anything else,” Amiot said. “In mainstream America, you don’t see giant sculptures in front of people’s houses, but if you’re brought up in this community, it’s a natural thing. These people grow up thinking it’s alright to show your colors and do wild and crazy things. And it just so happens that the things they saw were actually made out of recycled materials.”
The Maya haven’t disappeared: Just as the fall of Rome hasn’t meant the end of Romans, the decline of great Mayan metropolises, such as Guatemala’s Tikal which reached its apex in the 9th century, doesn’t mean the indigenous people have vanished. According to the CIA World Factbook, 40 percent of Guatemala’s 14 million people are Mayan, and southern Mexico and the Yucatan are home to many more predominantly Mayan regions. Not only are Mayans enduring almost five centuries after the Spanish conquest, but their cultural traditions, agrarian lifestyle, and celebratory festivals continue on. There are more than 20 distinct Mayan peoples within Guatemala, each with their own culture, style of dress, and language, and millions more Mayans live beyond the borders.
The self-described “spirit educator” behind the bar, Tim Johnston, said this outpost of the nearby Napa Valley Distillery had the largest selection of bitters on the West coast, including a couple of antique bottles. He showed me two ancient bottles of Abbott’s bitters, one of which predated Prohibition. “We have two of the remaining 10 bottles of Abbott’s bitters in the world,” he said. And yes they’re for sale: one is $1,500, the other $750.
“In his in-depth exploration of Vancouver’s seafood restaurant scene, Michael Shapiro not only thoroughly and thoughtfully explains the timely issues surrounding ocean sustainability and the efforts being made by Vancouver to improve it, but also succeeds in making me very, very hungry for the extraordinary and often unlikely ingredients used by the city’s most talented and conscientious chefs.”
Typically when traveling overseas I like to stay a while. But when an editor emailed and asked if I’d be willilng to travel to Patagonia to track pumas for a week in the dead of the southern hemisphere’s winter, I leapt at the chance even though I couldn’t extend my stay. The journey involved an overnight flight to Santiago, Chile, another flight south to almost polar town Punta Arenas and then a four-hour drive north to Torres del Paine, the national park in Chilean Patagonia. It was a long way to go but well worth it to see the park’s legendary mountains, cobalt lakes, ubiquitous guanaco, and to wake before dawn in hopes of sighting a puma.
By Michael Shapiro
Well before dawn our Jeep crawls over the deserted roads that traverse southern Chile’s Torres del Paine national park, searching for pumas. The day before, my guide and I had spotted puma tracks and scat while hiking, lending support to another guide’s comment that “puma are everywhere” in this park, the jewel of Chile’s Patagonia region.
To read the full story, click the link above.
Young men climbed the treacherous 1600-foot peak carrying light, tapered logs from papala or hau trees. After dark they set the shafts on fire and hurled them into the night. Caught by updrafts, the javelins seared tracers into the darkness, often traveling a mile or more before sizzling into the sea.
Though most of humanity doesn’t realize it, our survival depends on our oceans. During the past couple of centuries we’ve overfished and polluted oceans to the point where many aquatic species are on the verge of collapse. But most of us love wild seafood and have no intention of curtailing our appetite. That’s why the sustainable seafood movement is essential. In the U.S. it’s been led by the Monterey Bay Aquarium; the Canadian counterpart is the Vancouver-based Seafood Watch but the true stars of the movement there are the top chefs who insist on serving fish whose stocks are not depleted. Last fall I spent a few days in Vancouver tracing sustainable seafood from fishing boats to markets to the city’s finest restaurants.
“Close your eyes and you’ll see what I mean,” says my skiing companion Walt as we traverse the 10-mile trail to Yosemite’s Glacier Point. My friend Walt is legally blind, unable to see the grandeur of Half Dome and the park’s other landmarks. But on that day in February 2009, he showed me that there are many ways of seeing, feeling and sensing the park’s majesty. When my editor at Alaska Beyond (Alaska Airlines’ inflight magazine) asked me to write an essay for a special feature last April to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, skiing with Walt was the first thing that came to mind.
Ever since I read The House of the Spirits in the 1980s I’ve adored Isabel Allende. She’s a natural-born storyteller, warm-hearted and insightful with a wicked sense of fun. I had the opportunity to interview her for my 2004 book of interviews with writers, A Sense of Place. I was elated last year when a magazine asked me to write about her adopted home, the San Francisco Bay Area, and how Allende has found her place so many mile from home. Ultimately this story is about Allende and her remarkable ability to transcend tragedy.
Halfway through an hourlong talk to a group of aspiring writers last August, Chilean author Isabel Allende was asked: “If you were a character in an Isabel Allende novel, where would you put yourself?”
Without missing a beat the petite writer said: “First of all, I would have long legs, I would be beautiful, I would be stunning, and smart, very strong and independent. What was the question?”
“Location: where would you be?”
“In bed with someone,” she shot back. “It doesn’t matter the town.”
Hanging on the beloved author’s every word, the audience in Marin County (just north of San Francisco) erupted in laughter. And just about everyone who asked her a question that day at Book Passage, a bookstore in Corte Madera, addressed her simply as “Isabel” as if they were talking to an old friend.
In 2012, the World Series of Poker held its most expensive tournament ever: it cost $1 million to buy into it and the top prize was more than $18 million. Antonio Esfandiari, who emigrated from Iran to the U.S. when he was a boy, finished on top and instantly became one of the best known poker players in the world. I met him in Las Vegas in October 2012 and we spent about an hour talking over an early dinner. He had the poker player’s stare; when we discussed the possibility of me writing about him his look bore through me; there was a power in his assessing that I’m sure serves him well at the poker table. Ultimately he chose to trust me with his story and I went on to play poker that night at Wynn and later at Caesar’s, where a few winning hands covered all my costs for the trip.
After failing to get through the gates to paradise years ago, I finally made it to Esalen. To see the story on The Press Democrat's site with some pictures, click here. By MICHAEL SHAPIRO I...
Our guide had us check every pocket to make sure we weren’t carrying any food that might attract bears. Yet the grizzlies seem to be running through the drizzly afternoon straight at us.
With an assist from the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, crane populations have rebounded dramatically, though habitat loss and hunting continue to imperil these graceful birds.
With Yosemite preparing to celebrate its 125th anniversary (Oct. 1, 2015), my wife and I spent four days there in midsummer seeking new perspectives on the park.
I first interviewed Paul Theroux in 2004 for my book, A Sense of Place, a collection of interviews with the world’s leading travel writers. Though some consider him brusque, blunt and — this irritates him the most — curmudgeonly, I found him to be engaging and genuinely interested in me when we met in San Francisco a couple of weeks after the interview. We spoke again in 2015 for this story on Cape Cod and how his adopted home has become so important not just for his personal happiness but for his writing life.
Here’s an excerpt from the story: Theroux said the potential dangers of paddling around the Cape tuned his senses to hazards while traveling abroad. “This complex landscape has taught me ways of measuring the world of risk,” he writes in “The True Size of Cape Cod,” an essay in Fresh Air Fiend. “But the word ‘landscape’ presents a problem on the Cape. I find it hard to separate the land from the water, or the water from the winds.”
In our interview Theroux noted that the “Cape waters, and Nantucket Sound especially, can be dangerous in a small boat – even in a big boat.” The ocean liner Queen Elizabeth II ran aground 10 miles west of Martha’s Vineyard in August 1992, forcing the evacuation of more than 1,800 passengers, according to the New York Times, and knocking the ship out of commission for a year.
Sometimes, if you’ve worked with an editor for a while, she approaches you with an assignment. And occasionally she opens the door to your dream story. When my editor at Inspirato suddenly had an opening for a feature and asked me to pitch a story about Chicago, I sent in essence a three-word reply: “Blues, baseball, barbecue.” Ultimately I got the assignmet and wrote about my favorite aspects of the City of Big Shoulders.
Here’s an excerpt from the story: Wrigley Field has been showing its age, but that’s part of its charm, and a new Jumbotron installed this year adds 21st-century technology to the creaky yard. Mark Gonzales, who covers the Cubs for the Chicago Tribune notes that baseball is “deep-rooted” in Chicago and that loyalty is passed down through the generations. “You can always sell hope, and hope remains strong with the Cubs.”
That hope is captured in Norman Rockwell’s 1948 painting The Dugout. It focuses on a slump-shouldered bat boy with dejected Cubs players sitting in the dugout behind him. Above are several jeering fans, but there’s one smiling kid, thrilled just to be at the game. That’s the symbol of the true Cubs fan.
“It will come out when it’s ready,” said Kreutzmann, 45, the son of Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann. “It would be nice to hit the 50th anniversary, but making a better film is more important.”
The classics remain fun because “I never play a song the same way twice,” Scaggs said. “It’s different every night.”
It’s no secret that many of the cooks making New York City’s best ethnic food didn’t grow up eating smoked salmon or corned beef sandwiches. On the upper east side I found two Chinese brothers selling fantastic sturgeon; the guys making the pastrami at Pastrami Queen on Lexington near 78th came from the Guatemalan pueblo of Solola. When I told a chef at Pastrami Queen that I’d been to his hometown, he smiled as if to politely say “yeah, right.” Then I mentioned that Solola’s market days are Tuesday and Friday and that the village near Lake Atitlan is one of the few places in Guatemala where men still wear traditional colorful clothing – his grin widened in recognition.
It is no mystery why the towns and countryside here are so attractive to second-home seekers: seduced by high-quality restaurants, coast-side golf courses, unique shops and galleries, easy access to the Pacific and the redwood forests, and wineries that routinely outrank the top French producers, many see paradise in this nook of Northern California.
“Let’s do a carousel,” Amiot replied. He just threw it out there. A week later the developer gave the green light, and Amiot began creating a merry-go-round like no other.
Poker is a mercenary game, and when you feel like any factor is tilting the odds in your favor, take advantage of it. That said, you can offer some help to players who need it.
“Every piece I’ve ever purchased is because of an emotional response,” Leissring says, tapping a fist to his heart. “I have some big names, but that’s immaterial to me. This tendency we have to adulate some and ignore others is a tragic flaw.”
If they stay healthy and new addition Andre Iguodala plays to his potential, the Warriors have a legitimate – if not huge – chance to go all the way.
Editors have always appreciated brevity, but today space is tighter than ever. Try to keep stories under 1,500 words, 2,000 tops. A 750-word story has a much better chance of selling than a 2,500-word piece.
In the fall of 2009, Mariner magazine asked if I'd go to Mazatlan to write about the cliff divers there. I'd watched cliff divers in Acapulco during the '70s on ABC's Wide World of Sports but didn't...
In the early 1990s, Cowboy Junkies lead singer Margo Timmins performed just for me.
One of the best ways to see a country is on a slow train. Perhaps the most enjoyable of these are the 19th-century railways of Wales. In 1996, I came across a site called The Great Little Trains of...
Here’s the larger issue with adding a one-game wild card playoff: it cheapens the 162-game season.
A bunch of guys in a big room playing poker: a typical scene but one that could have led to jail time for its operator. Until a federal judge said game on - here's the story I wrote for the SF...
A parade of elephants stomps across the dun-colored plain, giraffes nibble the tops of 20-foot acacia trees, and hundreds of zebras trot across the landscape.
Michael Shapiro first met Jan Morris in 1992 at a travel writing seminar near San Francisco. “When I first met Jan she seemed like a visitor from another time,” Shapiro says. He interviewed Morris...
“Oh my God – it’s a black caiman,” he exclaims. “These are endangered – look at this!” Victor places one arm under the neck of the scaly creature, best described as a small alligator with teeth that could do some serious damage. “Want to hold it?” he asks. “Just put your hand under his neck and you’ll be fine.”
The flames rise 30 feet into the air, casting a lurid glow on spectators’ faces. The burning effigy gives off a villainous stench, its acrid smoke engulfing the plaza. Bomberos (firefighters) watch nervously as thousands of Guatemalans howl and rejoice, stamping their feet and jumping into the air to get a better view of the demise of el diablo.
The feeling of the journey’s first moments, especially on a naturally flowing waterway, is euphoric. Our companions hoot and cheer as we hit our first rapids.
The sloping Cabaret Room, where films were shown and recitals held, is another display of Wright’s wizardly. It stays cool because it’s partly underground. Dinner was served on tables that folded down when the performance started and the acoustics were nearly perfect. The Wrights sat in back so they could overhear what guests up front were saying. “If they weren’t nice,” Burrows said, “they didn’t get invited back.”
“Blues can bring out in me every single human emotion,” Laurie said, “or at least every emotion that I know of. ‘Let Them Talk’ is an odyssey — my destination is the holy city of New Orleans.”
When my book A Sense of Place came out a few years ago I got compliments about being a good interviewer. But here's the secret: I interviewed people -- the world's leading travel writers -- who had...
These days Lily Tomlin’s character Ernestine, the gossipy telephone operator who used to parody the AT&T monopoly, works for an insurance firm, “denying health care to everybody.” She told me...
Ballistics evidence suggests the bullets that killed NFL-player-turned-soldier Pat Tillman were fired from just 10 yards away. We know it was friendly fire -- his mother believes it may not have...
Sometimes dream assignments get even dreamier. After asking "if I'd be willing" to go to Peru and take a cruise down the Amazon, my editor said something like: As long as you'll be in Lima, try a...
I recently interviewed a founding member of the South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo who told me the band started as a dream - see excerpt below. The band plays March 2 at Napa's Uptown...
“I made up an E chord and I strummed it and I sat up like Dracula coming out of his box. I was alive! I’d been on my back for two months and I was out of bed in a week.”
A few years ago a producer asked Tim Cahill and me to record an interview at Yellowstone. Here's the 10-minute pilot that came from that weekend in the snow.
Can we talk? I must admit I've never been drawn to Joan Rivers as I have to comics like George Carlin or Richard Pryor. But after interviewing, I came to appreciate her fierce honesty and incisive...
I asked what he thinks of former SF Giants pitcher Brian Wilson. His reply: “Never heard of him.”
From a very early age, Jane Goodall showed a keen interest in observing animals. One day, when she was four, she spent hours crouching in a henhouse trying to see how a hen laid an egg. By the time she was eight, Goodall says she’d decided she wanted to go to Africa someday and live among wild animals.
David Sedaris is not a rock star. He's an author, radio contributor, humorist, playwright, and essayist. Yet when he walks onstage Saturday night , October 30, at the Wells Fargo Center, he'll be...
Dervla lovingly shows us some her vast collection of books, including volumes that had belonged to her grandfather. Then she picks up a greeting card someone sent her with the words: “Beer is proof that God loves us… and wants us to be happy.”
For the book launch of A Sense of Place, I set up a panel discussion with four of the leading literary lights of our time: Isabel Allende, Tim Cahill, Jan Morris, and Jeff Greenwald. The national...
The football star–turned–soldier became the Pentagon's poster boy, and when he was shot dead by U.S. Army Rangers, the military said he was killed by enemy fire. The deception, it turns out, was not...
A few moments later there was an incredible explosion. The harpoon flew over our heads – the line from the harpoon slashed down on the water right beside us, just nearly missed us. Then the harpoon struck one of the whales in the back. She screamed and rolled over in a fountain of blood.
When President Nixon visited China in 1972, he said that it takes a great people to build a Great Wall. In Mongolia they countered: It takes an even greater people to make them want to build it. That warrior pride is on full display at the Naadam festival.
A certain magic happens when the right event is held in a town that embraces it. Setting an environmental film fest in Nevada City is an alchemical pairing that brings out the best in the Gold Country town.
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